September Massacres

The war against Austria and Prussia was a continued disaster, but it became especially dire on 2 September 1792 when the last fortified town before Paris, Verdun, fell to enemy forces. 

Heightened fear and hysteria quickly swept Paris, provoking violent action. Ultra-radicals such as Hébert and Marat encouraged Parisians to kill the traitors, being the suspected counter-revolutionaries. The result was that between 2-5 September 1792, more than 1000 people were brutally murdered by mobs of common people, sans culottes and National Guardsmen, including nobles, non-juring priests and those who were thought to not be patriotic enough. This blood-soaked violence was tolerated by the Revolutionary Commune and the Legislative Assembly, even the liberal Minister for the Justice Danton made no real attempt to halt the bloody actions. Historian Stewart argues that the massacres were a “regrettable but unavoidable necessity, with Doyle pointing out that they were a product of “the paranoid atmosphere” of Paris at the time. However, Schama sees it as having “exposed a central truth of the French Revolution: its dependence on organised killing to accomplish political ends.”

This brutal episode led to the declaration of the French Republic on 21 September 1792, which finally abolished the division between active and passive citizens and instated the Girondins as the new government with the support of the Marais (centrists), leading to a power struggle with the Jacobins.


See Also

War against Austria and Prussia