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Why Regicide?

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Why Regicide?

Post  May on Wed Nov 16, 2011 10:52 pm

As opposed to sending Louis XVI and family into exile or keeping them in prison?

I don't think it was merely a political issue, a matter of fearing how they might be used by enemies of the Revolution abroad. The King's brothers, as well as other relatives, were already abroad, so killing him would not really even remove that sort of threat. (And of course, both brothers later reigned during the Restoration...) I think it was also an ideological issue; one gets the sense that the revolutionaries wanted to do something as outrageous as possible to traditional sensibilities, to mark their break with the past.
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Re: Why Regicide?

Post  Mata Hari on Sun Nov 20, 2011 11:11 pm

I think that the Revolutionaries themselves were divided as to what to do with Louis XVI. Didn't many want to send him into exile with his family?

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Re: Why Regicide?

Post  May on Mon Nov 21, 2011 12:14 am

Yes, I was just wondering about the reasons why the harshest possible point of view prevailed.
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Re: Why Regicide?

Post  Elena on Mon Nov 21, 2011 1:08 am

I think it is because Philippe d'Orleans cast the deciding vote that sent the king to his death. And then once the Committee of Public Safety took over, execution was the order of the day.

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Re: Why Regicide?

Post  May on Mon Nov 21, 2011 1:19 am

I am confused about Orléans' role. Wasn't the King condemned by more than just one vote?
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Re: Why Regicide?

Post  Elena on Mon Nov 21, 2011 1:31 am

Yes, but Orleans cast the deciding vote. He gave a long speech before voting for his cousin's death, about why he had to vote for death. His vote turned the tide and condemned the king.

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Re: Why Regicide?

Post  Bunnies on Wed Dec 26, 2012 2:32 pm

If you flip this question around you'll brush on the Jacobins' reasoning:

Why not execute the king?

Let's ignore, for simplicity's sake, all the more fantastic charges, such as Louis XVI's behavior on August 10, and focus solely on the armoire de fer. Within this Pandora's Box, the Revolutionaries discovered proof of bribery, proof of conspiracy, evidence of encouraging foreign powers to invade their nation -- good heavens, if my government found I was guilty of such things today I could very well be shot! And I don't live in a nation in the grip of a Reign of Terror. But more importantly for contemporaries, had Monsieur Jacques Pierre, your average peasant, been the author of the documents found written in the armoie de fer he would be executed without any debate.

Why then, if we admit that Jacques Pierre would be executed, can Louis XVI be spared? Is it because he is a king...and a king's life is somehow more valuable than that of a peasant's?

Whatever your opinion on the matter, you can see where the French Republic would disagree.

And certainly there was, as someone else said, ideology involved as well. Kingship had survived assassinations. But a sharp, symbolic break with the country's monarchist past was what many deputies believed was necessary. It was not about killing the king, or arranging the king's death but of executing the king. The most regicidal deputies were also the ones who were most determined to protect the king against assassination, and who were the most concerned that the king would commit suicide. If he escaped execution, even via coffin, the break would not be made.

I myself find both the arguments I outlined unimportant in the face of how valuable the king would be as a hostage against the enraged Europe. Robespierre argued for Louis' death lest there be a royalist conspiracy constantly swarming around him, but unless they also executed the dauphin (a barbarity which no one even alluded to) and every other monarch with a claim to the French throne (an impossible barbarity) the royalist conspiracy is just going to shift somewhere else. Robespierre, and other regicides, also argued that they did not want France to look as though she was frightened of the European powers, but dang it I think France should have been frightened of the European powers.

Perhaps, whether or not the regicide occurred, war was inevitable, in which case executing the king might be a necessary display of strength. But I'm not as familiar as I should be with the foreign situation. Until I am and discover something to change my mind, I break from my normal support of the Jacobins. The king had more value alive than dead, but perhaps I'm just too pragmatic.

In any case, fantastic philosophical argument aside, the Revolutionaries weren't really focusing solely on the king's life during the trial. In reality, the trial was less "Should the king live or die?" and more "Should the Jacobins or Girondins have power?" The entire trial played out as a power struggle. The Girondins were patently not interested in sparing Louis' life for Louis' sake, but merely to stick it to the Jacobins, who were howling for the king's head. And the Jacobins weren't so much howling for the king's head because of bloodlust or even ideology, but because (among other things) the Girondins had been accusing them of royalism with their coercion with the Duc d'Orleans -- and they were desperate to wash that calumny off. Now, there are exceptions in both parties: Saint Just probably did want the king dead for the sake of the Revolution, and men such as Morisson probably did want to spare the king for the sake of justice. But as a general rule it was a power struggle.

Looking at it from this point of view: the king was killed because the Jacobins proved to be the more popular party among the ever shifting "plain" of neutral deputies.

But speaking of the Duc d'Orleans, it's really debatable how much sway his vote held.

Here was the first count of the votes. This is inaccurate, and there was another tally within the week, but as far as the deputies knew, this was the decision:

332: Voted for some penalty other than death or unique conditional punishments
366: voted for death
-------------------------------
698

Again, inaccurate (there were 721 votes cast, for example), but you can see that the deputies would not have thought that the Duc's was of particular importance. Orleans' vote would have merely shifted the tally from 366/332 to 365/333 - not a decision-maker.

There was a recount, and then the totals came to this (according to Republicans; the Royalists would do a different count later, but I'll get to that in a second):

361: Death without conditions
46: Death with conditions attached
314: Detention until peace is established, imprisonment in irons, exile, etc.
----
721

361 was the majority needed for a ruling, but notice: there were 46 who voted for death with conditions attached. So even had Philippe voted for life, death still would be the sentence - there would just be a debate as to when the death penalty should be administered. Heck, even my tally above is spurious. 26 of the "detention" votes were in reality just votes for the Mailhe amendment, which was very fluid and open to many interpretations. I have seen some historians tally it in the life-column and some in the death-column. If we agreed with these historians and placed it in the death-column, the vote was even more overwhelming and Philippe's vote was of even less value.

I mentioned that these were the Republican tallies. When the Bourbons were restored, they wanted to exile all past regicides. And when they counted and weighed the votes, they came to the conclusion that there were 455 regicides, which makes the execution all the more of a landslide victory for the Jacobins.

So really the Duc d'Orleans vote was less of a deciding factor than we may think. But even if it was (and I am far from an Orleanist), speaking solely from an emotional perspective, I find it unfair that he has gotten so much blame throughout the centuries. Good heavens, what was he supposed to do? He had a family to worry about just like everyone else. The Girondins were threatening him with exile. It had only been the Jacobin party who had spared him this. Philippe may well have shared Marat's concern that exile would be the equivalence of death, for the other monarchies of Europe would not welcome a Jacobin Prince of the Blood. And the Jacobins wanted the king's head to consolidate their power.

Jacobin power, then, was what the Duc believed could save him. His vote was arguably self-defense, and as I said, it wasn't even the deciding factor.

I also wanted to respectfully disagree with a comment of the Committee of Public Safety above. The king was executed in January 1793. The Committee, meanwhile, was established in March. However bloodthirsty the body was, it had no role in the king's death.
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Re: Why Regicide?

Post  Mata Hari on Fri Dec 28, 2012 9:35 pm

An interesting and helpful analysis!

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Re: Why Regicide?

Post  Bunnies on Sat Dec 29, 2012 3:24 pm

No problem!

But I'm kicking myself for not mentioning one of the chief cruxes of the regicide's argument. Radical deputies such as Saint Just and Robespierre had objected even to giving the king a trial, because it seemed as though it was simultaneously putting the Revolution on trial. After all, if the king was acquitted, this would mean that the August 10th rising was illegal. And if the August 10th rising was illegal, this would mean that the king shouldn't have been overthrown. Meaning that Louis would still be king...and the Republic would be moot. This is what Robespierre was saying when he uttered his famous quote: Citizens, I tell you a painful truth. Louis must die so that the nation can live!

On my blog I posted a few of the more famous of the regicides' speeches. I'd imagine that they can explain their point of view better than I can...

Louis Antoine Saint Just's maiden speech of 13 November, where he argued that the king should not even be tried but rather summarily executed:
http://bunniesandbeheadings.tumblr.com/post/37926333496/on-november-13-1792-louis-antoine-saint-just-came

Jean-Paul Marat's speech, published in L'ami du Peuple on 3 December but never read, where he argued that even under the laws of the Constitution the king could be legally tried, despite the clause declaring him inviolable
http://bunniesandbeheadings.tumblr.com/post/37813664748/the-following-speech-was-written-by-jean-paul

Maximilien Robespierre's speech of 3 December where he reiterated Saint Just's argument that the king should be summarily executed:
http://bunniesandbeheadings.tumblr.com/post/37810813017/on-december-3-1792-maximilien-robespierre-gave

and finally, Louis Antoine Saint Just's speech of 27 December, which served as a rebuttal against the king's defense attorneys:
http://bunniesandbeheadings.tumblr.com/post/39139552925/on-27-december-1792-louis-antoine-saint-just-went
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