The French Revolution and the London Stage, 1789-1805

By George Taylor | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 3
From the Federation to the Terror

Although during 1789 and 1790 there had been a widespread welcome in Britain for the Revolution, in 1791 attitudes began to polarise as France continued to drive out emigres, bringing tales of persecution, and advocate revolution in neighbouring states, while failing to bring its own constitutional debates to a settled conclusion. In October 1791 the new constitution had been promulgated, but, although Louis XVI had been proclaimed chief executive, with the power to appoint ministers and a royal veto over the Legislative Assembly, after his flight to Varennes his support for it was very suspect. Separating the powers of the executive and legislature may have served the Americans well, but in France it led to a rivalry between the Assembly and the king's ministers - complicated by the power of the Paris Commune and the Revolutionary clubs to organise direct action within the capital - and out of this confusion came the declaration of war against Austria on 20 April 1792. Aristocrat emigres, including the king's own bothers, had gathered in the Rhineland cities of Coblenz and Trier and were threatening to create a counter-revolutionary army with the support of Leopold II of Austria Marie Antoinette's brother and Frederick William II of Prussia. During the winter and spring of 1790–1 the question of war dominated French politics. Ministers and generals appointed by the king Narbonne, Lafayette, Brissot and Dumouriez secretly looked to a war as the best excuse for repressing the radicals, the Jacobins fearing such a policy clamoured against the ministers, while the idealistic central party, soon to be known as the Girondins, hoped that war would lead to liberal revolutions across the rest of Europe. This belief was strengthened not only by the struggle of Belgium against Austrian rule and the assassination of the King of Sweden, but also by messages of support from British radicals.

However, France declaring war with the central European powers

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