The Life and Death of Louis XVI

By Saul K. Padover | Go to book overview

CHAPTER XXVII
"Is Louis Capet guilty?"

SEVEN HUNDRED and forty-nine deputies were locked in debate on the question of what to do with Louis. They had seen the evidence and heard the king's defense, but the majority were no wiser than before. There was little in the evidence to convict Louis of high treason, and there was nothing in his conduct to persuade them of his innocence. But, as the Jacobins insisted, it was politically suicidal not to condemn Louis; matters had gone too far for backing out now. It was either Louis or the revolution--and the revolution was like Cæsar's wife.

But what to do, how to do it? Death! cried the Jacobins unanimously. The majority, however, felt repugnance against being the executioners of a man whose guilt was not absolutely established and who was evidently more of a victim than a transgressor. All willingly admitted that Louis had been weak, that he had made mistakes, even that he was no friend of the revolution; but such failings certainly did not deserve the guillotine. There were also political considerations; the responsible majority feared the appalling consequences, at home and abroad, of the execution of a king. Already half of monarchical Europe had mobilized against France, and the "armies of despotism" stood poised to strike down the home of liberty. For three weeks, therefore, the Convention was at loggerheads on the question, debating

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