On October 1 the first and only Legislative Assembly elected under the new constitution began deliberations. No one faction commanded a majority in the new Assembly, though the Center had the most seats. Since they occupied the lowest seats in the assembly hall, the deputies of the center received the derogatory nickname of the Plain or Marsh.
The capable politicians of the left soon captured the votes of the Plain, following the leadership of a loose grouping of Jacobins known in time as Girondins. Their chief spokesman was Jacques Brissot (1754-1793), an ambitious lawyer, journalist, and champion of reform causes. The Girondins were held together by their patriotic alarm over France’s situation at home and abroad.
Accordingly, the Girondins specialized in fervent nationalist oratory. They pictured revolutionary France as the intended victim of a reactionary conspiracy—a conspiracy engineered by the emigres, aided at home by the nonjuring clergy and the royal family, and abetted abroad by a league of monarchs under Leopold II, the Austrian emperor and brother of Marie Antoinette.
The sudden death of Leopold in March 1792 and the accession of his inexperienced and less cautious son, Francis II (r. 1792-1835), increased the Austrian threat. On April 20 the Legislative Assembly declared war on Austria; the war was to continue, with a few brief intervals of peace, for the next twenty-three years.
The war went badly for France at the outset. Prussia soon joined Austria, and morale sagged on the home front when Louis dismissed the Girondin ministers because they had proposed to banish nonjuring priests and appointed more conservative replacements. Spirits began to rise in July, especially with a great celebration of the third anniversary of the assault on the Bastille. Paris was thronged with national guardsmen from the provinces on the way to the front, and the contingent from Marseilles introduced to the capital a patriotic hymn which became the national anthem of republican France.
Through the early summer of 1792 the Jacobins of Paris had been plotting an insurrection. They won the support of a formidable following—army recruits, national guardsmen, and the rank-and-file Parisians who were angered by the depreciation of assignats and by the high price and short supply of food and other necessities.
One by one the forty-eight wards into which the city was divided came under the control of Jacobins. The climax came on the night of August 9-10, when the regular municipal authorities were ousted from the Paris city hall and the Jacobins installed a new and illegal commune.
The municipal revolution had immediate and momentous results. On the morning of August 10 the forces of the new commune, joined by national guardsmen, attacked the Tuileries and massacred the king’s Swiss guards, while the royal family took refuge with the Legislative Assembly.
With most of the deputies of the Right and the Plain absent, the Assembly voted to suspend the king from office, to imprison the royal family, and to order the election of a constitutional convention. Until this new body should meet, the government was to be run by an interim ministry staffed largely by Girondins, but in which the strong-man was Georges Danton (1759-1794), a radical and an exceptional orator.