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The September Massacres

To be ignorant of history is to remain always a child - Cicero
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"Boldness and again boldness, and always boldness"

Georges-Jacques Danton

         

The country was embroiled in a foreign war. The new government had declared war against the powerful Austria and in the beginning it did not go well for France. Complicating matters was the fact that counter-revolutionary Frenchmen were working with Austria in the hopes of turning back the revolution. In France people saw counter-revolutionaries under every rock.  

Georges-Jacques Danton, a revolutionary leader and a powerful orator, rose in the Assembly on September 2nd 1792 and boomed out these memorable words in his deep bass voice: "When the tocsin sounds, it will not be a signal of alarm, but the signal to charge against the enemies of our country. . . To defeat them, gentlemen, we need boldness, and again boldness, and always boldness; and France will then be saved."

Danton probably meant boldness in fighting the war against Austria. But many took his words to refer to enemies within  France. The radical press took up the cry, "Let the blood of the traitors flow," and within hours of Danton's speech the streets of France did indeed run with blood. Many thought the prisons held counter-revolutionaries and so mobs of citizens invaded the prisons, held mock trials, and slaughtered many of the inmates. Many of the inmates were clergymen who had refused to swear the oath which they felt put the state over the Pope. By September 7,  over 1000 were dead. 


Part of Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité: The French Revolution Exhibit

The French Revolution

The French Revolution Primary Sources

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