Champs de Mars Massacre

Background and Context
The Champ de Mars was not only the setting of the brutal massacre on the 17th of July, 1791, but also of the Fete de la Federation, on the 14th of July 1790.
On the 17th of July, 1791 a Parisian crowd, largely led by the sans-culotte clashed with the city’s National Guard, which was led by Revolutionary leader. This resulted in the deaths of up to 50 people. The Parisian crowd was initially gathered at the Champ de Mars to sign a petition for the despotism of King Louis XVI. The National Guide fired at the crowd, as ordered by the Mayor of Paris, Jean-Sylvain Bailly.
Nature of the event
When the King returned to Paris from the Flight to Varennes, he recognised that he had misunderstood the attitude of Frenchmen and indicated that he would accept the new constitution. On the evening of July 15, however, the Jacobins, invaded by a crowd from the Social Circle headed by the Cordeliers agreed to sign a new petition requesting the Assembly to replace King Louis. Brissot, who drafted the petition the next day, claimed that it should be done, ‘by all constitutional means’. On the 17th of July, when joined by the Parisian crowd at the Champ de Mars, people were unarmed and began to sign the petition, which all up consisted of 6,000 signatures. Around 20,000 people were estimated to have joined the event at the Champ de Mars, although many were spectating rather than agitating.
Many demonstrators who had joined the event began to get rowdy and to the horror of many that morning, when the new petition was signed, two men were found murdered under the Altar of the Fatherland. The red flag of martial law was hoisted and quickly the National Guard, along with Lafayette entered, giving the crowd warning to disperse. Stones were thrown, shots were fired and suddenly the guards opened fire into the closely packed crowd, before closing in with musket-butts and bayonets. Around 50 people were killed and many more injured.
Significance to the Revolution
The massacre at the Champ de Mars significantly marked the end of a period when it was possible to think of the Paris based Revolution as a united movement against French aristocracy.
Historian Hampson states that, ‘it is significant that this sharp class distinction, which impressed contemporary observers, should have arisen over an issue that had no immediate relevance to social or economic policy’. He also states that, ‘a new line had been drawn in blood between those who were prepared to make concessions to the ancien regime, to restore order and end the Revolution and those who were not, and who now classed the conservative revolutionaries among the enemies of the nation’.
The event which occurred at the Champ de Mars, on July the 17th, 1791 therefore split the French Revolution into two, becoming known by historians as a crucial turning point in the revolution. For the first time, revolutionaries had fired upon fellow revolutionaries. Two revolutions were now locked in conflict, with the first being a revolution of the 1789 liberal project, with supporters wanting the King to stay in power and rule with close accountability to the Assembly. The second revolution was far more radical and insisted that the monarchy be deposed, the constitutional monarchy be ended and a republic be established.
Responses of Revolutionary government and society
After the massacre at the Champ de Mars, in a fit of excess those who had drawn up the petition were accused of conspiracy. Many new prisoners were taken and several democratic newspapers were suppressed. The Cordeliers Club suspended their sessions briefly and the Feillants appeared to be ‘masters’ of France. No one any longer talked about a republic – when the Legislative Assembly convened on October 1, 1791, a large majority of its members were devoted constitutionalists.
Two days after the massacre, the Constituent Assembly forced police responsibilities upon the justices of the peace, making them agents of political repression and responsible for deciding if there would be prosecution by the criminal courts.
Martial law remained in force for three weeks after the event, and an attempt was made to silence leaders of the sans-culottes. Revolutionary leader, Danton fled to England, whilst Desmoulins and Santerre went into hiding in Paris. Marat’s presses were seized and Vincont and Mororo were arrested, along with many citizens and one or two royalist journalists.
Martha Haylett

Background and context:
After the king was not put on trial after his attempt to escape the country (the flight to Varennes) and his document that was left behind saying he was against the whole of the revolution and then was declared by the assembly free of all blame on the 15th of July 1791, radical members of the Jacobin club began to get angry and direct most of this anger toward the assembly because to them it was seen that the king could no longer be trusted on thrown. The idea of a republic began to gain popularity. They planned a public petition on the alter of the fatherland on the Champ de Mars.
Nature of the event:
On the 17th of July 1791, 50,000 people gathered into the Champ de Mars to sign the petition asking the assembly to remove the king from power, the place where they held a huge feast of the Federation celebrating the fall of the Bastille only 3 days earlier. Many of the crowd members were mainly the poorer people of the Parisian society. The crowed turned on two individuals who seemed suspicious of being government spies and prepared to murder them. The National Guard was called upon by the mayor of Paris, Bailly. Lafayette arrived with his guards and fired warning shots. The crowd got angry and began throwing stones, suddenly the guards open fired on the unarmed citizens who believed that they were saving France from its traitor king. 50 people were killed and many more injured.
Significance to the Revolution:
This was a crucial moment in the French Revolution because now it was revolutionaries were fighting revolutionaries. It was not just one revolution now it had now turned into two. The first revolution being the liberal project of 1789 meaning they wanted the king to stay and rule close accountability to the Assembly. And the second revolution forming in 1791 was more radical, insisting that the monarch be deposed and a republic established.
Response of Revolutionary government and society:
For now the moderates had won. Lafayette imposed martial law and attempted to round up radical leaders. Danton fled the country and Marat went into hiding. 200 of political militants were arrested. Radical clubs were also closed down such as the social circle along with radical newspapers. As the people where beginning to get more suspicious of the king Lafayette’s position was now being destabilized for he was both protector of the king and assembly, and also the defender of property. By now he was in trouble for he used bullets rather than his popularity to control the people. This was one of the first crucial incidents that would begin to destroy him. While Lafayette and Mirabeau were discredited, radical figures remained untouched and were gaining increasing support from the working class popular movement.
Brianna Jury