Gouverneur Morris


Justum et tenacem propositi virum

Non civium ardor prava jubentium,

Non vultus instantis tyranni

Mente quatit solida, neque Auster

Dux inquieti turbidus Hadriae,

Nec fulminantis magna manus Jovis:

Si fractus illabatur orbis,

Impavidum ferient ruinae.

--Hor., Lib. III. Carm. III.

The 10th of August, 1792, was one of the most memorable days of the

French Revolution. It was the day on which the French monarchy received

its death-blow, and was accompanied by fighting and bloodshed which

filled Paris with terror. In the morning before daybreak the tocsin had

sounded, and not long after the mob of Paris, headed by the Marseillais,

"Six hundred men not afraid to die," who had been summoned there by

Barbaroux, were marching upon the Tuileries. The king, or rather the

queen, had at last determined to make a stand and to defend the throne.

The Swiss Guards were there at the palace, well posted to protect the

inner court; and there, too, were the National Guards, who were expected

to uphold the government and guard the king. The tide of people poured

on through the streets, gathering strength as they went the Marseillais,

the armed bands, the Sections, and a vast floating mob. The crowd drew

nearer and nearer, but the squadrons of the National Guards, who were to

check the advance, did not stir. It is not apparent, indeed, that they

made any resistance, and the king and his family at eight o'clock lost

heart and deserted the Tuileries, to take refuge with the National

Convention. The multitude then passed into the court of the Carrousel,

unchecked by the National Guards, and were face to face with the Swiss.

Deserted by their king, the Swiss knew not how to act, but still stood

their ground. There was some parleying, and at last the Marseillais

fired a cannon. Then the Swiss fired. They were disciplined troops,

and their fire was effective. There was a heavy slaughter and the

mob recoiled, leaving their cannon, which the Swiss seized. The

Revolutionists, however, returned to the charge, and the fight raged on

both sides, the Swiss holding their ground firmly.

Suddenly, from the legislative hall, came an order from the king to

the Swiss to cease firing. It was their death warrant. Paralyzed by

the order, they knew not what to do. The mob poured in, and most of the

gallant Swiss were slaughtered where they stood. Others escaped from the

Tuileries only to meet their death in the street. The palace was sacked

and the raging mob was in possession of the city. No man's life was

safe, least of all those who were known to be friends of the king, who

were nobles, or who had any connection with the court. Some of these

people whose lives were thus in peril at the hands of the bloodstained

and furious mob had been the allies of the United States, and had fought

under Washington in the war for American independence. In their anguish

and distress their thoughts recurred to the country which they had

served in its hour of trial, three thousand miles away. They sought the

legation of the United States and turned to the American minister for


Such an exercise of humanity at that moment was not a duty that any man

craved. In those terrible days in Paris, the representatives of foreign

governments were hardly safer than any one else. Many of the ambassadors

and ministers had already left the country, and others were even then

abandoning their posts, which it seemed impossible to hold at such a

time. But the American minister stood his ground. Gouverneur Morris

was not a man to shrink from what he knew to be his duty. He had been

a leading patriot in our revolution; he had served in the Continental

Congress, and with Robert Morris in the difficult work of the Treasury,

when all our resources seemed to be at their lowest ebb. In 1788 he had

gone abroad on private business, and had been much in Paris, where

he had witnessed the beginning of the French Revolution and had been

consulted by men on both sides. In 1790, by Washington's direction, he

had gone to London and had consulted the ministry there as to whether

they would receive an American minister. Thence he had returned to

Paris, and at the beginning Of 1792 Washington appointed him minister of

the United States to France.

As an American, Morris's sympathies had run strongly in favor of the

movement to relieve France from the despotism under which she was

sinking, and to give her a better and more liberal government. But,

as the Revolution progressed, he became outraged and disgusted by

the methods employed. He felt a profound contempt for both sides. The

inability of those who were conducting the Revolution to carry out

intelligent plans or maintain order, and the feebleness of the king and

his advisers, were alike odious to the man with American conceptions

of ordered liberty. He was especially revolted by the bloodshed and

cruelty, constantly gathering in strength, which were displayed by

the revolutionists, and he had gone to the very verge of diplomatic

propriety in advising the ministers of the king in regard to the

policies to be pursued, and, as he foresaw what was coming, in urging

the king himself to leave France. All his efforts and all his advice,

like those of other intelligent men who kept their heads during the

whirl of the Revolution, were alike vain.

On August 10 the gathering storm broke with full force, and the populace

rose in arms to sweep away the tottering throne. Then it was that these

people, fleeing for their lives, came to the representative of the

country for which many of them had fought, and on both public and

private grounds besought the protection of the American minister. Let me

tell what happened in the words of an eye-witness, an American gentleman

who was in Paris at that time, and who published the following account

of his experiences:

On the ever memorable 10th of August, after viewing the destruction of

the Royal Swiss Guards and the dispersion of the Paris militia by a band

of foreign and native incendiaries, the writer thought it his duty

to visit the Minister, who had not been out of his hotel since the

insurrection began, and, as was to be expected, would be anxious to

learn what was passing without doors. He was surrounded by the old Count

d'Estaing, and about a dozen other persons of distinction, of different

sexes, who had, from their connection with the United States, been his

most intimate acquaintances at Paris, and who had taken refuge with

him for protection from the bloodhounds which, in the forms of men and

women, were prowling in the streets at the time. All was silence here,

except that silence was occasionally interrupted by the crying of

the women and children. As I retired, the Minister took me aside, and

observed: "I have no doubt, sir, but there are persons on the watch who

would find fault with my conduct as Minister in receiving and protecting

these people, but I call on you to witness the declaration which I now

make, and that is that they were not invited to my house, but came of

their own accord. Whether my house will be a protection to them or to

me, God only knows, but I will not turn them out of it, let what will

happen to me," to which he added, "you see, sir, they are all persons to

whom our country is more or less indebted, and it would be inhuman to

force them into the hands of the assassins, had they no such claim

upon me."

Nothing can be added to this simple account, and no American can read

it or repeat the words of Mr. Morris without feeling even now, a hundred

years after the event, a glow of pride that such words were uttered at

such a time by the man who represented the United States.

After August 10, when matters in Paris became still worse, Mr. Morris

still stayed at his post. Let me give, in his own words, what he did and

his reasons for it:

The different ambassadors and ministers are all taking their flight,

and if I stay I shall be alone. I mean, however, to stay, unless

circumstances should command me away, because, in the admitted case that

my letters of credence are to the monarchy, and not to the Republic of

France, it becomes a matter of indifference whether I remain in this

country or go to England during the time which may be needful to obtain

your orders, or to produce a settlement of affairs here. Going hence,

however, would look like taking part against the late Revolution, and I

am not only unauthorized in this respect, but I am bound to suppose that

if the great majority of the nation adhere to the new form, the United

States will approve thereof; because, in the first place, we have no

right to prescribe to this country the government they shall adopt,

and next, because the basis of our own Constitution is the indefeasible

right of the people to establish it.

Among those who are leaving Paris is the Venetian ambassador. He was

furnished with passports from the Office of Foreign Affairs, but he

was, nevertheless, stopped at the barrier, was conducted to the Hotel

de Ville, was there questioned for hours, and his carriages examined and

searched. This violation of the rights of ambassadors could not fail, as

you may suppose, to make an impression. It has been broadly hinted to me

that the honor of my country and my own require that I should go away.

But I am of a different opinion, and rather think that those who give

such hints are somewhat influenced by fear. It is true that the position

is not without danger, but I presume that when the President did me the

honor of naming me to this embassy, it was not for my personal pleasure

or safety, but to promote the interests of my country. These, therefore,

I shall continue to pursue to the best of my judgment, and as to

consequences, they are in the hand of God.

He remained there until his successor arrived. When all others fled, he

was faithful, and such conduct should never be forgotten. Mr. Morris

not only risked his life, but he took a heavy responsibility, and laid

himself open to severe attack for having protected defenseless people

against the assaults of the mob. But his courageous humanity is

something which should ever be remembered, and ought always to be

characteristic of the men who represent the United States in foreign

countries. When we recall the French Revolution, it is cheering to think

of that fearless figure of the American minister, standing firm and calm

in the midst of those awful scenes, with sacked palaces, slaughtered

soldiers, and a bloodstained mob about him, regardless of danger to

himself, determined to do his duty to his country, and to those to whom

his country was indebted.

George Rogers Clark And The Conquest Of The Northwest Hampton Roads facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail