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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.

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