Fall 2013 -- History 223: International Relations, 1815-1914 -- Mr. Patch
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  1. France Declares War on Austria, April 20, 1792.

  2. The Manifesto of the Duke of Brunswick, July 25, 1792.

  3. The French Revolutionary Convention, "Decree Proclaiming the Liberty and Sovereignty of All Peoples," December 15, 1792.


The French Constitutional Monarchy declares war on Austria, April 20, 1792: 

After the initial French Revolution in 1789, the National Assembly divided France deeply through several dubious policy initiatives.  It treated as rebels all noblemen who fled the country from fear of riots, confiscating their estates; it mismanaged a new system of paper money, causing painful inflation; and it outraged pious Catholics through the confiscation of all Church property and a sweeping reorganization of Church life not approved by the Vatican.  King Louis XVI agonized endlessly over the question of whether he should accept a greatly diminished role as constitutional monarch or encourage his brother monarchs to invade France.  Dispossessed emigré nobles gathered in Koblenz and other cities along the Rhine, hoping to see France invaded by Queen Marie Antoinette’s Austrian brother, the Habsburg ruler Francis I, Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire and King of Hungary.  The dominant politicians in the revolutionary government in Paris agreed by April 1792 that war with Austria offered their best hope to unify France behind the government, disperse the émigrés, and compel Louis XVI to choose sides once and for all.  The most influential single politician at this time, Jacques-Pierre Brissot, hoped to expose the king as a traitor and abolish the monarchy.  Most historians agree that Austria had no plans to invade France, and that this was a French war of aggression, begun largely for domestic political reasons. The following declaration of war, adopted against only seven Nay votes, depicts the matter in a very different light….

SOURCE: John Hardman, ed., The French Revolution: The Fall of the Ancien Régime to the Thermidorian Reaction 1785-1795.  Documents of Modern History (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1982), pp. 140-41.  For background see T.C.W. Blanning, The French Revolutionary Wars, 1787-1802 (London: Arnold, 1996).

             The National Assembly, deliberating at the formal request of the King, considering that the Court of Vienna, in contempt of the treaties [of alliance with France, signed in 1756], has continued to afford open protection to French rebels, that it has instigated and formed a concert with several European powers against the independence and security of the French nation:  

            That Francis I, King of Hungary and Bohemia, has by his notes of 18 March and 7 April refused to renounce this concert; 

            That despite the proposal made to him in the note of 11 March 1792 that both nations should reduce the troops on their frontiers to their peace-time effectives, he has continued and augmented his warlike preparations; 

            That he has formally infringed the sovereignty of the French nation by declaring his intention of supporting the claims of the German princes with possessions in France…; 

            That he has sought to divide French citizens and arm them against each other by offering the malcontents a support in the concert of powers;

            Considering, finally, that this refusal to reply to the last dispatches of the King of the French leaves him [Louis XVI] with no further hope of obtaining the redress of these various grievances by an amicable negotiation and is tantamount to a declaration of war, decrees that this is a matter of urgency.        

            The National Assembly declares that the French nation, faithful to the principles enshrined in the Constitution [of 1791] “not to undertake any war with a view to making conquests, and never to direct its forces against the liberty of any people,” is only taking up arms in defense of its liberty and independence; that the war it is obliged to conduct is not a war of nation against nation but the just defense of a free people against the aggression of a king; 

            That the French will never confuse their brothers with their real enemies; that they will neglect nothing to alleviate the scourge of war, to spare and preserve property and to visit all the suffering inseparable from war on those alone who conspire against her liberty; 

            That the French nation adopts in advance all foreigners who, abjuring the cause of her enemies, come to range themselves under her banners and devote their efforts to the defense of her liberty; that it will even facilitate their establishment with all the means at its disposal. 

            Deliberating at the formal request of the King, and having decreed that this is a matter of urgency, decrees war against the King of Hungary and Bohemia.

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Proclamation of the
Duke of Brunswick, July 25, 1792

            The Duke of Brunswick commanded the armies of Austria and Prussia that were poised to invade eastern France in July 1792, and in this manifesto he threatened to execute anyone resisting the invasion as a traitor and rebel against King Louis XVI. The text of this manifesto became known to the people of Paris on July 28 and had the opposite effect from that intended. Brunswick’s dire threats encouraged a violent popular uprising on August 10, 1792, when revolutionary sans-culottes stormed the Tuileries Palace, took Louis XVI prisoner, and insisted on new elections in which all adult men would have an equal vote.  The newly elected Constitutional Convention proclaimed France a Republic in September 1792 and intensified the war effort against Austria and Prussia. The French Republic's escalating war aims are described in the second selection below.  

SOURCE: From J.H. Robinson, ed., Readings in European History, 2 vols. (Boston: Ginn, 1906), 2: 443-445. 

            After arbitrarily violating the rights of the German princes in Alsace and Lorraine, disturbing and overthrowing good order and legitimate government in the interior of the realm, committing against the sacred person of the king and his august family outrages and brutalities which continue to be renewed daily, those who have usurped the reins of government have at last completed their work by declaring an unjust war on his Majesty the emperor and attacking his provinces situated in the Low Countries. Some of the territories of the Germanic empire have been affected by this oppression, and others have only escaped the same fate by yielding to the threats of the dominant party and its emissaries.

            His Majesty the king of Prussia, united with his Imperial Majesty by the bonds of a strict defensive alliance and himself a preponderant member of the Germanic body, would have felt it inexcusable to refuse to march to the help of his ally and fellow-member of the empire. . . .

            To these important interests should be added another aim equally important and very close to the hearts of the two sovereigns, - namely, to put an end to the anarchy in the interior of France, to check the attacks upon the throne and the altar, to reestablish the legal power, to restore to the king the security and the liberty of which he is now deprived and to place him in a position to exercise once more the legitimate authority which belongs to him.

            Convinced that the sane portion of the French nation abhors the excesses of the faction which dominates it, and that the majority of the people look forward with impatience to the time when they may declare themselves openly against the odious enterprises of their oppressors, his Majesty the emperor and his Majesty the king of Prussia call upon them and invite them to return without delay to the path of reason, justice, order, and peace. In accordance with these views, I, the undersigned, the commander in chief of the two armies, declare:

1. That, drawn into this war by irresistible circumstances, the two allied courts entertain no other aims than the welfare of France, and have no intention of enriching themselves by conquests.

2. That they do not propose to meddle in the internal government of France, and that they merely wish to deliver the king, the queen, and the royal family from their captivity, and procure for his Most Christian Majesty the necessary security to enable him, without danger or hindrance, to make such engagements as he shall see fit, and to work for the welfare of his subjects, according to his pledges.

3. That the allied armies will protect the towns and villages, and the persons and goods of those who shall submit to the king and who shall cooperate in the immediate reestablishment of order and the police power throughout France.

4. That, on the contrary, the members of the National Guard who shall fight against the troops of the two allied courts, and who shall be taken with arms in their hands, shall be treated as enemies and punished as rebels to their king and as disturbers of the public peace. . . .

7. That the inhabitants of the towns and villages who may dare to defend themselves against the troops of their Imperial and Royal Majesties and fire on them, either in the open country or through windows, doors, and openings in their houses, shall be punished immediately according to the most stringent laws of war, and their houses shall be burned or destroyed. . . .

8. The city of Paris and all its inhabitants without distinction shall be required to submit at once and without delay to the king, to place that prince in full and complete liberty, and to assure to him, as well as to the other royal personages, the inviolability and respect which the law of nature and of nations demands of subjects toward sovereigns. . .Their said Majesties declare, on their word of honor as emperor and king, that if the chateau of the Tuileries is entered by force or attacked, if the least violence be offered to their Majesties the king, queen, and royal family, and if their safety and their liberty be not immediately assured, they will inflict an ever memorable vengeance by delivering over the city of Paris to military execution and complete destruction, and the rebels guilty of the said outrages to the punishment that they merit. . . .

            Finally, I pledge myself, in my own name and in my said capacity, to cause the troops intrusted to my command to observe good and strict discipline, promising to treat with kindness and moderation all well-intentioned subjects who show themselves peaceful and submissive, and to use force only against those who shall be guilty of resistance and ill will.

            It is for these reasons that I call upon and exhort in the most urgent manner all the inhabitants of the kingdom not to oppose the movements and operations of the troops which I command, but rather, on the contrary, to grant them everywhere a free passage and to assist and aid them with all good will as circumstances shall demand.

Given at the headquarters at Coblenz, July 25, 1792.
Duke of Brunswick-Luneburg.

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The French Revolutionary Convention,

"Decree Proclaiming the Liberty and Sovereignty of All Peoples," December 15, 1792

          Since the age of Louis XIV, European wars had been comparatively restrained affairs, fought mostly by professional soldiers who sought limited objectives, such as the conquest of a border province or control of a lucrative trade route.  By 1792 France’s professional army had virtually disintegrated, however, and the new Republic was compelled to rely on untrained volunteers who required an inspiring political cause to motivate them.  In the following decree, the Constitutional Convention of the new French Republic proclaims as its foreign policy objective nothing less than the abolition of monarchy throughout Europe.  This decree illustrates the ideological polarization of the warring powers of Europe, which led to 23 years of almost uninterrupted warfare.  

Source:  Thomas C. Mendenhall, et. al., Quest for a Principle of Authority in Europe, 1715 to Present (New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1948), pp. 82-83.


          The National Convention, after having heard the report of its united committees of finances, war, and diplomacy, faithful to the principles of the sovereignty of the people, which do not permit it to recognize any of the institutions which bring an attack upon it, and wishing to settle the rules to be followed by the generals of the armies of the Republic in the countries where they shall carry its arms, decrees:  

          1.  In the countries which are or shall be occupied by the armies of the Republic, the generals shall proclaim immediately, in the name of the French nation, the sovereignty of the people, the suppression of all the established authorities and of the existing imposts and taxes, the abolition of the tithe, of feudalism, of seigneurial rights, both feudal and censuel, fixed or precarious, of banalités, of real and personal servitude, of the privileges of hunting and fishing, of corvées, of the nobility, and generally of all privileges. 

          2.  They shall announce to the people that they bring them peace, assistance, fraternity, liberty, and equality, and that they will convoke them directly in primary or communal assemblies, in order to create and organize an administration and a provisional judiciary; they shall look after the security of persons and property: they shall cause the present decree and the proclamation herewith annexed to be printed in the language or idiom of the country, and to be posted and executed without delay in each commune. . . 

          4.  The generals shall directly place under the safeguard and protection of the French Republic all the movable and immovable goods belonging to the public treasury, to the prince, to his abettors, adherents, and voluntary satellites, to the public establishments, to the lay and ecclesiastical bodies and communities; they shall cause to be prepared without delay a detailed list of them, which they shall dispatch to the executive council, and shall take all the measures which are in their power that these properties may be respected. 

          5.  The provisional administration selected by the people shall be charged with the surveillance and control of the goods placed under the safeguard and protection of the French Republic; it shall look after the security of persons and property; it will cause to be executed the laws in force relative to the trial of civil and criminal suits and to the police and the public security; it shall be charged to regulate and to cause the payment of the local expenses and those which shall be necessary for the common defense; it may establish taxes, provided, however, that they shall not be borne by the indigent and laboring portion of the people.

          6.  When the provisional administration shall be organized, the National Convention shall appoint commissioners from within its own body to go to fraternize with it. 

          7.  The executive council shall also appoint national commissioners, who shall repair directly to the places in order to cooperate with the generals and the provisional administration selected by the people upon the measures to be taken for the common defense, and upon the means employed to procure the clothing and provisions necessary for the armies, and to meet the expenses which they have incurred and shall incur during their sojourn upon its territory. . . .

          9.  The provisional administration selected by the people and the functions of the national commissioners shall cease as soon as the inhabitants, after having declared the sovereignty and independence of the people, liberty, and equality, shall have organized a free and popular form of government. 

          10.  There shall be made a list of the expenses which the French Republic shall have incurred for the common defense and of the sums which it may have received, and the French nation shall make arrangements with the government which shall have been established for that which may be due; and in case the common interest should require that the troops of the Republic remain beyond that time upon the foreign territory, it shall take suitable measures to provide for their subsistence. 

          11.  The French nation declares that it will treat as enemies the people who, refusing liberty and equality, or renouncing them, may wish to preserve, recall, or treat with the prince and the privileged castes; it promises and engages not to subscribe to any treaty, and not to lay down its arms until after the establishment of the sovereignty and independence of the people whose territory the troops of the Republic have entered upon and who shall have adopted the principles of equality, and established a free popular government. 

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