December 11, 1792: King Louis XVI of France is charged with treason. Louis’s father died before King Louis XV left the throne and so the next generation inherited the throne from his grandfather. The younger Louis was only eleven when his father died, leaving him next in succession to the throne which he inherited on May 10, 1774. The first part of Louis XVI’s reign saw attempts to reform France in accordance with Enlightenment philosophy. Serfdom was abolished, the taille (a direct land tax of the French peasantry and non-nobles) was removed, and a more lenient attitude toward non-Catholics was established. The French nobles were not happy with the reforms and interfered with implementation. The debt incurred by the French after they helped the US fight Britain for independence added to the stress in France.
The French Revolution became a struggle between the powerful monarchy and noble classes along with the power of the Church against the power of the people and their right to government of choice. The King was officially arrested on August 13,1792. He was sent to the Temple, a Parisian fortress used as a prison. On September 21, the National Assembly declared France to be a republic and abolished the monarchy. Factions inside the Revolution were in disagreement as to what should become of the King. The Girondins wished to keep him under arrest to use as a bargaining chip while more radical members wanted the king’s immediate execution.
On this day, the charges were brought. Louis XVI heard the 33 charges while seated in the same armchair he had used when he had accepted the Constitution. As each charge was read, Bertrand Barère de Vieuzac questioned the King for response. The King hoped for the best legal minds in the land for his defense team. Gui-Jean-Baptiste Target was his first choice, but the man declined. Raymond Desèze became lead counsel. He had only two weeks to prepare for the trial and on December 26, 1792 he pled the King’s case for three hours hoping to spare the King’s life.
The verdict was a foregone conclusion. A yes vote in favor of guilt was given by 693 deputies while not a single deputy voted no, although 26 did attached some condition to their yes votes. Another 26 deputies were absent and did not vote and 23 abstained because they felt they were not elected to judge. The king’s sentence was death, but the matter of when was not immediately clear. Jean-Baptiste Mailhe hoped for a delay. Paris voted for death with Robespierre voting first. On January 21, 1793, King Louis XVI was beheaded by guillotine after giving a short speech declaring his innocence. He was 38.
Liberty, equality, fraternity, or death; – the last, much the easiest to bestow, O Guillotine! – Charles Dickens
Little by little, the old world crumbled, and not once did the king imagine that some of the pieces might fall on him. – Jennifer Donnelly
Peoples do not judge in the same way as courts of law; they do not hand down sentences, they throw thunderbolts; they do not condemn kings, they drop them back into the void; and this justice is worth just as much as that of the courts. – Maximilien de Robespierre
Kill the king but spare the man. – Thomas Paine
Also on this day: What Would You Do for Love? – In 1936, King Edward VIII of England abdicates to be free to marry Wallis Simpson.
Rewriting History – In 2006, Holocaust revisionists met in Tehran, Iran.
UNICEF – In 1946, UNICEF was established.
Indiana – In 1816, Indiana was admitted to the Union.