Monday, November 13, 2006

Trial of Marie Olympe de Gouges

The Trial of Olympe de Gouges

The case against Olympe de Gouges is worth reading in detail because it is typical of the attacks on those who criticized the authority of the central government that gathered force in the fall of 1793 and continued up to July 1794, when Robespierre fell from power. Gouges, an advocate of increased popular consultation, criticized the National Convention, calling its members ambitious men. This criticism was a far greater factor in the decision to sentence her to death than was her public support of women’s rights.

Audience of . . . . . . 12 Brumaire, Year II of the Republic. Case of Olympe de Gouges.

Questioned concerning her name, surname, age, occupation, place of birth, and residence. Replied that her name was Marie Olympe de Gouges, age thirty-eight, femme de lettres, a native of Montauban, living in Paris, rue du Harlay, Section Pont-Neuf.

The clerk read the act of accusation, the tenor of which follows.

Antoine-Quentin Fouquier-Tinville, public prosecutor before the Revolutionary Tribunal, etc.
States that, by an order of the administrators of police, dated last July 25th, signed Louvet and Baudrais, it was ordered that Marie Olympe de Gouges, widow of Aubry, charged with having composed a work contrary to the expressed desire of the entire nation, and directed against whoever might propose a form of government other than that of a republic, one and indivisible, be brought to the prison called l'Abbaye, and that the documents be sent to the public prosecutor of the Revolutionary Tribunal. Consequently, the accused was brought to the designated prison and the documents delivered to the public prosecutor on July 26th. The following August 6th, one of the judges of the Revolutionary Tribunal proceeded with the interrogation of the above-mentioned de Gouges woman.

From the examination of the documents deposited, together with the interrogation of the accused, it follows that against the desire manifested by the majority of Frenchmen for republican government, and in contempt of laws directed against whoever might propose another form of government, Olympe de Gouges composed and had printed works which can only be considered as an attack on the sovereignty of the people because they tend to call into question that concerning which it [the people] formally expressed its desire; that in her writing, entitled Les Trois urnes, ou le Salut de la patrie, there can be found the project of the liberty-killing faction which wanted to place before the people the approbation of the judgment of the tyrant condemned by the people itself; that the author of this work openly provoked civil war and sought to arm citizens against one another by proposing the meeting of primary assemblies to deliberate and express their desire concerning either monarchical government, which the national sovereignty had abolished and proscribed; concerning the one and indivisible republican [form], which it had chosen and established by the organ of its representatives; or, finally, concerning the federative [form], which would be the source of incalculable evils and which would destroy liberty infallibly.

. . . The public prosecutor stated next that it is with the most violent indignation that one hears the de Gouges woman say to men who for the past four years have not stopped making the greatest sacrifices for liberty; who on 10 August 1792, overturned both the throne and the tyrant; who knew how to bravely face the arms and frustrate the plots of the despot, his slaves, and the traitors who had abused the public confidence, to men who have submitted tyranny to the avenging blade of the law that Louis Capet still reigns among them.

There can be no mistaking the perfidious intentions of this criminal woman, and her hidden motives, when one observes her in all the works to which, at the very least, she lends her name, calumniating and spewing out bile in large doses against the warmest friends of the people, their most intrepid defender.

In a manuscript seized in her home, on which she placed a patriotic title only in order to get her poisons circulated more freely, she places in the mouth of the monster who surpasses the Messalinas and the Medicis these impious expressions: "the placard-makers, these paper scribblings, are not worth a Marat, a Robespierre; in the specious language of patriotism, they overturn everything in the name of the people; they appear to be serving propaganda and never have heads of factions better served the cause of kings; at one and the same time they serve two parties moving at a rapid pace towards the same goal. I love these enterprising men; they have a thorough knowledge of the difficult art of imposing on human weaknesses; they have sensed from the beginning that in order to serve me it was necessary to blaze a trail in the opposite direction; applaud yourself, Calonne, this is your work."

Lastly, in the work in question one sees only provocation to the reestablishment of royalty on the part of a woman who, in one of her writings, admits that monarchy seems to her to be the government most suited to the French spirit; who in [the writing] in question points out that the desire for the republic was not freely pronounced; who, lastly, in another [writing] is not afraid to parody the traitor Isnard and to apply to all of France what the former restricted to the city of Paris alone, so calumniated by the partisans of royalty and by those of federalism.

On the basis of the foregoing expose the public prosecutor drew up this accusation against Marie Olympe de Gouges, widow Aubry, for having maliciously and purposefully composed writings attacking the sovereignty of the people (whose desire, when these were written, had been pronounced for republican government, one and indivisible) and tending towards the reestablishment of the monarchical government (which it [the people] had formally proscribed) as well as the federative [form] (against which it [the people] had forcefully protested); for having had printed up and distributed several copies of one of the cited works tending towards these ends, entitled, Les Trois urnes, ou le Salut de la patrie; for having been stopped in her distribution of a greater number of copies as well as in her posting of the cited work only by the refusal of the bill-poster and by her prompt arrest; for having sent this work to her son, employed in the army of the Vendée as officier de l'état major; for having, in other manuscripts and printed works, notably, in the manuscript entitled La France sauvée, ou le Tyran détrôné as well as in the poster entitled Olympe de Gouges au Tribunal Révolutionnaire, sought to degrade the constituted authorities, calumniate the friends and defenders of the people and of liberty, and spread defiance among the representatives and the represented, which is contrary to the laws, and notably to that of last December 4th.

Consequently, the public prosecutor asks that he be given official notice by the assembled Tribunal of this indictment, etc., etc.

In this case only three witnesses were heard, one of whom was the citizen bill-poster, who stated that, having been asked to post a certain number of copies of printed material with the title Les Trois urnes, he refused when he found out about the principles contained in this writing.

When the accused was questioned sharply about when she composed this writing, she replied that it was some time last May, adding that what motivated her was that seeing the storms arising in a large number of départements, and notably in Bordeaux, Lyons, Marseilles, etc., she had the idea of bringing all parties together by leaving them all free in the choice of the kind of government which would be most suitable for them; that furthermore, her intentions had proven that she had in view only the happiness of her country.

Questioned about how it was that she, the accused, who believed herself to be such a good patriot, had been able to develop, in the month of June, means which she called conciliatory concerning a fact which could no longer be in question because the people, at that period, had formally pronounced for republican government, one and indivisible, she replied that this was also the [form of government] she had voted for as the preferable one; that for a long while she had professed only republican sentiments, as the jurors would be able to convince themselves from her work entitled De l'ésclavage des noirs.

A reading was provided by Naulin, the public prosecutor's substitute, of a letter written by the accused to Herault-Sechelles in which principles of federalism are found.

The accused replied to this fact that her intention had been, as she had said already, pure and that she wanted to be able to show her heart to the citizen jurors so that they might judge her love of liberty and her hatred of every kind of tyranny.

Asked to declare whether she acknowledged authorship of a manuscript work found among her papers entitled La France sauvée ou le Tyran détrôné, she replied yes.

Asked why she had placed injurious and perfidious declamations against the most ardent defenders of the rights of the people in the mouth of the person who in this work was supposed to represent the Capet woman, she replied that she had the Capet woman speaking the language appropriate for her; that besides, the handbill for which she was brought before the Tribunal had never been posted; that to avoid compromising herself she had decided to send twenty-four copies to the Committee of Public Safety, which, two days later, had her arrested.

The public prosecutor pointed out to the accused, concerning this matter, that if her placard entitled Les Trois urnes had not been made public, this was because the bill-poster had not been willing to take it upon himself. The accused was in agreement with this fact.

Questioned about whether, since her detention, she had not sent a copy to her son along with a letter, she said that the fact was exact and that her intention concerning this matter had been to apprise him of the cause of her arrest; that besides, she did not know whether her son had received it, not having heard from him in a long while and not knowing at all what could have become of him.

Asked to speak concerning various phrases in the placard entitled Olympe de Gouges, defendeur de Louis Capet, a work written by her at the time of the former's trial, and concerning the placard entitled Olympe de Gouges au Tribunal Révolutionnaire as well, she responded only with oratorical phrases and persisted in saying that she was and always had been a good citoyenne, that she had never intrigued.

Asked to express herself and to reply precisely concerning her sentiments with respect to the faithful representatives of the people whom she had insulted and calumniated in her writings, the accused replied that she had not changed, that she still held to her same opinion concerning them, and that she had looked upon them as ambitious persons.

In her defense the accused said that she had ruined herself in order to propagate the principles of the Revolution and that she was the founder of popular societies of her sex, etc.
During the resume of the charge brought by the public prosecutor, the accused, with respect to the facts she was hearing articulated against her, never stopped her smirking. Sometimes she shrugged her shoulders; then she clasped her hands and raised her eyes towards the ceiling of the room; then, suddenly, she moved on to an expressive gesture, showing astonishment; then gazing next at the court, she smiled at the spectators, etc.

Here is the judgment rendered against her.

The Tribunal, based on the unanimous declaration of the jury, stating that: (1) it is a fact that there exist in the case writings tending towards the reestablishment of a power attacking the sovereignty of the people; [and] (2) that Marie Olympe de Gouges, calling herself widow Aubry, is proven guilty of being the author of these writings, and admitting the conclusions of the public prosecutor, condemns the aforementioned Marie Olympe de Gouges, widow Aubry, to the punishment of death in conformity with Article One of the law of last March 29th, which was read, which is conceived as follows: "Whoever is convicted of having composed or printed works or writings which provoke the dissolution of the national representation, the reestablishment of royalty, or of any other power attacking the sovereignty of the people, will be brought before the Revolutionary Tribunal and punished by death," and declares the goods of the aforementioned Marie Olympe de Gouges seized for the benefit of the republic. . . .

Orders that by the diligence of the public prosecutor this judgment will be executed on the place de la Revolution of this city [and] printed, published, and posted throughout the realm; and given the public declaration made by the aforementioned Marie Olympe de Gouges that she was pregnant, the Tribunal, following the indictment of the public prosecutor, orders that the aforementioned Marie Olympe de Gouges will be seen and visited by the sworn surgeons and doctors and matrons of the Tribunal in order to determine the sincerity of her declaration so that on the basis of their sworn and filed report the Tribunal can pronounce according to the law.

Before pronouncing his judgment, the prosecutor summoned the accused to declare whether she had some observations to make concerning the application of the law, and she replied: "My enemies will not have the glory of seeing my blood flow. I am pregnant and will bear a citizen or citoyenne for the Republic."

The same day [12 Brumaire], the health officer, having visited the condemned, recognized that her declaration was false.

. . . The execution took place the next day [13 Brumaire] towards 4 P.M.; while mounting the scaffold, the condemned, looking at the people, cried out: "Children of the Fatherland, you will avenge my death." Universal cries of "Vive la République" were heard among the spectators waving hats in the air.

7 Comments:

Blogger Esrever said...

First off, do I feel bad for Marie? Yes. Do I agree with her beliefs? From what I understood, yes. Now, do I think she should have been killed? Yes. As we’ve been discussing in class as of late, what better way to get rid of opposing beliefs than to kill those in support of these beliefs? If I had opposing beliefs that could spark a revolution, then I would understand the government taking my life—though I certainly wouldn’t be too happy about it. However, there’s a difference between opposing views in a democratic government and opposing views in something like a dictatorial government. For example, America is not going to be overthrown by opposing views because it is a country that welcomes argument, debate, and disagreement. In other words, free speech doesn’t threaten a democracy. Plus, going back to Marie, she was just begging to get killed. I mean come on, she had the nerve to tell the prosecutor, “My enemies will not have the glory of seeing my blood flow.” She’s telling him that he doesn’t have the balls to condemn her to death. Translation: “Please kill me.” Once again, I’m not saying Marie deserved to be killed, but I am saying that the government did the right thing—as far as self-preservation is concerned—in killing her.

9:34 PM  
Blogger The Filthy Titan said...

Olympe? Named for the Olympics, I wonder?...

Killed her quick, didn't they? Took place the next day. Dang.

It fascinates me that this woman was a "democrat" (I use the term to mean anti-monarchy), yet she was murdered by the National Convention. She was condemned not for being pro-king- something that would make sense- but for being pro-*better* democracy. Kind of mind-bending.

Just remember, kids, when you stage your revolution, kill all the revolutionaries when you get in power or they'll revolt against *you*!

Can't believe I just wrote that. How horrible that they killed this poor woman. God rest her soul.

4:54 PM  
Blogger wishlahaylagon said...

What can you really say about this? I mean she stood up for her beliefs, and you should be willing to die for them, right? Death is necessary to make change. That's a fact because if you look at any major change in the course of human history death has been either a catalyst or a result. I don't really want to regurgitate what has been said in class but Marie had to be killed. With any radical ideas at such a time there was no other option for the government than to make an example of her and to permenantly rid themselves of her voice. Logically I don't understand why governments don't still employ this, but from a moral/ethical standpoint it makes me queasy. It's a fine line between self-preservation and freedom...or a huge gap.

8:06 AM  
Blogger AimerVoyage said...

I am so thankful that I live in America...
But along with the other comments, I also agree that in the interest of self-preservation, her death was necessary. Since this was a public trial, if others that shared her beliefs were to witness her voicing them, and then no punishment coming about, what is there to stop these radicals from banding together? What would be the worst that could happen? A public trial with a little torture and some jail time? But nevermind all that... they would be changing the world! Therefore Marie had to be killed. Should she have been, on a moral basis? No. But when was government ever moral?
I find it infinitely ironic that the group of the people that just dared to voice their own opinions and have the monarcy dismembered, are now killing others for voicing their concerns about the present government. But since these officials are the very ones that did this, they know better than anyone the power that the citizens can generate.

3:52 PM  
Blogger pinkismyfavoritecolor said...

How depressing. I guess it's a good thing that I was born in 1986 because if I had lived in this time I would have surely been dead too. It's sort of surprising to me that her support of women's rights wasn't one of the main causes for punishment. But seeing as how few women actually spoke out in this time, I guess the ruling party didn't worry themselves much with this issue. I know a few of you said earlier that she had to die. I guess I agree too. But mostly for the fact that if she hadn't have been executed than I wouldn't be reading about her today and marveling at the fact that she was such a brave and "ambitious" soul. Her actions and punishment for these actions reminds me of Kant for the fact that this women, according to Kant, would be doing God's will in the fact that she is trying to change society. She's now only showing her ass, but she's definitely showing her intelligence too (I strongly feel that in order to do something to change things one must have the mental capacity to do so). Her self sacrifice is one good example of how the societies of the world have gotten to the point in which they are today. This is the sort of thing that pushes us in the positive direction. So as sad as it is for me to say this (being in great support of feminist who try to make a difference, no matter what year it may be), congradulations Marie Olympe de Gouges. Not only did she succeed in deserving to be killed, but she also fufilled her own goal, to make a difference.

2:41 PM  
Blogger elle_ecrit87 said...

I think that it's horrible to think that this woman died just for having an opinion that made people insecure. However, as we were talking in class about Louis' assassination and the massacres in france, I suppose it is necessary to get rid of all of the ideas that oppose the new government somehow. And in this case, it seems imperative that Marie was killed if the aim was to silece all of her beliefs. She was the leader of her beliefs, and if her followers see that anyone who shares her opinion is going to be killed- an killed QUICKLY- it will probably deter them from voicing any of their opinions and sway them towards the side the government wants them to be on. I do feel is it sad that she was sentenced to death so quickly, and that a lot of it had to do with the fact that her "ambitious men" comment was what sealed the deal.
In Kant's society, though, people like Marie are necessary: people who go against the norm and cause a little strife and uproar. Perhaps people like Marie are martyrs for the perfect society. In the end, I think it's horrible she had to die, but given the times and the circumstances, I can see why they killed her; they couldn't risk public uproar or counter-rebellion.

6:55 PM  
Blogger Beatrice Baudelaire said...

If you are going to oppose a blood-thirsty revolution, you have to do it with flair. Marie needed to make an impression for her ideas to be remembered. Otherwise, the reason for her death would never be remembered as she would be just another beheaded torso of the dying regime. With her exaggerated gestures of astonishment and false interest in the opinions of her prosecuters, she expressed her views on the legitimacy of the trial without words. She was not the docile lady-in-waiting that was used to gain our sympathy in "Citizens." That was not what she represented. she used her unjust situation both to display her intelligence as a woman and to slap the revolution in the face with disrespect she afforded her captors.

7:48 PM  

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