This insurrection and its outcome are most commonly referred to by historians of the Revolution simply as "the 10th of August"; other common designations include "the journée of the 10th of August" (journée du 10 août), "the insurrection of the 10th of August", or even "the revolution of the 10th of August".
The initial battles were a disaster for the French, and Prussia joined Austria in active alliance against France (see First Coalition). However, a delay in their preparations gave France an opportunity to improve its army.
The Revolution at this time was moving into a more radical phase. The Legislative Assembly passed several decrees, notably one against non-juring priests, which the king refused to sign. This led in early June to a break between the king and his Girondist ministers. When the king formed a new cabinet mostly of constitutional monarchist Feuillants, this widened the breach between the king on the one hand and the leaders of the Assembly and the majority of the common people of Paris on the other.
On June 20, the armed populace invaded the hall of the Assembly and the royal apartments in the Tuileries, but were pacified by the King. The failure of the insurrection encouraged a movement in favour of the king. Lafayette attempted to use this opportunity to heal the breach, but was suspected by people, legislature, and court alike of mere personal ambition.
A last Girondist advance to Louis was rebuffed, and the Feuillants were in collapse. The Girondins now made a turn to the left and joined those ready to use force to overthrow the monarchy. Pierre Victurnien Vergniaud, in a speech to the Assembly directed toward the king the following rhetorical questions: "Did the constitution leave you the choice of ministers for our happiness or our ruin? Did it place you at the head of our army for our glory or our shame? Did it give you the right of sanction, a civil list and so many prerogatives, constitutionally to lose the empire and the constitution?" Brissot was even more direct: "I tell you to strike at the Tuileries… you are told to prosecute all factious and intriguing conspirators; they will all disappear if you once knock loud enough at the door of the cabinet of the Tuileries, for that cabinet is the point to which all these threads tend, where every scheme is plotted, and whence every impulse proceeds. The nation is the plaything of this cabinet. This is the secret of our position, this is the source of the evil, and here the remedy must be applied."
Meanwhile, the allied Austrian and Prussian army was at length mustering on the frontier. The generally "constitutionalist" (monarchist) soldiers of the line, and a portion of the Swiss, were sent away from Paris. At the same time the National Guard — up to now middle-class in character — was opened to those from the lower classes. On July 25, 1792, the Prussian commander Charles William Ferdinand, Duke of Brunswick issued a manifesto which announced that the Allies would enter France to restore the royal authority and execute anybody who opposed them or tried to injure the king and his family. The Brunswick Manifesto became known in Paris on August 1 and heated the republican spirit to revolutionary fury.
Volunteers and fédérés were constantly arriving in Paris, and, although most went on to join the army, the Jacobins enlisted those who were suitable for their purpose, especially some 500 whom Barbaroux, a Girondin, had summoned from Marseilles. François Mignet writes, "Their enterprise had been projected and suspended several times. On the 26th of July, an insurrection was to break out; but it was badly contrived, and Pétion prevented it. When the federates from Marseilles arrived, on their way to the camp at Soissons, the faubourgs were to meet them, and then repair, unexpectedly, to the château. This insurrection also failed." It was resolved to strike the decisive blow on August 10.
The political clubs openly discussed the dethronement of the king, and on August 3 Pétion spoke to the Assembly, soliciting an end to the monarchy in the name of the commune and of the sections. On August 8, the accusation of Lafayette was discussed; he was acquitted; but (again quoting Mignet), "all who had voted for him were hissed, pursued, and ill treated by the people at the breaking up of the sitting". , as for example Vaublanc or Quatremère de Quincy. This harassment extended to death threats and invasions of their homes. Hector de Joly, the minister of justice wrote to the president of the Assembly, "I have denounced these attacks in the criminal court; but law is powerless; and I am impelled by honour and probity to inform you, that without the promptest assistance of the legislative body, the government can no longer be responsible."
On the night of August 9 a new revolutionary Paris Commune took possession of the Hôtel de Ville (the seat of city government). The plan of the Jacobins of the Assembly, supported by the armed fédérés, was to dissolve the département of Paris, to dismiss Pétion, and to institute an insurrectionary commune (municipal government), then to assault the Tuileries.
A portion of the Assembly, aroused by the tocsin, had gone into emergency session under the presidentship of Vergniaud. Hearing that Pétion was at the Tuileries, they presumed he was detained there and wanted to be released. They now summoned him, as the king had earlier, to give an account of the state of Paris. He came, as requested. A deputation from the Hôtel de Ville inquired for him at the Assembly, also supposing him to be a prisoner at the Tuileries. He left with them and effectively became a prisoner of the insurrectionist commune, under a guard of three hundred men.
The new commune also summoned the Marquis de Mandat, commander of the National Guard forces guarding the Tuileries. Unaware of the change of regime at the Hôtel de Ville, he obeyed the summons; he was accused of authorizing the troops to fire on the people. He was ordered to the Abbaye, but, in the event, the mob murdered him as he was leaving the Hôtel de Ville. The commune immediately conferred the command of the national guard on Santerre.
Pierre Louis Roederer, the recorder of the Paris départment, passed the night at the Tuileries. As the preparations of the Jacobins had been notorious, some measures of defense had been taken. Roederer's Chronique des Cinquante Jours records that at about four in the morning Queen Marie Antoinette summoned him, and he advised that the king and the royal family should proceed to the Legislative Assembly. "You propose," said Dubouchage, "to take the king to his foes". Roederer pointed out that only two days earlier two thirds of the Assembly had pronounced in favour of Lafayette, and argued that this plan was the least dangerous. The queen, however, opted to resist with force, and Roederer acquiesced.
Laschenaye, commanding the troops in Mandat's absence, said that the National Guard troops were ready on the defensive, but he protested the presence of the aristocratic irregulars. Mandat had earlier vainly urged the queen to dismiss these gentlemen, because their presence discouraged the zeal of the constitutionalists. Like Mandat before him, Laschenaye was rebuked by the queen: "I will answer for those who are here; they will advance first or last, in the ranks, as you please; they are ready for all that is necessary; they are sure men." De Joly and Champion were sent to the Assembly to apprise it of the danger, and to ask for its assistance and for commissioners.
The king's 5 a.m. review of his troops showed that he could not count on all of his ostensible protectors. Cries of Vive le roi! mixed with cries of Vive la nation! and even Vive Pétion! The pike battalions were openly hostile, crying out "Down with the veto!" and "Down with the traitor!"; as Louis returned, they quit their position, placed themselves near the Pont Royal, and turned their cannon against the château. Two other battalions stationed in the courts imitated them, and established themselves on the Place du Carrousel in an attitude of attack.
Early on the morning of August 10 the insurgents assailed the Tuileries. The vanguard of the Faubourgs, composed of Marseillais and Breton fédérés arrayed on the Carrousel, turned cannon against the château. De Joly and Champion returned from the Assembly, stating that the sixty or eighty members present were not sufficient in number to debate and that their proposition had not been heard.
Members of the département, headed by Roederer, the recorder of the department, presented themselves to the crowd, observing that so great a multitude could not have access to the king, or to the national assembly, and recommending them to entrust twenty deputies with their requests, but they did not listen to him. He turned to the National Guard, reminded them of the article of the law, which enjoined them when attacked, to repel force by force. A very small part of the National Guard seemed disposed to do so; and a discharge of cannon was the only reply of the artillerymen. Roederer, seeing that the insurgents were everywhere triumphant, that they were masters of the field, and that they disposed of the multitude, and even of the troops, returned hastily to the château, at the head of the executive directory.
Besides a few gentlemen in arms and a number of present and former National Guards (including recently dismissed officers), the palace was garrisoned by the Gardes Suisse Swiss Guard, about 950 strong. Only a single company of these guards was normally on duty at the Tuileries but the remainder of the regiment (less a detachment of 300 sent to escort grain convoys in Normandy a few days before) had been brought into central Paris from their barracks during the night of 9-10 August. However, Mandat's departure and subsequent death significantly affected the situation. The National Guard would probably (at least according to Mignet) have obeyed orders from Mandat to employ force against the mixed crowd of provincial national guardsmen and Parisians, but finding themselves side by side with nobles and royalists and lacking their own commander, they now either dispersed or fraternised with the assailants.
The king held a council with the queen and ministers. A municipal officer had just given the alarm by announcing that the columns of the insurgents were advancing upon the Tuileries. "Well, and what do they want?" asked Joly, keeper of the seals. "Abdication," replied the officer. "To be pronounced by the assembly," added the minister. "And what will follow abdication?" inquired the queen. The municipal officer bowed in silence. At this moment Roederer arrived, and increased the alarm of the court by announcing that the danger was extreme; that the insurgents would not be treated with, and that the national guard could not be depended upon. "Sire," said he, urgently, "your majesty has not five minutes to lose: your only safety is in the National Assembly; it is the opinion of the department that you ought to repair thither without delay. There are not sufficient men in the court to defend the château; nor are we sure of them. At the mention of defense, the artillerymen discharged their cannon." The king replied, at first, that he had not observed many people on the Carrousel; and the queen rejoined with vivacity, that the king had forces to defend the château. But, at the renewed urgency of Roederer, the king after looking at him attentively for a few minutes, turned to the queen, and said, as he rose: "Let us go." "Monsieur Roederer," said Madame Elizabeth, addressing the recorder, "you answer for the life of the king?" "Yes, madame, with my own," he replied. "I will walk immediately before him."
The king announced to the defenders of the château his intent to go to the National Assembly and placed himself, along with his family, ministers, and the members of the département, between two ranks of national guards, summoned as an escort. While still on the grounds of the Tuileries, a deputation of the Assembly met him and offered asylum. Passing through an animated mob, the king and his family had great difficulty in reaching the hall, where they took the seats reserved for the ministers.
"Gentlemen," said the king, "I come here to avoid a great crime; I think I cannot be safer than with you." Vergniaud assured him that the members of the Assembly, "have sworn to die in maintaining the rights of the people, and the constituted authorities." The king then took his seat next the president, but Chabot reminded him that the Assembly could not deliberate in the presence of the king; the royal party retired into the reporter's box behind the president, whence all that took place could be seen and heard.
The king's departure removed all rational motives for resistance. The gendarmerie left their posts. The National Guard began to move in favour of the insurgents, who still surrounded the château. Meanwhile, the Marseillais and Bretons who occupied the first rank forced the Porte Royale on the Carrousel, and entered the court of the château. Led by Danton's associate François Joseph Westermann, they faced off against the Swiss Guards who lacking orders remained at their posts, in front of the main entrance stairs to the Tuileries and scattered throughout the building.
Of the 950 Swiss Guards at the Tuileries about 600 were killed in the fighting, or when attempting to surrender by the attackers, who were infuriated at their action in firing on the crowd. About 60 were escorted as prisoners to the Hotel de Ville but were massacred there. Others died in prison of their wounds or were killed during the September Massacres that followed. In all only about 100 Swiss are believed to have survived. The gentlemen at arms, who numbered only about 200, were inconspicuous in civilian clothing and were mostly able to escape in the confusion.
A shrunken remnant of the Legislative Assembly, almost all of them Jacobins, felt itself compelled to yield, but would not take upon itself the deposition of the king. Instead, at the initiative of Vergniaud, they unanimously voted measure to convoke the demanded national convention, dismiss the ministers, and suspend (but not depose) the king.
An ad hoc executive council was established. About four thousand non-juring priests were exiled. Commissioners were despatched to the armies to make sure of them. Louis XVI, to whom the Assembly had at first assigned the Luxembourg Palace as a residence, was transferred as a prisoner to the Temple, by the all-powerful commune, under the dubious pretext of his own safety.
The ad hoc executive council of the Assembly had no root in law and little hold on public opinion. When Lafayette's troops would not follow him to Paris to defend the Constitution of 1791, he chose to surrender himself to the Austrians.
The elections to the Convention were by almost universal suffrage, but indifference or intimidation reduced the voters to a small number. Many who had sat in the National Constituent Assembly and many more who had sat in the Legislative Assembly were returned. The Convention met on September 20 and became the new de facto government of France. One of its first acts was to abolish the monarchy.
Mignet writes that the 10th of August "marked... the insurrection of the multitude against the middle classes and the constitutional throne, as the 14th of July had seen the insurrection of the middle class against the privileged class and the absolute power of the crown. On the 10th of August began the dictatorial and arbitrary epoch of the revolution... The nature of the question was then entirely changed; it was no longer a matter of liberty, but of public safety; and the Conventional period, from the end of the Constitution of 1791, to the time when the Constitution of the Year III established the Directory, was only a long campaign of the revolution against parties and against Europe."