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A number of French counter-revolutionaries nobles, ecclesiastics, and some bourgeois— abandoned the struggle in their own country and emigrated. Many formed armed groups close to the northeastern frontier of France and sought help from the rulers of Europe. The rulers were at first indifferent to the Revolution but began to worry when the National Constituent Assembly proclaimed a revolutionary principle of international law—namely, that a people had the right of self-determination. In accordance with this principle, the Papal territory of Avignon was reunited with France on September 13, 1791. By early 1792 both radicals, eager to spread the principles of the Revolution, and the king, hopeful that war would either strengthen his authority or allow foreign armies to rescue him, supported an aggressive policy. France declared war against Austria on April 20, 1792.
In the first phase of the war (April–September 1792), France suffered defeats; Prussia joined the war in July, and an Austro-Prussian army crossed the frontier and advanced rapidly toward Paris.
War Against Austria and Prussia
Believing that they had been betrayed by the king and the aristocrats, the Paris revolutionaries rose on August 10, 1792, occupied Tuileries Palace, where Louis XVI was living and imprisoned the royal family in the Temple. At the beginning of September, the Parisian crowd broke into the prisons and massacred the nobles and clergy held there. Meanwhile, volunteers were pouring into the army as the Revolution had awakened French nationalism. In a final effort, the French forces checked the Prussians on September 20, 1792, at Valmy. On the same day, a new assembly, the National Convention, met. The next day it proclaimed the abolition of the monarchy and the establishment of the republic.
In the second phase of the war (September 1792–April 1793), the revolutionaries got the better of the enemy. Belgium, the Rhineland, Savoy, and the county of Nice were occupied by French armies. Meanwhile, the National Convention was divided between the Girondins, who wanted to organize a bourgeois republic in France and to spread the Revolution over the whole of Europe, and the Montagnards (“Mountain Men”), who, with Robespierre, wanted to give the lower classes a greater share in political and economic power. Despite efforts made by the Girondins, Louis XVI was judged by the Convention, condemned to death for treason, and executed on January 21, 1793; the queen, Marie-Antoinette, was guillotined nine months later.
In the weeks after the execution of the king, the internal and external wars in France continued to grow. Prussian and Austrian forces pushed into the French countryside, and one noted French general even defected to the opposition. Unable to assemble an army out of the disgruntled and protesting peasants, the Girondin-led National Convention started to panic. In an effort to restore peace and order, the convention created the Committee of Public Safety on April 6, 1793, to maintain order within France and protect the country from external threats.
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