King S Trial: St. Just S Side Essay, Research Paper
In this report, I will briefly summarize the arguments that St. Just put forward in the first of the two speeches he had given in front of the Convention during the trial of Louis XVI. It occurred on 13 November 1792, and it was young St. Just s inaugural speech. Perhaps the most distinguishing characteristics of St. Just s speech were its theoretical bent, its abstract spirit, and magnificent (or intolerable, depending on one s taste) aura of moral self-righteousness. Already in this speeches we see the trait that made this moral puritan one of the most vilified Jacobins his willingness to interpret (perhaps even insistence on interpreting) everything and anything outside of his dogma as a sign of weakness, if not an outright counter-revolutionary act.
He started of by insisting that the King should be judged, contrary to the opinions of his defenders, but he should be judged as an enemy, not as a citizen, as the Committee on Legislation suggested. St. Just berated his colleagues they, he said, “fell into forms without principles,” their “mistaken measures of prudence, delays, and reflections were here truly imprudent.” He topped it off by proclaiming that the “subtlety of spirit and of character is a great obstacle to liberty.” These remarks are all too easily misconstrued to be those of evil man trying to make the Reign of Terror a reality. They actually were words of a man disgusted with casuistry of his colleagues, their amoral desire to substitute the lack of principles by specious legal arguments.
St. Just saw very clearly, as should all of us, that nothing, absolutely nothing in the Constitution of 1791, allowed for the King to be deposed, much less tried. But, as we find out from the proceedings of the trial, imagining laws that were convenient, building these phantom castles of sand, were not inventions of the 20th century lawyers. The orators of the Gironde tried to make a citizen out of the King so that he could be tried. One should not mistake St. Just for the protector of the Constitution, though. The principles he stood for, for unlike most of his colleagues he did stand for something, were much too radical for the Constitution of 1791. He abhorred the idea of raising a man whose hand was “soaked in blood” and “plunged in crime” to a status of citizen. St. Just view citizenship as the concept almost sacred to the Republic he envisioned.
The casuistic spirit of the proceedings, according to St. Just, should be foreign to the creators of the Republic. The deputies were becoming “each others slaves” while arguing the pointless legalities. St. Just tried to wash “the shared guilt” and “weakness” from the minds of his listeners. He implored them to “strike a first blow” to the King who was not connected to the people in any way, shape, or form. For there was no “natural bond” between them the rights of the Kings existed only as long as they benefited the people. The King has committed a variety of crimes, and for that this artificial “cloak of dignity” was withdrawn. Consequently, Louis was not a citizen, and thus cannot be judged by civil law. Indeed, in civil law, it was the people who should be tried for deposing Louis.
St. Just decried “to respect the king no longer.” The oppressor of a free nation and abuser of its laws “must die to assure the tranquillity of the people.” Throughout the speech, deputies were continually reminded the Louis intended “people to be crushed.” But St. Just did not stop at there he professed that “a king should be accused, not for the crimes of his administration, but for the crime of having been king.” Monarchy for St. Just cannot be tolerated, for it is “guilty before nature, and all men hold from nature the secret mission to destroy such domination wherever it may be found.” “No man can rule innocently,” proclaims St. Just.
After uttering that immortal phrase, St. Just goes on to show that, unless Louis is stripped of his citizenship, a trial is a sham. He tells deputies, “You cannot be a court of law, a jury, and a prosecutor; a formal trial would be unjust; and the king, regarded as a citizen, could not be judged by the same men that accused him.” He adds, “in such a trial, forms are mockery.” Better than his contemporaries, we must realize how true this is. Indeed, can a trial in which a verdict of not guilty cannot possibly be given be considered just?
In his speech, St. Just deals with an extremely important question: should convention s sentence be ratified by local assemblies? The answer to this question is negative, for while “the people can pass the laws by its will, since these laws are vital to its happiness,” it “cannot erase the laws against tyranny.” The Gabriel of 18th century says that “no act of a sovereign can truly constrain a single citizen to pardon such a crime.”
To finish the speech off, St. Just point blank tells his colleagues that the king will be killed for “there is not citizen who does not have the right that Brutus had over Caesar.” He then tries to intimidate them by saying that absolution of the King should make the Convention not worthy of public s confidence, and that the deputies should be accused of perfidy. It seems that St. Just tried to appeal to both the bright (principled, Republican) and dark (scared, shameless politicking) sides of his colleagues to get what he deemed right. While I am a big admirer of St. Just s, I admit that in his speech he comes dangerously close to breathing life into the anemic and distinctly un-Republican mantra of Jesuits the ends justify the means.