History of the Paris Commune of 1871

35. The executions

At Versailles, every means was used to ensure that the cases were heard with the utmost attention and seriousness … I think therefore that the verdicts given are not only unquestionably right, according to all our laws, but that for the most scrupulous consciences, they are verdicts which speak the truth. (‘Hear, hear!’) (Dufaure’s speech against the amnesty, session of 18th May, 1876.)

The verdict of the military tribunals was, I must admit, for the best. (Allain-Targé, pro-Gambetta deputy, session of 19th May, 1876.)

Twenty-six courts-martial, twenty-six judicial machine-guns, were at work at Versailles, Mont-Valérien, Paris, Vincennes, St. Cloud, Sevres, St. Germain, Rambouillet, as far as Chartres. In the composition of these tribunals not only all semblance of justice, but even all military rules had been despised. The Assembly had not even troubled itself to define their prerogatives. And these officers, hot from the struggle, and for whom every resistance, even the most legitimate, is a crime, had been let loose upon their overwhelmed enemies without any other jurisprudence than their fancy, without any other rein than their humanity, without any other instruction than their cornmission. With such janissaries and a penal code comprising everything in its elastic obscurity, there was no need for emergency laws in order to attaint all Paris. Soon one saw the most extravagant theories invented and propagated in these judicial dens. Thus, being at the place of the crime constituted legal complicity; with these magistrates this was a dogma.

Instead of removing the courts-martial into the ports, the prisoners were forced to again undergo the painful journey from the sea to Versailles. Some, like Elisée Reclus, had thus to pass through fourteen prisons. From the pontoons they were conducted to the railway station on foot, their hands manacled; but at Brest, when they passed through the streets showing their chains, the passers-by uncovered their heads before them.

With the exception of a few prisoners of note, whose trials I shall briefly recount, the bulk of the prisoners were thrust before the tribunals after an examination which did not even always make sure of their identity. Too poor to get a defender, these unfortunate people, without guides, without witnesses for the defence – those whom they called did not dare to come for fear of being arrested – only appeared and disappeared before the tribunal. The accusation, the examination, the sentence were shuffled through in a few minutes. ‘You fought at Issy, at Neuilly? Sentenced to transportation.’ ‘What! for life? And my wife, my children?’ To another: ‘You served in the battalions of the Commune?’ ‘And who would have fed my family when the workshop and factory were closed?’ Again sentenced to transportation. ‘And you? Guilty of an illegal arrest. To the penal colony.’ On the 14th October, in less than two months, the first and second courts had pronounced more than six hundred sentences.

Would that I could recount the martyrdom of the thousands who marched past thus in sombre lines, National Guards, women, children, old men, ambulance attendants, doctors, functionaries, of this decimated town! It is you whom I should honour, you above all, you, the nameless, to whom I should give the first place, as you took it in the work at the barricades, where you did your duty in obscurity. The true drama of the courts-martial was not in those solemn sittings in which the accused, the tribunal, the barristers prepared for public performance, but in those halls which only saw the unhappy ones, ignored by the whole world, face to face with a tribunal as inexorable as the chassepôt. How many of these humble defenders of the Commune held up their heads more proudly than the chiefs, and whose heroism no one will tell! When the insolence, the insults, the grotesque arguments of the conspicuous judges are known, it may be guessed with what ignominy the unknown accused were overwhelmed in the shade of these new prevotal courts. Who will avenge these hecatombs of the Père la Chaise in the darkness of the night?

The newspapers have left no trace of their trials; but, in default of the names of the victims, I can scatter those of some judges to the four winds of history.

Formerly, in the days of honour of the French army, in 1795, after Quiberon, it was necessary to threaten the officers of the Republic with death in order to form the courts-martial that were to judge the Vendéens. And yet those vanquished had, under the cannon, with English arms, attacked their country in the rear, while the coalesced Powers struck her in front. In 1871 the accomplices of Bazaine solicited the honour of judging the vanquished of that Paris which had been the bulwark of national honour. Through long months 1,509 officers of this degraded army, that has not an hour too much for its rehabilitation and for study, 14 generals, 266 colonels and lieutenant-colonels, and 284 commanders, were dubbed judges and commisars. How select amongst this pick of bestiality? When I mention a few presidents at random – Merlin, Boisdenernetz, Jobey, Delaporte, Dulac, Barthel, Donnat, Aubert – I shall be wronging a hundred others.

Merlin and Boisdenemetz are known. Colonel Delaporte was of the Gallifet species. Old, used up, valetudinarian, he only revived after a sentence of death. It is he who pronounced the greatest number, aided by the clerk of the court, Duplan, who prepared the sentences beforehand, and afterwards committed the most impudent forgeries in the minutes. Jobey had, it was said, lost a son in the struggle with the Commune, and now he avenged himself. His small wrinkled eye watched for the anguish in the face of the unfortunate he condemned. Every appeal to good sense was to him an insult. ‘He would have been happy,’ said he, ‘to stew the lawyers together with the culprits.’

And yet how few lawyers did their duty! Many had declared that one could not decently assist such prisoners. Others wanted to be requisitioned. With four or five exceptions[247] these unworthy defenders banqueted with the officers. Barristers and commissars communicated to each other their means of attack or defence; the officers announced the verdicts beforehand. The advocate Riché boasted of having drawn up the accusation act against Rossel. The advocates officially designated did not answer the call.

These ignorant judges, making a parade of violence, insulting the prisoners, witnesses, and lawyers, *ere worthily seconded by the commissar. One of them, Grimal, sold to the demi-monde journals the papers of the celebrated prisoners.[248] Gaveau, a savage simpleton, without a shadow of talent, died some months after in a madhouse. Bourboulon, eager for display, aimed at oratorical effects. Barthelemy, a beer-drinker, fair and fat, made puns while asking for the heads of the accused. Charrière, at fifty years of age still captain, a kind of wild-cat, an imbecile, and a pretentious liar, said that he had made a vow of cruelty to Caesar. Jouesne, notorious in the army for his stupidity, made up for it by his stubborn animosity. Not much was needed in such courts. The most implacable, on the whole, were the third, fourth, and sixth courts, and the thirteenth at St. Cloud, which publicly boasted of acquitting nobody.

So much for the judges and the justice which the bourgeoisie gave those proletarians they had not shot down. I should like to be able to follow up step by step their swash-buckling jurisprudence, take the trials one by one, show the laws violated, the most elementary rules of procedure despised, the documents falsified, the evidence distorted, the prisoners condemned to hard labour and to death without what would have been the ghost of a proof with a serious jury; the cynicism of the prevotal courts of the Restoration and of the Mixed Commissions of December ingrafted on the brutality of the soldier who revenges his caste. Such a work would require long technical labour.[249] I shall only indicate the principal lines. Besides, are not these judgments already judged?

In 1871 the Versailles Government demanded of Switzerland the extradition of the governor of the Ecole Militaire, in 1876 that of the delegate Frankel from Hungary, both condemned to death for assassination and incendiarism. They were at once arrested. Liberal Switzerland and rural Hungary, considering the acts of the Commune as common crimes, were ready to deliver up the prisoners if Versailles furnished the legal proof required by treaties of extradition that they had committed the acts for which they had been condemned. The Versaillese Government only produced the sentences of the courtsmartial, and could not add the least ‘trace of proof or any precise evidence establishing culpability.[250] The prisoners had to be released.

On the 8th September Rossel appeared before the third court. His defence consisted in saying that he had served the Commune in the hope that the insurrection would recommence the war against the Prussians. Merlin treated the prisoner with the greatest consideration, who in turn testified the most profound respect for the army. But an example was needed for romantic soldiers, and Rossel was condemned to death.

On the 21st Rochefort was sentenced to transportation in a fortress. The Bonapartists of the court especially had their eye on the author of the Lanterne. Merlin had defended Pierre Bonaparte. Gaveau, accused the prisoner of having outraged the person of the Emperor. Trochu, whom Rochefort had called as a witness for the defence, answered the man who during the siege had for him sacrificed his popularity, by an insulting letter!

Revolutionary journalism had the honour of counting some victims in its ranks. Young Maroteau, for two articles – two only – in the Salut Public was condemned to death; Alphonse Humbert, for three or four articles in the Père Duchesne, to hard labour for life.

Other journalists were condemned to transportation. What was their crime? Having defended the Commune. Yet the Commune had contented itself with suppressing the papers that defended Versailles. In point of fact, the courts-martial were charged to exterminate the revolutionary party.

Fear of the future rendered them implacable. After the numberless assassinations in the Rue des Rosiers, they too wanted to offer a holocaust to the manes of Lecomte and Clément-Thomas. The real executioners were not to be found. The explosion of fury which cost the two generals their lives had been spontaneous, sudden as that which in 1789 killed Flesselles, Foulon and Berthier. The actors of the drama were legion, and with it all traces of them were lost. The military judges selected the accused at random, as their colleagues had on the Buttes Montmartre shot the first-comers.

‘Simon Mayer,’ said the report, ‘tried to the last moment to defend the prisoners, and Kazdansky did his best to oppose the carrying out of the threats of death. The crowd insulted him and tore off his gold lace.’ HerpinLacroix had made desperate efforts; Lagrange, who had refused to form the firing-party, felt so secure in his innocence that he had come to give himself up to the judges of his own free will. The report made the principal accused of him, along with Simon Mayer, Kazdansky, Herpin-Lacroix, and a sergeant of the line, Verdagnier, who on the 18th March had raised the butt-end of his gun.

The trial was conducted by Colonel Aubert, a sneering melodramatic bigot. Despite his efforts and those of the commissar, not the slightest proof could be brought forward against the prisoners. Even the officers of the army, companions of General Lecomte, gave evidence in their favour. ‘Simon Mayer did all that was possible to save us,’ said the Commander Poussargue. This officer had heard a voice cry, ‘Do not kill even traitors without judgment; form a courtmartial’ , literally the words of Herpin-Lacroix. Of all the accused. he only recognized Mayer. Another officer gave similar evidence. Verdagnier proved that at the time of the executions he had been at the huts of Courcelles. The prosecution denied all, but without being able to produce a single witness. Ribemont proved that he had withstood the assailants in the room of the Rue des Rosiers. Masselot had against him nothing but the evidence of some hostile women, pretending that he had boasted of having shot at the generals. Captain Beugnot, aide-de-camp of the Minister, and present at the execution, affirmed, on the contrary, that the generals had been surrounded by the soldiers; M. de Maillefu, that the front of the platoon was composed of nine soldiers, whose regiments he named.

There were not even false official witnesses, as in the trial of the members of the Commune; and yet the prosecution, far from letting them escape its clutches, was most implacable with regard to these very men who had risked their lives to save the generals. The commissar threatened to arrest a witness who warmly gave evidence in favour of a prisoner. After several sittings they discovered that they were judging one individual for another. The president ordered the press to hush up the incident. Each sitting, each new evidence, cleared the prisoners and made a condemnation more impossible. Yet on the 18th November Verdagnier, Mayer, Herpin-Lacroix, Masselot, Leblond, and Aldenhoff were condemned to death; the others to penalties varying from hard labour to imprisonment. One of those condemned to death, Leblond, was only fifteen and a half years old.

This satisfaction given the army, the courts, as good courtiers, avenged the offences against M. Thiers. The functionary Fontaine, charged by the Commune with the demolition of the house of him who had demolished hundreds of houses, appeared before the fifth court-martial, which did its utmost to make him appear a thief. Every one knew that M. Thiers’ furniture and silver plate had been sent to the Garde-Meuble, the objects of art to the museums, the books to the public libraries, the linen to the ambulances, and that after the entry of the troops the little man had regained possession of most of these objects. Some having perished in the conflagration of the Tuileries, the report accused Fontaine of having abstracted them, although only two valueless medals had been found in his house. To this accusation, from which he believed himself secured by a long life of probity and honour, Fontaine could only reply with tears. The Figarists laughed at it a good deal, and he was condemned to twenty years’ hard labour.

On the 28th November the Assembly recommenced its shootings. M. Thiers, cleverly throwing upon the representatives the right of commuting the penalties, had a Commission of Pardons named by the Chamber. It was composed of fifteen members, purveyors of the Mixed Commission of 1852, great proprietors, inveterate Royalists.[251] One of them, the Marquis de Quinsonnas, had during the battle in the streets superintended the executions at the Luxembourg. The president, Martel, was an old satyr, who sold his pardons to pretty solicitresses.

The first cases which they took up were those of Rossel and Ferré. The Liberal press pleaded warmly for the young officer. In his restless mind, without unsound political opinions, who had so cavalierly turned his back upon the Commune, the bourgeoisie soon recognized one of her prodigal children. He had besides made an amende honorable. The press published his memoirs, in which he reviled the Commune and the Federals. Day by day they recounted the life of the prisoner, his sublime colloquies with a Protestant clergyman, his heart-rending interviews with his family. Of Ferré not a word, except to say he was ‘hideous’. His mother had died mad; his brother was shut up as mad in the dungeons of Versailles; his father was a prisoner in the citadel of Fouras; his sister, a young girl of nineteen, silent, resigned, stoical, spent her days and nights earning the twenty francs that she every week sent her brother. She had refused the aid of her friends, unwilling to share with any one the honour of accomplishing her pious duty. Indeed, one can imagine nothing more ‘hideous!’

For twelve weeks death remained suspended above the heads of the condemned. At last, on the 28th November, at six o’clock in the morning, they were told that they must die. Ferré jumped out of bed without showing the slightest emotion, declined the visit of the chaplain, wrote to ask the military tribunals for the release of his father, and to his sister that she should have him buried so that his friends would be able to find him again. Rossel, rather surprised at first, afterwards conversed with his clergyman. He wrote a letter demanding that his death should not be avenged – a very useless precaution – and addressed a few thanks to Jesus Christ. For comrade in death they had a sergeant of the 45th line, Bourgeois, who had gone over to the Commune, and who showed the same calm as Ferré. Rossel was indignant when they put on the handcuffs; Ferré and Bourgeois disdained to protest.

The day was hardly dawning; it was bitterly cold. Before the Butte of Satory 5,000 men under arms surrounded three white stakes, each one guarded by twelve executioners. Colonel Merlin commanded, thus uniting the three functions of conqueror, judge, and hangman.

Some curious lookers-on, officers and journalists, composed the whole public.

At seven o’clock the carts of the condemned appeared; the drums beat a salute, the trumpets sounded. The prisoners descended, escorted by gendarmes. Rossel, on passing before a group of officers, saluted them. The brave Bourgeois, looking on at the whole drama with an indifferent air, leant against the middle stake. Ferré came last, dressed in black and smoking a cigar, not a muscle of his face moving. With a firm and even step he walked up and leant against the third stake.

Rossel, attended by his lawyer and his clergyman, asked to be allowed to command the fire. Merlin refused. Rossel wished to shake hands with him, in order to do homage to his sentence. This was refused. During these negotiations Ferré and Bourgeois remained motionless, silent. In order to put a stop to Rossel’s effusions an officer was obliged to tell him that he was prolonging the torture of the two others. At last they blindfolded him. Ferré pushed back the bandage, and, fixing his eyeglass, looked the soldiers straight in the face.

The sentence read, the adjutants lowered their sabres, the guns were discharged. Rossel and Bourgeois fell back. Ferré remained standing; he was only hit in the side. He was again fired at and fell. A soldier placing his chassepôt at his ear blew out his brains.

On a gesture of Merlin a flourish of trumpets burst forth, and, emulating the customs of the cannibals, the troops marched past in triumph before the corpses. What cries of horror the bourgeoisie would have uttered if before the executed hostages the Federals had paraded to the sound of music!

The bodies of Rossel and Ferré were claimed by their families; that of Bourgeois disappeared in the common grave of the St. Louis Cemetery. The people will not disassociate his memory from that of Ferré, for they both died with the same courage for the cause they had served with the same devotion.

The Liberal press reserved its tears for Rossel. Some courageous provincial papers did honour to all the victims, and devoted to the hatred of France the Commission of Pardons – ‘the Commission of Assassins,’ as a deputy, Ordinaire junior, said in the Assembly. Prosecuted before juries, all these journals were acquitted.

Two days after the execution of Satory, the Commission of Pardons ordered Gaston Crémieux to be killed. Six months had elapsed since his condemnation, and this long delay seemed to make the murder impossible. But the rural Commission wanted to avenge his famous speech of Bordeaux. On the 30th November, at seven o’clock in the morning, Gaston Crémieux was led to the Prado, a large plain bordering the sea. He said to his guardians, ‘I will show how a Republican should die.’ He was placed against the same stake where a month before the soldier Paquis had been shot for going over to the insurrection.

Gaston Crémieux wished to have his eyes unbandaged and to command the fire. They consented. Then addressing himself to the soldiers, ‘Aim at the chest; do not touch my head. Fire! Vive la République!’ The last word was cut short by death. As at Satory, the dance of the soldiers round the corpse followed.

The death of this young enthusiast made a deep impression in the town. Registers placed at the door of his house filled in a few hours with thousands of signatures. The revolutionaries of Marseilles will not forget his children.

The same day the sixth court avenged the death of Chaudey. This had been ordered and superintended by Raoul Rigault alone. The men who formed the platoon were abroad. Préau de Védel, the principal accused, then imprisoned in Sainte Pélagie for a common offence, had only held the lantern. But the jurisprudence of the officers attributed to simple agents the same responsibility as to the chiefs. Préau de Védel was condemned to death.

On the 4th December, in the hall of the third court, a kind of phantom, pale-faced and sympathetic, appeared. It was Lisbonne, who for six months had dragged about his wounds of the Chiteau d’Eau. The same before the court-martial as during the Commune and at Buzenval, this bravest of the brave gloried in having fought, and only denied the accusations of pillage. Other judges would have been proud to spare such an enemy; the Versaillese condemned him to death.

Some days after, this same court-martial heard a woman’s voice. ‘I will not defend myself; I will not be defended,’ cried Louise Michel. ‘I belong entirely to the social revolution, and I declare that I accept the responsibility of all my acts. I accept it entirely and without reserve. You accuse me of having participated in the execution of the generals. To this I answer, yes. If I had been at Montmartre, when they wished to fire on the people, I should not have hesitated to order fire myself on those who gave such commands. As to the conflagrations of Paris, yes, I did participate in them. I wanted to oppose a barrier of flames to the invaders of Versailles. I have no accomplices; I acted on my own account.’

Commissar Dailly demanded the penalty of death.

Louise Michel: What I ask of you, you who style yourselves a court-martial, who proclaim yourselves my judges, who do not hide yourselves like the Commission of Pardons, is the field of Satory, where our brothers have already fallen. I must be cut off from society; you have been told to do so. Well, the Commissar of the Republic is right. Since it seems that every heart which beats for liberty has only right to a little lead, I too demand my part. If you let me live, I shall not cease to cry vengeance, and I shall denounce to the vengeance of my brothers the assassins of the Commission of Pardons.

The President: I cannot allow you to go on.

Louise Michel: I have done. If you are not cowards, kill me.

They had not courage to kill her at one blow. She was condemned to transportation to a fortress.

Louise Michel did not stand alone in her courageous attitude. Many others, amongst whom must be mentioned Lemel and Augustine Chiffon, showed the Versaillese what terrible women these Parisians are, even vanquished, even in chains.

The affair of the executions of La Roquette came on at the beginning of 1872. There, as in the Clément-Thomas and Chaudey trials, they had none of the real actors except Genton, who had carried the order. Almost all the witnesses, former hostages, gave evidence with the rage natural to people who have trembled. The prosecution, refusing to believe in an outburst of fury, had built up a ridiculous scaffolding of a court-martial discussing and ordering the death of the prisoners. It asserted that one of the accused had commanded the fire, and he was about to be condemned, in spite of the solemn protests of Genton, when the real chief of the firing-party, who had just been discovered dying in a prison, was brought in. Genton was condemned to death. His advocate had odiously slandered him, then fled, and the court refused to allow him a second defender.

The most important affair which followed was that of the Dominicans of Arcueil. No execution had been less premeditated. These monks had fallen in crossing the Avenue d’Italie, shot down by the men of the 101st. The report accused Sérizier, who at that moment was not even in the Avenue. The only witness called against him said, ‘I do not affirm anything myself; I have heard it said.’ But we know what close bonds unite army and clergy. Sérizier was condemned to death, as was also one of his lieutenants, Bouin, against whom not a single witness could be brought forward. The court took advantage of the occasion to pronounce sentences of death against Wroblewski, who at that time had been at the Butte-aux-Cailles, and against Frankel, who had been fighting at the Bastille.

On the 12th March the affair of the Rue Haxo came on before the sixth court, still presided over by Delaporte. The executioners of the hostages had been no more discoverable than those of the Rue des Rosiers. The indictment fell back upon the director of the prison, Francois, who for a long time had disputed the surrender of his prisoners, and upon twenty-two persons denounced by gossip contradicted at the trial. Not one of the witnesses recognized the accused. Delaporte multiplied his menaces with such a cynicism that the Commissar Rustaud, who had, however, given proofs of his animosity in the preceding trials, could not refrain from exclaiming, ‘But do you want to condemn them all?’ He was the next day replaced by the idiot Charrière. In spite of all this, the indictment frittered away from hour to hour before the disavowals of the witnesses. Still not one of the prisoners escaped. Seven were condemned to death, nine to hard labour, and the others to transportation.

The Commission of Pardons awaited, chassepôt in hand, the prey given up to them by the courts-martial. On the 22nd of February, 1872, it shot three of the so-called murderers of Clément-Thomas and Lecomte, even those whose innocence had most clearly come out in the trial – Herpin-Lacroix, Lagrange, and Verdagner. Upright at the stake of the 28th November, they cried ‘Vive la Commune!’ and died, their faces radiant. On the 19th March Préau de Védel was executed. On the 30th April it was Genton’s turn. The wounds which he had received in May had reopened, and he dragged himself to the Butte on his crutches. Arrived at the stake, he threw them from him, cried ‘Vive la Commune!’ and fell under the fire. On the 25th May the three stakes were again occupied by Sérizier, Bouin, and Boudin, the latter condemned as chief of the platoon which in front of the Tuileries had executed a Versaillese who attempted to prevent the erection of the barricades of the Rue Richeli eu. They said to the soldiers of the platoon, ‘We are children of the people, and you are too. We shall show you that the children of Paris know how to die!’ And they, also, fell, crying ‘Vive la Commune!’

These men who went to the grave so courageously, who with a gesture defied the musket, who, dying, cried that their cause died not, these ringing voices, these steadfast looks, disconcerted the soldiers profoundly. The muskets trembled, and almost within point-blank range they rarely killed at the first discharge. So at the next execution, the 6th July, the Commander Colin, who presided at these shootings, ordered the eyes of the victims bandaged. There were two of them Baudoin, accused of setting fire to the St. Eloi Church, and of killing an individual who had fired at the Federals; and Rouilhac, an insurgent who had shot at a bourgeois who was potting Federals. Both pushed back the sergeants who came to blindfold them. Colin gave the order to tie them to the stake. Three times Baudoin tore assunder the cords; Rouilhac struggled desperately. The priest who came to assist the soldiers received some blows in the chest. At last, overwhelmed, they cried, ‘We die for the good cause.’ They were mangled by the balls. After the march past, an officer of a psychological turn of mind, moving with the tip of his boot the brains that trickled down, remarked to a colleague, ‘It is with this that they thought.’

In June, 1872, all the celebrated cases being disposed of, military justice avenged the death of a Federal, Captain Beaufort. There is but one explanation for this strange fact, which is that Beaufort belonged to the Versailles. We have received important evidence on this head.[252] At all events, if Delescluze or Varlin had been shot by the Federals, Versailles would not have avenged their death.

Three of those accused out of four were present, Deschamps, Denivelle, and Madame Lachaise, the celebrated cantinière of the 66th. She had followed Beaufort before the council held at the Boulevard Voltaire, and, having heard explanations, had done her best to protect him. The indictment none the less made of her the principal instigator of his death. On the written evidence of a witness who was not to be found, and who had never been confronted with her, the commissar accused Madame Lachaise of having profaned Beaufort’s corpse. At this abominable accusation this noble woman burst into tears. She, as well as Denivelle and Deschamps, were condemned to death.

The obscene imagination of soldiers with Algerian habits taxed itself to pollute the accused. Colonel Dulac, judging an intimate friend of Rigault’s, pretended that their friendship had been of an infamous character. Despite the indignant protests of the prisoner, the wretched officer persisted.

The bourgeois press, far from stigmatizing, applauded. Without truce, without lassitude, since the opening of the courts-martial it accompanied all the trials with the same chorus of imprecations and the same slanders. Some persons having protested against these executions so long after the battle, Francisque Sarcey wrote, ‘The axe ought to be riveted to the hand of the executioner.’

Till then the Commission of Pardons had only killed three at a time. On the 24th of July it slaughtered four – Francois, the director of La Roquette, Aubry, Dalivoust, and De St. Omer, condemned for the affair of the Rue Haxo. De St. Omer was more than suspected, and in the prison his comrades kept aloof from him. Before the muskets they cried ‘Vive la Commune!’ He answered, ‘Down with it!’

On the 18th September, Lolive (accused of having participated in the execution of the Archbishop), Denivelle, and Deschamps were executed. These last cried, ‘Long live the Universal and Social Republic! Down with the cowards!’ On the 22nd January, 1873, nineteen months after the battle in the streets, the Commission of Pardons tied three more victims to its stakes – Philippe, member of the Council of the Commune, guilty of having energetically defended Bercy; Benot, who set fire to the Tuileries; and Decamps, condemned for the conflagration of the Rue de Lille, although they had not been able to bring forward any evidence whatever against him. ‘I die innocent,’ cried he. ‘Down with Thiers!’ Philippe and Benot: ‘Long five the Social Republic! Vive la Commune!’ They fell, not having belied the courage of the soldiers of the Revolution of the 18th March.

This was the last execution at Satory. The blood of twenty-five victims had reddened the stakes of the Commission of Pardons. In 1875 it had a young soldier shot at Vincennes, accused of the death of the detective Vizentini, thrown into the Seine by hundreds of hands at the demonstration of the Bastille.[253]

The movements of the provinces were judged by courts-martial or assize courts , according to the department being or not being in a state of siege. Everywhere the issue of the Parisian struggle had been waited for. Immediately after the defeat of Paris the reaction ran riot. Espivent’s court-martial initiated these trials. He had his Gaveau in Commander Villeneuve, one of the bombarders of the 4th April, his Merlin, and his Boisdenemetz in the colonels Thomassin and Douat. On the 12th June Gaston Crémieux, Etienne, PéIissier, Roux, Bouchet, and all those who could be connected with the movement of the 23rd March appeared before the soldiers. The pretentious block-headedness of Villeneuve served as type of the military prosecutor’s addresses with which France was inundated. Crémieux, Etienne, Pélissier, and Roux were condemned to death. This was not enough for the jesuitical bourgeois reaction. Espivent had declared through the Court of Cassation that the department of the Bouches-du-Rhône was in a state of siege since the 9th August, 1870, in virtue of a decree by the Empress, which had neither been published in the bulletin of laws, nor been sanctioned by the Senate, nor even promulgated. Provided with this arm, he persecuted all marked out by the hand of the Congregation. The municipal councillor, David Bosc, exdelegate to the Commission, a millionaire shipowner, accused of having stolen a silver watch from a police agent, was only acquitted by a small majority of votes. The next day the colonel-president was replaced by the lieutenant-colonel of the 4th Chasseurs, Donnat, half-mad with absinthe-drinking. A working man, aged seventy-five, was condemned to ten years’ hard labour and twenty years’ deprivation of civil and political rights for having on the 4th September arrested for half an hour a police agent who had sent him to Cayenne in 1852. A crazy old woman, purveyor of the Jesuits, arrested for a few moments on the 4th September, accused the former commander of the Civil Guard of her arrest. Her accusation was contradicted by herself and quite overthrown by alibis and numberless proofs. The ex-commander was condemned to five years’ of prison and ten years’ privation of civil rights. One of the soldier-judges, coming out after committing this crime, said, ‘One must have very profound political convictions to condemn in similar affairs.’ With these cynical collaborators Espivent could satisfy all his hated. He asked the courts of Versailles to deliver up to him the member of the Council of the Commune, Amouroux, delegate for a time at Marseilles. ‘I am prosecuting him for tampering with soldiers,’ wrote Espivent, ‘a crime punished by death; and I am persuaded that this punishment will be applied to him.’

The court-martial of Lyons was not very inferior. Forty-four persons were prosecuted for the movement of the 22nd March, and thirty-two condemned to penalties varying from transportation to imprisonment. The insurrection of the 30th April furnished seventy prisoners, taken at random at Lyons, as was the custom at Versailles. The mayor of the Guillotière, Crestin, called as witness, did not recognize amongst them any of those he had seen on that day in his mairie. Presidents of the courts, the Colonels Marion and Rébillot.

At Limoges, Dubois and Roubeyrol, democrats esteemed by the whole town, were condemned in default to death, as the principal actors in the movement of the 4th April; two were condemned to twenty years’ imprisonment for having boasted of knowing who had shot at Colonel Billet. Another got ten years for having distributed ammunition.

The verdicts of the jury varied. That of the Basses-Pyrénées on the 8th August acquitted Duportal, and the four or five persons accused of the movement of Toulouse. The same aquittal took place at Rhodez, where Digeon and the accused of Narbonne appeared after a preliminary imprisonment of eight months. A sympathetic public filled the hall and the approaches of the tribunal and cheered the accused at their departure. The energetic attitude of Digeon once more showed the strong cast of his character.

The jury of Riom condemned for the affairs of St. Etienne twentyone prisoners, among whom was Amouroux, who had only sent two delegates. A young working man, Caton, distinguished himself by his intelligence and firmness.

The jury of Orléans was severe upon the accused of Montargis, all of whom they condemned to prison, and atrocious to those of Cosnes and Neury-sur-Loire, where there had been no resistance. There were twenty-three altogether, of whom three were women. Their whole crime had been carrying about a red flag and crying ‘Vivre Paris! Down with Versailles!’ Malardier, a former representative of the people, who only arrived on the eve of the demonstration, and who had taken no part in it, was condemned to fifteen years’ imprisonment. None of the accused was spared. The proprietors of the Loiret avenged the fright of their fellow-proprietors of the Nievre.

The movements of Coulommiers, Nimes, Dordives, and Voiron gave rise to some convictions.

In the month of June, 1872, the greater part of the work of repression was done. Of the 36,309[254] prisoners, men, women, and children, without counting the 5,000 military prisoners, to whom the Versailles have confessed, 1,179, said they, had died in their prisons; 22,326 had been liberated after long winter months in the pontoons, the forts, and the prisons; 10,488 brought before the courts-martial, who had condemned 8,525 of them. The persecutions did not cease. On the advent of MacMahon, the 24th May, 1873, there set in a recrudescence. On the 1st January, 1875, the general résumé of Versaillese justice gave 10,137 condemnations pronounced in presence of the accused, and 3,313 in default. The sentences passed were distributed thus:

  Total Women Children
Condemnations to death 270 8  
Hard labour 10 29    
Transportation in a fortress   3989  
Simple transportation 3507 16 1
Detention 1269 8  
Confinement 64 10  
Hard labour at public works 29    
Imprisonment from three months or less 432    
Imprisonment from three months to one year 1622 50 1
Imprisonment for more than one year 1344 15 4
Banishment 322    
Surveillance of the police 117 1  
Fines 9    
Children under 16 sent to houses of correction     56
Total 13,440 157 62

This résumé contained neither the sentences pronounced by the courts-martial beyond the jurisdiction of Versailles nor those of the courts of assizes. We must therefore add 15 condemnations to death, 22 to hard labour, 28 to transportation in a fortress, 29 to simple transportation, 74 to detention, 13 to confinement, and a certain number to imprisonment. The total figure of the condemned of Paris and the provinces exceeds 13,700, among whom were 170 women and 62 children.

Three-fourths of the 10,000 condemned while present – 7,418 out of 10,137 – were simple guards or non-commissioned officers, 1,942 subaltern officers. There were only 225 superior officers, 29 members of the Council of the Commune, 49 of the Central Committee. Despite their savage jurisprudence, the inquiries, and the false witnesses, the courts-martial had been unable to bring forward against nine-tenths of the condemned – 9,285 – any other crime than the bearing of arms or the exercise of public functions. Of the 766 condemned for so-called common crimes, 276 were for simple arrests, 171 for the battle in the streets, 132 for crimes classed as ‘others’ by the report, all evidently for acts of war.[255] Notwithstanding the great number of ticket-of-leave men designedly included in these prosecutions, nearly three-fourths of the condemned – 7,119 – had no judiciary antecedents; 524 had incurred condemnation for misdemeanour against public order (political or simple police cases); 2,381 for crimes or misdemeanours, which the report took care not to specify. Finally, this insurrection, provoked and conducted by the foreigner according to the bourgeois press, furnished in all but 396 prisoners of foreign origin.

This is the balance-sheet of 1874. The following years added new condemnations. The number of the courts was reduced, but their institution was maintained and the prosecutions are going on. Even now, six years after the defeat, the arrests and convictions have not ceased.


[247] Let us cite Dupont de Bussac, and above au Léon Bigot, who defended Maroteau, Lisbonne, and a great number of obscure prisoners. For a year he gave them his time, his labour, his money, publishing memoirs, exhausting himself in applications. He died in harness, falling, struck by apoplexy, even at the bar. The friends of the Commune will not forge this noble devotion.

[248] He was condemned in 1876 to five years’ imprisonment for embezzlement.

[249] In the law-schools is there no one to undertake it? What finer cause to begin with for a young man? What noble occasion to efface the great wrongs of the schools during the Commune, to bring nearer the proletariat this part of our youth, which is drifting further from them every day?

[250] ‘To this demand of the communication of judicial evidence,’ said the tribunal of Budapest in its judgment, ‘the French Government has answered by purely and simply transmitting the sentence of the court-martial. In this sentence there exists no trace of proof, nor any precise evidence establishing culpability. Considering that this verdict is totally destitute of evidence and legal proofs, and that it indicates no means of procuring them, this tribunal exonerates Frankel from the charges brought against him.’

[251] Here are their names, which truly belong to the history of the people:-Martel, president; Piou, vice-president; the Count Octave de Bastard, Felix Voisin, secretaries; Batbie, the Count de Maillé, the Count Duchatel, Peltereau-Villeneuve, Francois Sacaze, Tailhaud, the Marquis de Quinsonnas, Bigot, Merveilleux-Duvignan, Paris, (;Orne.

[252] Appendix XXXVII.

[253] According to reactionary journals this agent had been first bound to a board, an odious invention, which nothing that came out during the trial could justify. Vizentini, seized in a spontaneous outburst of fury and thrown immediately into the Seine, might even have been saved, if a board to which he clung had not in tipping over struck him on the head.

[254] Report of General Apport.

[255] Thus the seizures nude during the house-searches, in virtue of regular mandates, were classed among the acts of theft with violence, pillage, etc., as though these acts had had any personal motive. Now it is necessary to point out that no one gave evidence of theft against the prisoners before the courts-martial; no one could say that the conflagrations had been taken advantage of for pillage.

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