Timeline of the French Revolution: 1791

Go here for the French Revolution in a Nutshell.

If these timelines of the French Revolution are too detailed, check the  French Revolution - Key Events, which are a summary of the years 1789-1799.

Go here for the French Revolutionary Wars 1792-1802.

And go here for the  Napoleonic Wars 1803-1815.

February 25, 1791

Vincent Oge and Jean-Baptiste Chavannes are executed for initiating an uprising on Saint Domingue in
October 1790.

February 28, 1791
Vincennes Affair (Affaire de Vincennes), the
Conspiracy of the Knights of the Dagger (Conspiration des Chevaliers du Poignard), the Day of Daggers (Journée des Poignards).

All the terms above refer to today's events. The claim that it was a conspiracy was invented. But what exactly happened?

The aunts of Louis XVI had recently left France for Rome. Today, the Constituent Assembly discussed a decree that would outlaw emigration.

A large anti-royalist crowd of around 1,200 men (organized or spontaneous — we can't be sure), shuffled direction Vincennes to bust open the gates of the old chateau, which they believed was used as a prison. Lafayette and his National Guard arrived in the afternoon and restored order. He arrested around 60 men and brought them back to Paris.

Meanwhile, 300 to 400 alarmed nobles armed themselves and assembled at the Tuileries castle to protect Louis XVI from a potential mob attack. Louis didn't know what hit him when they arrived, and, spooked by previous attempts on his life, ordered them to abandon their weapons and leave with the quickness. Lafayette, who recently had also become a moving target for assassins, and the National Guard enforced the King's order. The humiliation for the nobles was considerable.

Today, Louis thus lost many of his loyal supporters as well as major points with royalists in general.

Affaire des Poignards, Château des Tuileries, Paris, France - 28 Février1791
Affaire des Poignards, Château des Tuileries, Paris, France - 28 Février1791
Bibliothèque Nationale de France


March 10, 1791
Pope Pius VI condemns not only the Civil Constitution of the Clergy (Constitution Civile Du Clergé), but the entire Revolution.


March 13, 1791
Thomas Paine publishes his Rights of Man in which he defends the French Revolution. Part II will be published on February 17, 1792.


April 2, 1791
Mirabeau dies at age 42.


April 13, 1791
A letter from the Pope, aka Charitas:
The Catholic church declares all elections under the Civil Constitution of the Clergy void and condemns the entire decree and its "foolish form of Church government".

The French government will respond on June 9, 1791.


May 11, 1791
At the
National Constituent Assembly, Lafayette speaks in favor of equality and abolition of the slave trade:

"... les hommes libres, propriétaires, contribuables d’une colonie, sont des colons. Or les gens de couleur dont il est question sont propriétaires, cultivateurs, contribuables, libres. Sont-ils des hommes ? Moi je le pense."

In other words:

"... free men, landowners, taxpayers of a colony, are colonists. Yet, it is disputed that people of color are landowners, farmers, taxpayers, free men. Are they men? I think so."



May 13, 1791
Antoine Barnave, member of the Colonial Assembly representing the colonists of
 Saint-Domingue, speaks out in favor of keeping slavery alive and well in all French colonies.

Map of Saint Domingue, Santo Domingo, today's Haiti and Dominican Republic
Saint Domingue or Santo Domingo, today's Haiti
Click map to enlarge.

Following Barnave's proposition, the Constituent Assembly decrees that

"no law on the status of the unfree people can be made for the colonies, except by a formal and spontaneous demand by the colonial assemblies."

In effect, this resolution decrees the continuation of slavery, at the discretion of the colonists.


June 3, 1791
Before the National National Constituent Assembly (Assemblée nationale constituante), and echoing Dr. Guillotin's proposals from October 9, and December 1, 1789, Félix Le Pelletier demands decapitation for the death penalty.

This time, the Assembly adopts the proposal. Here is more.


June 9, 1791
In response to the Catholic communication from April 13, 1791, t
he National Constituent Assembly issues a decree on the publications from the Pope. No message from the head of the Catholic church can be published, unless it has been sanctioned by the king.


June 14, 1791
Le Chapelier Law.
Jean Le Chapelier's idea to ban worker's strikes and associations.


June 15, 1791
Late this evening, t
he Comte d'Artois (Louis XVI's brother) arrives in Coblenz. After having left France in July 1789, he went to Turin, then Mainz, now Coblenz, where many émigrés welcome him.


June 20, 1791
The king and his family try to flee the country. They will be caught tomorrow.


June 21, 1791
The royal family
is caught at Varennes and brought back to Paris.


July 16, 1791
The Club des Feuillants (
Club of the Feuillants) is founded.


July 17, 1791
Champs-de-Mars Shooting (Fusillade du Champs-de-Mars)

At the Champs de Mars in Paris, protesters, organized by the Club des Cordeliers,  demanded the abdication of the King.

The mayor of Paris, Jean-Sylvain Bailly, orders his National Guards, led by   Lafayette, to open fire, thus turning a protest into a massacre, and 50 or so were seriously injured or killed. Lafayette has just buried his popularity. So did Bailly. He will retire on November 16, 1791. The Club of the Cordeliers will be temporarily closed.


August 22, 1791
The night of August 22 to 23, 1791:
Revolt of around 50,000 of t
he slaves on Saint Domingue (today's
Haiti), led first by Jean-François and Georges Biassou, and then by Toussaint Louverture. The Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen from August 1789 declared that "Men are born and remain free and equal in rights." But the powerful white plantation owners of Saint Domingue refused to submit to this law. Without slavery they wouldn't have a business left.

The Haitian Revolution breaks out.

This slave uprising will play a crucial role in the abolition of the transatlantic slave trade. Its effect will concern all European colonies.


August 23, 1791
In 1998, UNESCO will invite
to annually commemorate August 23 as International Day for the Remembrance of the Slave Trade and of its Abolition.


August 27, 1791
Declaration of Pillnitz: Austria and Prussia ask all European monarchs to join in the fight to reinstate the French monarchy.


September 3, 1791
The National Assembly introduces the Constitution of September 3, 1791. Freedom and equal rights were the guiding principles in the drafting of this constitution.

It also states that "the king's person is inviolable and sacred," a principle that will be challenged on August 13, 1792 (Louis' imprisonment) and on December 10, 1792 (Louis' trial).


September 13, 1791
King Louis XVI accepts the new constitution. He will sign it tomorrow.


September 14, 1791
King Louis XVI signs the new constitution in front of the National Assembly.

Also on September 14, 1791: The Assembly issues a decree that approves the integration of the city of Avignon and the province Comtat Venaissin, formerly property of the Pope. After more than 500 years, they are once again part of France.


Comtat Venaissin Map Location
State Historical Society of North Dakota

Comtat Venaissin Coat-of-Arms
St. Peter's Keys
State Historical Society of North Dakota

See also:

France 1789
France 1789



September 25, 1791
The deputies of the National Constituent Assembly adopt the first version of the
Penal Code (French: Code Pénal), a set of rules governing violations and criminal responsibility.


September 27, 1791
Emancipation of the Jews, who are fully recognized French citizens as of today. Protestants have enjoyed this privilege since December 24, 1789.


September 28, 1791
Updating the status with regards to French slavery, the National Assembly declares,

"Tout individu est libre aussitôt qu'il est entré en France."

In other words,

"Every individual is free as soon as they enter France."


September 30, 1791
National Constituent Assembly becomes the the Legislative Assembly.

On September 21, 1792, the Legislative Assembly will be replaced by the  National Convention.


October 1791
Lafayette resigns as commander of the National Guards. Louis XVI makes him commander of the Army of the North.


October 14, 1791
Louis XVI issues a statement in which he asks the émigrés to return to France.

During the night of October 14 / 15, 1791, Nicolas Jacques Pelletier attempts to rob a person, and kills his victim in the process. Pelletier thus qualified himself to become the first person to meet the guillotine, an encounter that will take place on April 25, 1792.


November 9, 1791
The Legislative Assembly issues a decree ordering the émigrés to return to France. Those who won't return by January 1, 1792, will be suspect of conspiracy against France for which the only answer is the death penalty.

Louis XVI will veto this decree on November 11, 1791.


November 11, 1791
King Louis XVI vetoes the Assembly's decree from November 9 against the émigrés.


November 29, 1791
At the Legislative Assembly, Assemblée Législative, the deputy from Var, Maximin Isnard, gets his compatriots excited with a passionate speech.

Here is an excerpt:

Fear not to bring upon yourselves a war with the great powers. Interest has already decided their intentions. Your measures will not change them, but will oblige them to explain themselves. The conduct of the Frenchman ought to correspond with his new destiny. A slave under Louis XVI, he was nevertheless intrepid and great. Now that he is free, ought he to be weak and timid? They are mistaken, said Montesquieu, who imagine that a people in a state of revolution are disposed to be conquered. They are ready, on the contrary, to conquer others.

Capitulations are proposed to you. It is proposed to increase the power of the King — of a man whose will can paralyze that of the whole nation — of a man who receives thirty millions, while thousands of citizens are perishing from want!

It is proposed to bring back the nobility. Were all the nobles on earth to attack us, the French, holding their gold in one hand and the sword in the other, would combat that haughty race, and force it to endure the punishment of equality.

Talk to the ministers, to the King, and to Europe, the language befitting the representatives of France. Tell the ministers that, so far, you are not satisfied with their conduct, and that by responsibility you mean death.

Tell Europe that you will respect the constitutions of all other countries, but that, if a war of kings is raised against France, you will raise a war of people against kings.

Let us tell her that the battles which nations fight at the command of despots are like the blows which two friends, excited by a perfidious instigator, strike at each other in the dark. The moment a light appears they embrace, and take vengeance on him who deluded them. In like manner, if, at the moment when the hostile armies shall be engaged with ours, the light of philosophy bursts upon their sight, the nations will embrace one another before the face of dethroned tyrants, of consoled earth, and of delighted Heaven!

Finally, let us tell her that 10 million Frenchmen alone, inflamed by the fire of liberty, armed with the sword, the pen, with reason and eloquence, could change the face of the world and make all tyrants tremble on their thrones of clay.

When Isnard ends his speech the members of the Assembly come up to him and embrace him.

On this day, the Assembly decrees that the King should demand from neighboring countries a ban of all emigrant gatherings within their territories.


December 6, 1791
The Defense Minister is Louis-Marie-Jacques-Almaric de Narbonne. He succeeds Louis Le Begue de Presle Duportail.


December 14, 1791
In response to the decree of November 29,
King Louis XVI addresses the Assembly.

He explains that he had given the electors a deadline until January 15, 1792, to break up all emigrant-inspired gatherings of troops within their realms. Should they not meet this deadline, he will consider them enemies of France.

The king further informs the Assembly that he had also written to the Emperor Leopold II, notifying him that he was prepared to declare war in case his demands should not be met.

Next, the Count of Narbonne-Lara addresses the Assembly on the subject of war preparations. He proposes to station an army of 100,000 men along the Rhine River. These troops should be under the command of three men: General Nicolas Luckner, General Rochambeau, and
General Lafayette, who was to be jerked out of his well-deserved retirement.

In other words:

The Army of the Center is created. Commander: Lafayette.
The Army of the North is created. Commander: Rochambeau.
The Army of the Rhine is created. Commander: Luckner.

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