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Chapter 5

This webpage reproduces a chapter of
The Life of Miranda

by
William Spence Robertson

The University of North Carolina Press
1929

The text is in the public domain.

This page has been carefully proofread
and I believe it to be free of errors.
If you find a mistake though,
please let me know!

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Chapter 7

Vol. I
p120
Chapter VI

In the French Military Service

Conditions on the Continent had radically changed since 1789. The Ancient Régime in France had adopted a Constitution that transferred power from the King to a National Assembly. Louis XVI had taken the contradictory title of "King of the French by the grace of God and the constitutional laws of the State." The revolution was becoming a movement for liberty, equality, and fraternity, — a crusade which was to impel the genius of Pitt to create one coalition of powers after another in an attempt to cope with the victorious armies of France. In a contemporary memorandum Miranda recorded that in the spring of 1792 he decided to cross the Channel in order to discover whether French leaders were contemplating the extension of their system of liberty to the Spanish Indies. It appears that he planned only a brief sojourn in Paris; for he packed his books in boxes, placed a case full of manuscripts in the custody of the Russian Ambassador in London, and took with him only a few of his most valuable papers.

An entry in his disjointed diary informs us that Miranda paid four and one‑half guineas for his trip from London to Paris, including the cost of meals and the voyage across the Channel. He left Piccadilly at 5:30 A.M. on March 19, 1792, in company with four other travelers. He arrived at Paris in a diligence on March 23, 1792, at 2:30 P.M., and secured accommodations in the Hotel de Deux Écus, Rue de Tour.º For several weeks he did little besides view the sights of the gay and distracted French capital. Among other places of interest he visited the royal library, the dungeons of Vincennes, and the atelier of Houdon.1 Through letters of introduction he soon became acquainted with leaders of the dominant  p121 Girondist party. Among others he met the ambitious politician, Brissot de Warville; Jean S. Bailly, the eminent astronomer and ex‑mayor of Paris; Jean M. Roland, minister of the interior; and the minister of foreign affairs, General Dumouriez, who was destined to become the commander in chief of the French army in Belgium. Jerome Pétion, mayor of Paris, later avowed that he recognized in Miranda "a man who had meditated about the principles of government and who appeared to be strongly attached to liberty, a veritable sage." He added that Miranda had "served with distinction in the New World when the Americans shed their blood for independence."2

Meantime the ministers induced the hapless King to propose a declaration of war against Austria. Yet Louis XVI firmly opposed certain measures of the Girondists. On June 13, 1792, he dismissed his ministers. In the following month Prussia, the ally of Austria, declared war on France; and the commander of the Prussian army threatened that the Paris populace would be punished if it injured the King and Queen. On the night of August 9 revolutionists overturned communal government of Paris, the Marseillais led them into the Tuileries Palace, while the royal family was compelled to take refuge with the Assembly. The legislature then declared that the King was to be suspended from his functions. It vested the executive power in a council headed by Danton, and decided that deputies should be chosen to a convention which should frame a new constitution.

Under date of August 11 Miranda inscribed in his journal the following paragraphs concerning his relations with the Parisian Mayor:

"My friend M. Pétion asked me why I did not enter the service of France in the cause of liberty which I loved so well. He said that she would give me a lucrative post and that I would be able to render her essential aid. I pointed out to him  p122 that I was an alien and spoke of the ingratitude which a foreign soldier sometimes experienced after such service, as I had witnessed in America. I also mentioned the great advantages that I should lose in America and Russia. * * *

"On August 22 my friend the Mayor told me that he had arranged my affair and that Servan, the new minister of war, had promised to employ me as major general in the armies of France, if I would accept the post. I responded that such a position in the service of liberty would please me, but that I wished an assurance that I would enjoy the same salary after the war had terminated; for I would have relinquished all my other resources. On August 23 we dined together at the home of Pétion. There Servan spoke to me with interest about the matter: he made the same proposition and offered me his friendship, but demonstrated that it was impossible for the French ministers to give me a positive assurance regarding my treatment after the war; for this guarantee did not depend upon them, — their very existence at that juncture was a hazard. Nevertheless he said that if liberty triumphed, France could never forget those foreigners who had generously engaged in her service under such circumstances. * * * I thanked him and asked for a short time in which to consider my decision."3

On August 24, 1792, Miranda drew up a paper that he designed to submit to Servan. In this memorial he wrote that he had become convinced of the justice with which France was defending her sovereignty and of the glory which would be acquired by the soldiers who fought under her banner "for the support of liberty, — the sole source of human felicity." He declared that he would pledge himself to serve the French nation faithfully on three conditions: that he should be given the grade and salary of major general, that upon the termination of the war he should be appointed to a civil or military position which would furnish him with sufficient income so that he might live comfortably in France, and that his project for the liberation of the Spanish-American colonists should  p123 be given due consideration. He maintained that by their commerce those people offered a great market for French goods. "It is necessary that their cause should be effectively protected by France as being the cause of liberty," argued Miranda, "and that she should give me permission, as soon as occasion offers, to promote their welfare by establishing the liberty and independence of their country, — a duty which I have voluntarily assumed, and one in which England and the United States have promised me their support on the first favorable occasion."4

Evidently the memorialist thought that when the cause of liberty triumphed in France he would attain the pinnacle of his ambition by insuring liberty and independence to his native land. According to his journal, on August 25 he dined in Rue Royale with Servan and the physicist, Gaspard Monge, who was minister of the navy. At that dinner, said Miranda, an understanding was reached: "I agreed to serve the cause of liberty with all my might; while they agreed, in the name of France, to support me and to employ me even after the war had terminated in preference to French officers, because under the existing circumstances, as I was a foreigner, my engagement was more deserving."5 In an explanatory postscript adjoined to a copy of a note that he addressed to Servan on August 25 Miranda thus reiterated the terms of the agreement: "It is expressly on this condition of preferential treatment that I engage in the service of emancipated France. A guarantee to that effect on behalf of the representative government has been assured me by Ministers Servan, Roland, Lebrun, and Clavière, as well as by Pétion, the patriot mayor of Paris." Further, he stated that these leaders had promised, "in case of need to make this agreement known to all the world."6 Then Miranda went to the Tuileries, he said, to reflect upon the transaction that had transformed him from an idle spectator of stirring scenes into a French general. His motives were elucidated in a letter of August 30 to Woronzow.

 p124 

"At the very time when I expected to see you and to converse with you about the affairs of Europe, I have become a general in the French army of liberty and am about to leave to take charge of a division on the frontiers. It should not astonish you to see me united with the defenders of liberty, for you know that she is my favorite divinity and that I was devoted to her service before France became interested in her. * * * What has most strongly influenced me to accept this post is the hope of some day being useful to my poor Fatherland that I can never abandon. * * * Present my sincere compliments to our friend, General Clark, who will perhaps consider it scandalous that a former Castilian has become a sans-culotte."7

This appointment was granted him in the mistaken belief that he had held a similar post in the American Revolution. A letter dated September 1, 1792, signed by Servan and Lebrun, stated that by action of the Executive Council, Miranda, formerly a brigadier general in America, had been brevetted major general in the army of France. Three days later, in the name of the nation, the Provisional Executive Council announced that he had been appointed general in the Army of the North under Dumouriez in the belief that he would justify the opinion that it had formed of "his patriotism and military talents."8 Meantime Miranda had been employed in securing a general's uniform and in composing his testament. In this document, which was dated August 31, he provided that a Parisian merchant named Tissot, with whom he had been lodging, should serve as his executor. To Pitt's secretary he left a large box containing five pictures. To John Turnbull he bequeathed a collection of books and engravings. The bequests to Turnbull were made on the condition, however, that the Englishman should pay certain debts of the testator amounting to a considerable sum.9

 p125  Under date of September 5 Miranda wrote an informing passage in his diary. "This morning M. Servan sent me instructions that I should serve in the Army of the North under Dumouriez where I had requested to be stationed."10 After a visit to the Jacobin Club, where he noticed the Duke of Orleans sitting amidst the populace, Miranda left Paris for Grand Pré by way of Soissons. A passport granted him by the Executive Council informed public officials in the departments that Francisco de Miranda had "brown hair and eyebrows, and a round, smooth-shaven face. He has grey eyes, a large nose, a medium-sized mouth, a round chin, a high forehead, and a small scar on the lower left cheek near the chin. A major general in the Army of the North, he is on his way to that army; and you must let him proceed to it without any hindrance."11

At his lodgings General Miranda left instructions that when his baggage arrived from London, it should be forwarded to the Army of the North.12 On the evening of September 11 the new general reached the camp of Dumouriez, the domineering and intriguing French commander, who received him, said Miranda in his diary, with friendship and distinction. Dumouriez placed him in charge of a division of the right wing of the army that soon engaged in a skirmish with the Prussian invaders. On September 20, 1792, he witnessed the check given to the Prussians under the Duke of Brunswick on the hill of Valmy. Four days later Pétion, president of the National Convention, sent a letter to the new recruit to express pleasure at the news he had received "that Colonelº Miranda had borne himself as an experienced officer and as an excellent citizen who knew how to merit the confidence of the soldiers he commanded. This is not simply a matter of ensuring the triumph of the liberty of France," added Pétion, "but of the liberty of the entire world. We shall never fight for a greater or for a more noble cause. Bear yourself well; we  p126 shall embrace after the victory."13 An intimate friendship soon developed between Miranda and his commander. In one of his letters Dumouriez wrote as follows to the South American: "Your friendship, my dear Miranda, is my most precious recompense. * * * It is your sublime philosophy that binds us together."14

[image ALT: A map of NE France and what is now Belgium and the southern third of The Netherlands, showing the rivers, the principal towns, and the sites of the battles of Valmy and Neerwinden. It is a map illustrating the career of Francisco de Miranda as a general in the military service of France.]

Map Illustrating Miranda's Career in the Military Service of France

Installed on September 21, by its first decree the Convention declared that monarchy was abolished in France. It furtively designated the new State a Republic. Girondist leaders had meantime sketched a foreign policy that involved an attack on the dominions of Spain. Brissot selected Miranda as the best commander for an expedition against the Spanish Indies. Upon becoming acquainted with that scheme Miranda fondly dreamed of enlisting support for it in the United States.

He held conferences on the subject with his crony, Colonel W. S. Smith, who was now on a visit to France. On November 4 he wrote letters to Secretaries Knox and Hamilton about the emancipation of Spanish America. In sanguine phrases he said to Knox: "You will see by the official communications of the new appointed minister of France, and the information our friend Col. Smith will give you, how things are coming to maturity; and the Period advancing when our dear Country America shall become that glorious part of the Globe, that nature intended her to be — and that those schemes our patriotism sugestedº to our minds in our Semposiums at Boston, are not far from being realized." In a simpler strain Miranda wrote to Hamilton: "The affairs and success of France take a happy turn in our favor. I mean in favor of our dear country America, from the North to the South — the official communications from the new appointed Minister of France and the information our friend Col. Smith shall give to you will  p127 show you how things are grown ripe into maturity for the Execution of those grand and beneficial projects we had in Contemplation when in our Conversation at New York the love of our Country exalted our minds with those Ideas, for the sake of unfortunate Colombia."15

In a postscript to his letter to Knox the general directed that he should be addressed in care of the French Department of Foreign Affairs. At this juncture Miranda conferred with Lebrun, the foreign minister, about the project to revolutionize Spanish America.16 He took steps to transfer his books and manuscripts to Paris. Turnbull wrote from London on November 20, 1792, that Andrew Fröberg, who had returned from a visit to Sweden, was packing his master's books for shipment to France and would bring with him the "Box of Papers from Count Woronzow."17 On November 25 Monge wrote to the Minister of War and expressed the opinion that Miranda ought to replace Thouvenot in a projected expedition to the French West Indies. Two days later Monge informed this Minister that he had requested of Dumouriez that Miranda should be appointed governor of the French portion of Santo Domingo.18 Further, on November 26 Brissot wrote to Servan and maintained that there would be no peace for France while a Bourbon remained upon the throne. "Fully convinced that it is necessary to attack Spain in all her vulnerable parts, I believe that it is necessary to foment a revolution in Spanish America and that there is no man better fitted for this rôle than Miranda." Then Brissot added that with "his courage and genius the chains forged by Cortés and Pizarro will easily be broken."19

A letter from Brissot to Dumouriez dated November 28, 1792, presents in circumstantial detail the significant project to employ the Venezuelan to cut the Spanish colonies adrift from the Motherland:

 p128  "It is necessary to promote this revolution in Spain and in America at the same time. The fate of the movement in Spanish America depends upon one man: you know him, you esteem, you love him, — that is Miranda! The ministers have recently been searching for some one to replace Desparbès at Santo Domingo. A ray of light struck me. I said: 'appoint Miranda.' Miranda will soon put an end to the miserable quarrels of the colonists, he will soon bring the turbulent whites to reason, and he will become the idol of the colored people.

"Then with what ease will he not be able to revolutionize the colonies that the Spaniards possess in the West Indies or on the American Continent? At the head of twelve thousand troops of the line now at Santo Domingo and of ten or fifteen thousand brave mulattoes that our colonies will furnish, with what facility will he not be able to invade the Spanish dominions, having also a squadron under his orders, while the Spaniards have no forces with which to oppose him? The very name of Miranda will be worth an army: his talents, his courage, his genius, — all promise success! In order to insure this, however, there is not a moment to lose. It is necessary that he should depart on the Capricieuse which sails for Santo Domingo. It is necessary that he should depart before Spain can divine our intentions. I know well that his appointment will strike Spain with terror and will confound Pitt with his poor, dilatory politics; but Spain is impotent, and England will not budge. Let us always advance, but let us be just and generous. * * * My friend, do not let us consume our time with plans for an alliance with Prussianº or England, — wretched scaffoldings as they are: — all these will have to go! Novus rerum nascitur ordo."20

Dumouriez was apparently charmed with this grand design. On November 30, 1792, he wrote to Lebrun to declare that the control of the Dutch navy and the coöperation of the United States "in the execution of a superb plan of General Miranda" would enable France to crush England.21 On December 13 Brissot wrote to Miranda and sketched his plan:  p129 he proposed that the island of Santo Domingo should be used as a base of operations and suggested that an army of ten or twelve thousand men at this island should be strengthened by eight or ten thousand mulatto soldiers who could be recruited in the French West Indies. He maintained that these forces could be increased by a large number of volunteers from the United States who were pining to engage in the enterprise. To quote briefly from this letter:

"Your name and your talents promise success. I have presented my plan to all the ministers; and they have recognized its advantages. They have consented to give you the vacant post as governor of Santo Domingo. From that island as a base you can direct this insurrection. A single consideration has arrested me, namely, the deep attachment which you have formed for Dumouriez. I know how close to his heart is this revolution in the New World."22

Yet in Miranda's response to Brissot he admitted that his enthusiasm was not at white heat:

"The plan outlined in your letter is really great and magnificent, but I do not know whether its execution would be certain or even probable. With whatsoever concerns the Hispanic-American Continent or its islands I am perfectly acquainted and in a position to form an accurate opinion. With respect to the French islands and their actual situation, however, I know scarcely anything and in consequence it is impossible for me to form a just opinion about them. As in your plan they are the base of all operations, — for the French colonies are to furnish the active force to set into motion the people of the adjacent Continent, — it is necessary that we should be very certain that this movement would actually take place. It also appears to me that my appointment and my departure for Santo Domingo would be the signal of alarm for the courts of Madrid and London and that the results would soon be seen at Cadiz and Portsmouth. This activity would  p130 put new obstacles in the way of an enterprise that is too great, too beautiful, and too interesting to spoil at the very beginning by a lack of foresight."23

In a postscript Miranda declared that the papers containing his proposals to Pitt in 1790 were in Pétion's hands. He suggested that perhaps it might be wise to examine them before perfecting the great project which Brissot had outlined. There is a likelihood that, as Miranda later asserted, his reluctance to undertake the emancipation of Spanish America with a strong French force was partly due to his apprehensions about the anarchic principles that he supposed were now spreading in France.24 In any case, because of Miranda's activities in the Austrian Netherlands, early in 1793 Monge relinquished the project of sending him to Santo Domingo.

Miranda had meantime risen rapidly in the French service. Early in October, 1792, he had been brevetted lieutenant general in the Army of the North. This recognition he designated as "an inestimable honor," and declared that his satisfaction would be still greater if "his talents could equal the zeal and the inviolable love of liberty that attached him firmly to the French Republic."25 On October 24 he was placed at the head of eight brigades of the left wing of the army. A visit to Paris prevented him from participating in the defeat of the Austrians at Jemappes, a victory which gave the French a dominant position in the Austrian Netherlands. On November 26 Miranda replaced Labourdonnaye and became general in command of a division. He vigorously pushed the siege of Antwerp that capitulated on November 29. He promptly issued an order to his soldiers that when they entered its fortress "the  p131 emblems of despotism were to be replaced by the emblems of liberty." Names of Spanish heroes engraved on its bastions should be replaced by the names of Dumouriez, Pétion, Helvitius, and Rousseau.26

Miranda's successes provoked the jealousy of his American acquaintance, Eustace, who was now in the French service. He wrote a letter to General Labourdonnaye and described the Venezuelan as a "so‑called Count of Peru, a base Spanish deserter, a vile contrabandist, and a notorious adventurer," who had attained a distinguished grade in the French army after a few weeks of service "by adroitly paying court to our general and his favorite."27 However Miranda won the high regard of the Bishop of Antwerp who presented him with some Latin and Spanish classics as a token of "the homage due to the man of letters, the philosopher full of charm and extensive knowledge, the great military character of whom Homer and Horace, after him, would have said: Qui mores hominum multorum vidit et urbes."28

[image ALT: An engraving of an oval medallion containing a bust in the classical style — captioned MIRANDA — of a man still young, with wavy hair falling in locks over the top of his ears, above a horizontal rectangular vignette of the city of Antwerp, showing mostly its approaches by water. On the upper frame of the vignette, which is of a modified Greek-key design, as if the vignette were a mantelpiece, rest a sword and three scrolls — captioned in Greek with the names of Pausanias, Xenophon, and Plato — and two bound volumes titled WINCK and LOCKE. It is a representation of Francisco de Miranda.]

Francisco de Miranda. Painting by Jean Lebarbier. Engraving by Charles E. Gaucher. In the collection of the Bibliothèque Nationale, Paris.

On December 6, 1792, General Miranda left Antwerp to join the advance guard of the French army at Maeseyck-sur‑Meuse. A few days later his division entered Ruremond. January 21, 1793, — the day on which Louis XVI was executed and which thus marked the beginning of a relentless war between republican France and monarchical Europe, — found Miranda in charge of the army that had been under the command of General Valence. On February 11 he announced to Beurnonville, the new minister of war, that he had captured Stevensweert, which controlled the river Meuse. As commander in chief of the French army during the absence of Dumouriez, from Liége on February 13 Miranda formally announced to his comrades in arms that France had not only declared war against the United Netherlands but also against England, which had assumed a belligerent attitude because of the French  p132 conquest of the Austrian Netherlands. This Gallic declaration of war impelled England to form during the next six months the imposing fabric of the First Coalition composed, among other continental powers, of Austria, Prussia, Russia, and Spain.

In a dispatch to Beurnonville on February 12 Miranda revealed his own character by expressing the opinion that to insure success in Holland the French would have to foment a revolution there. Dumouriez soon assured Miranda that this would be done. Audaciously did he plan to divide his army, to mask six Dutch fortresses, to cross the estuaries of the Meuse and the Rhine, and to march rapidly to Amsterdam. Meantime he ordered Miranda to undertake the siege of Maestricht.29

A plan for the investment of that city which General Miranda had formed at the instance of Dumouriez was approved by the Minister of War. Miranda proposed that after the capture of Maestricht, he and Dumouriez should unite forces and drive the enemy out of the province of Utrecht. The impetuous Dumouriez invaded the United Netherlands on February 17 and captured three fortresses but was halted at Dordrecht. In high spirits, trusting that his favorite lieutenant was winning success in the execution of another part of the ambitious design, the commander in chief sent the following greetings to Miranda on February 26: "Stretch out your arms as far as you can in order that we may re‑unite at Nimwegen and dance the Carmagnole together. * * * Adieu, my dear comrade, make a good fire, drink your wine freely, bear yourself well, and be gay."30 When he notified Miranda of the capture of Gertruydenberg, he addressed him as a "proud republican, my friend, my brother."31

Yet Dumouriez's republican brother could not make a serious breach in the defenses of Maestricht, although he reported on February 25, 1793, that the city was on fire in five  p133 places. Miranda's summons to capitulate, the Dutch disdained. Unexpectedly the French army under General Valence that covered the siege was driven from the Roer River through Aix-la‑Chapelle by Austrian soldiers commanded by the Duke of Coburg. In despondent terms Valence then wrote to Dumouriez to declare that their dream about the conquest of Holland had ended. Instead of triumphantly joining his commander at Nimwegen, Miranda was forced to raise the siege of Maestricht. A few days later the Executive Council ordered Dumouriez to return to Belgium, where he rejoined the main French army. On March 16 his advance guard attacked the imperial soldiers and forced them to retire toward the village of Neerwinden.

There Dumouriez found the Austrians strongly stationed on a plateau which stretched north from Neerwinden to Léau. The French commander surprised the enemy by suddenly taking the initiative; he threw large forces under General Valence against the Austrian left. His left wing under Miranda was ordered to occupy Léau, while columns from his center were detached to attack Neerwinden and the dominating plateau. A decisive battle thus took place on March 18 between the French army under Dumouriez and Austrian soldiers under Archduke Charles. Despite gallant efforts the French failed to secure Neerwinden, the key to the Austrian position. A flank attack from the plateau by splendid, imperial troops had meantime caused the raw volunteers under Miranda to break and flee. Léau had to be evacuated, and the left wing of the French army was thrown into a disastrous flight.32

The rout of Miranda's soldiers was at least partly responsible for the victory of the Austrians at Neerwinden. At once Dumouriez wrote to the Minister of War and asserted that the disastrous check was due in no small measure to Miranda's  p134 retreat. As a retort the discredited Venezuelan, who had gained an inkling of his commandant's plan to restore a constitutional monarchy to France, cleverly laid the blame for the loss of Belgium on Dumouriez. He denounced that general and maintained that he had traitorously proposed that they should lead the army against Paris.33

However, General Miranda was not above suspicion. In accordance with the decision of commissioners of the National Convention in Belgium, who urged that complaints against his military conduct at Maestricht were so grave that he should be summoned to defend himself, on March 24, 1793, the National Convention ordered that this general should be arrested and brought before its bar. Upon his already at Paris, Miranda was thrust into the Conciergerie, the ancient Palace of Justice which had been converted into a prison. In that antechamber of the tomb he was detained with other suspects destined for trial before the Revolutionary Tribunal. His servant Andrew, who had just arrived in the capital, sent him some clothing and books for use during his incarceration, and informed him that his friends were seeking an advocate to defend him.34

The deposed general did not tamely submit to disgrace. He composed a discourse justifying his military conduct which he proposed to deliver before the Convention. On April 4 he addressed its President to ask that he should be heard in his own defense. After Dumouriez had passed over to the enemies' camp, Miranda framed an indignant protest: he declared that his arrest had been ordered at a time when he was fighting the enemies of France, that his character had been defamed by a traitor, and that a perusal of his correspondence would demonstrate his innocence. In the iron style of the third person he wrote: "An irreproachable republican does not fear death, but he cannot endure being suspected of a crime, — after the lapse of more than a month, Miranda is still suspected!"35  p135 In a summary of his military services to France the accused commander avowed that his animating motive was a "love of liberty which had been gained by a study of all the free people who enjoy it; my sole object has been to promote liberty among men, having served that cause in America." With regard to his conduct as a French general, he left this justificatory phrases: "Attack on Maestricht by order; my retreat approved; battle of Neerwinden against my judgment!"36

After a preliminary examination by the Committee of War, on May 10 the general was arraigned for trial before the Revolutionary Tribunal. The public prosecutor, Fouquier-Tinville, framed the charge against the prisoner which, in brief, accused him of having conspired with Dumouriez to commit treason. An Englishman named Christie who was connected with the firm of Turnbull and Forbes, wrote to Miranda and wisely implored him "to be as gentle as you can at the Tribune in blaming the Soldiers. I mean for your own sake. For the Mountain will take advantage of it."37 In another letter this friend warned Miranda that Eustace was trying to do him all the harm he could.38 An English political refugee named John Stone wrote to Miranda to offer his services, to declare that his heart bled at the indignities which the prisoner had been compelled to suffer, and to state that he was loath to call upon him lest this should provoke fresh suspicions.39

On May 12 General Miranda was brought before the Revolutionary Tribunal which was presided over by J. B. Montané. Besides the jurors, there followed the prisoner into court a number of witnesses, and his counsel, Claude François Chauveau Lagarde. Attracted by the personality of the defendant, as well as by the heinous character of the accusation, Frenchmen and foreigners thronged the court. Among witnesses for the prosecution, General La Noue testified that the mistakes of the French at Liége were the fault of Valence. Delacroix, a member of a commission which the National Convention had  p136 sent to Belgium, testified that after the battle of Neerwinden he had been informed that some of Miranda's soldiers did not see him for six days. Eustace, whose professed love for Miranda had turned into bitter hatred, openly avowed that he considered it an honor to detest the accused, whereupon Fouquier-Tinville promptly announced that his testimony could not be accepted.40

The accounts of some witnesses for the prosecution, as the accused trenchantly pointed out, were flimsy or contradictory in character. The English poetess, Helen Maria Williams, who was residing in Paris, recorded that Miranda "pleaded his cause with such sublime energy, as proved that his powers as an orator were not inferior to his talents as a general. He covered himself with glory and his enemies with confusion."41

Damaging statements made by witnesses for the prosecution were refuted by witnesses for the defense. Among the most pertinent of these were Stone, Sabonadière, Joel Barlow, and Thomas Paine. In a clever fashion they linked the accused general's activity in France to his known interest in human liberty. Stone testified that he had first met Miranda in England. "I have always found him the warmest friend and the most systematic defender of the rights of man. * * * I have this consolation in seeing him placed before the tribunal, namely, that it is insufficient that a French general should be acknowledged as not guilty, it is necessary that he should be recognized as being, like Caesar's wife, above suspicion."42 Sabonadière, an advocate who while an exile from France had been a teacher in England, gave similar testimony. "Brought into contact," he declared, "with many interesting personages of North America, I have often heard General Miranda, whom I do not know personally, mentioned as a good officer, a brave soldier, and a true friend of liberty."43

 p137  The American poet and patriot, Joel Barlow, testified that he had visited London at the juncture when the accused left that city for Paris. "My friends in London were also Miranda's; they were the most pronounced friends of liberty, the most zealous defenders of the French Revolution. They always lauded this philosophic warrior, and they made known their deep satisfaction when they learned that he had entered the service of freedom in France." Barlow praised Miranda as a unique personage who did not resemble lovers of liberty in either France or England:

"From the abyss of despotism where to read was prohibited, where to think was a crime, where the only literature which was allowed to circulate was steeped in ignorance, this South American, taking nature as his guide, discovered that he was a man, that all men were equal, that it was his duty to teach this lesson, to overthrow thrones, and to liberate his native land."44

The humanitarian philosopher, Thomas Paine, who was now a member of the National Convention and who in November, 1792, had written this old acquaintance to congratulate him on his military successes, testified in part as follows:

"It is impossible that a man can understand the heart of another as well as he understands his own; but from all that I know about General Miranda I cannot believe that he wished to betray the confidence which the French Republic had reposed in him, more especially as the destiny of the French Revolution was intimately related to the favorite object of his heart, namely, the deliverance of Spanish America, — a design for which he was hunted by the court of Spain during the greatest part of his life."45

Chauveau Lagarde pleaded eloquently for the accused general. In the opening of his argument he declared that it was by an extraordinary destiny that Miranda found himself accused of having betrayed liberty by the very man whose liberticide  p138 projects he had denounced. In his peroration the advocate reasoned that, if Miranda did not receive satisfaction, Dumouriez would be justified, that in the future no one would dare to report perfidious conspirators, and that national exigency demanded that "experienced and incorruptible generals" should be placed in charge of the armies of France.46

According to a memorandum preserved by Miranda, in his charge to the jury the public prosecutor exonerated him from any blame for the disastrous defeat at Neerwinden. Fouquier-Tinville reminded the jurors that divers witnesses had testified to the accused's love for liberty. He said that there should not be any doubt in their minds about the verdict.47 On May 16, 1793, the President of the Revolutionary Tribunal asked the jury to answer three questions. (1) Had General Miranda betrayed the interests of the French Republic during the bombardment of Maestricht? (2) Had he betrayed the interests of France during the evacuation of Liége? (3) Had he betrayed the interests of the Republic at the battle of Neerwinden? In successive declarations each member of the jury expressed the opinion that Miranda was not a traitor.48 When Montané announced this decision, in a most dramatic manner the jubilant general declared that his case illustrated how easily calumnies might be credited. To quote the Moniteur: "The people applauded the judgment concerning Miranda and also his speech; they took him in their arms, carried him in triumph, and crowned him."49

Montané indited a letter of congratulation to General Miranda to declare that he held him "in the highest esteem" and to invite him to attend "a republican dinner."50 General Pille, who had been one of Dumouriez's commanders in Belgium, wrote to Miranda with no less enthusiasm to felicitate him, as well as the Republic, because of the splendid justice which the Revolutionary Tribunal had rendered to his civic and military  p139 virtues. "One can say to you with Seneca," continued Pille, "Virtus cum violata est, refulsit. Your enemies have not been able to ruin you by their persecutions; they have merely demonstrated to France your true worth."51 Miranda's advocate, who later won renown by his defense of Marie Antoinette, published a broadside in which he avowed that the finest day of his life was that on which he defended the accused general, and that he had never known a man who inspired him with more esteem and veneration. "One cannot imagine more grandeur in a character, more elevation in ideas, or more of true love for all the virtues. * * * I maintain that there is not a single man who followed the trial who has not become convinced that Miranda is not only guiltless but that he is a man who is most moral and virtuous; and I avow on my honor that several witnesses who accused him with great bitterness have since proclaimed his innocence and have deposited in my hands their most formal retractions."52

The judgment of the Revolutionary Tribunal on Miranda's military conduct seems just and righteous altogether. Yet some attention should be given to the views of other persons than those who participated in the famous trial. In his justificatory memoirs Dumouriez wrote of his former associate in these words: "Miranda, * * * a man of spirit and intelligence, knew the theory of war better than any other general in the army but was a stranger to its practice. * * * This general had a strange, haughty, and severe character that made him universally detested; he knew not how to manage French soldiers who should always be led with gaiety and confidence."53

The littérateur and publicist, Louvet de Couvrai, placed the responsibility for the defeat at Neerwinden upon the shoulders of General Dumouriez who ordered a precipitate attack without waiting for reënforcements. Louvet asserted that  p140 Dumouriez feared that he would be arrested and knew that Miranda did not agree with his principles: "He hastened to hazard a battle in the hope, if he were victorious, of making himself redoubtable to the Convention, and, if he were defeated, of allying himself with the enemy in order to march against the Mountain."54 In his treatise on the military history of the French Revolution, Baron Jomini makes this judicious comment regarding Dumouriez's denunciation of Miranda's retreat: "The assertion of Dumouriez is unjust; he was doubtless ignorant that Miranda had been engaged with very superior forces which outflanked him and that as all of Miaczinsky's soldiers had not yet arrived upon the battle field Miranda's retreat was made even more inevitable. The commander in chief should not have engaged his weakened wing too far from the center of his army."55

A favorable yet discriminatory judgment on Miranda's military activities is contained in Cochelet's report concerning French generals presented to the military committee of the National Convention:

"Miranda has a genius which is vast and profound. He loves liberty and equality as a young man loves his dear mistress; he is as faithful to them as a thinking man is to a woman who possesses goodness and beauty. He honors the soldier and ceaselessly watches his welfare. * * * Miranda highly appreciates the volunteers. He was ceaselessly occupied with these duties: I did not behold him distracted for a single instant; to me he seemed to possess all the moral qualities of a good general: — activity, intelligence, watchfulness, discernment, probity, patriotism, love for the soldiers, regard for discipline, and a comprehensive vision. One might only reproach him because of his vivacity, because of an air of hauteur in his bearing, and because he does not display enough sympathy for those men who are less discerning, less intelligent, and less active than himself."56

 p141  On the day after his justification by the Revolutionary Tribunal the acquitted general wrote to its President and asked that orders should be given that his manuscripts, his household goods, his horses, and his military equipage — all of which had been sequestrated by the court — should be promptly returned to him. On the same day Montané issued orders that this proprietorship should be restored. Though Miranda evidently supposed that he was still in the military service of France, yet her government later took the view that, as he had not been included in the military report of May 15, 1793, his service automatically terminated on June 1. In that very month the Girondists irretrievably lost control of the Convention and the party of the Mountain came into power.


The Author's Notes:

1 Mir. MSS., vol. 20. Cf. Parra-Pérez, Miranda et la révolution française, pp. lvi‑lvii.

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2 Pétion, Réponse très-succincte, p9.

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3 Mir. MSS., vol. 27.

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4 Ibid.

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5 Ibid.

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6 Ibid.

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7 Parra-Pérez, op. cit., pp18‑19. An unsigned miniature in the possession of Count Costa of Milan, a descendant of Miranda, depicts him as a sans-culotte.

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8 Mir. MSS., vol. 27; Miranda, Indice del archivo, p. xiii.

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9 Robertson, "Miranda's Testamentary Dispositions," in His. Am. Hist. Rev., VII, 281.

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10 Mir. MSS., vol. 27.

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11 Sept. 6, 1792, A. N., F7, 7112, dossier B, 7190.

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12 Miranda to Tissot, Sept. 3, 1792, Mir. MSS., vol. 19.

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13 Clavery, "L'anniversaire de Valmy ; une lettre de Pétion à Miranda," in Journal des Débats, Sept. 21, 1928. See further, Clavery and Parra-Pérez, "À propos de Miranda," in ibid., Sept. 29, 1928.

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14 Oct. 10, 1792, Mir. MSS., vol. 27. On Miranda's early relations with Dumouriez, see also Parra-Pérez, Miranda et la révolution française, p26.

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15 Mir. MSS., vol. 45; Robertson, Miranda, pp290‑91.

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16 Sorel, L'Europe et la révolution française, III, 157.

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17 Mir. MSS., vol. 20.

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18 A. G., armées du Nord et des Ardennes, Nov., 1792.

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19 Brissot, Correspondance et papiers, p312.

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20 Rojas, Miranda dans la révolution française, pp2‑4.

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21 Sorel, III, 175.

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22 Rojas, op. cit., p8. The original of this letter that is preserved with related correspondence in the Mir. MSS., vol. 29, bears the date Dec. 13 instead of Oct. 13 as printed by Rojas.

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23 Rojas, op. cit., pp5‑6.

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24 Miranda to Gual, Oct. 4, 1799, Mir. MSS., vol. 46; Ed. Rev., XIII, 288. Among the annotations on Miranda's copy of his petition to Pitt dated Mar. 13, 1799, is the following: "Par suite de l'arrangement antérieur il entre au Service de la France — et fut nomme en Nove. 1792, gouverneur General de St. Domingue pour l'execution de ce Projet ; mais le sisteme de Robespierre etant survenu, il fait remettre l'entreprise à un tems plus favorable." Mir. MSS., vol. 45.

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25 Miranda to Servan, Oct. 9, 1792, A. G., archives administratives, dossier Miranda.

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26 Moniteur, Dec. 3, 1792.

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27 Eustace, Le citoyen des États-Unis d'Amérique, p20.

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28 Antepara, South American Emancipation, p217.

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29 Robertson, Miranda, pp296‑97.

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30 Rojas, Miranda dans la révolution française, pp82, 83.

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31 Ibid., p100.

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32 Thiébault, Memoirs, I, 157‑58; Money, The History of the Campaign of 1792, pp274‑84; Parra-Pérez, op. cit., pp179‑200. Maps of the battle of Neerwinden may be found in Antepara, op. cit., p86, and Parra-Pérez, op. cit., p184.

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33 Rojas, op. cit., p163.

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34 Fröberg to Miranda, undated, Mir. MSS., vol. 39.

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35 "Reflexions pour Miranda à ses juges," May, 1793, ibid.

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36 "Discour Sommair des Services à la Repu.," ibid.

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37 "Sunday," ibid.

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38 "Friday," ibid.

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39 Undated, ibid.

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40 Bulletin du tribunal criminel révolutionnaire, no. 37, 2ème. supplément.

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41 Letters containing a Sketch of the Politics of France, I, 243.

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42 Bulletin du tribunal criminel révolutionnaire, no. 37, 2ème. supplément.

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43 Ibid.

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44 Ibid.

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45 Ibid. See further, Conway, The Life of Thomas Paine, II, 22‑23.

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46 Chauveau Lagarde, Plaidoyer pour le général Miranda, pp63‑64.

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47 Undated jottings, Mir. MSS., vol. 40.

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48 Rojas, Miranda dans la révolution française, pp210‑16.

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49 Moniteur, May 21, 1793.

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50 May 17, 1793, Mir. MSS., vol. 40.

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51 May 20, 1793, ibid., vol. 41.

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52 Chauveau Lagarde, Chauveau à ses concitoyens.

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53 La vie et les mémoires, IV, 17, 18.

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54 Mémoires, p248, note.

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55 Histoire critique et militaire des guerres de la révolution, III, 114.

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56 Rapport fait au comité militaire de la convention nationale, p4.


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