After the Festival of the Federation, the Champ-de-Mars became a site for gatherings and celebrations. However, a year later, the overall feeling had changed. The king had betrayed his oath. After having attempted to flee the country, he was arrested in Varennes on June 20, 1791. The Cordeliers, radical militants, signed a petition demanding his deposition. On July 17th, they defied an order and gathered on the Champ-de-Mars. The City of Paris decreed martial law. This authorized the shooting of demonstrators, and even pacifists. Gunfire broke out. Dozens of women, men and children were killed and injured. It was traumatic: the revolutionaries in power had fired on their own people.
Cornered by the National Guard, demonstrators took refuge on the steps of the Nation’s altar. Was this monument not the symbol of the sacred union of all French people before God? And yet, the suppression was merciless: the soldiers pursued and fired on them, spilling their blood.
Two years after the Champ-de-Mars massacre, on November 12, 1793, the guillotine was temporarily moved here for the execution of Jean-Sylvain Bailly. As the Mayor of Paris, it was he who had effectively decreed martial law. As for La Fayette, commander of the National Guard in charge of maintaining order, he was never worried about his role in the massacre.