Director D. W. Griffith adapted Eugene Cormon's play about two orphans who are brought up together but are separated in Paris just before the 1789 revolution.
When an aristocratic woman marries a commoner, her husband is shot and her child Louise is left on cathedral steps. Poor Jean Girard is leaving an orphan there too; but seeing how the cold has affected the other, he takes both home.
The mother of Louis becomes the Countess de Linieres (Katherine Emmet). Jacques-Forget-Not (Leslie King) resents his father being punished. Henriette Girard (Lillian Gish) takes care of blind Louise Girard (Dorothy Gish). The Chevalier de Vaudrey (Joseph Schildkraut) gives bread to the poor and is commended by Danton (Monte Blue). Henriette swears that she will not marry until Louise can see.
In Paris the Marquis de Praille (Morgan Wallace) sees the two girls and tells La Forge to abduct Henriette. Praille's horses kill a woman. He gives a party, and Vaudrey attends. La Forge and two men grab Henriette on the street. Mother Frochard (Lucille La Verne) says she will take care of Louise and takes her home. Henriette is brought to the party but wants to search for Louise. Vaudrey rescues her from Praille, who is wounded in the duel. Vaudrey takes Henriette to a lodging house and kisses her.
Mother Frochard wants Louise to beg, but she refuses and is put in the cellar. Vaudrey asks Count de Linieres (Frank Losee), but he refuses to ask police to look for Louise. Louis XVI arranges a marriage for Vaudrey, but he declines. Danton wants to help Henriette, but Robespierre (Sidney Herbert) disagrees. Danton fights off royalists, is wounded, and hides in Henriette's room. She cares for him. Vaudrey visits Henriette while Picard spies on him. Vaudrey gives Henriette a ring, but she says Louise must be found first.
Countess de Linieres sees Louise begging in the snow and gives her money. Vaudrey persuades the Countess to visit Henriette. The Count says Vaudrey must marry, or he will be exiled. Henriette tells the Countess about Louise, and the Countess identifies her locket. Henriette hears Louise singing in the street and sees her; but the Count has Henriette arrested, and Mother Frochard takes Louise away.
After Danton wins over the guards, people storm the Bastille. They fight the soldiers and triumph. Danton orders prisoners released. The Count flees with the aristocrats. Henriette goes to Mother Frochard, who says Louise died. Pierre Frochard (Frank Puglia) defends Louise from Jacques Frochard (Sheldon Lewis) and stabs him. People dance wildly.
Robespierre heads the Committee of Public Safety that has been given power by the democratic government. He purges vice with the guillotine, but Danton pleads for mercy. Vaudrey returns to Paris in common clothes, but Jacques-Forget-Not remembers him. Vaudrey goes to Henriette, and Jacques has them both arrested. Vaudrey and Henriette are brought before the tribunal. Henriette sees Louise, and they call to each other. Vaudrey says he is not an enemy of the people, but Jacques sentences him to the guillotine. Jacques accuses Henriette of sheltering Vaudrey and condemns her too. Danton sees Henriette being taken away and pleads for her and Vaudrey. The tribunal says no. In the cart Henriette kisses Louise goodbye. Danton argues against tyranny, wins over people, and gets a pardon. He hurries while Henriette is taken to the guillotine. The gate is closed, but soldiers stop the execution and open the gate. Danton arrives in time to save Henriette. In the final scene a doctor has cured Louise's eyes.
In this epic drama D. W. Griffith compares the excessive
violence of the French revolution to the Bolsheviks and warns
against tyranny in any guise. The saving of the altruistic girl
and the kind aristocrat reflects the need for love in the world.