Jacques Nicolas Billaud-Varenne
Jacques Nicolas Billaud-Varenne (April 23, 1756 - June 3, 1819) was a French revolutionary.
The son of an avocat at the parlement of Paris, his upbringing was haphazard. At nineteen he became an Oratorian, but never took vows, and busied himself with literature rather than religion. In 1785 he left the Oratorian college where he was prefect of studies, came to Paris, married and bought a position as advocate in the parlement. Early in 1789 he published at Amsterdam a three-volume work on the Despotisme des ministres de la France, and he adopted with enthusiasm the principles of the Revolution.
At the Jacobin Club he became, from 1790, one of the most violent anti-royalist orators. After the flight of King Louis XVI to Varennes, he published a pamphlet, L'Aciphocratie, in which he demanded the establishment of a federal republic. On July 1, in another speech at the Jacobin club, he spoke of a republic, arousing the derision of partisans of the constitutional monarchy; but when he repeated his demand for a republic a fortnight later, the speech was printed and sent to the branch societies throughout France. On the night of August 10, 1792 (during the insurrection of that date) he was elected one of the "deputy-commissioners" of the sections who shortly afterwards became the general council of the commune. He was accused of having been an accomplice in the massacres in the prison of the Abbaye.
Elected a deputy of Paris to the National Convention, he spoke in favour of the immediate abolition of the monarchy, and the next day demanded that all acts be dated from the year I of the republic (a measure adopted a little over a year later in the form of the French Revolutionary Calendar). At the trial of Louis XVI he added new charges to the accusation, proposed to refuse counsel to the king, and voted for death "within 24 hours." On June 2, 1793, he proposed a decree of accusation against the Girondists; a week later, at the Jacobin club, he outlined a programme which the Convention was destined to fulfil: the expulsion of foreigners, the establishment of an tax on the rich, the deprivation of the rights of citizenship of all "anti-social" men, the creation of a revolutionary army, the licensing of all officers and ci-devant nobles, the death penalty for unsuccessful generals. On July 15 he made a violent speech in the Convention in accusation of the Girondists. Sent in August as "representative on mission" to the départments of the Nord and of Pas-de-Calais, he showed himself inexorable to all suspects.
On his return he was added to the Committee of Public Safety, which had decreed the mass arrest of all suspects and the establishment of a revolutionary army, caused the extraordinary criminal tribunal to be named officially "Revolutionary Tribunal" (on October 29, 1793), demanded the execution of Marie Antoinette and then attacked Hébert and Georges Danton. Meanwhile he published Les Elements du republicanisme, in which he demanded a division of property among the citizens. Becoming nervous about his own safety, he turned against Maximilien Robespierre, whom he attacked on 8 Thermidor as a "moderate" and a Dantonist. Surprised by the Thermidorian reaction, he denounced its partisans to the Jacobin club. He was then attacked himself in the Convention for his cruelty, and a commission was appointed to examine his conduct and that of some other members of the former Committee of Public Safety. He was arrested, and as a result of the insurrection of 12 Germinal of the year 3 (April 1, 1795), the Convention decreed his immediate deportation to French Guiana. After Napoleon Bonaparte's coup d'etat of 18 Brumaire, he refused the pardon offered by Napoleon as First Consul. In 1816 he left Guiana and took refuge in Port-au-Prince (Haiti), where he died of dysentery.
The 1911 Encyclopaedia Britannica, in turn, gives the following references:
- In 1821 were published the Mémoires de Billaud-Varenne écrits a Port-au-Prince (Paris, 2 vols.), but they are probably forgeries.
- An interesting autobiographical sketch of his youth, Tableau du prémier age, composed in 1786, was published in 1888 in the review, La Révolution française. The facts of such a life need no comment.
- See, in addition to histories of the Revolution, FA Aulard, Les Orateurs de la legislative et de la convention (2nd ed. 1906).
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