Bertrand Barère

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The Citizen
Bertrand Barère
Portrait of Barère by Jean-Louis Laneuville (1794)
Member of the Chamber of Representatives
from Hautes-Pyrénées
In office
3 June 1815 – 13 July 1815
Preceded by Jean Lacrampe
Succeeded by Jean-Baptiste Darrieux
Constituency Tarbes
Member of the Council of Five Hundred
from Hautes-Pyrénées
In office
22 October 1795 – 26 December 1799
Preceded by Himself in the National Convention
Constituency Tarbes
Commissioner to Navy, Military and Foreign Affairs
In office
6 April 1793 – 1 September 1794
Majority Committee of Public Safety
7th President of the National Convention
In office
29 November 1792 – 31 December 1792
Preceded by Henri Grégoire
Succeeded by Jacques Defermon
Member of the National Convention
from Hautes-Pyrénées
In office
4 September 1792 – 26 October 1795
Preceded by Jean Dareau-Laubadère
Succeeded by Himself in the Council of Five Hundred
Constituency Tarbes
Deputy to the Estates-General
for the Third Estate
In office
5 May 1789 – 9 July 1789
Constituency Bigorre
Personal details
Born (1755-09-10)10 September 1755
Tarbes, Gascony, France
Died 13 January 1841(1841-01-13) (aged 85)
Tarbes, Hautes-Pyrénées, France
Political party Marais (1792–1795)
Montagnard (1795–1799)
Liberal Left (1815)
Spouse(s) Élisabeth de Monde (m. 1785; separated 1793)
Profession Lawyer
Religion Deism (baptized Catholic)

Bertrand Barère de Vieuzac (10 September 1755 – 13 January 1841) was a French politician, freemason,[1] journalist, and one of the most prominent members of the National Convention during the French Revolution.

Early life[edit]

Betrand Barère was born in Tarbes, a commune part of the Gascony region. The name Barère de Vieuzac, by which he continued to call himself long after the abolition of feudalism in France, originated from a small fief belonging to his father, Jean Barère, who was a lawyer at Vieuzac (now Argelès-Gazost).[2] Barère’s mother, Jeanne-Catherine Marrast, was of old nobility.[3] Barére attended parish school when he was a child, and by the time he was of age, his brother, Jean-Pierre, became a priest.[3] Jean-Pierre would later earn a spot in the Council of Five Hundred alongside the very men who discarded any notion of accepting Bertrand Barére as a member.[4]

After finishing parish school, Barère attended a college before delving into his career in revolutionary politics. In 1770, he began to practice as a lawyer at the Parlement of Toulouse, one of the most celebrated parliaments of the kingdom. Barère practiced as an advocate with considerable success and wrote some small pieces, which he sent to the principal literary societies in the south of France. His fame as an essayist was what led to his election as a member of the Academy of Floral Games of Toulouse in 1788. This body held a yearly meeting of great interest to the whole city, at which flowers of gold and silver were awarded for odes, idyls, and eloquence. Although Barére never received any of these bounties, one of his performances was mentioned with honor. At the Academy of Floral Games of Montauban, he was awarded many prizes, including one for a panegyric on King Louis the XII, and another for a panegyric on Franc de Pompignan. Shortly after, Barére wrote a dissertation on an old stone with three latin words engraved on it. This earned him a seat in the Toulouse Academy of Sciences, Inscriptions, and Polite Literature.[2]

In 1785, Barére married a young lady of considerable fortune. In one of his works entitled Melancholy Pages, Barére proclaims that his marriage "was one of the most unhappy of marriages."[2] In 1789, he was elected deputy by the estates of Bigorre to the Estates-General — he had made his first visit to Paris in the preceding year. Barère de Vieuzac at first belonged to the constitutional party, but he was less known as a speaker in the National Constituent Assembly than as a journalist. According to François Victor Alphonse Aulard, Barére's paper, the Point du Jour, owed its reputation not so much to its own qualities as to the depiction of Barére in the Tennis Court Oath sketch. The painter, Jacques-Louis David, illustrated Barère kneeling in the corner and writing a report of the proceedings for posterity.

With the Girondists and The Mountain[edit]

Soon after the king’s flight to Varennes, Barère joined the republican party and the Feuillants. However, he continued to keep in touch with the Duke of Orléans, whose natural daughter, Pamela, he tutored. After the Constituent Assembly ended its session, he was nominated one of the judges of the newly instituted Cour de cassation from October 1791 to September 1792.

Although Barère was elected to the Estates-General in 1789 and elected judge of the Constituent Assembly in 1791,[4] his real career did not begin until he was elected to the National Convention for the département of the Hautes-Pyrénées in 1792.[5] Before his involvement in the Jacobin and Feuillant factions, Barére held membership as a Girondist.[5] He was a member of the Constitution Committee that drafted the Girondin constitutional project and also became a member of the Committee of Public Safety in 1793.[6] It turned out that Barère was extremely useful in reporting the plans of the Committee to the Convention.[5] His career took off when he served as presiding officer in the National Convention and chaired the trial of Louis XVI. [7] He voted with The Mountain for the king's execution "without appeal and without delay," and closed his speech with a memorable sentence: “the tree of liberty grows only when watered by the blood of tyrants.”[8]

Betrand Barère was appointed to the Committee of Public Safety on April 7, 1793. He soon became involved in foreign affairs and joined Robespierre's faction, the Jacobin Club, where he played an important role in the second Committee of Public Safety after July 17, 1793. He voted for the death of the Girondists at the beginning of the Reign of Terror. He consequently became active in the power struggles between The Mountain and others, and became mediator to all.

After the execution of King Louis XVI, Barère began publicly speaking of his newfound faith in "la religion de la patrie".[7] He wanted everyone to have faith in the fatherland, and called for the people of the Republic to be virtuous citizens. Barère mainly focused on four aspects about "la religion de la patrie"- the belief that a citizen would be consecrated to the fatherland at birth, the citizen should then come to love the fatherland, the Republic would teach the people virtues, and the fatherland would be the teacher to all.[8] Barère went on to state that "the Republic leaves the guidance of your first years to your parents, but as soon as your intelligence is developed, it proudly claims the rights that it holds over you. You are born for the Republic and not for the pride or the despotism of families."[8] He also claimed that because citizens were born for the Republic, they should love it above anything else. Barére reasoned that eventually the love for the fatherland would become a passion in everyone and this is how the people of the Republic would be united.[10]

Barère also urged further issues of nationalism and patriotism. He said, "I was a revolutionary. I am a constitutional citizen."[7] He pushed for freedom of press, speech, and thought. Barère felt that nationalism was founded by immeasurable emotions that could only be awakened by participating in national activities such as public events, festivals, and through education.[9] He believed in unity through "diversity and compromise."[9]

In 1793 and 1794, Barère focused on speaking of his doctrine, which included the teaching of national patriotism through an organized system of universal education, the national widespread of patriotic devotion, and the concept that one owed his nation his services.[12] Barère also stated that one could serve the nation by giving his labor, wealth, counsel, strength, and/or blood. Therefore, all sexes and ages could serve the fatherland.[10] He outlined his new faith in the fatherland, which replaced the national state religion, Catholicism.[8] Barère was trying to make nationalism a religion. Besides being concerned for the fatherland, Barère believed in universal elementary education. His influence on education is seen in American schools today as they recite the pledge of allegiance, and teach the alphabet and the multiplication table.[9] Barère believed that the fatherland could educate all.

Jean-Paul Marat used the very last edition of his paper Publiciste de la République Française (no. 242, 14 July 1793) to attack Barère directly:

'There is one whom I regard as the most dangerous enemy of the Nation: I mean Barère... I'm convinced that he plays both sides of every issue until he sees which one is coming out ahead. He has paralysed all vigorous efforts; he enchains us in order to strangle us.' [11]

Thermidor, prison, and later life[edit]

Barère was also known to have attacked Maximilien Robespierre by calling him "a pygmy who should not be set on a pedestal". During the Thermidorian Reaction (27 July 1794), after some initial hesitation, he drew up the report outlawing Robespierre, which turned out to be ultimately decisive. Some have considered him one of the main conspirators behind the Thermidorian Reaction.

Unfortunately, Barère was still questioned on the grounds of being a terrorist. Before Barère was sentenced to prison, "Carnot defended him on the ground that [Barère] was hardly worse than himself."[12] However, the defense proved ineffective. Nonetheless, in Germinal of the year III (March 21 to April 4, 1795), the leaders of Thermidor decreed the arrest of Barère and his colleagues in the Reign of Terror, Jean Marie Collot d'Herbois and Jacques Nicolas Billaud-Varenne.

Barère was sentenced for his betrayal of King Louis XVI (by voting to execute him), for being a traitor to France, and for being a terrorist. He was imprisoned in Oléron as he was being transported to French Guiana. Barère's increasing depression while in prison led him to write his own epitaph.

Barère was in prison for two years before the National Convention decided they were going to retry him for death by the guillotine. When Barère found out that he was being re-tried, his cousin, Hector Barère, and a young man helped him escape prison. Barère refused to reveal the name of the latter in fear that he would be executed. Although Bertrand Barère was reluctant to escape, his two friends believed that he should leave at the earliest opportunity. The original plan was to escape over the garden walls or from the dormitory with the help of a long rope-ladder. This plan soon proved impossible as it was discovered that the garden was out of Barère's reach and that the dormitory was closed. The escape plan was soon reconfigured, as it was decided that Barère would escape by the cloister and garden of the convent. Barère escaped and went to Bordeaux, where he lived in hiding for several years.[4]

In 1795, he was elected to the Directory's Council of Five Hundred, but he was not allowed to take his seat. However, Barère served Napoleon. Under the First Empire, he was used as a secret agent by Napoleon, for whom he carried on a diplomatic correspondence.

Some time afterward, Napoleon placed Barère back in prison, but Barère escaped again. He became a member of the Chamber of Deputies during the Hundred Days, but was a royalist in 1815. However, once the final restoration of the Bourbons was achieved, he was banished from France for life "as a regicide". Barère then withdrew to Brussels, where he lived until 1830.[13] He returned to France and served Louis Philippe under the July monarchy until his death on January 13, 1841. He was the last surviving member of the Committee of Public Safety.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Histoire des journaux et des journalistes de la révolution française (1789-1796) By Léonard Gallois
  2. ^ a b c The Living Age. 1844-01-01. 
  3. ^ Gershoy 1962, p.4.
  4. ^ a b Barère, B. (1896-01-01). Memoirs of Bertrand Barère,chairman of the Committee of public safety during the revolution;. London,. 
  5. ^ Andrew, Edward (2011-01-01). Imperial Republics: Revolution, War, and Territorial Expansion from the English Civil War to the French Revolution. University of Toronto Press. ISBN 9781442643314. 
  6. ^ Gershoy 1962, p.156.
  7. ^ a b Gershoy 1927, p.425.
  8. ^ a b c Gershoy 1927, p.427.
  9. ^ a b Gershoy 1927, p.426.
  10. ^ Gershoy 1927, p.429.
  11. ^ Clifford D. Conner, Jean Paul Marat, Scientist and Revolutionary, Humanities Press, New Jersey 1997 p.254
  12. ^ Dalberg-Acton 1920, p.270.
  13. ^ Lee 1902, p.151.


  • Brookhiser, Richard (2006). What Would the Founders Do? Our Questions Their Answers. New York: Basic Books. p. 207. 
  • Dalberg-Acton, John Emerich Edward (1920). Lectures on the French Revolution. London: Macmillan and Company. pp. 84–289. 
  • Gershoy, Leo (September 1927). "Barère, Champion of Nationalism in the French Revolution". Political Science Quarterly. 42 (3): 419–430. doi:10.2307/2143129. 
  • Gershoy, Leo (1962). Bertrand Barère: A Reluctant Terrorist. New Jersey: Princeton University Press. pp. 1–402. 
  • Lee, Guy Carleton (1902). Book Orators of Modern Europe. New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons. pp. 151–152. 
  • Paley, Morton D. (1999). Apocalypse and Millennium in English Romantic Poetry. Oxford: Oxford University Press. pp. 91–153. 
  • Thomas Babington Macaulay. Barere, Misc Writings and Speeches. 2.