1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Billaud-Varenne, Jacques Nicolas

1911 Encyclopædia Britannica, Volume 3
Billaud-Varenne, Jacques Nicolas
17329741911 Encyclopædia Britannica, Volume 3 — Billaud-Varenne, Jacques Nicolas

BILLAUD-VARENNE, JACQUES NICOLAS (1756–1819), French revolutionist, was the son of an avocat at the parlement of Paris. He was badly brought up by a feeble father, a mother who combined immorality with religion, and a libertine abbé. At nineteen he donned the robe of an Oratorian, but did not take the vows, and busied himself with literature rather than with religion. In 1785 he left the Oratorian college where he was prefect of studies, came to Paris, married and bought a position as avocat 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 of the anti-royalist orators. After the flight of Louis XVI. to Varennes, he published a pamphlet, L’Acéphocratie, in which he demanded the establishment of a federal republic. On the 1st of July, in a speech at the Jacobin club he spoke of a republic, and the reference called out the stormy derision of the partisans of the constitutional monarchy; but repeating his demand for a republic on the 15th of the same month, the speech was ordered to be printed and to be sent to the branch societies throughout France. In the night of the 10th of August 1792 he was elected one of the “deputy-commissioners” of the sections who shortly afterwards became the general council of the commune. He was accused, though proof is lacking, of having been an accomplice in the massacres in the prison of the Abbaye. Elected a deputy of Paris to the National Convention, he at once spoke in favour of the immediate abolition of the monarchy, and the next day demanded that all acts be dated from the year 1 of the republic. 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 the 2nd of June 1793 he proposed a decree of accusation against the Girondists; on the 9th, at the Jacobin club, he outlined a programme which the Convention was destined gradually to realize: the expulsion of all foreigners not naturalized, the establishment of an impost 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 ci-devant nobles, the death penalty for unsuccessful generals. On the 15th of July he made a violent speech in the Convention in accusation of the Girondists. Sent in August as “representative on mission” to the departments 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 arrest en masse of all suspects and the establishment of a revolutionary army, caused the extraordinary criminal tribunal to be named officially “Revolutionary Tribunal” (on the 29th of October 1793), demanded the execution of Marie Antoinette and then attacked Hébert and Danton. Meanwhile he published a book, Les Éléments du républicanisme, in which he demanded a division of property, if not equally, at least proportionally among the citizens. But he became uneasy for his own safety and turned against Robespierre, whom he attacked on the 8th Thermidor as a “moderate” and a Dantonist. Surprised and menaced 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 the 12th Germinal of the year 3 (the 1st of April 1795), the Convention decreed his immediate deportation to French Guiana. After the 18th Brumaire he refused the pardon offered by the First Consul. In 1816 he left Guiana and took refuge in Port-au-Prince (Haiti), where he died of dysentery.

In 1821 were published the Mémoires de Billaud-Varenne écrits à Port-au-Prince (Paris, 2 vols.), but they are probably forgeries. An interesting autobiographical sketch of his youth, Tableau du premier âge, 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, F. A. Aulard, Les Orateurs de la législative et de la convention (2nd ed., 1906).  (R. A.*)