Bertrand Barère de Vieuzac


Bertrand Barère de Vieuzac

Bertrand Barère de Vieuzac (September 10, 1755 - January 13, 1841) was a French politician and journalist, one of the most notorious members of the National Convention during the French Revolution.

Early career

He was born at Tarbes in Gascony. The name "Barère de Vieuzac", by which he continued to call himself long after the renunciation of feudal rights on the August 4 abolition of feudalism, came from a small fief belonging to his father, a lawyer at Vieuzac. Barère's father, Jean Barère, was a procurator and a lawyer. His grandfather, Bertrand Barère, was a priest, doctor of theology, and vicar. Barère’s mother, Jeanne-Catherine Marrast, was of old nobility. [Gershoy 1962, p.4.] When Barère was a child, he went to a parish school, and when he and his siblings were of age, his brother, Jean-Pierre, became a priest. [Gershoy 1962, p.8.] After finishing school, Barère attended a college before he began his career in revolutionary politics. He began to practice as a lawyer at the "parlement" of Toulouse in 1770, and soon earned a reputation as an orator, while his fame as an essayist led to his election as a member of the Academy of Floral Games of Toulouse in 1788.

He married at the age of thirty. Four years later (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. His paper, the "Point du Jour", according to François Victor Alphonse Aulard, owed its reputation not so much to its own qualities as to the fact that the painter Jacques-Louis David, in his sketch of the Tennis Court Oath, showed Barère kneeling in the corner and writing a report of the proceedings for posterity.

With the Girondists and The Mountain

After the flight of the king to Varennes, Barère joined the republican party and the Feuillants, although 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.

Even though Barère was States-General in 1789 and judge of Constituent Assembly in 1791, [Gershoy 1962, p.113.] his real career didn't begin until 1792, when he was elected to the National Convention for the "département" of the Hautes-Pyrénées. [Lee 1902, p.151.] He also became a member of the Committee of Public Safety in 1793. [Gershoy 1962, p.156.] It turned out that Barère was extremely useful in reporting to the Convention the plans of the Committee. [Lee 1902, p.151.] His career took off when he presided over the trial of Louis XVI — Barère was the presiding officer in the National Convention and he was the one who questioned the king. [Paley 1999, p.98.] 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.” [Brookhiser 2006, p.207.]

Appointed to the Committee of Public Safety on April 7, 1793, he became involved in foreign affairs, and joined Robespierre's faction, the Jacobin Club, playing an important part in the second Committee of Public Safety after 17 July, 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 new found faith in "la religion de la patrie".Gershoy 1927, p.425.] He wanted everyone to have faith in the fatherland, and called for the people of the Republic to be good citizens and to have virtue. Barère focused on four aspects about "la religion de la patrie"; 1) the belief that a citizen would be consecrated to the fatherland at birth, 2) the citizen should then come to love the fatherland, 3) the Republic would teach the people virtues, 4) the fatherland would be the teacher to all.Gershoy 1927, p.427.] 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." He also said that since citizens were born of the Republic, they should love it above anything else, reasoning 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.

Barère also urged further issues of nationalism and patriotism. He said, "I was a revolutionary. I am a constitutional citizen." 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.Gershoy 1927, p.426.] He believed in unity through "diversity and compromise."

In 1793 and 1794, Barère spoke of his doctrine 1) the teaching of national patriotism through an organized system of universal education; 2) the national widespread of patriotic devotion; 3) the concept that one owed his nation his services. [Gershoy 1927, p.422.] 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. [Gershoy 1927, p.429.] He outlined his new faith in the fatherland, which replaced the national state religion, Catholicism. Barère was trying to make nationalism a religion. Besides being concerned for the fatherland, Barère believed in universal elementary education. He influenced what children in American schools now do today; that is say the pledge of allegiance, alphabet, and know the multiplication table. Barère believed that the fatherland could educate all.

9 Thermidor, prison, and later life

After his 1793 and 1794 speeches on nationalism, patriotism, and education, the counter-revolution and White Terror surged. Robespierre was put on trial in 1794 along with two others, Vadier and St. Just. Barère provided defense speeches for Vadier and St. Just, so they would be prepared on what to say at their trial. [Dalberg-Acton 1920, p.295.] He also tried to help Robespierre on his speech, so he wouldn't be executed, but Robespierre was too virtuous. The National Convention asked Robespierre to identify others who were terrorists. Robespierre identified Billaud, Collot d'Herbois, and Barère as terrorists. [Dalberg-Acton 1920, p.335.] After Barère found out Robespierre condemned him as a terrorist, Barère pointed his finger at Robespierre to have him executed. Barère was the first to condemn Robespierre, [Dalberg-Acton 1920, p.133.] so he, himself would live.

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 (July 27, 1794), after some initial hesitation, he drew up the report outlawing Robespierre.

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." [Dalberg-Acton 1920, p.270.] 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, and was imprisoned on Oléron, on his way for transportation to French Guiana. While Barère was in prison, he was very depressed and wrote his own epitaph because he thought he was going to die. 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 retried, someone helped him escape [Gershoy 1962, p.290. In Barère’s diary, he would not give up the source that helped him escape from prison, for fear that it would bring his friend’s death.] from prison and went to Bordeaux, where he lived in hiding for several years. In 1795, he was elected to the Directory's Council of Five Hundred, but was not allowed to take his seat. Barère eventually returned to France and 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 after, Napoleon placed Barère back in prison, but Barère escaped again. He became a member of the Chamber of Deputies during the Hundred Days, and acted as a Royalist later in 1815, but, on the final restoration of the Bourbons, he was banished for life from France as a regicide, and then withdrew to Brussels, where he lived until 1830. [Lee 1902, p.151.] . He returned to France and served the next two kings until his death on January 13, 1841. He was the last surviving member of the Committee of Public Safety when he died.

Notes

References

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