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Bertrand Barère
portrait of Barère by Jean-Louis Laneuville
Deputy for the Third Estate of the Estates-General
Constituency of Bigorre

In office
6 May 1789 – 17 June 1789
Deputy to the National Convention

In office
20 September 1792 – 27 July 1794
Member of the Committee of Public Safety

In office
7 April 1793 – 27 July 1794
Personal details
Born (1755-09-10)10 September 1755
Tarbes, France
Died 13 January 1841(1841-01-13) (aged 85)
Paris, France
Nationality French
Political party various
Profession Lawyer, journalist and politician

Bertrand Barère de Vieuzac (10 September 1755 – 13 January 1841) was a French politician, freemason[1] 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 4 August 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. Barère’s mother, Jeanne-Catherine Marrast, was of old nobility.[2] 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.[3] 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,[4] his real career didn't begin until 1792, when he was elected to the National Convention for the département of the Hautes-Pyrénées.[5] He participated to 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 to the Convention the plans of the Committee.[5] 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.[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]

Appointed to the Committee of Public Safety on 7 April 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 newfound faith in "la religion de la patrie".[9] 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.[10] 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."[10] 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.[10]

Barère also urged further issues of nationalism and patriotism. He said, "I was a revolutionary. I am a constitutional citizen."[9] 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.[11] He believed in unity through "diversity and compromise."[11]

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.[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.[13] He outlined his new faith in the fatherland, which replaced the national state religion, Catholicism.[10] 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 the teaching of the multiplication table.[9] 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, Couthon and Saint-Just. Barère provided defense speeches for Couthon and St. Just, so they would be prepared on what to say at their trial.[14] He also tried to help Robespierre on his speech, so he wouldn't be executed, but Robespierre refused. The National Convention asked Robespierre to identify others who were terrorists. Robespierre identified Billaud, Collot d'Herbois, and Barère as terrorists.[15] After Barère found out Robespierre had condemned him as a terrorist, Barère pointed his finger at Robespierre to have him executed. Barère was the first to condemn Robespierre,[16] 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 (27 July 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."[17] However, the defense proved ineffective. Nonetheless, in Germinal of the year III (21 March to 4 April 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 he 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[18] 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 he 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 afterward, Napoleon placed Barère back in prison, but Barère escaped again. He became a member of the Chamber of Deputies during the Hundred Days, and he behaved as 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.[5] He returned to France and served Louis Philippe under the July monarchy until his death on 13 January 1841. He was the last surviving member of the Committee of Public Safety.

See also

  • Society of the Friends of Truth


  1. Histoire des journaux et des journalistes de la révolution française (1789-1796) By Léonard Gallois
  2. Gershoy 1962, p.4.
  3. Gershoy 1962, p.8.
  4. Gershoy 1962, p.113.
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 Lee 1902, p.151.
  6. Gershoy 1962, p.156.
  7. Paley 1999, p.98.
  8. Brookhiser 2006, p.207.
  9. 9.0 9.1 9.2 Gershoy 1927, p.425.
  10. 10.0 10.1 10.2 10.3 Gershoy 1927, p.427.
  11. 11.0 11.1 Gershoy 1927, p.426.
  12. Gershoy 1927, p.422.
  13. Gershoy 1927, p.429.
  14. Dalberg-Acton 1920, p.295.
  15. Dalberg-Acton 1920, p.335.
  16. Dalberg-Acton 1920, p.133.
  17. Dalberg-Acton 1920, p.270.
  18. Gershoy 1962, p.290. In Barère’s diary, he would not give up the name of the accomplice who had helped him escape from prison, for fear that it would bring about his friend’s death.


  • Brookhiser, Richard (2006). What Would the Founders Do? Our Questions Their Answers. New York: Basic Books. pp. 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". pp. 419–430. Digital object identifier: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. 
  •  Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911) "Barère de Vieuzac, Bertrand" Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.) Cambridge University Press 
  • [1] Barere, Misc Writings and Speeches, vol 2, Thomas Babington Macaulay

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