Jacques Hébert

For the former Canadian Senator, see Jacques Hébert (Canadian politician).
Jacques Hébert
Deputy of the National Convention
In office
20 September 1792  23 March 1794
Personal details
Born Jacques René Hébert
(1757-11-15)November 15, 1757
Alençon, France
Died 24 March 1794(1794-03-24) (aged 36)
Paris, France
Cause of death Guillotine
Nationality French
Political party Jacobin Club (1789-1792)
Cordeliers Club (1792-1794)
Other political
The Mountain (1792-1794)
Spouse(s) Marie Marguerite Françoise Hébert (m. 1792)
Children Scipion-Virginia Hébert (1793-1830)
Parents Jacques Hébert (?-1766) and Marguerite La Beunaiche de Houdré (1727-1787)
Residence Paris, France
Occupation Journalist, writer, publisher, politician

Jacques René Hébert (French: [ebɛʁ]; 15 November 1757 24 March 1794) was a French journalist, and the founder and editor of the extreme radical newspaper Le Père Duchesne during the French Revolution.[1] His followers are usually referred to as the Hébertists or the Hébertistes; he himself is sometimes called Père Duchesne, after his newspaper.

Early life

Hébert arrived in Paris in 1780, at the age of 23.

He was born on 15 November 1757 at Alençon, to goldsmith, former trial judge, and deputy consul Jacques Hébert (died 1766) and Marguerite Beunaiche de Houdrie (1727–1787). Jacques-René Hébert studied law at the College of Alençon and went into practice as a clerk in a solicitor of Alençon, at which time he was ruined by a lawsuit against a Dr. Clouet. Hébert fled first to Rouen and then to Paris. For a while he passed through a difficult financial time and lived through the support of a hairdresser in rue des Noyers. There he found work in a theater, la République, where he wrote plays in his spare time, but these were never produced. He was fired for stealing. He then entered the service of a doctor. It is said he lived through expediency and scams.

In 1789, he began his writing with a pamphlet "la Lanterne magique ou le Fléau des Aristocrates" (Magic Lantern, or Scourge of Aristocrats). He published a few booklets. In 1790, he attracted attention through a pamphlet he published, and became a prominent member of the club of the Cordeliers in 1791.

Père Duchesne

Hébert's influence was mainly due to his articles in his journal, Le Père Duchesne, which appeared from 1790 to 1794. The first publication of Le Père Duchesne occurred in September 1790 and opened a new period in his life. His polemical articles were written with wit, but were also violent and abusive, and purposely couched in foul language in order to appeal to the sans culottes. Street hawkers would yell: Il est bougrement en colère aujourd’hui le père Duchesne! (Father Duchesne is very angry today!). They were written in first-person narrative style from Père Duchesne's point of view, and often contained fictitious accounts of conversations between the character and the French monarchy or government officials.[2]

Père Duchesne's appearance as a bristly old man with pipe and liberty cap contrasted sharply against the crown and aristocracy's formal attire.[3] This enabled the general population of France to more easily relate to the character, giving his words increased strength.

Initially, from 1790 to 1791, Le Père Duchesne supported a constitutional monarchy and was even favorable towards King Louis XVI and the opinions of the Marquis de La Fayette. His violent attacks of the period were aimed at Jean-Sifrein Maury, a great defender of papal authority and the main opponent of the Civil Constitution of the Clergy.

With the king's failed flight to Varennes his tone significantly hardened. Starting in 1792 the Paris Commune and the ministers of war Jean-Nicolas Pache and, later, Jean Baptiste Noël Bouchotte bought several thousand copies of Le Père Duchesne which were distributed free to the public and troops.

Knowing that the queen was an easy target for ridicule after the Diamond Necklace Affair, she became a consistent target in the paper. He referred to Marie Antoinette as "Madame Veto" and addressed Louis XVI as a "drunken and lazy; a cuckolded pig".[4] His venomous attacks on Marie-Antoinette were not entirely out of hatred for the queen, at least not initially. Originally, Hébert was trying to not only educate his readers who she was but simultaneously awaken her to how she was viewed by the French public. Many of the conversations that Père Duchesne carries with her in the newspaper are attempts at either showcasing her supposed nymphomania or attempts to beg her to reconcile her wicked ways.[5]

"The Great Anger of Père Duchesne" (1792).
"The Indignation of Père Duchesne" (1790).

Revolutionary role

On 17 July 1791, Hébert was at the Champ de Mars to sign a petition to demand the removal of King Louis XVI and was caught up in the subsequent Champ de Mars massacre by troops under Lafayette. This put him in the revolutionary mindset, and the Le Père Duchesne adopted a sloppier style to better appeal to the masses. Le Père Duchesne began to attack Lafayette, Mirabeau, and Bailly. Following Louis's failed flight to Varennes he began to attack both Louis and Pope Pius VI as well.

Hébert met his future wife Marie Goupil (born 1756), a 37-year-old former nun who had left convent life at the Sisters of Providence convent at rue Saint-Honoré. Marie's passport from this time shows regular use. They married on 7 February 1792, and had a daughter, Virginia Scipion-Hébert (7 February 1793 - 13 July 1830). During this time, Hébert had a luxurious, bourgeois life. He entertained Jean-Nicolas Pache, the mayor of Paris and Minister of War, for weeks, as well as other influential men, and liked to dress elegantly and surround himself with beautiful objects as beautiful tapestries—an attitude that can be contrasted to that of Pierre Gaspard Chaumette. Where he got the financial resources to support his lifestyle is unclear; however, there are Jean-Nicolas Pache's commissions to print thousands of issues of Le Père Duchesne and his relationship to Delaunay d'Angers, mistress and wife of Andres Maria de Guzman.

As a member of Cordeliers club, he had a seat in the revolutionary Paris Commune where on the 9th and 10th of August, 1792 he was sent to the Bonne-Nouvelle section of Paris. As a public journalist, he supported the September Massacres. On 22 December 1792, he was appointed the second substitute of the procureur of the commune, and through to August 1793 supported the attacks against the Girondin faction. In April–May 1793 he, along with Marat and others, violently attacked Girondins.

In February 1793, he voted with fellow bourgeois Hébertists against the Maximum Price Act, a Price ceiling on grain, on the grounds it would cause hoarding and stir resentment. On 20 May 1793 the moderate majority of the National Convention formed the Special Commission of Twelve, which was designed to investigate and prosecute conspirators. At the urging of the Twelve on 24 May 1793 he was arrested.

However, Hébert had been warned in time, and, with the support of the Sans Culottes, the National Convention was forced to order his release three days later.

Reign of Terror and campaign to dechristianize France

Between May 31-June 2, 1793, Paris sections encouraged by the enragés ("enraged ones") Jacques Roux and Jacques Hébert protested outside the Convention, calling for administrative and political purges, a low fixed price for bread, and a limitation of the electoral franchise to sans-culottes alone. With the backing of the National Guard, they convinced the Convention to arrest 31 Girondin leaders, including Jacques Pierre Brissot. Following these arrests, the Jacobins gained control of the Committee of Public Safety on 10 June, installing the revolutionary dictatorship. On 13 July the assassination of Jean-Paul Marat a Jacobin leader and journalist known for his aggressive rhetoric by Charlotte Corday, a Girondin, resulted in further increase of Jacobin political influence.[6] Georges Danton, the leader of August 1792 uprising against the King, was removed from the Committee. On 27 July, Maximillien Robespierre, known as "the Incorruptible", made his entrance, and quickly became the most influential member of the Committee as it moved to take radical measures against the Revolution's domestic and foreign enemies.[7]

Meanwhile, on 24 June, the Convention adopted the first republican constitution of France, the French Constitution of 1793. It was ratified by public referendum, but never put into force; like other laws, it was indefinitely suspended by the decree of October that the government of France would be "revolutionary until the peace". The eventual constitution under the Directory was quite different.

Facing local revolts, foreign invasions and riots in both the East and West of the country, the most urgent government business was the war. On 17 August, the Convention voted for general conscription, the levée en masse, which mobilized all citizens to serve as soldiers or suppliers in the war effort. On 5 September the Convention institutionalized The Reign of Terror: systematic and lethal repression of perceived enemies within the country.

The result was policy through which the state used violent repression to crush resistance to the government. The guillotine became the symbol of a string of executions: Louis XVI had already been guillotined before the start of the terror; Marie-Antoinette, the Girondins, Philippe Égalité, Madame Roland and many others lost their lives under its blade.[8] The Revolutionary Tribunal summarily condemned thousands of people to death by the guillotine, while mobs beat other victims to death. Sometimes people died for their political opinions or actions, but many for little reason beyond mere suspicion, or because some others had a stake in getting rid of them. Most of the victims received an unceremonious trip to the guillotine in an open wooden cart (the tumbrel). Loaded onto these carts, the victims would proceed through throngs of jeering men and women.

The victims of the Reign of Terror totaled approximately 50,000. Among people who were condemned by the revolutionary tribunals, about 8 percent were aristocrats, 6 percent clergy, 4 percent middle class, and 72 percent were workers or peasants accused of hoarding, evading the draft, desertion, rebellion, and other purported minimal crimes.[9] Of these social groupings, the clergy of the Roman Catholic Church suffered proportionately the greatest loss.

Another anti-clerical uprising was made possible by the installment of the Revolutionary Calendar on October 24. Against Robespierre's concepts of Deism and Virtue, Hébert's (and Chaumette's) atheist movement initiated a religious campaign in order to dechristianize society. The program of dechristianization waged against Catholicism, and eventually against all forms of Christianity, included the deportation of clergy and the condemnation of many of them to death, the closing of churches, the institution of revolutionary and civic cults, the large scale destruction of religious monuments, the outlawing of public and private worship and religious education, forced marriages of the clergy and forced abjurement of their priesthood.[10] The enactment of a law on 21 October 1793 made all suspected priests and all persons who harbored them liable to death on sight.[10] The climax was reached with the celebration of the goddess "Reason" in Notre Dame Cathedral on 10 November. Because dissent was now regarded as counterrevolutionary, extremist enragés such as Hébert and moderate Montagnard indulgents such as Danton were guillotined in the Spring of 1794.[11] On 7 June Robespierre, who had previously condemned the Cult of Reason, advocated a new state religion and recommended that the Convention acknowledge the existence of God. On the next day, the worship of the deistic Supreme Being was inaugurated as an official aspect of the Revolution. Compared with Hébert's somewhat popular festivals, this austere new religion of Virtue was received with signs of hostility by the Parisian public.

Clash with Robespierre, arrest, conviction, and execution

After successfully attacking the Girondins, he continued to attack others whom he viewed as too moderate including Danton, Philippeau, and Robespierre in the fall of 1793.

The government, with support from the Jacobins, was exasperated and finally decided to strike on the night of 13 March 1794, despite the reluctance of Barère de Vieuzac, Collot d'Herbois and Billaud-Varenne. The order was to arrest the leaders of the Hébertists, these included individuals in the War Ministry and others.

In the Revolutionary Tribunal, Hébert was treated very differently from Danton, more like a thief than a conspirator; his earlier scams were brought to light and criticized. He was sentenced to death with his co-defendants on the third day of deliberations. Their execution by guillotine took place on 24 March 1794.[12] Hébert fainted several times on the way to the guillotine, and screamed hysterically when he was placed under the blade. Hébert's executioners amused the crowd by adjusting the guillotine so that its blade stopped inches above his neck.[13] Only on the fourth attempt was the execution carried out. His corpse was disposed of in the Madeleine Cemetery. His widow was executed twenty days later on 13 April 1794. Her corpse was disposed of in the Errancis Cemetery.


Hébert's influence within the French Revolution due to his publication Le Père Duchesne had a strong impact on the outcomes of certain political events. A majority of the political decisions that occurred during the Revolution were a culmination of small events over time, so Le Père Duchesne's ability to influence the general population of France was indeed notable.


  1. Doyle, William (1989); The Oxford History of the French Revolution; Clarendon Press; ISBN 0-19-822781-7. See p.227: "[Hébert] was himself a journalist... producer of the increasingly popular Père Duchesne."
  2. Sonenscher, Michael. "The Sans-culottes of the Year II: Rethinking the Language of Labour in Revolutionary France". Social History Vol. 9 No. 3 (1984): 326.
  3. Landes, Joan. "More than Words: The Printing Press and the French Revolution". Review of Revolution in Print: The Press in France, by Robert Darton, Daniel Roche; Naissance du Journal Revolutionnaire, by Claude Labrosse, Pierre Retat; La Revolution du Journal, by Pierre Retat; Revolutionary News; The Press in France, by Jeremy D. Popkin. Eighteenth-Century Studies Vol. 25 No. 1 (1991): 85-91.
  4. Colwill, Elizabeth (1989). "Just Another 'Citoyenne?' Marie-Antoinette on Trial, 1790-1793". History Workshop Journal (28): 72–73. doi:10.1093/hwj/28.1.63.
  5. Kaiser, Thomas. "Who’s Afraid of Marie-Antoinette? Diplomacy, Austrophobia, and the Queen." French History, Vol. 14 No. 3 (2000): 241-271.
  6. Faria, Miguel (15 July 2004). "Bastille Day and the French Revolution, Part I: The Ancien Régime and the Storming of the Bastille". Hacienda Publishing. Retrieved 24 October 2007.
  7. Faria, Miguel (14 July 2004). "Bastille Day and the French Revolution, Part II: Maximilien Robespierre --- The Incorruptible". Hacienda Publishing. Retrieved 24 October 2007.
  8. Faria, Miguel (21 November 2004). "Rewriting the French Revolution Part II". Hacienda Publishing. Retrieved 24 October 2007.
  9. "French Revolution". History.com. The History Channel. Retrieved 24 October 2007.
  10. 1 2 Latreille, A. "French Revolution". New Catholic Encyclopedia. 5 (Second Ed. 2003 ed.). Thomson-Gale. pp. 972–973. ISBN 0-7876-4004-2.
  11. Faria, Miguel (18 November 2004). "Rewriting the French Revolution Part I". Hacienda Publishing. Retrieved 24 October 2007.
  12. Doyle (1989); p.270. |"The trial took place on 21–4 March, its result a foregone conclusion. Among those who went to the scaffold with Pere Duchesne on the afternoon of the twenty-fourth were Vincent, Ronsin, and the leader of section Marat, Momoro."
  13. Page 27 BBC History Magazine, September 2015
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