Pierre Gaspard Chaumette

Pierre Gaspard Chaumette

Pierre Gaspard Chaumette
Born 24 May 1763
Died 13 April 1794
Nationality French
Fields Botany
Alma mater University of Paris

Pierre Gaspard Chaumette (24 May 1763 – 13 April 1794) was a French politician of the Revolutionary period.


Early activities

Chaumette was born in Nevers France, 24 May 1763, into a family of shoemakers who wanted him to enter the Church. However he did not have a vocation and instead sought his fortune as a cabin boy. After only reaching the rank of helmsman, he returned to Nevers to study his main interests, botany and science.[1] He also studied surgery and made a long voyage in the company of an English doctor, serving as his secretary. He then became surgeon to the Brothers of Charity at Moulins.[2] Chaumette studied medicine at the University of Paris in 1790, but gave up his career in medicine at the start of the Revolution. Chaumette began his political career as member of the Jacobin Club editing the progressive Revolutions de Paris journal from 1790.[3] His oratory skills proved him a valuable spokesperson of the Cordelier Club, and more importantly, the sans-culotte movement in the Parisian neighbourhood Sections. In August 1792 Chaumette became the Chief Procurator of the Commune of Paris; on 31 October 1792 he was elected President of the Commune and was re-elected in the Municipal on 2 December of that same year. As member of the Paris Commune during the insurrection of 10 August 1792, he was delegated to visit the prisons, with full power to arrest suspects.

Presidency of the Commune

His conduct, oratorical talent, and the fact that his private life was considered beyond reproach, all made him influential, and he was elected president of the Commune, defending the municipality at the bar of the National Convention on 31 October 1792. Re-elected in the municipal elections of 2 December 1792, he was soon given the functions of procureur of the Commune, and contributed with success to the enrollments of volunteers in the army by his appeals to the population of Paris. Chaumette held strong anti-monarchy views. He led a deputation from the Commune and argued before the National Convention that failing to punish Louis XVI for his crimes was causing high prixes and the fall of the assignat.[4] Further, Chaumette held a strong opinion about the fate of Louis XVI after his fall. He was greatly outspoken in his demand for the king's blood. Chaumette’s thesis was that as long as Louis XVI went unpunished prices would remain high, and shortages and the profiteering that created them, which he assumed to be the work of the royalists, would go unchecked.[5]

Chaumette was also a leading and vocal opponent of the Girondists. He was one of the instigators of the attacks of 31 May and of 2 June 1793 on the Girondists. Chaumette and Jacques Hébert acted as prosecutors on behalf of the Tribunal which tried the Girondists in October 1793.[6]

Chaumette made a leading contribution to establishing the Reign of Terror. In early September 1793 there was fear and unrest in Paris over prices, food shortages, war and fears of a royalist betrayal. On 4 September Hebert appealed to the sections to join the Commune in petitioning the National Convention with radical demands.[7] The next day, led by Chaumette and the mayor of Paris, Pache, crowds of citizens filled the Convention.[8] Chaumette stood up on a table to declare that 'we now have open war between the rich and the poor' and urged the immediate mobilisation of the revolutionary army to go into the countryside, seize food supplies from hoarders and exact punishments on them.[9] Robespierre was presiding over the Convention's sessions that day, and Chaumette's demands, together with the shock of the recent betrayal of Toulon to the British, prompted the Convention to decree that 'Terror will be the order of the day'.[10]

Anti-Christian Views

Chaumette is considered one of the ultra-radical enragés of the French Revolution. He demanded the formation of a Revolutionary Army which was to "force avarice and greed to yield up the riches of the earth” in order to redistribute wealth, and feed troops and the urban populations.[11] He is associated much more with his views on the de-Christianization movement, however. Chaumette was an ardent critic of Christianity, which he believed to consist of "ridiculous ideas"[12] that "have been very helpful to [legitimize] despotism."[13] In his ultra-radical views, he was heavily influenced by atheist and materialist writers Paul d'Holbach, Denis Diderot and Jean Meslier. Chaumette believed religion to be a relic of superstitious eras that did not reflect the intellectual achievements of his enlightened age. Indeed, for Chaumette "church and counterrevolution were one and the same."[14] Thus, he proceeded to pressure several priests and bishops into abjuring their positions. Chaumette organized a Festival of Reason on 10 November 1793, which boasted a Goddess of Reason, in the guise of an actress, on an elevated platform in the Notre Dame Cathedral.[15] Chaumette was so passionately involved in the de-Christianization process that in December 1792 he even publicly changed his name from Pierre-Gaspard Chaumette to Anaxagoras Chaumette.[16] He stated his reason for changing his name that, "I was formerly called Pierre-Gaspard Chaumette because my god-father believed in the saints. Since the revolution I have taken the name of a saint who was hanged for his republican principles."[17] It has been suggested that his criticism was also influenced by the Church's stance on homosexual relations, as in the words of the historian Daniel Guérin he "loved boys".[18]

The Cult of Reason, of which Chaumette was an avid follower alongside Jacques Hébert, emphasized so called natural facts. Chaumette's adherence to this ideology becomes lucid in his views toward the suffragist movement at the time. He has been recorded to answer "Since when is it permitted to give up one's sex? […] Is it to men that nature confided domestic cares? Has she given us breasts to feed our children?" to a group of women demanding equal treatment in October 1793.[19] He evidently believed nature to have clearly defined the political scene as man's domain, and the domestic realm as woman's. He reminded a different group of suffragists of Olympe de Gouges' fate whose "forgetfulness of the virtues of her sex led her to the scaffold."[20]


Chaumette's ultra-radical ideas on the economy, society and religion set him at odds with Robespierre and the powerful circle around him and official opinion began to turn against him and the like-minded Hébertists. In September 1793, Robespierre made a speech denouncing dechristianisation as aristocratic and immoral.[21] Fabre d'Églantine, himself under suspicion, produced a report for the Committee of Public Safety, alleging Chaumette's involvement in an anti-government plot, revealed by Chabot, although Chabot had never named Chaumette himself.[22]

In the early spring of 1794, Chaumette increasingly became target of allegations that he was a counterrevolutionary. Hébert and his associates planned an armed uprising to overthrow Robespierre, but Chaumette, along with Hanriot, refused to take part.[23] When the Hébertists were arrested on 4 March, Chaumette was originally spared, but on 13 March he too was arrested.[24] The other Hébertists were executed on 24 March 1794 but Chaumette was held in prison until found guilty of taking part in the Luxembourg prison plot along with an unlikely group of co-conspirators including Lucile Desmoulins, wife of the recently executed Camille Desmoulins, Françoise Hebert, wife of the recently executed Hébert, Gobel, former Bishop of Paris, and an assortment of other prisoners of various types.[25] All of the alleged conspirators were sentenced to death on the morning of 13 April and guillotined that same afternoon.

Radical Philosophy

Pierre-Gaspard Chaumette's legacy mainly consists of his ultra-radical philosophies that were regarded as excessive even by his contemporary colleagues.[26] Especially his convictions on the uselessness of religion were frowned upon by deist Robespierre and most other "moderate" Montagnards and they ultimately led to his execution.

Reviewing Saint-Martin

In 1790 Chaumette reviewed the work of Saint-Martin, a French Catholic philosopher wishing for a theocratic society in which the most devout people would commission and guide the rest of the population. The review provides a substantiated outline of Chaumette's philosophies. He criticizes Saint-Martin's ideal due to its similarity to France's feudal order before the Revolution in which the rule of the monarch was legitimized by the Divine right of kings. The review soon develops into a much broader affront towards religion, though. Chaumette calls all Christians "enemies of reason",[27] and calls their ideas "ridiculous."[28] He wonders "over whom to get more embarrassed; him who believes he can deceive humans in the eighteenth century with such farces or him who has the weakness to let himself be deceived."[29] He moves on to criticize the very notion of free will as construct that authorizes Christianity to proscribe certain "unmoral" actions.

His criticism is reminiscent of Friedrich Nietzsche who would denounce Christianity on many of the same grounds eighty years later. Just like Nietzsche, Chaumette emphasizes a greater reliance on our instincts and a greater embracing of the apparent world, instead of Christianity's concern with the afterlife. In his philosophy, he is rather critical of human beings stating that "everyone knows that humans are nothing more than what education makes of them; [...and thus] if one wants them just, one must furnish them with notions of fairness, not ideas from seventh heaven [...] because the sources of all of human’s grief are ignorance and superstition.".[30]


  1. Chronicle of the French Revolution, Longman, 1989 p.31
  2. Chronicle of the French Revolution, Longman, 1989 p.31
  3. Jervis, p.230,
  4. Citizens, Simon Schama, Penguin 1989 p.652
  5. Jordan, p.69
  6. Chronicle of the French Revolution, Longman 1989 p.379
  7. Citizens, Simon Schama, Penguin 1989 p.758
  8. Chronicle of the French Revolution, Longman 1989 p.365
  9. Citizens, Simon Schama, Penguin 1989 p.758
  10. Citizens, Simon Schama, Penguin 1989 p.758
  11. Lytle, p.19
  12. Chaumette, p.6
  13. Chaumette, p.101
  14. Jordan, p.70
  15. Jervis, pp.238-9
  16. Chronicle of the French Revolution, Longman 1989 p.311
  17. Jones, p.471
  18. Guérin, Daniel (1983). Homosexualité et révolution (in French). Paris: Le vent du ch'min.
  19. Scott, p.3
  20. Scott, pp.16–17
  21. The Terror, David Andress, Little, Brown 2005 p.253
  22. The Terror, David Andress, Little, Brown 2005 p.254
  23. Chronicle of the French Revolution, Longman 1989 p.409
  24. Chronicle of the French Revolution, Longman 1989 p.410
  25. Chronicle of the French Revolution, Longman 1989, p.416-417
  26. Jordan, p.70
  27. Chaumette, p.17
  28. Chaumette, p.6
  29. Chaumette, p.12
  30. Chaumette, p.85


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