1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Collot d'Herbois, Jean Marie
COLLOT D’HERBOIS, JEAN MARIE (1750–1796), French revolutionist, was a Parisian by birth and an actor by profession. After figuring for some years at the principal provincial theatres of France and Holland, he became director of the playhouse at Geneva. He had from the first a share in the revolutionary tumult; but it was not until 1791 that he became a figure of importance. Then, however, by the publication of L’Almanach du Père Gérard, a little book setting forth, in homely style, the advantages of a constitutional monarchy, he suddenly acquired great popularity. His renown was soon increased by his active interference on behalf of the Swiss of the Château-Vieux Regiment, condemned to the galleys for mutiny at Nancy. His efforts resulted in their liberation; he went himself to Brest in search of them; and a civic feast was decreed on his behalf and theirs, which gave occasion for one of the few poems published during his life by André Chénier. But his opinions became more and more radical. He was a member of the Commune of Paris on the 10th of August 1792, and was elected deputy for Paris to the Convention, where he was the first to demand the abolition of royalty (on the 21st of September 1792), and he voted the death of Louis XVI. “sans sursis.” In the struggle between the Mountain and the Girondists he displayed great energy; and after the coup d’état of the 31st of May 1793 he made himself conspicuous by his pitiless pursuit of the defeated party. In June he was made president of the Convention; and in September he was admitted to the Committee of Public Safety, on which he was very active. After having entrusted him with several missions, the Convention sent him, on the 30th of October 1793, to Lyons to punish the revolt of that city. There he introduced the Terror in its most terrible form.
In May 1794 an attempt was made to assassinate Collot; but it only increased his popularity, and this won him the hatred of Robespierre, against whom he took sides on the 9th Thermidor, when he presided over the Convention during a part of the session. During the Thermidorian reaction he was one of the first to be accused of complicity with the fallen leader, but was acquitted. Denounced a second time, he defended himself by pleading that he had acted for the cause of the Revolution, but was condemned with Barère and Billaud-Varenne to transportation to Cayenne (March 1795), where he died early in 1796.
Collot d’Herbois wrote and adapted from the English and Spanish many plays, one of which, Le Paysan magistrat, kept the stage for several years. L’Almanach du Père Gérard was reprinted under the title of Étrennes aux amis de la Constitution française, ou entretiens du Père Gérard avec ses concitoyens (Paris, 1792).
See F. A. Aulard, Les Orateurs de la Législative et de la Convention (Paris, 1885–1886), t. ii. pp. 501-512. The principal documents relative to the trial of Collot d’Herbois, Barère and Billaud-Varenne are indicated in Aulard, Recueil des actes du comité de salut public, t. i. pp. 5 and 6.
- Michel Gérard was a popular Breton peasant deputy (see Jacobins).