Marat, Jean-Paul

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Marat, Jean-Paul (1743-1793): French Journalist and Revolutionary.

Marat was born in Boudry, a town in the canton of Neuchâtel, Prussia (now Switzerland). He is of French and Swiss ancestry. He is educated by his Spanish father, a doctor, who had fled from Sardinia to Switzerland and later converted to Calvinism.

In 1759, Marat studied medicine in France before traveling to England in 1765 where he worked as a doctor and published some of his first writings. He wrote his first novel, The Adventures of the Tale Potowsky, and later his Essay on the Human Soul. In 1773, he wrote A Philosophical Essay on Man, and in 1774, The Chains of Slavery, which demonstrate the beginning of Marat's revolutionary leanings. In 1775, he writes medical essays that win him standing and status in the medical field.

He returns to France in 1776 and one year later is appointed doctor to the Count of Artois’ bodyguards. He, then, tries to improve his reputation within the science community by experimenting on fire, light and electricity. However, his work is rejected by the French Academy of Science. Despite these setbacks, Marat maintains a powerful influence. In 1789, enthused by the turmoil of the Revolution, he drops his scientific and medical ambitions and devotes his time and energy to journalism and politics. Committed journalist and popular theorist, the political ideas he defends in his prevalent newspaper, L’Ami du Peuple (The Friend of the People), evolve as the aristocrats’ attacks become clearer. He mainly denounces the rich people from the Third Estate who, according to him take advantage of the political and social changes, but also the false idols of the public opinion such as Necker, Jacques, Mirabeau, Honoré Gabriel Riquetti, Comte de and Lafayette. Early on, Marat takes a radical position; if one really wants to break away from the monarchy, heads have to be cut. His extremist position leads to the massacre of September 1792 during which the Paris revolutionary mobs force its way into jails to murder over 1600 inmates, priests, Swiss guards, King’s bodyguards, aristocrats, all royalist sympathizers. Throughout the Revolution, Marat in his impassioned articles and virulent speeches demand the brutal elimination of political parties and figures which he easily suspects of counter-revolutionary activities.

Elected to the National Convention, although not officially member of any political party, Marat still sits with Robespierre, Danton, Georges, Saint-Just, Louis-Antoine de, Desmoulins, Camille all members of the Montagne, the hard core revolutionaries. He is then elected president of the Jacobin Club on April 5th, 1793. Immediately, he stands against the Girondins, led by Vergniaud and Brissot. In return, the Gironde, the less violent revolutionary party, attacks the Montagne dictatorship represented by the triumvirate Robespierre, Maximilien François Marie Isidore de, Danton, Georges and Marat. On 12 April 1793, Girondins, led by Elie Guadet, divulge the will of the new president of the Jacobin Club to organize a putsch and therefore, demand his arrest. For this purpose, they organize a public reading of a note signed by Marat wherein he encourages a new revolution with him as its leader and condemns him for his vituperative statements in his L’Ami du Peuple in which he preaches widespread killings of Royalists and less extreme revolutionaries. The 23 rd of April of 1793, the indictment against Marat is accepted by the Ministry of Justice. Marat decides to constitute himself prisoner and the trial takes place the very next day; the jury, behind his cause, acquits him and Marat is carried in triumph by his partisans. His struggle against the Girondins comes to an end on June 2nd 1793, when the National Convention, under the threat of a Parisian uprising exacerbated by Marat, condemns them to the scaffold. This event leads to the formation of a government with a Jacobin majority. The Montagnards, ridden of the Girondins, see less need in Marat’s radical and vehement political diatribes.

Considerably weakened by his worsening skin disease, Marat needs to immerse himself in sulfur baths, the only remedy against his suffering. It is in this political and private context that Marie-Anne Charlotte de Corday d’Armans arrives in Paris on 11 July 1793 after having left her home town of Caen. The 13th of July, she finds Marat’s home. After two attempts, she finally manages to visit him using the pretext that she has important news from Caen. During the encounter, Marat is resting in his sulfur bath and following a short discussion she kills with a kitchen knife the man she considers the main cause behind the bloody massacres of the Revolution.

Further reading:

Clifford D. Conner, Jean-Paul Marat, 2012

Maxime Zaoui