Jean-Paul Marat

politician and journalist during the French Revolution (1743-1793)

Jean-Paul Marat (May 24 1743July 13 1793) was a French political theorist, physician, and scientist. A journalist and politician during the French Revolution, he was a vigorous defender of the sans-culottes, a radical voice and published his views in pamphlets, placards and newspapers. His periodical L'Ami du peuple (Friend of the People) made him an unofficial link with the radical Jacobin group that came to power after June 1793.

Jean-Paul Marat

His journalism was renowned for its fierce tone, advocacy of basic human rights for the poorest members of society, and uncompromising stance toward the new leaders and institutions of the revolution. Responsibility for the September massacres has been attributed to him, given his position of authority at the time, and an alleged paper trail of decisions leading up to the massacres. Others posit the collective mentality that made them possible resulted from circumstances and not from the will of any particular individual. Marat was assassinated by Charlotte Corday, a Girondin sympathizer, while taking a medicinal bath for his debilitating skin condition.


  • The people are never voluntary slaves, they yield not to power, but when they believe it to be a duty, or are unable to oppose it. Hence in a state newly founded or reformed, the subjects are not at once enslaved, however imperfect the constitution might be. Despair, that prompted them at first to throw off the yoke, would prompt them to throw it off anew whenever they should feel its weight. To commence with open attacks upon liberty, and to attempt to destroy it by violence, would prove therefore a rash undertaking. When those who govern, daringly dispute the supreme power with open force, and the people perceive their rulers attempting * to enslave them, the latter ever prevail, and the Prince in a moment loses the fruit of all his efforts. At his first attempt the subjects unite against him, and his authority is at stake, if his conduct be not more submissive than imperious. It is not therefore by open attacks Princes first attempt to enslave the people, they take their measures in secrecy, they have recourse to craft: it is by flow but constant efforts, by changes almost imperceptible, by innovations of which it is difficult to observe the consequences, and such as are scarcely taken notice of.
  • Five or six hundred [aristocratic] heads lopped off would have assured you repose and happiness; a false humanity has restrained your arm and suspended your blows; it will cost the lives of millions of your brothers.
    • L'Ami du peuple, vol. 2, p. 1121
  • Robertspiere [sic], Robertspiere alone in vain raised his voice against the perfidious decree regarding superior conscripts, but his voice was muffled.
    • L'Ami du peuple (1790-12-05), as cited in Robespierre (1910-67), vol. 6, p. 611
    • Note: the mispelling of Maximilien Robespierre's name appears in the original, as many writers in France during this stage of the Revolution were unsure of the correct spelling.
Jean-Paul Marat
  • People, give thanks to the gods! Your most redoubtable enemy has fallen beneath the scythe of Fate. Riquetti [Mirabeau] is no more; he dies victim of his numerous treasons, victim of his too tardy scruples, victim of the barbarous foresight of his atrocious accomplices. Adroit rogues who are to be found in all circles have sought to play upon your pity, and already duped by their false discourse, you mourn this traitor as the most zealous of your defenders; they have represented his death as a public calamity, and you bewail him as a hero, as the saviour of your country, who has sacrificed himself for you. Will you always be deaf to the voice of prudence; will you always sacrifice public affairs to your blindness?
  • Robespierre listened to me with terror. He grew pale and silent for some time. This interview confirmed me in the opinion that I always had of him, that he unites the knowledge of a wise senator with the integrity of a thoroughly good man and the zeal of a true patriot but that he is lacking as a statesman in clearness of vision and determination.
    • L'Ami du peuple, vol. 7, p. 3965
The death of Marat, J. L. David (1793)
  • No, liberty is not made for us: we are too ignorant, too vain, too presumptuous, too cowardly, too vile, too corrupt, too attached to rest and to pleasure, too much slaves to fortune to ever know the true price of liberty. We boast of being free! To show how much we have become slaves, it is enough just to cast a glance on the capital and examine the morals of its inhabitants.
  • To form a truly free constitution, that’s to say, truly just and wise, the first point, the main point, the capital point, is that all the laws be agreed on by the people, after considered reflection, and especially having taken time to see what’s at stake…
    • Letter to Camille Desmoulins (1792-06-24) in Œuvres de Desmoulins p. 76ff
  • How could liberty ever have established itself amongst us? Apart from several tragic scenes, the revolution has been nothing but a web of farcical scenes… But it is in the nation’s senate that the most grotesque parades have taken place.
  • Fifty years of anarchy await you, and you will emerge from it only by the power of some dictator who will arise- a true statesman and patriot. O prating people, if you did but know how to act!
    • All the ambitious, who the cupidity of the court can no longer satisfy and the public functionaries it can no longer corrupt, will throw themselves into this party. The successive uprisings will be followed by a general uprising, and the satellites and the privileged henchmen of the prince will fall beneath the blows of the discontented, he himself will be thrown from the throne and proscribed along with his unworthy family. The kingdom will be torn apart by different factions. From the fire of civil dissension several federated republics will be born; the most audacious and skillful citizens will usurp the empire, will subject the multitude to a new yoke, and the government will have changed form without having re-established freedom.
    • "[|Freedom is Lost]
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