LUCIE SIMPLICE CAMILLE BENOîT DESMOULINS (French: ; 2 March 1760
– 5 April 1794), a journalist and politician who played an important
role in the
French Revolution . He was a childhood friend of
Maximilien Robespierre and a close friend and political ally of
Georges Danton , who were influential figures in the French
Revolution. Desmoulins was tried and executed alongside Danton when
Committee of Public Safety
Committee of Public Safety reacted against Dantonist opposition.
* 1 Early life
* 2 July 1789
* 3 Journalism
* 4 Political career and downfall
* 5 Trial and execution
* 6 Family
* 7 In popular culture
* 8 See also
* 9 Notes
* 10 References
* 11 External links
Desmoulins was born at
Aisne , in
Picardy . His father, Jean
Benoît Nicolas Desmoulins, was a rural lawyer and lieutenant-general
of the bailliage of Guise. Through the efforts of a friend, he
obtained a scholarship for the fourteen-year-old Camille to enter the
Collège Louis-le-Grand in
Paris . Desmoulins proved an exceptional
student even among such notable contemporaries as Maximilien
Louis-Marie Stanislas Fréron
Louis-Marie Stanislas Fréron . He excelled in the
study of Classical literature and politics, and gained a particular
Livy . He pursued law, and
succeeded in gaining acceptance as an advocate of the parlement of
Paris in 1785; however, his serious stammer and ferocious temper
proved severe obstacles to success in this arena. Thus stymied, he
turned towards writing as an alternative outlet for his talents; his
interest in public affairs led him to a career as a political
In March 1789, Jean Benoît Nicolas Desmoulins was nominated as
deputy to the Estates-General from the bailliage of Guise; however,
due to illness, he failed to take his seat. Camille Desmoulins,
himself limited to the role of spectator at the procession of the
Estates-General on 5 May 1789, wrote a response to the event: Ode aux
Etats Generaux. The Comte de Mirabeau , a powerful political figure
within the Estates-General who positioned himself as a bridge between
the aristocracy and the emerging reformist movement, briefly enlisted
Desmoulins to write for his newspaper at this time, strengthening
Desmoulins' reputation as a journalist .
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Owing to his difficulties in establishing a career as a lawyer,
Desmoulins' position in
Paris was a precarious one, and he often lived
in poverty. However, he was greatly inspired and enthused by the
current of political reform that surrounded the summoning of the
Estates-General. In letters to his father at the time, he rhapsodized
over the procession of deputies entering the
Palace of Versailles
Palace of Versailles ,
and criticized the events surrounding the closing of the Salle des
Menus Plaisirs to the deputies who had declared themselves the
National Assembly – events which led to the famous swearing of the
Tennis Court Oath
Tennis Court Oath .
The sudden dismissal of popular finance minister
Jacques Necker by
King Louis XVI on 11 July 1789 proved the spark that lit the fuse of
Desmoulins' fame. On 12 July, spurred by the news of this politically
unsettling dismissal, Desmoulins leapt onto a table outside the Cafe
du Foy (one of many cafés in the garden of the Palais Royal
frequented in large part by political dissidents) and delivered an
impassioned call to arms. Shedding his customary stammer in the
excitement, he urged the volatile crowd to "take up arms and adopt
cockades by which we may know each other", calling Necker's dismissal
the tocsin of the St. Bartholomew of the patriots. The stationing of a
large number of troops in Paris, many foreign, had led Desmoulins and
other political radicals to believe that a massacre of dissidents in
the city was indeed imminent. This was an idea that his audience also
found plausible and threatening, and they were quick to embrace
Desmoulins and take up arms in riots that spread throughout Paris
The "cockades" worn by the crowd were initially green, a color
associated with liberty, and made at first from the leaves of the
trees that lined the Palais Royal. However, the color green was also
associated with the Comte d\'Artois , the reactionary and conservative
brother of the King, and the cockades therefore were quickly replaced
by others in the traditional colors of Paris: red and blue. The forces
semi-organized under this banner attacked the Hôtel des Invalides to
gain arms and, on 14 July, embarked upon the Storming of the Bastille
In May and June 1789, Desmoulins had written a radical pamphlet
France Libre, which his publisher at that time had refused
to print. The rioting surrounding the storming of the Bastille,
however, and especially Desmoulins' personal and publicized
involvement in it, altered the situation considerably. On 18 July,
Desmoulins's work was finally issued. The politics of the pamphlet ran
considerably in advance of public opinion; in it, Desmoulins called
explicitly for a republic , stating, "... popular and democratic
government is the only constitution which suits France, and all those
who are worthy of the name of men." La
France Libre also examined and
criticized in detail the role and rights of kings , of the nobility ,
and of the Roman Catholic clergy .
Desmoulins' renown as a radical pamphleteer was furthered by the
publication, in September 1789, of his Discours de la lanterne aux
Parisiens, which featured as its epigraph a quotation from the Gospel
of John : Qui male agit odit lucem ("He who does evil hates the light"
John 3:20). This was understood to allude to the iron bracket of a
lamppost at the corner of the Place de Grève and the Rue de la
Vannerie, often used by rioters as a makeshift gallows for
anti-revolutionaries and those accused of profiteering. A famous
Revolutionary song, the Ça ira ("It shall be"), also immortalizes
this lantern, in the lines, "Les aristocrates à la lanterne... Les
aristocrates, on les pendra!" ("To the lantern with the aristocrats...
The aristocrats, we'll hang them!")
The Discours de la lanterne, written from the perspective of the
Place de Grève lamppost, was aggressive in its celebration of
political violence, and attributed exalted qualities of loyalty and
patriotism to the citizens who made up the Parisian mob. This
hard-edged fervor found an appreciative audience in Paris, and
Desmoulins, as a result of the pamphlet, became known as the
"Procureur-général de la lanterne" ("the Lanterne
Prosecutor " or
In November 1789, Desmoulins issued the first number of a weekly
publication, Histoire des Révolutions de
France et de Brabant, which
would run until the end of July 1791. This publication combined
political reportage, revolutionary polemics, satire, and cultural
commentary; "The universe and all its follies," Desmoulins had
announced, "shall be included in the jurisdiction of this
hypercritical journal." The Révolutions de
France et de Brabant
proved extremely popular from its first to its last number. Desmoulins
became notorious, and was able to leave behind the poverty that had
marked his previous life in Paris.
The politics of the Révolutions de
France et de Brabant were
anti-royalist and pro-Revolutionary. The newspaper celebrated the
Revolutionary zeal of "patriots" from the battlefields of Brabant to
Cordeliers district in
Paris (home to the well-known and powerful
revolutionary Club des
Cordeliers , of which Desmoulins was a
prominent member), and also criticized the excesses and inequities of,
among a wide range of targets, the aristocratic regime. The savagery
with which Desmoulins attacked those with whom he disagreed drew
lawsuits, criticism, and reciprocal attacks. His previous friendships
with powerful figures such as the Comte de Mirabeau and Baron Malouet
, suffered. Both men, angered by what they perceived as libellous
statements, declared that Desmoulins should be denounced and Malouet
"went so far as to ask that Camille be certified insane." The Actes
des Apôtres , the equally savage royalist newspaper that served as
the Révolutions' opposite number, engaged in a continual war of
insults with the Révolutions, and particularly with Desmoulins, whom
it dubbed, in a satirical poem, "l'ânon des moulins" (the little
donkey of the windmills).
Upon the death of the Comte de Mirabeau in April 1791, Desmoulins (to
whom Mirabeau had, at one time, been a great patron and friend)
countered the predominantly sentimental and forgiving eulogies that
appeared in the Parisian press by publishing a brutal attack in which
he declared the late Mirabeau to be the "god of orators, liars, and
thieves." This presaged later about-face attacks against prominent
and once-sympathetic Revolutionary figures, such as Jean Pierre
Brissot , by Desmoulins - a method which would, ultimately, be turned
against him by his own former friends.
On 16 July 1791, Desmoulins appeared before the
Paris Commune as the
head of a group petitioning for the deposition of Louis XVI, who had,
in June of that year, briefly fled
Paris with his family before being
captured and escorted back to the city. The flight of the king had
caused civil unrest, and the petition, presented a day before the
anniversary of the
Fête de la Fédération , contributed to this
agitation. On July 17, a large crowd that had gathered at the Champs
de Mars in support of the petition was fired upon by military forces
under the command of the Marquis de Lafayette , an incident which
became known as the
Champs de Mars
Champs de Mars Massacre . Accounts differ as to
whether or not Desmoulins was present at the Champs de Mars; in the
subsequent upheaval, warrants for the arrest of himself and Georges
Danton were issued. Danton fled Paris, and Desmoulins, though he
remained in the city, and spoke on several occasions at the Jacobin
Club , decreased his journalistic activities for a time.
Early in 1792, following a bitter quarrel with Jean Pierre Brissot
over a legal case which Desmoulins had taken up and discussed in
several broadsheets, Desmoulins published a pamphlet, Jean Pierre
Brissot démasqué, which attacked Brissot savagely and personally. In
it, Desmoulins claimed that the invented verb brissoter had taken on
the meaning "to cheat," and accused Brissot of betraying
republicanism. The case constructed against Brissot in this pamphlet
was expanded and used to terrible and destructive effect in
Desmoulins' later, 1793 publication, Fragment de l'histoire secrète
de la Révolution (also known as the Histoire des Brissotins), in
Girondist political faction, of which Brissot was a
prominent member, was accused of traitorous and counter-revolutionary
activities. This "history," produced in response to calls by Brissot
and his followers for the dissolution of the
Paris Commune and of the
Jacobins, contributed to the arrest and execution of many Girondist
leaders, including Brissot himself, in October 1793. Desmoulins
intensely regretted his role in the death of the Girondists; present
at their trial, he was heard to lament, "O my God! my God! It is I who
kill them!" He was seen to collapse in the courtroom when the public
prosecutor pronounced the sentence of death.
This growing remorse was accompanied by an element of recklessness.
In the summer of 1793, General Arthur Dillon , a royalist and close
friend of Desmoulins and his wife, was imprisoned. In an openly
published Lettre au General Dillon, Desmoulins went far beyond the
politically delicate act of defending Dillon, and attacked powerful
members of the
Committee of Public Safety
Committee of Public Safety - notably Saint-Just and
Beginning 5 December 1793, Desmoulins published the journal for which
he would be best known and most celebrated:
Le Vieux Cordelier . Even
the title of this short-lived publication spoke of conflict with the
current regime, implying that Desmoulins spoke on behalf of the "old"
or original members of the Club des Cordeliers, in opposition to the
more radical and extreme factions that had now come into power. In the
seven issues that comprised the Vieux Cordelier, Desmoulins condemned
the suspicion, brutality, and fear that had come to characterize the
Revolution, comparing the ongoing Revolutionary Terror to the
oppressive reign of the Roman emperor
Tiberius and calling for the
establishment of a "Committee of Clemency" to counter the climate of
mercilessness fostered by the Committee of Public Safety. In the
fourth number of the journal, Desmoulins addressed Robespierre
directly, writing, "My dear Robespierre... my old school friend...
Remember the lessons of history and philosophy: love is stronger, more
lasting than fear." The perceived counter-revolutionary tone in these
calls for clemency led to Desmoulins' expulsion from the Club des
Cordeliers and denunciation at the Jacobins, as well as, ultimately,
to his arrest and execution.
POLITICAL CAREER AND DOWNFALL
Desmoulins took an active part in the 10 August 1792 attack on the
Tuileries Palace . Immediately afterwards, as the Legislative Assembly
(France) crumbled and various factions contended for control of the
country, he was appointed Secretary-General to Georges Danton, who had
assumed the role of Justice Minister . On 8 September, he was elected
as a deputy from
Paris to the new
National Convention . He was
The Mountain , and voted for the establishment of the
Republic and the
Execution of Louis XVI
Execution of Louis XVI . His political views were
closely aligned with those of Danton and, initially, Robespierre.
The appearance of the
Vieux Cordelier in December 1793, although it
was dedicated to Robespierre along with Danton and called them both
friends, marked the start of a rift between Desmoulins and
Robespierre. Initially directed, with Robespierre's approval, against
the excesses of the ultra-radical Hébertist faction, the journal
rapidly expanded and intensified its criticisms of the Committee of
Public Safety and the Revolutionary Tribunal. Desmoulins appealed to
Robespierre to help steer these institutions in a more moderate
direction. On 20 December, Robespierre had proposed the formation of a
commission "to examine all detentions promptly and to free the
innocent," an idea shot down by Billaud-Varenne, and Desmoulins
"seized on this and called for something more dramatic: a committee of
clemency" to put an end to the Terror.
On 7 January 1794, the
Jacobin Club sought to expel Desmoulins from
its number. Robespierre, seeking to protect Desmoulins, suggested as
an alternative that the offending issues of the
Vieux Cordelier be
publicly burnt. Desmoulins' response,"Brûler n'est pas répondre"
("Burning is not answering"), echoed the cry of Jean-Jacques Rousseau
, the influential philosopher whose work was central to Robespierre's
own vision of the Republic. Robespierre persisted in his attempt to
protect his childhood friend (his argument was that Desmoulins was a
"spoilt child" whom others had led astray), but Desmoulins' refusal to
Vieux Cordelier made it politically difficult for any
tolerance to be extended to him.
Meanwhile, the participation of Danton's personal secretary, Fabre
d\'Églantine , in a financial scam with the East India Company became
exposed and he was arrested for corruption and forgery. This scandal
cast doubt on Danton and his allies, and Robespierre now supported the
expulsion of Desmoulins from the Jacobin club. After the condemnation
and execution of the
Hébertists in March 1794, the energies of the
Montagnards (especially of Saint-Just) turned to the elimination of
the indulgent faction headed by Danton and voiced by Desmoulins. They
were accused of corruption and counter-revolutionary conspiracy,
charges were brought before the Committee of Public Safety, and arrest
warrants including for Desmoulins were finally issued on 31 March.
TRIAL AND EXECUTION
Danton, Desmoulins, and many other actual or accused Dantonist
associates were tried from April 3 through 5th before the
Revolutionary Tribunal . The trial was less criminal in nature than
political, and as such unfolded in an irregular fashion. The accused
were prevented from defending themselves by a decree of the National
Convention. This fact, together with confusing and often incidental
denunciations (for instance, a report that Danton, while engaged in
political work in Brussels, had appropriated a carriage filled with
several hundred thousand livres of table linen) and threats made by
Antoine Quentin Fouquier-Tinville
Antoine Quentin Fouquier-Tinville (Desmoulins' cousin)
towards members of the jury, helped to ensure a guilty verdict.
Additionally, the accused were denied the right to have witnesses
appear on their behalf, though they had submitted requests for several
– including, in Desmoulins' case, Robespierre. The verdict was
passed in the absence of the accused, who had been removed from the
courtroom to prevent unrest among the trial's observers. Their
execution was scheduled for the same day.
In a letter to his wife from the Luxembourg Prison, Desmoulins wrote,
t is marvellous that I have walked for five years along the
precipices of the Revolution without falling over them, and that I am
still living; and I rest my head calmly upon the pillow of my
writings... I have dreamed of a
Republic such as all the world would
have adored. I could never have believed that men could be so
ferocious and so unjust.
As Desmoulins was taken to the scaffold, he was informed of his
wife’s arrest and went mad. It took several men to get him to the
tumbril . He struggled and tried to plead with the mob, ripping his
shirt in the process. Lucile was also soon to be slated for execution
and died only eight days later. Of the group of fifteen who were
guillotined together on 5 April 1794, including Marie Jean Hérault de
Séchelles , Philippe Fabre d\'Églantine and
Pierre Philippeaux ,
Desmoulins died third, and Danton last.
On 29 December 1790 Desmoulins married
Lucile Duplessis , whom he had
known for many years, describing her as "small, graceful, coy, a real
Greuze ." Lucile's father long denied permission for the marriage,
believing that the life of a journalist could not support any sort of
family. Eventually it was, of course, Desmoulins' journalistic
profession that brought both of them to execution. Among the witnesses
to the marriage were Robespierre, Brissot, and Jérôme Pétion de
Villeneuve . The Desmoulins' only child, Horace Camille, was born on 6
July 1792; his godfather was Robespierre.
Lucile Desmoulins was arrested mere days after her husband, and
condemned to the guillotine on charges of conspiring to free her
husband from prison and plotting the "ruin of the Republic." She was
executed on 13 April 1794, the same day as the widow of Jacques
Hébert . In a last note to her mother she wrote, "A tear falls from
my eyes for you. I shall go to sleep in the calm of innocence.
Camille Desmoulins was raised by Adèle and Annette Duplessis
(the sister and mother of Lucile, respectively). He married Zoë
Villefranche and they had four children. He was later pensioned by the
French government, and died in 1825 in
IN POPULAR CULTURE
Camille Desmoulins is among the central characters in the following
works of fiction:
A Place of Greater Safety (1993) by
Hilary Mantel .
* Danton (film; 1982) dir.
Andrzej Wajda .
The Danton Case (play; 1929) by
* La Révolution française (film/miniseries; 1989)
Félix Charpentier . Sculptor of bronze statue of Camille
Desmoulins in the place d'Armes in Guise
* ^ Beraud, Henri (1928). Twelve Portraits of the French
Revolution. New York: Books for Library Press, Inc. p. 145.
* ^ Schama, 380.
* ^ A B Hartcup, 238.
* ^ Hammersley, 124.
* ^ Claretie, 77
* ^ Claretie, 91
* ^ Claretie, 104
* ^ Claretie, 248
* ^ A B Scurr, 298
* ^ McPhee, 179
* ^ Scurr, 299
* ^ Scurr, 301
* ^ Claretie, 313
* ^ Claretie, 303
* ^ Andress, David (2005). The Terror. New York: Farrar, Straus and
Giroux. p. 275. ISBN 978-0-374-53073-0 .
* ^ Beraud, Henri (1928). Twelve Portraits of the French
Revolution. New York: Books for Library Press, Inc. p. 144.
* ^ Beraud, Henri (1928). Twelve Portraits of the French
Revolution. New York: Books for Library Press, Inc. p. 155.
Wikimedia Commons has media related to CAMILLE DESMOULINS .
* Andress, David. The Terror: The Merciless War for Freedom in
Revolutionary France. New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2004.
* Claretie, Jules.
Camille Desmoulins and His Wife: Passages from
the History of the Dantonists. London: Smith, Elder, & Co., 1876.
* Doyle, William. The Oxford History of the French Revolution.
Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1990.
* Gilchrist, J.T., and Murray, W.J. The Press in the French
Revolution: Selection of Documents taken from the Press of the
Reovolution for the years 1789-1794. Melbourne: Cheshire, 1971.
* Hartcup, John. "Camille Desmoulins", History Today 25-4 (1975), p.
* Hammersley, Rachel. "Camille Desmoulin’s ‘Le Vieux
Cordelier’. A Link Between English and French Republicanism" History
of European Ideas 27 (2001).
* Linton, Marisa, Choosing Terror: Virtue, Friendship and
Authenticity in the French Revolution. Oxford: Oxford University
* Methley, Violet. Camille Desmoulins: A Biography. New York: E.P.
Dutton & Co., 1915.
Schama, Simon . Citizens: A Chronicle of the
French Revolution .
New York: Vintage Books, 1990.
* Scurr, Ruth. Fatal Purity: Robespierre and the French Revolution.
New York: Owl Books, 2006.
* Whaley, Leigh. "Revolutionary Networking 1789-1791," p. 41-51 in
Revolutionary Culture, Politics and Science. Belfast: Queen’s
* McPhee, Peter.Robespierre: A Revolutionary Life. Yale University
This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public
domain : Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Desmoulins, Lucie Simplice
Camille Benoist". Encyclopædia Britannica . 8 (11th ed.). Cambridge
University Press. pp. 99–101.
The Britannica gives the following references:
* J. Claretie , Œuvres de
Camille Desmoulins avec une étude
biographique ... etc. (Paris, 1874), and Camille Desmoulins, Lucile
Desmoulins, étude sur les Dantonistes (Paris, 1875; Eng. trans.,
* F. A. Aulard , Les Orateurs de la Législative et de la Convention
(Paris, 1905, 2nd ed.)
* G. Lenôtre, "La Maison de Camille Desmoulins" (Le Temps, March
* Works by
Camille Desmoulins at