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Jean-Baptiste Carrier

Jean-Baptiste Carrier

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Jean-Baptiste Carrier was a French Revolution
French Revolution
The French Revolution , sometimes distinguished as the 'Great French Revolution' , was a period of radical social and political upheaval in France and Europe. The absolute monarchy that had ruled France for centuries collapsed in three years...

ary, known for his cruelty to his enemies, especially to clergy
Clergy is the generic term used to describe the formal religious leadership within a given religion. A clergyman, churchman or cleric is a member of the clergy, especially one who is a priest, preacher, pastor, or other religious professional....



Carrier was born at Yolet
Yolet is a commune in the Cantal department in south-central France.-Population:...

, a village near Aurillac
Aurillac is a commune in the Auvergne region in south-central France, capital of the Cantal department.Aurillac's inhabitants are called Aurillacois, and are also Cantaliens or Cantalous in Occitan....

 in Upper Auvergne
Auvergne (province)
Auvergne was a historic province in south central France. It was originally the feudal domain of the Counts of Auvergne. It is now the geographical and cultural area that corresponds to the former province....

. As the son of a middle class tenant farmer, Jean-Baptiste Carrier and his family survived on income reaped from cultivating the land of a French nobleman. Attending a Jesuit college in his hometown, he was able to pursue a wide variety of career interests. Carrier worked in a law office in Paris until 1785 when he returned to Aurillac, marrying, joining the national guard and becoming a member of the Jacobin Club. In 1790 he was a country attorney (counsellor for the bailliage of Aurillac) and in 1792 became deputy to the National Convention
National Convention
During the French Revolution, the National Convention or Convention, in France, comprised the constitutional and legislative assembly which sat from 20 September 1792 to 26 October 1795 . It held executive power in France during the first years of the French First Republic...

. He was already known as one of the influential members of the Cordeliers
The Cordeliers, also known as the Club of the Cordeliers, Cordeliers Club, or Club des Cordeliers and formally as the Society of the Friends of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen , was a populist club during the French Revolution.-History:The club had its origins in the Cordeliers district, a...

 club and of that of the Jacobin Club
Jacobin Club
The Jacobin Club was the most famous and influential political club in the development of the French Revolution, so-named because of the Dominican convent where they met, located in the Rue St. Jacques , Paris. The club originated as the Club Benthorn, formed at Versailles from a group of Breton...

. After the subjugation of Flanders
Flanders is the community of the Flemings but also one of the institutions in Belgium, and a geographical region located in parts of present-day Belgium, France and the Netherlands. "Flanders" can also refer to the northern part of Belgium that contains Brussels, Bruges, Ghent and Antwerp...

 he was one of the commissioners nominated in the close of 1792 by the Convention. In the following year he took part in establishing the Revolutionary Tribunal
Revolutionary Tribunal
The Revolutionary Tribunal was a court which was instituted in Paris by the Convention during the French Revolution for the trial of political offenders, and eventually became one of the most powerful engines of the Reign of Terror....

 in Nantes. As he was still in the moderate stages of his violent nature, Carrier minded the orders of the convention and set up the tribunal to give prisoners a "fair" trial. He voted for the execution of King Louis XVI of France
Louis XVI of France
Louis XVI was a Bourbon monarch who ruled as King of France and Navarre until 1791, and then as King of the French from 1791 to 1792, before being executed in 1793....

, was one of the first to call for the arrest of the Duke of Orléans
Louis Philippe II, Duke of Orléans
Louis Philippe Joseph d'Orléans commonly known as Philippe, was a member of a cadet branch of the House of Bourbon, the ruling dynasty of France. He actively supported the French Revolution and adopted the name Philippe Égalité, but was nonetheless guillotined during the Reign of Terror...

, and took a prominent part in the overthrow of the Girondist
The Girondists were a political faction in France within the Legislative Assembly and the National Convention during the French Revolution...

s (on 31 May). His strong Montagnard affiliation further empowered him to take a stand for violence.

After a mission to Normandy
Normandy is a geographical region corresponding to the former Duchy of Normandy. It is in France.The continental territory covers 30,627 km² and forms the preponderant part of Normandy and roughly 5% of the territory of France. It is divided for administrative purposes into two régions:...

, Carrier was sent, early in October 1793, to Nantes
Nantes is a city in western France, located on the Loire River, from the Atlantic coast. The city is the 6th largest in France, while its metropolitan area ranks 8th with over 800,000 inhabitants....

, under orders from the National Convention to suppress the revolt of anti-revolutionists. He established a revolutionary tribunal as mentioned above, and formed what was called the Legion of Marat
Jean-Paul Marat
Jean-Paul Marat , born in the Principality of Neuchâtel, was a physician, political theorist, and scientist best known for his career in France as a radical journalist and politician during the French Revolution...

, to dispose quickly of the masses of prisoners heaped in the jails. The form of trial was soon discontinued, and the victims were sent to the guillotine
The guillotine is a device used for carrying out :executions by decapitation. It consists of a tall upright frame from which an angled blade is suspended. This blade is raised with a rope and then allowed to drop, severing the head from the body...

, shot or disposed of in a more inhumane way. Carrier invented a variety of extremely torturous means of killing. He put large numbers of prisoners on board vessels with trap doors for bottoms, and sunk them in the Loire
Loire is an administrative department in the east-central part of France occupying the River Loire's upper reaches.-History:Loire was created in 1793 when after just 3½ years the young Rhône-et-Loire department was split into two. This was a response to counter-Revolutionary activities in Lyon...

 river. He also lined up hundreds of prisoners in fields and called the National Guard to shoot them down one by one. As Adolphe Thiers
Adolphe Thiers
Marie Joseph Louis Adolphe Thiers was a French politician and historian. was a prime minister under King Louis-Philippe of France. Following the overthrow of the Second Empire he again came to prominence as the French leader who suppressed the revolutionary Paris Commune of 1871...

 wrote, "This frantic wretch imagined that he had no other mission than to slaughter." There may well have been a sexual motive to some of the developments he introduced to the killings, including the proposal that young male and female prisoners be tied together naked before the drownings, a method which was called a "Republican marriage
Republican marriage
Republican marriage was a form of execution that allegedly occurred in Nantes during the Reign of Terror in Revolutionary France and "involved tying a naked man and woman together and drowning them"...

". Carrier's violent means of carrying out orders to suppress the revolts against the Convention were what made him infamous.

Representative to Nantes

In October and November 1793 Jean Carrier assumed his most famous role as a republican representative to Nantes. In a twenty page letter to his fellow republicans, Carrier promised not to leave a single counter-revolutionary or monopolist (in reference to hoarders and aristocratic land owners) at large in Nantes. His vigorous action was endorsed by the Committee of Public Safety, and in the following days Carrier undertook the task of drowning the majority of resistance in the Loire. This murderous process, known as the Noyades
Noyades were drownings superintended during the Reign of Terror at Nantes, between November 1793 and January 1794, by the attorney Jean-Baptiste Carrier, the representative-on-mission....

("drowning") of Nantes along with his increasing haughty demeanor, gained Carrier a reputation for wanton cruelty. In his mission to Normandy he had been very moderate, and it has been suggested that his mind had become unbalanced by the atrocities committed by the Vendean
The Vendée is a department in the Pays-de-la-Loire region in west central France, on the Atlantic Ocean. The name Vendée is taken from the Vendée river which runs through the south-eastern part of the department.-History:...

 and royalist armies. He is quoted as being "...one of those inferior and violent spirits, who in the excitement of civil wars become monsters of cruelty and extravagance.". As Carrier's violent actions continued, more of the French people began to question his true motives. His paranoia eventually pushed him to ransack public storehouses, mills, and bake houses in an effort to find "military" resistance evidenced in hidden weapons, artillery, and gun powder. Finding little contraband, he nevertheless burned down buildings of every kind in what he identified as "revolting districts.".

Trial and conviction

Early in 1794 Carrier was recalled to Paris. A few months later, the Thermidorian reaction
Thermidorian Reaction
The Thermidorian Reaction was a revolt in the French Revolution against the excesses of the Reign of Terror. It was triggered by a vote of the Committee of Public Safety to execute Maximilien Robespierre, Antoine Louis Léon de Saint-Just de Richebourg and several other leading members of the Terror...

 led to the fall of Robespierre and the Committee of Public Safety. Carrier's position became dangerously exposed. Prisoners he had brought from Nantes were acquitted and released, and denunciations of Carrier's actions increased. On 3 September 1794 Carrier was arrested. At his trial, in the Salle de la Liberté, Carrier was quick to denounce allegations of inhumanity saying, "I took but little share in the policing of Nantes; I was only there in passing, being first at Rennes and later with the army. My principal task was to watch over and see to the victualling of our troops, and for six months I supplied 200,000 men there without its costing the State a halfpenny. Hence I have little information to offer in the matter. I know little or nothing of the accused.". After this statement, a fellow representative (Phélippes) sprang to his feet vocally charging Carrier with drownings, wholesale executions, demolitions, thefts, pillaging, laying waste to Nantes, famine and disorder, and with the butchering of women and children. Men from the Marat Company (the group of soldiers that Carrier used to purge Nantes) were present during the trial, including Perro-Chaux, Lévêque, Bollogniel, Grandmaison, and Mainguet. All these men were appointed directly and indirectly by Carrier and all were part of the Revolutionary Committee of Nantes. The jury that heard Carrier's case was left dumbfounded as the trial closed and passed a unanimous vote for Carrier's execution, which took place on December 16, 1794.

See Comte Fleury, Carrier à Nantes, 1793–1794 (Paris, 1897); Alfred Lallié, J. B. Carrier, représentant du Cantal à la Convention 1756–1794 d'après de nouveaux documents (Paris, 1901).