Jean-Lambert Tallien

Jean-Lambert Tallien

Jean-Lambert Tallien (1767 – November 16, 1820), was a French political figure of the revolutionary period.


Clerk and journalist

He was the son of the "maître d'hôtel" of the Marquis de Bercy, and was born in Paris. The marquis, noticing his ability, had him educated, and got him a place as a lawyer's clerk. Supportive of the Revolution, he gave up his desk to enter a printer's office, and by 1791 was overseer of the printing department of the Comte de Provence.

During his employment, he conceived the idea of the "journal-affiche", and after the arrest of the king at Varennes in June 1791 he placarded a large printed sheet on all the walls of Paris twice a week, under the title of the "Ami des Citoyens, journal fraternel".

This enterprise had its expenses paid by the Jacobin Club, and made Tallien well known to the revolutionary leaders; he became even more present in politics after organizing, together with Jean-Marie Collot d'Herbois, the great "Fête de la Liberté" on April 15, 1792, in honour of the released soldiers of Chateau-Vieux.

Insurrectional Commune

On July 8, 1792, he was the spokesman of a deputation of the section of the Place Royale which demanded from the Legislative Assembly the reinstatement of the Mayor, Jérôme Pétion de Villeneuve, and the "Procureur", Louis Pierre Manuel. Tallien was one of the most active popular leaders in the Storming of the Tuileries Palace on August 10; on that day he was appointed secretary to the insurrectional Commune of Paris. He committed himself to his new mission, and habitually appeared at the bar of the Assembly on behalf of the Commune. He was a direct participant in the September Massacres of 1792, which with the help of Georges Danton, would eventually be elected a member of the National Convention. [ Madelin, Louis. Figures of the Revolution. New York: Books for Libraries Press, Inc., 1968..] He announced the September Massacres in terms of apology and praise, and he sent off the famous circular of September 3 to the French provinces, recommending them to take similar action. At the same time, he had several people imprisoned in order to save them from the violence of the mob, and protected several suspects himself.

Convention and missions

At the close of the month he resigned his post on being elected, in spite of his youth, a deputy to the National Convention by the "département" of Seine-et-Oise, and he began his legislative career by defending the conduct of the Commune during the massacres. He took his seat upon The Mountain, and showed himself one of the most vigorous Jacobins, particularly in his defence of Jean-Paul Marat, on February 26, 1793; he voted in favor of capital punishment for King Louis XVI, and was elected a member of the Committee of General Security on January 21, 1793.

After a short mission in the western provinces he returned to Paris, and took an active part in the "coups d'état" of May 31 and June 2, which resulted in the overthrow of the Girondists. For the next few months he kept a low profile, but on September 23, 1793, he was sent with Claude-Alexandre Ysabeau on his mission to Bordeaux. This was the month in which the Reign of Terror was organized under the superintendence of the Committees of Public Safety and General Security. Tallien was of the most notorious envoys sent over to establish the Terror in the provinces, and soon established a revolutionary grip on Bordeaux. The young Tallien, who was barely 24, became notorious for his administration of justice in Bordeaux through his bloody affinity to “feed ‘la sainte guillotine’.” [ [ A History of the French Revolution] : Stephens, Henry Morse. A History of the French Revolution. New York: Charles Shribner’s Sons, 1891.] Tallien’s methodology of subjugation at Bordeaux has been described as “fear and flour”: the guillotining of Girondist leaders and exploitation of food shortages by withholding bread from the already-hungry province. [ [ “The Problem of Bread and the French Revolution at Bordeaux” on JSTOR] : Brace, Richard Munthe: “The Problem of Bread and the French Revolution at Bordeaux” The American Historical Review, Vol. 51, No. 4. (Jul., 1946), pp. 649-667. .] However, after the initial days of his mission in Bordeaux, Tallien began to shift away from his bloody Terrorist tendencies. This tendency is directly attributable to his romantic involvement with Thérésa Cabarrús, the stunning daughter of Francisco Cabarrús and former wife of the émigré Marquis de Fontenay. Tallien not only spared her life but fell in love with her. As she was extremely weathy and desired by many, it was obivious that she became involved with Jean Tallien in order to save her neck from the guillotine at Bordeaux and infleunce Tallien to show leanience towards her émigré associates. Tallien suggested, “It is better to marry than to be beheaded.” [ Albert Mathiez, After Robespierre: The Thermidorian Reaction (New York: Grosset and Dunlap, 1965), 87.] After Tallien became involved with Cabarrús, there was a notable decline in the number of executions in Bordeaux. Thérésa was a moderating influence, and from the lives she saved by her entreaties she received the name of "Notre-Dame de Thermidor" ("Our Lady of Thermidor") after the onset of the Thermidorian Reaction (July 27, 1794). [ Henry Morse Stephens,.A History of the French Revolution (New York: Charles Shribner’s Sons, 1891), 542.] Tallien was even elected president of the Convention on March 24, 1794. Maximillian Robespierre certainly took notice of Talliens “royalist” behavior and recalled him to Paris.


Maximilien Robespierre's own political ideas implied his readiness to strike at many of his colleagues in the committees, and Tallien was one of the men condemned. Robespierre's rivals were determined to strike first. When Tallien was recalled, Thérésa Cabarrús was recaptured and imprisoned. She set to face trial and likely would have been executed. She sent a letter to Tallien on July 26, which included a dagger and a note accusing him of weakness for not attempting to free her. Thérésa stated, “I die in despair at having belonged to a coward like you.” [ [ The Rose of Martinique: A Life of Napoleon's Josephine] : Andrea Stuart, The Rose of Martinique: A Life of Napoleon's Josephine (New York: Grove Press, 2003), 142. .] The movement was successful: Robespierre and his friends were guillotined, and Tallien, as the leading Thermidorian, was elected to the Committee of Public Safety. He was instrumental in suppressing the Revolutionary Tribunal and the Jacobin Club; he attacked Jean-Baptiste Carrier and Joseph Lebon, who had been representatives of Robespierre to Nantes and Arras respectively, and he fought with energy against the insurgents of Prairial (May 20, 1795). Tallien’s actions and his motivation behind his shifting loyalties have been described as, “His only claim to a place in history was to have realized that people were sick of the terror, that the inevitable reaction was imminent, and that it was better to be a part of it than to be crushed by it.” [ [ The Gilded Youth of Thermidor] : Gendron, François. The Gilded Youth of Thermidor. Buffalo: McGill-Queens University Press, 1993. ] In all these months he was supported by Thérèse, whom he married on December 26, 1794, and who became the leader of the social life of Paris. This cemented Talliens transition from the infamous Terrorist at Bordeax to the “reformed terrorist” of the Thermidorean reaction. On 18th Thermidor, in order to Secure the release of his mistress, to gain popular support, and to popularize his image as a Thermidorean (rather than a Jacobin), Tallien stated, “There is not a single man in prison today who does not claim to be an ardent patriot and who has not been an enemy of Robespierre’s.” [ Georges Lefebvre, The Thermidoreans and the Directory (New York: Random House, 1964), 168.] In the next 5 days, nearly 500 prisoners, many of which were moderates or right wing opposition to Robespierre and the leftist Jacobins, were released. Tallien and the Thermidoreans almost immediately repealed the law of July 22, ending the power of the Committee of Public Safety the right to arrest representatives without a hearing. In addition, measures were passed causing one fourth of the Committee to be up for election each month, with a one month period between the terms that deputies could serve on the Committee. For Talien's role in 9 Thermidor, he was elected to the Committee of Public Safety. In a complete reversal of his earlier positions, Tallien appealed to the new rising class of the “Jeunesse Doree” (“gilded youth”), who viewed him as their leader, by stating “I sincerely admit that I had rather see twenty aristocrats set at liberty today and re-arrested tomorrow than see a single patriot left in chains.” [ Mathiez p. 29.] In addition, Tallien helped pass a measure that would publish the lists of the freed prisoners, helping ensure that the National Convention would be accountable for any imprisonments. Furthermore, promoted a compromise that prevented a list of those who acted as guarantees for the loyalty of released prisoners. This prevented him from being publicly accountable for the release of his mistress and future wife. Shortly after, Tallien and his allies Freron and Lecointre were removed from the Jacobin clubs. [ Mathiez p. 44.]

On the 23rd of Fructidor, an assanation attempt was made on Tallien. The minor gunshot wound and knife wound gave Tallien and his allies the necessary public support to begin their attacks on the Jacobin clubs. [ Mathiez p. 50.] With the threat of a Jacobin-Terroristé plot in the air, Tallien and Freron used pubic proclamations and physical intimidation (through the Jeunessee Doree) to wipe the central Parisian Jacobin club out of existence. At this point the complete tranfomation of Jean-Lambert from an embodiment of the Terror to a right wing leader and orator. Tallien began campaigning for free spech in 1795. This increased his popularity with the Jeunesee Doree, as many Jeunesee were journalists. He reestablished his paper, L’Ami des citoyens, and contributed to the unified attack of the right wing on the remaining leftists. Although the journalistic freedom officially gave the left wing the legal opportunity to also mount an attack through the press, it is important to note that the right wing was far more unified. The Thermidoreans had even managed to get right wing jounalists into high positions on the left wing newspapers. [ Mathiez p. 29.] In addition, through much of the White Terror, the Thermidoreans did nothing to stop the monarchist resurgence.

Eventually, the Thermidoreans ordered that all émigrés and émigré supporters hand over their weapons and expel all foreigners from the country. However, there is evidence that Tallien was arranging a compromise with Spain and would support the imposition of Louis XVIII as a monarchist “without the abuses” [ Dennis Woronoff, The Thermidorean regime and the Directory 1794-1799 (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1972), 24.] In July of 1795, a large division of émigrés, with support from the British, attempted to invade through Quiberon. However, the General Hoche outmaneuvered the émigrés and trapped them on the end of a Peninsula. [ Georges Lefebvre, The Thermidoreans and the Directory (New York: Random House, 1964), 168.] Tallien was sent by the National Convention to the scene. Partially because Tallien had been corresponding with the Bourbons in Spain, he set up military commissions under to try all of the émigré prisoners. [ Mathiez, 233.] Under current law, all of the émigrés were convicted and summarily executed. Tallien was held responsible, and lost support from the jeunesse doree and the right wing which were supporting him. His political influence and relevance were thus greatly reduced.

Council of Five Hundred and Egypt campaign

After the beginning of the French Directory, Tallien's political importance came to an end, for, although he sat in the Council of Five Hundred, the moderates viewed him as an enforcer of the Terror, and the extreme party as a renegade. Madame Tallien also rejected him, and became the mistress of the rich banker Gabriel-Julien Ouvrard.

Napoleon Bonaparte, however, who is said to have been introduced by him to Paul Barras, took him to on his of June 1798, and after the capture of Cairo, he edited the official journal there, the "Décade Égyptienne". General Jacques François Menou sent him back to France, and on his passage he was captured by a British cruiser and taken to London, where he had a good reception among the Whigs and was received by Charles James Fox.

Later years

On returning to France in 1802 he obtained a divorce from Thérésa (who in 1805 married François-Joseph-Philippe de Riquet), and was left for some time without employment. In the end, through the interventions of Joseph Fouché and Charles Maurice de Talleyrand, he was appointed consul at Alicante, and remained there until he lost the sight of one eye from yellow fever.

Back in Paris, he lived on half-pay until the fall of the Empire and the Bourbon Restoration (1815), when he received the favour of not being exiled like the other "regicides" (those who had voted for the king's execution). In his latter years, all of his political and financial supporters had abandoned him and his final days were spent in poverty. He was forced to sell his books in order to buy bread. In a great twist of cruel irony, Tallien had to accept a pension of 100 sous a month from Louis XVIII, as he was “dying of hunger.” [ Charles Anthony Shriner, Wit, Wisdom and Foibles of the Great (New York: Funk and Wagnals Company, 1920), 384.]

He died of leprosy on November 16, 1820. [ [ Microsoft PowerPoint - Committee of Public Safety balloon debate presentations [1 ] ]


*"Discours sur les causes qui ont produit la Révolution française" (Paris, 1791, 8 vols.)
*"Mémoire sur l'administration de l'Égypte a l'arrivée des Français"


*1911 "In turn, it gives the following references:"
*"Tallien et l'Expedition d'Égypte", in "La Révolution Française: Revue d'histoire moderne et contemporaine", p. 269.
*Arsène Houssaye, "Nôtre Dame de Thermidor" (Paris, 1866)

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