The French journalist and revolutionist Jacques René Hébert (1757-1794) published the journal "Le Père Duchesne" and was a spokesman for the sansculottes, the extreme republicans of revolutionary France.
Like other popular leaders of the French Revolution, Jacques René Hébert was a member of the bourgeoisie. He was born in Alençon, the son of a successful master jeweler who was a member of the municipal nobility. At the beginning of the French Revolution he was a destitute in Paris, but by 1790 he had established himself as a successful pamphleteer of political satires, appealing to popular antagonisms toward the nobility and the clergy. After the flight of the King, he attacked the Crown as the enemy of the Revolution.
In June 1792 Hébert founded the Revolutionary journal Le Père Duchesne, which became his vehicle for expounding his conception of proletarian interests and for venting his own frustrations. Its symbol was the caricature of a well-known braggart—a sinister-looking man, a revolver in one hand and a hatchet in the other, standing over a kneeling priest, continually calling for the death of the enemies of the people. On Dec. 22, 1792, Hébert was elected assistant prosecutor of the Paris Commune.
During 1793 Hébert became the advocate of sansculottism, which demanded all-out war against the enemies of the people. These enemies included the Church, counter revolutionaries, profiteers, and political moderates. Although he has been associated with the dechristianization movement, Hébert claimed he was not an atheist. He maintained that all good Jacobins ought to see Christ as the first Jacobin.
Hébertists were closely linked to the program of the Terror. Their fierce hatred of those classified as "enemies of the people" was influential in the Law of the Suspects, which made official their demands for justice. Their demands for price-fixing and enforced consumer protection led to the Laws of the Maximum of September and December 1793. Hébertists were also fanatical terrorists, and their influence was great in the police apparatus of the Committee of General Security. As such, they were deeply implicated not only in the Reign of Terror in Paris but also in the massacres of Lyons, Nantes, and the Vendée.
Hébert's base of power was the Commune and the influence it wielded on the Committee of Public Safety. The Committee's actions in December 1793 in suppressing the Commune did much to arouse the ire of Hébert and the sansculottes. They began to attack the Committee, blaming it for the failure of price controls and for complicity with war profiteers. Finally, on March 4, 1794, Hébert—egged on by his supporters—called for an insurrection of the Commune. His call met with little success, but it served as a reason for his proscription as a counterrevolutionary. He was arrested on March 14, 1794, and was executed on March 24.
All historians have agreed that Hébert was an opportunist, but recently social historians have suggested that his opinions were widely held by the people. In particular, he seems to have been representative in his belief that by 1794 a conspiracy of sellers against consumers did exist.
Further Reading on Jacques René Hébert
Hébert's role in the French Revolution is discussed in Georges Lefebvre, The French Revolution (1930; 3d ed. rev. 1963; trans., 2 vols., 1962-1964); Ralph Korngold, Robespierre and the Fourth Estate (1941); Robert Roswell Palmer, Twelve Who Ruled: The Committee of Public Safety during the Terror (1941); and Albert Soboul, The Parisian Sans-Culottes and the French Revolution, 1793-4 (1964).
Additional Biography Sources
Slavin, Morris, The Hébertistes to the guillotine: anatomy of a "conspiracy" in revolutionary France, Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1994.