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DRAUGHT OF A DEFENCE INTENDED TO BE READ TO THE TRIBUNAL * . - Jeanne Marie Roland de la Platière, An Appeal to Impartial Posterity, by Citizenness Roland 
An Appeal to Impartial Posterity, by Citizenness Roland, wife of the Minister of the Home Department, or A Collection of Pieces written by her during her Confinement in the Prisons of the Abbey and St. Pelagie, Part I (London: J. Johnson, 1795). Vol. 2.
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DRAUGHT OF A DEFENCE INTENDED TO BE READ TO THE TRIBUNAL* .
The charge brought against me rests entirely upon the pretended fact of my being the accomplice of men called conspirators. My intimacy with a small number of them is of much older date than the political circumstances, in consequence of which they are now considered as rebels; and the correspondence kept up with them through the medium of our common friends, at the time of their departure from Paris, was entirely foreign to public affairs. Properly speaking, I have been engaged in no political correspondence whatever, and in that respect I might confine myself to a simple denial; for I certainly cannot be called upon to give an account of my particular affections. But I have a right to be proud of them, as well as of my conduct, nor do I wish to conceal any thing from the public eye. I shall therefore acknowledge, that, with expressions of regret at my confinement, I received an intimation that Duperret had two letters for me, whether written by one or by two of my friends, before or after leaving Paris, I cannot say. Duperret had delivered them into other hands, and they never came to mine. Another time I received a pressing invitation to break my chains, and an offer of services, both to assist me in effecting my escape in any way I might think proper, and to convey me whithersoever I might afterwards wish to go. I was dissuaded from listening to such proposals by duty and by honour; by duty, that I might not endanger the safety of those to whose care I was confided; and by honour, because at all events I preferred running the risk of an unjust trial, to exposing myself to the suspicion of guilt by a flight, unworthy of me. When I consented to be taken up on the 31st of May, it was not with the intention of afterwards making my escape. In this alone consists all my correspondence with my fugitive friends. No doubt, if all means of communication had not been cut off, or if I had not been hindered by my confinement, I should have endeavoured to learn what was become of them; for I know of no law by which my doing so is forbid. In what age, or among what nation, was it ever considered as a crime to be faithful to those sentiments of esteem and brotherly affection which bind man to man? I do not pretend to judge of the measures of those who have been proscribed: they are unknown to me; but I will never believe in the perverse intentions of those men, of whose probity, civism, and devotion to their country, I am thoroughly convinced. If they erred, it was unwittingly; they fall without being abased; and I regard them as unfortunate without being liable to blame. I am perfectly easy as to their glory, and willingly consent to partake of that of being oppressed by their enemies. I know these men, accused of conspiring against their country, to have been determined republicans, but humane, and persuaded that good laws were necessary to procure the republic the good-will of those who doubted whether it could be maintained; which it must be confessed is more difficult than to kill them. The history of every age proves, that it requires great talents to lead men to virtue by wise institutions, while force suffices to oppress them by terror, or to annihilate them by death. I have heard them assert, that abundance, as well as happiness, can only proceed from an equitable, protecting, and beneficent government; and that the omnipotence of the bayonet may produce fear, but not bread. I have seen them animated by the most lively enthusiasm for the good of the people, disdaining to flatter them, and resolved rather to fall victims to their delusion than be the means of deceiving them. I confess that these principles, and this conduct, appeared to me totally different from the sentiments and proceedings of tyrants or ambitious men, who seek to please the people by way of bringing about their subjugation. It inspired me with the highest esteem for these generous men; this error, if an error it be, will accompany me to the grave, whither I shall be proud of following those whom I was not permitted to accompany.
My defence, I will venture to say, is more necessary for those, who really wish to come at the truth, than it is for myself. Calm and contented in the consciousness of having done my duty, I look forward to futurity with perfect peace of mind. My serious turn, and studious habits, have preserved me alike from the follies of dissipation, and from the bustle of intrigue. A friend to liberty, on which reflection had taught me to set a just value, I beheld the revolution with delight, persuaded that it was destined to put an end to the arbitrary power which I detested, and to the abuses I had so often lamented, when reflecting with pity upon the fate of the indigent classes of society. I observed the progress of the revolution with interest, and I spoke with warmth of public affairs; but I did not out-step the bounds prescribed by my sex. Some small talents perhaps, a considerable share of philosophy, a degree of courage more uncommon, and which did not permit me to weaken my husband’s energy in dangerous times: these perhaps are the qualities which those who know me may have indiscreetly extolled, and which may have made me enemies among those to whom I am unknown. Roland sometimes employed me as a secretary; and the famous letter to the king, for instance, is copied entirely in my hand-writing: this would be an excellent count to add to my indictment, if the Austrians were trying me, and if they should have thought fit to extend a minister’s responsibility to his wife. But Roland long ago manifested his knowledge, and his attachment to the great principles of politics: the proofs of them exist in his numerous works, published during the last fifteen years.—His learning and his probity are all his own, nor did he stand in need of a wife to make him an able minister. Never were conferences or secret councils held at his house; his colleagues, whoever they might be, and a few friends and acquaintance, met once a week at his table, and there conversed in a public manner on matters in which every body was concerned. As to the rest, the writings of that minister, which breathe throughout a love of order and of peace, and which lay down in the most forcible manner the best principles of morality and politics, will for ever attest his wisdom, in like manner as his accounts will prove his integrity.
To return to the offence imputed to me, I have to observe that I never was intimate with Duperret. I saw him now and then at the time of Roland’s administration; but he never came to our house during the six months that my husband was no longer in office. The same remark will apply to the other members, our friends, which surely does not accord with the plots and conspiracies laid to our charge. It is evident by my first letter to Duperret, that I only wrote to him, because I knew not well to whom else to address myself, and because I imagined that he would readily consent to oblige me. My correspondence with him was not then concerted; it was not the consequence of any previous intimacy, and had only one particular object in view. It gave me afterwards an opportunity of receiving accounts from those who had just absented themselves, and with whom I was connected by the ties of friendship, independently of all political considerations. The latter were totally out of the question in the kind of correspondence I kept up with them during the early part of their absence. No written memorial testifies against me in that respect, those that are adduced only leading to a belief that I partook of the opinions and sentiments of the persons called conspirators, This deduction is well founded, I confess it without reserve, and am proud of the conformity. But I never manifested my opinions in a way which can be construed into a crime, or which tended to occasion any disturbance. Now, to become an accomplice in any plan whatever, it is necessary to give advice, or to furnish means of execution. I have done neither; I am not then reprehensible in the eye of the law—there is no law to condemn me, nor any fact which admits of the application a law.
I know that in revolutions, law, as well as justice, is often forgotten; and the proof of it is, that I am here. I owe my trial to nothing but the prejudices, and violent animosities which arise in times of great agitation, and which are generally directed against those who have been placed in conspicuous situations, or are known to possess any energy or spirit. It would have been easy for my courage to put me out of the reach of the sentence I foresaw; but I thought that it rather became me to undergo it; I thought that I owed this example to my country; I thought that if I were to be condemned, it was right to leave tyranny all the odium of sacrificing a woman whose crime was that of possessing some small talents which she never misapplied, a zealous desire for the good of mankind, and courage enough to acknowledge her unfortunate friends, and to do homage to virtue at the risk of her life. Those minds that have any claim to greatness are capable of divesting themselves of selfish considerations; they feel that they belong to the whole human race; and their views are directed towards posterity alone. I am the wife of a virtuous man exposed to persecution; I was the friend of men who have been proscribed and immolated by delusion, and the hatred of jealous mediocrity. It is necessary that I should perish in my turn, because it is a rule with tyranny to sacrifice those whom it has grievously oppressed, and to annihilate the very witnesses of its misdeeds. I have this double claim to death from your hands, and I expect it. When innocence walks to the scaffold, at the command of error and perversity, every step she takes is an advance towards glory. May I be the last victim sacrificed to the furious spirit of party! I shall quit with joy this unfortunate earth, which swallows up the friends of virtue, and drinks the blood of the just.
Truth! friendship! my country! sacred objects, sentiments dear to my heart, accept my last sacrifice. My life was devoted to you, and you will render my death easy and glorious.
Just heaven! enlighten this unfortunate people for whom I desired liberty. . . . Liberty!—It is for the noble minds, who despise death, and who know how upon occasion to give it to themselves. It is not for those weak beings who enter into a composition with guilt, and cover their selfishness and cowardice with the name of prudence. It is not for those corrupted men who rise from the bed of debauchery, or from the mire of indigence to feast their eyes upon the blood that streams from the scaffold. It is for the wise people who delight in humanity, practise justice, despise their flatterers, and respect the truth. As long as you are not such a people, O my fellow-citizens! you will talk in vain of liberty; instead of liberty you will have nothing but licentiousness, of which you will all fall victims in your turns: you will ask for bread; dead bodies will be given you, and at last you will bow down your necks to the yoke.
I have neither concealed my sentiments nor my opinions. I know that a Roman lady was sent to the scaffold for having lamented the loss of her son; I know that in times of delusion and party rage, he who dares avow himself the friend of the condemned or of the proscribed exposes himself to share their fate. But I despise death; I never feared any thing but guilt, and I will not purchase life at the expense of a base subterfuge. Woe to the times! woe to the people among whom the doing homage to disregarded truth can be attended with danger, and happy he who in such circumstances is bold enough to brave it!
It is now your part to see whether it answer your purpose to condemn me without proof, upon mere matter of opinion, and without the support of any law whatever.
By authority of the criminal revolutionary tribunal established by the law of the 10th of March 1793, without appeal to the tribunal of annulment, and also in virtue of the power delegated by the law of 25 April of the same year, to the said tribunal sitting in the hall of justice at Paris,
The indictment drawn up by the public accuser against Mary-Jane Philippon, wife of John-Mary Roland, aged thirty-nine years, born at Paris, and dwelling there, in the rue de la harpe, of which the tenor is as hereafter followeth:
Antony-Quintin Fouquier-Tinville, public accuser of the extraordinary criminal and revolutionary tribunal, established at Paris, by a decree of the national convention, of the 10th of March, the second year of the republic, without any appeal to the tribunal of annulment, in virtue of the power to him given by the second article of another decree of the convention of the 5th of April following, importing that the public accuser of the said tribunal is authorised to arrest, prosecute, and bring to judgment, on the denunciation of the constituted authorities and of citizens,
Sheweth that the sword of the law has recently struck several principal chiefs of the conspiracy which existed against the liberty and safety of the French people; but a great number of authors and accomplices of this conspiracy still exist, and as yet have found means, by a cowardly flight, to avoid the just punishment due to their crimes: of this number is Roland, ex-minister of the home department, the principal agent of the conspirators. The flight of some of them did not put a stop to the correspondence kept up between those who remained at Paris, as well at liberty as in a state of arrest: they corresponded also with those who had taken refuge at Caen, and other cities of the republic. Roland on leaving Paris left behind him his wife, who, although put in confinement in a house of arrest, continued to correspond with the conspirators who had retired to Caen, through the medium of another who remained at Paris. That intriguing woman, who is well known to have received, and assembled at her house the principal chiefs of the conspirators in secret councils, of which she was the soul, received, although in prison, letters from Barbaroux and others of the refugees at Caen; and always answered them in terms favourable to the conspiracy. Of this correspondence the proof exists, 1stly, in a letter dated from Evreux, the 13th of June last, written by Barbaroux to Lauze Duperret, in which he says: “Do not forget the worthy citizenness Roland, and try to give her some consolation in her prison, by conveying to her the good news, &c.” 2dly, in another letter, dated the 15th of the said month of June, from the same to the same, in which are the following passages. “You have no doubt executed my commission in regard to Madame Roland, by trying to convey to her some little consolation.—Make an effort to see her, and tell her, that the twenty-two proscribed, and all honest men, share in her afflictions, &c. Herewith you will receive a letter which we have written to that worthy woman. I need not say that you alone can execute this important commission; she must at all events try to get out of her prison, and into some place of safety, &c.” 3dly, In a letter written by Lauze Duperret to the said wife of Roland, in which he says: “I have kept for several days three letters which Barbaroux and Buzot inclosed to me, without having it in my power to convey them to you; and what is still more unfortunate, is, that at the moment when I might avail myself of the means you afford me, the thing is become impossible, seeing that they are in the hands of Petion, to whom I thought it adviseable to deliver them, thinking that he had it more in his power to forward them than any body else, and who set off without being able to do so. I shall this very day give notice of it to those citizens to whom I am going to write by a safe hand, and shall inform them that I have it now in my power to execute their commands with more punctuality, &c.” 4thly. In a note dated the 24th of June, written by the above wife of Roland to Duperret, in which she acquaints him that she has been released from the abbey; that she thought she was going to return home; but that before she reached it she was taken up and conducted to Sainte Pelagie. 5thly, and lastly, in three other letters written by her in like manner to Lauze Duperret; the first dated June 6, the second without date, and the third of the date of June 24. In the second she says: “The accounts I receive from my friends are the only pleasure I am sensible of: you have helped to procure me that pleasure: tell them that my confidence in their courage and the knowledge of what they are capable of doing for liberty, stands me in the stead of every thing, and consoles me in all my misfortunes; tell them that my esteem, my attachment, and my good wishes, will follow them wherever they go. Barbaroux’s hand-bill gave me great pleasure,” &c.
After the contents of the said letters, there can be no doubt that the above wife of Roland was one of the principal agents and abettors of the conspiracy.
These things considered, the public accuser has drawn up the present indictment against Mary-Jane Philipon, the wife of Roland, heretofore minister of the home department, for having wickedly, and designedly, aided and assisted in the conspiracy which existed against the unity and indivisibility of the republic, against the liberty and safety of the French people, by assembling at her house, in secret council, the principal chiefs of this conspiracy, and by keeping up correspondencies tending to facilitate their liberticide projects.
Wherefore the public accuser demands, that a record be made, by the tribunal assembled, of the accusation brought by him against Mary-Jane Philipon, the wife of Roland; and that in consequence he be ordered with his best speed, and by a serjeant (huissier) of the tribunal, bearer of the warrant, to take the said Mary-Jane Roland, wife of Roland, into custody, and to lodge her in the house of arrest of the Conciergerie at Paris, there to remain as in a house of justice; as also that the said warrant be notified to the accused, and the tribunal of Paris.
Done, in the cabinet of the public accuser, this seventeenth Brumaire, in the second year of the French republic, one and indivisible.
(Signed) A. Q. Fouquier.
The warrant issued against her by the tribunal, and the minutes of the delivery of her person in the house of justice of the Conciergerie, as also the declaration of the jury of judgments, importing:
That there has existed a horrible conspiracy against the unity and indivisibility of the republic, the liberty and safety of the French people.
That Mary-Jane Philipon, wife of John-Mary Roland, is convicted of being one of the abettors or accomplices of that conspiration.
The tribunal, after having heard the public accuser deliver his reasons concerning the application of the law, condemns Mary-Jane Philipon, wife of John-Mary Roland, ex-minister, to the punishment of death, in conformity with the law of the sixteenth December, one thousand seven hundred and ninety-two, which has been read, and which is conceived in these terms:
“The National Convention decrees, that whoever shall propose or attempt to destroy the unity of the French republic, or to detach its integral parts to unite them to a foreign territory, shall be punished with death.”
Declares the property of the said wife of Roland confiscated to the profit of the nation, in conformity with the law of the 10th of March last, which has been read, and which is conceived in these terms: “The property of those who shall be condemned to the punishment of death, shall be confiscated to the profit of the republic: a provision shall be made for the widows and children who have no property of their own.”
Orders the public accuser to see that the present sentence be put in execution, within twenty-four hours, upon the public square of the Revolution of this city, and to be printed and posted up throughout the whole extent of the republic, wherever need may be.
Done, and pronounced in open court, the eighteenth of the month Brumaire, the second year of the French republic; where were present citizens René-Francis Dumas, vice-president, performing the functions of president; Gabriel Deliegé, Francis-Joseph Denisot, and Peter-Noel Subleyras, judges; who have signed the minutes with Wolff, clerk of the court.
A true copy, delivered by the undersigned.
Paris, secretary (Greffier).
Such was the sentence that sent to the scaffold, at thirty-nine years of age, a woman, whose energetic disposition, feeling heart, and cultivated mind, rendered her the delight and admiration of all who knew her. Her death reflects equal glory upon her sex, and disgrace upon her executioners.
It does not belong to me to draw her character: her writings speak; her conduct bears witness in her favour; and history will some day or other revenge the injustice of her contemporaries.
This sentence was preceded, for form’s sake, and according to the custom of that horrible tribunal, by a mock trial (débats), in which citizeness Roland was not allowed to speak, and in which hired ruffians vomited forth the most palpable calumnies before other ruffians, the execrable tools of Robespierre, so unworthily honoured with the title of judges and jurors. I have not been able to procure the proceedings, which, as every body knows, must not be taken down in writing: but I know that only one person paid a tribute to truth, and that he was some time after sent on that account to the scaffold. I mean the worthy Lecocq, who for eight months only had lived with Roland as a servant, and whose excellent qualities rendered him worthy of a better fate.
Citizenness Roland did not deceive the expectation of her friends. She went to the scaffold with all the calmness of a great mind, superior to the idea of death, and possessing sufficient powers to overcome our natural horror of dissolution. To exhibit a picture of her last moments, I cannot do better than borrow the elegant and impressive pen of Roiuffe. The following is the account he gives of them in his work, intituled Memoires d’un détenu, pourservir á l’histoire de la tyrannie de Robespierre; a work which will furnish history with more than one trait, and which will never be read without emotion.
“The blood of the twenty-two was still warm when citizenness Roland was brought to the Conciergerie. Well aware of the fate that awaited her, her peace of mind continued undisturbed. Though past the prime of life, she was still a charming woman: she was tall and of elegant make; and her countenance was expressive; but her misfortunes and a long confinement had left traces of melancholy upon her face, which tempered its natural vivacity. She had the soul of a republican in a body made up of graces, and fashioned by a certain courtly style of politeness. Something more than is generally found in the eyes of women beamed from hers, which were large, black, and full of softness and expression. She often spoke to me at the grate with the freedom and energy of a great man. This republican language, from the mouth of a pretty French woman, for whom the scaffold was getting ready, was one of the miracles of the revolution to which we were not yet accustomed. We all stood listening round her, in a kind of admiration and astonishment. Her conversation was serious without being frigid; and she expressed herself with a choice of words, a harmony, and a cadence, that made of her language a kind of music with which the ear was never satisfied. She always spoke of the members, who had just been put to death, with respect; but she spoke of them at the same time without feminine pity, and even reproached them with not having adopted measures sufficiently energetic. She generally styled them our friends, and often sent for Clavieres to converse with him. Sometimes her sex would recover the ascendancy; and it was easy to see, that the recollection of her daughter and her husband had drawn tears from her eyes. This mixture of natural softness, and of fortitude, rendered her only the more interesting. The woman, who waited upon her, said to me one day, ‘Beforeyoushe calls up all her courage; but in her own room she sometimes stands for three hours, leaning against her window, and weeping.’ The day she was sent for to be examined, we saw her pass with her usual firmness; but when she returned the tears were glistening in her eyes: she had been treated with so much harshness, and questions so injurious to her honour had been asked her, that her tears and her indignation had burst forth together. A mercenary pedant coldly insulted this woman, celebrated for the excellence of her understanding, and who, at the bar of the National Convention, had reduced her enemies to silence, and forced them to admire the easy graces of her eloquence. She remained eight days at the Conciergerie; and in that short time rendered herself dear to all the prisoners, who sincerely deplored her fate.
The day when she was condemned, she was neatly dressed in white; and her long black hair flowed loosely to her waist. She would have moved the most savage heart, but those monsters had no heart at all. Her dress, however, was not meant to excite pity; but was chosen as a symbol of the purity of her mind. After her condemnation, she passed through the wicket with a quick step, bespeaking something like joy; and indicated, by an expressive gesture, that she was condemned to die. She had, for the companion of her misfortune, a man whose fortitude was not equal to her own, but whom she found means to inspire with gaiety, so cheering and so real, that it several times brought a smile upon his face.
At the place of execution, she bowed down before the statue of Liberty, and pronounced these memorable words: O Liberty, how many crimes are committed in thy name!
She often said, that her husband would not survive her; and soon after we learned in our dungeons, that the virtuous Roland had killed himself upon the highway, thereby indicating his wish to die irreproachable in regard to courageous hospitality.
My heart, though suffering so many cruel torments in that horrible abode, felt no pang more severely than the one occasioned by the death of this celebrated woman.—The remembrance of her murder, added to that of my unfortunate friends, will make my mind a prey to inconsolable sorrow to the last period of my existence.
end of the second part.
[* ]This piece was written at the Conciergeric, the night after her examination.