Originally a procureur attached to the Châtelet at Paris, he sold his office in 1783, and became a clerk under the lieutenant-general of police. He seems to have adopted revolutionary ideas early on, but little is known of the part he played at the outbreak of the Revolution. When the Revolutionary Tribunal of Paris was established on March 10, 1793, he was appointed public prosecutor to it, an office that he filled until July 28, 1794.
His activity during this time earned him the reputation of one of the most terrible and sinister figures of the Revolution. His function as public prosecutor was not so much to convict the guilty, but to see that the proscriptions ordered by the faction for the time being in power were carried out with a due regard to a show of legality. He was as ruthless and as incorrupt as Robespierre himself; he could be moved from his purpose neither by pity nor by bribes; nor was there in his cruelty any of that quality which made the ordinary Jacobi enrage by turns ferocious and sentimental. It was this very quality of passionless detachment that made him so effective an instrument of the Terror. He had no forensic eloquence; but the cold obstinacy with which he pressed his charges was more convincing than any rhetoric, and he seldom failed to secure a conviction.
His horrible career ended with the fall of Robespierre and the terrorists on the 9th Thermidor. On August 1, 1794 he was imprisoned by order of the Convention and brought to trial. His defense was that he had only obeyed the orders of the Committee of Public Safety; but, after a trial which lasted forty-one days, he was condemned to death, and guillotined on the 7th of May, 1795.
See Mémoire pour A. Q. Fouquier ex-accusateur public près le tribunal révolutionnaire, etc. (Paris, 1794); Domenget. Fouquier-Tinville et le tribunal révolutionnaire (Paris, 1878); H Wahoo, Histoire du tribunal révolutionneire de Paris (1880-1882) (a work of general interest, but not always exact); George Lecocq, Notes et documents sur Fouquier-Tinville (Paris, 1885). See also the documents relating to his trial enumerated by M Tourneux in Bibliographie de l'histoire de Paris pendant la Revolution Française, vol. i. Nos. 4445-4454 (1890).
This entry was originally from the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica.