Born in Paris, France, he acquired a great reputation as a lawyer, less by practice in the courts than in a consultative capacity. He strenuously opposed the "parlement Maupeou," devised by the Chancellor Maupeou to replace the old judiciary bodies, and refused to plead before it. He was counsel for the cardinal de Rohan in the "affair of the diamond necklace." In 1785 he was elected to the Académie française. In 1789 he was returned as one of the deputies of the Third Estate in Paris to the states-general, where he supported all such revolutionary measures as the union of the orders, the suspensive veto, the civil constitution of the clergy, etc.
His excessive obesity, which in the Constituent Assembly made him the butt of the Royalists, had prevented him from practising at the bar for some years before 1789, and when Louis XVI invited him to undertake his defence he excused himself on this ground. At the same time he published in 1792 some observations in extenuation of the action of the king, from the constitutional point of view, which in the circumstances of the time argued much courage.
For the rest, he took no part in public affairs during the Terror. Under the Directory he was made a member of the Institute (1796) and of the Court of Cassation (1798). He lived to collaborate in the earlier stages of the new criminal code. Among his writings may be mentioned a paper on the grain trade (1776) and a Memoire sur l'etat des Protestants en France (1787), in which he pleaded for the restoration of civil rights to the Protestants.
See Victor du Bled, "Les avocats et l'Académie Française," in the Grand Revue (vol. ii. 1899); H Moulin, Le Palais a l'Académie: Target et son fauteuil (Paris, 1884); P Boulloche, Un avocat au 18ieme siecle (Paris, 1893).