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Jean Marie Roland

Jean-Marie Roland de la Platière (February 18, 1734 - November 10, 1793) was a French statesman.

He was born at Thizy and was a studious child, who received a good education. Proposing to seek his fortune abroad, he walked to Nantes, but once there, he sufferred an illness so severe that he was forced to change his plans. For some years he worked as a clerk; then he joined a relative who was inspector of manufactures at Amiens, and rose quickly to the position of inspector. In both posts, he learned the qualities of assiduity and accuracy, and that familiarity with the commerce of the country, which influenced his career in public life. In 1781 he married Manon Jeanne Phlipon, who became famous as Madame Roland.

For four years after their marriage Roland lived at Amiens, still working as a factory inspector; but his knowledge of commercial affairs enabled him to contribute articles to the Encyclopedie Nouvelle, in which, as in all his literary work, he was assisted by his wife. After they moved to Lyons, the influence of both became wider and more powerful. Their fervent political aspirations could not be concealed, and from the beginning of the Revolution they threw in their lot with the party of advance. The Courrier de Lyon contained articles the success of which reached even to the capital and attracted the attention of the Parisian press. Madame Roland wrote them; her husband signed them. A correspondence sprang up with Brissot and other friends of the Revolution at headquarters.

In Lyons their views were publicly known; Roland was elected a member of the municipality,and when the depression of trade in the south demanded representation in Paris he was deputed by the council of Lyons to ask the Constituent Assembly that the municipal debt of Lyons, which had been contracted for the benefit of the state, should be regarded as national debt. Accompanied by his wife, Roland appeared in the capital in February 1791. He remained there until September, frequenting the Society of the Friends of the Constitution, and entertaining deputies of the most advanced opinions, especially those who later became the leading Girondists. Madame Roland took an active part in the political discussions in these réunions.

In September 1791, Roland's mission completed, they returned to Lyons. Meanwhile the inspectorships of manufactures had been abolished; he could no longer remain absent from the centre of affairs. In December 1791 they again reached Paris. Roland became a member of the Jacobin Club. They had made many and influential friends in advance, and Madame Roland's salon soon became the rendezvous of Brissot, Pétion, Robespierre and other leaders of the popular movement, above all of Buzot.

When the crisis came the Girondists were ready, and on March 23 1792 Roland found himself appointed minister of the interior. As a minister of the crown Roland exhibited a bourgeois brusqueness of manner and a remarkable combination of political prejudice with administrative ability. While his wife's influence could not increase the latter, it was successfully exerted to foment and embitter the former. He was ex officio excluded from the Legislative Assembly, and his declarations of policy were thus in writing -- that is, in the form in which she could most readily exert her power. A great occasion was invented. The decrees against the emigrants and the non-juring clergy still remained under the veto of the king. A letter was penned by Madame Roland and addressed by her husband to Louis XVI. It remained unanswered. Thereupon, in full council and in the king's presence, Roland read his letter aloud. It contained many and terrible truths as to the royal refusal to sanction the decrees and as to the king's position in the state; but it was inconsistent with a minister's position, disrespectful if not insolent in tone. Roland's dismissal followed. Then he completed the plan: he read the letter to the Assembly; it was ordered to be printed, became the manifesto of disaffection, and was circulated everywhere. In the demand for the reinstatement of the dismissed ministers were found the means of humiliation, and the prelude to the dethronement, of the king.

After the insurrection of August 10, Roland was recalled to power, one of his colleagues being Georges Danton, but by now he was dismayed by the progress of the Revolution. He was above all a provincial, and was soon in opposition to the party of the Mountain, which aimed at supremacy not only in Paris but in the government as well. His hostility to the insurrectional commune of Paris, which led him to propose transferring the government to Blois, and his attacks on Robespierre and his friends made him very unpopular. His neglect to seal the iron chest discovered in the Tuileries, which contained the proofs of Louis XVI's relations with the enemies of France, led to the accusation that he had destroyed a part of these documents. Finally, in the trial of the king he demanded, with the Girondists, that the sentence should be pronounced by a vote of the whole people, and not simply by the Convention. He resigned office on January 23 1793, two days after the king's execution.

Although now extremely unpopular, the Rolands remained in Paris, suffering abuse and calumny, especially from Jean-Paul Marat. When Roland heard of his wife's condemnation, he wandered some miles from his refuge in Rouen; there he wrote a few words expressing his horror at those massacres which could only be inspired by the enemies of France, protesting that "from the moment when I learned that they had murdered my wife I would no longer remain in a world stained with enemies." He attached the paper to his chest, and killed himself with a sword-stick.

Madame Roland's Mémoires, first printed in 1820, have been edited among others by P. Faugere (Paris, 1864), by C.A. Dauban (Paris, 1864), by J. Claretie (Paris, 1884), and by C. Perroud (Paris, 1905). Some of her Lettres inédites have been published by C.A. Dauban (Paris, 1867), and a critical edition of her Lettres by C. Perroud (Paris, 1900-2).

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