Jérôme Pétion de Villeneuve was the son of a procureur at Chartres. He became an advocate in 1778, and at once began to try to make a name in literature. his first printed work was an essay, Sur les moyens de prévenir l'infanticide, which failed to gain the prize for which it was composed, but pleased Brissot so much that he printed it in vol. vii. of his Bibliothèque philosophique des legislateurs.
Pétion's next works, Les Lois civiles, and Essaz sur le manage, in which he advocated the marriage of priests, confirmed his position as a bold reformer, and when the elections to the States-General took place in 1789 he was elected a deputy to the Tiers Etat for Chartres. Both in the assembly of the Tiers Etat and in the Constituent Assembly Pétion showed himself a radical leader. He supported Mirabeau on June 23, attacked the queen on October 5, and was elected president on December 4 1790. On June 15 1791 he was elected president of the criminal tribunal of Paris. On June 21 1791 he was chosen one of three commissioners appointed to bring back the king from Varennes, and he has left a fatuous account of the journey. After the last meeting of the assembly on September 30 1791 Robespierre and Pétion were made the popular heroes and were crowned by the populace with civic crowns.
Pétion received a still further proof of the affection of the Parisians for himself on November 16 1791, when he was elected second mayor of Paris in succession to Bailly. In his mayoralty he exhibited clearly his republican tendency and his hatred of the old monarchy, especially on June 20 1792, when he allowed the mob to overrun the Tuileries and insult the royal family. For neglecting to protect the Tuileries he was suspended from his functions by the Directory of the départment of the Seine, but the leaders of the Legislative Assembly felt that Pétion's cause was theirs, and rescinded the suspension on July 13. On August 3, at the head of the municipality of Paris, Pétion demanded the dethronement of the king.
He was elected to the Convention for Eure-et-Loir and became its first president. LP Manuel had the folly to propose that the president of the Assembly should have the same authority as the president of the United States; his proposition was at once rejected, but Pétion got the nickname of "Roi Pétion," which contributed to his fall. His jealousy of Robespierre allied him to the Girondin party, with which he voted for the king's death and for the appeal to the people. He was elected in March 1793 to the first Committee of Public Safety; and he attacked Robespierre, who had accused him of having known and having kept secret Dumouriez's project of treason.
His popularity however had waned, and his name was among those of the twenty-two Girondin deputies proscribed on June 2. Pétion was one of those who escaped to Caen and raised the standard of provincial insurrection against the Convention; and, when the Norman rising failed, he fled with ME Guadet, FA Buzot, CJM Barbaroux, JB Salle and Louvet de Couvrai to the Gironde, where they were sheltered by a wigmaker of Saint Emilion. At last, a month before Robespierre's fall in June 1794, the escaped deputies felt themselves no longer safe, and deserted their asylum; Louvet found his way to Paris, Salle and Guadet to Bordeaux, where they were soon taken; Barharoux committed suicide; and the bodies of Pétion and Buzot, who also killed themselves, were found in a field, half eaten by wolves.
See Mémoires inédits du Pétion et mémoires de Buzot et de Barbaroux, accompagnés de notes inédites de Buzot et de nombreux documents inédits sur Barbaroux, Buzot, Brissot, etc., précédés d'une introduction par C. A. Dauban (Paris, 1866); Œuvres du Pétion (3 vols., 1792); FA Aulard, Les Orateurs de la Constituante (Paris, 1882).