Antoine Pierre Joseph Marie Barnave (October 22, 1761 - November 29, 1793), was a French politician, one of the greatest orators of the first French Revolution.
He was born at Grenoble in Dauphiné, of a Protestant family. His father was an advocate at the parliament of Grenoble, and his mother was well-born and educated. It was she who educated her son because, being a Protestant, he could not attend school. He was brought up to the law, and at the age of twenty-two made himself favourably known by a discourse pronounced before the local parliament on the division of political powers.
Dauphiné was one of the first of the provinces of France to feel the excitement of the coming revolution; and Barnave was one of the first to give voice to the general feeling, in a pamphlet entitled Esprit des édüs enregistrés militairement le 20 mai 1788. He was immediately elected deputy, with his father, to the states of Dauphiné, and took a prominent part in their debates. A few months later he became better known, when the states-general were convoked at Versailles for May 5, 1789, and Barnave was chosen deputy of the tiers état for his native province.
He soon made an impression on the Assembly, became the friend of most of the leaders of the popular party, and formed with Adrien Duport and Alexandre Lameth the group known during the Constituent Assembly as "the triumvirate." He took part in the conference on the claims of the three orders, drew up the first address to the king, and supported the proposal of Sieyès that the Assembly should declare itself National. Until 1791 he was one of the principal members of the club known later as the Jacobins, of which he drew up the manifesto and first rulebook.
Though a passionate lover of liberty, he hoped to secure the freedom of France and her monarchy at the same time. He was carried away by the political forces of the time, and took part in the attacks on the monarchy, on the clergy, on church property, and on the provincial parliaments. With the one exception of Honoré Mirabeau, Barnave was the most powerful orator of the Assembly. On several occasions he stood in opposition to Mirabeau. After the fall of the Bastille, he wished to save the throne. He advocated the suspensory veto, and the establishment of trial by jury in civil causes, but voted with the Left against the system of two chambers.
His conflict with Mirabeau on the question of assigning to the king the right to make peace or war (from May 16 to 23, 1791) was one of the most striking scenes in the Assembly. In August 1790, after a vehement debate, he fought a duel with JAM de Cazalès, in which the latter was slightly wounded. About the close of October 1790 Barnave was called to the presidency of the Assembly. On the death of Mirabeau a few months later, Barnave paid a high tribute to his worth and public services, designating him the Shakespeare of oratory.
On the arrest of the king and the royal family at Varennes, while attempting to escape from France, Barnave was one of the three appointed to conduct them back to Paris. On the journey he was deeply affected by the mournful fate of Marie-Antoinette, and resolved to do what he could to alleviate their sufferings. In one of his most powerful speeches he maintained the inviolability of the king’s person. His public career came to an end with the close of the Constituent Assembly, and he returned to Grenoble at the beginning of 1792. His sympathy and relations with the royal family, to whom he had submitted a plan for a counter-revolution, and his desire to check the downward progress of the Revolution, brought on him suspicion of treason.
He was denounced (August 15, 1792) In the Legislative Assembly, then was arrested and imprisoned for ten months at Grenoble, then transferred to Fort Barraux, and in November 1793 to Paris. On November 28 he appeared before the Revolutionary Tribunal. He was condemned on the evidence of papers found at the Tuileries and executed the next day, with Duport Dutertre.