Philippe-Antoine Merlin de Douai

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Philippe-Antoine Merlin de Douai
President of the Directory
In office
26 May 1799 – 18 June 1799
Preceded byPaul Barras
Succeeded byEmmanuel-Joseph Sieyès
In office
25 February 1798 – 26 May 1798
Preceded byPaul Barras
Succeeded byJean-François Reubell
Member of the Directory
In office
4 September 1797 – 18 July 1799
Preceded byLazare Carnot
Succeeded byJean-François Moulin
President of the National Convention
In office
3 August 1794 – 18 August 1794
Preceded byJean-Marie Collot d'Herbois
Succeeded byAntoine Merlin de Thionville
Member of the National Convention
In office
21 September 1792 – 26 October 1795

Philippe-Antoine Merlin, known as Merlin de Douai (French pronunciation: [filip ɑ̃twan mɛʁlɛ̃ dwɛ], 30 October 1754 – 26 December 1838) was a French politician and lawyer.[1]

Early life[edit]

Merlin de Douai was born at Arleux, Nord, and was called to the Flemish bar association in 1775.[2] He collaborated in the Répertoire de jurisprudence, the later editions of which appeared under Merlin's superintendence, and contributed to other important legal compilations. In 1782 he purchased a position as royal secretary at the chancellery of the Flanders parlement. His reputation spread to Paris and he was consulted by leading magistrates. The Duke of Orléans selected him to be a member of his privy council.[3]

As an elected member of the States-General for the Third Estate in Douai, he was one of the chief of those who applied the principles of liberty and equality embodied in the National Constituent Assembly's Tennis Court Oath of 20 June 1789.


On behalf of the committee, appointed to deal with the Ancien Régime’s nobility rights, Merlin de Douai presented to the Assembly reports on manorialism and the subjects of redistribution with compensation, and topics associated with them (hunting and fishing rights, forestry etc.). He carried legislation for the abolition of primogeniture and secured equality of inheritance between relatives of the same degree and between men and women.[4] He also prepared the report for the Assembly that argued that no compensation should be paid to the German princes whose lands in Alsace were forfeit when France incorporated them.[5]

His numerous reports were supplemented by popular exposition of current legislation in the Journal de legislation. On the dissolution of the Assembly, he became judge of the criminal court at Douai.[6]

National Convention[edit]

Although not always an advocate of violent measures, as a deputy to the National Convention in The Mountain, Merlin de Douai voted for the execution of King Louis XVI. Later, as a member of the council of legislation, he presented to the Convention the Law of Suspects (17 September 1793), permitting the detention of suspects,[6] (a document backed by Georges Couthon and Maximilien Robespierre).[7] He exercised missions in his native region and accused General Charles François Dumouriez of having betrayed the country during the Campaign of the Low Countries (after the Battle of Neerwinden).

Merlin de Douai was closely allied with his namesake Merlin of Thionville and, after the start of the Thermidorian Reaction, which brought about the fall of Robespierre in 1794, became president of the Convention and a member of the Committee of Public Safety.[8] His efforts were primarily directed to the prevention of any new gathering of powers by the Jacobin Club, the Commune and the Revolutionary Tribunal.[6]

Merlin de Douai convinced the Committee of Public Safety to agree with the closing of the Jacobin Club on the ground that it was an administrative, rather than a legislative, measure. Merlin de Douai recommended the readmission of the survivors of the Girondin party to the Convention and drew up a law limiting the right of insurrection. He had also a considerable share in the foreign policy of the French Republic.[6]

Merlin de Douai had been commissioned in April 1794 to report on the civil and criminal legislation of France, and, after eighteen months work, he produced the Rapport et projet de code des délits et des peines (10 Vendémiaire, an IV). Merlin's code abolished confiscation, branding and life imprisonment and was based chiefly on the penal code that had been drawn up in September 1791.[6]


He was made Minister of Justice (30 October 1795) and later Minister of the General Police (2 January 1796)[9] under the Directory, before moving back to the Justice Ministry (3 April 1796)[10] keeping tight surveillance of the Royalist émigrés. After the coup d'état known as 18 Fructidor, he became one of the five Directors on 5 September 1797. He was accused of the bankruptcy and various other failures of the government and was forced to retire into private life during the Coup of 30 Prairial VII on 18 June 1799.[11][6]

Consulate and Empire[edit]

Merlin de Douai had no share in Napoleon Bonaparte's 18 Brumaire coup. Under the Consulate, Merlin de Douai accepted a minor position in the Cour de cassation, where he soon became procureur-général (Attorney General).[12] Although he had no share in drawing up the Napoleonic Code, he was very involved in matters regarding its application. He became a member of the Conseil d'État, Count of the Empire, and Grand Officier de la Légion d'honneur.

Exile and July Monarchy[edit]

Having resumed his functions during the Hundred Days, he was one of those banished on the Second Bourbon Restoration.

The years of his exile were devoted to his Répertoire de jurisprudence (5th ed., 18 vols., Paris, 1827–1828) and to his Recueil alphabétique des questions de droit (4th ed., 8 vols., Paris, 1827–1828). At the 1830 July Revolution, he returned to France and re-entered the Institut de France, of which he had been an original member. He was admitted to the Academy of Political and Moral Sciences by the July Monarchy. He died in Paris.[6]

Personal life[edit]

Merlin de Douai's son, Antoine François Eugène Merlin (1778–1854), was a well-known general in the French Revolutionary Army and served in most of the Napoleonic Wars.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Leuwers, Hervé (1996), Un juriste en politique : Merlin de Douai (1754–1838), Artois Presses Universite, ISBN 978-2-910663-05-6
  2. ^ Chronicle of the French Revolution, Longman Group 1989 p.37
  3. ^ Chronicle of the French Revolution, Longman Group 1989 p.37
  4. ^ Chronicle of the French Revolution, Longman Group 1989 p.146, 151
  5. ^ Chronicle of the French Revolution, Longman Group 1989 p.177
  6. ^ a b c d e f g Chisholm 1911.
  7. ^ Chronicle of the French Revolution, Longman Group 1989 p.366
  8. ^ Chronicle of the French Revolution, Longman Group 1989 p.446
  9. ^ Chronicle of the French Revolution, Longman Group 1989 p.512
  10. ^ Chronicle of the French Revolution, Longman Group 1989 p.522
  11. ^ Chronicle of the French Revolution, Longman Group 1989 p.637
  12. ^ Chronicle of the French Revolution, Longman Group 1989 p.669


External links[edit]

Political offices
Preceded by Minister of Justice
Succeeded by
Preceded by Minister of Justice
Succeeded by