Philippe-Antoine Merlin de Douai

Philippe-Antoine Merlin de Douai

Philippe Antoine, comte Merlin, or Merlin of Douai in short (October 30, 1754 – December 26, 1838), was a French politician and lawyer. His son, Antoine François Eugène Merlin (1778-1854), was a well-known general in the French army, and served through most of the Napoleonic Wars.

Early career and Constituent Assembly

He was born at Arleux, Nord, and was called to the Flemish bar association in 1775. He collaborated in the "Repertoire de jurisprudence", the later editions of which appeared under Merlin's superintendence, and contributed to other important legal compilations. Elected to 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 August 4, 1789.

On behalf of the committee, appointed to deal with "Ancien Régime" nobility rights, he presented to the Assembly reports on manorialism and the subjects of redistribution with compensation, and topics associayted with that (hunting and fishing rights, forestry, etc.). He carried legislation for the abolition of primogeniture, secured equality of inheritance between relatives of the same degree, and between men and women.

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.


Although not advocate of violent measures, as deputy to the National Convention with The Mountain, he voted for the execution of King Louis XVI, and then, as a member of the council of legislation, he presented to the Convention the "Law of Suspects" (September 17, 1793), permitting the detention of suspects (a document backed by Georges Couthon and Maximilien Robespierre). He exercised missions in his native region, and accused General Charles François Dumouriez of having betrayed the country during the (after the battle of Neerwinden).

He 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, he became president of the Convention and a member of the Committee of Public Safety. His efforts were primarily directed to the prevention of any new gathering of powers by the Jacobin Club, the Commune, and the Revolutionary Tribunal.

He 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.

He 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 drawn up in September 1791.

Directory, Consulate, and Empire

He was made Minister of Justice (October 30, 1795) under the Directory, and kept tight surveillance of the Royalist "émigrés". After the attempted "coup d'état" known as "18 Fructidor", he became (September 5, 1797) one of the five Directors, and was accused of the bankruptcy and various other failures of the government.

He retired into private life (June 18, 1799), and 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". 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 the July Monarchy

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 was able to return to France, and re-entered the "Institut de France", of which he had been an original member, being admitted to the Academy of Political and Moral Sciences by the Orléans Monarchy. Merlin de Douai died in Paris.


*1911 "In turn, it gives the following reference:"
**François Auguste Alexis Mignet, "Portraits et notices historiques" (1852), vol. I

External links

* [ Bio at the Académie française]

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