On July 13, 1793, the ‘martyr of the revolution‘, Jean Paul Marat was assassinated by Charlotte Corday, a 24 year old woman. The physician, natural scientists, and political activist was a member of ‘the Mountain’, a group active during the French Revolution, and author of the radical newspaper ‘L’Ami du peuple’.
How could liberty ever have established itself amongst us? Apart from several tragic scenes, the revolution has been nothing but a web of farcical scenes… But it is in the nation’s senate that the most grotesque parades have taken place.
— Jean Paul Marat, L’Ami du peuple, no.672
Jean Paul Marat grew up in Neuenburg, which was ruled by the House of Hohenzollern. He studied medicine and became widely known for his successful studies on gonorrhea at young age. Later, he moved to England and could release his first philosophical writings, e.g. “An Essay on the human soul” in 1772. When he also started some scientific approaches in the field of physics, he had to face many opponents due to his temper. It was none other but the famous German author Johann Wolfgang von Goethe who came to Marat’s defense and he then decided to completely abandon himself to the natural sciences.
In his mid-forties, Marat went through a period of serious illness, and immediately after he was cured, he began his political activities. Jean Paul Marat began publishing his famous newspaper “L’Ami du peuple” in 1789, soon it was seen as the voice of the revolutionaries against the Girondists. After a period of hide and seek with the French police, during which he could still publish his paper and demand up to 100.000 deaths on the foe side, he became a member of the Jacobin Club and an influential man in the National Convention.
The September Massacres of 1792 decreased his fame and popularity. Marat was made responsible for the cruelty that is now seen as the ‘dark spot’ of the French Revolution. Masses of revolutionaries stormed the prisons and killed the opponents of the revolution to begin with. But then many other prisoners, having nothing to do with the current political uproar including women, priests, and also children were killed.
After a defeat of the Girondists by the Jacobins, Charlotte Corday took action. The young woman, a representative of the Girondists, saw Marat as the responsible person for all cruelty. She accused him of manipulating the people and wanted to ‘reestablish’ a peaceful nation through murdering the leader of the revolutionaries. On July 13th 1793, one day before the anniversary of the Storming of the Bastille, Charlotte Corday made her way to Marat’s bathroom and stabbed him to death. Corday was immediately arrested and guillotined a few days later. Both, Marat and Corday then counted as heroes and martyrs of their party.
Many years after his death, the name Marat was remembered as well as the person behind it. The Soviet Union named a battleship after him and even an opera by Walter Haupt was composed in his honor and premiered in 1984.
References and Further Reading:
-  Ernest Belford Bax: Jean-Paul Marat the People’s Friend, Cambridge Scholar Publishing (2006)
-  Marat at Britannica Online
-  La mort du patriote Jean Paul Marat at the British Museum
-  Marat at History Today
-  Jean-Paul Marat at Wikidata
-  The Life and Works of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, SciHi Blog
-  Jacques-Louis Davids History Paintings, SciHi Blog