Voltaire and the Calas Case 1761-1765

On March 9th, 1762, in Toulouse, a Huguenot merchant was broken on the wheel for a crime that he had not committed. “It is because I am a man,” declared Voltaire, that he undertook the defence of the unhappy Calas family. His efforts, writes Edna Nixon, produced a drastic reform of the French judicial system.

To the Comte d’Argental and Mme. la Comtesse:

...You will ask me, my divine angels, why I am so interested in this merchant of Toulouse who has been broken on the wheel. I will tell you. First, it is because I am a man. Then it is because I see how foreigners in discussing this affair condemn us. Is it really necessary to make the name of France stink all over the continent? I implore you to suggest to M. de Choiseul that it is incumbent upon him to inform himself fully about this terrible affair which dishonours the whole of human nature. My divine angels, put all this under your wings, the tips of which I kiss with tenderness and respect.”1

To continue reading this article you will need to purchase access to the online archive.

Buy Online Access  Buy Print & Archive Subscription

If you have already purchased access, or are a print & archive subscriber, please ensure you are logged in.

Please email digital@historytoday.com if you have any problems.