CALAS, JEAN (1698-1762), a Protestant merchant at Toulouse, who was barbarously murdered under forms of law which were employed to shelter the sanguinary dictates of ignorant and fanatical zeal. He was born at La Caparede, in Languedoc, in 1698, and had lived forty years at Toulouse. His wife was an Englishwoman of French extraction. They had three sons and three daughters. His son Louis had embraced the Roman Catholic faith through the persuasions of a female domestic who had lived thirty years in the family. In October 1761 the family consisted of Calas, his wife, Marc-Antoine their son, who had been educated for the bar, Pierre their second son, and this domestic. Antoine being of a melancholy turn of mind, was continually dwelling on passages from authors on the subject of suicide, and one night in that month he hanged himself in his father's warehouse. The crowd, which collected on so shocking a discovery, took up the idea that he had been strangled by the family to prevent him from changing his religion, and that this was a common practice among Protestants. The officers of justice adopted the popular tale, and were supplied by the mob with what they accepted as conclusive evidence of the fact. The fraternity of White Penitents buried the body with great ceremony, and performed a solemn service for the deceased as a martyr ; the Franciscans followed their example ; and these formalities led to the popular belief in the guilt of the unhappy family.
Being all condemned to the rack in order to extort confession, they appealed to the parliament ; but this body, being as weak as the subordinate magistrates, sentenced the father to the torture, ordinary and extraordinary, to be broken alive upon the wheel, and then to be burnt to ashes ; which diabolical decree was carried into execution on the 9th of March 1762. Pierre Calas, the surviving son, was banished for life ; the rest were acquitted. The distracted widow, however, found some friends, and among them Voltaire, who laid her case before the council of state at Versailles ; and the parliament of Toulouse was ordered to transmit the proceedings. These the king and council unanimously agreed to annul ; the chief magistrate of Toulouse was degraded and fined ;• old Calas was declared to have been innocent ; and every imputation of guilt was removed from the family. See Causes Celebres, tom. iv.