Henri Grégoire

Henri Grégoire

:"For the 20th-century Belgian Byzantinologist, see Henri Grégoire (historian)"Henri Grégoire (often referred to as "Abbé Grégoire"; December 4, 1750 – May 20, 1831) was a French Roman Catholic priest, constitutional bishop of Blois and a revolutionary leader.

Early life

He was born at Vého near Lunéville, the son of a tailor. Educated at the Jesuit college at Nancy, he became "curé" (priest) of Emberménil in 1782. In 1783 he was crowned by the Academy of Nancy for his "Eloge de la poésie", and in 1788 by that of Metz for an "Essai sur la régénération physique et morale des Juifs".

He was elected in 1789 by the clergy of the bailliage of Nancy to the Estates-General, where he soon made his name as one of the group of clerical and lay deputies of Jansenist or Gallican sympathies who supported the Revolution. He was one of the first of the clergy to join the third estate, and contributed notably to the union of the three orders; he presided at the session which lasted sixty-two hours while the Bastille was being attacked by the people, and spoke vehemently against the enemies of the nation. He later took a leading role in the abolition of the privileges of the nobles and the Church.

Constitutional bishop

Under the new Civil Constitution of the Clergy, to which he was the first priest to take the oath (December 27, 1790), he was elected bishop by two "départements". He selected that of Loir-et-Cher, taking the old title of bishop of Blois, and for ten years (1791-1801) ruled his diocese with exemplary zeal. An ardent republican, it was he who in the first session of the National Convention (September 21, 1792) proposed the motion for the abolition of the kingship, in a speech in which occurred the memorable phrase that "Kings are in morality what monsters are in the world of nature."." (Source: Herbert A. L. Fisher, The Republican Tradition in Europe, The Harvard University Lowell Lectures, 1910)

On November 15 he delivered a speech in which he demanded that king Louis XVI should be brought to trial, and immediately afterwards was elected president of the Convention, over which he presided in his episcopal dress. During the trial, being absent with other three colleagues on a mission for the union of Savoy to France, he along with them wrote a letter urging the condemnation of the king, but attempted to save the life of the monarch by proposing that the death penalty should be suspended.

When, on November 7, 1793, Jean-Baptiste-Joseph Gobel, bishop of Paris, was intimidated into resigning his episcopal office at the bar of the Convention, Grégoire, who was temporarily absent, hearing what had happened, faced the indignation of many deputies, refusing to give up either his religion or his office. This display of courage ultimately saved him from the guillotine.

Throughout the Reign of Terror, in spite of attacks in the Convention, in the press, and on placards posted at the street corners, he appeared in the streets in his episcopal dress and daily read mass in his house. After Maximilien Robespierre's fall (the Thermidor), he was the first to advocate the reopening of the churches (speech of December 21, 1794).

He also tried to get measures put in place for restraining the vandalism, extended his protection to several artists and writers, and devoted attention to the reorganization of the public libraries, the establishment of botanic gardens, and the improvement of technical education. In fact, he coined the term, vandalism, in a series of three monumental reports in 1794, i.e., "Report on the Destruction Brought About by Vandalism,..." (op. cit., J.L. Sax, p. 1149; "Vandalism", "Oxford English Dictionary", 2nd ed.). He is credited by scholars (e.g. Joseph Sax) with the idea of preservation of cultural objects.

Advocate of racial equality

In October 1789, Grégoire took a great interest in abolitionism, after meeting Julien Raimond, a free colored planter from Saint-Domingue who was trying to win admission to the Constituent Assembly as a representative of his group. He published numerous pamphlets and later, books, on the subject of racial equality, and became an influential member of the Society of the Friends of the Blacks. It was on Grégoire's motion in May 1791 that the Constituent Assembly passed its first law admitting some wealthy free men of colour in the French colonies to the same rights as whites.

Annihilating the "patois" of France

Abbé Grégoire is also notorious for writing his "Report on the necessity and means to annihilate the patois and to universalise the use of the French language", [ [http://www.languefrancaise.net/dossiers/dossiers.php?id_dossier=66 Rapport Grégoire an II] ] which he presented on June 4, 1794 to the National Convention. [Otto Dann, “The Invention of National Languages,” "Unity and Diversity in European Culture C. 1800", ed. Tim Blanning and Hagen Schulze (New York: Oxford University Press, 2006), 126.] In a France where according to his own findings, a vast majority of people spoke one of 33 "patois", French had to be imposed on the population and all other so-called dialects eradicated. In his hardly reliable classification, notable mistakes and prejudices included Corsican and Alsatian being described as "highly degenerate" ("très-dégénérés") forms of Italian and German while Occitan was decomposed into a variety of syntactically loose local remnants of the language of troubadours with no intelligibility between them, and had to be abandoned in favour of the language of the capital. This, coupled with Jules Ferry's brutal policy less than a century later, led to the weakening of most unofficial languages (not dialects) in France, all of them being subsequently banned from public documents, administration and school. The government of today's France still refuses to ratify (let alone apply) the 1992 European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages (see also: Language policy in France).

Political career after Thermidor

On the establishment of the new constitution, Grégoire was elected to the Council of Five Hundred, and after 18 Brumaire he became a member of the Corps Législatif, then of the Senate (1801). He took the lead in the national church councils of 1797 and 1801; but he was strenuously opposed to Napoleon Bonaparte's policy of reconciliation with the Holy See, and after the signature of the concordat he resigned his bishopric (October 8, 1801).

He was one of the minority of five in the Senate who voted against the proclamation of the French Empire, and he opposed the creation of a new French nobility and Napoleon's divorce from Joséphine de Beauharnais; notwithstanding this, he was created a Count of the Empire and officer of the "Légion d'honneur". During the later years of Napoleon's reign he travelled to England and Germany, but in 1814 he returned to France and opposed Napoleon throughout the Hundred Days.

During the Second Restoration

To the clerical Ultra-royalist faction which dominated the Lower Chamber and court circles after the Second Restoration, Grégoire was a revolutionary and a schismatic bishop, and thus the object of hatred. He was expelled from the Institut de France, and forced into retirement, but he remained influential.

In 1814 he published, "De la constitution française de l'an 1814", in which be commented on the "Charter" from a Liberal point of view, and this reached its fourth edition in 1819, in which year he was elected to the Lower Chamber by the "département" of Isère. This was considered a potentially harmful episode by the powers of the Quintuple Alliance, and the question was raised of a fresh armed intervention in France under the terms of the secret Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle. To prevent this, Louis XVIII decided on a modification of the franchise; the Marquis Dessolles ministry resigned; and the first act of Count Decazes, the new premier, was to annul the election of Grégoire.

From this time onward the ex-bishop lived in retirement, occupying himself in literary pursuits and in correspondence with other intellectual figures of Europe; he was compelled to sell his library to obtain means of support.

Religious views

According to his own principles, Grégoire remained a devout Roman Catholic and a priest, while remaining a revolutionary, Gallican, and a Liberal. During his last illness, he confessed to his parish "curé", a priest of Jansenist sympathies, expressing his desire for the last sacraments of the Church. These Hyacinthe-Louis De Quelen, the Archbishop of Paris, would only concede on condition that he retract his oath to the Civil Constitution of the Clergy, which he refused to do.

In defiance of the archbishop, the abbé Baradère gave him the "viaticum", while the rite of extreme unction was administered by the abbé Guillon, an opponent of the Civil Constitution, without consulting the archbishop or the parish "curé". The attitude of the archbishop caused great excitement in Paris, and the government had to take precautions to avoid a repetition of the riots which in the preceding February had led to the sacking of the church of Saint-Germain-l'Auxerrois and the archiepiscopal palace. Grégoire's funeral was celebrated at the church of the Abbaye-aux-Bois; the clergy absented themselves in obedience to the archbishop's orders, but mass was sung by the abbé Grieu assisted by two clergy, the catafalque being decorated with the episcopal insignia. After the hearse set out from the church the horses were unyoked, and it was dragged by students to the cemetery of Montparnasse, the cortege being followed by a sympathetic crowd of some 20,000 people.

Grégoire paid effort to assert that Catholic Christianity was not irreconcilable with political liberty, while becoming dissatisfied with the revolutionary outcome of an Empire which had reached a compromise with the Papacy. Grégoire's Gallicanism clashed with the prevalent view of the authority in his times, and appealed to those French Catholics who had sided with the liberties promised by the Revolution; this version of Catholicism was to be included in those rejected by Pope Pius IX's "Syllabus of Errors" (1864).


Besides several political pamphlets, Grégoire was the author of:
* "De la littérature des nègres, ou Recherches sur leurs facultés intellectuelles, leurs qualités morales et leur littérature" (1808)
* "Histoire des sectes religieuses, depuis le commencement du siècle dernier jusqu'à l'époque actuelle" (a vols., 1810)
* "Essai historique sur les libertés de l'église gallicane" (1818)
* "De l'influence du Christianisme sur la condition des femmes" (1821)
* "Histoire des confesseurs des empereurs, des rois, et d'autres princes" (1824)
* "Histoire du manage des primes en France" (1826).
* "Grégoireana, ou résumé général de la conduite, des actions, et des écrits de M. le comte Henri Grégkoire", preceded by a biographical notice by Cousin d'Avalon, was published in 1821; and the "Mémoires ... de Grégoire", with a biographical notice by H Carnot, appeared in 1837 (2 vols.).


1911 "This in turn gives the following references:"
* A. Debidour, "L'Abbé Grégoire" (1881).
* A. Gazier, "Etudes sur l'histoire religieuse de la Révolution Française" (1883).
* L. Maggiolo, "La Vie et les œuvres de l'abbé Grégoire" (Nancy, 1884).
* Numerous articles in "La Révolution Française"; E. Meaume, "Étude hist. et biog. sur les Lorrains révolutionnaires" (Nancy, 1882).
* Numerous articles in A. Gazier, "Études sur l'histoire religieuse de la Révolution Française" (1887).

Other references

* Rita Hermon-Belot, "L'abbé Grégoire, la politique et la vérité", Paris : Éd. du Seuil, 2000
* "Grégoire et la cause des noirs (1789-1831) : combats et projects, sous la dir. de Yves Bénot, Saint Denis [etc.] ", Société française d'histoire d'outre-mer [etc.] , 2000.
* Henri Grégoire, "De la Noblesse de la peau ou Du préjugé des blancs contre la couleur des Africains et celle de leurs descendants noirs et sang-mêlés" (1826), Grenoble: Millon, 2002.
* Ruth F. Necheles, "The Abbé Grégoire, 1787-1831: The odyssey of an egalitarian", Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Pub. Corp., 1971.
* Joseph L. Sax, "Historic Preservation as a Public Duty: The Abbe Gregoire and the Origin of an Idea", "Michigan Law Review", vol. 88, no. 5 (April 1990), pp. 1142-69.
* Alyssa Goldstein Sepinwall, "The Abbé Grégoire and the French Revolution: The Making of Modern Universalism" Berkeley: University of California Press, 2005

See also

* Vergonha

External links

* [http://www.sc.edu/library/digital/collections/gregoire.html Full text online english translation of "De la littérature des nègres" from 1810] at the University of South Carolina Library's Digital Collections Page

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