Antoine Barnave

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Antoine Barnave
Antoine-Pierre-Joseph-Marie Barnave.jpg
Antoine Barnave by Joseph Boze (1791, Carnavalet Museum)
Member of the Legislative Assembly
In office
1 October 1791 20 September 1792
Constituency Isère
3rd Mayor of Grenoble
In office
1 August 1790 21 November 1790
Preceded by Joseph Marie de Barral
Succeeded by Daniel d'Isoard
Member of the Constituent Assembly
In office
9 July 1789 30 September 1791
Constituency Grenoble
Member of the Estates-General
for the Third Estate
In office
7 January 1789 9 July 1789
Constituency Grenoble
Personal details
Antoine Pierre Joseph Marie Barnave

(1761-10-22)22 October 1761
Grenoble, France
Died29 November 1793(1793-11-29) (aged 32)
Paris, France
Nationality French
Political party Jacobin (1789–1791)
Feuillant (1791–1793)
ParentsJean-Pierre Barnave and Marie-Louise de Pré de Seigle de Presle
Alma mater University of Grenoble
ProfessionLawyer, writer

Antoine Pierre Joseph Marie Barnave (22 October 1761 29 November 1793) was a French politician, and, together with Honoré Mirabeau, one of the most influential orators of the early part of the French Revolution. He is most notable for correspondence with Marie Antoinette in an attempt to set up a constitutional monarchy and for being one of the founding members of the Feuillants. [1]

French Revolution Revolution in France, 1789 to 1798

The French Revolution was a period of far-reaching social and political upheaval in France and its colonies beginning in 1789. The Revolution overthrew the monarchy, established a republic, catalyzed violent periods of political turmoil, and finally culminated in a dictatorship under Napoleon who brought many of its principles to areas he conquered in Western Europe and beyond. Inspired by liberal and radical ideas, the Revolution profoundly altered the course of modern history, triggering the global decline of absolute monarchies while replacing them with republics and liberal democracies. Through the Revolutionary Wars, it unleashed a wave of global conflicts that extended from the Caribbean to the Middle East. Historians widely regard the Revolution as one of the most important events in human history.

Marie Antoinette Last Queen of France prior to the French Revolution

Marie Antoinette was the last Queen of France before the French Revolution. She was born an Archduchess of Austria and was the penultimate child and youngest daughter of Empress Maria Theresa and Francis I, Holy Roman Emperor. She became Dauphine of France in May 1770 at age 14 upon her marriage to Louis-Auguste, heir apparent to the French throne. On 10 May 1774, her husband ascended the throne as Louis XVI and she assumed the title Queen of France and Navarre, which she held until September 1791, when she became Queen of the French as the French Revolution proceeded, a title that she held until 21 September 1792.

A constitutional monarchy is a form of monarchy in which the sovereign exercises authority in accordance with a written or unwritten constitution. while the Legislative Power is exercised by an Parliament, usually elected by citizens. Constitutional monarchy differs from absolute monarchy in that constitutional monarchs are bound to exercise their powers and authorities within the limits prescribed within an established legal framework. Constitutional monarchies range from countries such as Morocco, Jordan, Kuwait and Bahrain, where the constitution grants substantial discretionary powers to the sovereign, to countries such as Japan and Sweden where the monarch retains no formal authorities.


Early life

Antoine Barnave was born in Grenoble (Dauphiné), in a Protestant family. His father was an advocate at the Parlement of Grenoble, and his mother, Marie-Louise de Pré de Seigle de Presle, was a highly educated aristocrat. Because they were Protestants, Antoine could not attend local schools, as those were run by the Catholic church, and his mother educated him herself. Barnave was prepared for a career in law, and at the age of twenty-two made himself known by a speech pronounced before the local Parlement, the Parlement du Dauphiné, also known as Parlement de Grenoble, on the separation of political powers. [2]

Grenoble Prefecture and commune in Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes, France

Grenoble is a city in southeastern France, at the foot of the French Alps where the river Drac joins the Isère. Located in the Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes region, Grenoble is the capital of the department of Isère and is an important European scientific centre. The city advertises itself as the "Capital of the Alps", due to its size and its proximity to the mountains.

Dauphiné Place in France

The Dauphiné or Dauphiné Viennois, formerly Dauphiny in English, is a former province in southeastern France, whose area roughly corresponded to that of the present departments of Isère, Drôme, and Hautes-Alpes. The Dauphiné was originally the County of Albon.

Parlement Ancien Régime justice court

A parlement, in the Ancien Régime of France, was a provincial appellate court. In 1789, France had 13 parlements, the most important of which was the Parlement of Paris. While the English word parliament derives from this French term, parlements were not legislative bodies. They consisted of a dozen or more appellate judges, or about 1,100 judges nationwide. They were the court of final appeal of the judicial system, and typically wielded much power over a wide range of subject matter, particularly taxation. Laws and edicts issued by the Crown were not official in their respective jurisdictions until the parlements gave their assent by publishing them. The members were aristocrats called nobles of the gown who had bought or inherited their offices, and were independent of the King.

Dauphiné was one of the first of the provinces of France to be touched by revolutionary ideals. After being heavily influenced by the Day of the Tiles (French: Journée des Tuiles) in Grenoble, Barnave became actively revolutionary. He explained his political position in a pamphlet entitled Esprit des édits, Enregistrés militairement, le 20 mai 1788. [3] He was immediately elected deputy, with his father, to the Estates General of Dauphiné, and played a prominent role in their debates. [2]

The Kingdom of France was organized into provinces until March 4, 1790, when the establishment of the department system superseded provinces. The provinces of France were roughly equivalent to the historic counties of England. They came into their final form over the course of many hundreds of years, as many dozens of semi-independent fiefs and former independent countries came to be incorporated into the French royal domain. Because of the haphazard manner in which the provinces evolved, each had its own sets of feudal traditions, laws, taxation systems, courts, etc., and the system represented an impediment to effective administration of the entire country from Paris. During the early years of the French Revolution, in an attempt to centralize the administration of the whole country, and to remove the influence of the French nobility over the country, the entirety of the province system was abolished and replaced by the system of departments in use today.

Day of the Tiles

The Day of the Tiles was an event that took place in the French town of Grenoble on 7 June in 1788. It was one of the first disturbances which preceded the French Revolution, and is credited by a few historians as its start.

Pamphlet unbound booklet containing text

A pamphlet is an unbound book. It may consist of a single sheet of paper that is printed on both sides and folded in half, in thirds, or in fourths, called a leaflet, or it may consist of a few pages that are folded in half and saddle stapled at the crease to make a simple book.

Estates-General and Assemblies

A few months later he became better known, when the Estates-General of 1789 convened in Versailles on 5 May 1789, and Barnave was chosen to be a deputy of the Third Estate for his native province of Dauphiné. [2]

Versailles, Yvelines Prefecture and commune in Île-de-France, France

Versailles is a city in the Yvelines département in the Île-de-France region, renowned worldwide for the Château de Versailles and the gardens of Versailles, designated UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Located in the western suburbs of the French capital, 17.1 km (10.6 mi) from the centre of Paris, Versailles is in the 21st century a wealthy suburb of Paris with a service-based economy and a major tourist destination as well. According to the 2008 census, the population of the city is 88,641 inhabitants, down from a peak of 94,145 in 1975.

Estates of the realm broad social orders of the hierarchically conceived society recognised in the Middle Ages and Early Modern period in Christian Europe

The estates of the realm, or three estates, were the broad orders of social hierarchy used in Christendom from the medieval period to early modern Europe. Different systems for dividing society members into estates developed and evolved over time.

He soon rose to prominence in the National Assembly, becoming the friend of most of the leaders of the party originating in the Third Estate, and formed with Adrien Duport and Alexandre Lameth the group known during the Constituent Assembly as "the triumvirate". Together these three would later be principal figures in the formation of the Feuillants, the breakaway party from the Jacobin Club dedicated to a moderate course supporting constitutional monarchy. Barnave took part in the conference on the claims of the three orders, drew up the first address to king Louis XVI, and supported the proposal of Emmanuel Joseph Sieyès that the Assembly should declare itself "National". Until 1791, he was one of the preeminent members of the club known later as the Jacobin Club, of which he drew up the manifesto and first rulebook. [2]

National Assembly (French Revolution) assembly during the French Revolution

During the French Revolution, the National Assembly, which existed from 14 June 1789 to 9 July 1789, was a revolutionary assembly formed by the representatives of the Third Estate of the Estates-General; thereafter it was known as the National Constituent Assembly, though popularly the shorter form persisted.

Adrien Duport French politician

Adrien Duport was a French politician, and lawyer. He was an influential advocate in the parlement, and was prominent in opposition to the ministers Calonne and Loménie de Brienne.

National Constituent Assembly (France) former political body formed from the National Assembly on 9 July 1789 during the first stages of the French Revolution

The National Constituent Assembly was formed from the National Assembly on 9 July 1789 during the first stages of the French Revolution. It dissolved on 30 September 1791 and was succeeded by the Legislative Assembly.

Political Views

Bust of Antoine Barnave, Museum of Grenoble Antoine Barnave (buste).JPG
Bust of Antoine Barnave, Museum of Grenoble

Although a partisan of political freedom, Barnave hoped to preserve revolutionary liberties together while maintaining the ruling House of Bourbon. He felt that a constitutional monarchy would solve the problems facing France without being a complete upheaval of the government, although it does not mean that he was entirely in favor of the monarchy. Subject to the more radical forces, Barnave took part in the attacks on the monarchy, on the clergy, on Roman Catholic Church property, and on the provincial Parlements. On several occasions, he stood in opposition to Mirabeau. After the storming of the Bastille, he saw the power of the masses as possibly leading to political chaos, and wished to avoid this by saving the throne. He advocated the suspensory veto, and the establishment of trial by jury in civil causes, but voted with the Left against the system of two chambers. [2]

House of Bourbon European royal house of French origin

The House of Bourbon is a European royal house of French origin, a branch of the Capetian dynasty. Bourbon kings first ruled France and Navarre in the 16th century. By the 18th century, members of the Spanish Bourbon dynasty held thrones in Spain, Naples, Sicily, and Parma. Spain and Luxembourg currently have monarchs of the House of Bourbon.

Honoré Gabriel Riqueti, comte de Mirabeau French writer, orator and statesman

Honoré Gabriel Riqueti, Count of Mirabeau was a leader of the early stages of the French Revolution. A noble, he was involved in numerous scandals before the start of the Revolution in 1789 that had left his reputation in ruins. Nonetheless, he rose to the top of the French political hierarchy in the years 1789–1791 and acquired the reputation of a voice of the people. A successful orator, he was the leader of the moderate position among revolutionaries by favoring a constitutional monarchy built on the model of Great Britain. When he died he was a great national hero, even though support for his moderate position was slipping away. The later discovery that he was in the pay of King Louis XVI and the Austrian enemies of France beginning in 1790 caused his posthumous disgrace. Historians are deeply split on whether he was a great leader who almost saved the nation from the Terror, a venal demagogue lacking political or moral values, or a traitor in the pay of the enemy.

Storming of the Bastille part of the French Revolution

The Storming of the Bastille occurred in Paris, France, on the afternoon of 14 July 1789.

His conflict with Mirabeau on the question of assigning to the king the right to make peace or war (from 16 to 23 May 1790) was one of the main episodes of the Assembly's mandate. In August 1790, after a vehement debate, he fought a duel with Jacques Antoine Marie de Cazalès, in which the latter was slightly wounded. About the close of October 1790, Barnave was called to the presidency of the Assembly. On the occasion of the death of Mirabeau, which occurred on 2 April 1791, Barnave paid a high tribute to his worth and public services, designating him the "William Shakespeare of oratory". [2]

Being in favor of a new system of government, Barnave spoke passionately about terminating the powerful influence of religious authorities and allocating that role in government to the people of France. Passing the Civil Constitution of the Clergy would lawfully impose Church adherence to the King and the nation of France by having the state pay them salaries for their service and holding popular elections for the priests and bishops. He strongly supported that government influence remain limited to the people and the King, not a single entity. [4]

Barnave also advocated in favor of freedom of speech and the protection of private property. With the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen, all citizens were entitled to the purchase and ownership of land or architectural assets that were not to be taken away or trespassed unless it became legally necessary. He said individuals had to possess the liberty to express what they feel and believe in, arguing that the voice of the French people was not to be silenced. The right to sole ownership of an acre of land or business would encourage financial, political, and societal progress. [5]

Ideas for Economic Advancement

Decree of Lands

To Barnave, allocating the appropriated land of the Church among the French people would help abate the economic burden and starvation in the country. Having land put up as collateral enables France to receive loans from foreign nations. The land would also become a source of food for the hungry through harvests. This encourages a system of production and sale to stimulate the economy. Barnave saw that the Church, being first estate, had great power and wealth. To him, the roles of the clergy, priests, and bishops resided on spreading the message of God and thus should not oppose providing His children with basic proprietary rights. [6] He stood with the Decree on Church Lands which provided each clergymen with no more than an annual income of 1200 livres while retaining ownership of his residency and lawn. [7] He believed that laborers working this land would strengthen the role of France in the manufacturing sector and revitalize the quality and quantity of agricultural goods. [8]

End of Feudalism and Taxation on the Nobility

In 1789, Barnave was one of the key figures to advise King Louis XVI to work in unison with the National Assembly in order to prevent riots that seek an anarchic form of government. He argued that the revolution had sparked a necessary change in politics. The Constitutional monarchy was a way to maintain an improved version of French tradition. [9] However, the nobility's special privileges provided by the Feudal system were to be fully terminated. People of higher class had to adhere to the same laws and regulations as did any common citizen, so taxation would be equally applicable to them. Noblemen especially would contribute to tax revenue that will ameliorate France's national debt. Barnave was strongly in favor of making France into a country that allowed people unrestricted economic or entrepreneurial practices, enabling all citizens to take part in the offerings of commercial markets. [10]

Slaves in Saint-Domingue

Barnave argued that successful political changes, incorporation of equal rights, and an inclusive government stem from successful financial progression. Without a sound economic state, France would not be able to compete with foreign powers, and the people would not have the opportunity to improve their lives or truly live freely. [11] Slavery in Saint-Domingue allowed the cultivation and sale of coffee and sugar to thrive. He opposed discrimination against any race but also understood how the African slaves contributed to the only source of wealth France had at a moment of deep financial crisis. He advocated that abolishing slavery was not an economically smart course of action. [12]

From Violence to Compromise

After the Storming of the Bastille, Barnave argued that violence lead the French citizens to their desired goals – the start of the Revolution and constitutional change. It was now time for people, despite their factions and distinct beliefs, to compromise and unite. Barnave advised the members of the National Assembly of the King's role in achieving this. King Louis XVI would enable the Constitution of France to pass smoothly and cease the bloodshed by working alongside the people of France. The economy was too weak to sustain the costs of military action against foreign or domestic rivals. [13]

Rise, Fall, and Execution

Barnave in prison where he wrote his Introduction to the French Revolution AntoineBarnave.jpg
Barnave in prison where he wrote his Introduction to the French Revolution

At time of the arrest of Louis XVI and the royal family during the Flight to Varennes, Barnave was one of the three appointed to bring them back to Paris, together with Jérôme Pétion de Villeneuve and the Charles César de Fay de La Tour-Maubourg. During the journey, he began to feel compassion for queen Marie-Antoinette and the royal family, and subsequently attempted to do what he could to alleviate their sufferings. In one of his most powerful speeches, he maintained the inviolability of the king's person. [2]

As the Jacobin Club grew more radically in favor of a republic, Barnave and the other two members of the triumvirate broke away from it and formed the Feuillant political group on 18 July 1791. In July and August 1791, Barnave reached the height of his political prominence after 17 July 1791 Champ de Mars Massacre weakened the position of the Jacobins.

The Feuillants began to lose this political clout by early autumn, when disagreements arose with the growing influence of Jacques Pierre Brissot and his supporters, known as the Girondists. After the Feuillants opposed war against Austria and the Habsburgs, they were driven out of the Assembly. Barnave's public career came to an end, and he returned to Grenoble at the beginning of 1792. His sympathy and relations with the royal family, to whom he had submitted a plan for a counter-revolution, and his desire to check the violence of the Revolution, brought on him suspicion of treason. [2]

He was denounced on 15 August 1792 in the Legislative Assembly, arrested and imprisoned for ten months in Grenoble, then transferred to Fort Barraux (also called Fort Saint-Barthélémy), near Barraux in the Isère department, and in November 1793 to Paris (during the Reign of Terror). On 28 November, he appeared before the Revolutionary Tribunal. He was condemned for treason on the evidence of papers detailing his extensive clandestine correspondence with Marie Antoinette discovered in Louis XVI's armoire de fer at the Tuileries Palace. Barnave was guillotined the following day, as was Marguerite-Louis-François Duport-Dutertre, former minister of Justice. [2]

Correspondence with Marie Antoinette

Along with Jérôme Pétion and the Marquis de Latour-Maubourg, Barnave had been sent on behalf of the National Assembly to escort the large berline carriage, with the royal family within, from Varennes back to Paris. It was in this setting that Barnave first met queen Marie Antoinette. Though their initial interactions were marked by Barnave's shy attempts to avoid eye contact, the queen was soon able to charm the twenty-nine-year-old politician and earn his favor. On the journey back to Pais, the two were reported to have been seen conversing intently on several occasions within the carriage, and near the rest stops. Purportedly, the subject of these conversations included Barnave and the rest of the Feuillants' fervent belief that a constitutional monarchy was the most viable solution for ending the revolution with a minimum of further bloodshed.

Much evidence indicates that, because her closest friends, including Count von Fersen, who had organized the flight from Paris, were absent, Marie Antoinette was attempting to influence Barnave and his fellow Feuillants as a way to ensure her family's safety. She may also have dared to hope that it was still possible to reinstate some form of the former monarchy. Barnave was taken by the queen's charm and waited for her to call on him when she was in grave circumstances.

A few weeks later, in early July 1791, Marie Antoinette wrote to Barnave the first of a long series of cryptic letters. Referring to him by a code name, Barnave received his letters through an unknown similarly codenamed intermediary. Her instructions were that her letter be read while the intermediary stood by to accept a reply. He then would return both documents to the queen. She herself never wrote any of the letters; instead, she dictated them so as to avoid embarrassing, and possibly incriminating, documentation. Barnave pursued the Queen's support of furthering his political agenda of establishing a constitutional monarch. He believed that her support would improve the public opinion on the royal family by preventing her brother, the Emperor of Austria, from invading France and imposing upon it an absolutist monarchical state of government that conflicted with the ideals of the French Revolution. [14] However, as communication between the two increased, it became evident to Barnave that Antoinette had no intentions of working alongside him but was in fact attempting to emotionally manipulate him. Their conversations led to nothing more than rejection by the Queen and suspicions leading Barnave to be labeled as a traitor to the French and their cause for revolution. [15]

Eventually, the entire series of letters were smuggled out of the Tuileries to Count von Fersen who sent them to his sister in Sweden where they remain today. The letters revealed that Barnave was confident of his influence in the National Assembly, especially in light of the massacre at the Champ de Mars.


Barnave's (posthumously published) Introduction à la rèvolution française anticipates in its sociology the work of Auguste Comte; [16] while at the same time pointing the way to the marxist concept of the mode of production. [17]

Barnave's argument, that “just as landed property is the basis of aristocracy and federalism, commercial property is the principle of democracy and unity”, [18] explicitly tied political relations to underlying differences in economic structures.


  1. François Furet and Mona Ozouf, eds. A Critical Dictionary of the French Revolution (1989), pp 186–96
  2. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Barnave, Antoine Pierre Joseph Marie"  . Encyclopædia Britannica . 3 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. pp. 411–412.
  3. ESPRIT DES ÉDITS, Enregistrés militairement, le 10 mai 1788 , 19 pages, French
  4. Sutherland, Donald. The French Revolution and Empire: The Quest for a Civic Order. Oxfork, UK: Blackwell Pub., 2003. Print.
  5. Bradby, E. D. The Life of Barnave. Oxford: Clarendon Pr., 1915. Print.
  6. Doyle, William. The Oxford History of the French Revolution. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2003. Print.
  7. Popiel, Jennifer J., Mark C. Carnes, and Gary Kates. Rousseau, Burke, and Revolution in France, 1791. 2nd ed. New York: W.W. Norton, 2015. Print.
  8. Blanning, Timothy C. W. The French Revolution: Class War or Culture Clash? Second ed. Basingstoke: Macmillan, 1998. Print.
  9. Barnave, Antoine, and Emanuel Chill. Power, Property, and History; Barnave's Introduction to the French Revolution and Other Writings. New York: Harper & Row, 1971. Print.
  10. Markoff, John. Abolition of Feudalism: Peasants, Lords, and Legislators in the French Revolution. Place of Publication Not Identified: Lightning Source, 2004. Print.
  11. Barnave, Antoine, and Emanuel Chill. Power, Property, and History; Barnave's Introduction to the French Revolution and Other Writings. New York: Harper & Row, 1971. Print.Barnave, Antoine, and Emanuel Chill. Power, Property, and History; Barnave's Introduction to the French Revolution and Other Writings. New York: Harper & Row, 1971. Print.
  12. De Stael, Germaine. Considerations on the Principal Events of the French Revolution. Ed. Aurelian Craiutu. English ed. Indianapolis: Liberty Funds, 1818. Print.
  13. Goldhammer, Arthur. A Critical Dictionary of the French Revolution. Ed. François. Print.
  14. Plain, Nancy. Louis XVI, Marie-Antoinette, and the French Revolution. New York: Benchmark, 2002. Print.
  15. Gustaf Von Heidenstam, Oscar (1926). The Letters of Marie Antoinette, Fersen and Barnave. London: John Lane.
  16. J H Thompson, The French Revolution (Oxford 1943) p. 251
  17. R Meek, Social Science and the Ignoble Savage (Cambridge 1976) p. 229
  18. Quoted in R Meek, Social Science and the Ignoble Savage (Cambridge 1976) p. 228

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When the National Constituent Assembly dissolved itself on 3 September 1791, it decreed as a final measure that King Louis XVI should have a Constitutional Guard, also known as the garde Brissac after its commander Louis Hercule Timolon de Cossé, duc de Brissac. This guard's formation was the only court reform to be put into effect, but it only lasted a few months, being superseded by the National Guard.

Patriotic Society of 1789

The Society of 1789, or the Patriotic Society of 1789, was a political club of the French Revolution inaugurated during a festive banquet held at Palais-Royal in May 1790 by more moderate elements of the Club Breton. At their height of influence, it was the second most important club after the Jacobin Club.