Henri Grégoire

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For the 20th-century Belgian Byzantinologist, see Henri Grégoire (historian) .
Henri Grégoire
Abbe Gregoire by Auguste Bry.jpg
Member of the Chamber of Deputies
for Isère
In office
11 September 1819 4 November 1820
Succeeded by Auguste Ravez
Member of the Conservative Senate
In office
25 December 1801 11 April 1814
Monarch Napoleon I
Preceded byAaron Jean François Crassous
Succeeded byOffice abolished
Member of the Legislative Body
for Loir-et-Cher
In office
25 December 1800 25 December 1801
Constituency Blois
Member of the Council of Five Hundred
for Loir-et-Cher
In office
2 November 1795 10 November 1799
Constituency Blois
Member of the National Convention
for Loir-et-Cher
In office
20 September 1792 2 November 1795
Constituency Blois
Member of the National Constituent Assembly
In office
9 July 1789 30 September 1791
Constituency Nancy
Member of the Estates-General
for the First Estate
In office
13 June 1789 9 July 1789
Constituency Nancy
Personal details
Henri Jean-Baptiste Grégoire

(1750-12-04)4 December 1750
Vého, near Lunéville, France
Died28 May 1831(1831-05-28) (aged 80)
Paris, France
Political party Left Group (1789–1791)
Marais (1791–1795)
Thermidorian (1795–1799)
Anti-Bonapartist (1799–1814)
Liberal Left (1819–1820)
Alma mater University of Nancy
Profession Clergyman
Signature Signature Henri Gregoire (1750-1831).JPG

Henri Jean-Baptiste Grégoire (French:  [ɑ̃ʁi ɡʁeɡwaʁ] ; 4 December 1750 – 28 May 1831), often referred to as Abbé Grégoire, was a French Roman Catholic priest, constitutional bishop of Blois and a revolutionary leader. He was an ardent abolitionist of human slavery and supporter of universal suffrage. He was a founding member of the Bureau des longitudes, the Institut de France, and the Conservatoire national des arts et métiers.

France Republic in Europe with several non-European regions

France, officially the French Republic, is a country whose territory consists of metropolitan France in Western Europe and several overseas regions and territories. The metropolitan area of France extends from the Mediterranean Sea to the English Channel and the North Sea, and from the Rhine to the Atlantic Ocean. It is bordered by Belgium, Luxembourg and (Germany) to the northeast, Switzerland and Italy to the east, and Andorra and Spain to the south. The overseas territories include French Guiana in South America and several islands in the Atlantic, Pacific and Indian oceans. The country's 18 integral regions span a combined area of 643,801 square kilometres (248,573 sq mi) and a total population of 67.02 million. France is a unitary semi-presidential republic with its capital in Paris, the country's largest city and main cultural and commercial centre. Other major urban areas include Lyon, Marseille, Toulouse, Bordeaux, Lille and Nice.

Blois Prefecture and commune in Centre-Val de Loire, France

Blois is a city and the capital of Loir-et-Cher department in central France, situated on the banks of the lower river Loire between Orléans and Tours.

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.


Early life and education

Grégoire was born in Vého near Lunéville as the son of a tailor. Educated at the Jesuit college at Nancy, he became curé (parish 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 .

Vého Commune in Grand Est, France

Vého is a commune in the Meurthe-et-Moselle department in north-eastern France. It is the birthplace of Henri Grégoire (1750-1831), figure of the French Revolution.

Lunéville Subprefecture and commune in Grand Est, France

Lunéville is a commune in the Meurthe-et-Moselle department in France.

Nancy, France Prefecture and commune in Grand Est, France

Nancy is the capital of the north-eastern French department of Meurthe-et-Moselle, and formerly the capital of the Duchy of Lorraine, and then the French province of the same name. The metropolitan area of Nancy had a population of 434,565 inhabitants at the 2011 census, making it the 20th largest urban area in France. The population of the city of Nancy proper was 104,321 in 2014.

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 thus contributed notably to the union of the three orders; he presided in the session that lasted sixty-two hours while the Bastille was being attacked by the mob, and spoke vehemently against the enemies of the nation. He later took a leading role in the abolition of the privileges of the nobility and the Church.

Jansenism Christian theological movement

Jansenism was a theological movement, primarily in France, that emphasized original sin, human depravity, the necessity of divine grace and predestination. The movement originated from the posthumously published work of the Dutch theologian Cornelius Jansen, who died in 1638. It was first popularized by Jansen's friend Abbot Jean du Vergier de Hauranne, of Saint-Cyran-en-Brenne Abbey, and, after du Vergier's death in 1643, was led by Antoine Arnauld. Through the 17th and into the 18th centuries, Jansenism was a distinct movement away from the Catholic Church. The theological centre of the movement was the convent of Port-Royal-des-Champs Abbey, which was a haven for writers including du Vergier, Arnauld, Pierre Nicole, Blaise Pascal and Jean Racine.

Gallicanism is the belief that popular civil authority—often represented by the monarch's or the state's authority—over the Catholic Church is comparable to that of the Pope. Gallicanism is a rejection of ultramontanism; it has something in common with Anglicanism, but is nuanced, in that it plays down the authority of the Pope in church without denying that there are some authoritative elements to the office associated with being primus inter pares. Other terms for the same or similar doctrines include Erastianism, Febronianism, and Josephinism.

Storming of the Bastille Major event of the French Revolution

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

Career and contributions

Constitutional bishop

Under the new Civil Constitution of the Clergy, to which he was the first priest to take the oath (27 December 1790), Grégoire 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. [1] An ardent republican, he strongly supported Collot d'Herbois' motion for the abolition of the monarchy in the first session of the National Convention (21 September 1792) with the memorable phrase "Kings are in morality what monsters are in the world of nature." [2]

Civil Constitution of the Clergy

The Civil Constitution of the Clergy was a law passed on 12 July 1790 during the French Revolution, that caused the immediate subordination of the Catholic Church in France to the French government.

Loir-et-Cher Department of France

Loir-et-Cher is a department in the Centre-Val de Loire region, France. Its name is originated from two rivers which cross it, the Loir on the North and the Cher on the South. Its prefecture is Blois. The INSEE and La Poste gave it the number 41.

Proclamation of the abolition of the monarchy Proclamation announcing abolition of French monarchy on 21 September 1792

During the French Revolution, the proclamation of the abolition of the monarchy was a proclamation by the National Convention of France announcing that it had abolished the French monarchy on 21 September 1792.

On 15 November, he delivered a speech in which he demanded that King Louis XVI 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.

Louis XVI of France King of France and Navarre

Louis XVI, born Louis-Auguste, was the last King of France before the fall of the monarchy during the French Revolution. He was referred to as citizen Louis Capet during the four months before he was guillotined. In 1765, at the death of his father, Louis, son and heir apparent of Louis XV, Louis-Auguste became the new Dauphin of France. Upon his grandfather's death on 10 May 1774, he assumed the title "King of France and Navarre", which he used until 4 September 1791, when he received the title of "King of the French" until the monarchy was abolished on 21 September 1792.

Savoy Cultural-historical region between Western and Central Europe

Savoy is a cultural-historical region between Western and Central Europe. It comprises roughly the territory of the Western Alps between Lake Geneva in the north and Dauphiné in the south.

When, on 7 November 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.

Jean-Baptiste-Joseph Gobel Catholic Constitutional Archbishop of Paris

Jean-Baptiste-Joseph Gobel was a French Catholic cleric and politician of the Revolution. He was executed during the Reign of Terror.

Guillotine Apparatus designed for carrying out executions by beheading

A guillotine is an apparatus designed for efficiently carrying out executions by beheading. The device consists of a tall, upright frame in which a weighted and angled blade is raised to the top and suspended. The condemned person is secured with stocks at the bottom of the frame, positioning the neck directly below the blade. The blade is then released, to quickly fall and forcefully decapitate the victim with a single, clean pass so that the head falls into a basket below.

Throughout the Reign of Terror, in spite of attacks in the Convention, in the press, and on placards posted at the street corners, Grégroire appeared in the streets in his episcopal dress and performed daily Mass in his house. After Maximilien Robespierre's fall (the Thermidorian Reaction), he acquired Robespierre's house (in present-day rue Bonaparte) from where he continued this practice. He was then the first to advocate the reopening of the churches (speech of 21 December 1794).

Grégoire also coined the term vandalism in reference to the destruction of property that occurred during the Revolution, both that which was ordered by the National Convention and that which occurred at the hands of the French people. In a series of three reports issues to the National Convention in 1794, Grégoire advocated for additional protection of art works, architecture, inscriptions, books, and manuscripts. He is credited by scholars, such as Joseph Sax and Stanley Izerda, as one of the founders of the idea of preservation of cultural objects.

Annihilating the dialects of France

The Abbé Grégoire is also known for advocating a unified French national language, and for writing the Rapport sur la Nécessité et les Moyens d'anéantir les Patois et d'universaliser l'Usage de la Langue française (Report on the necessity and means to annihilate the patois and to universalise the use of the French language), [3] which he presented on 4 June 1794 to the National Convention. [4] According to his own research, a vast majority of people in France spoke one of thirty-three dialects or patois and he argued that French had to be imposed on the population and all other dialects eradicated. According to his classification, which was not necessarily reliable, Corsican and Alsatian were 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, mutually unintelligible, and should be abandoned in favour of the language of the capital. This began a process, expanded dramatically by the policies of Jules Ferry a century later, that led to increasing disuse of the regional parlances of France.

Advocate of equality

Title page of Gregoire's 1808 book on Negro literature Abbe gregoire 1808.JPG
Title page of Grégoire's 1808 book on Negro literature

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 the representative of his group. Grégoire published numerous pamphlets and later, books, on the subject of racial equality. Grégoire also became an influential member of the Society of the Friends of the Blacks, although this group and many others like it were seen as radical at the time. As a member of the National Assembly, Grégoire supported seemingly opposing views, such as the eradication of slavery in France but also maintaining his position as a member of the Clergy, who were known (in majority) to want to keep slavery within France and its colonies. It was on Grégoire's motion in May 1791 that the Constituent Assembly passed its first law admitting some wealthy free men of color in the French colonies to the same rights as whites. Later he was recognized for his work De la littérature des Nègres or the literature of Black writers as it showed readers that the Blacks are equal in every way to whites, including intellectually. [5]

Jewish equality

Grégoire was considered a friend of the Jewish people. He argued that in the French society, the supposed degeneracy of Jews was not inherent, but rather a result of their circumstances. He blamed the way the Jews had been treated, persecution by Christians, and the "ridiculous" teachings of their rabbis, for their condition, and believed they could be brought into mainstream society and made citizens. [6]

Political career after 1795

After the establishment of the Directory in 1795, Grégoire was elected to the Council of Five Hundred. He and his fellow council members opposed the coup d’état of 18 Brumaire in which Napoleon seized power and the Hundred Days. [5] The Council issued a proclamation the day after the coup, and so it was named The Council of Five Hundred Concurs. The council warned in this proclamation that this coup would cause France to revert to the times before the Revolution. [7]

After Napoleon Bonaparte took power in 1799, Grégoire 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 on 8 October 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 and officer of the Légion d'honneur . [8]

During the later years of Napoleon's reign he travelled to England and Germany, but in 1814 he returned to France. In 1814 he published, De la constitution française de l'an 1814, in which he 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.

After the restoration of the Bourbons, Grégoire remained influential, though as a revolutionary and a schismatic bishop he was also the object of hatred by royalists. He was expelled from the Institut de France. From this time onward the former 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.

Later life

Death and funeral

Despite his revolutionary Gallican and liberal views, Grégoire considered himself a devout Catholic. During his final 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 uncomprimising royalist Archbishop of Paris, would only concede on condition that he retract his oath to the Civil Constitution of the Clergy, which Grégoire 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 uproar in Paris, and the government deployed troops to avoid a repetition of the riots in February of that year which had led to the sacking of the church of Saint-Germain l'Auxerrois and the archbishop's palace. Grégoire's funeral was held at the church of the Abbaye-aux-Bois. Its clergy absented in obedience to the archbishop's orders, and mass was sung by the Abbé Grieu assisted by two clerics, the catafalque being decorated with the episcopal insignia. The horses were unyoked from the hearse after it set out from the church, and it was pulled by students to the cemetery of Montparnasse, the cortege being followed by a crowd of some 20,000 people.


Besides several political pamphlets, Grégoire was the author of:

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  1. Paul Pisani (1907). Répertoire biographique de l'épiscopat constitutionnel (1791-1802) (in French). Paris: A. Picard et fils. pp. 110–117.
  2. Fisher, Herbert A. L. (1910). The Republican Tradition in Europe. The Harvard University Lowell Lectures.[ page needed ]
  3. "Rapport Grégoire an II". Languefrancaise.net (in French). 18 November 2003. Archived from the original on 23 November 2006. Retrieved 11 June 2007.
  4. Dann, Otto (2006). Tim Blanning; Hagen Schulze (eds.). The Invention of National Languages: Unity and Diversity in European Culture C. 1800. New York: Oxford University Press. p. 126.
  5. 1 2 The Editors of Encyclopædia Britannica (June 6, 2007). "Henri Grégoire". Encyclopedia Britannica. Retrieved February 26, 2017.
  6. Sepinwall, Alyssa (March 2005). The Abbé Grégoire and the French Revolution. University of California Press. ISBN   9780520241800.
  7. Stewart, John Hall (1951). A Documentary Survey of the French Revolution. New York: Macmillan. pp. 765–767.
  8. "Certificate of the Legion of Honor - LEONORE". Culture.gouv.fr (in French). Retrieved 16 August 2015.


Further reading