- For the 20th-century Belgian Byzantinologist, see Henri Grégoire (historian)
Henri Grégoire (French pronunciation: [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 and supporter of universal suffrage, and was a founding member of the Bureau des longitudes, the Institut de France, and the Conservatoire national des arts et métiers.
Early life and education
Grégoire was born at Vého near Lunéville, 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.
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 that 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.
Under the new Civil Constitution of the Clergy, to which he was the first priest to take the oath (27 December 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, 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.".
On 15 November 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 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.
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 said Mass in his house. After Maximilien Robespierre's fall (the Thermidor), he acquired Robespierre's house in the rue Bonaparte from where he continued this practise. He was then the first to advocate the reopening of the churches (speech of 21 December 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 botanical 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,... 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. In addition, Gregoire was considered a friend of the Jews. He argued that in his anti-Semitic 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.
Annihilating the dialects of France
Abbé Grégoire is also known for advocating a single French national language, and for writing 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), which he presented on 4 June 1794 to the National Convention. According to his own research, a vast majority of people in France spoke one of 33 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 with no intelligibility among them, and had to be abandoned in favour of the language of the capital. This, coupled with Jules Ferry's policy less than a century later, led to the weakening of most unofficial languages in France, all of them being subsequently banned from public documents, administration and school. One effect of this was that non-French speakers often came to feel ashamed of their home languages through official exclusion, humiliation at school and rejection from the media as organized and sanctioned by French political leaders (see Vergonha).
Political career after 1795
After the establishment of the Directory in 1795, Grégoire was elected to the Council of Five Hundred. After Napoleon Bonaparte took power in 1799 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 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. During the later years of Napoleon's reign he travelled to England and Germany, but in 1814 he returned to France. He opposed Napoleon during the Hundred Days.
After the Restoration
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, and forced into retirement.
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 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.
Death and funeral
Despite his revolutionary, Gallican and liberal views, Grégoire considered himself a devout Catholic. 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 held 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 clerics, the catafalque being decorated with the episcopal insignia. After the hearse set out from the church the horses were unyoked, and it was pulled by students to the cemetery of Montparnasse, the cortege being followed by a sympathetic crowd of some 20,000 people.
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.).
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- Herbert A. L. Fisher, The Republican Tradition in Europe, The Harvard University Lowell Lectures, 1910.
- Op. cit., J.L. Sax, p. 1149; "Vandalism", Oxford English Dictionary, 2nd ed.
- Rapport Grégoire an II
- 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.
This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press 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).
- Hermon-Belot, Rita. 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.
- Gibson, William. "The Abbé Grégoire and the French Revolution," The Nineteenth Century, Vol. XXXIV, July/December, 1893.
- Goldstein Sepinwall, Alyssa. The Abbé Grégoire and the French Revolution: The Making of Modern Universalism Berkeley: University of California Press, 2005.
- Grégoire, Henri. 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.
- Necheles, Ruth F. The Abbé Grégoire, 1787-1831: The odyssey of an egalitarian, Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Pub. Corp., 1971.
- Sax, Joseph L. "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.
- Works by Henri Grégoire at Project Gutenberg
- Full text online english translation of De la littérature des nègres from 1810 at the University of South Carolina Library's Digital Collections Page