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Pierre Claude François Daunou (18 August 1761 – 20 June 1840) was a French statesman and historian of the French Revolution and Empire.
He was born at Boulogne-sur-Mer. After a career in the school of the Oratorians there, he joined the order in Paris in 1777. He was professor in various seminaries in 1780–1787, after which he was ordained. He was already known in literary circles by several essays and poems, when the Revolution opened a wider career. He entered the revolutionary milieu. A supporter of the Civil Constitution of the Clergy, he refused an offer of high office in the Catholic church that was intended to reverse his position.
Elected to the National Convention by the Pas-de-Calais département, he associated himself with the Girondists, but strongly opposed the death sentence on King Louis XVI. Daunou took little part in the Girondist clash with The Mountain, but was involved in the events of his party's overthrow in the summer of 1793, and was imprisoned for almost a year.
In December 1794 he returned to the Convention, and was the principal author of the Constitution of the Year III that established the Directory at the end of the Thermidorian Reaction. It is probably because of his Girondinism that the Council of the Ancients was given the right of convoking the Council of Five Hundred outside Paris, an expedient which made possible Napoleon Bonaparte's coup d'état (the 18 Brumaire in 1799).
Daunou was also responsible for the creation of the Institut de France - he drew up the plan for its organization. His was instrumental in crushing the Royalist insurgency known as the 13 Vendémiaire, and the important place he occupied at the beginning of the period is indicated by the fact that he was elected by twenty-seven départements as member of the Council of Five Hundred, and became its first president. He had himself set the age qualification of the directors at forty, and thus debarred himself as candidate, as he was only thirty-four.
The direction of affairs having passed into the hands of Talleyrand and his associates, Daunou turned once more to literature, but in 1798 he was sent to Rome to organize the Roman Republic.
Napoleon and Restoration
Daunou again lent his aid to Napoleon in the preparation of the Constitution of the Year VIII (the creation of the Consulate), under which Napoleon held the position of First Consul. He remained ambivalent towards Napoleon, but, in the latter's controversy with Pope Pius VII, Napoleon, (by then Emperor) was able again to secure from him the learned treatise Sur la puissance temporelle du Pape ("On the Temporal Power of the Papacy, 1809).
Nonetheless, he took little part in the new régime, which he resented, and turned more and more to literature. At the Restoration, he was deprived of the post of archivist of the Empire, which he had held from 1807 to 1814. In 1819 he became the chair of history and ethics at the Collège de France; in that role, his courses were among the most famous of the period. With the advent of the July Monarchy in 1830, he regained his old post (now as archivist of the Kingdom). In 1839, Daunou was made a Peer.
The Encyclopædia Britannica Eleventh Edition writes:
- "In politics Daunou was a Girondist without combativeness; a confirmed republican, who lent himself always to the policy of conciliation, but whose probity remained unchallenged. He belonged essentially to the centre, and lacked both the genius and the temperament which would secure for him a commanding place in a revolutionary era. As an historian his breadth of view is remarkable for his time; for although thoroughly imbued with the classical spirit of the 18th century, he was able to do justice to the middle ages. His Discours sur l'état des lettres au XIIIe siècle, in the sixteenth volume of the Histoire littéraire de France, is a remarkable contribution to that vast collection, especially as coming from an author so profoundly learned in the ancient classics."
- "Daunou's lectures at the Collège de France, collected and published after his death, fill twenty volumes (Cours d'études historiques, 1842-1846). They deal principally with the criticism of sources and the proper method of writing history, and occupy an important place in the evolution of the scientific study of history in France. All his works were written in an elegant style; but apart from his share in the editing of the Historiens de la France, they were mostly in the form of separate articles on literary and historical subjects. In character, Daunou was reserved and somewhat austere, preserving in his habits a strange mixture of bourgeois and monk. His indefatigable work as archivist in the time when Napoleon was transferring so many treasures to Paris won him the gratitude of later scholars."