Abbé Henri Grégoire

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Henri Grégoire (1750–1831) Bishop of Blois, a French Roman Catholic clergyman, politician and author who supported the aims of the French Revolution – liberty, equality, and fraternity – but always condemned its brutality and bloodshed. He opposed slavery, the death penalty, and tyranny, standing for Christian, humanitarian and enlightened principles that brought him into conflict with the leading politicians of his time.

A devout man during an atheist-inspired revolution, he accepted the Constitutional "Gallican" church (the nationalized Christian church established in France during the Revolution) and supported tolerance towards Protestants and Jews.

Early Life

Grégoire was born on December 4, 1750, at Vého, Lorraine, France into a poor peasant family. He entered the priesthood and became curé of Emberménil. His Essay on the Regeneration of the Jews (1788) made him a celebrity, and in 1789 he was elected to the Estates-General as a deputy for the clergy.

Political Career

After the Third Estate (the commoners) converted the Estates-General into the Revolutionary National Assembly (June 17, 1789), Grégoire worked for the union of the clergy with the Third Estate, for the granting of citizenship to Jews, and for the abolition of slavery. He objected to some features of the Civil Constitution of the Clergy, which set forth a plan for nationalizing the church, but, after it was enacted in July 1790, he took the oath of allegiance to the government and later became the Constitutional bishop of Loir-et-Cher (the diocese of Blois).

As deputy of the third Revolutionary Assembly, the National Convention, Grégoire in September 1792 proposed the abolition of the monarchy and in November demanded that Louis XVI be brought to trial. However, he did not advocate or condone the death penalty under any circumstances, and deplored the bloodshed of the Terror under Robespierre.

During the dechristianizing campaign of late 1793 and early 1794, Grégoire continued to wear clerical dress and to profess his faith openly; as a member of the Committee of Public Instruction, he tried to save monastery libraries and religious works of art. After the collapse of the radical democratic Jacobin regime in July 1794, Grégoire was instrumental in securing the restoration of freedom of worship and guided the reorganization of the Constitutional church.

From 1788 onwards Grégoire was a member of the Societé des Amis des Noirs (Society of Friends of Black People) founded by Brissot de Warville to abolish slavery and the slave trade. In 1794, he was one of the deputies who voted to abolish slavery in the French colonies. A modern historian has called him a champion of Human Rights. [1]

Opposition to Napoleon

Grégoire opposed the coup d’état of 18 Brumaire, year VIII (November 9, 1799), by which Napoleon Bonaparte seized power. Grégoire's election to the Senate in 1801 was regarded as a protest against Napoleon's consular regime and against the Concordat of 1801, which was a reconciliation with Rome that marked the end of the Constitutional church.

In 1802 when Napoleon re-imposed slavery, Grégoire took the risk of publicly protesting. Grégoire voted against the proclamation of the empire in 1804, regarding the personal rule of Napoleon as a retrograde step. He supported the independent republic of Haïti created in 1804 to prevent the return of slavery there, and his book De la littérature des Nègres (1808; "The Literature of Black Writers") argued that black people were capable of the same intellectual attainments as whites.

In 1807 Grégoire served as an advisor to the Jewish deputies to the Sanhedrin convened by Napoleon.

Later Career

After the Second Restoration of the monarchy in 1815, Grégoire stood firmly by his views on the Civil Constitution, and would not support Bourbon absolutism. In 1819 he was elected a deputy but was not allowed to take his seat, because of his anti-monarchical views.

Grégoire was a founder of the Conservatoire Nationale des Arts et Métiers (1794), and of the Institut National (1795), both of which are still thriving in France today.


Grégoire died May 20, 1831, in Paris, and is buried in the Panthéon, the mausoleum of French national heroes.[2]