The Abbé Grégoire and the Société des Amis des Noirs

  • Marcel Dorigny
Part of the Archives Internationales D’Histoire des Idées / International Archives of the History of Ideas book series (ARCH, volume 169)


The abbé Grégoire’s militant engagement on behalf of human rights is naturally one of the aspects of his public life that is most often highlighted, along with his long-lasting engagement in the struggle for the renovation of the Gallican Catholic Church, from the time of the Constituent Assembly to the Restoration. In recounting Grégoire’s unyielding struggle on behalf of human rights, historians have justifiably noted that it was not limited to defending oppressed individuals, but that Grégoire did something even less common at the time by coming to the defense of groups oppressed because of their religious or ethnic identity — Jews, Protestants, slaves in the colonies and, even more, the free colored populations there. At the end of the Directory period, and even more strongly after 1804, Grégoire vigorously defended the independence of the young Republic of Haiti. This was a logical continuation of his earlier efforts in favor of black slaves and reforming priests, since Grégoire believed that the longterm survival of the new black Caribbean republic required the building up of a new church, with a black clergy, in the former French colony.


Ethnic Identity Slave Trade Honorary Member Directory Period Longterm Survival 
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  1. 1.
    It is worth recalling that Grégoire was perhaps the first person who fought successfully to rehabilitate the memory of Bartholomé de Las Cases. The Enlightenment had accused the famous bishop of Chiapas of having initiated the slave trade, as a way of sparing the lives of the Indians. In a speech to the French Institute on 12 May 1802, Grégoire showed that this assertion was a ‘black legend’ put forward by Herrera, a Spanish historian of the early seventeenth century, who wanted to discredit Las Casas as an enemy of the Spanish conquest of America.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    On the history of the Brissot papers, see Gérard Maintenant, “Les Papiers de Brissot. Fonds François de Montrol,” in Albert Soboul, ed., Girondins et Montagnards (Paris: Société des Etudes Robespierristes, 1980), pp. 325-342.Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    A microfilm copy of this register has been deposited in the Archives nationales in Paris, France; it does not have a call number.Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    The uncovering of these admittedly incomplete sources concerning the two Sociétés des Amis des Noirs has made possible the publication of a volume edited by Marcel Dorigny and Bernard Gainot: La Société des Amis des Noirs, 1788-1799. Contribution à l’histoire de l’abolition de l’esclavage (Paris: Editions UNESCO et EDICEF, 1998).Google Scholar
  5. 5.
    Through his marriage, Charles de Lameth had become owner of a plantation in Saint-Domingue.Google Scholar
  6. 6.
    On the collaboration between Mirabeau and Clarkson in December 1789, see Marcel Dorigny, “Mirabeau et la Société des Amis des Noirs: quelles voies pour l’abolition de l’esclavage?” in Marcel Dorigny, ed., Les abolitions de l’esclavage, de L. F, Sonthonax à V. Schoelcher. 1793-1794-1848 (Paris: Editions UNESCO et Presses Universitaires de Vincennes, 1995).Google Scholar
  7. 7.
    On the fundamentally religious character of humanity and its destiny in Grégoire’s thought, the most convincing analysis is that offered by Bernard Plongeron, L’Abbé Grégoire ou l’Arche de la Fraternité (Paris: Letouzey et Ané, 1989). See especially chapter 3, “First steps toward a Christian democracy.”Google Scholar
  8. 8.
    This remark of Grégoire on 16 pluviôse II is reported in the Mercure universel. See the study of Yves Bénot, “Comment la Convention a-t-elle voté l’abolition de l’esclavage en l’an II?” Annales historiques de la Révolution française, 1993, no. 4, pp. 349-361.Google Scholar
  9. 9.
    There can be no doubt that the work from which these extracts shared during the meetings of the Seconde Société des Amis des Noirs was the book finally published in 1808, under the title De la littérature des Nègres ou recherches sur leurs facultés intellectuelles, leurs qualités morales et leur littérature, suives de Notices sur la vie et les ouvrages des nègres qui se sont distingués dans les sciences, les lettres et les Arts (Paris, 1808), reprinted in 1991 by les Editions Perrin, with an introduction by Jean Lessay.Google Scholar
  10. 10.
    Grégoire, Mémoires de l’Abbé Grégoire, éd. Hippolyte Carnot (orig. 1831; reprint ed. J. M. Leniaud, Paris, 1989), p. 81.Google Scholar

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© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2000

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  • Marcel Dorigny

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