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The Abbe Gregoire and the French RevolutionThe Making of Modern Universalism$

Alyssa Goldstein Sepinwall

Print publication date: 2005

Print ISBN-13: 9780520241800

Published to California Scholarship Online: March 2012

DOI: 10.1525/california/9780520241800.001.0001

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Overcoming the Terror, Rebuilding the Empire

Overcoming the Terror, Rebuilding the Empire

(p.137) Chapter 6 Overcoming the Terror, Rebuilding the Empire
The Abbe Gregoire and the French Revolution

Alyssa Goldstein Sepinwall

University of California Press

Abstract and Keywords

This chapter explains that since regeneration had come to mean a complete repudiation of the past to many revolutionaries, Henri Grégoire found himself struggling to portray the national agenda differently: as a cleansing of corrupted traditions, a connecting of the best of the past with that of the present. Grégoire's new vision of regeneration was not a radical reconceptualization; after all, the root of the word was regeneration, creating something again. Even as he lessened his parliamentary involvement during the Thermidorian Convention and the Directory, Grégoire remained enormously busy in other spheres. In his efforts to root innovation in a usable past and thus avoid the mistakes of the Terror, he looked particularly in three directions: creating a science of society, reestablishing a republican Church, and reorienting the French colonial system. His efforts would help refound republicanism, while ensuring the future of imperialism of France.

Keywords:   regeneration, Henri Grégoire, Thermidorian Convention, Directory, Terror, Church, republicanism, imperialism, France

In what century were men of talent persecuted more atrociously than under the tyranny of Robespierre?

—Grégoire, September 1794

I do not think that the history of Christianity contains as blatant a persecution as that which we have just suffered. We saw sacrileges and cruelties heretofore unknown to the human race. Thousands of pastors who were equally attached to religion and the Republic perished in dungeons, on the seas, and upon the scaffold….

—Grégoire, May 1796

Sensible men will never confuse the Revolution with the crimes and disasters that accompanied it.

—Grégoire, August 1801

Though he had been an active member of the Convention throughout the Terror and a longtime ally of Robespierre, Grégoire became a vocal critic of both after Robespierre's execution. He did not view the Revolution as a mistake; he remained firmly attached to republicanism and still sought global change. Grégoire's doubts about the Revolution's course were evident even before the Terror ended, however; in radical dechristianization (and in what he would call “vandalism”), he saw the consequences of unbridled discourses of innovation and regeneration. In the rush to regenerate, he felt, men had targeted the good as well as the bad. Like the other moderates who came to be known as Thermidori-ans, Grégoire felt that the Revolution, despite its excesses, could still be saved.1 Nevertheless, he felt it was time for dramatic change in how the Revolution was conducted.

One of the things Grégoire most wanted to reverse was how his fellow revolutionaries had come to view the past. As we have seen, the bishop of Loir-et-Cher had long had a reverence for history; before the Estates-General changed his destiny, he had dreamed of becoming a (p.138) famous historian, using past events to illuminate contemporary issues. Later, during the Revolution, he employed his historical knowledge in service of his politics; he also used history as a source of cautionary lessons and to provide paternity for the Republic. In this respect, Grégoire's historical consciousness was not altogether different from other deputies; indeed, according to Joseph Zizek, many revolutionaries looked to history for cautionary lessons and to lend legitimacy to their arguments. Also like them, though he saw history as useful, he did not see its lessons as binding, since he felt that France had transcended the experience of nations past.2

Nevertheless, Grégoire differed with secular colleagues in a key way. For them, the past was more or less expendable; they might opt to look to it for examples or warnings, but it did not restrict their choices. For Bishop Grégoire, however, as much as history could prove instructive, it could never be only that; aspects of the Christian past retained an absolute authority for him. Though he could advocate breaking with political precedents, he viewed Jesus' teaching and church law as immutable constraints on the present. As much as he spoke of regeneration, therefore, he would never want to start completely afresh.

Another way Grégoire differed from his legislative colleagues concerned his longtime love for books. He drew upon a clerical veneration of texts as well as an Enlightenment tradition that regarded the past as a record of progress, something to be preserved and examined to ensure future advancement. Employing Orientalist tropes, Grégoire contended in 1794 that destroying historical records made the civilized French appear to be “worse barbarians than those Muslims who walk with disdain over the ruins of a majestic antiquity.”3

Grégoire consequently recoiled when fellow revolutionaries began to destroy historic artifacts simply because they bore marks of the Old Regime. Though he had once called for selective destruction of artifacts, Grégoire could not accept radical forms of what he came to call “vandalism.” After overzealous republicanism led to widespread destruction of statues, buildings, paintings, and books, Grégoire led a national campaign to preserve France's cultural patrimony—a crusade that garnered him as much national acclaim as any of his earlier activities and that did much to stem the tide of destruction. Though the Committee of Public Instruction initially opposed his efforts (which began even before the death of Robespierre), Grégoire's three reports on it became a veritable phenomenon, reprinted, distributed and applauded across the country.4 Newspapers praised him, other Thermidorians took his words to heart, (p.139) and letters poured in to him from around the nation. Fanny de Beauhar-nais dedicated a poem to him, while others commented that, had his first report been published even sooner, “it would have prevented a torrent of irreparable destructions.”5

Since regeneration had come to mean a complete repudiation of the past to many revolutionaries, Grégoire found himself struggling to portray the national agenda differently: as a cleansing of corrupted traditions, a connecting of the best of the past with that of the present. Even when he, like many others, blamed the excesses of the Terror on Robespierre, he also reexamined his own principles to understand where the Revolution had gone wrong. Grégoire's new vision of regeneration was not a radical reconceptualization; after all, the root of the word was re-generation, creating something again. Nevertheless, vandalism revealed to Bishop Grégoire that many partisans of the Revolution had imagined regeneration differently.

Even as he lessened his parliamentary involvement during the Ther-midorian Convention and the Directory (the regime that succeeded the Convention), Grégoire remained enormously busy—and influential— in other spheres. In his efforts to root innovation in a usable past and thus avoid the mistakes of the Terror (a term that was adopted retrospectively, even by those who had been its leaders),6 he looked particularly in three directions: creating a science of society, reestablishing a republican Church, and reorienting—while preserving—the French colonial system. Even though some of his ideas were not universally shared, he remained an extremely popular figure, a man for the times. His efforts would help refound republicanism, while ensuring the future of French imperialism.

Ensuring Morality and Liberty: Education and the Social Sciences

As Grégoire and other contemporaries endeavored to stabilize the Revolution, one of their main goals was the creation of a science of society and of politics. The people had won democracy, the Thermidorians argued, but had squandered it by permitting a reign of despotism. Only an advanced social science could prevent them from repeating this mistake.

In trying to invent such a science, the Thermidorians were hardly doing something new. The holy grail of a science of society had been pursued well before the Revolution, most notably by Condorcet, who had hoped that this science could attain the same degree of certainty as physics or (p.140) mathematics. A firm believer in human perfectibility, Condorcet had sought to discover the basic principles of the moral and political sciences, so that they could be taught to all citizens. If people were ignorant, democracy would be a dangerous business; the people would not know their true interests and would be “always subject to the corrupt will of some hypocritical tyrant.” “The more men are enlightened,” Condorcet believed, “the less those with authority will be able to abuse it.”7

Though Condorcet died before realizing his goals, the Thermidorians took up his search with a vengeance. Social science promised a path toward a tension-free, scientific social consensus; Condorcet's Esquisse d'un tableau historique was, in Baker's words, “adopted as the philosophical manifesto of post-Thermidorian reconstruction.” On the ruins of the prerevolutionary academies, the Thermidorians built an Institut national; one of its three sections was the Class of Moral and Political Sciences. Grégoire was one of those elected to this class, and he would be extremely active in it.8

With his interest in the social sciences, Grégoire built upon his longtime veneration of scientific knowledge more generally. While on the CPI, he had tried to preserve the academies, even as he rejected the snobbishness of some of them. During the Thermidorian Convention, he continued to reject the anti-intellectualism of many colleagues. Scholars, he argued in 1794, were the ones who had enabled France to become a republic: “Scholars and men of letters struck the first blows against despotism…. If the career of liberty is open before us, they were the pioneers.” He campaigned for government funding of scholarly research of all kinds, no matter how dire the state's finances; today's research in chemistry or physics could yield untold benefits tomorrow. “Did the first person who studied gases,” he asked, “ever think that one day they would elevate balloons, and that these balloons would be used to batter our enemies?” He deplored the lot of most men of genius, whose lives were often filled with poverty even though they received posthumous acclaim.9

Grégoire saw particular value in the political and moral sciences. Unlike others in the Class, Grégoire was not a great theoretician; he did not let himself be drawn into the turbulent debates over the best methodological approach. He drew instead on all of the available models of Enlightenment social science, from Montesquieu to Condillac to Condorcet and the physiocrats. He was also intrigued by the promise of statistics for understanding political economy.10

Even without a unique vision of the social sciences, Grégoire still had great hopes for what they could achieve. When he was tapped to give a (p.141) public address on the opening day of the Institut in April 1796, Grégoire offered a passionate defense of republican values and of scholars' rights to pursue truth without being censored. He argued that political science should not focus only on inventing perfect laws, because the turbulent revolutionary experience had revealed that legislation alone could not guarantee a good society. Even the Thermidorians' best version of a constitution, he believed, had major flaws.11

In place of legislation, Grégoire (like other Thermidorians) seized on education as a panacea against despotism. Humanity could still be regenerated; humans could be cultivated, Grégoire declared, like an “extremely vast field open to the efforts of genius.” Once people had been educated, freedom would be more durable, since the masses would not act irrationally. Grégoire also argued for the necessity of practical, civic, and moral education, though he laid out only the rudiments of a curriculum. First, he asserted, people needed to learn the basic skills that would enable them to be happy in their everyday lives. To this end, he worked toward founding the national Conservatoire des arts et metiers, which aimed to place the trades at the top of the national education system, at a level previously reserved for more abstract pursuits. He also worked to spread agricultural technology through the Société d'agricul-ture du departement de la Seine. Second, Grégoire argued that citizens needed to learn the two most fundamental principles of political science: separation of powers and representative government. Finally, Grégoire stressed moral education, arguing that moral citizens were a better guarantee of a good society than even the wisest laws.12

At the height of the Convention, revolutionaries had also dreamed of education as a path toward regeneration. Now, a more practical Grégoire made clear that advances in education and social science could happen only if advances in physical sciences continued. Impoverished republics were doomed to suffer fighting between haves and have-nots, as the Terror years had shown; the stability of the Republic therefore rested upon material progress. Unlike clerics who opposed scientific experimentation and saw it as threatening religion, Grégoire praised physical and applied scientists. He felt that their work enabled people to live healthier, more peaceful lives through their discoveries, and he urged scholars in all disciplines to work together.13

To achieve new heights in scholarship and education, Grégoire also suggested that past advances needed to be better known. The institutions of the republic of letters had been destroyed during the Terror; everything from scholarly journals to international correspondence (p.142) among researchers needed to be revived. “The periodicals that served as depositories of new inventions and that recounted the march of the human spirit are nearly all gone,” he lamented. Grégoire also became an energetic advocate of public libraries in the Thermidorian Convention, pushing for their growth and rational organization, and for the creation of new reference works. “Carefully formed libraries and books,” he declared, “are in some sense the workshops of the human spirit.” Without books, scholars wasted time reinventing the wheel: “How many men, lacking books, have wasted precious time trying to find a solution to problems that have already been resolved.”14

Finally, building on efforts he had begun with the SPS and the CPI, Grégoire advocated using visual symbols to deepen republican sentiment among the populace. During the Thermidorian Convention, he successfully proposed an elaborate system of colored uniforms for public officials, which would instill respect for leaders among the populace and reinforce a sense of dignity for their wearers: “We are all susceptible to receiving, by this means, profound impressions. Those who claim that a people can be governed by philosophical theories [alone] are hardly philosophers.” Later, while serving on the Council of Five Hundred (the lower house in the Convention's successor legislature), Grégoire convinced his colleagues that the Republic, like the monarchy, needed an official seal. Visual images, he argued, could strike people's imaginations more than words alone: “A legislator who ignored the importance of symbolic language would be unworthy of his post; he cannot pass up a single opportunity to grab someone by his senses, in order to awaken republican ideas. Images constantly reproduced before people's eyes will soon penetrate their souls.”15

With proper education and the extension of knowledge, the Republic might survive. Still, Grégoire was not naive about what lay ahead, and he warned against complacency. Invoking the cautionary lessons of the past, he told the public gathered at his 1796 speech that the historical record was full of “miserable people in chains,” and that the distance between what people were and what people could be was enormous. Millions of men throughout the world languished in ignorance and misery, ruled by tyrants determined to keep them that way. Meanwhile, tremendous battles lay ahead for the Republic, as those who would defend knowledge and liberty would fight to the death against those who despised it. Ending on an optimistic note, however, he suggested that France might win the battle if it proceeded carefully: “The republic of letters will give birth to republics. A new century is about to begin … (p.143) [and] emancipated and regenerated nations … will make a solemn entry into the universe.”16

Despite Grégoire's great hopes for social science, however, the Class proved unable to agree on how to construct such a science. As Martin Staum has shown, the Class splintered into three camps: Ideologues searching for a secular moral science, deists who wanted new civic rituals, and conservative Catholics who had opposed the Revolution and rejected the very idea of social science.17 Though he had often socialized with the Ideologues, Grégoire—a committed republican and Christian— found himself without a natural camp. Alienated from the Christian opponents of the Revolution, he also saw a secular moral science as anathema and had begun to blame the excesses of the Revolution on its abandonment of the church.18 How could society be stabilized, Grégoire wondered, if it was missing the institution most essential to the future of France: the Catholic Church? “Has not the experience of every century proven that political theories and human laws are insufficient for the maintenance of social order? … Only Religion encompasses all virtues in order to command them, all vices in order to forbid them…. Religion, as someone has said, is the cement of society. Necessary in all political states, it is even more necessary in a republican regime, in which the criminal code, wisely made less harsh, can find its indispensable supplement only in religion.” The Republic had nearly destroyed the one institution it most needed and was now trying to replace it with the civic cult of Theophilanthropy.19

Grégoire was determined to rescue the one true religion. Within the Class, he tried to do so by promoting the ideas of Kant, which he hoped might persuade his secular colleagues to anchor the Republic in Christianity. Grégoire was one of the first points of entry in France for Kantian ideas; his old friends in Strasbourg introduced him to the German philosopher's work as early as 1794, and Grégoire reportedly joined with Sieyàs to propose Kant for election to the Class in 1796.20 As we will see in chapter 9, however, Grégoire would become disaffected with Kantism when he decided that it actually undermined the foundations of Christianity. Reviving Christianity within the context of the Class, Grégoire determined, would be impossible.

Grégoire also tried to revive the Church through his legislative activities. In the face of official sanction for the cult of Theophilanthropy, Grégoire gave a December 1794 speech advocating freedom of religion (particularly for Catholics). This discourse, which he delivered in his bishop's garb, had a striking impact on his colleagues at a time when the (p.144) Church had been virtually destroyed. After he spoke, churches were allowed to reopen, and Grégoire and several other bishops reclaimed the keys to Notre-Dame. According to Alphonse Aulard, Grégoire's speech sparked a revival of Catholicism across the country.21

Just as Grégoire could not revive the Church in the Institut, however, neither could he do so through parliamentary means. In the next few years, Grégoire became increasingly inactive as a legislator. Aside from his report on seals, Grégoire gave only one other major discourse in the Council of Five Hundred. This speech concerned a religious issue: a proposal to hold official festivals on the décadi (the tenth day of the week in the revolutionary calendar) so as to replace public loyalty to Sunday worship. His speech against this plan drew opposition even from sympathetic deputies, who deemed it inappropriate for Grégoire to be speaking as a priest instead of as a legislator. Some also depicted him as intolerant; despite his defense of oppressed groups, one pamphlet writer noted, it was clear that he considered non-Catholics to be in error and longed to convert them. Grégoire began to realize at this time that the attitudes of Directory leaders toward Catholicism ranged from hostile to indifferent.22

The Cement of Society: Rebuilding the Gallican Church

Grégoire now believed himself in a battle to save Christianity—the thing more important to him, as we saw in brumaire an II, than life itself. If he had learned anything from the Terror, it was that he could not count on secular colleagues to respect religion. If the church was to reclaim its place of glory in France, Grégoire could no longer sublimate his Christianity to other goals, nor suffer silently when others called for a dechristianizing regeneration. He was convinced that the new French polity needed to be based on a moderate republican Christianity. Without it, France would not be regenerated, but would sink back into anarchy.

Working outside the legislature, Grégoire became the national leader of a group of constitutional bishops who called themselves the United Bishops (évêques réunis); they included Jean-Baptiste Royer, Jean-Pierre Saurine, Guillaume Mauviel, Antoine-Hubert Wandelaincourt, and Eleonore-Marie Desbois de Rochefort. As a spokesman for the group, Grégoire corresponded with patriotic priests in every corner of France, wrote pamphlets outlining what the church should look like, and helped (p.145) coordinate the national episcopal councils of 1797 and 1801. Their efforts would be crucial in reviving religion in France after the Terror, predating the 1802 publication of François-Réné de Chateaubriand's famous Genius of Christianity.

Grégoire's efforts to revive Christianity in this period have been the subject of a number of specialized works, and it is unnecessary to recount all the details of these efforts.23 At the same time, we cannot understand Grégoire's efforts to remake society without looking at the basic principles of the reorganized church. The United Bishops wanted not to readopt the philosophy of the prerevolutionary Church but rather to realize the Richerist ideals they had longed for as young curés. In calling themselves the Gallican Church, they placed themselves in the French church's conciliar and independent strain, rejecting the notion that Rome had absolute authority over all church decisions.24

What were the principles of this Gallican Church? The United Bishops did not want to create a schism, and they still saw the pope as the church's head. At the same time, they did not see him as infallible, and they decried Rome for trampling on the historic rights of the national churches. They therefore advocated religious government by council rather than by the pope and the “court of Rome.” Though the councils would assemble only the church elite, they would nevertheless be representative, since the bishops would continue to be elected by the people. The bishops further declared that they had no intention of becoming a wealthy, powerful body competing with the state. Unlike Rome or the Old Regime church, the Gallican Church would focus instead on its spiritual mission.25

In keeping with Grégoire's hope of preserving the best aspects of the past, the United Bishops idealized the early church, a belief that had been fundamental to Richerism. As Grégoire said in 1795: “May religion be reborn among us … as pure as it left the hands of Jesus Christ, as it was in its first centuries. Those were its days of glory.” Returning to the early church meant stripping away layers of corruption and reuniting with other national churches in fraternal unity.26

Another element that Grégoire wanted to preserve was church hierarchy and discipline. Though the church would be purified and cleansed, that did not mean it would be less institutional or strict. Grégoire and the other bishops hardly wanted the deinstitutionalized Christianity desired by some other admirers of the early church, like Joseph Priestley across the English Channel. On the contrary, Grégoire sought to root the church firmly in the authority of ancient discipline and hierarchy. (p.146) People could not choose when it was convenient to be Catholic; they needed to accept all rules. “One can't be half Christian,” he declared. “You cannot have half of your soul saved.”27

Grégoire saw the breakdown in clerical discipline—particularly the marriage of priests during the Terror—as a special problem. Married priests had accommodated too much to the Revolution; not even those who now denounced their marriages as unconsummated ruses, contracted for self-protection, could be forgiven. In 1795, Grégoire and three other constitutional bishops denounced married priests as “unworthy of their status and of the confidence of the faithful in matters of religion.”28 As Grégoire would later admit, the practice violated no divine law; any infraction was only against church regulations. Grégoire tenaciously opposed these marriages, however, because they violated the “general discipline” of the church. Even when he received a torrent of letters from formerly married priests begging to resume their lives as clerics, Grégoire insisted that church rules prevented being indulgent toward them. Lines needed to be drawn somewhere. If he and his friends had managed to survive the Terror without getting married, others could have done so too.29

The stridency of Grégoire's opposition to married priests' efforts to rejoin the church surprised those who wondered why he clung so much to rules of recent vintage. Given his denunciations of anti-Christian persecution during the Terror, could he not show more sympathy toward these unfortunate men? Sanadon, the bishop of Bas-Pyrénées, appealed to Grégoire to be more tolerant of married priests: “I am far from approving the marriage of ecclesiastics. But since the law that requires them to live in celibacy is nothing but discipline—and dating from modern times—does the violation of this law really rend them irremissibly [‘]unworthy of their status and of the confidence of the faithful in matters of religion[’]?” Similarly, Grégoire's SPS friend Blessig wondered why he needed to make this such an important issue. All of their friends in Strasbourg were puzzled:

Your severity toward the married priests and your indulgence for certain rituals that you yourself seemed to Want to reform, like using Latin in liturgy, did not really astonish me.… Still, I was distressed to see that the good you want to do cannot be carried out for the marriage of priests. … You undoubtedly want to wipe out this scandal…. But I must ask you, was it absolutely necessary to express yourself on this issue in such universal terms? It was this austerity that astonished many of your friends, even when they support the same cause [the reconstruction of Christianity in France].

(p.147) Grégoire was attacked on this issue equally by partisans of dechristian-ization and of the Old Regime church. One anti-Christian newspaper urged him to find himself a wife, while a supporter of the old church told him that he was being hypocritical, since it was his own principles that had landed the church in its current mess. “Why don't you end your career with a good marriage?” this anonymous author taunted Grégoire. Referring to Mme Dubois, he jeered, “We all know a citoyenne who will divorce her ancient constitution of a husband and throw herself in your arms as soon as you give the word.”30

Why was Grégoire so inflexible on this issue? It was hardly that he opposed all forms of church reform; on the contrary, he and the other bishops still hoped to make significant changes. “Certain parts of discipline, unhappy remnants of the barbarism of the middle ages and of the subversion of principles introduced by false Décrétales, still carry the imprint of ignorance,” they declared. Grégoire tried to cast the church's near-destruction as a blessing in disguise, an opportunity for rebuilding a regenerated church from scratch: “The persecution directed against the Gallican Church was undoubtedly part of God's plans, a salutary crisis for regenerating it. The tranquility that the church seemed to enjoy before the Revolution was less a state of peace than a state of stagnation.”31 In their national councils, the bishops debated many reforms, like changing the liturgical language from Latin to French.

As much as Grégoire and the other bishops wanted reform, however, they wanted to control it and direct it from above; otherwise, the church would break down in chaos. Earlier in the Revolution, Grégoire had venerated democracy in the church; after all, he owed his bishopric to the “voice of the people.” Now, however, he opposed local initiatives. In many of the widowed parishes and dioceses (those whose leaders had fled or left the priesthood), the lay faithful had begun to recreate the faith themselves. Grassroots reform, the bishops contended, would destroy the church: “If each bishop and each diocese—particularly the ‘widowed’ dioceses—permitted themselves to make innovations in church discipline,… soon anarchy would be the disastrous result.” As Grégoire and the other United Bishops made clear, change needed to come from above, not below.32

Another important reason for their inflexibility came from the circumstances of the post-Terror world. In the Revolution's early years, the men who became the constitutional bishops had called for an enlightened restructuring of the church and blasted Catholics who opposed them as misguided and ill-intentioned. In the wake of Thermidor, however, (p.148) conservative Catholics had reemerged, calling themselves prescient for having predicted that Enlightenment morality could lead only to violence. Whereas, in the past, Grégoire and his colleagues might have combated their enemies' interpretation of the Enlightenment, dechristianization had led them to share a good deal of it. With Grégoire referring to himself in 1795 as “the enemy of this so-called philosophy that would like to rip all religious principles … from the heart of man,” they sought to distance themselves from their earlier radicalism and from deists they had previously praised.33 Whereas republican religion remained as important to them as ever, the idea of enlightened religion now grew suspect. No matter how much Grégoire now criticized the “so-called philosophes,” however, their influence upon him remained.

While Grégoire and his colleagues moved away from the philosophes, however, they began to link themselves to another persecuted Old Regime movement, this time from within the church: the Jansenists. Two institutions they created alongside the Gallican Church had particular affinities with Port-Royal. One was the Annates de la Religion, a weekly newspaper that helped the embattled constitutional clergy in the provinces feel tied to a larger church structure. The second, with more explicit ties to the Jansenist tradition, was the Société de philosophic chretienne (SPC). Though the SPC publicly described itself as an “open literary society” to imply that it was nothing but a casual gathering of citizens, it actually had a central institutional role in the new Gallican Church. It acted as a de facto ecclesiastical council, tying together the constitutional bishops and Gallican sympathizers from other countries. Moreover, it served as a sort of theological appeal board for the Gallican Church, an alternative to writing to Rome. Finally, it functioned, in Grégoire's words, as a “kind of academy,” a Christian version of the Institut.34 The society, which included longtime Jansenists like Adrien Le Paige, Armand Gaston Camus, and Pierre-Jean Agier, made a concerted effort to identify with Port-Royal. Members made an annual pilgrimage to the ruins of the abbey, something that would inspire Grégoire to write his famous Les Ruines de Port-Royal, in which he called the scholars of Port-Royal the “precursors of the Revolution” and the source of “all that is good, grand, and generous” in France. Another possibly Jansenist aspect of the SPC can be seen in Necheles's finding that members “frequently discussed the Jews and the millennium,” though Grégoire apparently never participated in these debates. Such~a coupling was a hallmark of Jansenism, even if not exclusive to it.35

(p.149) Some of this identification stemmed from the strong links between Gallicanism and Jansenism. Though Gallicanism and Jansenism were not coterminous, and one could be Gallican without being Jansenist, overlap between the two was often quite strong. A speech given to the SPC by a Sardinian Gallican sympathizer explicitly equated the society's Gallicanism with Jansenism. Grégoire's friendships with Italian Gallican sympathizers like Scipione de' Ricci and Eustachio Degola, both noted Jansenists, only strengthened this connection. Grégoire's history-writing also linked the Gallican Church to the Jansenists; through the Annales, he gathered materials for a history of the Revolution's persecution of the church. He imagined a direct line between the Constitutional Church and other mistreated religious groups in French history, especially Port-Royal.36

As suggested earlier, however, this identification with Jansenism seems to have been something new rather than having been carried forward from before the Revolution. Trying to revive a Gallican Church and being attacked for his beliefs led Grégoire to an intense empathy with the Jansenists, if not to a complete theological Jansenism. Catherine Maire argues convincingly that “Grégoire became a Jansenist and a figurist at a certain moment.” For her, “Grégoire cannot be clearly labeled as a Jansenist in any of his initiatives within the Constituent Assembly and the Convention, nor even in his pastoral works in Blois.” Only after dechristianization, she argues, did the bishop look back to Port-Royal to find the origins of a republican Christianity. Even then, she noted, he did not adopt “Jansenist beliefs” but instead refigured them: “The Port-Royal which Grégoire exalts … is a Port-Royal which owes very little to the reality of the Jansenist movement”; “His ingenuity in misappropriating the meaning of texts is unlimited.”37

In his various church activities, then, Grégoire tried to reconnect the best of the new system (a reorganized Republic) with that of the old (a spiritual, circumscribed Gallican Church). Opposing an anti-Christian notion of regeneration and the idea of a secular moral science, he maintained that republican society needed Christianity to help create moral citizens. Without it, the Republic would be doomed to failure.

Regrounding Empire: The Amis Des Noirs Et Des Colonies

If the Republic needed religion, it also needed to keep its empire to maintain stability. Continually amazing contemporaries with his frenetic (p.150) activity, Grégoire engaged in a whole other sphere of action during the period: rethinking the empire through the Société des Amis des Noirs et des Colonies (Society of the Friends of Blacks and of the Colonies; SANC).38 In the society, which met frequently from 1796 to 1799, Grégoire joined other old-time Amis des Noirs, prominent legislators, and white and mixed-race colons, in making a case for colonialism to continue, although in reformulated terms.39 At a moment when France could have given up its empire, Grégoire and the other members urged that regenerated colonies remain at the heart of the Republic. Abolishing colonialism was impractical and unwise, and would harm France's interests as well as those of the colonies.

What were the stated purposes of the new SANC? Like its predecessor, the Société des Amis des Noirs, the SANC's ostensible goal was the abolition of slavery. One of the society's four commissions aimed to write a history of the slave trade, and Grégoire himself often read anti-slavery works in progress. In 1799, in conjunction with the government, the society held a large public celebration of the fifth anniversary of France's abolition of slavery. Unlike the first society, however, abolition was not the SANC's primary concern, since it had already been decreed in France. Despite the emancipation of French slaves, the members of the SANC warned, “the task of the friends of humanity is not yet finished.”40 Far from resolving the problems of the colonies, the abruptness of abolition had created new ones.

Indeed, in the wake of abolition and the insurrection in Saint-Domingue, the future of the colonies—which many saw as the lifeblood of the French economy—was in doubt. Slave-owners had long warned that, without slavery, colonial production—and French commerce itself—would grind to a halt. Even men who conceded that the colonies would eventually become independent argued that the newly freed slaves were not in a condition to use the land to its “fullest advantage.” Moreover, they worried that, once they had a choice, free blacks might not opt to consume the European manufactured goods on which the colonial trade had been based. Indeed, if left to his own designs, the consistently antislavery Décade philosopbique fretted, the newly freed nàgre would only want “a shirt and a pair of underpants to cover his nudity”; he would “view as insane anyone who wanted to engage him in work that would drain him of energy and continually drag him away from the side of his lover, in exchange for dishes that his unrefined palate could not appreciate or a European-style outfit.”41 Furthermore, in addition (p.151) to the disorder created by abolition, French possessions in the Caribbean were threatened by the war with Britain.

In addressing this crisis, some intellectuals reprised physiocratic arguments that colonies were inefficient and therefore unnecessary. Horace Say, brother of the famous economist and Décade philosophique coedi-tor J.-B. Say, argued that colonialism was absurd. Having a government situated “two thousand leagues away from the governed,” with a single system of laws, was ridiculous; independence for all colonies was inevitable. Nevertheless, he insisted, it was folly for France to “unilaterally detach itself from its colonies”; this would effectively abandon them to England. Meanwhile, he argued, “let us conserve our colonies, in anticipation of the era when, without danger for them or for us, they can be independent.” In another article, the Décade urged that as long as England was trying to establish new colonies throughout the world, France should too.42

Like a number of republicans at the time, the SANC went even farther, arguing that the colonies not only could—but needed to be—preserved in a postslavery world. Though one of the society's four committees was dedicated to abolition, the other three aimed at spreading colonization. Moreover, alongside abolition, the society's three other purposes (“the moral and physical improvement [perfectionnement] of the inhabitants of the colonies; the progress of agriculture, industry, and commerce there; and the formation of new colonies”) aimed to reorient the philosophy of colonialism. Through moral regeneration, freed slaves would learn to be industrious and ethical; through technical instruction, they could bring forth bounty from their land. New colonies would ensure that these values were spread throughout the world and that the benefits of this labor would accrue to France and not Britain.43

Though they wished to anchor old and new colonies more firmly in the French empire, the republican intellectuals who composed the SANC confronted a problem: how to incorporate colonial inhabitants into a secular republican system? This issue was far more acute for them than for earlier, nonrepublican critics of slavery, such as the abbé Raynal or Thomas Clarkson. Even antislavery authors who had been more disposed toward republicanism, such as Diderot, had been writing when emancipation was an abstract proposal rather than a legislative fait accompli. SANC members therefore had to think about issues of integration and equality in a more profound way than previous opponents of slavery, even though they were able to draw upon earlier antislavery texts.44

(p.152) To resolve this dilemma, members harkened back to Grégoire's earlier arguments about regeneration; they insisted that political emancipation of people of color needed to be followed by efforts to improve and instruct them. Their plans to regenerate nonwhites did not stop, however, with those seen as having been degraded by slavery; they also argued that improvement was needed by free blacks in Africa. Africans everywhere were in a profound state of ignorance, and Europeans had a duty to improve them morally, physically, and practically: “In their native land, the Africans are unaware of all the advantage they can draw from their soil and their climate for their own use and that of others. They are without instruction and without knowledge of useful arts. As for their like in our colonies, who have become our fellow citizens and brothers, are they not abandoned to a profound ignorance? Do they not have an urgent need for moral and physical instruction?” With their superior knowledge of science, the SANC suggested, Europeans knew Africa far better than the Africans. The SANC made similar claims about “peoples who live around the Mediterranean,” whom it called “too ignorant [and] too hostile to any kind of improvement, for us to wait for it to happen from their own efforts.”45

The emphasis on instructing people of color reflected the preoccupation with education that lay at the heart of the new social science. Since the SANC included Class members like Cabanis and Grégoire, we should not be surprised to see it emphasize education as a way of reshaping societies of color. Indeed, the SANC's Commission des colonies anciennes declared that, though Directory leaders were no doubt busy, they should make time to promote the “regeneration of morals in our colonies” and to research how to “educate Negroes in all the virtues that are appropriate to free men, to Frenchmen.”46

Education alone could not ensure a stable empire, however; in keeping with Thermidorian ideas on the importance of material prosperity, the SANC devoted much of its time to investigating how the colonies could continue to generate wealth for the metropole. With many in France worried that a slavery-free empire would be a bankrupt one, members sought to ensure that colonies based on free labor would remain productive. Discussions of agricultural techniques and machines dominated society meetings and reports.47

In addition to their efforts to increase production in existing colonies, the members of the society worked to establish new ones, particularly in Africa. Some members expressed reservations about colonialism; even as they sought to benefit the metropole, they insisted that they did not (p.153) wish to exploit the colonies. “We must not forget that all commercial relations between France and the colonies must be based on a principle of reciprocal utility,” one member noted. “To be exact, growing rich for the mother country, and increasing cultivation and commerce for the colonies.” Similarly, a commission of Lasteyrie, Théremin, and J.-B. Say declared its opposition to colonial “domination,” musing that “if the British [East] India Company were to be chased from the countries it oppresses; and if the gentle and industrious peoples there, delivered from the absurd and ferocious power of these bourgeois sovereigns, would raise themselves back to the level of [other] nations; it would not be in accordance with our principles to establish our domination in place of the one that we had destroyed.” The commission denounced the very notion of having new colonies, in the sense that the idea of “‘colonies’ implies a territorial sovereignty.”48

Despite these members' semantic opposition to the term colonies, however, the SANC was very much in favor of establishing new spheres of influence around the world. As Yves Bénot has noted, being antislavery in this period did not mean being anticolonial; someone opposing colonies based on subjection could still support colonial “establishments” that would benefit the Republic economically. While members thus suggested that new establishments would be. based on “affection and gratitude” instead of brute power, they still envisioned them as serving the mother country's economic needs. Indeed, Lasteyrie, Théremin, and J.-B. Say followed their hesitancy about colonies with a spirited recommendation to create foreign “establishments equally useful for us and our hosts.” The SANC in fact aimed to build many more new colonial establishments throughout the world.49

Given Grégoire's active participation in the SANC, the enduring image of him as an anticolonial militant appears problematic. Necheles has portrayed Grégoire as out of step with the rest of the society, a lone moral idealist uncomfortable with the economic issues discussed by others.50 Yet Grégoire was hardly a wild-eyed utopian; during the Convention, he had been a consummate strategist, a man very much concerned with international rivalries and with the exploitation of resources. Though he himself spoke mostly about the slave trade during SANC meetings, he explicitly endorsed the goals of increased agricultural production and new colonization. He arranged, for example, for another member's essay about sugar production to be printed in the Décade and underwritten by the SANC. There is no evidence to suggest that Grégoire (the guiding force behind the Conservatoire des Arts et Métiers, a (p.154) proponent of agricultural innovation since his days as a curé, and a member of prestigious agricultural societies in France and abroad) was suddenly made uncomfortable by discussions of agricultural technology when it came to the colonies. Although his own arguments for new colonies focused on their moral advantages, Grégoire enthusiastically promoted the new “philanthropic colonization.”51

Grégoire's enthusiasm for new colonization comes through clearly in his speech to the Class of Moral and Political Sciences about the British colony at Sierra Leone, in which he praised European colonization for its ability to spread civilization. While complaining about the slave trade, Grégoire did not argue for the regeneration of the Europeans who had conducted it, but for that of Africans; he agreed with other “philanthropists who believe that a way of eradicating this horrible trafficking would be to gradually bring civilization to Africa.” Europeans were indispensable to Africa, Grégoire noted, to “console and encourage” freed blacks returning there and to “make them taste the first fruits of the social condition.” Though he was aware that some inhabitants of Africa had their own religion (he referred to “Islamists” in the continent's interior), he insisted that Christianity was necessary for them. In addition to reducing their desire for vengeance, it had begun to make Sierra-Leonians into “friends of order and peace” and “taught them to cherish and fulfill their duties, to look after the education of their families.” With European help, “a moral revolution operated rapidly among them.”52

Even after the SANC dissolved in 1799, Grégoire remained committed to the idea that world progress would come through a European presence on other continents. Chosen by the Institut in 1799 to prepare a report relating to Napoleon's invasion of Egypt (itself planned by the Institut), Grégoire praised the expedition and declared French conquest to be necessary to the rebirth of the Orient. In the wake of Napoleon's arrival, Grégoire gushed, “Liberty and science will bloom again in a country where, in ancient times, they had displayed such brilliance. What a memorable epoch in the annals of humanity!” His ideas on this conquest were thus hardly out of step with those of Bonaparte, who depicted his ultimately unsuccessful expedition as liberating the Egyptians from their Mamluk and Ottoman tyrants. Grégoire clearly saw European conquest as a powerful motor of the drive to improve humanity, and encouraged Napoleon and others to pursue it.53

Though Grégoire's various activities during the Directory years may seem unrelated, his SANC activities fit perfectly with his other efforts of (p.155) the period. Though the SANC itself was resolutely secular, Grégoire's interest in the colonies remained linked to his church and Institut activities; he hoped that creating a free empire would both ensure the stability of the Republic and help spread Christianity.54 Even if his religious faith was not shared by most other intellectuals and abolitionists, his advocacy of a moderate republicanism—one that did not require destroying all aspects of the past—made him a man for the times. Though the Directory itself would be short-lived, destroyed by Napoleon's infamous coup of 18 brumaire (1799), many of Grégoire's efforts during the period would have an enduring legacy. His efforts toward cultural reconstruction in this period, for instance, are celebrated even now. His visage adorns the gates of the Conservatoire national des arts et métiers, while the Institut still pays homage to him as one of its founders.55

The arguments of Grégoire and his abolitionist comrades about how to proceed with the colonies would have perhaps even greater impact. Despite their abolitionism, Grégoire and his friends continued to view empire as a central part of the Republic. They would depart from the old system in abolishing slavery; moreover, treatment of colonial subjects would no longer be based on brute force. Regardless of Grégoire's private motivations, SANC members and other like-minded Directory intellectuals did not make gaining new souls for the church a basis for empire. They opted to preserve colonialism, however, at a time when it could have been abandoned, because they saw it as crucial to the material stability of France and to the success of its contests with Great Britain. The new colonial system would have a regenerated justification. Rather than the colonies simply serving the mother country, the claims of empire would now be based on the service of colonizers to the colonized: in helping freed slaves to regenerate themselves and in teaching them how best to exploit their resources. At some future time, Grégoire and his friends imagined, when non-Europeans had learned their lessons well, they might be ready for independence. But that time had not yet arrived. Meanwhile, the SANC had created a republican, secular civilizing mission, rescuing colonialism for republican government.56