Jacques Pierre Brissot


Jacques Pierre Brissot

Jacques Pierre Brissot (15 January 1754 – 31 October 1793), who assumed the name of de Warville, was a leading member of the Girondist movement during the French Revolution. Some sources give his name as Jean Pierre Brissot.

Biography

Brissot was born at Chartres, where his father was an inn-keeper. He received an education, and entered the office of a lawyer at Paris. He married Félicité Dupont, they lived in london, and had three children. His first works, "Théorie des lois criminelles" (1781) and "Bibliothèque philosophique du législateur" (1782), dealt with philosophy of law topics, and showed the deep influence of ethical precepts theoretised by Jean-Jacques Rousseau. The first work was dedicated to Voltaire, and was received by the latter with much interest.

Brissot became known as a writer, and was engaged on the "Mercure de France", on the "Courrier de l'Europe", and on other papers. Devoted to the cause of humanity, he proposed a plan for the collaboration of all European intellectuals, and started in London a paper, "Journal du Lycée de Londres", which was to be the organ of their views. The plan was unsuccessful, and soon after his return to Paris Brissot was placed in the Bastille on the charge of having published a work against the government.

He obtained his release after four months, and again devoted himself to pamphleteering, but was forced to retire for a time to London. On this second visit he became acquainted with some of the leading Abolitionists, and founded later in Paris an anti-slavery group "Society of the Friends of the Blacks", of which he was president during 1790 and 1791. As an agent of this society he paid a visit to the United States in 1788, and in 1791, and subsequently published his "Nouveau Voyage dans les États-Unis de l'Amérique septentrionale" (3 vols.). Brissot believed that American ideals could help improve French government. He was fond of their foreign polices. At one point he was interested in uprooting his whole family to America.

From the outbreak of the Revolution in 1789, Brissot became one of its most vocal supporters. He edited the "Patriote français" from 1789 to 1793, and took a prominent part in politics. Upon the demolition of the Bastille, the keys to the fortress were presented to him. Famous for his speeches at the Jacobin Club, he was elected a member of the municipality of Paris, then of the Legislative Assembly, and later of the National Convention.

During the Legislative Assembly, Brissot's knowledge of foreign affairs enabled him as member of the diplomatic committee practically directing the foreign policy of France, and the declaration of war against Leopold II and the Habsburg Monarchy on 20 April 1792, and that against the Kingdom of Great Britain on 1 February 1793, were largely due to him. It was also Brissot who gave these wars the character of revolutionary propaganda. He was in many ways the leading spirit of the Girondists, who were also known as "Brissotins".

The "Encyclopedia Britannica" 11th edition, remarked that: "Of the Girondists, Vergniaud was the better orator, but Brissot was quick, eager, impetuous, and a man of wide knowledge. However, he was indecisive, and not qualified to struggle against the fierce energies roused by the events of the Revolution".

His party was defeated by the opposition of The Mountain. Sentence of arrest was passed against the leading members of it on 2 June 1793; Brissot attempted to escape in disguise, but was arrested at Moulins. Brissot was very worried that they were going to kill him, so he fled with others. He was found without a passport, along with many other members of the Girondin. After a trial during which his demeanour was quiet and dignified, Brissot and several other Girondists were guillotined in Paris.

One aspect of Brissot’s career that was under devout scrutiny and question was his life after the Bastille. The leading accusations were lead by Marat, Desmoulins, Robespierre, but mostly by historian, Darnton. They accused Brissot of being a Police Spy. Saying that he was plotting against the revolution he had once stood behind. Brissot was sent to court to defend himself on many occasions from these accusations. Darnton argues that Brissot on a personal level, was not in support of the Revolution, and had gone to a police station where he asked if he could be of assistance. When he was turned away, Darnton says, he proceeded to give them information. The only problem with his accusations are that the letters in which Darnton got his information were written fifteen years after the supposed incident. Fredrick Luna (writer of Interpreting Brissot) argues that this could not have been the case; Brissot was noted as leaving Paris as soon as he was released from the Bastille. So if he was not in Paris, he would not have talked with the police. Brissot had also written articles against Lenior, who had accused him of asking about being a Police Spy. This leads us to think that Lenior had a personal bias against Brissot, and would therefore make false statements. There were many other ideas presented by Darnton that have showed to be false; he wrote falsely about dates and family members in Brissots life, and accused him of hoarding money. This is also argued by Luna, saying that Brissot was always in debt.

References

*1911 The 1911 "Encyclopaedia Britannica", in turn, gives the following references:
**"Mémoires de Brissot, sur ses contemporains et la Révolution française", pub. by his sons, with notes by F. de Montroi (1830)
**François Victor Alphonse Aulard, "Les Orateurs de la Legislative et de la Convention" (1905) and "Les Portraits littéraires a la fin du XVIII' siècle, pendant la Révolution" (1883).
**Helena Williams, "Souvenirs de la Révolution française" (1827)
*Frederick A. Luna, “Interpreting Brissot,” The Dean Street Style of Revolution 159-190
*Durand, Echeverria, and Mara Vamos (New Travels in the United States of America. Cambridge: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1964) ix-xxvii

External links

* [http://dlxs2.library.cornell.edu/cgi/t/text/text-idx?c=cdl;idno=cdl366 J.-P. Brissot: Me´moires (1734-1793) publie´s avec E´tude critique et notes par Cl. Perroud] Cornell University Library Historical Monographs Collection. Reprinted by Cornell University Library Digital Collections


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