Jacques Pierre Brissot  

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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.



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 (1759-1818), who translated English works, including Oliver Goldsmith and Robert Dodsley. 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. In the preface of Théorie des lois criminelles, Brissot explains that he submitted an outline of the book to Voltaire and quotes his answer from April 13, 1778.

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 subsequently published in 1791 his Nouveau Voyage dans les États-Unis de l'Amérique septentrionale (3 vols.). Brissot believed that American ideals could help improve French government. At one point he was interested in uprooting his family to America. Thomas Jefferson, ambassador in Paris at the time was familiar enough with him to note,"Warville is returned charmed with our country. He is going to carry his wife and children to settle there." Although for Brissot, such an emigration never happened. The rising ferment of revolution sucked him back into schemes for progress through political journalism that would consequently make him a household name.

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. 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. Shortly thereafter, Brissot began to align himself with the more right-leaning Girondins who were often viewed as the 'war party.' The Girondins or Brissotins as they were often called, were a group of loosely affiliated individuals, many of whom came from Gironde, rather than an organized party with a clear ideology.

Following the arrest of King Louis XVI on charges of corruption, Brissot and the Girondins championed the idea of keeping him under arrest both as hostage and as a bargaining chip, meanwhile the Montagnards argued for his immediate execution. Brissot was undoubtedly against the decision to execute the King for two reasons. He believed that once Louis XVI was executed all of France’s foreign negotiating power would be lost and he feared a massive royalist rebellion.

French foreign policy

At the time of the Declaration of Pillnitz, Brissot headed the Legislative Assembly: the declaration was from Austria and Prussia warning the people of France not to harm Louis XVI or they would "militarily intervene" in the politics of France. Threatened by the declaration, Brissot rallied the support of the Legislative Assembly which subsequently declared war on Austria on 20 April 1792. This decision was initially disastrous as the French armies were crushed during the first engagements, leading to a major increase in political tensions.

During the Legislative Assembly, Brissot's knowledge of foreign affairs enabled him as member of the diplomatic committee to control much of France's foreign policy during this time. Brissot was a key figure in the declaration of war against Leopold II, the Habsburg Monarchy, and that against the Kingdom of Great Britain on 1 February 1793. It was also Brissot who gave these wars the character of revolutionary propaganda.

Arrest and execution

Template:Wikisource1911Enc 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".

Brissot’s stance on the King’s execution, the war with Austria and his moderate views on the Revolution inevitably led to intense friction between the Girondins and Montagnards. Brissot attempted to reign in the violence and excesses of the Revolution by calling for the reinstatement of the monarchy, a ploy which landed on deaf ears. His party eventually fell to the Montagnards and the decisive blow came when his name appeared on a list of proscribed and a warrant was issued for his arrest 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.

Spying allegations

One aspect of Brissot’s career that was under intense scrutiny and question, was his life after the Bastille. While enthusiasts and apologists see Brissot as an idealist, and unblemished, philosophe revolutionary, his detractors have challenged his credibility and moral character by repeating allegations that during the mid-1780s he was involved in the production and dissemination of pornographic libelles, spied for the police and or the British and defrauded his business partner. The leading accusations were lead by Jean-Paul Marat, Camille Desmoulins, Maximilian Robespierre, and above all the notorious scandal-monger, extortioner, and perjurer Charles Théveneau de Morande, whose hatred, Brissot asserted, ‘was the torment of my life’.

These have recently been backed up by the historian, Robert 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, argues historian Fredrick Luna, is that that the letters in which Darnton got his information were written fifteen years after the supposed incident. Luna 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 was one of the writers who have exerted the most influence on the success of the French Revolution, or at least have the most accelerated its movement.Template:Citation needed His early works on legislation, his many pamphlets, speeches in the Legislative Assembly and the Convention, demonstrated dedication to the principles of the French Revolution.




  • 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
  • This article incorporates text from the Encyclopædia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, a publication now in the public domain. 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)

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