Catholic Encyclopedia (1913)/The Duke of La Rochefoucauld-Liancourt

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Catholic Encyclopedia (1913), Volume 9
The Duke of La Rochefoucauld-Liancourt

by Pierre-Louis-Théophile-Georges Goyau


(François-Alexandre-Frédéric).

Born at La Roche-Guyon, on 11 January, 1747; died at Paris, 27 March, 1827.

Opposed during the last years of the reign of Louis XV to the government of Maupeou, and the friend of all the reformers who surrounded Louis XVI, he owed to the influence of these economists the favour of the king. Having little liking for the military profession he devoted himself to scientific agriculture. During the rage for rural life which characterized the last years of the old regime, La Rochefoucauld made his estate at Liancourt an experimental station, whishing to improve both the soil and the peasantry. He introduced new methods of farming, founded the first model technical school in France (intended for the children of poor soldiers), and started two factories. Politically, he was a partisan of a democratic regime of which the king was to be the head, and throughout his life was faithful to this dream. Deputy for the nobility of Clermont in Beauvaisis at the States-General, he voted unhesitatingly for the "reunion of the three orders". it was he who in the night which followed the taking of the Bastille (14 July, 1789) roused Louis XVI, saying: "Sire, it is not a revolt, it is a revolution." He presided at the Constituent Assembly from 20 July to 3 August, 1789. On the night of 4 August he was one of the most enthusiastic in voting the abolition of titles of nobility and privileges. As grand master of the wardrobe he accompanied Louis XVI from Versailles to Paris on 5 and 6 October, 1789. As president of the committee of mendicancy, he made a supreme effort at the Constituent Assembly to organize public relief; he determined the extent and the limits of the rights of every citizen to assistance, determined the obligations of the State, and established a budget of State assistance which amounted annually to five millions and a half of francs, and which implied the national confiscation of hospital property, of ecclesiastical charitable property, and of the income from private foundations.

Liancourt is one of the most undiscerning representatives of the tendency which led the revolutionary state to destroy all collective forms of charity. Absolutely devoted to the person of Louis XVI as well as to the doctrines of the Revolution, he secured for himself in 1792 the lieutenancy of Normandy and Picardy, so as to prepare for the flight of the king as far as Rouen; but Louis XVI refused to place himself in the hands of constitutional deputies. La Rochefoucauld-Liancourt emigrated shortly after 10 August, and resided in England until 1794, afterwards in the United States (1794-7). He took advantage of his residence in that country to write eight volumes on the United States to induce Washington to interfere in favour of Lafayette, and to gather ideas upon education and agriculture which he attempted later to apply in France. After 18 Brumaire, Napoleon authorized him to return to his Liancourt estate, which was restored to him. This former duke and peer gloried in being appointed, during the first Empire (1806), general inspector of the "Ecole des arts et métiers" at Châlons, of which his Liancourt school had been a forerunner. The book "Prisons de Philadelphie" which he composed in American and published in 1796, was meant to initiate a penitentiary reform in France at the Restoration in 1814 he begged but one favour-to be appointed prison inspector. In 1819 he became inspector of one of the twenty-eight arrondissements into which France was divided for penitentiary purposes. Louis XVIII gave him back neither the blue ribbon nor the mastership of the wardrobe, and in the House of Peers he sat with the opposition.

La Rochefoucauld-Liancourt was the Franklin of the Revolution. An aristocrat by birth, a liberal in his views, in touch with all the representatives of the new commerce, he availed himself of this concurrence of circumstances to become the leader of every campaign for the people's protection and betterment; improvement of sanitary conditions in hospitals and foundling asylums, reorganization of schools according to the theories of Lancaster, whose book he had translated (Système anglais d'Instruction). He brought into use the methods of mutual instruction, and the pupils between 1816 and 1820 increased from 165,000 to 1,123,000. In 1818 he established the first savings bank and provident institution in Paris. On 19 Nov., 1821, he founded the Society of Christian Morals, over which he presided until 1825. It was at times looked upon with suspicion by the police of the Restoration. At its meetings were such men as Charles de Rémusat, Charles Coquerel, Guizot the Pedagogue, Oberlin, and Llorente, historian of the Inquisition. Broglie, Guizot, and Benjamin Constant were chairmen in turn, and Dufaure, Tocqueville, and Lamartine made there their maiden speeches. In these meetings provident institutions, rather than charitable ones, were discussed; slavery, lottery, gambling were combatted, and the matter of prison inspection was taken up. When La Rochefoucauld-Liancourt died, the Restoration would not permit the students of Châlons to carry his coffin, and the two chambers were much concerned over such extreme measures. La Rochefoucauld-Liancourt was a typical philanthropist, with all that this word implies of generous intentions and practical innovations; but also with a certain naïve pride, inherited from the philosophy of the eighteenth century, which led him to mistrust the charitable initiative of the Church, and to forget that the Church, the most perfect representative of the spirit of brotherhood, is still called in our modern society to win the victory for this spirit by putting it to practical uses, as she alone can.

FERDINAND-DREYFUS, Un philanthrope d'autrefois: La Rochefoucauld-Liancourt, 1747-1827 (Paris, 1903).

GEORGE GOYAU