1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Brissot, Jacques Pierre

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BRISSOT, JACQUES PIERRE (1754–1793), who assumed the name of de Warville, a celebrated French Girondist, was born at Chartres, where his father was an inn-keeper, in January 1754. Brissot received a good education and entered the office of a lawyer at Paris. His first works, Théorie des lois criminelles (1781) and Bibliothèque philosophique du législateur (1782), were on the philosophy of law, and showed how thoroughly Brissot was imbued with the ethical precepts of Rousseau. The first work was dedicated to Voltaire, and was received by the old philosophe with much favour. Brissot became known as a facile and able writer, and was engaged on the Mercure, on the Courrier de l’Europe, and on other papers. Ardently devoted to the service of humanity, he projected a scheme for a general concourse of all the savants in Europe, 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 lodged 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 had speedily 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 a Société des Amis des Noirs, 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 published his Nouveau Voyage dans les États-Unis de l’Amerique Septentrionale (3 vols.).

From the first, Brissot threw himself heart and soul into the Revolution. He edited the Patriote français from 1789 to 1793, and being a well-informed and capable man took a prominent part in affairs. Upon the demolition of the Bastille the keys 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 his knowledge of foreign affairs enabled him as member of the diplomatic committee practically to direct the foreign policy of France, and the declaration of war against the emperor on the 20th of April 1792, and that against England on the 1st of July 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. Vergniaud certainly was far superior to him in oratory, but Brissot was quick, eager, impetuous, and a man of wide knowledge. But he was at the same time vacillating, and not qualified to struggle against the fierce energies roused by the events of the Revolution. His party fell before the Mountain; sentence of arrest was passed against the leading members of it on the 2nd of June 1793. Brissot attempted to escape in disguise, but was arrested at Moulins. His demeanour at the trial was quiet and dignified; and on the 31st of October 1793 he died bravely with several other Girondists.

See Mémoires de Brissot, sur ses contemporains et la Révolution française, published by his sons, with notes by F. de Montrol (Paris, 1830); Helena Williams, Souvenirs de la Révolution française (Paris, 1827); F. A. Aulard, Les Orateurs de la Législative et de la Convention 2nd ed., (Paris, 1905); F. A. Aulard, Les Portraits littéraires à la fin du XVIIIe siècle, pendant la Révolution (Paris, 1883).