The Abbot Raynal, a True Inspiration to The French And American Revolutions

The Abbot Raynal

Guillaume-Thomas Raynal (1713-1796), an Aveyron native, was a precursor of the fight against slavery, a promoter of human rights, but also the prophet of the American Revolution, and the author of a bestseller, "History of the Two Indies", during the so-called  'Enlightenment Century', this book became the bible of the French Revolution and certainly the first writing on globalization.

The abbot Raynal owes his fame mainly to the publication of "The philosophical and political history of the settlements and trade of the Europeans in the two Indies"—full title of his book also known under this shorter title: "History of the Two Indies", a book that became the largest success of the XVIIIth century, in its French-language edition, right after "La nouvelle Heloïse" of Jean-Jacques Rousseau and "Candide" of Voltaire.

Why is This Book a Major One?

One of the books of Abbot Raynal, Histoire Philosophique et Politique des Etablissements et du Commerce also known as the History of the Indies

"The History of the Indies" is a history of the European expansion overseas since the discovery of America attributed to Christopher Columbus up to the independence of the United States of America.

At certain times, his interest switched towards the Netherlands with his "The history of Stadhoudérat", published in 1748, England with his "History of the Parliament of England", published from 1748 to 1751, as well he published some annals, compilations of modern military art, published in 1762.

His most essential book is without any doubt "The History of the Two Indies", as written during the Enlightenment Century it has been since recognized as a founding text about tolerance, freedom, justice, and rational investigation.

According to the philosopher Kant: "The lights are defined as the output of the man out of minority status, where he stays on his own fault. The minority is the unability to use one's own understanding without the guidance of another [.]. Sapere Aude! Have the courage to use your own understanding! This is the motto of the Enlightenment (Century). "

Raynal's work is an invitation to think freely, a free thought made ossible as the law guarantees freedom of expression.

Led by the abbot Raynal, "The History of the Two Indies", is a collective work in which collaborated anonymously Diderot d'Holbach, Jussieu and some younger writers like Deleyre, Naigeon, Pechméja and includes six volumes in the edition of 1770 to reach ten volumes in 1780.

The Exile

Answers from Abbot Raynal to the Faculty

The book was condemned in 1772 by decision of the Council and placed on the Index in 1775, however many editions and translations into several foreign languages id not fail to succeed. The book got revised twice, each revision being more daring than the last. Publication of the large revised and expanded edition in 1780, bore the name of Raynal. It provoked a very strong opposition from the civil and religious authorities because of criticism exercised against religion and the denunciation of corruption and the race only in favor of civilized societies as well as certain aspects of colonization and slavery.


"This insatiable thirst for gold has led to the most infamous, the most terrible of all trades, that of slaves. We're talking about crimes against nature, and it does not mention this one as the most execrable. Most nations of Europe are contaminated, and a keen interest stifled in their heart all feelings we owe to like. "

The American Revolution

"To whom, barbarians, do you believe you'll make believe that a man may be the property of a sovereign; a son, a father's property; and a woman, the property of a husband; a home, the property of a master; a negro, the property of a colon? Human being, beautiful and disdainful, not knowing your brothers, do not you see that this contempt reflects on you? [...]"

"Man has no right to sell himself, because he has no right to access everything a master unjust, violent, depraved may require from him. It is his first master, God, so from whom he is never freed. The one who sells himself makes with his purchaser an illusory pact, because it loses the value of himself. At the moment it touches him and his money fall into the possession of the person who buys it. What possess the one who has renounced all possessions? What one can have to himself, the one who is subject to having nothing? Not even virtue, not even honesty, not even a will. Whoever reduced himself to the condition of a deadly weapon is a fool and not a slave. The man may sell his life as a soldier, but he can not consent the abuse, such as the slave and it is the difference between these two states. "

The Parliament of Paris condemned the book, which was burned by the executioner in public. Censorship was imposed by the Theological Faculty of Paris.

This sentence even increased advertising, thus the success of the work of Guillaume-Thomas Raynal, who was forced into exile to escape the decree of the French Parliament. This is reflected in Raynal's 1782 response to the censure of the Faculty of Theology in Paris: "The Faculty of Theology of Paris [...] took the party, under the pretext of making censorship, to extract its best, and make it public under its privilege. Thus, thanks to its efforts, we have the intrinsic thoughts of abbot Raynal, without having to buy ten volumes in octavo, and for the convenience of those who can not read, and for whom the reason why they would never have known if there was a Guillaume-Thomas Raynal, priests are bound to reading the sermons and their oaths."

Numerous excerpts are broadcast or circulate throughout the periodical press in abbreviated forms, pamphlets or brochures throughout Europe. Philosophical traveller during his period of exile, Raynal can be defined as embedded in the process of the thinking of the exact founders of the European Enlightenment Conscience and the free flow of ideas.

"The History of the Two Indies" was one of the most famous works not only in Europe but also in America. Thus Raynal was consulted by the drafters of the Constitution of the United States and became a reference to the coming of the American Revolution, as well the French Revolution and the Declaration of Human Rights. He was even considered as one of the instigators of the (French) Revolution to the point that the Jacobin Isnard, in a speech in 1790 said: "It seems this philosopher existed to pave the way to the current regeneration; apostle of freedom, he indicated everything our representatives execute; political prophet, he predicts everything that happens."

Guillaume-Thomas Raynal received multiple honours during his travels. "As always, when the abbot Raynal comes here, he is a strong sensation," note a Lyon columnist. "We can't understand how he can resist so many honours, some (people) want something written by him, even pieces of his coat."

Raynal and the French Revolution

Raynal was one of the few philosophers of the Enlightenment to know the French Revolution. But with the events sped up his actions became distant, distancing himself from his speech.

Thought to be to serve the General States in 1789, he refused, claiming his age. Two years later he wrote a letter to the National Assembly read in open court on May 31, 1791. He denounced in it the excesses and violence of the Revolution and boasts a reinforced capacity for the monarchy.

"It is time to stop the revenge, sedition and riots, we finally make peace and trust. To achieve this salutary purpose, you have only one way [...] the King in whom to entrust all necessary force."

But this stance provoked a complete astonishment from the philosophers who honoured him as a defender of freedom, one that men cherished as their friend, whom the people worshiped as their benefactor, and that tyrants had feared.

He got accused of being manipulated by the aristocratic party, lending himself to the enemies of that freedom for which he fought so long.

In a letter dated June 1, 1791, published in the Official Gazette of June 5, 1791, André Chénier is deeply disappointed, disillusioned vis-à-vis the one who had helped prepare the way for the Revolution. Chénier's letter attracts the wrath of the Royalists and even crystallizes radical views such as the text written by Charlotte Corday right before she assassinated Marat. The day before the reading of the text the Assembly had to decide the transport of Voltaire's ashes to the Panthéon. Robespierre excused Raynal, talking about the Raynal's senility, in order to avoid derailing the course of the historical events we know.

Statue of the Abbot Raynal
In the age of globalization Guillaume-Thomas Raynal comes out of relative obscurity into which he had been confined because of the distance he took vis-à-vis the course of the French Revolution. However his approach to globalization and communication as well as his awareness of moral universality of humanity is still valid and so contemporary.

Guillaume-Thomas Raynal Biography

1713 -  Born on April 12, at  Lapanouse de Séverac. His father, Guillaume Raynal, is a cloth merchant from Saint-Geniez d’Olt and his mother, Catherine de Girels, a Rouergue noble. He spent his childhood at Saint-Geniez d’Olt.

1724 to 1728 - Studies at the Jesuit College of Rodez.

1729 to 1731 - Novitiate in Toulouse.

1741 - Studies theology at Clermont-Ferrand.

1743 - Teaches at the Jesuit Colleges of Toulouse, Clermont-Ferrand, and Béziers. He is ordained priest the same year.

1746 - He serves the parish of Saint-Sulpice in Paris. He becomes tutor, serving the family Lamie de Lagarde. He collaborates with the abbot d'Aoul who is an advisor to the Parliament of Paris. He is expelled from Saint-Sulpice, and retires Rue Saint-Honoré where he becomes an unofficial novelist, serving the gentlemen Saint-Séverin and Puysieulx, Secretary of State.

1747 - He publishes 'L'Histoire du Stathoudérat'. On July 5, 1747, he is elected member of the Académie de La Rochelle. As a correspondent of the Court of Saxe-Gotha, he published the 'Nouvelles Littéraires'—literary news—up to 1755, then it will become the famous 'Correspondance Littéraire de Grimm'—literary correspondence of Grimm.

1748 - He publishes 'L'Histoire du Parlement d'Angleterre' — The History of the Parliament of England.

1749 - Obtains from the Duke of Choiseul the direction of the Mercure de France—a publishing house—which he holds up to 1754. Publishes 'Les Anecdotes Littéraires ou Historiques'—literary or historical trivia—Supports the publication of Jean-Jacques Rousseau's speech to the Académie de Dijon on the progress of science and arts, the piece that made him renown. He meets the philosopher Montesquieu—full name, Charles-Louis de Secondat, Baron de La Brède et de Montesquieu—at the poet Titon du Tillet's place. On October 29, he becomes member of the Berlin Academy on a proposal made by Voltaire — of his real name, François-Marie Arouet, a writer, historian and philosopher famous for his wit.

1753 - He publishes 'Anecdotes Historiques, Militaires et Politiques'—historical, military and political trivia.

1754 - Holds the title of the Commanderie de Saint-Jean de Cassenodes, a dependence of the Dômerie d'Aubrac, part of the Diocèse de Rodez. Published 'Les Mémoires Historiques et Politiques'—historical and political memoirs. On May 30, he is elected member of the Royal Society under the patronage of Dortous de Mairan.

1755 - Accustomed to the literary 'salons', he frequents a lot the one of Madame Geoffrin, as well as the one of the Baron d'Holbach and Mademoiselle de Lespinasse.

1762 - He publishes 'L'École Militaire',—the military school—by government order.

1763 - He publishes 'L'Histoire du Divorce d'Henri VIII'—the history of Henri VIII's divorce. In spring, meets Gibbon who delivers him letters of recommendation.

1764 - Submits  'L'Histoire du Divorce d'Henri VIII' to Hume during his stay in Paris.

1765 - Involved in the creation of Madame Necker's 'salon'.

1766 - Diderot—Denis Diderot was a French philosopher, art critic, and writer—starts writing, collaborating on Raynal's book 'Histoire des Deux Indes'—history of the two indies.

1770 - Anonymous release of the first edition of 'Histoire des Deux Indes' in France.

1772 - Release of the first edition of 'Histoire des Deux Indes' in France. On December 19, the same year, the King's Council prohibits the book. 

1774 - The second edition of 'Histoire des Deux Indes' is released anonymously but with the portrait of the abbot Raynal. On August 29, the book is placed on the Index.

1775 - Becomes a member of the American Philosophical Society.

1777 - Meets in Paris Benjamin Franklin and Sileas Deane. On May 30, goes to England where he is formally received at the Assembly of Commons. Visits the collection of Dr. Hunter in London. Meets Horace Walpole, Samuel Johnson and Lord Shelburne. Visits Bristol, Leeds, Manchester and Portsmouth. On July 20, goes to Holland, stays in The Hague, Amsterdam and Leiden where he visits factories and universities.

1779 - On February 2, receives Benjamin Franklin and John Adams, rue de Provence in Paris.

1780 - Goes to Zurich, St. Gallen, Lake Constance, Appenzell, Lake Wallen, Glarus, Einsiedeln, Schwyz, Uri, Unterwalden, and Lake Lucerne. Goes on to Geneva to monitor the printing of the third edition of 'Histoire des Deux Indes' in France. Received by Pastor Jacob Vernes in Geneva, then by Louis Fauche-Borel in Neuchâtel, There he meets Frederick Ostervald, director of the Typographic Society. Visits Bern, accompanied by the Duke of Orléans. Meets Jean de Muller and J. R. von Sinner who were looking for opinion of such a distinguished literary man. Stays at Aix in Savoy for a spa and spends the fall season in Vevey at Baron Cannac's place. On August 25, when in Lyon at the Académie de Lyon, founds the reward prize on studies on advantages and disadvantages of the discovery of America.

1781 - On March 4, in Paris, gives an honour dinner for the Princess Dachkova where he meets several members of the French Academy. On May 21, a decree of the Parliament of Paris is published against the author of 'Histoire des Deux Indes'. On May 25, the state prosecutor Séguier declares: "The book 'Histoire des Deux Indes' is impious and blasphemous". On May 29, the book is burned in public by the executor. In July, the abbot goes into exile to Spa where he meets the Prince Henri and dines alone with the Emperor Joseph II. On August 2, the Sorbonne condemns 'Histoire des Deux Indes'. In September, he goes to Liège and Brussels where he is hosted by his printers. The 'Révolution d'Amérique'—the American revolution—is published, this is an excerpt of 'Histoire des Deux Indes' and it becomes a bestseller in America.

1782 - He leaves Brussels early March and goes to Mainz where he stayed with the Countess of Wartensleben. He is received by the literary society founded by Friedrich von Erthal which proposes to erect a bust of him. On March 28, he informs Ferdinand the Great of his project, a revocation of the Edict of Nantes. In April goes to Frankfurt and Vienna. He is received at the Court of Saxe-Gotha from April 14 to 24, at the Court of Saxe-Weimar from April 25 to May 2 where he meets Goethe. Goes to Berlin, where he is received in audience by Frederick II. He stays at the Prince Henry and the Prince Ferdinand places.

1783 - Founds at the Berlin Academy a prize of 52 Frederick—the then currency—to award on work on the duties of an historian. In April, leaves Berlin for Lausanne. On May 14 and 15, he stays at a Basel merchant's place, J. Sarasin-Battier. On October 23, erects a monument to the glory of the founders of the Swiss freedom, on the peninsula of Alstadt, in the Lucerne County, helped by the general Pfyffer and the Geneva writer J.P. Béranger. This monument is based on plans of the architect Adrien Pâris.

1784 - Jean-Pierre Tassaert, sculptor of the King of Prussia, makes the abbot Raynal's bust. In March , he is received by Angélique Charrière de Sévery at Lausanne where he founds three reward prizes on virtue. Stays in Beaulieu, near Lausanne, where he meets the Archduke Ferdinand, the Prince of Brunswick, the Prince Galitzine, and the writer Gibbon. Then Lavater receives him and examine a physionomy study of his face.
In July, leaves Lausanne. He is authorized to get back to France, granted he would not live in the jurisdiction of Paris. He stays then in Saint-Geniez-d'Olt in August. 

1785 - He moves to Toulon, lives in his friend Malouet, a manager of the Navy. He congratulates Germaine Necker for her father's writings. He meets with Admiral Kinsbergen, and many visiting dignitaries. Terminates his history project on the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes. Recommends his nephew Simon Camboulas to his friend Stanislas Foäche, shipowner at Le Havre, to find him a at his house at Le Cap on the island of Santo Domingo.

1786 - In early June, moves into his apartment at Marseille, on Rue Puget, where he becomes a regional celebrity. Stays at Cadenet in Provence, and a few other houses in the Provence countryside.

1787 - Founds two literary awards at the Académie de Marseille, including one on 'the severity of laws'. Active member of the Académie de Lyon, he supports the abbot Corréa de la Serra, himself founder of the Royal Science Academy of Lisbon. In August, stays in Gemenos, at M. d'Albertas's house, along with Malouet, then at Aubagne, at Mgr. Belloy's house, Archbishop of Marseille. Donates his bust, sculpted by Tassaert, to the Académie des Sciences de Lyon.

1788 - Gives the young Provincial Assembly of Haute-Guyenne the sum of 24,000 pounds, to reward the twelve most deserving farmers of the province. Founds an award through the Académie Française on the 'character of Louis XI', another award through the Académie des Inscriptions et Belles Lettres on 'healthy cities', and one through the Académie des Sciences de Paris on 'navigation at sea and the measurement of the meridian'. On December 11 and 12, receives Francisco de Miranda, who was in Marseille.

1789 - Mid-February, Francisco de Miranda, back from a trip, comes to see him for advice. On March 6, becomes a corresponding member of the Société Royale d'Agriculture de Paris and founds a reward on 'the influence of agriculture on the factories'. In May, when staying in Aix-en-Provence and Marseille, he receives Napoléon Bonaparte. On September 5, receives Arthur Young. Attends the revolutionary events in Provence. The Books of Grievances of the Seneschal of St. Maixent express the wish that the King would authorize the Tiers-État du Poitou to erect an equestrian statue of Louis XVI along with the abbot Raynal.

1790 - Gives away to the Société d'Agriculture de Paris a literary award along with an anuual pension of 25,000 pounds for the purchase of models of agriculture tools to be sent to the départements.

The sculptor Jean-Joseph Espercieux does a bust of Raynal during his stay at Marseille. On August 15, the National Assembly abolishes the decree prohibiting Raynal to stay in Paris. On August 31, Brissot indicates to Raynal his nomination to the (American) Philadelphia Society for 'the abolition of the slave trade and slavery'.

1791 - Returns to Paris early May and resides to his friend's house, the printer Stoupe. On May 31, the National Assembly reads his address in which he denounces the excesses of the new power. Upon this reading, Robespierre—Maximilien, François, Marie, Isidore, de Robespierre was a French lawyer and politician, and one of the best-known and most influential figures of the French Revolution—expresses: "Raynal has yet produced useful truths regarding freedom, however has got an excuse now, his age".  Caricatures and pamphlets about Raynal are circulating. In November, he moves to Chaillot, with his friend the trader Pierre-Etienne Corsange.

1792 - On December 13, moves to Mons-sur-Orge.

1795 - On the 2 nivôse de l'an IV  — December 23, he is appointed to the National Institute. 

1796 - On the 8 ventôse de l'an IV—February 27, he arrives at his friend Corsange's place, at Chaillot. On the 17 ventôse de l'an IV—March 6, he dies. On August 25 the same year, lightning destroys the monument dedicated to the Swiss freedom.

Jean-Baptiste Belley leaning on Raynal's bust

1797 - Anne-Louis Girodet—a French painter and pupil of Jacques-Louis David, who was part of the beginning of the Romantic movement by adding elements of eroticism through his painting—paints a portrait of Jean-Baptiste Belley leaning on Raynal's bust.