The Abbé Henri-Baptiste Grégoire (1750–1831), a Catholic priest and bishop, was a leading French abolitionist at the turn of the eighteenth century, a participant in the Revolution of 1789, and a member of its governing assembly. His work An Enquiry Concerning the Intellectual and Moral Faculties, and Literature of Negroes was first published in 1808. The first edition in English, the complete text of which is included here, was brought out in 1810 by Brooklyn printer Thomas Kirk.
The book was an immediate rallying point for the nascent abolitionist cause in America. Britain had abolished the slave trade the previous year, and America’s ban on the importation of slaves began in 1808. In his book, Grégoire systematically refutes all the major arguments for the inferiority of blacks, countering them with examples showing how blacks and black societies possess the same elements of intellect and civilization found in white societies. Its examples of African-American achievement, especially the biographical listings in Chapter VII, remained a standard source for abolitionist writings throughout the nineteenth century. (more…)