“Negro slavery is contrary to the sentiments of humanity
and the principles of justice.”
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 member of its governing assembly, and a supporter of the rights of Jews and free blacks in France and its colonies.
Shortly after being ordained, his first published essays from the 1770s concerned equal treatment under law for the Jewish population in France. Grégoire supported the French Revolution of 1789 and was elected as one of the few clergymen to the Estates-General, the revived French Assembly. He served in several public offices in the following decades and was elected Bishop of Blois. Grégoire was an early supporter of abolition, a stance that led to later clashes with Napoleon and the Bonapartist regime. He met Julien Raimond, the Haitian advocate for racial reform, in 1789 and supported Raimond’s work to convince the Assembly to strike racially discriminatory laws in the French colony of Saint-Domingue (Haiti). Grégoire supported the Haitian Revolution of 1791. The Constituent Assembly’s law to grant the same rights to some free men of color in French colonies was made in 1791 on his proposal.
Grégoire joined the Société des amis des Noirs (Society of the Friends of Blacks) in 1787 and began writing abolitionist pamphlets. Thomas Jefferson, then living in Paris as American minister, was invited to join the society at the same time, but declined. Grégoire’s full-length 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. It was translated by David Bailie Warren, the acting American consul in France at the time.
The book was an immediate rallying point for the nascent abolitionist cause in America. As the long listing of dedicatees (many of whom were still living when the book went to press) shows, the English abolitionist movement was considerably larger and more established than its counterpart in America at this time. 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.
In his arguments supporting black intellect, leadership and initiative, Grégoire’s examples of the Haitian Revolutionary leaders Toussaint L’Ouverture and Ogé won him no favors in Bonapartist France, which had quickly moved to repress the Revolution in Haiti and reinforce the rights of slaveholders. Grégoire’s relationship with both the Church and the French government remained strained for the rest of his life due to his progressive views.
The works and achievements of most of the writers cited—Equiano, Ignatius Sancho, and Phyllis Wheatley, for example—would have been known in transatlantic intellectual circles of the time, though their accomplishments had not been systematically documented in this manner. In one sense, Grégoire’s book is the first volume of African-American literary criticism.
Thanks to Rare Books and Special Collections Librarian Jeffrey Makala for suggesting and helping to make this book available in electronic form. The project could also not have been completed without the work of Tony Branch from the Systems Department, and Kate Boyd, Deborah Green (2007, MLIS Library Science), and Laura Coleman (2007, MLIS Library Science) from the Digital Activities Department.
The monograph was scanned on a flatbed Epson Expression 10000 XL scanner using SilverFast scanning software. Deborah scanned the images as color TIFFs at 24-bit and 300 ppi. From the TIFFs she created high-quality JPEGs and added the preservation metadata to the TIFF and JPEG images. Laura Coleman OCR’d the text with OmniPage Pro, creating text files, to make the pages full-text searchable. The JPEGs and text files were then uploaded to CONTENTdm. The TIFFs will be maintained as the archival masters on a SAN server, backed up to DVD and tape.
Laura began creating a home page for the collection, which Stewart finished, adding a table of contents page for easy accessibility to the different chapters. (This page has been replaced by the table of contents in the book’s CONTENTdm viewer.) Jeffrey wrote an introduction to the book. Kate Boyd created metadata in an Excel file for bookmarking the individual chapters in CONTENTdm. The metadata records follow the Western States Best Practices Dublin Core format and were uploaded as a tab-delimited file at the same time as the images. Kate reviewed the collection and uploaded the images to the CONTENTdm database.