“Who was the real father of the Declaration of Human Rights?”

FIGAROVOX / GREAT INTERVIEW – François Dyulyuk, Professor of Science Po, dedicates a book to the Marquis de Bonne. But this forgotten figure of the revolution would be the main author of the Declaration of Human Rights, the author explains.

François Dyulyuk is the director of the National Assembly Service and teaches at Sciences Po. He publishes The Marquis de Bonne, the forgotten father of the Declaration of Human Rights (Past Compounds, 2022, 416 pp., 24 euros).


FIGAROVOX. – The Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen is the basis of French and international law. We have long thought that his “father” was Mirabeau, a well-known leader of the third estate during the French Revolution. In your book, you demonstrate that we really owe this text to the chosen nobleman, forgotten by history, the Marquis de Bonne. Where does this misunderstanding come from?

Francois DULIUC. – The Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen of 1789 is a collective work. His parents are numerous. But I demonstrate, drawing in particular on the work of two historians, Emile Valch in 1903 and Antoine de Beck in 1988, that without the Marquis de Bonne the Declaration would never have seen the light of day. After abandoning his so-called Fifth Committee synthesis project, Mirabeau, deeply annoyed, tried to postpone the adoption of the Declaration of Human Rights indefinitely. There was a long confrontation between Mirabeau and Bonne. Bonne won by accepting the draft declaration of the sixth office of the Assembly, which had the advantage of being anonymous, as a basis for discussion.

He then invited MEPs to make article-by-article changes to improve it and get the final text. This is exactly what was done and the Declaration was adopted in record time. Mirabeau opposed Bonne’s petition in the name of necessity “editorial despotism!! This testifies to the strength of his democratic convictions. Bonne not only saved the Declaration of Human Rights, but also established the foundations of parliamentary law, while the rules of the Assembly at the time did not include any precise advisory rules. He did not stop there, because in discussing the articles we owe him articles 7, 8, 9, 10 on justice and freedom of thought.

Why hasn’t anyone mentioned it before? Is this a common mistake, or does it obscure the ideological strategy of those who want to sum up the revolution on its most mountainous or, say, Jacobin side?

Several have. I think, for example, of Blondin Kriegel in her book The politics of reason, published in 1994. But to understand this oversight, we must return to the Third Republic and its difficult beginnings. Recall that the Walloon Amendment of 1875 was adopted only by a majority vote, supporters of the monarchy remained very numerous and powerful. Bonne, an “arch-aristocrat,” could not have a place in the simplistic mythology long passed down by the teachers of the Third Republic on the Declaration of Human Rights and the Revolution to establish a more fragile regime.

Republican governments, looking for unifying heroes, deliberately tried to single out Mirabeau, who had the advantage of being rejected by his caste and elected from the third estate.

Francois Dyulyuk

Republican governments, looking for unifying heroes, deliberately tried to single out Mirabeau, who had the advantage of being rejected by his caste and elected from the third estate. In my book, I quote a circular from the Minister of Public Education, Georges Leig, in this direction. Subsequently, the university and school history of the French Revolution has always been perceived as a republican issue. Reread Olard, Lavissa, Jean Jaures or Albert Mathieu!

He also got along well with Robespierre…

Yes, this may seem strange! It should not be forgotten that before becoming a dictator under the Convention, Robespierre was an idealistic and progressive young member of the Constituent Assembly from 1789 to 1791. He highly revered the Marquis de Bonne. During the discussion of the Declaration of Human Rights, Robespierre supported Bonne’s articles 7, 8 and 9 on the non-retroactivity of laws and the presumption of innocence. They both meant the horrible letters of the Old Regime. And Robespierre supplemented Article 10, proposed by Bonne on freedom of thought, Article 11 on freedom of the press.

Later, joint proposals were made, for example, in favor of the rights of Jews or the right to marry actors, which was rejected by the Catholic Church at the time. They also jointly proposed amending the rules to prevent the debate on the text from being closed if two speakers in favor and two against the text did not speak. And Robespierre was elected secretary of the Assembly when Bonne was its president. Needless to say, when the Marquis de Bonne, forced to emigrate, learned of Robespierre’s evolution a few years later, he was shocked.

How can one explain that an aristocrat can be enthusiastic about a political event that was initially directed against part of his social class?

While the young aristocrats of his generation were educated in their castle by tutors, his parents were smart enough to send him to study at Julie College, which was run by oratorios. Barriers and order were overcome in Julia, and the sons of the bourgeoisie established new ties with the nobility. And oratorians who benefited from the excommunication of the Jesuits were particularly tolerant and open to the ideas of the Enlightenment. Bonne’s teacher of philosophy, Father Mandar, was also close to Rousseau, who talks about their exchanges in confession.

Bonne always supported the revolution as long as it was based on reason, and departed from it only when the passions finally prevailed.

Francois Dyulyuk

In addition, many aristocrats played an active role during the revolution, but often out of personal ambitions, such as La Fayette or the Duke of Orleans, who sought to seize power, taking advantage of the weakness of Louis XVI. Bonne’s view was both more idealistic and more nuanced. He wanted a king who reigned, not ruled, as in England. He was part of the impartial, and then the monarchs, supporters of the constitutional monarchy. He always supported the revolution as long as it was based on reason, and withdrew from it only when passions finally prevailed, believing that the legacy of several centuries of French history could not be ignored. Basically, contrary to Tancred’s famous phrase cheetahaccording to which “everything must change so that everything remains as beforeOn the contrary, Bonne was convinced that everything was necessary so that everything would not change, so that everything would not remain as before.

What role did it play during the revolution?

His role in the Constituent Assembly was important until the failed attempt to escape from the royal family in June 1791. He had two nicknames: the great conciliator and the rainbow. In fact, he had no equal in restoring peace and serenity “after the storm.” Thanks to him, it was possible to stop such heated debates as the nationalization of the property of the clergy and the civil constitution of the clergy. This made Bonne one of the 1,315 members of the Constituent Assembly to be elected president three times, with a majority on the left, while he himself came from the center-right.

Mirabeau also wrote in his diary Courier from Provence that Bonne was the best president of the Constituent Assembly: “Never before has the President of the National Assembly shown more wisdom, peace and dignity in such difficult circumstances.The culmination of Bonne’s career at the beginning of the revolution was his election as president on the feast of the Federation on July 14, 1790, which allowed him to sit on the throne next to Louis XVI on one leg of equality before 400,000 French gathered that day on the Field of Mars. Amazing situation, considering that a few months earlier he was only the king’s bodyguard!

It is time to realize that the most significant and longest-lasting revolutionary work was carried out not by the Convention but by the Constituent Assembly, and that this was the merit not of extremists but of moderates.

Francois Dyulyuk

He finally left France to join Louis XVIII in exile. How do you interpret this “loss of love” and this coup?

Bonne did not want to emigrate. He did so only under duress after the failure of an attempt to escape the royal family, interrupted in Varena. He was accused of involvement in this leak. These allegations were later confirmed by testimony during the trial of Louis XVI. They are really exciting, and I will return to them in a long section on Warren. Since then, the Marquis de Bonne has joined the Count of Provence in exile. He liked Louis XVIII, whom he considered much smarter than his two brothers. The future king entrusted him with many delicate missions, such as returning to France under a fictitious name to convey secret messages to Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette. Bonne later became a confidant of Louis XVIII, replacing d’Avarre, effectively acting as the real prime minister at the court in exile. Monarchist historian Jean-François Chiapp even believes that it was Bonne who persuaded Louis XVIII to moderate and accept the positive achievements of the revolution and the empire, while the Count of Provence was accustomed to declarations of provocative and absolutist ideas.

Does the French Revolution deserve to be re-read or at least reinterpreted, giving a significant place to those who could be called “moderate”?

That’s exactly what I think. It is time to realize that the most significant and longest-lasting revolutionary work was carried out not by the Convention but by the Constituent Assembly, and that this was the merit not of extremists but of moderates. Unfortunately, in a country where sound and subtle opinions are systematically suspected, and where confrontation always seems more attractive than dialogue and compromise, the historiography of the French Revolution, though complete, remains very incomplete!

François Dyulyuk, The Marquis de Bonne, the forgotten father of the Declaration of Human Rights Past compounds

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