Abbé Grégoire, "Memoir in Favor of the People of Color or Mixed–Race of Saint Domingue" (1789)
Baptiste–Henri Grégoire was a parish priest who was elected to the National Assembly by the clergy of Lorraine. He championed the rights of minorities both before the Revolution and in the legislature. The most noted beneficiaries of his attention were Jews and free blacks. He thought giving rights to Jews would encourage assimilation, while giving free blacks a greater stake in society would actually help maintain the institution of slavery because these blacks served in the militias that enforced the slave system. Nonetheless, on other occasions, Grégoire argued for the complete abolition of the institution of slavery.
The whites, having might on their side, have pronounced unjustly that a darkened skin excludes one from the advantages of society. Priding themselves on their complexion, they have raised a wall separating them from a class of free men that are improperly called people of color or mixed-race. They have vowed the degradation of several thousand estimable individuals, as if all were not children of a common father. . . .
Four questions present themselves relative to free people of color. 1) Will they be assimilated in every way to the whites? 2) Will they have representatives at the National Assembly? 3) What will be the number of representatives? 4) Do those who ask to fill this post have a legal commission? A preliminary examination of what they do in our colonies will resolve these questions by informing us what they should become.
Bearing all the burdens of society more than whites, only partially sharing the advantages, being prey to contempt, often to flagrant insult, to anguish, this is the lot of the people of color, especially in St. Domingue. . . .
One rigorous consequence of what precedes is that the rejection of the people of color threatens the state with an unsettling shock; if on the contrary you fill in the gap that separates them from whites, if by bringing minds closer together you cement the mutual attachment of these two classes, their reunion will create a mass of forces that is more effective for containing the slaves, whose afflictions will no doubt be alleviated and about whose lot it will be permitted to be touched, until that opportune moment when they can be freed. . . .
The people of color being equal in everything to the whites, one will surely not ask if they should be active in legislation and send deputies to the National Assembly. Subjected to the laws and to taxation, citizens must consent to the one and the other, without which they can refuse obedience and payment. If someone could claim to possess to a higher degree this right that is equal for everyone, it would be without doubt those who, having been more afflicted by long and multiple vexations, have more complaints to lodge.
The materials listed below appeared originally in The French Revolution and Human Rights: A Brief Documentary History, translated, edited, and with an introduction by Lynn Hunt (Bedford/St. Martin's: Boston/New York), 1996, 105–6.