August 11, 1791: Barnave on Representative Government and the Social Order

  • Paul H. Beik
Part of the The Documentary History of Western Civilization book series (DHWC)


Antoine Barnave was twenty-eight in 1789, a young deputy from Grenoble who at first was a supporter of Mounier but moved beyond him to support the unicameral legislature and the suspensive veto and the other clauses of the Constitution of 1791. Barnave was one of the outstanding orators of the National Assembly, a maker of striking phrases who in the early years seemed very radical. This remained the case as long as he was primarily concerned, along with his associates Duport and the Lameth brothers, about dangers from the king and the aristocracy, but by 1791 he had misgivings about dangers from the left. The episode of Varennes, in which he participated as one of the commissioners sent by the Assembly to escort the royal family back to Paris, rallied him to the defense of the revolution as it had been up to that point, as is shown in the document below, a leading example of that effort at consolidation. Barnave and his friends also secretly advised the court and hoped to amend the constitution in the direction of something like the ideas of Mounier in 1789. This effort failed, and Barnave, after going home to Grenoble, was to be arrested, brought to Paris, and guillotined in 1793. Before his death, he wrote a remarkable manuscript which was published in 1845 as Introduction à la Révolution française, a work comparable in the breadth of its vision to Condorcet’s manuscript produced under rather similar circumstances. The speech below is from Journal des États-Généraux convoqués par Louis XVI, le 27 avril 1789; aujourd’hui Assemblée nationale permanente, ou Journal logographiquechrw…par M. Le Hodey. (Paris, 1791) Vol. XXXI, pp. 377–384. The date, August 11, 1791, is that of one of the important debates on revision of the constitutional provisions for election of members of the legislature. There is a motion on the floor to increase substantially the property requirement for electors; that is, for the men who, after being chosen by active citizens, would themselves choose the deputies to the legislature.


Social Order Active Citizen French Revolution Representative Government Royal Family 
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© Paul H. Beik 1970

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  • Paul H. Beik

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