He was born at Chartres, where his father was an inn-keeper. Brissot received a good education and entered the office of a lawyer at Paris. His first works, Théorie des lois criminelles (1781) and Bibliothèque philosophique du législateur (1782), were on the philosophy of law, and showed how thoroughly Brissot was imbued with the ethical precepts of Rousseau. The first work was dedicated to Voltaire, and was received by the latter with much favour.
Brissot became known as a writer, and was engaged on the Mercure, on the Courrier de l'Europe, and on other papers. Ardently devoted to thc service of humanity, he proposed a scheme for a general concourse of all the savants in Europe, and started in London a paper, Journal du Lycée de Londres, which was to be the organ of their views. The plan was unsuccessful, and soon after his return to Paris Brissot was placed in the Bastille on the charge of having published a work against the government.
He obtained his release after four months, and again devoted himself to pamphleteering, but was forced to retire for a time to London. On this second visit he became acquainted with some of the leading Abolitionists, and founded later in Paris a Société des Amis des Noirs, of which he was president during 1790 and 1791. As an agent of this society he paid a visit to the United States of America in 1788, and in 1791 published his Nouveau Voyage dans les Etats-Unis de l'Amérique septentrionale (3 vols.).
From the first, Brissot threw himself heart and soul into the Revolution. He edited the Patriote français from 1789 to 1793, and took a prominent part in politics. Upon the demolition of the Bastille, the keys were presented to him. Famous for his speeches at the Jacobin club, he was elected a member of the municipality of Paris, then of the Legislative Assembly, and later of the National Convention.
During the Legislative Assembly his knowledge of foreign affairs enabled him as member of the diplomatic committee practically to direct the foreign policy of France, and the declaration of war against the emperor on April 20 1792, and that against England on July 1 1793, were largely due to him. It was also Brissot who gave these wars the character of revolutionary propaganda. He was in many ways the leading spirit of the Girondists, who were also known as Brissotins.
Vergniaud was the better orator, but Brissot was quick, eager, impetuous, and a man of wide knowledge. However, he was indecisive, and not qualified to struggle against the fierce energies roused by the events of the Revolution. His party fell before the Mountain; sentence of arrest was passed against the leading members of it on June 2 1793. Brissot attempted to escape in disguise, but was arrested at Moulins. His demeanour at the trial was quiet and dignified; and on October 31 1793 he died bravely with several other Girondists.
See Mémoires de Brissot, sur ses contemporains et la Révolution française, published by his sons, with notes by F de Montroi (Paris, 1830); Helena Williams, Souvenirs de la Révolution française (Paris, 1827); FA Aulard, Les Orateurs de la Legislative et de la Convention 2nd ed, Paris, 1905); FA Aulard, Les Portraits littéraires a la fin du XVIII' siècle, pendant la Revolution (Paris, 1883).
This entry was originally from the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica.