Abbe Guillaume-Thomas-François Raynal

(1713–1796)

John Adams (1735–1826) once described the Abbe Raynal as the most eloquent man I ever heard speak in French”. Although he entered the Jesuit order as a young man, by 1748 he had left the priesthood to pursue a journalistic career in Paris. There he edited the Mercure de France’, and became a creature of salon society.

He is best remembered for his Histoire philosophique et politique des établissements et du commerce des Européens dans les deux Indes’ (1770). The text adopted a deistical and libertarian attitudes associated with Montesquieu and Voltaire, … the exoticism, anecdotal style, and strident advocacy of social and economic reforms that characterized this survey of colonialism and commerce… made it one of the bulwarks of the French Enlightenment. But its open anticlericalism and advocacy of the right of insurrection alarmed the French monarchy and led to a decree of Parliament of 1781 ordering Raynal’s arrest and the confiscation of his property… the last section of his Histoire philosophique’, also published separately as Revolution de l’Amerique’ (1781), helped to bring about American independence; he also maintained that more than 25,000 copies were distributed throughout the colonies” (Aldridge for ADNB).