Historical Dictionary of the French Revolution 1789-1799 - Vol. 2

By Samuel F. Scott; Barry Rothaus | Go to book overview
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RABAUT SAINT-ETIENNE, JEAN-PAUL ( 1743-93), Protestant minister, deputy to the National Assembly and to the National Convention. Rabaut Saint- Etienne, the foremost leader of the Protestants in the French Revolution, was the eldest son of the celebrated pastor of Nîmes, P. Rabaut. Like his father, he became a devoted Calvinist minister and a stalwart defender of Protestantism. He had a distinguished career as a writer, member of the Estates General, and was elected deputy and president in both the National Assembly and the Convention. He was also a noted journalist who helped J. Cérutti found La feuille villageoise and collaborated in La chronique de Paris.

Rabaut Saint-Etienne had as his main goal to give Protestants full religious and civil freedom. His hope was that the Revolution would bury the anti-Protestant prejudices of the past and break the chains of Protestant oppression. For Rabaut the Revolution was the heir of the Enlightenment. Indeed, he was imbued with the philosophical views of the Enlightenment, specifically those regarding the doctrines of toleration and progress. Man, gifted with reason, can infallibly arrive at a better world, if he will only use his reason. Man can distinguish between good and evil, ignorance and error, since there is no limit to the perfectability of reason. With this legacy from the Enlightenment, Rabaut Saint- Etienne manifested these views in his thoughts and deeds.

He was one of the major formulators of the Edict of Toleration approved with limitations by Louis XVI in November 1787. Although it was a breakthrough in that Protestants were given freedom of conscience, they were not given full religious and civil equality. Rabaut Saint-Etienne desired to obtain freedom of worship for Protestants, the legalization of Protestant schools, the acceptance of Protestants as lawyers, doctors, notaries, and in other professions still closed to them, and the termination of existing laws still in effect against the Protestants.

On the eve of the French Revolution, Rabaut plunged into the political debate regarding the status of the estates in French society with the publication of his Considérations sur les droits et sur les devoirs du tiers-état ( 1788). Basically,


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