Victor Schoelcher

1804 – 1893 • France

Human rights • Anti-slavery campaigner • Republican

This revolutionary republican campaigner against slavery was born in Paris in what was then the 5th arrondisement and is now in the 10th, at 60 Rue du Faubourg-Saint-Denis.

His father was a wealthy owner of a porcelain factory who was well able to afford to send his son to the Lycée Condorcet that opened in 1803 in what is now 8 Rue du Havre, the monastery built just before the Revolution in the 1780s. When Schoelcher was there it changed its name. It had been called the Lycée impérial Bonaparte from 1805 to 1815 and then became the Collège royal de Bourbon from 1815 until February 1848.

As a wealthy young man Schoelcher entered the circles where got to know George Sand, Hector Berlioz and Franz Liszt. In 1828 his father sent him off to represent the business in Mexico and the United States and then to Cuba in 1829 where he found slavery absolutely abhorrent.

Returning to France in 1830 Schoelcher became a journalist and art critic and well as a lifelong campaigner against slavery. In 1832 he sold the business he inherited from his father to enable him to concentrate on journalism and politics.

In 1833 his first book, On the slavery of Black people and Colonial Law was an indictment of slavery and called for its abolition. It also argued that although the workers had made the 1830 Revolution, they were being deprived of their rights.

In 1834 he was one of a large number of young republicans who were jailed at Sainte-Pélagie prison after the Rue Transonain massacre in April.

Elected to the National Assembly after the 1848 February Revolution he drafted the bill abolishing slavery.

On December 3 1851 he went to the barricade at the corner of the then Rue Sainte-Marguerite (now Rue Trousseau) with the Rue du Faubourg-Saint-Antoine. He and other deputies such as Alphonse Baudin wanted to strengthen the mobilsation of workers protesting Louis-Napoleon Bonaparte’s coup d’État of the previous day.

Schoelcher then led several of the unarmed deputies out to talk with the soliders sent to suppress the revolt. Alphonse Baduin, jumped up to the top of barricade with a flag and was immediately shot dead.

Exiled from 1851 to 1870 he later wrote a biography of Toussaint L’Ouverture.

After his return to France in 1870 he was elected to the National Assembly and sat on the extreme left of the deputies in Versaillais during the Commune. In 1875 he was elected a senator for life.

Schoelcher photographed by Nadar in the 1870s

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