Berryer, PIERRE-ANTOINE, French advocate, orator, and statesman, son of Pierre-Nicolas Berryer, an advocate, b. at Paris, January 4, 1790; d. at Augerville, November 29, 1868. A pupil of the College de Juilly, which the Oratorians had reopened in 1796, Berryer, after having believed himself favored with an ecclesiastical vocation, eventually consecrated himself to the forensic career. “Leaving college to the sound of the artillery of Jena”, he displayed his Bonapartist sentiments in certain verses upon Marie Louise which he wrote in 1810; but eighteen months’ study of the reports of the Constituent Assembly, under the guidance of Bonnemant, a former member of that assembly, made a monarchist of Berryer, in 1812, and a monarchist he remained to the end of his days. He always maintained the principle that “the king is not the head of a party”; he took the view that France was not antagonistic to the king personally, or to the king’s right, but to the monarchist party, and it was always Berryer’s idiosyncrasy to be independent with respect to that party. He distinguished himself at the beginning of the Restoration by assisting his father and the elder Dupin in the defense of Marshal Ney and by his own defense of two generals, Debelle and Cambronne, compromised in the Hundred Days. Debelle, condemned to death, had his punishment commuted to ten years’ imprisonment, after an application made by Berryer to the Duc d’Angouleme; Cambronne was acquitted, and Berryer, accused of having in his speech for the defense, maintained the right of insurrection, defended himself victoriously. In 1818 he defended General Canuel, and in 1820 General Donnadieu, both charged with exaggerating the importance of the Lyons and Grenoble risings, which they had suppressed. These interventions of Berryer were very displeasing to the Decazes ministry; but the young advocate, having thus combated the spirit of reprisals against the old Napoleonic army, which the Restoration was developing, next directed his energies to opposing a certain shade of liberalism which seemed to him dangerous to monarchical principles. In 1830, in order to supply the property qualification needed to legalize his election as Deputy for the Department of Haute-Loire, his friends purchased for him the estate of Angerville, in Loiret. His first parliamentary speech (March 9, 1830) was in defense of the Crown and the Polignac Ministry against the address of the two hundred and twenty-one, which he considered seditious. On hearing this speech Royer-Collard remarked, “There is a Power” (Voila une puissance).
Under the July Monarchy Berryer was one of the most formidable members of the opposition. After vainly endeavoring to dissuade the Duchesse de Berri from her insurrectionary enterprise, he was himself arrested as an accomplice, but was acquitted by the jury. He then entered upon a campaign for the liberation of the duchess, and defended Chateaubriand against the charge of complicity. Returned by various constituencies in successive general elections he was the idol of both Legitimists and Republicans. His political life interfered so much with his law practice that in order to live he was obliged to sell his estate of Angerville; Legitimists and Republicans united, in 1836, to buy it back for him. He continued to advocate every measure calculated to limit the arbitrary power of the central government—jury trials for press offenses, nomination of mayors by the communes, abolition of the property qualification. The speech was long famous with which, in 1834, he defeated the treaty according to the United States tardy compensation for vessels confiscated by Napoleon. He was of counsel for the defense in the case of Louis Bonaparte’s Boulogne attempt, in 1840; defended the Republican Ledru-Rollin in 1841, in a series of four addresses to the Chamber; in 1844 gloried in the “Belgrave Square Pilgrimage” which, with four other Legitimists, he had made to the Comte de Chambord. Elected by the Department of Bouches-du-Rhone to the Constituent Assembly of 1848, and to the Legislative of 1849, Berryer voted with the Right, but without supporting any of the intrigues of Louis Bonaparte. After the 2d of December 1851, he returned to his practice at the Bar. Montalembert, prosecuted in 1858 for an article suspected of advocating for France the liberties of England, had Berryer for his advocate. Monarchist to the end, he exerted himself as a private individual to reconcile the Houses of Bourbon and Orleans. In 1863 he was chosen to represent the Bouches-du-Rhone, sat with the opposition, and sharply attacked the Mexican war policy of the Imperial Government.
The Academy received Berryer in 1855; on the 20th of December, 1861, the fiftieth anniversary of his call to the Bar, all the advocates of France united in honoring him with a splendid banquet. Only a few days before his death, he wrote to the Comte de Chambord a letter which is an admirable testament of the Monarchist faith. Berryer was a life-long defender of religious liberty. He was the first to make clear (in his articles on the Gallican Church in the “Quotidienne”) the changes wrought by the Revolution in the relations between Church and State; he showed that what the State called “Gallican liberties” represented henceforth only a right to oppress the Church. In 1846 and 1847, in two letters to Bishop Fayet of Orleans, he urged Catholics to take their stand on the common ground of liberty. It was in this spirit that, in 1826, he had pleaded for Lamennais, who had accused the Gallican Church of atheism, and that, in 1828, he wrote against the Martignac ordinances on the episcopal schools (petits seminaires). In 1831 he spoke against the reestablishment of divorce; in 1833 against the project of Portalis tending to state recognition of marriages by priests. His reply to M. Thiers, March 3, 1845, on the Jesuits, remains, says M. Thureau-Dangin, “a sovereign, definitive refutation of all those who, then or since, have pretended to invoke against the religious orders the old laws of proscription”. Berryer defended the religious associations with all the more authority because, in that same year, pleading for three carpenters who had combined to secure a suspension of work, he formally asserted the right of labor to combine (droit de coalition ouvriare), which right French law was not to recognize until 1863. He gained great popularity among the laboring classes when he compared the restrictions imposed on them with the toleration accorded to “coalitions formed in other spheres of society, with the aim of securing not a wage-increase of 10 centimes, but an enormous advantage for operations involving hundreds of millions”. Liberty of association for all; respect by the State for the autonomy of the Church—such was the principle from which he never wavered, and in the name of which he brought about, in 1850, the defeat of Jules Favre’s project which would have compelled the Church to reestablish the non-amovability of certain members (desservants) of the lower clergy. The return of Berryer to the practice of his religious duties, under the influence of his friend, Pere de Ravignan, S.J., was the crowning reward of his fruitful activity in behalf of the Church.
Berryer never wrote his discourses; he meditated before speaking. Even his apparent improvisations were deceptive—”The extempore speaker”, he used to say, “has repeated the same thing to himself twenty or a hundred times.” During the Restoration his lectures on eloquence at the “Societe des Bonnes Etudes” were attended by such men as Montalembert and Lacordaire. He was admired by all for his sincerity and the absence of all oratorical artifice. There was something astounding in the suddenness with which, after a moment of apparent inattention, he was wont to crush his opponent’s argument. “If I could act as M. Berryer speaks!” said the actress Rachel, moved by his natural and spontaneous eloquence. On another occasion when Berryer was speaking against Jules Favre, the latter referred to him as “my sublime adversary”.