Constant, Benjamin (1767–1830)

By: Betje Black Klier

Type: Biography

Published: August 1, 1995

Updated: June 17, 2016

Benjamin Constant was born Henri Benjamin Constant de Rebècque in November 1767 to Louis Arnold Juste de Constant and Henriette Pauline Chandieu in Lausanne, Switzerland, where his Protestant family had been exiled from France upon the revocation of the Edict of Nantes. His mother died in childbirth, and Constant's health was never good. After living and studying in Holland, Belgium, England (Oxford), Scotland (Edinburgh), and Germany (Protestant University, Erlangen), he allied himself with Mme. de Staël, whom Napoleon later exiled from Paris. They lived in Germany and Switzerland. Aside from his long-standing relationship with Germaine de Staël, Constant was married twice. In 1789 he married Wilhelmenie Luise Johanne von Cramm; they were divorced in 1795. Constant married Charlotte von Hardenberg in 1808. He had no children from either marriage, but it is believed that he did have a daughter, Albertine, with Mme. de Staël. In 1814 he returned to Paris, where he championed freedom of the press and condemned as "turncoats" those who rallied to Napoleon on his return from Elba. Constant went into hiding but emerged to have an interview with the former emperor, who persuaded him to prepare a liberal revision of the constitution: L'Acte additionnel aux constitution de l'Empire. After Waterloo, Constant fled to England, where he published Adolphe (1817), the first psychological novel. In 1818 and 1819 he supported the Bonapartist colony of Champ d'Asile, Texas, first through his newspaper, the Minerva. In this publication he built an exotic image of Texas, which he manipulated as a political tool in opposition to the restored monarchy of Louis XVIII. The Minerva sponsored a fund-raising campaign for half-pay imperial veterans going to Texas. Although the "subscription" was initially successful, Constant's role as a political voice was damaged when the colony failed and a scandal erupted over the donations. His newspaper collapsed, but the image of Texas propagated by the liberal Constant and his Bonapartist allies endured in France for several generations. After losing the Minerva in 1818, Constant was elected to the Chamber of Deputies for the next twelve years-the forum from which he continued to fight for freedom of the press-and his enemies questioned his citizenship. Tall, thin, hunchbacked, and having to wear glasses, he was a frequent target of caricaturists. After the July Revolution in 1830, Louis Philippe became "king of the French" (a constitutional monarch), and Constant was elected president of the Council of State months before his death. He died on December 8, 1830, almost destitute, but his reputation was strengthened by the posthumous publication of his letters and manuscripts.

Benjamin Constant: Political Writings, trans. and ed. Biancamaria Fontana (Cambridge University Press, 1988). Cecil Patrick Courtney, A Guide to the Published Works of Benjamin Constant (Oxford: Voltaire Foundation at the Taylor Institution, 1985). La Grande Encyclopédie: Inventaire raisonné des sciences, des lettres et des arts (Paris: Lamirault, n.d.). René Rémond, Les Etats-Unis devant l'opinion française, 1815–1852 (2 vols., Paris: Armand Colin, 1962).


  • Writers, Authors, Publications, and Literature
  • Literature
  • Dramatists and Novelists
  • Fiction
  • Peoples
  • French
  • Authors and Writers
  • Swiss
  • Journalism

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.

Betje Black Klier, “Constant, Benjamin,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed January 17, 2022,

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August 1, 1995
June 17, 2016