Jean Louis Joseph Lebeau

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Joseph Lebeau

Jean Louis Joseph Lebeau (born January 3, 1794 in Huy , † March 19, 1865 in Huy) was a liberal Belgian statesman. He was one of the founders of Belgian independence.


Early career

Jean Louis Joseph Lebeau was originally intended for the clergy, but studied law at the University of Liège , where he obtained a doctorate in this discipline in December 1819 and settled in Liège as a lawyer. In addition, he dealt with political and administrative studies and worked as a journalist; as such, he performed successfully with the works Recueil politique et administratif pour la province de Liége (Liège 1829) and Observations sur le pouvoir royal dans les États constitutionnels (Liège 1830). He also founded the political journal Matthieu Laensberg with Charles Rogier , Firmin Rogier and Paul Devaux , which soon assumed the name La politique . As co-editor of this magazine, he contributed significantly to the establishment of the union between the liberal and the Catholic opposition to the government of William I of the United Netherlands .

Role during the Belgian Revolution; prime minister

After the outbreak of the Belgian Revolution in September 1830, Lebeau was appointed Advocate General at the Court of Justice in Liège by the provisional government and a member of the commission charged with drafting the draft constitution and advocating maintaining the monarchy. Soon afterwards, his hometown Huy sent him as their representative in the national congress and there he campaigned strongly for the independence of Belgium. When asked about the election of a head of state, he opposed a French candidate and instead was initially in favor of the Duke of Leuchtenberg ascending the Belgian throne.

On March 28, 1831 Lebeau became Prime Minister and Foreign Minister in the second cabinet of Regent Erasme Louis Surlet de Chokier . In this position he had the difficult task of removing the danger from the increasingly tense relations between Prussia and the revolutionary state. He now played a major role in the election of Prince Leopold of Saxe-Coburg as King of the Belgians, although when it came to the adoption of the 18 articles that set out the peace preliminaries, he was the target of hateful attacks for a long time, so that even his personal safety was threatened. However, through a brilliant speech in Congress (July 5, 1831) he was able to win over public opinion. The 18 articles were accepted, and Leopold accepted the crown offered to him. In order not to come under suspicion of personal self-interest, Lebeau gave up his ministerial post on July 21, 1831 and, in recognition of his services, was appointed a member of the delegation that was to accompany Prince Leopold on his entry into his country.

Although Lebeau assisted King Leopold in the formation of his first ministry, he did not enter it, also turned down the legation post offered to him in London , rather retired to his previous position as advocate general at the court in Liege. But when the hostilities with the Netherlands broke out again, Lebeau went back to Brussels , where he was appointed by the king as a member of the Council of Ministers. After Belgium had been evacuated by Dutch troops as a result of the French intervention, Lebeau returned to his previous position in Liège and was soon elected deputy by both Brussels and Huy.

Minister of Justice; Advocating the definitive contract with the Netherlands

After the indecisive and passive cabinet of Prime Minister Felix de Muelenaere had to give way, it was mainly Nothomb's ideas that succeeded in persuading Lebeau to join the ministry led by Albert Goblet d'Alviella , whereupon he became Minister of Justice on October 20, 1832. The new cabinet had hardly been constituted when it was faced with fierce opposition. For a time there was an acute ministerial crisis that ended with Goblet and his colleagues remaining after the king had tried in vain to set up a new ministry. But soon a new crisis broke out, on April 23, 1833 the chamber was dissolved, Lebeau fell through in Huy, but was re-elected in Brussels.

In the new chamber, Lebeau was mainly attacked by the opposition, who accused him, among other things, of extraditing foreign bankrupts who had fled to Belgium to the courts of their home countries. On August 23, 1833, the Chamber rejected Alexandre Gendebien's indictment against the Minister. In April 1834 the mass unrest broke out in Brussels, but it was more the differences within the government itself that forced it to abdicate; because between the crown on the one hand and Lebeau and Rogier on the other hand there had been a conflict, since Lebeau pressed for the removal of the Minister of War Louis Evain from the cabinet, and because Rogier did not want to do without his colleague Lebeau, he preferred it, also in July 1834 to ask for his release.

Under the so-called unionist cabinet that followed, Lebeau was appointed governor of the province of Namur in 1838 , where he was able to develop an excellent administrative talent. But the events of the day brought him back to the scene of politics, because when it came to the approval of the 24 articles through which the relationship between the Netherlands and Belgium was definitely regulated, violent arguments took place in the Chamber. On March 18, 1839, Lebeau tried to explain in a calm discussion of the real circumstances that Gendebien and his supporters claimed Luxembourg and Limburg for Belgium that there was no longer any need to amend the treaty already approved by the protecting powers and also accepted by the Netherlands to think why this should be accepted. Lebeau specifically pointed out the possibility that, instead of the current hatred, a friendly relationship could develop between the Netherlands and Belgium later. The treaty was accepted, but Lebeau had then made the decision to swap the excitement of parliamentary life for a diplomatic career, a decision that his political friends partially reversed by becoming Belgium's temporary envoy to the German Confederation appointed.

Second term as Prime Minister

When the clerical ministry led by Barthélémy de Theux de Meylandt fell, Lebeau was entrusted with the formation of a new cabinet on April 18, 1840. While most previous cabinets had been composed of Catholics and Liberals, Lebeau now formed a cabinet consisting only of members of the Liberal Party. That is why the Catholics soon came into the opposition. Another reason for this was that Lebeau had always vigorously opposed the demands of the bishops on the teaching issue. Prime Minister Lebeau also served as Foreign Minister. He started negotiations with France, which would have liked to reach a customs agreement with Belgium. Lebeau faced a difficult task because the governments in Berlin , Vienna and London did not really trust Belgian neutrality and accused the state of an obvious leaning towards France. But he managed to convince the European cabinets that Belgium intends to keep its neutrality unreservedly.

Since the majority of the Second Chamber was decidedly liberal, i.e. a successful fight against Lebeau's ministry in this political body was hopeless, the predominantly ultramontane Senate strived for this goal. In an address to the king dated March 17, 1841, the Senate requested a modification of the cabinet. The ministers thereupon demanded the dissolution of the senate and Lebeau presented the king with a detailed report in which the necessity of this measure was set out. Leopold rejected this request, mainly due to Nothomb, so that Lebeau resigned on April 13, 1841, and with him almost the entire cabinet.

Later political career and death

As a member of parliament and as a publicist, Lebeau and his friend Rogier continued to advocate the principles of liberalism in the face of the growing influence of the clerical party. In particular, Lebeau opposed clergy interference in secular and political issues, and his speeches in the Second Chamber on such occasions were outstanding parliamentary achievements. He came out violently against the clerical ministries Nothomb and de Theux, which ruled Belgium from 1841 to 1847; in return he welcomed the subsequent resurgence of the Liberals and the ministry formed by Rogier in August 1847.

But the liberal era didn't last long. The revolutions that broke out in Europe in 1848 passed Belgium without danger, but the general excitement, which also spread here, and the coup d'état of Napoleon III. in France (December 2, 1851) also exerted their influence on Belgium. There was a ministerial crisis in 1851, one of which was repeated after the elections of 1852. Lebeau did not accept the King's invitation to form a cabinet, and so a ministry led by Pieter de Decker and acting from 1855 to 1857 came to the Power, during whose reign Lebeau again took a vigorous stand against the clericals on the occasion of the deliberation on the charity law.

When the clerical ministry de Deckers had to resign as a result of the local elections in November 1857, Rogier came back to the top and had his friend Lebeau from the king on November 12, 1857 the honorary title of Minister of State. After Lebeau had worked in the Second Chamber for a while, his poor health forced him to take a longer vacation. He returned to his post strengthened but by no means cured. When the chamber, in which both parts held each other with almost equal strength, was dissolved, he finally renounced his re-election as deputy in the autumn of 1864 due to illness. This decision was received with great regret in the liberal camp. Lebeau retired to his hometown of Huy, where he died on March 19, 1865 at the age of 71. In 1868 a bronze statue made by Guillaume Geefs was erected for him there .


  • Observations sur le pouvoir royal dans les États constitutionnels , Liège 1830
  • La Belgique depuis 1847 , 4 parts, Brussels 1852
  • Lettres aux électeurs belges , 8 booklets, Brussels 1853–56
  • Souvenirs personnels et correspondance diplomatique 1824–1841 . Edited by A. Fréson, Brussels 1883