On September 8, 1749, Dominique-Joseph Garat was born in Baiona, Lapurdi. An important political figure in the Northern Basque Country, he drew up plans, which he presented to Napoleon, to unite all the Basque provinces in one political unit–New Phoenicia–that would have remained an autonomous part of the French Empire. Napoleon, however, rejected the idea.

Garat painted by Johann Friedrich Dryander (1794). Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Garat painted by Johann Friedrich Dryander (1794). Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

After studying law in Bordeaux, in 1777 Garat moved to Paris where he worked as a journalist (covering the American Revolution) and teacher. In 1789, he was elected representative of the Third Estate for Lapurdi and in 1792 he was appointed the minister of justice in Revolutionary France, charged with communicating to King Louis XVI his death sentence. Garat resigned after this decision and was arrested twice by the Jacobin authorities. However, following the Jacobin fall from power, from 1794 to 1795 he led the commission charged with implementing the new educational system and in 1798 was named French ambassador to Naples. That same year, he was elected president of the Council of Elders (the upper house of the French Directory) and later became a senator in Napoleonic France.

Garat, c.1814-1816. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Garat, c.1814-1816. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

As a senior statesman, Garat subsequently used his political influence to present a plan to Napoleon to create what he termed New Phoenicia, incorporating all the Basque provinces north and south of the Pyrenees. This would, in Garat’s scheme, be an autonomous political unit within the French Empire, and serve as a buffer state between the French Republic and the Kingdom  of Spain. He lobbied to implement his plan on several occasions between 1803 and 1811, but ultimately to no avail. In part, wider events–including the course of the Peninsular War of 1807-1814 (covered in a previous post here)–hindered the feasibility of the scheme.  After opposing Napoleon during the events associated with the arrival of Louis XVIII on the French throne and Napoleon’s subsequent (although brief) return to power in 1814–15, he retired from his post in the senate. He abandoned politics altogether and settled once more in Iparralde, where, in Basusarri, on December 9, 1833, he died.

Igor Ahedo Gurrutxaga discusses the importance of Garat at length in his The Transformation of National Identity in the Basque Country of France, 1789-2006.  According to Ahedo (p. 53):

Garat is a key figure in the political history of Iparralde for his role after the abolition of the Basque institutions with the triumph of the French Revolution. Furthermore, he is also important for the plans he drew up to unite the Basque provinces of both Iparralde and Hegoalde in one political unity: New Phoenicia, a confederation that would have formed a part of the Napoleonic French empire.