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AliTHOUaH the French Revolution and the emancipation 
of the Jews are united in my title, the movement which 
led up to complete political emancipation of the Jews 
commenced quite independently of the general political 
upheaval in France, and consequently it is not possible 
to obtain any clear and complete view of the march of the 
efforts which were made on behalf of the Jews by confining 
attention to the years immediately following 1788. Efforts 
to ameliorate the conditions of the Jews of France com- 
menced to be made many years before, and it is only 
because the movement merged into the greater national 
upheaval during the years 1789-91 that the one politically 
becomes part of the other. 

I propose, therefore, in spite of the title, which is 
slightly misleading, to confine attention to a brief survey 
of the efforts for the amelioration of the lot of the Jews 
before 1789 and to the steps by which the National 
Assembly came to consummate in the years 1789-91 
probably the most supreme act of justice which Europe 
has witnessed during the last 150 years. 

In a country in which the people govern, political 
movement is only a visible expression of forces which 
are at work more or less deeply in the social organism. 
And on a cool review of the conditions and circumstances 
which attended the achievement of Jewish liberty in 

» An Address delivered during the Cambridge Summer Meeting, August, 
1906. Tlie general scheme of the course of studies dealt with the 
eighteenth century, and three lectures on Jewish History were included : 
" Moses Mendelssohn " (by Dr. A. Wolf), the lecture here printed, and 
"Jewish Life in the Eighteenth Century" (by I. Abrahams). 


France, one cannot doubt that it was only a small yet 
integral part of the colossal advance which Frenchmen 
made for mankind in the eighteenth century towards 
freedom and happiness. 

It is not necessary here to dwell upon general events in 
France in the eighteenth century, the breakdown of the 
old social system, the annihilation of feudal ideas, the 
scorn for the Church and all its ways, and the propagation 
of new theories of the principles upon which society should 
be built. But two points it is desirable to bear in mind, 
(i) that out of the welter and ferment and chaos in which 
French ideas were plunged, men were slowly but surely 
grasping that which is now the first principle of govern- 
ment — that all men are to be treated as equal until 
it can be proved that some are a danger to society, and 
(a) the French mind of the eighteenth century was not 
inclined to argue inductively, but to seize upon a general 
principle and use it deductively regardless of immediate 
consequences. Generally logic could not wait upon oppor- 
tunity, but opportunities had to be made to fit in with 

Thus when individuals are inclined to argue that this or 
that event which occurred elsewhere, in Germany or England 
or Ameiica, gave the immediate impulse to Jewish emancipa- 
tion in Fi-ance, they are allowing their national prejudices 
to greatly exaggerate the work of their countrymen. The 
pamphlet of Dohm on the condition of the Jews of Germany 
may have called attention to the miserable plight of the 
Jews of Alsace ; the pamphlet of Mirabeau on the Jew Bill 
of 1753 in England, probably enlisted much sympathy in 
France for the Jews of Alsace, of whom few Frenchmen 
knew anything; the publication in France of the decree 
of emancipation granted by the State of Virginia almost 
certainly made French statesmen think that the same 
grant of liberty was no more dangerous in France. But 
each and all of these could have done little for 'the 
Jews: at best they could furnish only illustrations in 


the argument of emancipators against the diatribes and 
prophecies of the clericals and anti-Semites. Jewish 
emancipation was due to the genius of Frenchmen for 
liberty and justice, to the provocation which the fatuous 
policy of the clericals gave to a people already bitterly 
incensed against them, and to the efforts which French 
Jews themselves made for their own salvation. Indeed, the 
movement for emancipation followed the same course in 
France as in every other country since: by their own 
efforts Jews obtained possession of their citizenship de facto 
before the Assembly gave them possession de jure. As 
the communes of Paris remarked, the National Assembly 
-were only required to place the seal of the law upon those 
rights of citizenship which the Jews bad already earned 
and which they already enjoyed. 

In 1780 there were some 30,000 Jews within the French 
kingdom, dwelling practically in three districts only — some 
30,000 in Alsace, some 5,000 or 6,000 in and about Bordeaux, 
and the rest either in Paris or scattered in small communities 
in several parts of the country. And it is as well to note 
that this concenti'ation in few places constituted at once the 
strength and the weakness of the Jewish cause. On the one 
hand, it gave free play to the intellect of the doctrinaires 
who were numerous in the National Assembly, for they were 
enabled thus to argue in the abstract, independent of the 
prejudices, for or against, which the concrete generally 
engenders ; on the other hand, it allowed the moderates in 
the Assembly — a word which is taken to mean moderate 
in opinion, but which most frequently means moderate in 
ability, in imagination, and in courage — to procrastinate 
because the evils of which the Jews complained were not at 
their doors, and the woes of 30,000 people were of little 
immediate account with men who had to save a nation. 
It was the great task of the Jews to draw these moderates 
into the camp of the liberators, and it was the achievement 
of the clericals to drive them thither. 

Of the three communities of Jews only one could boast 


of any degree of happiness and proBperity. The community 
of Bordeaux was an old one, composed for the most part of 
the descendants of those Jews who had been honoured 
residents of the south of France and the north of Spain 
before the baneful influence of the Inquisition spread 
its shadow over the land. They did not share in the 
expulsion which Charles VI decreed in 1394, because 
Bordeaux was then English territory; and when the 
English finally disappeared from French soil a more 
tolerant or a more greedy king took them under his 
protection. But it was not as Jews that they remained; 
they were compelled outwardly to assume the garb and 
the attitude of Christianity. For three centuries they 
lived in the light of day as Christians; they went to 
church and to confession, they joined in social and political 
functions ostensibly as Christians. In secret they cherished 
the old ideals of their fathers, which are the eternal ideals 
of Israel. In 1686 they were, however, recognized as Jews, 
paying to Louis XIV a protection tax as Jews ; and from 
1730 onwards they openly practised the rites which Judaism 
imposed. They built synagogues, and the church no longer 
found them within its walls. And from 1730 until the 
outbreak of the Revolution no one protested — surely a 
wonderful sign of the progress which religious toleration 
had made in France before Mendelssohn was born, or the 
idea of a Jew Bill in England was conceived, or the Ameri- 
can Revolution was even whispered. 

The participation of the Jews of Bordeaux in the duties 
of its citizens, its social, political, and military functions 
had a powerful effect on the cause of Jewish emancipation. 
They had the opportunity of proving their worth to their 
fellow citizens, and they used it. Their historic association 
with the commerce and development of the port, their 
patriotic bearing, their liberal attitude towards mankind 
generally, their commercial probity, and their manly 
dignity, won for them the commanding respect of their 
neighbours ; so that when their hour of trial came it never 


occuiTed to the Bordelais to regard the Jews of Bordeaux 
as anything but equals. No Christian Bordelais ever asked 
if Jews might eat with Christians ; he knew they did. No 
Bordelais inquired whether Jews could be good Frenchmen ; 
he had tried them and found them not wanting. Christian 
and Jewish Bordelais had lived and fought together, bled 
and died together; and each had learned to respect the 
other's virtues if he could not share his faith. And there- 
fore, when the Jews of Bordeaux in 1776 petitioned the 
king to grant them the right to settle in any part of 
France and to trade throughout the kingdom, there were few 
or none to protest. They received their letters patent and 
the confirmation of all their previous privileges. And 
in 1789 they exercised the franchise like other Bordelais 
to elect members of the National Assembly. I dwell 
somewhat upon the Bordeaux Jews, for, as we shall see, it 
was their position more than any other single fact or 
argument whatsoever which carried the Jews of France 
past the crisis of their fate. 

The position of the Jews of Paris was in sharp contrast 
with that of their co-religionists in Bordeaux. They had 
received no general permission to return, and had crept 
back by ones and by twos because, with all the disadvantages 
of Paris, conditions elsewhere were quite as hard to bear. 
When their presence became known, a system of individual 
licences to reside was instituted. Most of the Jews in 
Paris had come from the German provinces, and in every 
case strict investigation was supposed to be made into the 
character and antecedents of applicants for the right to 
reside. As they were subject to the domiciliary visits of 
certain police ofiicials, on whose report the retention of 
their property and indeed the possibility of mere existence 
depended, it is easy to see that at no time could they acquire 
more than was necessary for bare subsistence, and that their 
position resolved itself into a struggle to satisfy the greed 
of their official persecutors. The only Jews in Paris who 
found life at all tolerable were a few who had come from 


Bordeaux and were under the protection of the court or 
of great nobles whom they served. 

The Jews of Alsace were in a deplorable plight. Prob- 
ably in the whole of Jewish history there have been few 
communities living under such conditions. 

Practically the towns were hermetically sealed against 
them. They might only dwell in the villages, and in them 
money-lending was unhappily the only pursuit to which 
they might devote their intellect and their industry ; and 
even in that the restrictions were so comprehensive and 
the administration of the law so completely in the hands of 
ill-wishers that every loan they made was almost irrecover- 
able if the debtor were inclined to refuse payment. As a 
consequence, their poverty and degradation could hardly 
reach a lower depth. 

" The most hostile authors agree in depicting the Alsatian 
Jews of the end of the eighteenth century as poorly fed, 
clothed in rags, and possessing only a limited capital, which 
they loaned, and on the interest of which they realized 
enough to support themselves." 

With little capital and less security they were compelled 
to make bargains with a peasantry almost as poor as them- 
selves, and under such conditions that anti-Semites, whose 
paradise has always been the German provinces of Europe, 
had no difficulty in pointing out illegalities, in dwelling 
upon the oppi'essive nature of the loans, and consequently 
in arousing the bitter hostility towards the Jews of those 
who really were fellow victims of the same vile system. 

Reviled for their odious calling, these Jews of Alsace 
were debarred from every means of livelihood which could 
have afforded them an escape from its toils. Commerce, 
trades, professions, agriculture, were all closed against them. 
Moreover, they groaned under the most oppressive imposts 
— poll tax, travellers' tax, residence tax, protection money, 
restricted rights of marriage — every economic evil which 
German ingenuity could devise. Victimized by official 
robbers and princely parasites, it only remained for them 


to be the victims of ingenious roguery to find life unen- 
durable. And a calamity due initially to such roguery 
fell upon them in the years immediately precedent to the 
revolution. In 1778 quittances from their debts to Jews 
were granted to the credulous peasantry by agents who 
were sent throughout the vUlages of Alsace by a lawyer, 
appropriately named Hell. The Jews repudiated the 
quittances, and their repudiation was supported by magis- 
trates who were certainly not favourable to them. Yet 
the peasantry were aroused to commit every act of violence 
against the Jews by the virulence of their anti-Semitic 
leaders. Houses were destroyed, outrages of all descriptions 
were committed, Jews were driven forth from the villages 
and frequently murdered, and certainly in most cases 
payment of debts was refused. More it was impossible to 
endure. And at length the Jews resolved to appeal to the 
King for some amelioration in their lot. 

The times were not altogether unpropitious for a great 
effort on behalf of the Jews. The stream of humanitarian 
pamphlets and discourses had poured through the whole 
of cultured France. " The geometrical method of thought," 
as Max Nordau calls it, " was producing its natural effect, 
and out of the declaration of human rights the men of the 
Great Revolution were deducing religious toleration and 
emancipation of all members of the human race." The 
Protestants had already had their turn, for the King had 
commissioned Malesherbes, his chief minister, to consider 
the restoration of Protestants to the position they had 
enjoyed under the Edict of Nantes, and in 1784 he 
commissioned him further to inquire if anything could 
be done to make the Jews of Alsace useful citizens and 
a happier people. But Malesherbes' attitude, though it 
may have been affected somewhat by the ideas of his 
time, was far removed from that of the revolutionary 
leaders. He approached the question of the Jews precisely 
as a humane politician of the old regime might be expected 
to approach it. He was concerned only to determine what 


concessions humanity demanded and social conditions 
rendered safe. 

Those who pleaded the cause of the Alsatian Jews 
demanded at once too much and too little. They of all 
people were scarcely affected by the doctrines of their 
time. Assimilation with the French would render the 
Jewish life impossible, and they were unwilling to make so 
colossal a sacrifice as it seemed to them. They, therefore, 
did not ask to be admitted as citizens of France — put in 
such a form their request would have seemed to Malesherbea 
an impudent demand — ^but desired to create for themselves 
a position which should give them all the economic advan- 
tages enjoyed by French citizens, and would at the same 
time allow them much of self-government. They demanded 
the maintenance of privileges accorded to certain among 
them, and for the rest the right of free residence in any part 
of the kingdom, of practising any profession, of possessing 
and cultivating the land, of admission to chambers of 
commerce, and the right to share in municipal government. 
In substance, such a position was more advantageous than 
that of the vast majority of Frenchmen themselves. 

It is almost impossible to suppose that the Alsatian 
Jews expected to obtain all this. The Bordeaux Jews 
who, twenty-one years before, had procured the expulsion 
of Jews of Avignon from Bordeaux on the ground that 
they were beggars and parasites incapable of supporting 
themselves and likely to imperil their own position — 
an argument which became familiar to English Jews 
two years ago — on this occasion lent considerable aid to 
their co-religionists of Alsace. The recognized leaders 
of the Bordeaux Jews in Paris might have accomplished 
much for them had not the unenlightened attitude of the 
Alsatians themselves disgusted Malesherbes and worn out 
his patience. The result of Malesherbes' inquiry was of 
little practical value. The poU-tax was abolished, and 
under letters patent the Jews were granted a peculiar 
status under which^ with the appearance of liberty, they 


remained strangers in the nation, subject still to galling 
restrictions and a special system of police supervision even 
more galling. 

But henceforward the Jewish question was never allowed 
to sink out of public notice. The Paris press began to 
take up the cause of the Jews, to examine their claims, 
and to express sympathy for this persecuted and miserable 
people. It may have been, as the clerics said, that the 
press was engineered by the wealthy Cerf Berr ; it is more 
probable that the writers were largely actuated by their 
humanitarian principles and mainly by the burning 
hostiKty to the Roman Church and the privileged classes 
generally, for, it must be remembered, the exploitation of 
the Jews by means of taxes and imposts was almost 
entirely for the benefit of the nobility and ecclesiastics. 
The Jews themselves were not idle : for the first time 
Jews of Alsace began to write in French for the education 
of Frenchmen. Pamphlets were printed and circulated 
refuting the slanders, both religious and economic, with 
which the clergy and traders of Alsace alike loaded the 
Jews. The result was that gradually the question began 
to wear a different face — the economic part sank more 
and more into the background and gradually the matter 
evolved as a religious question. Journals and people 
outside Alsace began to couple together Protestants and 
Jews : the revocation of the Edict of Nantes was producing 
an effect which no Christian had anticipated. 

The dawn began to break in Alsace too. In 1785 the. 
Society of Arts and Sciences of Metz offered a prize for 
an essay on the subject " Are there means for making the 
Jews more useful and more happy in France 1 " Of the 
nine competitors, four were clergymen, and, of these, 
three were favourable to the Jews — ^there were still some 
Christians among the French clergy. 

One of the three must be distinguished above all the many 
gallant Frenchmen who afterwards became champions of the 
Jews. If the Jews were inclined to make saints, then high up 


in their hierarchy should they place the Abbd Grdgoire. He 
was one of the prize-winners, and afterwards he was never 
absent from the hottest of the fight for the emancipation of 
the Jews. In the press and on the platform, in the salon and 
in the chamber, his pen and his voice never ceased to be 
employed on behalf of the Jews. It was from him that 
they invariably expected aid and support, and they were 
never disappointed. It was against him that the party 
of clerical and noble privileges directed all their venom 
and all their vituperation. They knew for whose smile 
he had deserted the party of the Church ; they knew 
for how much he had sold his soul to the Jews; they 
knew by what intrigues he was to gain his bishopric; 
and among the tenderest names they had for him was Judas 
Iscariot. No charge was too absurd, no language too 
vile to be launched against him. But amid all this obloquy 
he marched on in simplicity and serenity till his work 
was done, and he saw the principles which he advocated in 
his essay sealed by the law of his country. 

The prize essays were published in 1789. In the 
meantime the flood of literature on the Jewish question 
continued. In 1787 Mirabeau published in London a pam- 
phlet entitled "On Moses Mendelssohn and the political 
regeneration of the Jews, and in pai-ticular on the revolu- 
tion in their favour attempted in Great Britain in 1753." 
His general attitude was summed up in his own phrase ; 
"Men who did not desire or were unfit for civil rights 
should be excluded from the State." 

In his pamphlet Mirabeau mentioned the Act for Re- 
ligious Liberty passed in the state of Virginia in 1785. 
Possibly the contention is correct that this Act had great 
influence on the minds of the statesmen of the Revolution 
and induced some to become warm advocates in the Jewish 
cause. It is true that the story of the struggle for Jewish 
rights in Virginia obtained much currency in France through 
the instrumentality of Thomas Jefferson, and it may be that 
this famous American himself brought over many to the 


side of the Jews. But in subsequent debates in the Assembly 
there is scarcely a reference to America, and it is diifieult to 
imagine that Frenchmen would cite instances from America 
of the civic capacity displayed by Jews when they had the 
living example of those of Bordeaux before the very eyes 
of the nation. France was in no humour to take examples 
from others ; she was bent on carving out her future in her 
own way and according to her own genius. 

In the press one begins to remark the faint sound of 
a new note. More vehemently than ever the claims of 
Jews and non-Catholics were being asserted ; but it was 
only slowly that the claim for toleration receded and was 
replaced by a claim for full and free citizenship. At first 
the journals of Paris show something of timidity in their 
claim for the Jews, as though affected by the fear which 
prejudice always begets ; but gradually, as the nature of 
the opposition became manifest, the tone of uncertainty 
passed away, and, whatever their motives, there were no 
more consistent advocates of the Jews than the journalists 
of Paris'^, 

It was, therefore, amid circumstances distinctly favourable 
to the Jews that the Estates General and subsequently the 
National Assembly met. 

Of the i,ii8 members a clear majority belonged to the 
third estate and the parish priests, all of whom had 
suffered from the neglect and insolence of the higher 
clergy and the grandees of the court, and these were 
also the oppressors of the Jews. And the whole of the 
Assembly was impregnated with the theories of the 
"social contract" and of the "Rights of Man." It is 
fairly evident that the Jews, therefore, thought them- 
selves justified in expecting little opposition to their 

1 It is perhaps necessary to remark that the politicians of the Coffee 
Houses were also frequently the leader writers of the Paris journals, and 
therefore the approval which the Press gave to the demands of the 
Communes had nothing of the nature of independent support. 


But no one foresaw the chaos which was soon to 
display itself in the chamber, a chaos of ideas and 
motives which makes the formation of a consistent and 
continuous narrative henceforward an almost impossible 
task. There were initially no parties, no leaders, no 
discipline, no order ; sentiment took the place of wisdom, 
and expediency became more and more another name for 
pressure of the populace outside. It is possible that the 
nobility of the chamber and the higher clergy might have 
co-operated loyally with the other estates to ameliorate 
the lot of oppressed classes, but by early August, 1789, 
the desti'uctive tendencies of the majority had shown 
themselves ; and there began to be formed naturally 
parties, bound together for self-preservation if for nothing 
else. The prelates and nobles formed one party, uniting 
to flout the parish priests and the commons and co-operating 
to defend their property and their privileges ; the second, 
consisting of people sincerely desirous of good government, 
extracting their principles from books and carried away 
by pure logic ; the third composed of those — lawyers and 
parish priests for the most part — who were impatient for 
change because they were not satisfied with their present 
condition. The last was the most numerous and in close 
alliance with the populace, which was rapidly getting out 
of hand and which had already proscribed many of the 
nobility and higher clergy and therefore completely 
alienated them from the cause of the revolution. 

It was unfortunate that the Jewish question was intro- 
duced after these parties had begun to crystallize ; for, 
for nearly two years, the fact made their fate not a matter 
of humanity as they expected and hoped, but, if I may 
stretch the meaning of a phrase somewhat, the sport of 
party politics. Roughly, the zealous supporters of the Jews 
belonged to the third of the parties ; the second contained 
those who were indifferent, and who by good management 
might have permanently sided with the ecclesiastics ; the 
first became violently hostile, but in many cases it is 


probable that the Jews only shared in the hatred which the 
third party inspired. 

The ground was broken in the National Assembly on 
August 22, by the motion of Count de Castellane, "No 
one shall be molested on account of his religious opinions." 

Mirabeau was the first speaker. He demanded the abo- 
lition of a dominant Church, adding that sentiment which 
has since become famous : " I will not preach tolerance to 
you : in religion the utmost freedom is in my eyes a right 
so sacred that the word tolerance appears to me itself to 
smack of tyi'anny." 

It was Rabaut St. fitienne, who belonged to the third 
party, however, who specifically introduced the Jews on 
this motion: 

"I demand for the Protestants of France," said he, 
"I demand for all the non- Catholics of the kingdom, 
that which you demand for yourselves, liberty and 
equality of rights: I demand them for this people, 
sprung from Asia, always wanderers, always proscribed, 
always persecuted throughout these eighteen centuries." 

And again: 

" Taught by the long and bloody experience of centuries, 
taught by the errors of our fathers and their misfortunes, 
you will say, without doubt, it is time to cast away the 
weapons of savages, who glut themselves with the blood 
of our fellow citizens, it is time to surrender to them rights 
too long denied ; it is time to break down the barriers of 
injustice which keep them apart from us; it is time to 
make them love a fatherland which has hitherto proscribed 
them and cut them off from its care." 

" Fellow citizens who were to love France as a father- 
land." This was the very voice of the Revolution: here 
was an ideal presented by a Frenchman which the Jews of 
Alsace five years before would have considered beyond the 
wildest dreams. 

The leaders of the Jews in Paris took the cue immediately. 

On August 36, 1789, i.e. four days after the opening 


debate, they presented a petition to the Estates General 
claiming their rights as men. In the words of Leon Kahn, 
to whose writings I am throughout deeply indebted : — 

" To obtain their rights they appealed to the philosophical 
sentiments of the deputies ; the Assembly had restored to 
man his pristine dignity; the Jews felfc assured that the 
Assembly would not make any distinction between one 
man and another." 

In the ensuing discussion the characteristics of the parties 
in the Chamber displayed themselves, but not in any very 
violent form. The more radical were for an immediate 
vote, the nobles and higher clergy felt, the one their privi- 
leges, and the other the religion they professed attacked, 
and were inclined to vote against the Jews ; but by far the 
majority were for a middle course, humane treatment, 
but not immediate emancipation. Hence the Assembly 
shelved the motion of Abbd Grdgoire that the house should 
discuss the petition. But apparently the " Blacks," that is, 
the clericals, and their allies from Alsace the anti-Semites, 
were somewhat fearful of a vote which might at any time 
be taken under dispassionate conditions. They sought to 
intimidate the Chamber by exciting a massacre in Alsace. 
It is not my part to harrow your feelings with a description 
of the excesses of which the partisans of the nobility and 
clergy were guilty. Su65ce it, that they had many of the 
features of the pogroms of Russia, differing from them 
perhaps only in dimensions, and that only because there 
were few Jews to massacre, few to despoil. It was during 
the evening sitting of October 14 that news of the riots was 
announced to the assembled deputies : immediately a wave 
of indignation passed through the Chamber, amid which 
even the bitterest of the " Blacks " thought it well to be 
silent. Without hesitation it was decided to send an 
express courier to order the authorities in the disturbed 
districts to suppress the outbreak with all the powers at 
their command. 

Gr^goire and his supporters, induced by the evident 

VOL. XIX. o o 


emotion of the deputies, moved that the Jewish representa- 
tives be allowed to present their petition in person. Their 
speeches had so profound an effect that on a second motion 
of Gr^goire the Jewish deputies were admitted into the 
body of the Chamber to assist at the session. However, 
the sitting came to an end without a definite vote being 

The Reactionaries had hoped by the disturbances in 
Alsace to frighten the Chamber into the belief that the 
Alsatians were immutably opposed to the emancipation of the 
Jews in their midst. The more timid and hesitating among 
the deputies probably were frightened, but, as a matter of 
fact, the riots helped to advance the cause they were meant 
to delay. Many of the Chamber felt their humanity out- 
raged, and the authority of the Assembly defied by the 
enemies of the revolution ; and the net effect was to hasten 
the crystallization of parties which were little more than in 
the stage of generation. 

On December ai the Jewish question was again intro- 
duced as part of a more general motion. Brunet de la 
Tuque proposed that non-Catholics should be eligible for 
the National Assembly. 

Le Comte Clermont Tonnerre enlarged the motion by his 
amendment to the effect that "no active citizen should be 
excluded from the public service on account of his profession 
or his religion." 

Rewbell — the leader of the Alsatian deputies — sprang to 
his feet, and demanded excitedly : " Does the Count include 
Jews among active citizens ? " 

"Yes," shouted the Count, "I include the Jews, and 
I gloi'y in the fact." 

For three days the discussion continued amid great 
passion and excitement, The protagonists were Robespierre, 
Barnave, Beaumetz, Clermont Tonnerre, and Mii-abeau for 
the Jews: for their opponents, Rewbell, the Bishop of 
Nancy, and Abbd Maury. It is almost evident from these 
names that the debate had i-esolved itself into a strusrffle 


between the extreme parties, and that the immediate 
question was not the important issue at stake. Some of 
the most ardent champions of the Jews belonged to the 
party which was most directly at command of the populace 
of Paris, and these people had already proscribed the Abb^ 
Maury and the Bishop of Nancy as enemies of the nation. 
The opposition of the latter may have been partly explained 
by their proscription. 

On the third day a deputy, Duport, proposed an amend- 
ment which, whilst securing all that Tonnerre desired, would 
in its drafting, he thought, be less offensive to certain of 
the opposition. 

Still amid tumult and excitement the motion for priority 
of this amendment was put to the vote. Twice it was 
impossible to take the numbers on account of the noise and 
confusion. Finally, when the deputies voted by name, 
priority was refused by 408 to 403 — a majority of five in 
a house of 813. 

In estimating the significance of this small majority it is 
necessary to remember that the Estates General were still 
young, that many members voted with the Conservatives 
because they felt that the velocity of the stream was too 
great, and that they were being hunied out of their depth. 
Many of these could still be won over either by convincing 
them of the justice of Jewish claims, or that it was the 
existence of the Chamber that was at stake, or by the 
menace of popular dissatisfaction. The deputies and the 
popular joui'nalists in Paris were well aware of this, and 
hence did not hesitate to express their jubilation, rejoicing 
that in this, one of the first real struggles with the Church, 
on a question in which religion, prejudice, and vested 
interests were all in favour of their opponents, these 
could command a majority of five only. The Clericals, 
too, felt the precarious nature of their majority, and 
determined to push their advantage whilst there was 
yet a chance of success: they meant to have a specific 
declaration of the Estates General excluding Jews for ever 



from the nation. Eewbell demanded expulsion from the 
country ; Maury only proposed to give them a limited 
toleration ; but Clermont Tonnerre killed the proposition — 
"we cannot have a nation within a nation," said he, 
a statement which appealed to the philosophical sentiments 
of the House. 

Nevertheless, the foremost of the emancipators saw that 
the debate must soon come to an end : every one was weary 
of the subject, and in the present temper of the House it was 
clear that the contest would certainly not go in their favour. 
It was necessary to devise some ineans for drawing a battle 
that could not then be won. They, therefore, seized upon 
the obvious willingness of the greater number to have done 
with the question, at least for the time, by amending the 
motion. The Assembly finally accepted the following: — 
'' The Estates General agree that non-Catholics are eligible 
for all civil and military offices equally with all other 
citizens, without, however, deciding anything relative 
to the Jews, whose case they reserve for future 

Thus the champions of the Jews saved them from utter 
exclusion at this stage by a postponement of the question. 
The Clericals were still strong enough to defend their last 
fence, and it was desirable to wait till they had lost a few 
more men in other forays before attacking it again. 

I must ask you at this stage to return for a moment to 
the consideration of the attitude of the several sections of 
Jews in France during this first year of revolution. From 
the year 1781 until the first days of the Estates General 
there had been an appearance of unity of action by all 
sections of Jews. It was, however, only an appearance. 

For the most pai-t the attitude of the Bordeaux Jews was 
one of sympathy for their Alsatian brethren, but there was 
nothing of the sentiment of organic unity in their behaviour. 
The needs of the one before the revolution were not the 
needs of the other: whilst, on the one hand, the Alsatian 
Jews envied the lot of the Bordelais, the latter had little 


amelioration to desire economically, and it was only 
economic amelioration which was at that time obtainable. 

And the natural allies of the Bordeaux Jews when the 
Estates were convened were not those of Alsace. It 
must be remembered that the convention of the Estates 
was due not only to an uprising of the proletariat, but 
cei-tainly as much to the determination of the wealthier 
and vain bourgeoisie to wrest something of political power 
from a beggared and worn-out aristocracy. It was with 
this bourgeoisie that the Bordelais felt most community of 
interest, and this class had considerable power in the 

On reviewing the forces at work and the composition of 
the Estates, therefore, the Bordeaux Jews were justified in 
their opinion that a united effort would carry all Jews 
without exception into the ranks of French citizens. They 
could reckon on the support of their own class to maintain 
their own position ; they could not believe that they 
had lost the sympathy of the nobles, which had enabled 
them to obtain full rights in 1776; they probably calcu- 
lated that the theories which guided the deputies would 
also work strongly in their favoui*, and they had no reason 
to believe that the anti-Semitic sentiments of a handful of 
deputies from Alsace would affect any formidable section 
of the Chamber. 

The debate of August 32 somewhat undeceived them. 
After that co-operation almost ceased, and the vote of 
December 24 broke up the apparent union completely. 

The condition in which the Jewish question was left by 
the Assembly in December not only worked negative injury 
to the Jews in that it denied the admission of the Alsatians 
to full citizenship, but worked positive injury in that it 
practically robbed the Portuguese Jews of rights which 
they had enjoyed for two centuries. The latter had not 
expected apparently that there would ever be any question 
regarding their position, which they believed firmly estab- 
lished ; and when they found that the word " Jew " natur- 


ally applied to them as well as to the Jews of Alsace they 
were thrown into a state of intense alarm. They were 
immediately at immense pains to prove that they ought 
not in any degree to be confounded with their co-reli- 
gionists in Alsace. Although the statements they made 
and the attitude they adopted towards their fellow Jews 
fully deserved the censure which they drew upon them- 
selves at the time from the more enlightened French journals 
and French deputies, nevertheless it was their agitation 
which carried the question of Jewish emancipation past its 
crisis. It was impossible for the National Assembly to 
give these Jews a position inferior to that which they had 
enjoyed under French kings : it became impossible logically 
to deny rights to one set of Jews which were confen-ed 
upon another. That was the position into which the 
Assembly had been driven, and the Assembly yielded to 
the logic of the situation. 

On December 31, 1789, the Bordeaux Jews presented an 
address to the Assembly, in which they claimed that they 
should be distinguished from the rest of the French Jews, 
and should be enrolled in the number of full citizens. The 
petition was submitted to the " Constitution Committee," 
and by them entrusted to Talleyrand, Bishop of Autun, 
for examination and report. On January 28, 1790, the 
Bishop reported in these terms : — 

" The Ee volution, which has made the recovery of their 
rights possible for all Frenchmen, cannot be the agent of 
their loss to any such citizens. Consequently, whilst 
deciding nothing upon the general question which has been 
adjourned, the Committee proposes to the Assembly to 
accord to the Jews of Bordeaux that which they so justly 
demand, and to declare them full citizens with the same 
rights as all other citizens." 

As the Paris journals did pot fail to point out, it was 
difficult to believe that any one would haye the effrontery 
to oppose so reasonable a proposition. When the motioQ. 
caroe before the House, however, Rewbell assayed to oppose 


it, but immediately from all pai'ts of the assembly there 
arose such a cry of indignation, such an uproar, that his 
voice was drowned amid the din, and he was compelled 
to resume his seat. His party, however, were not deterred 
from moving amendments to the original motion, which 
would have given the Bordeaux Jews an inferior position 
and provisionary rights. 

Even the friends of the Bordeaux Jews, or rather those 
who were not unfavourable to their cause, moved numerous 
amendments, every one of which would have restricted in 
some particular their full enjoyment of active citizenship. 

Amid a scene wilder and more tumultuous than that of 
December, De S^ze, the deputy for Bordeaux, in order to 
keep faith with his constituents, as he said, submitted 
a motion demanding for them simply "the rights of active 

The scene amid which this motion was put to the vote 
reminds one of nothing so much as an Irish night in 
Parliament of the early eighties. It is thus described ^ : — 

" A first count appeared doubtful. A second was made ; 
there was no doubt in the greatest part of the House ; 
every one was almost convinced that the motion was 
carried ; among the secretaries only one was undecided ; it 
was necessary to have recourse to a vote by roll-call. It 
is impossible to describe the tumult which, during two long 
hours, detracted from the dignity, even the solemnity, of 
the Assembly's proceedings. A continual clamour arose 
from that part of the hall occupied by members of the 
former orders of the clergy and the nobility. The zeal of 
the Bishops and their hatred of the Jews gave to these 
saintly men a holy passion. They leaped out of their seats, 
rushed hither and thither in disorder and tumult over the 
Chamber: when the secretaries raised their voices to call 
the names they were drowned by the uproar and confusion. 
Cries, shouts, interruptions crossed and recrossed with 

1 Leon Kahn, Les Jui/s de Pmis pendant to BevoltUion, 


increasing violence, whilst the populace -without the 
barriers gave emphatic evidence of its indignation. This 
scene, the most shameful and disgusting that it is possible 
to imagine, lasted two hours ; two hours during which the 
calling of the roll was every instant drowned in the 
tremendous uproar. Twenty times the roll was begun, 
stopped, resumed amid this unceasing and disgusting tur- 
moil. The opposition called for adjournment. But such 
was the devotion of the patriotic party that the members of 
it preferred to pass the night without food rather than 
abandon thus the cause of the people. They remained 
fixed in their seats, and waited the event of this astonishing 
scene. The president, the representative in this respect of 
the most numerous part of the Assembly, declared that all 
these efforts to prevent the roll-call would be futile. Many 
members — chiefly among the clerics — tried another trick. 
They left the House, hoping thus to break up the sitting. 
Shouts were heard that the sitting had not been legally 
suspended, and the absence of certain members could not 
break up the deliberations. At length the temperature of 
the Chamber, the suffocating atmosphere, the noisome dust 
which the excited movements of 800 people spread about, 
and finally exhaustion or impatience brought the deputies 
to reason. Little by little their cries, their mutterings 
became first feeble, and finally died away ; the naming of 
the members and their answers 'Yes' or 'No' became 
audible, and the voting followed its regular course." 

Only 598 members voted, and the motion was carried by 
373 votes to 225. It was confirmed next day by the king. 

The next efibi-t of the reactionaries was an attempt to 
extract from the Assembly a specific declaration that the 
Jews of Alsace were not included in the rights which had 
been conferred on their coreligionists in Bordeaux. The 
motion had a specious air of non-committal, but the 
Assembly rightly understood that a specific motion of such 
a kind was in reality a motion hostile to the Alsatian Jews, 
and therefore the motion was rejected. 


It remained for the reactionaries only to raise those 
political conflagrations whicli they had prophesied. This 
they proceeded to do with all the enei'gy at their command. 
They sent emissaries to Bordeaux for the purpose, and 
although the people of Bordeaux would have none of them, 
they nevertheless caused reports to be spread in Paris that 
the Bordelais were up against the Jews. They clearly 
reckoned on the advantage in time which difficulties in 
communication would give them to animate the more timid 
and encourage the more obstinate of their party in rushing 
some hostile motion through the Assembly. But hard on 
the heels of their report came that from the authorities and 
leading Jews, stating that there was no sign of hostility ; 
on the contrary, according to their own accounts, the Jews 
were met everywhere with, nothing but expressions of 
friendliness and congratulation, in short, in the true spirit 
of fraternity which the laity of France realized, and the 
clergy, as ever, professed. 

In the Assembly itself the special message which the Jews 
sent informing the members of the perfect good fellowship 
and perfect security which they enjoyed was received with 
rounds of applause. It was obvious at this stage that the 
deputies as a whole had nothing but the friendliest senti- 
ments for Frenchmen of the Mosaic faith ; what active 
opposition existed was entirely an artificial production of 
the German element in league with tbe Clerical and noble 
opponents of the popular party. 

Practically every section of the nation able to voice its 
opinions, except the very bigoted Clericals, saw that opposi- 
tion was now illogical, if not absurd. The only difference 
arose on the question of time. Some were for immediate 
emancipation, most still clung to the idea that there 
was no I'eason for an immediate decision, and yet others 
were stiU deterred by the threats of massacres made by 
Bewbell and the anti-Semites. The Assembly, therefore, 
was inclined to procrastinate, and in spite of the tremen- 
dous pressure brought to bear upon them by the Paris 


press, public opinion in general, and the steady determina- 
tion of the Alsatian Jews, they were able to ward off 
a decision so long as they met outside the confines of Paris. 
The Alsatian Jews were, of course, fully conscious of the 
strength which their position had acquired by the emanci- 
pation of the Bordeaux Jews: their petitions were now 
emphatically demands, and no longer requests for considera- 
tion. Nominally debarred from the activities of citizens, 
the Jews in Paris found themselves welcome recruits in the 
ranks of a people who had become impatient with the 
Assembly and the opposition of the Court party. They 
were thus able to create for themselves in Paris a position 
which their confreres had earned in Bordeaux. They 
readily performed every duty which was required of every 
other citizen, whenever and wherever opportunity offered, 
and opportunities were not few. Thus the people of Paris 
became accustomed to act with Jews, to understand their 
qualities, and appreciate their public spirit and philanthropy. 
So that ultimately it became as ridiculous in Parisian eyes 
to deny legally to Jews those rights and duties which it was 
perfectly obvious they were not only able and willing to 
exercise, but which more and more events, in fact, thrust 
upon them. 

By this time the Communes, those sixty independent 
Republics, were become the dominant powers in the situa- 
tion ; and every gust of passion which swept over Paris 
carried with it the National Assembly, whether it were 
willing or not. The leaders of the Parisian Jews were not 
slow in perceiving who were the masters of the situation, 
and whilst not ceasing to petition the Assembly from whose 
initiative they hoped nothing, they addressed themselves 
zealously to earn the good opinion and the advocacy of the 

A petition was presented to the " General Assembly of 
Representatives of the Communes" on January 28, 1790, 
asking for support. On the 30th the District of the Car- 
melites presented a deputation, who argued that they had 


greater opportunity than any other for observing the conduct 
of the Jews. They summed up the position in these 
words : — 

" If they are not yet Fi-enchmen, they deserve to be. 
They are already in our midst: in truth, they already 
possess the rights of citizens ; all that is missing is the seal 
of the law." 

The General Assembly of the Communes resolved to 
petition the National Assembly to occupy itself without 
delay with the Jewish question, and to pass a decree assimi- 
lating them to other citizens ; but not to present the petition 
until every district in Paris had been asked for its approval. 
Of 60 districts 5^ positively accepted the resolution, the 
votes of six are unknown, one only disapproved. But 
more interesting than the actual vote are the terms of the 
letters from the several districts announcing the result of 
their deliberations. The same note was struck throughout, 
varied only by the degree of cordial appreciation which 
they expressed of the Jews as fellow citizens and honest 

On February 25 the Assembly of the Communes presented 
their petition to the National Assembly to hasten the legal 
enrolment of the Jews of Paris among the citizens of France. 

The Jews of Paris must have felt at this time that the 
battle was won; but they had to wait eighteen months 
to obtain legally those rights which they enjoyed in fact. 
The middle party were still sufficiently numerous to cause 
procrastination, and it was necessary that the anti-Semitic 
party should create more enemies and utterly disgust every- 
one before a decision could be obtained. And, indeed, the 
anti-Semitic party were not slow to seize every opportunity 
to create friends for the Jews. They again excited the 
Assembly by instigating riots in Alsace eai-ly in April, and 
compelled the Assembly again to exert its authority. They 
opposed the motion to naturalize certain classes of residents 
among whom a number of Jews would have been included. 
They secured the exclusion of Jews when the Assembly 


decided that non-Catholics were eligible for the judicial 
bench ; and when the Constitution Committee of the National 
Assembly reported that all Jews possessing letters patent 
from the king were necessarily classed with the Portuguese 
Jews, on whom citizenship had been already conferred, 
they were able to have the report referred back to the 

But the two debates which secured for the Jews more 
votes than all others together were those relating to the 
sale of unnecessary church buildings in Paris and to the 
removal of the poll-tax on Alsatian Jews, which was levied 
solely for the benefit of the De Brancas family. The 
populace were starving: the sale of the buildings would 
enable the Communes to feed them ; the Jews were gene- 
rously placing their means at the disposal of the people ; 
the clerics not only denied them the sources of relief, not 
only maintained a corrupt demand on the resources of the 
Jews for the benefit of a parasitic family, but charged the 
Jews with being the real instigators and authors of the 
motion for the sal e of the churches. In fact, almost every 
step the clerics took with regard to these two motions 
tended to laud the Jews as friends of the people and 
denounce themselves as their enemies : and they made it 
impossible for any man to remain neutral who did not wish 
to appear also among the enemies of the nation. Hence the 
anti-Semites were not able to obtain more than a small 
number of votes on either occasion, and both motions were 
carried amid loud applause. 

Seeing that the deputies were growing more and more 
impatient with the factious opposition of the anti-liberty 
party, the Jews of Paris thought the moment favourable to 
present again their demand for political liberty. They 
urged precisely the same arguments which had been used 
by the Jews of Bordeaux on their own behalf — long resi- 
dence, obedience to the laws, their devotion to their country, 
their zeal in the cause of liberty. Ungenerously by impli- 
cation they separated their cause from that of their brethren 


in Alsace, who were not allowed so much freedom of action. 
The Assembly again referred the matter to the Constitution 
Committee. But the Jews of Paris did not cease their 
efforts: they induced the local counsellors to petition the 
National Assembly again to hasten to confer formally on 
them the rights which they actually enjoyed. The Assembly 
was about to disperse, but on Sept. 27, 1791, Duport 
excitedly demanded that the Jews should enjoy in France 
the rights of active citizens. So far had the justice of the 
claim penetrated, and so weary were all of the subject and 
the opposition, that no astonishment was expressed. Only 
Rewbell assayed to protest, but he was not allowed to speak. 
On the next day Duport formally presented his motion. 
Rewbell made a last effort, but a fellow deputy put a hand 
over his mouth, and the motion was immediately passed 
by common consent. 

Generally the press published the decree without comment. 
The religious papers regarded it as another blow against 
the clergy, but only feebly protested. 

The massacres in Alsace, so loudly prophesied, did not 
take place ; and thus the struggle which had been ushered 
in amid so much turmoil and bloodshed reached its appointed 
end amid profound calm. 

English Jews may pray — and I am sure that their fellow 
countrymen of another faith will pray with them — that 
a similar drama which is now unfolding itself in another 
land may have an equally peaceful and happy issue. 

I. H. Heesoh.