Les Annales 1962

The Abolition of Body Taxes in France

By David Feuerwerker

Source: Annales. Économies, Sociétés, Civilisations. 1962, Vol 17, No. 5;
Translated: for marxists.org by Mitchell Abidor;
CopyLeft: Creative Commons (Attribute & ShareAlike) marxists.org 2009.

“The Jews are men. If we
consider them such, why
leave them any longer in slavery and humiliation;
why not tear out this final root of persecution,
this final offshoot or error, fruit of
centuries of ignorance and barbarism?”

– Doublet de Persan

Procurator of the Toll Commission, August 1783,
“Reflections of the Procurator General"
On the body tax on Jews, addressed to
The Comptroller General of Finances

Under the ancien régime tolls and seigneurial fees were levied on cattle and merchandise upon their passing through the lands of lords. The sums collected were to serve for the maintenance of roads and bridges. At the beginning of the 17th Century, 5,688 tolls still existed in France. But cattle and merchandise weren’t the only things taxed. Until the eve of the French Revolution a body tax was imposed on Jews in Lower Alsace, at the entry to the province and at the gates of the city of Strasbourg. The body tax in effect treated a man as an animal. “Juden-Leibzoll,” Jewish body tax: this was the official name of this tax in Alsace.

From the 15th Century a fight was undertaken against tolls demanded without official authorization. The merchants who carried out commerce at the ports of the Loire were the first to denounce these abuses. Their representations were crowned with success. An edict of March 15, 1430 abolished all the “tolls, hindrances, and subsidies imposed for the past 60 years on merchandise and goods, and prohibits the establishment of any, aside from the true and ancient tolls that have been preserved.” The sole valid criterion for the preservation of tolls was, then, the antiquity of the fees and titles.

In reality, the battle for the abolition of tolls would last four-and-a-half centuries. A first step was realized in the second half of the 17th century. In 1661 a decree of Council obliged all owners of tolls to hand over their titles “to the commissioners assigned to the provinces.” The Commissioners must transmit them “to the officers and principal merchants of the places, receive their remonstrances, prepare transcriptions and send them, with their opinions, to His Majesty.”

Sixty-three years later, by a Decree of Council of August 29, 1724, Louis XV established a commission composed of three Councilors of State and seven Maîtres de Requêtes. This toll commission had as its mission the examination and auditing of all titles to bridge and road tolls and other similar fees throughout the kingdom. Thus, this problem of tolls, central to the economic, political, and social evolution of France, left the power of the intendants and passed to the Council of State, into the hands of a central and general commission whose powers were expanded and whose activities were to prove themselves to be effective. A member of this commission assumed the functions of Procurator General. His task consisted in examining and discussing the titles presented before the commissioners’ decision. It was a matter of preparing “without a general shakeup, without precipitation, but in keeping with regular and due forms, the suppression of tolls.” A large-scale task: 5,688 tolls, some of which were patrimonial [i.e., hereditary], while others were part of the Crown’s Domain and were levied either by men who leased land from the King or on the King’s account. In a half-century, the commission abolished 3,634 tolls. Two important types of tolls were suppressed:

1- On wheat, flour, vegetables and other basic items;

2- Several fees injurious to humanity- like the fee over what was carried on a man’s back – and the body tax on Jews.


Almost all the tolls taxed Jews in a class with animals. The body tax on Jews existed in the regions of Lyon, Languedoc, and the Dauphiné.

As the Toll Commission became aware of body taxes imposed on Jews it suppressed them without any indemnification.

Since the second half of the 17th Century in Upper Alsace as well the body tax had been abolished. In fact, by an ordinance of March 2, 1674 Intendant de la Grange suppressed the body tax on the Jews of Upper Alsace. In Lower Alsace the body tax continued for more than a century, except in Ingwiller and Woerth, where it was suppressed June 11, 1758. Strasbourg thus maintained the final, untouchable tax.

At the entry to the city, where the Jews weren’t authorized to stay, they had to pay this tax, which was 3 livres 4 sous per day per person. Even in passing outside the city they were subject to a fee of 32 s. Paired horses were taxed separately: if the horse belonged to a Christian, 4 s; if they belonged to a Jew, 8s.

Thus the toll amount was higher for Jews than for an animal. It is not by chance that the Jew was considered in the same light as a pig, considered by the latter an impure animal and not fit for consumption: the insult was harsher and the malicious intention flagrant.


In Strasbourg, for more than 60 years this body tax was farmed to Jews so “this tax could be given to the indigent and their families and facilitate their entry into the city.” Starting in 1736 this tax was farmed for nine years to Jewish officials for 4000 l annually, including the fees for the commerce in horses. Moise Blien was the official for 18 years, from 1736- 1754. And then for nine years, from 1754-1763 four Jews shared the responsibility for this tax. In 1763 Cerf Berr, one of the Syndics Generaux of the Jews of Alsace farmed the tax for 4,200 l for six years. In 1769 he renewed his lease until 1775 for the same price.

Cerf Berr “was successively in charge of enterprises relating to military service and to public utility;” and “the late war, as well as the famine that Alsace experienced in 1770 and 1771, provided him the occasion to demonstrate the zeal that animates him for the good of the service of the King and the state.” On March 15, 1775 he obtained “Letters Patent of naturalization, that accorded him and his children born and to be born the same rights, faculties, exemptions, advantages, and privileges enjoyed by the natural subjects of the Kingdom.”

Cerf Berr could, from this time forward, attack with greater ease the problems that concerned him, as well as those that concerned other Jews. He spoke as an equal with the magistrates of Strasbourg.

Yet since 1769, for six years, Cerf Berr lost 8000 livres through this tax lease, which was to have been renewed on Saint Michael’s day, September 29, 1775. He asked and obtained from the magistrate that the lease be granted him at a lower rate. The magistrate agreed, but he was certain that the former tax farmer had, in his own words, “imposed upon him,” and he could neither “consult his registers, nor have confidence in them.”

And in fact, at first glance appearances seemed to be against Cerf Berr, who was quite wealthy and paid no tolls, either for himself or for his family.

The Jewish population of Alsace, scattered around 181 villages, in 1784 represented 19,624 people. The movement of population to Strasbourg is known to us through precise statistics: a first census, in 1780, gives a figure of 27,625 Jews entering Strasbourg for the year, around a third more than was contained in all of Upper and Lower Alsace combined. A second census, in 1781, shows an increase of 5,265 entries in the first seven months of the year, thus exactly 20,610.

The monthly breakdown of entries by gate is as follows:

By order of importance it was the Porte-de-Pierre that was the most frequented, then there was the Porte Blanche, the Wickhaüsel, the Porte de Saverne and finally, with a very low percentage, and in last place, the Porte des Juifs [Jew’s Gate]. The geographic location of the gates seems to be the sole condition determining the importance of a gate.

On Saint Michael’s Day 1781, the final expired lease was reduced to 2,400 l instead of 3,000 l (the amount of the preceding one), minus 1,200 l for “taxes for horses sold in the city.” This fee was annexed to that of the body tax. Cerf Berr attributed this diminution to the fact that it was recognized that “the tax farmer was truly in a state of deficit.”

For his part the magistrate wanted to examine things closely, and in order to get the most from this tax wanted to see just how far he could take this “farm..” In September 1781 for the first time, the Magistrate auctioned off the lease for the body tax of Strasbourg. The auction took place September 14, 1781. The record of the auction specified that present were, Schoentzel, Isaac Lehman, Jew of Bischheim, Gaillard, Durmeniger, Piquet, and Jean-Baptiste leury. Cerf Berr didn’t take part in the auction. The body tax was a burden to him, even if he got a few advantages from it. If close relatives were involved with this “farm,” the mass of poor people didn’t pay it.

After the posting of the auction by the magistrate and before the public auction, on September 3, 1783 Isaac Lehmann of Bischheim proposed 1,200 livres above the amount paid by the tax farmer Cerf Berr. During the public auction on September 14, 1781 Isaac Lehmann only participated in one 5,000 livre auction and withdrew from the competition. Finally the lease was verbally granted to the merchant Piquet for 9,800 livres.

At the request of Cerf Berr, and upon the intervention of the Maréchal de Ségur, Minister of War – having among his responsibilities the province of Alsace – this verbal adjudication was not made definitive. The Maréchal de Ségur made known to the magistrate of Strasbourg that “a regulation concerning the Jews of Alsace is about to appear and the King wishes that, instead of proceeding to a new adjudication, the Magistrate order that the lease agreed upon with Cerf Berr, and which was going to expire, be prorogued indefinitely.” The definitive adjudication was suspended by the magistrate of Strasbourg until 1783.

In fact, negotiations were undertaken between Cerf Berr, in the name of the Jews of Alsace, and the Guard of Seals, Hue de Miromesnil, so that the Jews of Alsace be “assimilated to the Jews of Bordeaux,” attested to by a letter and a memoir addressed to the Guard of Seals dated Paris, April 5, 1871. The Jews of Bordeaux “ in the province are like other subjects of the King. Their conduct is in no way objectionable; in a word, they are happy. And those of Alsace can assure Your Majesty that things will be the same for them if they receive from the King’s bounty and the beneficence of Your Majesty an honest and assured establishment. They have the means to assist in the good of the state and will have even more in order to encourage the precious memory of a benefit for which they will never cease to be grateful.”

In the “Memorandum for the Jewish Nation Established in Alsace; On its Current State and the Need to Remedy It,” Cerf Berr rose up against what he qualified as “a fee as humiliating as it is contrary to nature’s wishes”: “It is easy to understand how exorbitant and unjust this toll is, since this city, being the capital of the province, is the center of commerce; and it is unheard of to make subjects pay so high a tax who go there to purchase the most necessary of things, like comestibles, cloth for garments, or to consult their affairs or their health, having no useful reason to go there, since all commerce with the burgers is forbidden them by the particular statutes of this city.”


In Vienna and in Lower Austria a new regulation in favor of the Jews was promulgated by Emperor Joseph II, dated January 2, 1782. This edict in 25 articles provided Cerf Berr with excellent arguments to support his negotiations in favor of the Jews of Alsace. He immediately had it translated and sent it to Armand Thomas Hue of Miromesnil, Guard of the Seals, February 22, 1782. Article 19 of the edict called for the total suppression of the body tax.

While Paris studied a general regulation for the Jews of Alsace, Strasbourg didn’t remain inactive. On March 11, 1782 Claude Piquet signed an offer of 10,000 livres, payable every year, for the lease for the body tax. The magistrate and Gérard, Prêteur Royal of Strasbourg, strong in the written order of Piquet, harassed the ministers to make Sieur Piquet’s adjudication definitive, arguing that they had no reason to lose money while waiting for the publication of the general regulation, announced since 1781 and which hadn’t yet seen the light of day. Marshal de Ségur ended up ceding. By a letter dated Versailles, June 3, 1783, addressed to Gérard, Prêteur Royal, Marshal de Ségur accepted that the body tax be provisionally farmed, on condition that a formal clause inserted in the lease specify that it not be an obstacle to whatever the King might judge appropriate to rule, and that even if this toll were to be suppressed or modified Sieur Piquet could claim no compensation.

The magistrate of Strasbourg accepted the insertion of the restrictive clause in the lease, and Sieur Piquet didn’t oppose it. They hoped that this regulation would be dragged out for some time. Strasbourg having accepted the restrictive clause, Louis XVI accepted the farming to Sieur Piquet and the contract taking effect on Saint Michael’s Day 1783.

Cerf Berr then modified his tactics. Instead of addressing himself again to the Guard of Seals, he undertook urgent steps with Marshal de Ségur. In a letter of July 22, 1783 the Marshal Ségur wrote to Doublet de Persan, Maître de Requêtes at the Council of State, and Procurator General of the Bureau of Tolls, to learn of the status of the tolls and “to know if it is true that the tolls in the regions of Lyon, Languedoc, and the Dauphiné were abolished without indemnification and without the substitution of other tolls, and if it’s true that the Alsace is currently the sole province in which the body tax on Jews persists.”

Three days later, July 25, 1783, Doublet de Persan responded to the Maréchal de Ségur and certified that, after “careful audit in its offices, that the jurisprudence of the Bureau of Tolls had always been consistent. In making signs where toll levels had been audited, the Commissioners took care to revise the articles having to do with the persons of Jews, considering these fees contrary to humanity. This rule was adopted in the regions of Lyon, Languedoc, the Dauphiné and all of France. These tolls were suppressed everywhere without the substitution of other fees and without indemnification.”

Marshal de Ségur, in a letter dated August 11, 1783, made a proposal to Doublet de Persan: “In the projected general regulation that will be established relating to the Jews an article bearing the suppression of the body tax on the Jews of Alsace is foreseen. The King leaves it to the commission, and it will thus not be dealt with in the general regulation.” Cerf Berr leapt immediately into action; he addressed himself to the Comptroller General of Finances. On August 13, 1783 Cerf Berr asked in a letter dated Paris to the Comptroller General of Finances, for the abolition of the body tax.

It was in his quality as “one of the leaders of the Jewish nation” that he presented his request. His argument was judicially sound, arguing precedents in Ingwiller and Woerth where the toll was suppressed on foreign Jews on June 11, 1758, as well as in different provinces of the kingdom. These indisputable precedents established jurisprudence in the case. Ending his letter, Cerf Berr posed the problem: “The very name of body tax shows just how odious this act is in itself, as well as contrary to human rights and nature. But in its levying it is both harsh and humiliating.” Plus, the “Strasbourg capitulations and the public tariff” and its fees and revenues didn’t foresee such exorbitant tolls. Nevertheless, “every Jewish individual pays 3 l 4 s.” In fact, residents of Strasbourg were prohibited from engaging in commerce with Jews. The latter were “driven by the need to go there to meet basic needs, to purchase clothing and to consult on their affairs and health; a few only, and these the poorest, sell scrap metal and old clothing, the only business not forbidden them, but it shouldn’t be thought that the profit from this commerce is sufficient to offset so onerous a levy.”

In these conditions, how explain that the city of Strasbourg farmed the contract for the body tax to Jews? There are two reasons. In the first place, the city was ensured of a regular revenue without any problems. But it also feared that individual levying would drive the Jews away [which statistics bore out: during Sieur de Picquet’s lease, from October-December 1783, in three months 5,5576 fewer entries were registered at the entrance to Strasbourg.] Thus, thanks to this wise combination, the leaders of the “Jewish nation” were, for more than sixty years, the farmers of this lease. It remains to learn why, in 1783, the contract for an amount of 2,400 l rose to 10,000. Sieur Picquet’s speculation could be an error in appreciation on his part. But it is likely that the city of Strasbourg, knowing that this toll was going to escape it sooner or later, enormously increased this fee with the hope that at the moment of the settlement this price would serve as the basis for the indemnification it would have the right to claim.

The strangest thing is that this body tax had to be paid even by Christians when they rendered service to Jews: when coming to Strasbourg for them they had to pay a supplementary tax, as if they were Jews.

Aside from the Strasbourg toll, there was another body tax that belonged to the King. It was only levied in Lower Alsace; upon entering and leaving the province the Jews had to pay this toll. In fact, very few Jews undertook these voyages and the suppression of the tax could not have had any serious consequences for the King’s finances.

In addition, from June 11, 1758, foreign Jews, as we saw, were exempted from the body tax in Ingwiller and Woerth. How then can they have been stricter towards the “natives” of the country, for whom the burden was already crushing?


Doublet de Persan, Procurator General of the commission assigned to the official request, and faithful to the principles of the Bureau of Tolls, prepared the abolition of the body tax. Its “Work” dated August 1783 insisted to the Minister of Finances on the need to abolish the body tax on the Jews and proposed a decree.

The decree was ready in August 1783, as well as the “Reason for the Decree;” copies of the Decree and the accompanying letters to Intendant de la Galaisière for

Alsace and de Bertier for Paris, were written and bear the date of September 1783. All that remained was to add the date and sign. These letter specified that the decree was decided upon in August 1783 and were to take effect immediately.

During these negotiations the Magistrate of Strasbourg didn’t remain inactive. In September he decided to put into effect the new lease with the restrictive clause agreed upon by Marshal de Ségur. Cerf Berr, approached to renew his lease, refused and, from Paris, addressed a letter to the Comptroller General of Finances, in which he warned that the city of Strasbourg proposed to begin the levy starting Saint Michael’s Day 1783, September 29. He requested the suspension of the execution of the lease until the settling of the question and the maintenance of the status quo in the meanwhile.

Strasbourg went ahead anyway, strong in the Maréchal de Ségur’s agreement of June 3, 1783 and, on Saint Michael’s Day 1783 Sieur Piquet effectively became the ‘"farmer of the body tax lease for Strasbourg.”

Saint Michael’s Day 1783 marked the definitive condemnation of the body tax. The same day, September 29, 1783, the Comptroller General of Finances, d’Ormesson, wrote to Gérard, Prêteur Royal of Strasbourg: “ Your opinion confirmed His Majesty in the project of rendering a law bearing the general abolition of any body tax on the Jews in Strasbourg, as well as the rest of Alsace and the rest of the kingdom.” It only remained to fix the amount of the indemnification to be paid to the city of Strasbourg and the modalities for the settling of its indemnification.

Of course, Strasbourg demanded 10,000 l, the amount of Sieu Piquet’s contract. D’Ormesson opposed this. It could only be a question of 2,400 l, the amount of the latest contracts.

As for the modalities, as was customary the Comptroller General of Finances, d’Ormesson, was consulted, as well as the Baron de Spon, First President of the Sovereign Council of Alsace, de La Galasière, Intendant of the province, and Gérard, Prêteur Royal in Strasbourg. From the responses of these high magistrates we will retain their unanimity on the question of the abolition of the tax. They were unable to invoke a reasonable motive for establishing a distinction between the Jews of Upper and Lower Alsace: “This, it would seem equally just to liberate the others and to not allow to remain in their regard a levy that serves only to debase them, degrade them, and render them odious.”

The balance sheet of the exorbitant charges imposed on the Jews of Alsace, drawn up by Intendant de La Galaisière, cannot be questioned and is particularly eloquent: “The Jews are subject to five kinds of taxes:

  1. Entry or reception toll owed to the lords who admit them to their lands, a fee arbitrarily fixed, though the letters patent concerning the lands of the nobility of Lower-Alsace set them at 36l;
  2. Residence tax paid annually to lords. It too is 36 l in Lower Alsace and 10 florins in Upper Alsace.
  3. Protection tax owed the King’s realm by the Jews of Upper Alsace and set at 17 livres 10 sous;
  4. Body tax also owed the realm by the Jews of Lower Alsace and must be paid by all those who leave and enter the province;
  5. Body tax owed the city of Strasbourg by all Jews without distinction, set at 3 l 4 s for every one who enters that city.”

How acquit oneself of so many fees when the economic condition of Jews in Alsace was as strictly limited as in the Middle Ages? These Jews were born in the country and lived in the country and, aside from a few rare families, were placed outside its economic and social life. If it is true that there existed in the province of Alsace a few comfortably off and even wealthy Jews, the great mass was extremely poor.

Cerf Berr, for his part, spared neither his trouble nor his time. Forty-eight hours after the Sieur Piquet’s new contract took effect he sent a new memorandum. The argument was consistent: “Thanks to the wisdom of governments, in several states we have successively seen extinguished these odious signs of a servitude to which man is superior.” Cerf Berr went to Paris, to Versailles, to Fontainebleau. For three months the daily negotiations with the king, the ministers, the Bureau of Tolls, the government offices kept him at the court. On October 30, 1783, in a letter dated Fontainebleau, Cerf Berr declared that “his nation is in difficulty and he is himself in a hurry to return to the province.” With the principle having been accepted – since the King was willing to abolish all body taxes- and so that the general regulation not be delayed, Cerf Berr asked the Procurator General to please see “to dispatching the edict so that it can be signed as soon as possible.”


In September the Decree was transformed into letters patent. This transformation is understandable. A Decree might be considered lacking in weight, since the body tax in Strasbourg was divided up on a new foundation. In the second half of October the projected letters patent seemed no longer to suffice. They gave way to an edict in order to give even more weight to the royal decision, to give it a more general meaning.

Cerf Berr was not unaware of the latest difficulty. The amount of the indemnification to be given to the city had to be established, as well as the conditions of that indemnification. In his letter of October 30, 1783 Cerf Berr specified that it could only be a question of a total sum of 2,400 livres annually. A clear-sighted ambassador and alert negotiator, he insisted that in the final writing of the edict there be no question of an indemnification paid by the Jews for the suppression of the body tax, but only a tax that the nation would be pay for the carrying out of commerce, in Strasbourg as elsewhere.

Cerf Berr’s influence was such that that he could even intervene in the very writing of the edict. His remarks were fully in accord with the project of the Procurator Doublet de Persan, as we find it laid out in the “Reason for the Decree” of August 20, 1783. Doublet de Persan says, without any ambiguity, that Strasbourg must be placed before a fait accompli. Any possible subsidiary problems would be settled later. First the toll had to be suppressed; the indemnification could be settled afterwards. In a short letter dated Wednesday, November 19, 1783, the Comptroller General of Finances convoked Doublet de Persan in order to settle with him, on the basis of his “Work,” the abolition of the body tax. This session, the final step before the definitive solution to the problem, was scheduled for Wednesday November 26, 1893.

In fact the decree, transformed into an edict, gained not only in judicial strength, but also in its writing. The decree stipulated:

“In the future, the Jews shall be exempted throughout the extent of our kingdom- and particularly upon entering and leaving the province of Alsace and the city of Strasbourg, from the body tax- as well as passage and customary tolls.” The King’s edict specified that “it is repugnant to the sentiments that we extend to all our subjects to allow there to remain in regard to certain among them an imposition that debases humanity, and we have believed it necessary to abolish it.” As for the indemnification to be paid to the city of Strasbourg, the edict specified: “We reserve the right to decide the indemnification that shall be granted.”

The Procurator General Doublet de Persan and the Syndic Général Cerf Berr had imposed their vision of the problem: the indemnification will be settled upon, if needed, after the suppression of the body tax: “To redeem the toll would be humiliating for the Jews,” Doublet de Persan affirmed in August 1783.Last but not least, the edict is “perpetual and irrevocable.”


The Bureau of Tolls preserved all of the documentation concerning the transmission of the edict to the parliaments and soveriegn councils. The path followed is thus known to us and we can follow it step by step thanks to the “King’s orders” and “dispatch letters” and “Records of Registration” that have been preserved for us.

The dispatching and registration of the edict was spread out between January 11, 1784, for the sovereign council of Alsace, until December 23, 1784, for the parliament of Toulouse... for the parliaments that registered it.

In the first place the Edict concerned Alsace. On January 17, 1784 the edict, in its French language original, was registered at the Sovereign Council of Alsace in Colmar. Marshal de Ségur, Minister of War, had Alsace among his other responsibilities. Villiers de Terrage of the Calonne Bureau, Comptroller General of Finances, addressed the edict to Campi, Commissaire Ordonnateur for War at the War Bureau, which was immediately transmitted to the Sovereign Council of Alsace in Colmar. This double formality fulfilled, Doublet de Persan, Maître de Requêtes at the Council of State and Procurator General of the Bureau of Tolls, was notified. Thus, the first step in the transmission of the edict could be closely observed by the Bureau of Tolls.

If the dispatching is, to be sure, an important act, what truly counts is the registration. It was up to Villiers du Terrage to attentively follow the registration of the edict in the various Parliaments and Sovereign Councils and to keep Doublet de Persan of the Bureau of Tolls advised of this.

On January 24, 1784 the edict, in its bilingual translation, was transcribed in the registers of the Sovereign Council of Alsace. The same day, Strasbourg submitted and suppressed the body tax levied on the Jews upon entry into the city.

Cerf Berr was informed in detail of this on January 28, 1784 and could announce victory. The same day, in a letter to Doublet de Persan, Cerf Berr announced that the city of Strasbourg recognized the King’s edict bearing the exemption from the body tax, and that the guardians of the city gates, on order of the magistrate, were to allow the Jews to pass freely. The first step in the emancipation of the Jews had become a reality.


On January 30, 1784, Cerf Berr submitted a proposal, as was requested by the Comptroller General of Finances, to pay 48,000 livres for the suppression of the body tax. Why 48,000 livres? This was the capital necessary for constituting an annuity of 2,400 livres annually, the price of the lease. Cerf Berr solicited the favor of being able to pay off this large amount in four payments. Contrary to legend, Cerf Berr received no profit from the toll; neither he nor his family lived off it. On the contrary, Cerf Berr had advanced 120,000 livres during the 1780’s to the Jews of Alsace. In the name of the Jewish nation, Cerf Berr asked that this payment be spread out so as not to weigh down the finances of the community. This sum of 48,000 livres would thus be divided up among the whole of the Jewish nation and a receipt was given to Cerf Berr in order to facilitate this division.

By a Decree of Council of June 24, 1785, the indemnification of the city of Strasbourg for the suppression of the body tax was fixed at an annual and perpetual annuity of 2,400 livres annually. This decree, in order to be executable, was confirmed by letters patent of January 25, 1786, sent to the parliament of Metz on March 15, 1786 and registered there on March 30, 1786. De Crolbois, agent of the city of Strasbourg, in Paris then wrote to his principals: “The affair is thus finalized.”


On June 11,1788, a document preserved in the archives of the Bureau of Tolls states that three parliaments had not yet registered the edict of January 1784 suppressing the body tax: the parliaments of Paris, Rouen and Bordeaux.

The Parliament of Paris’ reasons were formulated in a letter from Joly de Fleury, Procurator General of Parliament, addressed to Baron de Breteuil and dated Paris, April 4, 1784. Despite the express “order” of the King of February 13, 1784, which was attached to the edict of January 1784, and “whose registration we request and order you proceed to,” dated Paris April 4, 1784, during the course of a meeting The First President Etienne Francois d’Aligre of Damecourt, and Joly de Fleury, Procurator General, agreed that this “edict was infinitely dangerous in its consequences, because it would include the public recognition that the Jews have a right to reside in the kingdom.” Since the Parliament of Paris “has never recognized this right to residence” they “represent” that “this edict would make parliament feel the greatest inconveniences if it were presented to it for registration.” Joly de Fleury even expressed the regret, a bit late, that a law was promulgated and addressed to the sovereign council of Alsace “though the dispositions of that law seem to have as especial object the Jews who inhabit that province.”

The opposition of parliament wasn’t limited to this negative attitude. Joly de Fleury purely and simply returned the edict and the “King’s Order” to Baron de Breteuil, Secretary of State: “In these circumstances I have charged myself with the honor of returning this edict to you, along with the King’s orders which accompanied it.” In order to give more weight to this opposition, a marginal note to the letter sent April 4, 1784 specified that “a copy of this letter was sent on April 4, 1784 to M. de Calonne, Comptroller General of Finances.”

Cerf Berr attempted to fight against the refractory parliaments. He realized the importance of the registration of the edict. In a “Memorandum” Cerf Berr studied the extent of this opposition and demanded that everything be done in order to obtain registration in the refractory parliaments. It was, as he said, “the final sanction necessary.” Against the parliament of Paris, Cerf Berr stressed that the suppression of the body tax could not be confused with the right to residence. The King and the nobles still remained masters in receiving or refusing Jews. In fact, this was a pointless battle. At the moment when Joly de Fleury returned the “Order to Register” as well as the edict, i.e., April 4, 1784, the battle was already won. Not only had the sovereign Council of Colmar registered the edict on January 17, but of 16 parliaments or sovereign councils, nine had purely and simply registered the Edict: Aix, Besançon, Dijon, Douai, Grenoble, Metz, Nancy, Pau, Perpignan, Rennes. Bastia had declared that there was no point to this registration, since there was no toll on the island. There thus remained Bordeaux, Rouen, and Toulouse. At Bordeaux the Jews lived normally, and the question wasn’t even posed. Finally, the Superior council of Corsica, in Bastia, registered the edict on July 12, 1784, and the parliament of Toulouse on December 23 of the same year.

In Paris the precariousness of the situation of the Jews explains the attitude of the parliament. And yet, many Jewish families lived there peacefully, Jews from Bordeaux, and even certain Jews from the east.


Lavoisier, Farmer General in the region of Clermont also experienced a problem posed by the body tax. [According to a note by Madame Lavoisier-Rumford in the Lavoisier archives in the French Academy of Sciences] in Stenay “in 1786, amidst all his scientific labors in a small town near the Swiss border, he didn’t hesitate a moment before abolishing a toll that weighed on the Jews. It was to Lavoisier that they owed their liberation from a toll that every person of that nation paid upon entering the city of Stenay. This toll, we are sorry to say, was analogous to the fees paid by unclean animals (pigs, known by the name of cloven hoof). The Jewish nation was so grateful for the abolition of this fee that it organized a deputation of the entire Jewish church (sic) to Lavoisier to express its gratitude in the name of that nation and to offer him Passover cakes as a sign of religious brotherhood.”

The body tax, in disappearing from Strasbourg, sounded the death knell for all the other taxes. For the Jews, it was the first general measure taken for the entire kingdom and which applied to all. The Edict was perpetual and irrevocable, “whether said tolls belong to cities and communities, or to ecclesiastical or secular lords and other persons without exception, of whatever title.” The edict also specified that “the audit of tolls is necessary for the freeing of commerce from hindrances and , according to several tariffs and notices of said fees – notably in Alsace and at the entrance to the city of Strasbourg-the Jews are subject to a tax that assimilates them to animals.” Signed Louis XVI, counter-signed by Marshal de Ségur, Minister of War responsible for Alsace, the Guard of Seals, Hue de Miromesnil, and de Calonne, Comptroller General of finances, this edict represented the first step in the emancipation of the Jews of France.

From July 22, 1783 to January 24, 1784, in less than six months, by the common efforts of Cerf Berr, of Marshal de Ségur and of Doublet de Persan, the slavery and humiliation of the body tax disappeared from Strasbourg and the road was now open to emancipation.