The Emancipation of the Jews 1789

Opinion of Count Stanislas de Clermont-Tonerre Relating to the Persecutions Threatening the Jews of Alsace

Source: Opinion de M. le Comte Stanislas de Clermont-Tonerre relativement aux persecutions qui menacent les Juifs d’alsace. Versailles, Chez Baudoin, Imprimeur de l’Assemblée Nationale, [n.d. 1789];
Translated: for by Mitchell Abidor.

For a long time, gentlemen, the Jews domiciled.... if we can call “domiciled” men who aren’t citizens, who don’t enjoy the same rights of man, and who, sometimes tolerated and sometimes persecuted, have only a precarious existence and residency. For a long time, I say, the Jews of Alsace, Lorraine, and the Bishoprics await the moment when your important occupations will allow you to hear them. This moment has not yet arrived. I will not anticipate the truths their defender will present to you. It was reserved to this century of toleration and reason to see a respectable minister [1] raise his voice in this tribune in favor of the unhappy remainders of Israel. I will not usurp the holy work he reserved to himself. I will not plead this cause in which there are no objections to be combated, in which there are an abundance of choices of the truths to be established, and which can be reduced to one word: proving that it suffices to be a man – a civilized man – to enjoy the rights of a citizen. But what it is not allowed me to put off, gentlemen, is the positive demand for your protection of the Jews. The greatest dangers surround them; the hatred of the people pursues them, and they have deserved this hatred. Such is the effect of oppression and opprobrium: the oppressed man becomes unjust and the degraded man base. The people cannot follow the chain of truths; their vision stops at what wounds them. They don’t try to learn if the man of whom they are victim is not himself the victim of other men, and if the immediate cause of his ills is not itself the effect of another cause, a cause distant yet imperious. But you, gentlemen, whose wisdom and prudence will not fail to recognize the true source of the wrongs imputed to the Jews, you will not want them to perish from the effects of the oppressive regime they’ve lived under among you. You don’t want the decree you will pronounce in their favor making citizens of them do nothing but console their memory. Their houses have already been pillaged, their persons exposed to outrages and violence. The upcoming festival of expiation, by bringing them together in their synagogues, leaves them defenseless before popular hatred, and their place of worship can become that of their death.

I ask that the president be authorized to inform the municipalities and public officers of the province of Alsace that the National Assembly places the persons and property of the Jews under the protection of the law, and I would like it to be finally recognized that a man, even if he is not a citizen, cannot be murdered with impunity.

N.B. The Assembly authorized the president to write the letter requested in favor of the Jews of Alsace.

1. The Abbé Gregoire, priest of Emberménil [note in the original]