The Emancipation of the Jews
Source: Mémoire pour les Juifs de Metz. Paris, Imprimerie P. de Lorimel. [n.d.];
Translated: for marxists.org by Mitchell Abidor;
CopyLeft: Creative Commons (Attribute & ShareAlike) marxists.org 2010.
The Jews of Metz existed in that city when it passed under French domination in 1552. They became French at the same time that the other inhabitants of Metz and its region received that status.
They thus did not come to France to seek either residency, protection or toleration since all these rights were theirs in the country they inhabited before it was united with France.
To the prejudice of a possession as ancient as it is legitimate, in 1715 the Lady Countess of Fontaine, known for the credit she enjoyed with the Duke of Orleans, and the Duke of Brancas, who was wed to this Lady, solicited and obtained for their profit and for a period of thirty years the establishing of a tax of 40 livres on every Jewish family established in Metz and its region.
This tax was established under the title of a tax for residency, protection and toleration, a fee as unknown until then in the province of the Three Bishoprics as in the other provinces of the kingdom. It was thus a levy of a new kind, a unique and personal servitude for the Jews of Metz and its region.
Letters patent of December 31, 1715, establishing this tax, having been presented by the Countess of Fontaine and the Duke of Brancas to the parliament of Metz for registration, the Procurator General of that court believed it his duty to send the communication to the representatives of the Jewish community. The latter opposed it, but that opposition having been invoked the Jews were forced to cede the credit.
They were only able to obtain a subscription of 20,000 livres annually, and had to themselves determine how to share it out proportionally in accordance with the abilities of each family. Consequently other letters patent, dated July 9, 1718, were addressed to and registered by the parliament of Metz.
The thirty years of the first concession being about to expire, it was renewed for thirty additional years in favor of the marriage the Duke of Lauraguais was on the point of contracting with mistress de Mailly. These were the terms of the act of December 15, 1742.
Though this renewal wasn’t to expire until December 31, 1775, the House of Brancas solicited and obtained, effective May 1, 1750, another act that again extended the concession until 1805.
The necessary consequence to be drawn from this simple report is that the House of Brancas can no longer demand this levy or the Jews of Metz pay it without violating the oath of obedience to the constitution taken by the National Assembly and sanctioned by the king.
In fact, 1- The establishment of the levy in question was one of the most absolute acts of despotism, and 2- the suppression of it is pronounced by all the decrees of the National Assembly sanctioned by the king.
Here is the sole measure in the letters patent of December 15, 1715, which established this surcharge on the Jews of Metz: The Duke of Brancas and the Lady Countess of Fontaine, have informed us that we are to be paid a tax for residency, protection and toleration for every Jewish family established in our city of Metz.”
It was thus not the requisition of any public ministry or any individual charged with the interests of the taxation office; it was on the representation, that is, on the sole assertion of the Duke of Brancas and the Countess of Fontaine that this tax was decided.
They were granted the tax for residency, protection and toleration, a name as unknown to the customs and regulations of Metz and its region as to any treaties concerning the rights of domains.
If one were to ask what advantages the Jews obtained for so onerous a levy, what they have obtained for the sum of 1,500,000 livres that they have till now paid to the Houses of Fontaine and Brancas, we would answer that they have obtained and paid for the ability to breathe the air of the country in which they were born, since they do not have the freedom of owning land, or of engaging in commerce, or exercising the arts, none of which prevents them from being forced to pay a surcharge.
Though they don’t form an eighteenth of the population of the city of Metz they pay a sixth of the city’s capitation, 8,297 livres, plus 7.706 livres for the right to work, 3,465 livres for twentieths of their miserable housing, 1,391 for mandatory labor, 450 livres for the general hospital, where they are never admitted, 200 livres for the vicar of the parish, 500 livres for the housing of soldiers, 200 livres to the court bailiffs, and finally, in all passive operations they are considered and act as citizens. For the past while they have contributed 300 louis to the loan for the acquisition of grains. Finally, the municipal officers of Metz demand of them the declaration of a quarter of their revenues. They would have met this demand if they hadn’t hoped to obtain from one day to the next a definitive decision concerning their status. The principles of equality that the National Assembly established would be violated if the Jews, paying a quarter of their revenues, remained subject to specific levies.
But they must be freed from the odious levy of 20,000 livres by the law that was already in the hearts of some men and is currently before the eyes of all: the famous Rights of Man and the Citizen. We read there with gratitude this truth: men are born and remain free and equal in rights.
This is the authentic title that has forever proscribed the levy in question, as well as all the charges and impositions specific to the Jews. Since they were never subject to any particular favor, they never should have been subject to any particular charge. In the future it will thus not be thanks to a supposed tax for residency, toleration and protection that they will exist in Metz and its region; they will exist there in the status of men free and equal in rights to all their fellow citizens.
The letters patent that established the levy created a particular sovereignty and transmitted this to the Countess of Fontaine and the House of Brancas over the entire Jewish community of Metz. But the principle of every sovereignty, says article 3 of the above quoted declaration, “resides essentially in the nation. No body, no individual can exercise any authority that doesn’t emanate expressly from it.” Since the tax of the House of Brancas does not emanate from the nation it can no longer have any authority.
Is the religion particular to the Jews serve as a pretext for this levy? Any specific protection was rendered unnecessary by this other article of the same declaration: “No one is to be troubled for his opinions, even religious, as long as their manifestation doesn’t trouble the order established by the law.” It is in this article that the Jewish community of Metz will find the continuation of the right to residency, protection, and toleration, without paying anything to the house of Brancas or to anyone at all. And they will do nothing but recover the rights they possessed before their fatherland, the city of Metz and its region, passed under French domination.
However legitimate their demand, the Duke of Brancas strove to deny it.
The Jews of Metz should be considered foreigners and the levy as a tax on foreigners. It is as foreigners that they have, from reign to reign, received letters of confirmation. The sovereigns are master of according entry and residence to foreigners and placing on these favors the conditions they please. The concession made to the House of Brancas of a levy of 20,000 livres had as object the rewarding for services rendered the state by that house. This is what the Duke of Brancas’ defense can be reduced to.
In changing the status of persons and things there are no suppositions that cannot be presented as truths. We can answer that the Jews of Metz, as well as their fellow citizens, inhabitants of the region of Metz, are French since 1552; that the words foreigners and tax on foreigners were not unknown in 1715, and that the letters patent instituting the levy did not use the word tax on foreigners, but rather those of toleration, protection, and residency.
It is not as foreigners, but as people forming a particular corporation that the Jews of Metz have obtained letters patent confirming their rights with every change of reign. In this regard they have followed the usage of other Frenchmen, their fellow citizens, forming bodies or communities which, in similar circumstances have obtain letters confirming their corporation.
They in no way question the services rendered the state by the House of Brancas. They are simply surprised that they persist in this way to seek a reward for their services through an act of the most absolute despotism, through an odious personal levy that is proscribed by all the decrees of the National Assembly.
Yes, it is impossible to demand of citizens the payment of such a levy without in doing so disobeying the constitution and violating the oath that all citizens owe it.
Deputy of the Jews of Metz and the Three Bishoprics.
1. The latest letters patent, from May 17, 1777, confirming the rights of the Jews of Metz, recall those that preceded, to wit, those of Henri IV of March 24, 1603. In these this prince declared that he is informed of the faithful conduct of the Jews of Metz and how, during the recent troubles, they employed themselves at taking care of and giving aid and assistance to those charged by him, and were employed in his service, both in the garrison and elsewhere. Those of Louis XIII of 1632, which cited the services that the Jews of Metz had rendered the garrison during the civil wars, during which (and these are the Prince’s words) the troops could not be paid. And finally those of Louis XIV and Louis XV which unanimously testified to their satisfaction with the fidelity of the Jews and the services they rendered.