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Abbé Maury, "Speech," 23 December 1789


Although he himself came from a family that had been forced to convert from Calvinism to Catholicism by the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes in 1685, Abbé Jean–Siffrein Maury (1746–1817) made his reputation as a spokesman for the interests of the Catholic Church, the monarchy’s authority, and the established social hierarchy. Here he attacks Clermont–Tonnerre’s propositions and recapitulates many of the common prejudices of the time.


The exclusion of executioners is not at all founded on prejudice. It is in the soul of every good man to shudder at the sight of him who assassinates in cold blood his fellow man. . . .

I go on to actors. The opinion that excludes them is not at all a prejudice; on the contrary, it honors the people who thought of it. Morals are the first law; the profession of acting essentially violates this law, because it removes a son from paternal authority. Revolutions in opinion cannot be as quick as our decrees. Some have always made use of a sophism by saying that men excluded from administrative functions are thereby dishonored; but you yourselves have excluded servants from your constitution. . . .

Let us go on to a subject more worthy of this Assembly. I observe first of all that the word Jew is not the name of a sect, but of a nation that has laws which it has always followed and still wishes to follow. Calling Jews citizens would be like saying that without letters of naturalization and without ceasing to be English and Danish, the English and Danish could become French. . . .

The Jews have passed through seventeen centuries without involving themselves with other nations. They have never undertaken anything other than commerce based on money; they have been the scourge of agricultural provinces; not one of them has yet known how to ennoble his hands by driving a plow. The law that they follow leaves them no time to engage in agriculture; in addition to the sabbath they have fifty-six more festivals each year than the Christians. In Poland, they have a large province. And so! The sweat of Christian slaves waters the furrows in which the opulence of the Jews germinates, and they, while their fields are thus cultivated, weigh the ducats [money] and calculate what they can remove from the currency without exposing themselves to legal penalties. . . .

In Alsace they hold 12 million mortgages on the land. In a month, they would become owners of half of this province; in ten years, they would have entirely conquered it, and it would be nothing but a Jewish colony. People feel for the Jews a hatred that cannot fail to explode as a result of this aggrandizement. For their own safety, we should table this matter.

They should not be persecuted: they are men, they are our brothers; and a curse on whomever would speak of intolerance! No one can be disturbed for his religious opinions; you have recognized this, and from that moment on you have assured Jews the most extended protection. Let them be protected therefore as individuals and not as Frenchmen for they cannot be citizens.

It should not be concluded from what I have said about the Jews that I confuse the Protestants with them. Protestants have the same religion and the same laws as us, but they do not have the same creed; however, since they already enjoy the same rights, I see no reason to deliberate on the section that concerns them in the proposed motion.


The materials listed below appeared originally in The French Revolution and Human Rights: A Brief Documentary History, translated, edited, and with an introduction by Lynn Hunt (Boston/New York: Bedford/St. Martin's, 1996), 88–89.

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