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Lettres Patentes du Roi…

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Lettres Patentes du Roi…

BROADSIDES & DOCUMENTS. Bordeaux, France, 1790. Earliest proclamation in Europe for equal rights for the Jews, albeit only Sephardic Jews of Spanish or Portuguese extraction.

Price: $12,500

On August 27, 1789, a newly created French National Assembly opened the doors to the French Revolution by approving “The Declaration of the Rights of Man”. Though freedom and equality were demanded of “all men”, they curiously did not include Jews. It was not until six months later that King Louis XVI, under political pressure, issued this open letter patent, dated January 28, 1790, granting equal rights to Jews, but only those of Sephardic extraction:

Louis, by the grace of God and the constitutional Law of the State…decrees… All the Portuguese, Spanish, and Avignonese Jews will continue to enjoy those rights which they have enjoyed up until now, and which are sanctioned in their favor by the Lettres Patents; consequently they will enjoy the rights of active citizens, when they fulfill the conditions required by the Assembly’s decrees…

On the eve of the Revolution, approximately 40,000 Jews were living in France. Those of Spanish and Portuguese extraction had been living quietly among the southern population, including Bordeaux and Avignon, since the end of the 15th century. They had integrated for survival, spoke French and were less observant in religious ritual, in some cases pretending to be “New Christians.” The Ashkenazim, on the other hand, were concentrated in Paris and Alsace in the north of France and spoke mainly Yiddish. This may explain why the Marranos were granted equality by the King a full year before their fellow Ashkenazim.

After the great expulsion of 1492, European Jews had lived in a constant state of upheaval and insecurity but they did not vanish. England’s Oliver Cromwell readmitted them in 1655 and The Jewish Naturalization Act of 1753 finally granted citizenship, but not political rights, as these were still restricted by oath requirements. Surprisingly, Jews were not fully protected as citizens of the United States until 1824, when the Jew Bill in Maryland was enacted.

Lettres Patentes Du Roi… [Letters Patent of the King… that those Jews known in France as Portuguese, Spanish and Avignonese Jews will continue to enjoy the rights of active citizens] Bordeaux, France: chez Michel Racle, Imprimeur de l’Intendance, [January 28] 1790. Broadside measures 21 inches x 15 inches with royal coat of arms insignia at top of sheet. Folds and age toning present with evidence of nail holes consistent with this notice having once been tacked up for public posting.