originally assumed that the edict he completed in 1787, which reaffirmed the freedom of conscience of non-Catholics, granted them the rights of marrying, burial, and bequeathing their estates outside the authority of the Catholic Church, and permitted them the exercise of crafts and trades, included all non-Catholics. Apparently in agreement, the parlement of Paris registered the edict immediately. Not so the parlement of Metz, which refused to do so explaining that Metz would become a 'tribe of Jews'.

Pierre Louis Roederer recalled that immediately after the promulgation of the 1787 edict, the king complimented Malesherbes for his success and then said: 'You have made yourself a Protestant: now I shall make you a Jew: Occupy yourself with the condition of the Jews'.28 Roederer, however, telescoped the events in his recollections of more than a decade later. For Malesherbes addressed himself to the question of the Jews only after the crown assured for them an even less secure status by tacitly excluding them from the edict, a fact duly noted by the Jews themselves: 'The Jew, man like all others, not only does not profit from this generous law, but must become even more degraded by this same law which, in eliminating forever intolerance towards foreigners, continues it especially and only towards the Jew'.29

Malesherbes left few sources untapped in his new task. He turned to his friends, to the Jews of the south-west, the east and Paris, to police inspectors, and to ministers both in France and abroad. He gathered information concerning the laws and customs of the Jews as well as reports - both solicited and unsolicited - from their friends and their enemies. He read their history and charted their settlements. He obtained a map of Alsace with the major routes and towns, all to provide him with the answer to one consuming question: could and would the Jews of France abandon their exclusiveness and particularity in return for the rights of Frenchmen? In other words, were the Jews really comparable to the Protestants - who distinguished themselves from the majority of Frenchmen only in matters of faith - or were they a permanently separate and potentially dangerous people? The more Malesherbes probed, interviewed, and pondered, the less confident he became of an answer.

In his private musings, Malesherbes dwelt on the isolation of the Jews, their determination to remain separate from all others, and the potential danger they represented.30 At present, he noted, the Jews are not at all comparable to the Protestants. They are hated because of the 'crime' of their ancestors and their exclusive commitment to commerce. Citing the prophet Jeremiah, he called attention to the many ways in which Jews were prevented from eating and drinking with the French, engaging in the salutary world of agriculture or escaping the opprobrium of an imperium in imperiis.

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