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Adolphe Crémieux

Adolphe Crémieux (1796-1880) son of a Jewish silk merchant from Nîmes who became a Jacobin and served as a municipal official during the revolution. The family suffered economic ruin and imprisonment under the Directory and remained a target of royalist harassment, especially during the White Terror of 1815, as Nîmes experienced often violent political and religious conflict. A Bonapartist in his youth, Adolphe Crémieux attended the imperial lycée under the empire and returned to Nîmes in 1817 to practice law. There he made contacts with liberal circles and became prominent by defending clients whose civil l iberties had been violated by local religious custom and prejudice. By 1830, Crémieux held the first rank in the bar on Nîmes and was well known in literary and legal circles in Paris as a defender of victims of the White Terror.

In 1830, Crémieux moved to Paris to take Odilon Barrot's place on the Cour de Cassation where he gained a reputation as a champion of individual liberties yet alienated many on the left by defending a former minister of Charles X. As a supporter of the J uly Monarchy, he entered the chamber of deputies in 1842 from Indre-et-Loire and joined the dynastic left. He was also elected to the presidency of the Central Jewish Consistory in 1843.

Crémieux's hostility toward the corruption bred by oligarchic government, his support for a foreign policy which would make France the patron of subjugated peoples, and his respected position within the liberal opposition allowed him to play a prominent role in the banquet campaign of 1847. Speaking at six major reformist political meetings from September to December, Crémieux appealed for parliamentary and electoral reform and a more progressive orientation in foreign policy while opposing revolution as a potential "public misfortune."

Increasingly well-known and respected among active elements in Paris, Crémieux supported efforts by students and the national guardsmen to lift the government's prohibition on banquets in February. When the insurrection came, Crémieux worked to main tain order within the national guard while counseling the government to make concessions. As a deputy and a trusted supporter of reform, Crémieux was well placed to help convince Louis-Philippe to excuse Thiers and Marshal Bugeaud from the new ministry. These concessions having come too late, Crémieux returned to the Tuileries and joined the chorus of those who had already convinced the king to flee. Making his way out of the palace as insurgents invaded, he returned to the Palais Bourbon t o find the crowd occupying the chamber and leaders of the left proclaiming a provisional government. The crowd and the deputies made their way to the Hôtel de Ville where Crémieux was named minister of justice, with the bureau de cults transferred to the ministry of public instruction. Even under the republic, it would not do to have a Jew appointing bishops.

The administrative services of his department were kept running very much as before, despite the unsettled political situation. Although not a républicain de la veille, Crémieux was associated with the moderates of the National and was perhaps the minister least equipped to play a political role. A liberal and solid bourgeois, Crémieux believed strongly in the principles of 1789 and 1830 and associated the republic with the complete juridical articulation of civil liberties for all. As minister of justice, he presided over the abolition of the July Monarchy's repressive September laws by instituting freedom of the press and freedom of association. He also introduced freedom of worship, repealed compulsory bail, abolished arrest for non-payment of debts, ended punishment by public exhibition, abolished the political oath for office holders, and reestablished the legality of divorce. Such legal reforms were precarious in the wake of the polarization which followed the journée of May 15. Moreover, Crémieux's position as minister placed him at the center of c onflicts over the appointment of personnel. His reforms won him the ire of the right, despite the protection he afforded to members of the existing judiciary, and his unwillingness to purge the courts cost him popularity on the left. Criticized from both sides by a newly freed press, Crémieux suffered the fate of many moderates in time of crisis.

Elected to the national assembly in April, Crémieux retained the justice portfolio but did not regularly attend the meetings of the Executive Commission. Weary, dispirited, and no longer endowed with much initiative, Crémieux accomplished little during this brief period. When entrusted by the government to open an inquiry into Louis Blanc's role in the events of May 15, Crémieux resisted prosecution and was widely denounced in the press and the assembly for obstructing the judicial process. With little political support, he tendered his resignation.

During the June Days, Crémieux was sent as part of a parliamentary delegation to explain the decision to abolish the national workshops to national guard units. While he remained a member of the assembly and acted as rapporteur for numerous committees, he played no prominent role in the elaboration of the constitution; his call for a preamble containing a declaration of rights fell on deaf ears. Although he supported the candidacy of Louis Napoleon, and even helped draft his profession de foi , Crémieux opposed the left as Napoleon and th e monarchist parties chipped away at civil liberties and democratic political rights. Arrested along with other members of the Mountain on the night of December 2, 1851, Crémieux returned to his law practice after the consolidation of the Second Empire and became president of the Alliance Israélite Universelle in 1863.

While he returned to politics as a member of republican opposition in the Corps législatif in 1857 and as a member of the Government of N ational Defense in 1870, Crémieux was too politically innocent to play a major role in republican politics during the early struggles of the Third Republic. After provoking Gambetta's antipathy by opposing the extraordinary measures taken at Tours during the Franco-Prussian War, he was elected to the national assembly and became a kind of in-house expert on Algerian and Jewish affairs after 1871. Crémieux ended his political career as a senator-for-life.

Steven Kale


R. Allou and C. Chenu. Barreau de Paris: Grands avocats du siècle. Paris, n.d.

Adolphe Crémieux. En 1848: Discours et lettres. Paris: Camann Lévy, 1883.

-------. Liberté: Plaidoyers et discours politiques. Paris: Calmann Lévy, 1869.

M. Grunwald, "Adolphe Crémieux," in Jahrbücher für judische

Geschichte und Lite ratur, XXIX (1930).

Victor Hugo. La peine de mort: procès de "L'Êvenement ." Paris, 1851.

Eugene de Mircourt. Mes contemporains: Adolphe Crémieux. Paris, 1853.

Solomon V. Posener. Adolphe Crémieux: A Biography. Eugene Olob trans. Philadelphia: The Jewish Publication Society of America, 1940.

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