Named for Adolphe Crémieux, France's minister of justice, the Crémieux Decree was one of a series of acts affecting the political organization of Algeria that were issued by the French republic on 24 October 1870, shortly after it had come to power. Since the French occupation in 1830, Algerians had been French subjects but not French citizens. Only a handful had applied for naturalization, primarily because doing so necessitated acknowledging the primacy of French law and renouncing the right to be judged in accordance with religious statutes—a step almost no Muslims and very few Jews were prepared to take.
Because the Crémieux Decree accorded Jews—a religious minority in Algeria—a right denied to the country's religious majority, it angered Algerian Muslims. Further alienating Muslims was the decree's automatic application to the entire Jewish community, without conditions concerning their acceptance of the French legal system. Moreover, many of the European settlers in Algeria were opposed to the decree, because it permitted Algerian Jews to vote with them for local officials as well as for Algeria's seats in the French parliament.
Shortly after the passage of the Crémieux Decree, revolts erupted in the Algerian countryside, which threatened French settlers rendered especially vulnerable by the withdrawal of significant portions of the French army for service in the Franco–Prussian War. Asserting that Muslim anger over the Crémieux Decree had directly inspired these challenges to French authority, many settlers demanded its abrogation before it caused further troubles.
The settler reaction against the naturalization of the Jews was so vehement that the government did consider withdrawing the decree, but refrained from doing so to avoid antagonizing European Jewish financiers whose support it badly needed. It became clear in the light of subsequent evidence that the decree had played little, if any, role in sparking the rebellions. Rather, the rural Algerian Muslims involved in them had seized the opportunity presented by the decrease of French military power to challenge the newly constituted republican govern-ment—which, they were convinced, would sacrifice their interests while promoting those of the French settlers.
Settler opposition to the decree—and the deliberately deceptive attempt to tie it to the revolts—revealed a pervasive strain of antisemitism that continued to recur among lower-class Europeans in Algeria throughout the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. In 1940, during World War II, the German-sponsored French Vichy government abolished the Crémieux Decree when it took control of Algeria, but the provisions were reinstated after the war and remained in effect until the end of French rule in Algeria, in 1962.
Posener, S. Adolphe Crémieux: A Biography, translated by Eugene Golob. Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 1940.
Kenneth J. Perkins