More information on Joseph Merceron's Paris journey, as requested by Robert Bance:
At some stage (following, it is said, the first stages of the revolt of the slaves in 1783–84) Joseph handed over his property to a manager and with his family set sail for Paris, where he studied law. In January 1785 he was accepted on to the list of accredited avocats of the Parlement de Paris, and in May was appointed to the second of the Parlement’s three Chambres des Enquêtes or Chambers of Investigations, so called because they investigated the written evidence of parties to disputes.
The Parlement of Paris was not a parliament of the kind with which we are familiar. It was an appointed or hereditary body more like the House of Lords in England with its Law Lords; it had no power to initiate anything, but was France’s highest judicial body, and had different sections to deal with pleading, petitions, inquests, and criminal cases. Its home was the Palace of Justice. While only judges were part of the Parlement proper, avocats, like procureurs (solicitors) and similar lesser officials,
wore magisterial dress, took part in the Parlement’s public ceremonies and gained the right of committimus [that is, the right to have a case heard before the highest courts]. Above all, they became a part, however subordinate, of the Parlement itself and thereby acquired a not inconsiderable status, though conversely their conduct in the Palais [de Justice] was subjected to the stern discipline of the court.
The Parlement acquired political power because it has to register all royal edicts and letters patent for them to become law, and because its right of remonstrance allowed it to hold royal authority in check. Young and junior parlementaires such as Merceron, who were serving their apprenticeship in lower chambers such as the Chambres des Enquêtes, were sometimes extremely politically active and outspokenly opposed to the status quo.
However, since it was composed almost entirely of nobles, the Parlement of Paris, along with the fourteen provincial parlements, vigorously opposed changes that might lead to increases in taxation, including the fiscal reforms proposed in 1787 and 1788. The parlements argued that only the Estates-General could authorise new taxes, and so the king, Louis XVI, summoned the Estates-General, which had not met since 1614. The French Revolution began when in June 1789 the Third Estate, who were the commoners (the First Estate being the clergy, and the Second Estate the nobility), declared itself the ‘National Assembly’ to replace the Estates-General.
The parlements were among the first institutions to be abolished during the Revolution. The Parlement of Paris met for the last time in September 1788 and was gone by 1790. Joseph Merceron returned to Saint-Domingue in 1792 to attend to his property.
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