Since Jews were a very small minority of Germany's population, around 1-1.5 percent (and even regionally rarely exceeded 5 percent), it might be surprising to see the question of their citizenship rights as a central issue of government and politics in the 1815-66 period, or for this collection of sources to rank this question alongside that of national unity or constitutional government. The emancipation of the Jews was a major political issue because the debates over it revealed profoundly different opinions about the nature of citizenship and the relationship of citizens to their government.
A useful introduction to the debate about equal rights for the Jews is an 1822 memorandum from the Ministry of State of the Duchy of Nassau, a small state in the western part of Germany, on the question of Jewish population's rights to residence and marriage. The authors of the memorandum point out that the question itself emerged as a result of the profound political changes of the three previous decades. In the German old regime, the pre-1789 Holy Roman Empire, society and government were corporate in nature; that is, different social or religious groups had different obligations and privileges and no one group was equal to any other. In those circumstances, the idea of a religious minority with its own distinct burdens and way of life was part of the broader scope of things. Following the upheavals of the French Revolution, though, this model of government and society was replaced with one of common citizenship, which made the position of the Jews distinctive. The bureaucrats writing this memorandum noted that efforts had been made to reduce the social and economic distinctiveness of the Jewish population, in order to make its occupational structure similar to that of the other inhabitants of the Duchy. They expressed skepticism not just about the success of these efforts, but their usefulness and validity.
The second document, dated January 25, 1820, thus from about the same time, was a report of the Prussian District Government of Koblenz, an area just to the northwest of the Duchy of Nassau, about the conditions of the Jews in their district, and whether the Prussian government's edict of 1812, offering the Jews more civic rights, should be applied to the territories acquired by Prussia in 1815. The report contrasted the legal condition in the areas on the west bank of the Rhine River, where laws created by the French Revolution were in effect, with those on the east bank of the river, which were still largely from the old regime. The author of the report, opposed to granting the Jews expanded civic rights, described the Jewish population of the area in hate-filled and bigoted ways in order to justify this opinion. This very hostile account of the Jews was designed to show that they did not fit the criteria for citizenship, implying that requirements for citizenship included confessing a certain religion, following certain customs, and practicing particular occupations.