The question of who is French and who is not originated in a little known pre-Revolutionary law known as the droit d'aubaine
, which can be translated roughly as the "law of windfall or good luck." It grew out of the absolutist nature of the French monarchy in the Old Regime, and it simply stated that if a resident foreigner died on French soil, his money and property belonged thenceforth to the king.
More relevant to the long-term socioeconomic viability of immigrant families, however, was the droit d'aubaine
, which allowed the monarch to "seize the estates and property of aliens who died in the kingdom unless they had native heirs or had been exempted individually or collectively" (p.5).
The men of 1789 inherited a complex legacy of legislation concerning foreigners, some of which, such as the droit d'aubaine
making the crown heir to the property of foreigners who died in France, contradicted the Revolution's emphasis on individual rights.