On the great night of August 4, 1789, the French National Assembly proclaimed the abolition of feudalism. This momentous revolutionary proclamation was not, however, self-executing: in the days that followed, it became clear that there was no definitive agreement about what "feudalism" was. After a week of uncertain debate, the gentlemen of the Assembly had not produced fully detailed abolition legislation. Politics having failed, the decision was made to turn the problem over to lawyers; on August 12, the Assembly constituted a Committee, made up principally of lawyers, and charged with the task of defining "feudalism."

So it was that the lawyers stepped in, to take charge of the first great abolition of Western history. The special Committee on Feudal Rights worked away during six months of increasing revolutionary tension, as peasants rioted and châteaux burned in many parts of France. Finally, on February 8, 1790, the Committee delivered a refined and elegant report, full of technicalities and fine phrases. Among that report's pronouncements was the following declaration: "the Seigneurs," reported the Committee, analyzing the legal essence of the abolition of feudalism, "have descended to the rank of simple Creditors."