Histories of human rights tend to focus on defining moments, clear instances of universalism triumphant. If we hold to this model, the 1855 campaign on behalf of French republican—or democratic socialist—refugees was a failure. The refugees, expelled from Jersey in the Channel Islands for a libel of the queen, were little liked, and the campaign on their behalf did not yield the desired results, enabling them to return to Jersey. Yet, as this article argues, the failed campaign ought to be judged by different measures than the campaigners’ desired results, for we see in it the dynamics of refugee crises down to the present: an ongoing attempt to make refuge a universal norm in the face of persistent doubt that the refugees in question were “worthy” of staying. The French refugees and their supporters drew public attention to a right that they claimed derived from precedent, the British constitution, and moral principle. Though they did not succeed in their immediate cause, campaigners drew the admission even from naysayers that there was a “right to refuge”—but one the naysayers would not agree must be upheld at all costs.