HC Deb 31 May 1836 vol 33 cc1227-36
Sir Robert Inglis

begged to know from his right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer, whether he intended to bring on that night the motion of which he bad given notice. The question was one on which the House was not agreed; and, from the importance of the question, he would put it to the right hon. Gentleman whether he thought it desirable at that late hour of the night to raise a discussion upon it, especially as the House was not very full?

The Chancellor of the Exchequer

said, if the question were to be discussed for the first time now, or when it was brought on before there was a decision of the House against the Bill, there might be some grounds for postponing the consideration to another time. But when that House and the country had already pronounced in favour of the Bill, then he would not be acting fairly or on principle if he postponed it that night. He would occupy but little of the time of the House, and would therefore move "That the House resolve itself into a Committee, to consider the civil disabilities affecting his Majesty's subjects of the Jewish persuasion."

Sir Robert Inglis

said, that as his right hon. Friend had not given any reasons why he called upon the House to resolve itself into a Committee, he should content him self with simply negativing the motion proposed. Two petitions had been presented in favour of such a measure as that which it was proposed to bring in; and was that a sufficient reason for the motion? He believed, that he had before stated, what was admitted by every hon. Gentle man, that there had not been presented a single petition from the Jews assembled together as a religious body, in favour of a measure for the removal of their civil disabilities. No petition had emanated from any synagogue, nor had it ever been de bated in that House that any Chief Priest or Rabbi had given their support to a Bill for their emancipation, as it was termed. That fact alone, he thought, was a reason, regarding the matter as a religious question affecting our duties, as well as their (the Jew's) rights, which was deserving of more attention than it had received. He be- lieved that not only had no great body of the Jewish people of this country forwarded to the Mouse any prayers for the concession of that object, which the Chancellor of the Exchequer then proposed to grant, but, on the contrary, that he was correct in stating that some of them, on other than civil grounds, objected to the motion itself. He believed that many of the Jews felt, that the concession which was sought to be forced upon them was one which they could not receive consistently with their own religious character. The Jews were not a creed but a nation—they still called them: selves a nation, and there existed a great distinction between the two. They were not Germans or English, but they were Jews, and in that character, and in that sense only, they wished to be recognised. Now he would not quote Christian authorities upon this subject, he would quote the authority of one of the Jews themselves; he would quote from a Jew who was known to his right hon. Friend, because he re sided in the borough which he (the Chancellor of the Exchequer) represented. He alluded to the Rabbi Cruz, a person eminent for his learning. He would quote from this authority especially, as a witness to be received before others, because he was a witness to the wishes and obligations of those whose conduct he superintended. What was the language adopted by this eminent person to one of his brethren on the subject of emancipation, as it was called, in a pamphlet published at Cambridge, entitled "An Answer to a person signing by an initial, for the emancipation of the Jews, by the Rabbi Cruz, Professor of Hebrew at Cam bridge." This author declared that any one desiring emancipation acted against the ALMIGHTY! and that he was entitled to think so of his own community; whilst others by granting it, gave the highest praise to GOD! He could quote other passages of equal force, bearing upon the subject, but that he did not wish to weary the House by doing so. There was, however, one passage bearing on the point, that the Jews were not, in their own opinion, the natives of any nation, but a people or nation of themselves, which he should beg leave to advert to, because it affirmed most emphatically the position which he had originally insisted on. When the writer of the work to which the pamphlet was an answer, claimed the rights of an English man on the ground of being born in Eng- land, the learned author replied in it, "You are not an Englishman, you are a foreigner; you are no British subject, you are one of the nation of the Jews." He should say nothing more than that if the Jews had cause of complaint, it was free for them to come forward and prefer their complaint. Why did they not do so? It might he said, as the writer to whom the pamphlet was written in reply said, that because they were born in England they were Englishmen, and entitled to the rights of Englishmen. He denied it. When a body of people separated themselves voluntarily from those among whom they resided, they were no longer entitled to participate in the privileges enjoyed by those from whom they had separated. It was so with the Jews. They called them selves the Jewish nation; they did not boast in the title of British subjects. Being born in England gave no exclusive right to the title of Englishmen. The Jews had wealth, riches, beyond most people; they had protection, they had equal rights in the eye of the law—everything but political power. He (Sir R. Inglis) would take it for granted that the Bill proposed to be introduced by his right hon. Friend was the same as that introduced by Sir Robert Grant in the year 1834; and, therefore, that the tenor of it would be to abolish the words in the oath, "On the true faith of a Christian." Now, what would be the consequence of that abolition? The only words which designated the nation as Christian would be erased from the records. He would call on the House to say whether, at any period of our history since we had become a Christian people, any individual had been admitted to civil power who had not made the declaration that he was a Christian? and he would then ask if it was prepared to get rid of that last security for Christianity, and place the affairs of this country in the hands of those who not only were not Christians, themselves, but who also believed Christ to be a blasphemer and an impostor? In doing so, the House would be doing what it could to deprive the country of all security, that its affairs would, for the future, be administered on Christian principles. If Jews were admitted to legislative power, by a parity of argument every other description of religionists or non-religionists should be admitted to it also. It was a most important question, and one which should not be carried through even its first stage in a House so thinly attended, and at such a late hour of the night. It might, no doubt, be said, that it was not its first introduction to Parliament. He admitted it; but still he could not help thinking that it would have been much more courteous of his right hon. Friend if he had postponed it until those who usually took a part in similar discussions were present. With respect to the main question, he would ask the House whether a community of Jews would admit Christians to legislate for them? The answer was obvious. They would not. Was it then, to be considered a necessary liberality on the part of Christians to admit Jews to govern them? It might be said, that the number of Jews likely to be admitted would be very small; but to that he should answer, that he had learned from late experience to put no faith in such assertions. Besides, how ever few they might be, their talents and their zeal might be sufficient to compensate for their deficiency in numerical strength, and enable them to do their will as effectually as if they were in greater force. Believing that any power which might be conferred on the Jews would be exerted against and not for the Christian creed, he was not one of those prepared by granting any concessions to them to add a new danger to the external fabric of the Church (the internal fabric was protected by a higher power than that of man), or put it in the power of a Jew, Turk, Heathen, or Infidel to do more harm than had been already done to the Christian religion. He felt deeply concerned that by such and similar concessions as that pro posed by his right hon. Friend, by little and little, all security for the continuance of Christianity as the religion of the country would he entirely frittered away. With that conviction strong upon his mind, he could never consent to the proposition of his right hon. Friend, in any of its stages. He believed it to be as unlawful for the British legislature to grant the concession contained in it as it would be for the Jewish people to receive it, and he felt bound to warn the House of the consequences likely to flow from it if it were to be carried into execution. It would be a practical removal of every test of religious belief in affairs of State. After that it would be of no consequence what religion the Legislature of this country might possess. He would go farther, and say it would be of no consequence whether it had any religion or not. He was surprised that a House calling itself Christian should cheer such a contingency. Was the cheer a delicate expression of opinion, or was it only a hasty exclamation without thought? He hoped the latter. In opposing the proposition of his right hon. Friend with all his power, he believed that he was only discharging a duty to his country.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer

gave his hon. Friend full credit for the conscientious part he had taken; but he claimed equal credit for himself in that which he had pursued and meant to pursue on the question before the House. He was decidedly and distinctly opposed to the view taken of it by his hon. Friend. He did not, in the first instance, mean to have trespassed on the attention of the House; but he should now beg its indulgence for a few moments, in consequence of what had fallen from his hon. Friend on the subject of his motion. His hon. Friend had said, that there were no petitions of any importance in favour of the motion. To this he would reply by referring him to those from the great commercial communities of London and Bristol, and also to those from Portsmouth, Devonport, and other places. These petitions were not only important from the circumstances of number and locality, but also from the fact that the petitioners were in close communication with the great body of the professors of the Jewish faith in this kingdom, and had, therefore, an opportunity of acquiring an accurate knowledge of their habits, moral and social, and their political feelings and opinions. The Rabbi Cruz might think what he pleased on the subject, and express his opinions as strongly as he chose, but the question was not to be decided by his opinions. It was a question of principle—a question not involving any insensibility to a religious belief, as his hon. Friend would fain imply, but involving the principle that civil and religious functions were essentially different in their nature. It was urged by his hon. Friend that the Jews believed themselves a nation, and did not look upon themselves as of any people among whom they resided. Did that make any difference to them in the amount of the King's taxes—did the collector abate a shilling for that cause—were they exempt from the consequences of high treason for it—were they not, in fact, equally liable to all the burthens of the State as their Christian fellow-subjects? Why then should they be debarred a participation in the rights and privileges claimed and enjoyed by them? If they were alien in feeling to this country, who made them so? Who but ourselves and our barbarous statutes? But the public had long since decided in favour of the question of removing the civil disabilities of the Jewish people. When two candidates for public honour, one a Jew, the other a Christian, came before them, they almost invariably decided in favour of the former. After such a manifestation of public feeling, was the House prepared to keep on the statute book the last miserable remnant of barbarism and religious persecution? His motion was more to release the Christians from disgrace than the Jews from disabilities. The Jews worshipped the same God as we did—from their scriptures we derived much of our religion and of our moral law. To exclude them from civil rights would be to assume the function of the Deity. We had no hesitation n associating with Jews—in dealing with them—on some occasions we contended for their good offices, and wished to stand well in their favour. Why, then, oppose their being made equal with us in civil privileges? He had no view to disgrace the Christian religion in the amendments he proposed in the statute law, but to render it all due honour by clearing away the impurities which clung to it under its name. He trusted the House would, therefore, allow him to go into a Committee, that he might bring in the Bill which he meant to move for. It was precisely the same as that introduced by Sir Robert Grant, neither more nor less. He much regretted that the advocacy of the question should be confided to him, and he was sure so did those hon. Members who recollected the efficient and powerful support which the former Bill had received from Sir Robert Grant and Mr. Macauley. To those who had heard them, the remembrance would be better than his best arguments: to those who had not, he trusted that he had only to repeat that the mea sure involved an immutable principle of justice. It was the question whether, having removed from the statute book all religious disabilities except this, would the Legislature leave that one spot as a mark of the foul cancer which had so long gnawed and defaced our Constitution?

Mr. Estcourt

deprecated, the unseemly period of the night at which his right hon. Friend had thought fit to bring on his motion; and he thought that it was not too much of his hon. Friend near him to ask a postponement of it to a more fitting occasion. Though the question was one which had received the assent of that branch of the Legislature, it had by no means its unanimous concurrence. Under these circumstances, it was not a question to be brought forward at such a late hour in such a thin House. The proposition of his right hon. Friend was an insidious way of undermining all religious distinctions. If it were not, why was a Jew to be preferred to a Mahometan? If it were affirmed the Legislature would be open to all sects and denominations alike, were hon. Gentlemen prepared for that consummation of things? He, for one, was not; and he should never give his vote in favour of any proposition which went to undermine Christianity as the religion of the land. The hon. Member concluded by protesting against the introduction of such an important question at such a late period of the night, when the benches were empty.

Mr. Robinson

said, that he should always support any proposition for doing away with any species of civil disability on ac count of religious opinions. The hon. Baronet had alluded to the paucity of petitions in favour of this motion, but the House had already passed the principle of the Bill by a numerous majority, and therefore there was no need of such an expression of national opinion at the pre sent. If, however, the people of England thought (as the hon. Baronet, the Member for Oxford, alleged) that there was any security to the Christian religion in pre serving this miserable remnant of a barbarous code, why did they not evince their conviction by petitions against the Bill? He believed that the Christian religion had never derived any support from that intolerant statute which it was proposed to repeal; but, on the contrary, it had suffered the greatest disgrace and injury in every country where it had been adopted.

Colonel Thompson

begged, as a man who had passed a considerable portion of his life amongst his Mahometan fellow citizens, to express an earnest and sincere hope that the time was not distant when we should get rid of the stigma of having in that House placed any man under political disabilities on account of his religious creed. He should very much like to know at what precise moment it was, that the professors of Christianity made the disco very, that it was essential to the existence of their religion that the professors of all other religions should be deprived of political rights. He, for one, was a follower of Him who said, "Do unto others as ye would they should do unto you;" he could not congratulate the hon. Gentlemen opposite that they were of the same faith and creed. He protested against the disgrace and the discredit of allowing that they stood there as Legislators, not because their interests were involved in the welfare of a certain country, but because they were the professors of a certain faith. He trusted that the time was not far off when this stigma would be removed, and that persons of whatever faith, whether Jews, Mahomedans, or any other, would be admitted to that House whenever they were found worthy of the confidence of a constituency.

Mr. Plumptre

was glad the hon. Member for Oxford had taken his stand against this Bill, and believed the great body of the people would be sorry that the Chancellor of the Exchequer had thought it necessary to bring in such a measure. He would not have lent himself to such a Bill if he had looked, as he ought, to Him by whom kings reign, and by whom princes dispense justice. He did not know how they could hope for a blessing on their labours, if they gave their assent to a mea sure that went to introduce into that House a people who said that the great Head of the Church was a blasphemer and an impostor.

Mr. O'Connell

said: Yes; injustice had its reward—iniquity had its reward—there was a blessing attending the imposition of the burthens of the State on the shoulders of the Jews, but there was no blessing at tending the doing them justice. He denied that hon. Gentlemen opposite who upheld the principle of persecution, were actuated by Christian principles, and he wished to know by what right they dared to assume to themselves, as legislators, the principle of infallibility? He declared that the debate was disgraceful to the country. He could not refrain from the expression of his abhorrence of the odious and unchristian avowals of the opposers of this Bill. The hon. Baronet who led that opposition had been driven from one position to another, and, failing in exciting the bad passions of hon. Members against the Jews as heretics, he had denounced them as worthy of exclusion as infidels. But the House had no way of keeping out heretics. It was, indeed, an ugly word, and might be retorted. [Hear.] He wished the noble Lord opposite would speak up, and not keep contradicting him in that tone. Perhaps he could tell him what a heretic was. Perhaps he would define it—anybody who was not a member of an Orange Lodge. All that they had to do with any individual who applied to enter that House, was to find that the constituents of the place he came from had thought him a proper person to represent them. He would be the first to declare the importance of religion to the individual; but he held that it was impossible for men to judge of each other's creeds and consciences; and it was expressly forbidden them to do so. He was surprised that any one in that House should think of using the sword of the law in any shape on account of conscientious differences of opinion, in the present day.

Colonel Perceval

did not think it necessary to justify the speech of his right hon. Friends, or to defend them from the coarse attacks with which the hon. Member for Kilkenny took every opportunity of assailing them, and vilifying their motives. They, and he also, had understood the scope of the motion to be, that henceforth Jews, infidels, Mahometans, and heretics, would be welcome there! Thus, it was now openly and shamelessly avowed, that it is indifferent whether the Christian religion be any longer characteristic of this House—whether it is or is not to be received as part and parcel of the law of the land. The hon. Member for Kilkenny had declared, that there was no way of preventing heretics entering that House; but he insisted there was, for when a new Member presented himself at the Table, he must declare himself a Christian.

Mr. O'Connell

—No, no.

Colonel Perceval

said, that if the oath was read, they would find that it was essential to the character of a legislator of that House that he should be a Christian.

Mr. Scarlett

said, that it appeared to him that the nation already suffered considerable inconvenience from the introduction of too many classes of citizens into its legislation. Other States had similarly suffered. Rome itself at length fell a victim to the extension of the rights and privileges of citizenship to the multitudes she ruled over, He had as great a respect for the Jews as he had for Mahomedans, but he believed they had not a sufficient respect for the English nation to entitle them to seats in its Legislature. They were so distinct a people that they would never amalgamate with Christians. They would always have a Jewish party in the House, as they had a Roman Catholic party, and he believed they did not find that very convenient or agreeable. The Jewish party would, like the Roman Catholic, be always found ready to join, and further any discontents that might exist, and cause endless annoyance.

The House divided—Ayes 70; Noes 19;—Majority 51.

The House went into Committee. Resolutions proposed were agreed to.

The House resumed.

List of the AYES.
Adam, Sir C. Morpeth, Lord
Aglionby, H. A. Murray, rt. hon. J.
Angerstein, J. O'Brien, C.
Baines, E. O'Connell, D.
Baldwin, Dr. O'Connell, J.
Bannerman, A. O'Connell, M. J.
Baring, F. T. O'Conor, Don
Bish, T. O'Loghlen, M.
Blake, M. J; Parker, J.
Brady, D. C. Parrott, J.
Bridgeman, H. Pease, J.
Brocklehurst, J. Pechell, Captain
Browne, R. D. Philips, M.
Chalmers, P. Potter, R.
Collier, J. Pryme, G.
Crawford, W. S. Rice, rt. hon. T. S.
Ewart, W. Robinson, G. R.
Ferguson, Sir R. A. Roche, W.
Gillon, W. D. Scrope, G. P.
Grattan, J. Strutt, E.
Grattan, H. Talbot, C. R. M.
Handley, H. Talbot, J. H.
Hawes, B. Thompson, Colonel
Hay, Sir A. L. Thornely, T.
Heathcoat, J. Trelawney, Sir W.
Heneage, E. Tulk, C. A.
Hobhouse, rt. hn. Sir J. Wakley, T.
Horsman, E. Wallace, R.
Hume, J. Warburton, H.
Ingham, R. Wason, R.
Leader, J. T. Wemyss, Captain
Loch, J. Wilson, H.
Lushington, Dr. Young, G. F.
Lynch, A. H.
M'Namara, Major TELLERS.
Maher, J. Stanley, E. J.
Molesworth, Sir W. Steuart, R.
List of the NOES.
Agnew, Sir A. Hale, R. B.
Boldero, H. G. Hamilton, G. A.
Chisholm, A. W. Hardy, J.
Cole, Lord Hay, Sir J.
Estcourt, T. Longfield, R.
Forbes, W. Lowther, Lord
Forster, C. S. Maunsell, T. P.
Perceval, Colonel West, J. B.
Plumptre, J. P. TELLERS.
Rushbrooke, Colone Inglis, Sir R. H.
Thomas, Colonel Scarlett, hon.