HC Deb 09 February 1841 vol 56 cc504-7
Mr. Divett

said, that he had been induced to call the attention of the House to the subject which he was about to introduce to their notice, in consequence of a petition which he presented a few days ago from a gentleman of the Jewish persuasion of the name of Salo- mons, who had been prevented serving a high office in the Corporation of London, to which he had been elected by a large body of his fellow citizens, in consequence of his religious opinions. This gentleman had served the office of high sheriff of the county of Kent, and also that of sheriff of London and Middlesex. At about the completion of the term of his filling the latter office, he was elected by a large majority of the inhabitants of one of the wards of the city of London as their alderman; but he found the declaration he was called upon to take before he could proceed to exercise the duties of this office was of such a nature, and drawn up in such terms, that no gentleman of the Jewish persuasion could possibly take it. It appeared, therefore, that no gentleman professing that religion could hold the office of alderman in any corporate town in this country. The Act 9 George 4th., removed the restrictions from other dissenters, as regarded filling corporate offices, but it made an exception in the case of the Jews by the mode in which the declaration was framed. He trusted that the House would extend to the Jews the same privileges which they had granted to other dissenters, and he hoped that another Session would not be allowed to elapse without their removing the anomaly which existed with respect to them. The hon. Member concluded with moving for leave to bring in a bill to allow individuals professing the Jewish religion to make the declaration contained in the Act 1 and 2 Viet. c. v. and xv., "For the relief of Quakers, Moravians, and Separatists, elect ed to municipal offices."

Sir R. Inglis

did not object to the motion on any personal ground to the gentleman who had been alluded to, nor in consequence of the magnitude of the demand made; but he did so on the ground that, by their constantly giving these little concessions, they were gradually leading to great and serious changes. He was sorry to say that this system had long been pursued in that House, and which, if continued, he feared would ultimately lead to the greatest evils. He thought, also, in the present case, that the motion ought rather to have been for leave to bring in a bill to enable David Salomons, Esq., to make such a declaration as would enable him to serve the office of alderman of the city of London. He denied that his was a question of religious toleration, and he contended that the Jews were not entitled to hold either this or any other corporate office, or any other civil privilege, on the ground that they were of a different nation, and ought not to be regarded as Englishmen. Any Jew, if appealed to, would admit this distinct nationality. He objected to the measure on the grounds which he had stated, but should not divide the House on the subject in its present stage, but would do so on a future occasion.

Mr. Warburton

was rather surprised at the argument of his hon. Friend, as to the independent nationality of the Jews. Did his hon. Friend forget that the Jews at present possessed many privileges which they held as natives of this country. The law enabled them to purchase and inherit real estates, and they now enjoyed the privileges and incurred the risks in common with other possessors of property. According to the law, an alien could not hold real property; his honourable and orthodox Friend, therefore, to be consistent, should propose a motion for leave to bring in a bill to deprive the Jews of all the landed estates they possessed, on the ground that they were foreigners. A great outcry had been raised against Mehemet Ali, for the persecution of the Jews in Syria, but would any one deny that a similar spirit was then manifested in that House. He contended that the cases were similar, for what, then, was it but persecution to exclude an honest and conscientious man from an office which he was otherwise eligible to fill, by calling upon him to take a religious test?

Mr. W. E. Gladstone

said, that it appeared to him that the speech of the hon. Gentleman who had just sat down, was the best justification which could have been pronounced, for the course which had been pursued by his hon. Friend, the Member for Oxford University, (Sir R. Inglis). He understood his hon. Friend to say, in effect, that this motion was not to be considered so much in respect to its intrinsic value, as to what it might hereafter lead to. This was an important question, because upon it rested the point whether the Jews should or should not sit in Parliament. The hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. Divett) must see that he was under some obligation to his hon. Friend for not dividing the House (there not being forty Members present); but he thought it would be unfair to do so, because it would be better to allow the question to proceed to a further stage. At the same time he believed that the hon. Gentleman would find that there was a large amount of objection to this principle. He had no disposition to press upon individuals, but it was matter for consideration, at the same time, whether they should admit Jews into a Christian House of Legislature.

Mr. Hawes

contended that the state was not justified in interfering with a man's religious opinions, as a ground of exclusion from a civil office. The only ground of justification for interfering with a man's civil rights was his violation of some law. He was satisfied that the result of the future discussion of this and other bills of the kind would be the extension of the opinion he had just expressed.

Mr. A. White

observed that the case of Mr. Sheriff Salomons was not solitary, for in the town of Sunderland, which he represented, a gentleman of the Jewish persuasion, a most influential shipowner and merchant in the town, had been elected a member of the town council, and was prevented taking his seat because he could not conscientiously take the oath that was tendered to him. He also felt that the continuance of these religious restrictions on the Jews was a stumbling block in the way of their conversion to Christianity.

Leave given.—Bill brought in and read a first time.