§ Oaths considered in Committee.
§ (In the Committee.)
§ LORD JOHN RUSSELL
I am glad to be able to assure the Committee that I shall not have occasion to detain it for any length of time, as this subject has been so frequently under discussion, and the House of Commons has recently heard a very able statement on it from my noble Friend at the head of the Government when introducing his Bill of last Session. The Committee is well 470 aware that the general principle of our legislation is not to disqualify any man for legislative functions or for the possession of office on account of religious opinions. That principle has been established both with regard to Protestant Dissenters and Roman Catholics, although in former times there were political objections, which operated against its application to those two classes, but which do not apply to the Jews. The Committee is also aware that there is no positive enactment affecting Her Majesty's Jewish subjects, that their exclusion is only owing to the construction put upon the Oath of Abjuration, and that that oath was not originally intended for that purpose; still by the effect which has been given to it the persons refusing the Oath of Abjuration, namely, 40,000 of Her Majesty's Jewish subjects, are treated in the same way as 40,000 Popish recusants—an instance of the absurdity of considering them to have been originally contemplated in the framing of the oath. I shall not touch upon the general reasons for religious freedom. Those reasons, as I have said before, stand recorded in the Statute-book; nor shall I go into the reasons for altering the present oath, which upon the face of it is exceedingly absurd, and pledges Members of this House not to support the claims to the Throne of persons who have no existence. I will, therefore, state at once what is the nature of the Bill which I propose to introduce. The Bill of last year contained a simple form of oath, not similar to the one which I introduced in 1848—which could be taken by all Members of this House—but an oath which could be taken by all persons who were not of the Roman Catholic persuasion. That is the oath which I propose to introduce on the present occasion, but I propose to add to the words of that oath the closing words of the present Oath of Abjuration—"This I declare on the true faith of a Christian." The reason why I propose to introduce those words is, that, having been long in use, they have got a sort of prescriptive value in the eyes of many, and also that one of the most eminent supporters of Jewish claims, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Buckinghamshire (Mr. Disraeli), has more than once expressed his opinion that those words should be retained in the oath. I propose, of course 471 by a subsequent clause, that whenever one of Her Majesty's Jewish subjects comes to take the oath those words shall be omitted. It follows, of course, in a more logical way than from the Bill which my noble Friend introduced last Session, that Jews will be disabled from holding certain offices which cannot be held by Roman Catholics. I do not propose to put Jews in a superior position to Roman Catholics, but to admit them to the enjoyment of the same privileges. There is another question upon which I cannot refrain from touching for a few moments, because I am sure that the subject will naturally present itself to the minds of hon. Members. It so happened that in 1847, after the debate which took place upon the suspension of the Bank Charter Act, on the 16th of December, I introduced this Bill, or at least a similar Bill on this subject. That Bill and other Bills for the same purpose have been rejected by the other House of Parliament, and I think the question may be fairly asked what prospect is there of this Bill being more favourably received by the other House than its predecessors? To that question I should answer, in the first place, that I have drawn the Bill in the most conciliatory form possible; that this House has at all times—except once, when I proposed to extend the oath to Roman Catholics—affirmed the principle of religious liberty; that last year the majority of this House was far greater than it had been before; and that in the whole course of our history, repeated decisions of this House, when ratified by considerable majorities, with respect to any matter of internal policy, have always had great weight with the other House. But, Sir, I do not wish to conceal from the House my intentions upon this subject. At the end of last Session I was informed that the hon. and learned Attorney General was of opinion that the Act 5 & 6 Will. IV. entitled this House to frame a declaration to be taken in place of the oath if it should so think fit. On hearing that opinion from so eminent and distinguished an authority as the Attorney General, I thought it right to have the question examined by a Select Committee of this House. The House consented to the nomination of that Committee, and in it the question was very fully debated. No witnesses were ex- 472 amined, but the subject was debated and thoroughly sifted by hon. Gentlemen belonging to the legal profession, and by other Members of the Committee with [much ability and in great detail. The result of the discussion was unfavourable to the position of the Attorney General, but at the same time the majority against that position was a very narrow one, consisting of one only of the original Members of the Committee, and of two of the gentlemen of the long robe who had been added to it. The right hon. Baronet the Member for Droitwich (Sir John Pakington) had prepared a Motion, which he wished to propose, but which, owing to the form observed in Committees, could not then be proposed. I do not remember the exact terms of his Motion, but it was to the effect that the Houses of Parliament were included in the Act of William IV.; but that it was not expedient to use the power conferred by that Act unless it should appear that there was no other constitutional mode by which the object in view might be accomplished. It was not my duty, being Chairman of that Committee, to express any opinion, or to take any part in its discussions; but certainly, if I had been called upon to give an opinion, it would have exactly coincided with that of the right hon. Baronet the Member for Droitwich. Such being my opinion, it is unnecessary now to enter into the argument on the subject. I will only say that that argument was stated with almost more than his usual learning and ability by the Attorney General, and that the Motion which he made, "that the words included the Houses of Parliament," met with the concurrence not only of the right hon. Member for Droitwich (Sir John Pakington), but also of the right hon. Member for Buckinghamshire (Mr. Disraeli), the noble Lord the Member for Lynn (Lord Stanley), the Lord Advocate of Scotland, and many other distinguished Members of this House. It was likewise supported in a speech of great ability and acuteness by the hon. and learned Member for Boston (Mr. Adams). Fortified by those opinions, and convinced by the arguments which were used, I should not think it right to allow this question to drop altogether without giving the House an opportunity of considering whether or not they will adopt the proposition of a declaration instead of an oath to be taken by Mem- 473 bers who may object to certain words in that oath. Of course that is a question which requires to be maturely considered, and the House must be allowed time to consider it; but I must confess that my opinion is, that we have been perhaps somewhat negligent in allowing the subject of the seat of a Member of this House to he discussed, as it has been, in the courts of law. My belief is, that it is a question, which, by the constitution of the country, the courts below are hardly competent to decide; and, as it would be impossible for them to entertain the question whether a Member who was elected to this House had been duly elected, so likewise it is not competent for them to decide whether the oaths have been properly taken. Such was the principle on which the House of Lords acted in the case of Lord Wensleydale. Some persons may think that they were right in the decision at which they arrived; others may think that they were wrong; but nobody has disputed the competency of the House of Lords to act as they did—nobody has denied that they were perfectly able, after Her Majesty had by letters patent created a Peer, to decide whether that Peer had a right to take his seat in the House of Lords. In like manner I believe that we are fully competent to decide whether a Member who has taken the oath or the declaration, as the case may be, is eligible to sit in this House. That, however, is not the question at present. My object is to bring in a Bill, and to endeavour to obtain for it the assent of the whole Legislature; but at the same time I shall not be prepared to abandon the rights of the House of Commons, as they have been ably stated by very high legal authorities, believing them to be in conformity with the liberty of the subject and with the privileges of this House Sir, I beg to move—That the Chairman be directed to move the House, That leave be given to bring in a Bill to substitute one Oath for the Oaths of Allegiance, Supremacy, and Abjuration; and for the Relief of Her Majesty's Subjects professing the Jewish Religion.
§ SIR FREDERIC THESIGER
said, he believed that the noble Lord who had just addressed the Committee understood that it had been arranged that there should be no opposition offered to the introduction of his Bill, or to its being read a first time, the noble Lord, on his 474 part, having engaged that he would not ask for a second reading until after Christmas; and he (Sir Frederic Thesiger) must suggest to his hon. Friends who agreed with him on this subject, that, considering the various shapes in which Bills had been from time to time introduced for the admission of Jews into Parliament, it was very desirable that they should have an opportunity of seeing what was the particular measure which was now proposed, in order that they might be enabled the more satisfactorily to discuss it after the recess. He could not help congratulating the noble Lord opposite on having resumed his natural position on this question. In 1847, when the noble Lord was first returned for the City of London with Baron Rothschild, and when he gave a pledge from the hustings that he would introduce a measure for the relief of the Jews, the subject seemed to belong as of right to him; but on the last two occasions on which the question had been submitted to the House the noble Lord had been rather placed in the background. In 1856, owing, possibly, to the young and zealous advocates for the admission of the Jews being somewhat dissatisfied with the slowness of the movements of the noble Lord, Mr. Milner Gibson forestalled the noble Lord in the introduction of a measure, and such was the exuberance of that hon. Gentleman's zeal that he proceeded to the extremity of endeavouring to get rid altogether of the Oath of Abjuration. The duty of the noble Lord upon that occasion was limited to correcting the zeal of his associate, and, desiring to retain portions of the Oath of Abjuration, he introduced an Amendment in Committee by which a new Oath of Abjuration was to have been substituted. During the last Session the noble Lord fought under the banners of the noble Lord at the head of the Government. He (Sir Frederic Thesiger) believed that that course was adopted more from policy than from humility, because the noble Lord was thus enabled to move the whole machine of the Government, and to exert all its weight and influence in support of his darling object. The noble Lord had now appeared again in the front of the battle, and he was happy to find that he was once more treading in constitutional paths, though not without some little glances at those indirect and crook- 475 ed ways which had been occasionally attempted for the purpose of forcing the Jews on Parliament. The noble Lord did not now, indeed, threaten them with a Resolution which should seat the Jews in defiance of the House of Lords; but he had adverted to that which was one of the most extraordinary circumstances that had occurred among the variety of schemes which had been from time to time proposed for that purpose; and it appeared that he clung to the power which he presumed that the Act of William IV. would give him, and imagined that he should be enabled by its means to force the Jew upon the Legislature in defiance of the courts of law. He (Sir Frederic Thesiger) must confess that few things had struck him as more extraordinary than the discovery which was all at once made of that Act of Parliament, which, although it had been overlooked for many years, was supposed to afford a short cut to the object which so many persons had at heart. The suggestion altogether appeared to him so strange that, though every one admitted the great talent of the noble Lord and his remarkable fertility of contrivance, he immediately came to the conclusion that an idea so ingenious must have first suggested itself to some more acute and subtle mind, even than that of the noble Lord. The noble Lord had now satisfied them upon that point, and had told them that it was his hon. and learned Friend the Attorney General to whom it had first occurred that that Act of Parliament, which had so long escaped the vigilance of every one, would, in default of legislation, attain the object which he had in view. He could imagine the pleasure with which this new light flashed upon his eyes, and the joyful haste with which he hurried to the noble Lord with his Eureka—he (Sir Frederic Thesiger) hoped not exactly in the state of the person from whom that exclamation first proceeded. It was said that it very much enhanced the merits of an inventor or discoverer if the subject of discovery had been lying for a long time, as it were, upon the surface, unperceived, although in sight of the world, until the happy moment when the discoverer stooped on the ground and picked it up. But what should they say of the merits of the hon. and learned Gentleman, who, while gentlemen of ingenious and anxious minds, who had 476 had their thoughts turned continually in this direction, had entirely overlooked this wonder-working Act of Parliament, lighted upon it and in a moment discovered that which had escaped the attention of so many others? The noble Lord had said that it might be necessary to revert to that Act of Parliament upon some future occasion if he should not succeed in a constitutional manner in obtaining the admission of the Jew to Parliament; but he thought that the noble Lord would pause before he adopted a course which would be accompanied with so much danger, with the certainty of a collision with the courts of justice, in which it was, undoubtedly, not very likely that that House would come out of the contest with any credit to itself. The noble Lord had supposed that he found a precedent for the application of this Act of Parliament without the possibility of interference by the courts of law in consequence of what occurred in the House of Peers with regard to the life peerage of Lord Wensleydale; but he (Sir F. Thesiger) was quite sure that the noble Lord had not adverted to the distinction between the two cases—namely, that the oaths which were required to be taken by Members of the Legislature were oaths which were imposed by an Act of Parliament, and that there were penalties attached to persons who might sit and vote without taking those oaths. Now, if the words "upon the true faith of a Christian" were an essential and substantial part of the oath, as had been frequently decided, not merely by courts of law, but by the determination of the noble Lord himself, then the question whether a person sitting and voting in that House, having taken the oath with the omission of these words, was not liable to a penalty, must necessarily come before the courts. They all knew how the courts must decide that question. The noble Lord had adverted to the names of the Gentlemen who composed the Committee, perhaps rather invidiously. He brought forward on the part of the minority a number of very distinguished names, for all of which he (Sir F. Thesiger) had the very highest respect. But at the same time it was very important that the Committee should bear this in mind—he had looked very carefully through the division list of that Committee, and he found on the part of that minority not one single name 477 of any hon. Member who had not either for a very considerable time been favourable to the admission of Jews, or who had not been recently converted, converts being proverbially not the most lukewarm in supporting their new opinions. But turning to the other side, he did not hesitate to say that he should not be afraid to poll lawyer for lawyer against the noble Lord. Again he also found this remarkable distinction existing between the majority and the minority—that among the majority were to be found at least five Members of the House who had been in favour of the admission of the Jews, but who, not being satisfied that the construction which he had no doubt the hon. and learned Attorney General had, with the greatest possible ingenuity, endeavoured to put upon this Act of Parliament was the correct one, would not allow their wishes to influence their opinions, and gave their votes, which swelled the majority, and saved the House, for a time at least, from all those perilous consequences which he (Sir Frederic Thesiger) anticipated from the course which the noble Lord had darkly shadowed forth. Let the House consider the position in which it stood with regard to this question. The noble Lord spoke of religious liberty in general, and of religious liberty as far as the Jews were concerned, and upon a former occasion he had spoken of removing the last remnant of religious intolerance, or of placing the last stone upon the edifice of religious liberty. But, if he understood the proposition of the noble Lord, he was not upon the present occasion prepared to place the last stone upon the edifice of religious liberty. What the noble Lord now proposed to do was merely to crown that edifice by a stone in favour of the Jew, leaving every other anti-Christian still excluded by the oath which will be required. Now he did not know why, if the principle of the noble Lord was the removal of all religious intolerance and the completion of the edifice of religious liberty, this tolerance should not extend to the Hindoo and the Mahomedan. [Cheers.] He heard a cheer which he understood to be a cheer of approbation of the principle that every denomination of anti-Christian should be admitted to a seat in that House. To be sure, considering the circumstances that were occurring around us— 478 the feeling of hostility which was manifested against Christianity by the Hindoo and the Mahomedan, it did appear to him that the man who could entertain an idea of that kind must have extraordinary notions. Of course, with regard to the Jew, he (Sir F. Thesiger) knew perfectly well that whatever might be, nay must be, his hatred to Christianity, he was not likely to rage so furiously as the heathen, or to be guilty of the savage ferocity of the Mahomedan; but if his feelings of hostility were as deep as theirs, was it a desirable thing to give him the power, by means of a seat in the Legislature of the country, of working in close design, by fraud or guile, what by force he cannot effect? Nor would religious tolerance stop at the point to which those in favour of the admission of the Hindoo and the Mahomedan would carry it. Their edifice of religious liberty would not be completed by the admission of the Hindoo and the Mohamedan as well as the Jew. Suppose the Atheist, the fool who says in his heart, "There is no God," were to come and say, "Why do you compel me by your oaths to profess with my lips the existence of Him whom in my heart I deny? "would not he have reason to complain of your religious intolerance if you did not get rid of the oaths to accommodate what he calls his conscience? Well, then, the first step in that direction is taken by the noble Lord. But the edifice of religious liberty is not uniform. Many more stones are wanted to complete it, and when once the principle for which the noble Lord contends by this Bill is admitted, it is impossible that we can stop short. We must proceed to the end. We must sweep away all religious and even all irreligious distinctions, and admit every one without scruple and without hesitation to a seat in that House. It seems, as the noble Lord must have observed, that there were those who were anxious for that consummation. The noble Lord, by the course he was adopting, would advance their views; and he (Sir F. Thesiger) most earnestly entreated him to pause and consider what the consequences would be, which his great name and his high position in that House would have produced by the introduction of that which was treated only as a partial measure and an instalment of that which was due to the sub- 479 ject. He felt strongly upon this question, and regretted that he had trespassed so long upon the attention of the House. He might be still charged with being blind to those arguments which had been so frequently urged in the course of these discussions; he might be still bigoted and unyielding to them from a feeling of religious intolerance; but he was nevertheless resolute in maintaining the position to which he had always adhered, and in every stage of this Bill he would to the utmost of his ability resist the proposition which the noble Lord sought to introduce, because he believed that by giving a seat to the Jew in the Legislature of this country they would give a fatal blow to Christianity, which was intimately interwoven with every department of the State.
§ MR. DILLWYN
said, that as he had taken some part, perhaps the Committee would allow him to say a few words on the question. He was anxious to see the matter settled, and he had taken up the question, not on the ground of civil or religious liberty, but because he believed that whenever a considerable constituency had elected a person properly qualified to represent them in the Legislature, effect ought to be given to their choice. This he thought the House had power to do by Resolution; and for this reason he had endeavoured—not by any crooked course, as was intimated by the hon. and learned Gentleman (Sir Frederic Thesiger), but in an open and straightforward manner—to induce the House to proceed under the Act of the 1 & 2 Vict., and omit the words which at present formed the impediment to a Jew taking his seat. He had, however, given place to the noble Lord the Member for London, who was so well entitled to take the lead on this question. Another Act bearing on this subject was the 4 & 5 Will. IV., by which a declaration could be substituted for an oath; but by whichever of these two Acts they proceeded, they must not allow the question to go up upon appeal to the House of Lords, which was not competent to decide upon the privileges of the Commons. It was true the Committee, by a small majority, negatived the views of the hon. and learned Attorney General; but, as a number of the Members did not attend to hear that hon. and learned Gentleman's arguments, their decision was not deserving of as much weight as 480 might otherwise have been attached to it. He wished to express the satisfaction with which he saw that the noble Lord had again taken up this question, for he (Mr. Dillwyn) entertained no doubt of the power of the House to proceed by either or by both of the Acts above named, and it should be remembered that if the noble Lord's Bill failed to pass, the House did not abandon its right to proceed by Resolution. He trusted that the present measure would meet with a better fate than its predecessors, but he thought that after exhausting every means of conciliation, they would be bound to assert the right conferred on them by law and by precedent—namely, that of interpreting the law affecting their own privileges for themselves.
§ MR. BENTINCK
said, that, while giving every credit to his hon. and learned Friend (Sir F. Thesiger) for straightforwardness and consistency, he yet rose to express his regret at the course that he had announced his intention to pursue on this occasion. There were circumstances connected with the time and manner in which this measure was brought forward that called for a more than usual amount of opposition; and he wished to announce that he did not feel himself bound by the decision which had been arrived at, and that should it be the pleasure of any hon. Member to divide the Committee on this subject, he, for one, was prepared to go into the same lobby with him. At any rate, he must protest against the line taken by the noble Lord the Member for London on the present occasion. He did not mean to refer to the arguments which had fallen from the noble Lord, with one exception, and that exception he believed told exactly against the noble Lord and the course he had adopted. The noble Lord quoted as a precedent for his introducing the measure into the present special Session that in 1847, when there was also a special Session called together, he introduced a Bill for the relief of the Jews in the same way as he had done now. But it should be remembered that in 1847 the noble Lord was at the head of the Government, and was then perfectly justified in taking the step he had described; whereas, now, however high his political reputation, he only occupied the position of a private Member of that House. Parliament had been assembled for a special 481 purpose, and there was a tacit understanding that no business except that for which they had been called together should be transacted; and therefore for a private Member to intrude on their attention a measure of this kind, on which the widest difference of opinion existed, and which had been repeatedly rejected by the Legislature, was a proceeding at once highly irregular and unwarrantable. If the hon. Member for North Warwickshire (Mr. Spooner) had taken such an opportunity to introduce his Motion for the repeal of the Maynooth grant he would have been met with a general outcry; and yet the only difference between the two cases was, that the one was a proposal to secure the Protestant institutions of the country, and the other a proposal to unchristianize the Legislature. Indeed, the adoption of so irregular a course on the part of the noble Lord, who was usually so scrupulously observant of the forms and usages of the House, almost led one to suppose that he acted under pressure from without, and seemed to confirm the rumour which they had all heard that a certain great capitalist, who need not be named, and a certain noble Lord, who must not be named, stood towards each other in the relative positions of patron and nominee. It appeared to him that the Jew question, as it was called, had never been placed on a fair footing in that House. There had always been some misunderstanding or misconception about the merits of the case; and as to the feeling of the country in regard to it, if the country were polled throughout, the opponents to the admission of the Jews would be found in the proportion of ten to one; but the fact was, that for political objects, and not on religious grounds, the same annual farce was performed of bringing in and passing through one House a Bill that was sure to be rejected in the other; and the people therefore refused to take any active interest in the subject. If a popular agitation were once raised on the question, it would soon be seen that no man or set of men whose intention it was to desecrate the Christian religion would be suffered to hold the reins of power; the Jews would speedily be forgotten, and the noble Lord the Member for London would once more be compelled to sit in that House as the representative for Stroud. He would not trespass longer on the atten- 482 tion of the Committee. They had from time to time heard the term "factious" applied within those walls. He had heard of a factious minority, but there was also such a thing as a factious majority, and if that phrase could ever be justly applicable to a majority it was to the course taken by the noble Lord and his supporters on the present occasion. He for one was prepared to go into the lobby with any hon. Member who, adopting the forms of the House, would resist the introduction of the measure, and he believed that by so doing they would resist a factious proceeding, and take a course which would give great satisfaction throughout the country.
§ MR. COX
said, that he agreed with the hon. Member who had just sat down that the introduction of this measure year after year had much the appearance of a farce, and he had been in hopes that the noble Lord the Member for the City of London, instead of bringing in a Bill, would have put an end to it by submitting the Resolution spoken of to the House. Much had been said about unchristianizing the Legislature. Why, it was the last thing any sensible man would ever dream of resulting from the admission of the Jews, nor could he even have imagined such a thing when he voted for Baron Rothschild as one of the Members for the City. The hon. and learned Gentleman who opposed the introduction of the Bill (Sir Frederic Thesiger) said if they admitted Jews they must also admit Hindoos and Mahomedans to that House; but the hon. and learned Gentleman seemed to have forgotten that before Hindoos or Mahomedans could take their seats in that House they must be elected by a constituency. Before the Legislature was unchristianized by Mahomedans or Hindoos, these sects must form a majority of the electors. How likely that was he left the hon. and learned Gentleman to suppose. He must say he did not like the manner in which this Jew question was treated. He had lately been reading the humorous description by Sam Weller of how Mr. Pickwick was treated by the lawyers in the noted case of Bardell v. Pickwick, and Sam's observation that "battledore and shuttlecock was a werry amusing and funny game, but when oneself became the shuttlecock it became rather too exciting. "Such was the position of the Jews. They were tossed about like 483 shuttlecocks between the battledores of the noble Lord the Member for the City and the hon. and learned Member for Stamford, and he was doubtful whether they would gain much from the amusement. He hoped the noble Lord would carry out his intention by proposing the Resolution which he had shadowed forth. If he did so, he would get plenty of hon. Members on that side of the House to go into the lobby with him.
§ MR. NEWDEGATE
believed, that the hon. Member for Finsbury, who seemed to think that the admission of Jews would not have the effect of depriving the Legislature of its Christian character, fairly represented the confusion which existed in the minds of a certain number of ill-informed persons out of doors. What, however, were the facts? The noble Lord the Member for the City, in 1847, and again in 1849 and 1851, introduced Bills similar in purport to that which he had now announced; these Bills passed the House of Commons, but were rejected by the House of Lords. These Bills would have retained the profession of the Christian faith for all other candidates for admission to the House, but abolished it in favour of the Jews. In 1854, the noble Lord introduced a Bill which he declared embodied the provisions, intentions, and consequences of the Bills he had previously introduced, and that Bill proposed to sweep away at once and for ever the emphatic words "on the true faith of a Christian." The consequence was that the same House of Commons which had passed Bills for the admission of Jews per sc, seeing clearly that the proposal of the noble Lord would at once invalidate the Protestant securities of the constitution and destroy the Christian character of the Legislature, rejected it. How, then, could it be said with truth that those who advocated the introduction of Jews, as proposed in the present Bill, did not intend to unchristianize the Legislature? He believed, for his own part, that if it could be fairly explained to the country, as it might be by a well-concerted agitation, that these often-repeated Bills, nominally only for the admission of Jews, were really intended to strike down the Christian character of the Legislature, the people would regard with indignation such a proposal. The hon. Member for Finsbury recommended the House to seat Baron Rothschild—that profitable 484 object of compassion—by way of Resolution, and lamented that person's having so long been bandied about like a shuttlecock. He (Mr. Newdegate) must, however, remind the hon. Member that the state of his client would be still that of a shuttlecock between two battledores. For no sooner would Baron Rothschild have taken his seat than he would himself be involved in the courts of law, bandied about between two sets of able lawyers, battledore in hand, with the certain result of being subjected to a fine of £500 for every vote he ventured to give in that House. The noble Lord the Member for the City, after having introduced a second Bill last Session on this subject, and in so doing having doubly violated the Standing Orders, now condemned his own proceedings by asking the House to resolve itself into Committee for the purpose of considering his proposal in its true sense as a religious question. Only last Session the noble Lord declared again that his proposals to admit the Jews were but steps in the direction of that for which he had continually voted—the open and avowed destruction of the Christian character of the Legislature. [Cries of "No, no!"] The statement of the noble Lord last spring was, that he would have no restriction upon the admission of Jews to the Legislature or to any offices; that he would no longer be a security-monger, for that was the term he used to describe his avowed object, which was to deprive the Legislature of its Christian character.
§ LORD J. RUSSELL
said, that the hon. Member was not quoting correctly. He never made such a statement as that attributed to him.
§ MR. NEWDEGATE
could not, while addressing the House, reach Hansard, but, according to that authority, which he had consulted the night before, the noble Lord informed the House last Session that as his proposals for the admission of Baron Rothschild and other Jews as such had not been adopted, he would no longer submit to being embarrassed with the advocacy of those securities which characterised his Bills of 1847 and 1849, but which he had abandoned so long ago as 1854. He thought the noble Lord would scarcely contradict that statement. He (Mr. Newdegate) could not but feel the deep impropriety of the time selected for the present proposal. The country had felt and had 485 acknowledged the hand of Almighty God in the calamitous events which had occurred in India; the people had humbled themselves before God, holding a day sacred for that purpose; and, having thus acknowledged the power of the Supreme Being, and deprecated His anger, there arose throughout the length and breadth of the land the cry, "Let India henceforth be governed upon Christian principles." Such was the prevailing expression of feeling and opinion. What was the proposal now before the House? It was not a proposal that India should be governed upon a principle of religious indifferentism, or that the Government of India should hide its own religion and bow down before the miserable superstitions that surrounded it, but it was a proposal that the Imperial Parliament of England itself should abandon its Christian character, should prove how little it valued that religion in the defence and profession of which the victims of the mutiny in India had so gloriously died, and should do this at the very moment when a heathen host was banded against the Christian faith and making martyrs by hundreds if not by thousands. He spoke the voice of the people when he said that this proposal would grate upon their feelings. They would say, "When we see Christianity thus assailed in India, and multitudes of our countrymen rendering up their lives rather than abandon their faith, we are disgusted with the proposal that the Parliament of England should cast off its allegiance to God as revealed to us through our blessed Redeemer." No period could have been more ill-chosen for the introduction of such a measure, and he rejoiced at it, because it would awaken the public mind to a due sense of the inherent vices of the proposal, and to the consequences that must inevitably ensue from its adoption. We had had warnings enough. While that House was discussing the Bill of 1847, the revolution was brewing in France. ["Hear, hear!" and laughter.] He (Mr. Newdegate) was astonished at that expression. Was it possible that the Radical section of the House had become the advocates of despotism. The hon. Member for Sheffield seemed to rejoice at the result of French revolutions, but he, a Tory, regretted that France had lost her constitutional freedom. What was the prelude of that loss? It was that the Parliament of France cast off Christianity 486 as its characteristic and profession. The consequences of that step slumbered for sixteen or seventeen years, at the expiration of which time they showed themselves in the overthrow of the constitutional monarchy and the Parliament, which rested on the sandy foundation of those principles which, during the first French Revolution, deified a woman as the goddess of reason. That form of government fell with a crash in 1848, from which the liberties of France had not since recovered. It was strange to hear the hon. Member for Sheffield chuckle when he heard that that great country had by her abandonment of Christianity proved, her incapacity for self-government. History afforded no precedent for the permanence of any form of free institutions, in any country, which, having been Christian, abandoned its Christian character. The Government of Rome became apostate and then fell. So perished the germ of freedom in unhappy Poland. He did not wish to detain the House, but so long as he had a seat there he would not hear a proposal made for the destruction of its Christian character, without entering his protest. There was no instance of a country abandoning Christianity without falling. The Protestant constitution of this country could not be maintained unless the Parliament continued Christian. Protestantism was nothing but Christianity purified; and he could not understand how any man who valued the freedom which we enjoyed, and who admitted, as he believed the noble Lord did admit, that the freedom of our constitution grew out of the reformation of our religion, could make such a proposal as this. The country thanked God that it had a House of Lords to defend it, and that year after year that assembly resisted the endeavours of Members of the House of Commons to sacrifice the fundamental principle of the Government. For the common law of this country was Christian, and the statutes which illustrated and enforced the common law had ever been framed in its spirit by Christian Parliaments, in accordance with that great code of faith and morality which extended in its avowed obligation from the Sovereign on the throne to the meanest of her subjects, and formed the connecting influence of the social compact.
§ MR. PEASE
said, that he rose with much reluctance to express his mind on this subject. He was one of those who desired that that House should always be, as it was always intended to be, Christian; but he took a view of the elements and effects of its Christianity different from that which appeared to be entertained by some hon. Members. He was not so presumptuous as to attempt to follow the hon. and learned Member for Stamford in the remarks which he had made, but he would refer to one observation which had fallen from him with respect to the Christianity of this House. In the course of a former debate upon this subject the hon. and learned Gentleman had reviewed, in a very clear and forcible manner, the various guards which the law had established to preserve the Christianity of Parliament and of the institutions of this country; but he gave to those guards and forms a higher importance than he (Mr. Pease) could allow them. He held that it was the essence of the principles of Christianity permeating through large masses of the population which had caused the House from time to time to establish these forms, and that although the forms should be abolished, this essence or spirit would still preserve the Christianity of the Legislature. He was sorry to say that it was but little that he understood Christianity, but if he understood it at all it was a principle which had no reason to fear the Jew. Were the Jew ten times richer and more learned, and had he ten times more social influence than he was alleged to possess, he thought if the Christian was not able to go down to the rock of his belief and say, "My principle shall outlive your principle, my Christianity shall outlive the dispensation that went before it," there was but little hope for Christianity. He had listened with pain to the small amount of vital power which seemed to be attributed to their religion by the opponents of this measure. There was a time when it was said of what we called the inferior dispensation, "Behold, one shall chase a thousand, and two shall put ten thousand to flight." If we inherited any part of the faith of the martyrs, who were burned ages ago, we might adopt very similar language as to our religion as compared with that of the Jew. He did not say this because he feared the admission of Jews into Parliament. He 488 respected the Jew as his neighbour and as his friend, as one who had an equal right with himself to the enjoyment of his own opinions, and as one who had worthily filled many offices of trust, profit, and responsibility; but at the same time he was bound humbly to maintain his own faith, and to desire that it might be spread to Jews also. He would make one remark with regard to what had been said of the noble Lord the Member for the City of London. In the British House of Commons it was not necessary that so humble a voice as his should be heard on behalf of that noble Lord, but it was due to those whom he represented that he should state that they believed the noble Lord to be actuated by motives very different from those which had been attributed to him that evening. If he went into the North of England he should hear it said that the noble Lord had been for ten years, and twice ten years, the steady and uncompromising friend of religious liberty, and that in the year 1857 it was unnecessary to allege such mean and sordid motives as had been insinuated that evening in order to account for his pursuing the only course which, as the consistent Member for the City of London, he could adopt. For himself it was his desire to belong to that large and increasing majority in that House, which desired to do right and feared to do wrong, and of this he was convinced that if they dared, and persevered in daring, to do right in this matter, in spite of whatever the courts of law or any other body might do, they would receive the approbation of the people of England.
§ Mr. I. BUTT
said, that on previous occasions he had voted against similar measures to the present, when they had been introduced. He had voted as he did on former occasions, for the simple reason that he deemed it essential that the Christian character of the nation should be preserved, and he feared that by supporting a measure of this kind he might be interfering with the Christian character of the community. Of the first of these propositions he was as firm a supporter as ever; but he thought that the second step was erroneous, as he had, upon reflection, become convinced that the admission of the Jews would not interfere with that character, and he should therefore now give his vote in support of the proposal of the noble Lord. At the proper time he should be 489 ready to justify these views, but let him now warn his hon. and learned Friend the Member for Stamford, who seemed to dissent from his proposition—
§ SIR FREDERIC THESIGER
I neither said nor did anything which could intimate either dissent or assent.
§ MR. BUTT
At all events, he did so when he addressed the Committee. Let him warn his hon. and learned Friend that by arguing that the admission of Jews would unchristianize Parliament he was putting a sword into the hands of those who argued that its Protestantism had been destroyed by the admission of Roman Catholics. He believed that the Christian character of this nation rested upon something very different from a phrase in an Act of Parliament—a phrase from which Rochester did not shrink, and which Gibbon used as glibly as the most pious Christian. It rested primarily upon the prevalence of Christian doctrines and Christian precepts among the mass of the people; and, secondly, upon the result of that prevalence as evidenced by those laws which were inseparably interwoven with our social constitution. So long as we followed the precepts of Christianity in our conduct towards our fellow-men we should better uphold our national character, and set a better example to other nations, than by the retention of a useless phrase, which a man who had no Christianity would use, but from the adoption of which a man of a sensitive conscience might shrink. He did not intend to trespass further on the time of the House, but he did not wish to avoid expressing his opinion, because there was to be no division at the present moment, and when any division should take place he would be found recording his vote in favour of the Bill.
§ MR. STANHOPE
said, that the hon. Member for North Durham (Mr. Pease) had claimed the privilege of doing what he thought right in this question. But there were Members on that side who also claimed such a privilege. However small might be their numbers, they claimed the right of opposing in every manner a Bill which they believed would destroy the Christian character of the House. He had to congratulate the hon. and learned Gentleman who last spoke on the position he had assumed of being doubly right. When he voted against the noble Lord's Bill he conceived him- 490 self perfectly right, and now, when about to vote in favour of it, he assumed with the same complacency that he was equally right. He (Mr. Stanhope) doubted if he could have felt so much satisfaction on such an occasion. He believed that, as the hon. Member for North Warwickshire had intimated, they must consider the proposed measure in connection with the future government of India, and with the question how far the support of Christianity was to be the rule there in future. If they once laid it down that Christianity was no longer to be the great rule of action here, they had no right to blame those having the management of India for not sufficiently maintaining Christianity as the basis of their government, or for encouraging, in order to preserve their dominion, the superstition of the Hindoos and the fanaticism of the Mahomedans. The people of this country and their fellow-subjects in India would deem that they were actually establishing a system of hypocrisy if they violated in this country a principle which, it was urged, should be acted on in India, even contrary to the wishes of the inhabitants.
§ MR. GRIFFITH
said, he was unwilling to allow it to be supposed that every Member on the Opposition side of the House was opposed to the noble Lord's measure, which was the culminating point of that edifice of civil and religious liberty which the noble Lord had had the honour of raising in this country. Those who uniformly opposed the repeal of the Test and Corporation Acts and the passing of the Catholic Emancipation Act might deem it right to resist the present measure, but he was bound by no restrictions of that kind. It was a perversion of the argument to contend for the constitution of that House from a religious point of view; it was the grand council of the nation which was constituted to conduct the business of the nation, and was in fact only a vestry of large calibre for the management of the affairs of that great company Great Britain and Co. It seemed to him that many persons overlooked the deep debt of gratitude which Christianity owed to the Jews as the depositaries of the great portion of the Scriptures; and if they had been extinguished as a nation centuries ago we should be devoid of one of the bulwarks of Christianity, the early history of our religion. That was one 491 of the purposes of divine authority, and who were we to question that authority for to pass judgment on that nation? It was scarcely competent for a political assembly, as that House was, to pass sentence on the stupendous sacrifice for which Christianity was distinguished, or to make it a ground for excluding any class of their fellow-subjects from the enjoyment of civil and religious liberty. They must regulate their proceedings by the rules of every-day business. He could never suppose that the presence of one or two gentlemen of high character, and not intolerant—for Jews often subscribed to Christian charities—would unchristianize that House. Many persons who were called Christians could take this oath who could not be universally accepted to fill that character; for even the Mormons called themselves Christians. To be strictly logical, you ought to inquire into the Christian conduct of every Member who was to take the oath, and. which of them could stand that test? In fact, you ought to have a Committee to inquire into the private morals of every hon. Member. In short, this question should be looked at from a political and social point of view, and from every point of view but a religious one.
§ MR. WALTER
remarked, that he did not rise for the purpose of prolonging the discussion, about which it appeared to him to be difficult to say anything new; but he could not help thinking that the events which were passing around them furnished a singular illustration of the line of argument adopted by hon. Gentlemen on the other side of the House. What was it that excited so much alarm in the minds of those hon. Members? Why, that the Bill for admitting the Jews to Parliament would have the effect of destroying the Christianity of the country. Why, that was the very argument used by the Sepoys, who complained that their religion was going to be destroyed by "greased cartridges." What was a religion worth that could be destroyed by such means? But was the apprehension of the Sepoy a bit more irrational than that of hon. Members who thought that Christianity could be destroyed by an Act of Parliament? It was degrading Christianity to make it amenable to any such influence. He always disliked quoting Scripture in that assembly; but there was one passage in 492 holy writ which seemed to him to hear so remarkably upon the subject before them, that, with the permission of the House, he would draw their attention to it. He referred to that passage in which the Divine Author of our religion Himself depicted the character of His kingdom. He said—"My kingdom is not of this world: if my kingdom were of this world, then would my servants fight, that I should not be delivered to the Jews: but now is my kingdom not from hence." Now, without meaning any disrepect, he must be allowed to say that the only functions which the House of Commons had to perform were essentially those of an earthly kingdom. The Christianity of this country depended, not on the House of Commons, but on the personal religion of the individual members of society; and they could no more destroy Christianity by an Act of Parliament admitting Jews or even Mahomedans—if any constituency should be so misguided as to send one to that House—than they unchristianized the country by their admission to society.
§ MR. ADAMS
said, he should not have addressed the Committee but that he felt himself constrained to defend the Committee of last year from the attack which an hon. Member (Mr. Dillwyn) had made on at least a portion of its Members. It was impossible for any Committee to pay more marked attention to any question than they did; and if there were any hon. Gentlemen who did not attend during the whole of the sittings it would hardly be said that doing so was on all occasions necessary to enable Members to arrive at a sound conclusion upon the subject, as the arguments made use of were to a great extent a repetition. He could also advert to hon. Gentlemen who voted in the minority who did not attend all the sittings, but it would be ungracious to do so, and therefore be factious. He believed that the Members on both sides were actuated by conscientious motives, and it was well known that the conclusions the majority arrived at had received the approbation of the most distinguished members of the legal profession. He hoped this would be argued as a great question, and not on individual and personal grounds. It was too vast a question to be so dealt with, and he hoped it would be considered in a manner worthy of the House of Commons, and not in a mere vestry spirit, or 493 that any one would be influenced to take a particular course because hon. Gentlemen were threatening ulterior steps. There was enough of English feeling on that side of the House to disregard threats and to enable him to say that if the convictions of hon. Members were not reached they would not be worked upon through their fears. He certainly did not understand the noble Lord (Lord John Russell) to have thrown out the threat imputed to him. He did not understand the noble Lord to threaten them with any abstract Resolution if he did not succeed in his present object. The noble Lord had referred to the possibility of further considering the question if his present proposal failed, but he by no means went to the extent of saying that simply because he could command a majority of that House he would use the influence of his high position to carry by the force of numbers a Resolution that would effect his object. It would have been unworthy of the noble Lord to use such a threat, and because it was unworthy of him he knew well that the noble Lord would not have recourse to it. He was not now discussing the principle of the measure. Other opportunities would be afforded them of doing so, but he must join in the protest that had been uttered by others against the ill-timed introduction of the measure. When it had been determined to enter upon the consideration of other great questions, and especially of one which deeply interested the public mind, he did not see that there was such urgency in the Jewish question as to entitle it to precedence over them all. He would reserve himself for the consideration of the Bill when it came before them; but in the meantime he might say that whatever step was taken he hoped it would be in strict accordance with constitutional usage, and that no violation of the constitution would be recommended by the noble Lord, who had ever been an earnest and eloquent supporter of the constitution in that House. One hon. Member recommended that they should not only proceed by Resolution, but that they should go further and prevent the interference of the courts of law. What! Were they who made the laws to hold forth the example of setting aside the courts of law? Were they to declare by a Resolution that because they disagreed with the Judges as to the state 494 of the law, therefore the Judges were not to be permitted to interfere? He begged to remind the House that there never had been a conflict between the courts of law and one branch of the Legislature, in which the law courts had not proved right in the end, or out of which that particular branch of the Legislature had ever come with any increase of honours. Let them endeavour by all constitutional means to alter the law, if alteration it required; but let every such alteration be made by the three estates of the realm, by whom the law was originally framed. Such a course only would redound to the credit of that House and to the honour and welfare of the country.
§ MR. DILLWYN
explained, that he had only referred to the conduct of the majority of the Committee because the hon. and learned Member for Stamford had previously referred to the proceedings of the minority.
§ LORD JOHN RUSSELL
No hon. Gentleman is more entitled to speak in regard to the conduct of the Committee of last Session than the hon. and learned Gentleman who has just sat down, because the hon. and learned Gentleman made in it a speech of great ability, which I think had a considerable effect on the decision at which they arrived; but when he states that the decision of the majority was supported by the most eminent members of the profession, I must say that there is no one either in the majority of the Committee or out of it more entitled to respect as a member of the profession than the hon. and learned Attorney General. I hold him to be one of the highest authorities whose opinion could be taken on this subject. The hon. and learned Gentleman says I should not have introduced this measure so early in the Session. Now, if I had interfered with the Indemnity Bill, or with the Committee on Commercial Distress and the Bank Act, there would have been some reason for what he had said; but, as no business of very great urgency had been put down for this day, I do not think it can be said that I have interfered with the public business. It must be recollected that the City of London elected a member of the Jewish persuasion to represent them in 1847, and that the question has never yet been finally decided, and therefore, I think, the subject is one on which if a Bill is to be introduced, it ought to be done at as early 495 a period as possible of the Session. But, though I have brought forward the question in this short Session, I quite admit the propriety of putting off the second reading of the Bill till we meet again. The hon. and learned Gentleman says this House has suffered in its conflicts with the courts of law. That may be so with regard to some questions of privilege; but with regard to the decisions of courts of law the country might have been still paying ship money, and we might have been still at the mercy of the prerogative of the Crown, if this House had rested satisfied with whatever might be the opinion of the Judges. I hope, then, that this House will not feel alarmed at the prospect of a conflict with the courts of law. An observation has been made during this debate more personal than was necessary, and not over civil, by the hon. Member for West Norfolk (Mr. Bentinck). He said that I was, no doubt, acting under the influence of a great capitalist—by which, no doubt, he meant Baron Rothschild—upon this question. That hon. Member appears not to know the history of this question, and he has evidently not observed that long before the year 1847, whenever this subject was introduced into this House by Sir Robert Grant and others, I always supported the claims of the Jews, and that whenever the Jews asked to be admitted to a full enjoyment of the privileges of the constitution, I have always given my vote in their favour. The hon. Gentleman also omitted to notice that at the last election, so far from any part being taken by Baron Rothschild in my favour, he joined with three others; that the votes of the electors were asked for those four in opposition to myself; and that as far as Baron Rothschild is concerned I should not at this moment be a Member for the City of London. However, the people stood by me, and I am grateful neither to Baron Rothschild nor to the princely merchants of the City. But I am under obligations to the people—to the great body of the citizens of London—who supported me when they thought with me that I was unfairly attacked. The hon. Gentleman's personal observations have, therefore, not much foundation, and his knowledge of the history of this question is evidently very inaccurate. The hon. Gentleman the Member for North Warwickshire (Mr. Newdegate) says that I intend that Christianity shall 496 no longer be acknowledged in this House as the basis of the constitution, and that I wish to destroy the Christianity of this House. As regards the form of this Bill, I might again quote the words of Mr. Canning, and say, "I am not always bound to find a security for your faith." I have always contended that the Christianity of this House would not be destroyed by admitting the Jews to this House, but that you would give a more striking proof of Christianity by breaking down these barriers than by maintaining them as they stand. I always put this question to hon. Gentlemen who adopt the argument of the hon. Member—"Do you acknowledge this to be a Christian nation? There are 40,000 Jews in it, and if the existence of those 40,000 Jews prevents the existence of a Christian nation, then you are not a Christian nation. But if, although you have 40,000 Jews in this country, it is still a Christian nation, then I ask why the admission of one or two Jews into Parliament would not still leave this a Christian Parliament? "To that question no answer has been given, or can be given. I have always contended that the Christianity of this House is not dependent upon the oath that Bolingbroke and Gibbon have taken, but that it depends upon the personal sentiments of the Members of this House. It is no doubt to be wished that they should be guided by Christian sentiments, but the Christianity of this country is not dependent upon any clause in an Act of Parliament. Having said this much, I do not wish to carry the discussion further; but I will add that the hon. and learned Member for Boston (Mr. Adams) was right in supposing that I said that in case no other constitutional mode should be left, I should think it right to bring before the House for its decision the question upon which the hon. and learned Attorney General has formed a decided opinion, and which he expressed in emphatic terms. That is a matter to be hereafter considered. The question was much debated in Committee, and it is right that the House, in a matter of such grave importance, should come to a decision upon the subject, if no other constitutional course should present itself.
§ MR. CONINGHAM
said, that he was unwilling by silence to let it be supposed that he held any doubtful opinion or was indifferent to the question of the admission of Jews to Parliament, and as the 497 representative of a large constituency, he was convinced that he expressed their opinions when he declared that they took the same deep interest in the removal of Jewish disabilities which he himself felt. It was not for him to canvass the reasons that had induced the Government to hand over a measure embodying a vital principle to an independent Member, nor was it for him to raise any objections to the hands in which it was placed; but, as a Member of the Liberal party, he would tell the Government that those who entertained Liberal opinions were carefully watching its proceedings on this Bill, especially as the noble Lord at the head of the Government had not made this a Cabinet question, but had allowed an influential Member of the Cabinet to walk out of the other House without voting. He trusted that Parliament was not about to see a repetition of such a proceeding. The question was not whether Baron Rothschild should be admitted, but whether a man should be excluded from the rights of citizenship so far as they related to a seat in that House for his religious opinions. The removal of these religious disabilities was nothing but a complement to the Reformation achieved some centuries ago, and from what he knew of public opinion on this subject he was certain that in spite of all resistance this question must ultimately be carried to a triumphant issue.
§ MR. NEWDEGATE
said, that he had been misrepresented both by the noble Lord the Member for the City, and by the Member for Nottingham. He had never denied that there would be many Christians in the House even if Baron Rothschild were admitted, but what he had maintained was a proposition sanctioned by the highest authority—by the House of Lords—that the admission of Baron Rothschild or any other Jew into that House, would be a violation of its Christian character. So strong was that Christian character that it was contrary to order in that House to speak anything that could be considered blasphemous; and he well remembered that the late Speaker had risen to call a Member to order who was questioning the fundamental truths of Christianity; and the Member at once acknowledged himself out of order. This characteristic of the House must be lost, if Jews, who reject Christ, became Members.
§ MR. BENTINCK
wished also to explain that the inaccuracy which the noble Lord (Lord J. Russell) had imputed to him was not in his history, but in the noble Lord's memory. What he said was, that the noble Lord had brought in this measure at a time and under circumstances that rendered it an irregular and, in his opinion, a factious proceeding, and that such a course, when taken by so high an authority as the noble Lord, would lead one to suppose that some pressure from without must have influenced his conduct in so doing.
§ MR. STEUART
observed, that the political argument was stronger than the religious one in dealing with this question, although the opponents of the measure had not taken that ground to any extent. An hon. Member near him (Mr. Griffith) had argued for the admission of the Jews because we had inherited their sacred writings. We might as well argue for the admission of Popish bishops into the House of Lords because we had received some writings from the monks. He protested against the House of Commons being regarded as a great political vestry, but even if it were the political vestry that some represented it, it ought to hesitate before it admitted the Jews. Give the Jew the fullest political and social rights, but his feelings and principles were such that he could not be a useful legislator there. The Jew had higher views and consolations, and, as had been well said, he looked to a greater Exodus than that from Egypt. The hon. Member for Brighton had declared that the country was anxiously watching the conduct of the Government on this subject. He believed, on the contrary, that no question had excited less interest at the last election than the admission of Jews to Parliament. Out of 2,000 electors, not one had asked him what his views were on this question, and he had since asked hon. Members, representing larger constituencies, who had experienced similar results, and therefore he did not think it quite accurate to say that there was any real excitement upon the question among the Liberal party, except among certain Members in that House, and persons who, like Baron Rothschild, were peculiarly interested in it.
§ Motion agreed to.
§ House resumed.
§ Resolution reported.499
§ Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. FITZROY, Lord JOHN RUSSELL, and Mr. JOHN ABEL SMITH.
§ Bill presented, and read 1°.