HC Deb 15 May 1857 vol 145 cc318-38

Order of the Day for the House to go into Committee on Oaths read.

House in Committee.


Sir, in rising to make the Motion of which I have given notice, I ought, in the first place, to apologize to my noble Friend the Member for the City of London for appearing to take out of his hands a question which has long occupied his attention, and with which he has dealt in a manner that has gained him great credit. I can assure my noble Friend that it was by no means from any wish to take unnecessarily from him a subject, to which he has devoted so much attention, that I gave notice of that Motion; but I was told by those, who are most interested in the question, that the chance of any Bill, which might be brought in, passing into a law, would be very much increased by its being introduced as a Government measure by a Member of the Administration; and, knowing the deep and sincere interest which my noble Friend takes in the measure to which he has so long devoted his attention, I am quite sure that he will forgive me for appearing to take it out of his hands. It appeared to me, that if ever there was a moment peculiarly favourable for calling the attention of the House to the oaths, which are by law now prescribed to Members of Parliament on taking their seats, the present was precisely that moment, because, the House having been recently constituted, every Member whom I have the honour of addressing, must have fresh in his recollection those oaths, which by the present law he has been compelled to take, containing, I am sure I need not say, many things that every man must be very reluctant to subscribe to under the solemnity of an oath, and which must therefore be most repugnant to his feelings.

Sir, there cannot, I apprehend, be a more solemn act than the taking of an oath. It is an invocation by a man to His Creator to give His sanction to an engagement which that man is about to undertake. That man has thereby pledged to a certain degree his future wellbeing for the performance of certain duties, which by his oath he has undertaken to discharge. Such engagements have been sanctioned by the practice of all nations. There are duties of such importance in this world, that it is fitting that those who have to discharge them should bind themselves by the most solemn sanctions to a due and conscientious performance of them. But the more solemn the act, the greater the responsibility which a man incurs by taking an oath; and the more that engagement is entitled to the respect of men, in the same proportion ought to be the seldomness of its being taken, and the real importance of the occasion upon which it is taken. To invoke the Supreme Being with reference to engagements which are absurd, and which no man could be supposed to break, is a profanation of a sacred rite. It is, in fact, a breach of that commandment, which forbids man to take the name of his Creator in vain. Now, I must say, that there are things in the oaths we now take, which were, no doubt, fit to be sworn to in times long gone by, but which are so inapplicable to the days in which we live, and to the persons by whom those oaths are to be taken, that they are revolting to the mind of every reasonable man. I may observe, that the changes which I propose to make do not apply to the oath taken by Roman Catholics. That oath was settled upon full deliberation at the time when the disabilities of Catholics were under discussion. I do not intend to disturb that settlement. The change which I am about to propose applies solely to the oaths to be taken by persons who are not of the Catholic religion. The object of the Bill which I beg leave to introduce is, in the first place, to relieve Christians from the necessity of taking oaths, which are repugnant to their reason and to their feelings. But, in the next place, while so doing I propose to put an end to the last remnant of former prejudice and exclusion. The change which I am about to propose would not only relieve a Christian from oaths, which a Christian ought not to be called upon to take, but would also sweep away that portion of one of those oaths which is the only obstacle to the reception of Jews in this House of Parliament. It is hardly necessary for me to remind the House of the oaths, which we now by law are compelled to take. So long as the law compels us to take those oaths, we submit to the necessity, and no man can blame a person who submits to the law. But I do say, that if the House has the power, which I contend it has, to relieve itself from these profanations of a sacred rite, the House would incur a heavy responsibility if it did not exercise that power, and relieve individual Members from the necessity of continuing to take those oaths on taking their seats. What I propose to do is to abolish, in all cases, in which they are by law required to be taken, the oath of allegiance as it now stands, the oath of supremacy, and the oath of abjuration, and to substitute for those three oaths one single oath, which shall contain the oath of allegiance as well as that which is requisite in the other oaths, but which shall leave out all those portions of them, which I conceive are not fitting or proper to be retained. The oath of allegiance will stand as it now does, with such additions as I have mentioned. But to begin with the oath of supremacy. That oath is as follows:— I do swear that I do from my heart abhor, detest, and abjure, as impious and heretical, that damnable doctrine and position that princes excommunicated or deprived by the Pope, or any authority of the see of Rome, may be deposed or murthered by their subjects, or any other whatsoever. On what possible ground are we called upon to take that oath? Why, Sir, it is abjuring that which none of us believe in, which no Protestant ever did believe in, and which I humbly venture to say no Catholic of the present day believes in. It is true that, in times long gone by, that doctrine was held by some portion of the Catholic Church, but it is a doctrine so utterly repugnant to every feeling and principle of the present day, that I am sure no man takes this oath without—if I may so say—an inward blush at being compelled by law to abjure what under present circumstances could not by any possibility be even contemplated by any reasonable man. The oath proceeds— And I do declare that no foreign prince, person, prelate, state, or potentate hath, or ought to have, any jurisdiction, power, superiority, preeminence, or authority, ecclesiastical or spiritual, within this realm. I propose to leave that declaration as it stands. We next come to the oath of abjuration, which is in these terms:— I do truly and sincerely acknowledge, profess, testify, and declare, in my conscience before God and the world, that our Sovereign Lady Queen Victoria is lawful and rightful Queen of this realm, and all other Her Majesty's dominions and countries thereunto belonging. That declaration in shorter words, I think may be retained, as one which may be very fitly made by a subject of the Queen at the present day. The oath then goes on— And I do solemnly and sincerely declare that I do believe in my conscience that not any of the descendants of the person who pretended to be Prince of Wales during the life of the late King James II.;— "The late King James!" as if he had died only some two or three years ago!— and since his decease pretended to be and took upon himself the style and title of King of England by the name of James the Third, or of Scotland by the name of James the Eighth, or the style and title of King of Great Britain, hath any right or title whatsoever to the Crown of this realm or any other the dominions thereunto belonging; and I do renounce, refuse and abjure any allegiance or obedience to any of them. I propose to sweep away altogether that declaration. We might with as much reason, for all practical purposes, abjure our belief in the Heptarchy. The oath proceeds— And I do swear that I will bear faith and true allegiance to Her Majesty Queen Victoria, and Her will defend to the utmost of my power against all traitorous conspiracies and attempts whatsoever which shall be made against Her person, crown, or dignity. That is, I think, a very proper declaration, and one which I propose to include in the new oath which I shall ask the Committee to substitute for the existing oaths. The oath goes on,— And I will do my utmost endeavour to disclose and make known to Her Majesty and Her successors all treasons and traitorous conspiracies which I shall know to be against Her or any of them. That, also, I propose to retain as part of those engagements of fidelity and allegiance, which it is proper for the Members of this House to enter into towards the reigning Sovereign. The next clause of the oath is— And I do faithfully promise to the utmost of my power to support, maintain, and defend the succession of the Crown against the descendants of the said James, and against all other persons whatsoever; which succession, by an Act intituled 'An Act for the further Limitation of the Crown and better securing the Rights and Liberties of the Subject,' is, and stands limited to the Princess Sophia, Electress and Duchess Dowager of Hanover, and the heirs of Her body, being Protestants. Although I do not propose to retain the precise words I have just read, the form of oath I shall submit to the Committee will contain, substantially the same declaration—namely, that the Members of this House will engage to maintain the Protestant succession in the descendants of the Electress Sophia of Hanover in conformity with the Act of Parliament. Then comes the last sentence— And all these things I do plainly and sincerely acknowledge and swear, according to these express words by me spoken, and according to the plain common sense and understanding of the same words, without any equivocation, mental evasion, or secret reservation whatsoever; and I do make this recognition, acknowledgment, abjuration, renunciation, and promise heartily, willingly, and truly, upon the true faith of a Christian. I propose to omit all that disclaimer of mental equivocation and reservation, and all that does not apply to the persons taking the oath, in fact I also propose to omit those last words, "upon the true faith of a Christian," which are the words that preclude a Jew from sitting and voting in this House. I will now read to the Committee the form of oath which I propose to substitute for the existing oaths— I do swear, That I will be faithful and bear true Allegiance to Her Majesty Queen Victoria, and will defend Her to the utmost of my Power against all Conspiracies and Attempts whatever which shall be made against Her Person, Crown, or Dignity, and I will do my utmost Endeavour to disclose and make known to Her Majesty, Her Heirs and Successors, all Treasons and traitorous Conspiracies which may be formed against Her or them; and I do faithfully promise to maintain, support, and defend, to the utmost of my Power, the Succession of the Crown, which Succession, by an Act, intituled 'An Act for the further Limitation of the Crown and better securing the Rights and Liberties of the Subject,' is and stands limited to the Princess Sophia, Electress of Hanover, and the Heirs of Her Body being Protestants, hereby utterly renouncing and abjuring any Obedience or Allegiance unto any other Person claiming or pretending a Right to the Crown of this Realm; and I do declare, that no Foreign Prince, Person, Prelate, State, or Potentate hath or ought to have any Jurisdiction, Power, Superiority, Pre-eminence, or authority, Ecclesiastical or Spiritual, directly or indirectly, within this Realm. That oath will, I apprehend, contain every portion of the existing oaths which we can in reason be called upon to utter, and will relieve the Protestant Members of this House from the necessity of pronouncing at the table, under the solemn sanction of an oath, a mass of jargon wholly unsuited to the times in which we live. I apprehend that no one can object to the proposal I make on general grounds, but I expect, indeed I am confident, that—not, perhaps, on this occasion, but at the further stages of the Bill—I shall have to encounter the opposition of those who are adverse to the admission of Jews to Parliament. Now, I have never yet heard any argument which appeared to me to have the least weight against the admission of British subjects, being Jews, to sit and vote in this House. The main argument which has been urged is, that this House is a Christian assembly—that is to say, it is an assembly composed of men professing the Christian religion, the chief practical doctrines of that religion being to act with charity towards all; to do unto others as we would they should do unto us; not to persecute, but to love our neighbours as ourselves; and, in short, to carry out in practice those principles which are contravened or ignored by the arbitrary and unnecessary exclusion of our Jewish fellow-countrymen from Parliament. Is it believed that the members of the Jewish persuasion are less enlightened, that they are less able to assist us in our deliberations, and less likely to become useful members of the Legislature, than any other class of the community? Any one acquainted with the facts, knows that those Jews who most aspire to be Members of this House, are men eminently distinguished for the intellectual qualifications which would fit them for a seat in the Legislature of this country. Is it objected that the Jews have no property and no stake in the country, and that they are, therefore, persons who would be utterly heedless of the nature of those laws to which Parliament may assent? We all know, happily for themselves, that the very reverse is the case. Many of them are men of great wealth,—men who have a large stake in the country,—and who have, therefore, no motive to concur in any legislation which will not conduce to the welfare and prosperity of the empire. Why, Sir, I must confess that since I have been in the office I have the honour to hold, circumstances have occurred which have caused me to feel considerably ashamed of the present state of the law on this subject. It has happened to me and my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer, when the country was in need of large sums of money to carry on the public service, to meet, not far from these walls, great capitalists of the Jewish persuasion, who came forward, and upon terms not less honourable to themselves than advantageous to the public, provided those means which the service of the country required. While making the necessary arrangements, however, we could not but feel that the very men who had been instrumental in rendering such important service to the country were precluded by an arbitrary and unjust law from occupying seats in this House. Sir, of late years the principles of civil and religious liberty have made great progress. We have swept away those unjust enactments which placed the Protestant dissenters in a position of inferiority as compared with the rest of their fellow-countrymen. We have also swept away those unjust enactments which excluded our Catholic fellow-countrymen from taking part in the deliberations of this House. The exclusion of the Jews is the last rag and remnant of prejudice and intolerance with which we have to deal. What is it that you fear from admitting Jews into Parliament? Are you afraid that the admission of a few Jews will shake the Christian, religion? Why, Sir, I have heard of many Jews who have become Christians, but it never fell to my lot to hear of a Christian who became a Jew. The progress of mankind is governed by laws which admit of no retrogression. The Old Testament prepared the way for the New Testament, but the New Testament will never lead us back to the Old. Of what, then, are we afraid? We cannot for a moment suppose that the introduction into this House of a few persons professing the Jewish religion will at all affect the Christian character of the country. I am convinced that such Members, from their knowledge and intelligence, would render us material assistance in our deliberations; their position as men of considerable property would be a guarantee for their interest in the welfare of the country; and by admitting them to Parliament we should put the finishing stroke to that system of liberal legislation for the establishment of religious liberty which has of late years made so much progress. I trust, therefore, that the House will give its most serious attention to this subject. There are many new Members of this House, who, unfettered by former votes and pledges, are free to act on their own spontaneous judgment, and therefore I do hope that this measure will be carried by a large majority of the House; and then, if the opinion of the House should be stamped upon the Bill, in approbation of the principle it contains, I cannot but indulge the sanguine expectation that those obstacles which elsewhere have hitherto impeded the realization of the ardent wishes of my noble Friend the Member for the City of London may give way to an impulse proceeding from a new House of Commons, and that at last we may have the satisfaction of giving the finishing stroke to that good work which has been too long delayed, but which I hope will now be concluded. The noble Viscount concluded by moving to resolveThat 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.


It is not my intention to oppose the introduction of the Bill proposed by the noble Lord; but, inasmuch as its avowed object is the admission of Jews to Parliament, and as my sentiments upon that important subject have undergone no change, I shall feel it to be my duty, in its next stage, to offer to the Bill my sincere and earnest opposition. The noble Viscount at the head of the Government has made a graceful apology to the noble Lord the Member for the City of London for taking this question out of his hands; and I wish, as this has now become a Government measure, that for the sake of consistency, the noble Viscount had adopted the same course with respect to the present Bill, which he has pursued with regard to all other measures relating to Parliamentary reform. The other evening the hon. Member for East Surrey proposed a Bill for the abolition of the property qualification of Members. The noble Viscount only permitted that Bill to be introduced upon the understanding that it should be carried no further, and all discussion on the subject waived, because, he said, by common consent all questions relating to Parliamentary reform were to be postponed until the next Session. That was a Bill for the abolition of the property qualification. The present is a measure for the alteration of the oaths of religious qualification; and if the one is connected with Parliamentary reform, so also, I think, must be the other. Why, therefore, if there is a common understanding that we are to have no discussion on the subject of Parliamentary reform, the present Bill should not share the fortunes of all the other measures, and be postponed until the next Session, I am at a loss to imagine. For what reason are the Jews to be so peculiarly favoured? Are their demands so urgent upon the noble Viscount that he cannot resist them? I cannot help thinking that the noble Viscount has been forced by some pressure into his prominent position on this occasion. Before the elections took place a deputation from the City of London waited upon the noble Viscount, and requested him to introduce a measure for the admission of the Jews, and to make it a Government question. The noble Viscount was unwilling to give any pledge upon the subject, and I have reason to believe that his reluctance and hesitation were not unserviceable to the noble Lord the Member for the City, in the manly and successful appeal which he made to that constituency. The noble Viscount, however, is now committed to this measure. If he looks back, he sees no possibility of retreat. I know well the resolution and perseverance of the noble Viscount when he has made up his mind, and therefore I cannot disguise from myself the formidable task which I have undertaken in attempting to oppose a measure which is brought forward under the auspices, and which is to be supported by all the weight and authority of the noble Viscount. The noble Viscount has had a considerable advantage in the experience of the last ten years, in framing his measure in such a shape as he thinks will be most likely to secure its ready acceptance. I have taken a rather prominent part in the struggle upon this question, and I think it will be neither uninstructive nor uninteresting if I should glance at the different measures which from time to time have been introduced, enabling the House to see, how at the beginning the advocates for the Jew were ready to admit the Christian character of this assembly, and how at last they have advanced to demands which have a tendency utterly to supplant and destroy it. It is, I think, hardly known to those who have not paid attention to the subject, under how many disabilities the Jews laboured so late as the year 1830, when Mr. R. Grant introduced his Bill for their emancipation. They extended to their exclusion from civil and military offices, from corporations, and from a wide circle of civil employments. No one, I hope, will believe that I have the least desire to revert to such a state of things, but I have always considered that the condition of the Jews at that time furnishes one of the strongest answers which could be given to the suggestion we hear made from time to time, that Jews are prevented from sitting here by the accidental insertion of certain words in an Act of Parliament passed for a different object. The disabilities to which I have referred were gradually removed between the years 1830 and 1847; and the first attempt which was made, after that long period, to introduce the Jews to Parliament, came from the noble Lord the Member for the City of London, immediately after his return for that constituency with Baron Rothschild. I know that the noble Lord is unwilling to have it supposed that his exertions upon this subject, which have been consistent and straightforward, had any connection whatever with his return with Baron Rothschild; but the fact is that, although the noble Lord was in high office during the greater part of the period between 1830 and 1847, it never appears to have occurred to him that the fitting time had arrived for proposing this measure until the coincidence took place of his return with that—I may not say by—Baron Rothschild. Let us now see what was the measure which the noble Lord first thought it right, after a mature deliberation of seventeen years, to introduce to this House. It was emphatically, if I may use the expression, a "Jew Bill." It was a Bill to provide a particular form of oath for persons belonging to the Jewish persuasion; and the noble Lord at that time thought it so inconsistent that Jews should hold certain high offices in the State, that he introduced provisions to prevent a member of the Jewish persuasion from holding the office of Lord Chancellor, the office of Lord Lieutenant, and some offices in the Ecclesiastical Courts, and also from presenting ex officio to any livings. That Bill passed this House, but was rejected by the House of Lords. In 1849 the noble Lord brought forward another Bill of a rather different description. It provided a new form of oath for all the Christian members of this assembly. The oaths of allegiance, supremacy, and abjuration were repealed, and this common form of oath was to be substituted, containing the words "Upon the true faith of a Christian," and I remember well that my right hon. Friend the Member for Oxford University expressed his gratification at finding that the noble Lord had preserved these emphatic words as part of the oath to be taken by the Christian members of this House. It was provided that a Jew, in taking the oath of abjuration, should omit these words. There was no exception with respect to particular offices in that Bill, because it was wholly unnecessary, inasmuch as the common oath was to be taken only as a qualification for sitting in Parliament, and of course all those high offices to which the former Bill referred could not be held without the holders taking the old oaths, including the oath of abjuration, with the words "Upon the true faith of a Christian." That Bill also passed this House, but was rejected by the House of Lords. In 1850 the noble Lord made a very considerable step in advance. He introduced a Bill which provided that in all cases, when persons of the Jewish persuasion were required to take the oath of abjuration, they should omit the words "upon the true faith of a Christian." There was no exception, as in the first Bill of 1847, of those offices to which I have referred; and the consequence was that, supposing that measure had received the sanction of the Legislature, it would have been competent to Jews to hold the highest offices in the State. The noble Lord, however, was compelled in the month of July to drop that Bill, and then some very unjust suspicions having, it seems, entered into the minds of the advocates of the Jews, that the noble Lord had not been hearty in the cause, they determined to take the matter into their own hands, and a very extraordinary scene took place in this House. Baron Rothschild came to the table of the House and claimed to take the oaths on the Old Testament. Thereupon a considerable debate arose in the House, and I regret to say that the House came to the absurd decision—for so I am compelled to call it—that it was competent to Baron Rothschild to take the oaths on the Old Testament. Now, just observe the effect of that decision. There were three oaths which it was necessary for a person to take before he was qualified to sit in Parliament; and the abjuration oath was one which, of course, it was impossible for the Jew to take, because it contained the words, "on the true faith of a Christian." Therefore, it was quite impossible that the Legislature ever contemplated that the two other oaths could be sworn on the Old Testament; and yet the House was inconsistent enough—and I regret this for the sake of the character of the House—to vote that Baron Rothschild might take the oaths on the Old Testament. The practical absurdity of this course was too obvious to require comment. Baron Rothschild then came to the table of the House, took the oaths of allegiance and supremacy, and read the oath of abjuration down to the words "on the true faith of a Christian," which he said he omitted because they were not binding on his conscience. Baron Rothschild was then directed to withdraw, and a very animated debate took place as to whether, having taken the oath in the manner most binding on his conscience, he was not entitled to sit in the House. The noble Lord behaved on that occasion in a way which reflected infinite credit on him. With every disposition to obtain the admission of the Jews into this House, and with a certainty that if he chose to adopt a Resolution to that effect it would be enforced by a majority, the noble Lord nevertheless felt that those words, "on the true faith of a Christian," formed an essential part of the oath, and, refusing to be a party to any indirect attempt to gain a seat for the Jews in that manner, he proposed a Resolution, which was carried, to the effect that Baron Rothschild should not sit and vote in the House until he had taken the oath of abjuration in manner appointed by law. In 1851 the noble Lord felt himself quite at liberty, after this constitutional course, to introduce again the Bill of 1850 in the very terms I have described, of course leaving it open to the Jews to be placed in any high office in the State. That Bill passed this House, but was rejected by the House of Lords on the 17th of July, and on the 18th the fruits of the decision of 1850 were culled by the appearance at the table of this House of Mr. Alderman Salomons, who was then returned for Greenwich, and who claimed under the Resolution of the House the right to take the oaths on the Old Testament. Mr. Alderman Salomons went through the oaths of supremacy and allegiance, and also the oath of abjuration, with the exception of the words "on the true faith of a Christian," kissed the book, and immediately took his seat in the lower part of the House. He was directed to withdraw, but he refused to obey the Speaker. The circumstances were painful. The noble Lord, who enforced the authority of the Speaker, moved a Resolution that Mr. Alderman Salomons should withdraw. That led to considerable debate, and the noble Lord's Resolution was carried by a majority, and then, immediately after that Resolution, Mr. Alderman Salomons appeared again and took his seat in the House. Again a Resolution was moved by the noble Lord, and again carried by a majority, and even then Mr. Alderman Salomons refused to quit the House until he was gently removed by the Serjeant-at-Arms, under the authority of the Speaker. In the course of the discussion which took place, Mr. Alderman Salomons asked the noble Lord, whether he would prosecute him for the penalties. The noble Lord stated that he had no desire, but he had no doubt Mr. Alderman Salomons could get some friend to do so. Well, there was a person who undertook that friendly part; but if it was meant to be a sham argument it was prevented by the high character and honour of the counsel intrusted with the plaintiff's case, and who conducted it with great ability, and the result was that the matter was set at rest by the decision of the Court of Exchequer Chamber that the words "on the true faith of a Christian" were not merely a formal, but an essential part of the oath. That was in 1851, and in 1852 the noble Lord advanced another step, or stride I should rather call it. The noble Lord then introduced that Reform Bill which we all recollect he was compelled to abandon with so much regret in the course of the Session of 1852. In that Bill the noble Lord introduced one oath to be taken by all the Members of the House, an additional reason proving, I should say, that this matter falls within those questions which are to be shelved during the present Session, and the discussion of which, according to common understanding, is to be postponed to another year. I need not trouble the House with any observations on that oath in consequence of the fate of the Bill; but in 1853 the noble Lord then introduced his Bill with that form of oath which had been contained in his abortive Reform Bill, and that form being one which was to be taken by all the Members of this House, whether Roman Catholics or Protestants, necessarily involved in it only a partial recognition of the supremacy of the Crown. In 1853 this consideration, strange as it may appear, does not appear to have struck the minds of Members who took part in the debate. Undoubtedly, it was not made a prominent part in the discussion. The House passed the measure, which the House of Lords afterwards rejected; but in 1854, the noble Lord having introduced a Bill precisely similar to that of 1853, it was then that our minds were called to the danger which would arise from adopting this common form of oath for every Member, whether Roman Catholic or Protestant. A debate took place, in which this matter was put prominently forward, and the result was that the House refused to pass the Bill, and it was rejected undoubtedly by a very slender majority. Whether the noble Lord was disheartened by his repulse on that occasion, it is impossible for me to say; but, at all events, 1855 passed without any attempt to introduce again in this House a proposition in respect to the admission of the Jews. There was in the House of Lords, at a very late period of the Session, a Bill introduced by Lord Lyndhurst, and again some suspicion, though there was not any foundation for it, crossed the mind of those who were eager partisans for the admission of the Jews to Parliament that the noble Lord was either negligent or indifferent on the subject. They therefore chose to take the matter into their own hands, and in 1856 Mr. Milner Gibson stepped before the noble Lord, and for the purpose of procuring the admission of the Jews introduced a Bill making clean work of the matter certainly by utterly abolishing the oath of abjuration. Now, there are parts of that oath which are rather precious to some Protestant Members of this House. It contains the only recognition of the Act of Settlement. The noble Lord strongly shared this feeling, and he found himself in this remarkable position, that he was unable to take a leading part in procuring the admission of the Jews to Parliament, and was obliged to defend the constitution against the attempt of those eager Friends of the Jews who wished to introduce them by abolishing the oath of abjuration altogether. The noble Lord therefore introduced into the proposed oath words which were equivalent to those found in the oath of abjuration. I must then say it is rather hard now on the noble Lord, who, after having in a manner taken the City of London by storm, has come into this House fully sensible of the merit of those who have been instrumental in procuring his return, and is desirous of putting a crowning Act to his exertions for the introduction of the Jews into Parliament, to find that he is forestalled by the noble Lord at the head of the Government, that the matter is taken altogether out of his hands, and himself only gratified with an apology. No doubt the noble Lord at the head of the Government has now got possession of this question, and he has explained to us what is the form of oath he proposes to substitute for the three oaths we now take previous to admission to this House. I am not aware of that reluctance and repugnance on the part of Members to take these oaths to which he alluded. I was present during the taking the oaths which were administered to many Members of this House, and I saw no symptoms of reluctance and repugnance. There is, however, a part of the oath of abjuration which I should be very glad to see removed, because I think it is obsolete; and the noble Lord at the head of the Government would have done far better had he contented himself with removing that obsolete part from the oath of abjuration, and then left the question of the admission of the Jews a distinct question, to be dealt with on its own merits, precisely in the same way as the noble Lord the Member for the City of London, after seventeen years of deliberation, thought it right to do in the Bill which he introduced in 1847. The noble Viscount does not seem to apprehend that there will be any discussion at this stage of the question, but it would have been more graceful in him, therefore, had he spared the charges of prejudices and intolerance which he has bestowed on the probable opponents of his measure. No one knows his own prejudices. I dare say I am a creature of prejudice, but intolerant I am not. Not to speak of myself, however, there are many hon. Gentlemen who feel deeply and conscientiously upon this subject, and in advocating the exclusion of Jews from Parliament, I cannot allow that they are guilty of any intolerance, whatever prejudice they may entertain on the subject. The noble Viscount tells us that this is a great question of "civil and religious liberty;" with all submission, it is not a question of liberty at all. Those words have a stimulating sound, and create emotions which frequently pass for arguments. This is not a question of liberty, which is freedom from restraint, but it is a question of power. It is a question whether persons who do not profess Christianity are to be possessed of a portion of the supreme power which now belongs to a Christian Legislature. It only remains for me to say that I join with the noble Viscount in entreating hon. Members to give this question their serious attention. They will find from the history which I have given that, eager as they may be for the admission of Jews into Parliament, it will be necessary for them to be extremely cautious, lest in accomplishing that object they trench upon any of our honoured institutions. I trust there will be a full and fair discussion of this question; for my own part, I can say that it shall be a dispassionate discussion, and I shall be content to leave it to the consideration and judgment of this House.


I think the House will feel, after what has been said by my noble Friend and by the hon. and learned Gentleman opposite, that it is not unnatural that I should wish to address a few observations to the House upon this subject. In the first place, I wish to assure my noble Friend that, so far from finding any fault with him for having taken this question into his immediate consideration and bringing it under the view of Parliament, I think that those who advised him that the question would stand the best chance of being brought to a successful issue, if it had the weight and influence of Government in its favour, and if it were introduced by a Member of the Government, gave him very sound advice; and, perfectly agreeing with them, I should have given him exactly the same. So far from wishing to introduce the measure myself, I think that it has a far better chance; of success in the hands of the Government, and, as I am only anxious that the measure should have the best chance of success, I cannot feel at all envious of my noble Friend having the honour to bring this question forward. The hon. and learned Gentleman opposite, although he does not intend to divide upon this preliminary stage, has instructed the House— and as there are many new Members in it they may, perhaps, need instruction—as to the various passages which have taken place with respect to the admission of Jews into Parliament. I can only hope that the hon. and learned Member may next year be able to complete his history. Next year I hope he will be able to add, "After all these various steps which I have detailed to the House in the year 1857, a new attempt was made by a noble Lord who was then First Minister of the Crown. He carried with him a great majority of the House of Commons, and the weight and influence of that majority, together with the opinion of the Government were so successful, that the House of Lords yielded, and an Act of Parliament was passed which admitted Jews to a seat in Parliament." But the hon. and learned Gentleman not being able at present thus to complete his history, I will make a few—and but a few—observations with regard to the narrative which he has gone through. He is welcome to any remarks which he chooses to make with regard to my seat for the City of London. I obtained that seat in 1841, when Baron Rothschild was not a candidate, and I have obtained it in 1857, when Baron Rothschild, so far from being joined with me, was joined with three other Gentlemen, and could not therefore have given any support or assistance to me. The hon. and learned Gentleman has referred to persons by whom he says I was assisted in obtaining that seat, and I am happy on this occasion to avow that many Gentlemen of the same opinions as the hon. and learned Member gave me their votes at the last election. The hon. and learned Gentleman has detailed the various stages which this question has gone through, and the various shapes into which I put the Bill. The explanation of that is, that I was willing to concede as much as I could, if the main object were secured, in order to smooth away those objections which might be entertained in the other House of Parliament to the measure. I did not conceive it necessary to propose the Bill exactly in the same shape every time: and I think that my noble Friend has done well to take the shape, which is in itself an improvement upon many of those Bills which have been introduced upon former occasions. There are many questions with regard to which the hon. and learned Gentleman might have given a similar history—the question of Roman Catholic emancipation, for instance—and I remember in reference to that question, that when Mr. Canning was reproached for not taking the same securities which he had proposed in his earlier measures, he said, "I decline to be a security-monger all my life; I proposed securities to you before, and you rejected them." So I say with regard to this Jewish question, that, although it might have been right with a view to ob- viate objections to refuse the admission of Jews to certain offices, yet that Bill having been rejected, it is quite right now to put the measure in the shape which we believe will best effect the object which we have in view. I need not go into the arguments upon the question, because the hon. and learned Gentleman proposes upon some future occasion, when no doubt we shall have a keen contest, to raise a full discussion upon it. He says there is a deep and conscientious feeling upon this subject. Sir, I admit that there are those who have such a feeling; but I say it is a matter of mere feeling and not an objection founded on reason or argument, because, though I have heard many persons express their repugnance to the admission of Jews into Parliament, I never heard one person give a good reason for thinking that there was any danger in such a measure, or, in fact, advance any solid objection against it. The hon. and learned Gentleman denies that this is a question of civil "and religious liberty." I conceive it is a question of civil and religious liberty. But the hon. and learned Gentleman not having been under the ban of exclusion—not being a Jew—can talk very much at ease of it. If some hon. Members were successful in persuading the Legislature to pass a law that all persons who are members of the Bar, all gentlemen of the long robe, as they are called, should be excluded from Parliament—and there might be some plausible reasons given for such a measure, the saving of the time of the House, for instance—would the hon. and learned Gentleman allow that that had nothing to do with civil and religious liberty? Would he allow that his civil liberty was as complete as ever, although he was by law excluded from obtaining office and from sitting in Parliament? On the contrary, we should hear the hon. and learned Gentleman's voice raised pretty loud, and his great powers of argument would be exerted to show that it was impossible for a Legislature, which respected civil liberty, to exclude "a most respectable class of persons from the privilege of sitting in Parliament enjoyed by other classes of citizens." I am quite sure that such would be his opinion, and I will only ask him to put himself for a moment in the position of the Jew, and say what his feelings would be if he were told that in this free country, though he might possess many privileges, though he might be Lord Mayor of London, and might discharge municipal offices in all parts of the kingdom, yet high civil office he could not hold, and into Parliament he must not come. His feelings of justice, his notions of the common rights of an Englishman would be violated, and he would not listen for a moment to the arguments which he himself has put forward. Having stated these few words to the House, I have only to say further, that whenever the second reading of this Bill comes on—whenever that opposition is made to it which is threatened—I trust to be found in my place giving to it my hearty support.


Sir, the speech of the noble Lord shows that he is so indifferent to the religious convictions of those who are opposed to him that his indifference amounts to a "prejudice" and "intolerance." This measure is a direct renewal of that attack on the Christian character of the House which—treat it as contemptuously as you choose—is a deep and well-founded feeling, entertained by no mere ignorant class of the community, but by a large proportion of the sober, religious, peaceful people of this country, who have for years refused to assent to this measure, and have rejoiced to find themselves represented by the House of Lords, and protected by that noble assembly from those constant attacks. I shall not enter into any arguments against the proposition at the present moment; but I ask the House to consider whether it is proper that certain Members of the House should be allowed to treat the religious convictions of those, to whom they are opposed, with indifference and contempt. Notwithstanding the struggles of the Jews for the last ten years to obtain entrance into the House of Commons—notwithstanding their repeated exertions, their lavish expenditure of money, and their having had recourse to every means for pandering to the popular taste—they have never yet been able to excite any amount of feeling among the Christian people of this country in favour of their admission to Parliament. I trust that those who are in the House of Commons now, for the first time, will consider well before they give their votes in favour of a measure which is understood by a large—I believe by the largest, the most deservedly influential portion of the people of this country—to be a direct attack on that Christian character of the State, which affords the only security that the laws by which we are governed will be Christian in their spirit and in accordance with the dictates of religion. The best proof of the fallacy of the arguments in favour of the admission of the Jews to Parliament is to be found in the fact that, although the representatives of the people had been misled into sanctioning those arguments, the House of Lords had risen year by year in the public estimation by steadfastly refusing to entertain them, and boldly opposing any interference with the Christian character of the Legislature. I trust that Her Most Gracious Majesty may never be called upon by Parliament to sanction a measure which, in the opinion of the largest section of her subjects, was a direct attack on that religion of which She is the sworn defender. Let the House depend upon this—that, if by passing this measure a law should be enforced upon the people of this country which had not the sanction of religion—that if it were attempted to govern the nation by the rule of might, and not of right, those consequences which had followed such a course of policy in other countries may be expected in this.


I assure the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Stamford that I am no party to any understanding that all measures of Parliamentary reform shall be postponed until next Session, and I was very much surprized when I heard the noble Lord at the head of the Government state that such an understanding existed. The abolition of the property qualification of Members is intimately connected with this question of the oaths. The course now taken by the noble Viscount at the head of the Government, therefore, affords the best possible argument why I should persevere with my Bill respecting the property qualification of Members, and I hope that when I move the second reading of my Bill for that purpose, the noble Viscount will not oppose the motion.


As no division is to take place on the introduction of this Bill, I apprehend that there will be but little discussion on it at this stage. It cannot be denied that some parts of the present oaths were surplusage; but the noble Lord seems to think it advisable to bring in a measure, some parts of which are unobjectionable, in order that they might carry with them those portions to which objections are entertained. No doubt the simple question will be that of admitting the Jews. I have already recorded my vote on that proposition, and I shall continue to vote against the admission of Jews to a seat in the Legislature. I regret, however, that the noble Lord has not dealt with what he called "surplusage" in a separate Bill. Entertaining great and conscientious objections to the admission of the Jews, I shall state them when the Bill comes to be read a second time. I now rise to ask the noble Lord when he proposes to take the second reading?


The Bill cannot be brought in before Monday, and it will not be possible to fix an earlier period for the second reading than immediately after the Whitsuntide holidays.

Motion agreed to. Resolved, "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.

House resumed.

Resolution reported.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. FITZROY, Viscount PALMERSTON, and Sir GEORGE GREY.

Bill presented, and read 1°.