The Marquess of Westminster
rose to present to their Lordships a Petition, of which he had previously given notice, most numerously and respectably signed by the inhabitants of the city of London, for the extension of civil rights to the Jews. He was aware that strong prejudices existed against the admission of the Jews to the privileges for which they sought; but those were prejudices which he was sure would give way before the enlightened spirit of the age, and the wise and liberal 776 legislation which of late years had distinguished the British Parliament. The present petition was one of great importance; but as it might be expected that at no distant time a measure would come up to their Lordships from the other House, having for its object the accomplishing of that for which the petitioners prayed, he should for the present abstain from occupying much of their Lordships' time or attention. The petition which he then held in his hand was signed by no less than 1,500 persons, most of whom were of the highest respectability, though belonging to almost every profession and class of men in society—merchants, shopkeepers, lawyers, and clergymen. He conceived that this was a subject upon which the Legislature should immediately come to some final determination. It should either adopt the principle of admitting all classes of persons, whatever might be their religious opinions, to the free enjoyment of the benefits of the Constitution; or it should adopt the contrary principle, of excluding all classes of persons whatever, who were not members of the Established Church. He said, that one or other of these principles ought to be adopted. He was of opinion that all persons whatever ought to be admitted to a participation in civil rights, without regard to their religious opinions, be those what they might, with this single exception—that persons should not be admitted within the pale of the Constitution, whose admission would endanger the safety of the Constitution, or be likely to excite dissension and animosity among the people at large, or lead to the overthrow of the institutions of the State. He thought, since they had admitted Roman Catholics and Dissenters—but above all Socinians—to a participation in the Constitution, they ought to admit the Jews to all its privileges, especially when it was remembered that they had, at all times, conducted themselves with perfect loyalty towards the institutions of the country, and had rendered themselves uniformly remarkable for a peaceable and inoffensive demeanour. He wished also to call their Lordships' attention to the circumstance, that the Jews had been emancipated in Hanover, in Jamaica, in Canada, and in other British dependencies, without there ever having been the slightest reason to repent that such a concession had been made to them. The persecution which the Jews endured had 777 been long enough; it had lasted 1,800 years; and it was time that such a persecution should be brought to a conclusion. Several charges he knew had been made against the Jews, but he thought they had been ably refuted. He was unwilling to trespass on their Lordships' time, but, as the subject had been mentioned in another place, he would read to their Lordships some part of that refutation. The noble Marquess accordingly read a long extract from a letter addressed to I L. Goldsmid, the chairman of the association for obtaining for British Jews a participation in the civil rights and privileges of the British Constitution, by Hyman Hurwitz, professor of Hebrew in the University of London, stating that the whole of the arguments advanced by the adversaries of the Jews had been answered 1,700 years ago by Josephus, and were as erroneous now as they were then.
The Bishop of London
said, that the present was not the proper time for entering into a discussion of the general question to which the noble Marquess had called the attention of the House; but he trusted their Lordships would permit him to say thus much, that the argument founded upon the repeal of the Test and Corporation Act, and on the admission of the Roman Catholics to political power, was one which did not apply to the subject now before the House. True it was, that when the Test and Corporation Acts were repealed, they ceased to be exclusively a Church of England Legislature, and when the penal laws affecting Roman Catholics were repealed, they ceased to be an exclusively Protestant Legislature; but they had not yet, ostensibly at least, ceased to be a Christian Legislature.
§ Petition laid on the Table.
presented a similar Petition from the town of Manchester, which, his Lordship stated, was also very numerously and respectably signed. The petitioners considered, that all laws ought to be abolished which interfered with the right of every man to worship God according to the dictates of his own conscience; they stated also, that no ground existed for the continuance, as regarded the Jews, of these disabling laws, which were neither equitable nor founded in sound policy; and they appealed to their Lordships to look at what had been the conduct of the Jews resident in this kingdom, whether they had not been obedient to the laws of 778 the State, and promoted the welfare of the community at large; and, finally, they prayed that the laws which imposed civil disabilities upon the Jews might be repealed. He could bear testimony to the respectability and character of many of the persons whose signatures were attached to this petition, which was well deserving the serious attention and consideration of their Lordships. There was only one fact, in addition to those stated by the noble Marquess of which he wished to remind their Lordships. It was this: In consequence of an application which was made to the Emperor Napoleon, regarding the particular tenets held by the Jews, he ordered a Sanhedrim to assemble at Paris, with a view to declare, for his information, what were the principles of the religion of the Hebrews respecting their social and political relations. The Sanhedrim assembled in 1807, and it was composed of eighty of the most learned Jews of France and Italy. The result of their Report was, that the Jews felt themselves bound to obey the laws of the country in which they lived—that they had ever been loyal to the kings of those countries in which they had settled—and had given their support to the Governments which afforded them protection. Such having been the result of that memorable inquiry, he could not conceive that any good and substantial reason could be assigned for withholding from the Jews a free participation in those civil rights which were enjoyed by all other classes of his Majesty's subjects.
§ Petition laid on the Table.