HL Deb 23 June 1834 vol 24 cc720-31
The Marquess of Westminster

rose to move the second reading of the Bill for repeal- ing the Civil Disabilities of the Jews. He stated, that he should not have undertaken the task, had not the noble Lord (Lord Bexley) who so ably introduced and advocated this measure in the last Session of Parliament declined to bring it forward. Their Lordships were aware that the object of the Bill was to remove all those Civil Disabilities under which the Jews now laboured, with those exceptions only which were made in the Bill for the relief of the Catholics. It was said, that danger might arise from Jews being allowed to legislate for a country which was strictly and purely Christian; but to him that appeared the extreme of improbability. It was monstrously absurd, to suppose, that the Jews, who were comparatively such a very small portion of our population, could gain anything like an influence in the affairs of this country. The Jews were powerful at the latter end of the reigns of the Pagan, and at the commencement of those of the Christian Emperors; and if they could not retard the progress of Christianity when it was in its infancy, was it likely they could do so in its maturity? To believe this possible, their Lordships must have a very poor opinion of the present strength of Christianity. He was quite unable to understand what was meant by its being said, that Christianity was part and parcel of the law of the land; it was at best a very mysterious doctrine. But he considered this question as important in a constitutional point of view, and very important as a question of religious toleration. He had never quarrelled with any man for his religious opinions; he hoped he never should, and he had a right, therefore, to expect that no man would quarrel with him for his. He had always felt strongly, and expressed himself in the highest terms of the moral conduct of the Jews in this country. The noble Marquess read a letter from Chief Rabbi Hirschel, directed to Mr. Goldsmid, stating, that any attempt at making proselytes to their religion was quite contrary to the principles of the Jews. It had been said, that the Jews were not anxious for the repeal of the Civil Disabilities under which they laboured; but that he distinctly denied, on the evidence of a great number of petitions. By emancipating the Jews, there would be a fairer opportunity of making them Christians, than there was as long as they were insulted by exclusions It would at all events enable the contending parties to come amicably to a discussion of the important question, and he had no misgivings as to the result. Another objection which had been started was, that being in expectation of shortly returning to Palestine, they could not be expected to identify themselves with the interests of the nation. The sacred writers had taught them emphatically to seek the good of the city or nation among whom they dwelt; and it was very well known, that the Jews now contributed largely to several of our charities. In the countries in which the Jews had been put in possession of their just rights, they had never abused them. In France, in Holland, and in Jamaica, (a slave colony of England setting her a bright example), they had been admitted to public stations, and had conducted themselves well. As a proof that the general opinion of this country had greatly changed in their favour, he need only mention, that although last year a number of petitions had been presented against removing the Civil Disabilities of the Jews, there was not one petition of that nature on their Lordships' Table at the present moment. The noble Marquess concluded by submitting his Motion to the House.

The Earl of Malmesbury

was opposed to the measure, both from two scruples which he entertained respecting it, and from the inconveniences of a formidable nature which he was persuaded would result from its adoption. His scruples were of a religious kind. In the first place, he thought it would be a very extraordinary spectacle if the people of a Christian country like this were placed in a situation in which it would be very probable that they would have to look up to and receive the law from persons who considered their religion an imposture. England was a Christian country; it contained a variety of sects; but still they were all Christians; and it was quite impossible that they could entertain such feelings towards one another as they must all of them entertain towards Jews. His second scruple was, that Christianity was confirmed by the present condition of the Jewish people. By the hand of Providence they were deprived of a home, and were rendered strangers in the land. Wherever they had obtained any footing, the result had been disastrous. No man who had travelled through Poland, where the Jews were in possession of nearly all the land, but must acknowledge that he had never seen a more wretched country. The Jews never laboured. They had in them no principle of bodily industry. They were never seen wielding the flail, or mounting the ladder with the hod. At present, they were perfectly protected in this country. To that protection he was quite willing to allow they were entitled, but he would give them nothing more. He now came to the inconveniences which would result from admitting them to a full participation in the civil rights of the English people. Possessing those rights, it would not be improbable that men of talent among the Jews would be able to obtain seats, if not in that, at least in the other House of Parliament. Would there not be a manifest inconvenience in the Members of the Legislature having two Sabbaths? They had witnessed the introduction of several Bills for the better regulation of the Sabbath. He was not friendly to those measures. He thought it much better to leave the matter to the consciences of individuals. But he could not be insensible to the inconvenience of a Legislature, the Members of which would have two distinct Sabbaths. The result might be, that not any Sabbath would be observed. If Parliament acquiesced in this Bill, why not go further? If they admitted a Jew to a full participation of civil rights, why not admit a Mahometan, or a Chinese? Where were they to stop? Upon all these grounds he should move, as an Amendment to the original proposition, that the Bill be read a second time that day six months.

The Earl of Winchilsea

seconded the Amendment, and he did so the more readily because he was convinced that the Jews were indifferent to the redress which the Bill professed to hold out to them. He opposed it, too, because he was convinced, that the question had been originally agitated by a set of persons who considered the present condition of the Jews as a stumbling block to the infidel opponents of the Christian religion. If the Bill were adopted, what confidence could a Christian people have in the Legislature? Had an attempt been made to lay their heads together for the purpose of insulting their God, he did not think that a more effective method of attaining that end could have been devised. What! admit into a full participation of civil rights the individuals who scorned and despised that God on whom their Lordships daily called for protection and counsel! If the Jews suffered any disabilities affecting their property, no man would be more ready than he to afford them every protection on that point. But there was no law which affected their interests in that respect. They received protection in whatever course of life, agricultural, commercial, or manufacturing, they might think proper to engage. It was highly proper that they should do so. But it was a very different thing when their Lordships were called upon to open the doors of Parliament to the Jews; and he could not help suspecting that on this point a number of persons, for whom he entertained the greatest respect, had been made the instruments of a set of individuals whose ulterior views they were far from suspecting.

Lord Bexley

said, that his opinion of the expediency of granting the prayers of the Jews remained unaltered; but he was afraid that by the measure having been brought so soon again under the consideration of Parliament, it was not so likely to meet with success as if some time had been allowed to intervene. An apprehension of that kind made him decline the task of bringing it forward, but as it was before their Lordships, it should have his support.

The Archbishop of Canterbury

regretted, that the Bill had been brought forward at the present period, for he had hoped that the decisive opinion which the House had pronounced upon a similar measure in the last Session, would have set the question at rest for some years. His regret was not founded on the same grounds as that felt by his noble friend who had just spoken, for he did not believe that the proposition was one in which their Lordships would ever be disposed to acquiesce. His objections to it were very much the same as those which had been urged by the noble Earl who had moved the Amendment, and the noble Earl by whom that Amendment had been supported. He had the strongest religious scruples against the admission of Jews into Christian legislation. Both that and the other House of Parliament would be degraded in the eyes of the country, if there were among their Members persons who were avowedly not Christians. Persons who were not Christians (he did not say Jews alone) were surely unfit to be members of the Legislature called upon to enact laws for a country whose whole system was Christian. Every act of the Legislature of this country ought to be regulated by Christian principles. Whatever might be said in favour of the Jews in other respects, it was impossible that they could understand the Christian faith. He trusted, therefore, that their Lordships would see no reason to alter the decision to which they had come in the last Session. They had removed the restrictions on the Catholics, and therefore the Legislature was no longer a Protestant Legislature. But that was no reason why they should go further, and, by agreeing to the present Bill, render the Legislature no longer a Christian Legislature. In fact it would induce so essential an alteration in the character of the Constitution, that it would no longer be the Christian Legislature of a Christian country. When they considered that, by passing this Act, they might admit into the Legislature persons who not only conscientiously disbelieved the Christian religion, but whose belief implied a charge of imposture against the blessed Founder of that religion, he did not see how it was possible to prevent what they must consider as blasphemy, from being heard within the walls of the House. When they could not prevent the Roman Catholic from declaring in Parliament his belief of the superior purity of his religion, how could they prevent a Jew from speaking of Christianity according to his sentiments? In his opinion the character of the Legislature formed the character of the country, and how could they hope to preserve the Christian character of the country, if they admitted amongst its rulers an admixture of persons hostile to Christianity? He knew that such observations might be considered as the result of bigotry, and he might be deemed guilty of gross superstition in saying—but it was his conscientious belief—that the blessings of Divine Providence had been bestowed upon this country as a Christian country, and he should be apprehensive lest those blessings should be withdrawn when the country ceased to retain that character. He knew that he shared this sentiment with many excellent men, and it was his own conscientious belief. But even if that were not the case, he thought their Lordships ought not to venture upon so dangerous an experiment. What reasons had been given for it? The noble Lord who spoke last, had not added anything to the arguments which he advanced last year; nor had the noble Marquess, in introducing the Bill, answered any one of the objections that the noble Lord then encountered, and which were too much for him. On what ground, then, were their Lordships called on to pass this Bill? How could they justify such a measure? On the ground of justice—on the ground of right? If on either of these grounds, then, of course, there was an end of the question. But he should like to know where any such right was to be found? Where did it exist? In the law of the land? In Parliamentary usage, or in the law of reason? On what possible ground could any man, not being a Christian, claim a voice in a Christian assembly, making laws for the regulation of a national and Christian Church? He saw no justice in such a claim. But again, where was the advantage? When the repeal of the Test and Corporation Acts was urged upon them, the advantage which they proposed to themselves, was the restoration of harmony amongst the different denominations of Christians in this country, and for that and other reasons the House consented to that measure; but the principal reason which induced them to pass that Bill, as well as the Catholic Relief Bill, was to put an end to dissensions and complaints calculated to endanger the peace and harmony of the nation. Whether these measures had produced the effects anticipated he could not say; but such were the reasons assigned, and with a certain degree of probability. But in what way the Jews had shown any disposition to resist the continuance of this alleged grievance he knew not. They had not, that he was aware, evinced any disposition to disturb the peace of the country. There was no danger which their Lordships could avert by such concession, nor did he see anything that could be gained by it. The Jews were a useful class of citizens, usually occupying themselves in money-getting callings. He was far from availing himself of that circumstance as an objection, for as for their being a money-getting people, he believed they had that propensity in common with many Christians. The very circumstance of their prosperity, showed that no concession was required to increase it. What advantages could they gain from conces- sion which they did not already possess? But it was to the principle of the measure he objected. There was not likely to be any great danger of a large influx of Jews into the House, even if they passed the Bill. A Jew was not likely to stand in high favour with a Christian constituency, and it was almost a matter of doubt whether any Jew would gain admission to the House. With respect to the Jews themselves, therefore, the measure would be illusive. What good did the Jews expect to accomplish by this Bill? Did they labour under any oppression? Were they subject to any prohibitions? Were they compelled to direct their industry in any particular way? Were they confined to any particular quarter, forbidden to leave their houses after certain hours? Or subject to any other of the oppressions which were practised upon them in ancient times in this country, and still were in some parts of the Continent? No; they were as safe under the protection of an exclusively Christian Parliament, as they could possibly become if they had in it a few representatives of their own religion. He believed, notwithstanding what had been said, and the petitions presented, that the greater portion of the Jews were perfectly indifferent about the Bill. He knew that some of them were decidedly hostile to the measure, and sincerely deprecated it from conscientious reasons. Under all these circumstances then, and especially when the Jews were by no means unanimous amongst themselves, he thought their Lordships would do much better to leave them as they were—in the quiet pursuit of those occupations which they had chosen for themselves, under the protection of that Providence which was still extended over them, and under the protection of equal and impartial laws: allow them to take their own course, in silent expectation of the further development of the very peculiar destinies to which they looked forward with hope, and which must be regarded with the deepest interest by every considerate Christian. If their Lordships did not take this course, they would run the risk of being held to show a disregard for the religion they professed, and of offering an affront to its divine Founder; whereas, by rejecting this measure, they would, he believed, cause disappointment to but very few individuals, who were actuated merely by ambition—innocent perhaps, but which by many of their fellow religionists was regarded as inconsistent with the principles of their belief. The word emancipation was in this instance most improperly applied: it conveyed the idea of slavery; whereas the Jews had no greater disabilities to complain of, than the great body of the clergy of this country, who, by a particular Act of Parliament, were excluded from a seat in the other House of Legislature. It was unnecessary for him to say more than that he entirely concurred in the Amendment.

The Earl of Radnor

said, the right reverend Prelate had asked what good the Bill would do? He would tell him. The right reverend Prelate had plumed himself strongly upon the fact that the Jews were not numerous; that they had not—and could not assume a formidable attitude, and therefore the House would incur no danger from not acceding to their claims. If, therefore, they were a large body of men, very troublesome, very turbulent, very anxious to get these things, and were possessed of sufficient power to do a great deal of mischief, then, according to the right reverend Prelate, it would be wise in the House to take their claims into favourable consideration. But because they were, for the number, good subjects, quiet, and not constantly agitating and importuning the Legislature, the right reverend Prelate calls out cui bono—what good shall we get by giving them this? Was not this offering a premium upon disturbance and agitation? Was not this declaring that their Lordships were to be influenced only by fear? He would tell the House, he would tell the right reverend Prelate, what good they would do. They would do justice. The Jews were loyal, and admitted subjects of this realm—admitted to certain rights—having certain duties imposed upon them. He would, therefore, give them all the privileges possessed by other natural-born subjects of his Majesty; and this he would do, not for the sake of insulting the author of our religion (he trusted he was as little likely to be actuated by such a notion as the right reverend Prelate himself), but in compliance with the doctrine laid down by that author of Christianity, not to Christians merely but to all mankind. When the right reverend Prelate talked of insulting our religion by giving peculiar advantages, he must say, that he understood that religion in a very different sense. He had read the parable of the good Samaritan, and it had taught him far otherwise than to persecute a Jew. The Jews were never more hated or persecuted by Christians than the Samaritans were hated and persecuted by the Jews. Yet our Saviour praised the example, not of the Jew but of the Samaritan, and said unto his followers, "Go and do thou likewise." He would give full credit to the scruples of his noble friend, on the other side of the House, who spoke second in the debate; but, for his part, he could entertain no such scruples. It was said, that we were a Christian community, and, therefore, could not admit the Jews; but should we be less a Christian community if we did admit them? Would he be the less a Christian? Would any man, who understood what Christianity was, and whose faith was founded on his own reflection and judgment, be less a Christian because Jews were admitted into the community? Were the Babylonians less Pagans because Daniel and other Jews were high in office amongst them? Again, it was urged as an objection against admitting the Jews into Parliament, that they were a standing miracle. But would they be less a standing miracle by being so admitted? Did Providence want any assistance from Parliament in order to work out its great and mysterious designs with respect to that people? He was disposed to look on this as a religious question, if noble Lords would so have it, and he would vote for this Bill on that ground; and if it were the will of Providence that this people should remain for a time a standing miracle to the rest of mankind, they would not be the less so for any civil regulations which we might make with respect to them. But then he had urged the very popular objection, that Christianity was a part and parcel of the law of the land. He would admit, that there were many things relating to our religious worship and Christian observance which were embodied in Acts of Parliament; but it did not follow that all our legislative enactments were founded on Christianity. As well might we say, that our standard of currency, or the regulations respecting our army and navy, were founded on, or were a part of, Christianity, as to say, that an Act of this kind would be inconsistent with Christian principles. The argument reminded him of an anecdote during our dispute with our American colonies before the war. A Gentleman who had heard the complaints of the Americans of being taxed without representation often urged, said, that the complaints were utterly groundless, that the American Colonies were supposed to be part and parcel of the parish of Greenwich, in Kent; and, as to representation, they were fully represented by the knights of the shire of that county. In much the same sense we might say, that our laws were part and parcel of Christianity, or that Christianity was part and parcel of our laws. But it was said, that we should not admit the Jews to any eligibility to our Legislature, because they would then have a voice in matters relating to a religion in which they did not believe; but at present they had, in fact, a voice in matters relating to religion. Jews were allowed to serve in many parochial and other offices; they served as overseers, and by the decision of a noble and learned Lord opposite, Jews had been admitted to vote in the choice of a Vicar of the Protestant Church. Poland had been referred to, and it had been said, that Poland suffered greatly from Jews; in short, that it was completely Jew-ridden, they having mortgages of all the principal properties. But if it were meant to insinuate that we were Jew-ridden, would this Bill make us less so? Would it be the means of Jews getting more mortgages over the land? No doubt, many lands were mortgaged to Jews at this moment; but he did not see how this Bill would offend either mortgager or mortgagee. He would support the Bill, not either to disgrace or insult the Saviour, but in order practically to evince his obedience to the Divine command of "doing unto others as you would they should do unto you," and to show "charity to all mankind."

The Earl of Malmesbury

explained. He begged not to be understood as guilty of the presumption of wishing to struggle with the ways of Providence.

The Archbishop of Canterbury

wished to set himself right with the House. It was not because there was no danger merely that he opposed the Bill. He said, that if the concessions were founded in justice, then all opposition was at an end; and then, having disposed of the question of justice, he proceeded to combat that of expediency.

The Marquess of Westmeath,

in voting against this Bill, disclaimed anything like a desire to persecute the Jews. He hoped he had as much Christian charity as the noble Lord opposite, but he did not see that Christian charity towards the Jews called on them to unchristianize the Legislature.

The Marquess of Westminster

briefly replied:—Some of the inconveniences that had been alluded to had been experienced in Jamaica and Canada, where Jews were admitted to the highest offices.

The House divided on the original question: Contents (present 24; proxies 14) 38. Not-contents (present 80; proxies 50) 130—Majority 92.

Bill put off for six months.