§ Order of the Day for Second Reading read.
§ LORD LYNDHURST
My Lords, I am placed in a situation of some embarrassment in rising to move the second reading of this Bill. The question has been so frequently discussed, the facts and arguments connected with it are so well understood, that if I were to enter into the subject in any detail I fear I should be listened to with impatience by your Lordships. But upon the other hand, if I were to treat this subject merely in general terms, I should perhaps be charged with neglecting a duty which I had undertaken to perform. I will therefore endeavour, my Lords, as far as possible, to steer a middle course upon the present occasion, and, discarding everything which I think does not bear materially upon the subject, I will endeavour to bring before your Lordships those facts, those arguments, and those considerations which appear to me to be most essential to the right apprehension of this question. My Lords, I am relieved from one very considerable difficulty upon this occasion. No attempt has been made by this Bill to repeal the oath of supremacy—an attempt which was made upon a former occasion, and which proved fatal to the success of the Bill. I also feel myself relieved from another difficulty, and not an immaterial one. When two years ago I brought forward a Bill to repeal the oath of abjuration I was met by the observation that I was repealing also the oath relating to the succession to the Crown as settled by the Act of Settlement. Upon the present occasion I cannot be met with any objection of that kind, because there is a clause in the Bill by which every person is bound to maintain the succession to the Crown as established by the Act of Settlement. Now, my Lords what objection there can be to a Bill of this description it is difficult to understand. My noble Friend near me on the cross benches (Earl Stanhope) intends, I am told, to move the rejection of the Bill. I should hardly have expected—acquainted as I am with the writings of my noble Friend—that such a course would have been recommended by him. I have endeavoured to ascertain upon what ground he proposes to proceed, and I am told that the objection is on account of the words "upon the true faith of a Christian" being omitted from the Bill. That, I am told, is the ground 1773 upon which my noble Friend means to move the rejection of the Bill. Now, my Lords, it is singular that these words being no longer required for the purpose for which they were originally employed, it should be attempted to introduce them into this Bill for purposes which were never in the contemplation of any person when those words were originally inserted in the oath. Passing from that, let me ask my noble Friend what is the object at which he aims? The regular course would be to allow the Bill to be read a second time, and then to move in Committee the insertion of the words which he advocates. But my noble Friend has adopted a different course, and I beg your Lordships to consider what will be the consequences of that course, should he be successful in procuring the rejection of the Bill. If we reject the Bill the consequence will be that every one of your Lordships and every Member of the House of Commons will be obliged to continue to take that oath which we all consider to be one that ought not to be taken—to swear that no descendant of the person pretending to be the Prince of Wales has any right or title to the Crown of these realms, and we abjure all obedience and allegiance to them or any of them. That is an oath which we all feel to be altogether impertinent and idle; and allow me to say, if you compel persons to take an oath which is merely an act of folly, it becomes something more—an act of impiety. But that is the consequence should my noble Friend be successful. Another of my noble Friends (the Earl of Derby), one for whom I entertain the greatest possible respect, foreseeing this difficulty, has endeavoured to obviate it—and no Member of this House possesses more ingenuity or more resource in constitutional difficulties than my noble Friend: he told us the other night that, if this Bill be rejected, then he, on his side, would move the second reading of a Bill which is now upon your Lordships' table, the object of which is to strike out from the oath all that part relating to the Pretender, and to retain the words "on the true faith of a Christian." What would be the consequence if that Bill should pass this House? It would go down to the other House of Parliament, and how will that House deal with it? They will obviously strike out the words "upon the true faith of a Christian," and the Bill thus altered will come back to your Lordships, and of course will be lost. Then, how does my noble Friend 1774 evade the objection I have made? We shall be precisely in the same position as we are now. We shall be obliged to swear that no descendant of the Pretender has any right or title to the Crown of these realms—an absurdity to which I have already referred. Let it not be understood that in these preliminary observations I am endeavouring to anticipate and prevent any arguments that may be produced on the other side. Far otherwise— I am prepared to discuss and defend the principle of the Bill now as at any other time. But let me first just state briefly the history of this oath of abjuration. When William and Mary came to the Throne, in the first year of their reign no oath was required but the oaths of allegiance and supremacy. Two or three years afterwards an attempt was made in the House of Commons to pass an oath of abjuration, and a similar attempt was made in your Lordships' House. But the King, with that liberality which was the peculiarity of his character, declared he did not wish to impose any additional tests upon his people; and so the Bills were lost in each House. It was not passed until the last year of the reign of that Monarch. Then, as your Lordships are well aware, in consequence of the Pretender having assumed the title of King of England, and having been recognised as such by Louis XIV., this Bill of abjuration was introduced and became law. Now, my Lords, what was the origin of the form of the oath prescribed by that Statute? It had its origin long before the reign of William, and immediately after the discovery of the Popish plot. It is very well known that at that time there was discovered a writing which had passed through the hands of Garnet, a Jesuit, who was concerned in that plot, to the effect that the only mode of avoiding equivocation on the part of the Catholics was to frame an oath of a particular shape and form. That shape and form consisted of the words "on the true faith of a Christian." It was with that view and object, and that object alone, that these words were introduced. They were afterwards copied into the oath of abjuration with the same purpose; and everybody who is acquainted with the history of that period, or even looks at the oath itself or at the Act of Parliament by which it was imposed and introduced, must be of opinion that the sole object of Parliament in so framing this oath was to guard against the Roman Catholics. If any doubt should 1775 remain in the mind of any noble Lord let him read the various clauses of the Act of Parliament—nay, more, I exhort my noble Friend (the Earl of Derby) and your Lord ships to recur to the debates which tool place at the time of the introduction of this oath; and I say that the conclusion to which he and your Lordships must in evitably come, and from which I defy anybody whatever to recede, is this— that the oath was introduced in this form solely to meet the consciences of Roman Catholics. Neither in the original oath in the reign of James I., nor in the abjuration oath, as copied from that, had Parliament any idea of applying it to members of the Jewish persuasion—at the first period there were no persons of that faith in the empire; and there is nothing to show that they were at all intended to be affected at the time that the oath of abjuration was framed. Now, my Lords, I have shortly described the objects and the sole purpose to which this oath was directed. I have, within the last few days, had brought to my recollection what appears to me to be a most extraordinary argument—or rather, I should say, a mixture of statement of history and argument—upon this subject. A right rev., or most rev. Prelate in Ireland, Dr. Cullen, published, in the year 1841, a collection of briefs or bulls of the Popes, and among these documents are several relating to the Pretender—matters of history, obviously intended as matters of history. Other documents have been referred to by that rev. person, and he is supposed to have stated, or to have quoted—I am not sure which—a passage in which it is said that many Catholic princes on the Continent of Europe—fifty, I think, is the number stated—are nearer in blood to James II. and to the Pretender than Her Most Gracious Majesty Queen Victoria. The inference drawn from this statement is of the most extraordinary kind that can well be conceived—namely, that the Roman Catholics have still in view, still in prospect—distant, perhaps—that a Popish Sovereign may, at some future period, be placed upon the throne of these realms; and the argument therefore, is, that you ought not to touch this oath, you ought to be cautious not to render it less effective than it is at present; than the purposes for which it was originally intended. My Lords, I must say I am at a loss how to describe this argument. I read it with attention, and I believe the statement I have 1776 made is perfectly correct. But what is the argument? No Roman Catholic now is bound to take the oath of abjuration. That oath might be struck out of the Statute-book without affecting a single Roman Catholic, either at this moment or at any future period. Why? Because it was rescinded in the year 1829, when the Roman Catholic Relief Bill was passed, and another oath was substituted in lieu of it; so that the history which I have stated, and the documents—all proceeding from a source which I am told is very high authority—are so totally inapplicable that they may be considered as addressed to the winds, for they really have nothing to do with the present question. Now, my Lords, passing from that argument, I beg to remind you that by the Catholic Relief Bill these words "on the true faith of a Christian" were struck out of the oath which Roman Catholics are obliged to take, in order that they may sit in Parliament. You have, therefore, abolished these words in the oath to be taken by the persons to whom they were intended to apply; and you retain them—for what purpose? To apply them to a class of the Queen's subjects to which they were never intended to apply. Can anything be more inconsistent, more extraordinary than such a course of proceeding? Now, my Lords, I took the liberty on a former occasion to lay down a position to which I have never received an answer, and I now take leave to repeat it. I say that no British-born subject ought to be disfranchised, unless by some legislative provision intended to be directed against him, and not by one directed against the body or class of which he is a member. That is the very basis and principle of our constitution. I am glad to support this by the opinion of one of the learned Judges before whom this case came on a former occasion, which I shall take the liberty of reading; it is in these terms:—A construction the other way, excluding Jews from sitting and voting in Parliament, not by a direct and intentional legislative act, but by an unforeseen and unintended application of a few words inserted in an oath with an entirely different object, is not in accordance with what I consider to be the principles and practice of the law of England.I am emboldened, therefore, to insist upon the position which I have stated, because, in addition to its own real strength, it has received the confirmation of a person of so much learning as the individual to whom I have referred. But upon the former oc- 1777 casino an attempt was made to answer this position; and what was that answer? It was attempted by a noble Friend of mine who sits on the opposite benches, who said that if the Jews had not been supposed to be excluded, Parliament would have excluded them; and, therefore, the inference was, that we were to consider it to be precisely the same as if they had actually been excluded. Such was the argument to which I refer. So that if, owing to any mistake, Parliament omits to legislate, we are to consider that they have actually legislated, for the purpose of imposing a penalty—for the purpose of raising disabilities; for that is the substance of the argument of my noble Friend. But even the substratum is wanting, "had they not been supposed to be excluded." I deny that any sensible man, during the reign of William III., did suppose that they were excluded. No lawyer could by possibility suppose it. The Government of that day had the advantage of a lawyer of rare eminence—one who has never been exceeded in his knowledge of laws of this nature—I mean the great Lord Somers; and, therefore, that the Government of that day could have supposed that Jews were excluded from Parliament—the oath of allegiance having been repealed in the first year of that reign—is something so extravagant that I certainly am not disposed to accede to the proposition. Nay, more, a few years afterwards, in consequence of some vulgar notion which was abroad with respect to the position of Jews, the opinions of some of the first lawyers of the country were taken upon the subject. Among others, Lord Chancellor Talbot, then Solicitor General, and Mr. Raymond, afterwards Lord Chief Justice Raymond, were consulted; they stated that as regarded disabilities, Jews were in all respects precisely in the same situation as any other natural-born subjects of this empire. So much, then, for the supposition. Even if the inference were correct, it wants foundation, because there is no ground for the supposition that they were contemplated by the oath. My Lords, I am unwilling to occupy your time with unnecessary quotations, and I will not read the passage to which I am about to refer—the opinion of one of the learned Judges who decided the case in the Exchequer. The substance of that opinion, given by one of the most intelligent men, and one of the most learned persons that ever I had the good fortune to meet, is:—If it 1778 be right to exclude members of the Jewish persuasion from Parliament—with respect to which I offer no opinion; it is not my province—it would be much more consistent with the character of this country and with the character of Parliament, to exclude them by direct legislation, rather than to refer to a casual expression in an Act of Parliament, which was never intended to apply to them, but was intended for another and a different object, another and a different class of persons. Now, my Lords, the first thing is to consider what was the intention of the Legislature on this subject—because you must make words bend in order to carry that intention into effect. What did Lord Coke say in his quaint Latin? Qui hœret in literâ hœret in cortice. You must discover what the intention of the Legislature was, and, having discovered it, you must carry it into effect. If that principle should be carried out in courts of justice, how much more does it deserve to be acted on when we consider a question legislatively? You are bound to examine every source from which the intention of Parliament can be gathered, and, having ascertained it, as I said, you are bound to carry it into execution. You are not to carry out an Act of Parliament contrary to what was the intention of the Legislature; you are not to construe an Act of Parliament, so as to derive from it some object which is not consonant with its plain intention; above all, you are not to construe it contrary to its plain tenour for the purpose of imposing civil disabilities in violation of the main principles of the British constitution. And now let us turn to the words "on the true faith of a Christian." "If," it is said, "you strike out these words from the oath of abjuration, what will be the effect? You will unchris-tianise the Parliament." I have beard that argument insisted on with great pertinacity and urged in a great variety of forms and shapes. It is one of the main arguments by which we are opposed. But is it meant to be said, that during the reign of William III. Parliament was less Christian than the Parliaments of the present day, there being no such words in the oath at that time taken by a Member of Parliament, either in this House or the other? Let us look back further; let us look to the reign of Edward VI.—a reign remarkable for its religious character and piety. No such words as these formed part of any oath, required to be taken at that time; and, because those words were 1779 not required then, are we to say that the Parliaments of the reign of Edward VI. were less pious, less Christian, than the Parliaments of the present day? That argument may be repeated as applicable to the long reign of Elizabeth, and to all the antecedent reigns, for no such words were ever introduced into the oath taken by Members of Parliament until the reign of James I., for the reason I have stated. Now, my Lords, there is another argument I have often heard used. It is declared to be inconsistent that a person of the Jewish faith should be a Member of the Christian Legislature of a Christian country. That argument I have heard repeated over and over again. I believe it originated with a right rev. Prelate for whom I entertain a profound respect—I am sorry that he is not here, and still more sorry for the cause of his absence—I mean the distinguished Metropolitan. Now, my Lords, early in life I received a lesson from one of my instructors, to be cautious of an argument embodied in a phrase, for it generally covers some fallacy. Examine the phrase—"A Christian Legislature of a Christian country." No doubt this is a Christian country. But what is the meaning of a Christian country? Why, it means a country in which the great majority of the inhabitants are Christian, in which the Government is Christian, of which the established religion is Christian. But is it to follow from this that natural-born subjects of another faith ought not to have the same rights as Christian subjects? No such principle is laid down in our common law or constitution. It cannot be said that there are none others than Christians here; nor can it be said that those who are not Christians are to be entirely put out of consideration. Upon members of the Jewish faith, natural-born subjects professing that faith, devolve all the duties and obligations of other subjects of the State; they bear its burdens and perform its duties equally with others. Ought not Parliament to reflect that principle in its Legislature?—why should they not be represented in a Christian Legislature in a proportion similar to the numbers in a Christian country? See how fully we have acted up to that principle in every other instance. Members of the Jewish faith are required to discharge onerous offices. They are required to fill the office of sheriff. If a Jew is elected to serve as sheriff of the city of London and the county of Middlesex, he is mulcted 1780 in a heavy fine if he declines the office. Members of the Jewish faith are bound to attend upon juries precisely as other subjects of the country. Nay, more, my Lords, we have, in recent and more enlightened times, placed them in the magistracy, where they perform important duties in the administration of the law; we have placed them in the municipal councils of the country; and I challenge any person to say whether they have not performed the duties incidental to those offices as well as other British subjects. At this moment there is a gentleman of the Jewish faith at the head of the magistracy of the city of London, and I challenge any person to contradict me when I say that in activity, assiduity, intelligence, impartiality, benevolence, and splendid liberality, he has never been surpassed by any previous chief magistrate. My Lords, I have heard it remarked—I confess with surprise—that it was a strange spectacle that a Jewish chief magistrate should attend at St. Paul's when a solemn thanksgiving was offered to Almighty God for the blessings of the restoration of peace. I, my Lords, have been present at the performance of Divine worship in cathedrals where the form of worship and the doctrines taught differed widely from the religion which I hold to be true; but, notwithstanding, when I have seen myself surrounded by numbers who gave praise to God according to the manner which they in their consciences devoutly believed to be the true one, I confess that I felt myself stirred with feelings of religious emotion, which I should seek in vain to describe to your Lordships. Again, the phrase to which I have referred, that it is inconsistent with right that a gentleman of the Jewish faith should be a member of the Christian Legislature, enunciates a principle. If it is a principle it ought to be acted upon with uniformity. Let us see how it is acted on. I remember some years ago the union of the two provinces of Upper and Lower Canada. The constitution given to the United Provinces was much considered and discussed here, and many right rev. Prelates were present, because questions arose in which the Church had a deep interest. Is Canada less a Christian country than England? Is its legislature less a Christian legislature? Did any person in this House at that time ever suggest the propriety of passing a clause to exclude members of the Jewish religion from the House of 1781 Assembly in Canada? No, there was never a whisper of the kind. What is more remarkable is, that the attention of Parliament must have been called to the subject, because to my own knowledge a gentleman of the Jewish faith sat in the House of Representatives for several years, and was one of the most distinguished members of that House. I repeat, then, that a principle, if acted upon, ought to be acted upon everywhere, and consistently. The case, however, to which I refer took place some time back; many of your Lordships may not have observed, or may have forgotten it. Well, we have within the last few years passed a constitution for Australia, for New Zealand, for the Cape of Good Hope—all Christian countries, all Christian legislatures—but not one single attempt was made to impose upon those legislatures the exclusion of Jews from among their representatives. It may be said that the English Legislature would not have adopted such a clause, that it would have been at variance with the feelings of the Legislature to attempt it. Yet what are you doing now? Why, you are taking hold of a fragment of an Act of Parliament for the purpose of doing that which the united Legislature would refuse to do. But then, again, it is said, "If a Jew is admitted into Parliament, how can he perform his duties in a Christian Legislature?" That argument was urged with great weight and effect during the debates upon the Catholic claims; but in their case it was found to be unavailing, even although the Roman Catholics acknowledge the principle of proselytism, they are opposed to the Protestant faith, and they look upon our Establishment as founded on property to which they are entitled. But that is not the case with regard to the Jews. They have no desire for proselytism—quite the contrary; they have no claim whatever on the property of your Establishment; they are quiet, inoffensive people, without any wish to interfere with other religious, anxious only to be allowed to worship God according to the rules of the Mosaic law. It cannot be said that if we do not pass this Bill a violent agitation will fellow. On the contrary, all that is relied on is the calm voice of reason, and your Lordships in refusing this relief will be reversing the old maxim of the Roman empire—Parcere subjectis, et debellare superbos.There is a very wholesome and convenient maxim in the law—de minimis non curat 1782 lex; and I should like to apply it to some of the arguments of those who oppose this measure. As I cannot do so I must answer an objection that has been made, which, however, is so trivial as an argument, that I only notice it because it is founded on a misapprehension of fact. I have heard this observation made:—"How can a man of the Jewish faith perform his duty properly as a Member of the House of Commons; it is sometimes necessary that an election Committee, as it sits de die in diem, should meet on a Saturday, and how can a Jew sit in justice on a Saturday?" I should not have noticed this argument, but that it comes from an hon. Friend of mine, a great authority, and for whom I have the highest possible respect. My Lords, I have been in communication with the highest authority on this subject, and I find that such a statement has no foundation in fact—it is utterly contrary to fact to say that there is anything in the Jewish religion to prevent a man performing a duty of this kind on the Sabbath, and two passages in the Talmud have been pointed out to me, which appear to me sufficiently to authorise this statement. Much has been said of the respect which we owe to the principles of Christianity, but I assert boldly that the course which the opponents of this Bill call upon your Lordships to pursue is directly at variance with the principles of Christianity. We are told "to do as we would be done by," and not to force others to do that which we would not wish to do ourselves. Noble Lords who oppose this Bill must be greatly inclined to reprobate the share which my noble Friend opposite (the Earl of Clarendon) had in obtaining the measures of relief which have lately been afforded by the Sultan to his Christian subjects. The argument used there was, that the question had nothing to do with religion, that it was a mere question of civil rights; and this argument, joined to other collateral circumstances to which it is not now necessary to allude, was successful. The hatti-sheriff lately promulgated proclaims that Christians shall be admitted, without distinction, to all civil rights, in the same manner as the Mussulman subjects of the Porte, and at this moment there are two persons of the Christian religion in the Council, and one, as I am informed, of the Jewish faith. I counsel your Lordships to take example by this, and not to force precepts upon others which you fail in practising yourselves. 1783 My Lords, I have better hopes of this year from something which took place last Session, and which has been renewed this Session. I took up a Bill which lay for several weeks on the table, in the preamble of which I find it stated that nothing can be more unwise or more contrary to all the principles of true religion than that persons should be subject to disabilities on account of their religious opinions or form of worship. That was a Bill brought in by a noble and learned Friend of mine whose absence I regret, because I should have relied on him to support me to-night. That Bill, instead of being sent to a Select Committee, was sent to the Statute Law Commission, on which are some of the first jurists, and some of the most eminent lawyers of every class in the land. They have examined the Bill, and they have returned it to this House without any alteration whatever in the preamble. To this preamble, therefore, and to the principle which it enunciates, and upon which I pray you now to act, they have given their deliberate sanction. There are persons, I believe, who look with something like scorn and contempt upon members of the Jewish religion. This feeling is the last remnant of the worn-out prejudices of former times. For my own part I cannot but view them as a most remarkable people, calling forth widely different feelings. My Lords, when the Jews were led captive by the princes of Babylon, we find that some of their number were selected, on account of their integrity and their talents, to hold high office under their captors. When I come back to more modern times, and turn to Spain, I find that in the early history of that country, in the time of the Gothic Christians, the Jews were held in a state of oppression and tyranny; but the moment that oppression ceased, when the Moors had driven out the Goths, and a liberal system was established, the Jews emerged from their obscurity, and for three centuries and a half they were distinguished by eminence in literature, science, and art. Precisely was the same in Germany. When the chains under which the Jews were held in that country were broken, precisely the same result followed. They advanced in literature, science, and art; they distinguished themselves in classical literature, in biblical and ancient learning, and they stand upon a par with the most learned men in Germany—that most learned portion of Europe. What ground is 1784 there, then, for daring to point the finger of scorn at these, our fellow-subjects? Not very long ago a right rev. Prelate, in answer to a deputation which waited on him on this subject, stated that his opinion of the Jews was, that they were the most loyal, benevolent, and orderly people to be found anywhere. Such, my Lords, are the British subjects—and let me entreat your Lordships never to forget that these are British subjects—whose cause I am now pleading—for whom I am not asking a favour, but demanding that which is their right. I have always held that one of the great uses of your Lordships' House was to act as a check against rash, hasty, and inconsiderate legislation; but to act as a permanent barrier against a measure which has come up repeatedly from the other House of Parliament—a measure which relates to the composition of the other House itself, and only calling for legislation through the perversion of a passage in an Act of Parliament and a misapplication of its meaning, would, in my opinion, be inconsistent with sound policy, and contrary to the fundamental principles of the constitution. Upon three different occasions this Bill has come up to your Lordships, affirmed by a great majority of the other House of Parliament, after debates in which the highest ornaments of that House have taken a conspicuous part. From the time when this subject was first urged upon your attention hundreds of thousands of petitioners have addressed your Lordships in favour of this measure. Upon seven or eight different occasions Bills of this description have been supported by eminent men in the other House; and I therefore think your Lordships are bound now to deal with this question only after the most careful consideration. This measure has been, supported in this House by distinguished statesmen—by right rev. and most rev. Prelates of great learning and undoubted piety. I myself had the good fortune to be present in the other House of Parliament when this subject was first brought forward by an ancient Friend of mine now no more—a man of great learning, of extraordinary religious feeling, and of distinguished eloquence— the brother of a very distinguished Member of your Lordships' House. From that time to this measures like the present have been supported in the other House by all that was dignified and eminent in its composition, and upon one occasion by a noble and 1785 eloquent Friend of mine, whoso magic wand can "call spirits from the vasty deep," and at whose bidding, more fortunate than mine, "they come" when called. Under such high sanction I can with confidence call upon your Lordships for your support to this measure. Upon a former occasion a right rev. Prelate called your Lordships' attention to certain sermons of Archbishop Tillotson relating to the destruction of the Temple and the dispersion of the Jews; and the inference which he drew was, that if you passed a Bill of this description it would be a counteracting of the designs of Providence. No doubt, my Lords, if a man looks to a prophecy, and deliberately takes means which, according to his judgment, would tend to its falsification, nothing could justify him in such an act. But, my Lords, we know so little of the mysterious ways of Providence and the means by which Providence works out His plans, that we should be guilty of a great error, probably, if we formed our idea of those means from the experience of our own limited judgment. Our rule for the guidance of our conduct throughout life ought to be governed by our sense of justice, of charity, and of those claims which our conscience satisfies us are founded in truth and right. My Lords, we have succeeded in establishing in Britain an hereditary monarchy, and a landed aristocracy connected with elected representation and free institutions; we have advanced, though by slow and cautious steps, to our present system of civil and religious liberty; but there is one exception to that system of freedom which otherwise generally prevails—one blot, as I consider it, which we ought to eradicate; and that is, in relation to the subject which is now before us. Let us, my Lords, I entreat you, banish that one objectionable measure to the region of old and obsolete laws; or, rather let us teat it from the Statute-book, and thus make perfect that system which is founded or the eternal principle of reason and justice—the independence of civil rights of religious opinions—'Tis the last keystoneThat makes the arch. The rest that there an putAre nothing, till that comes to hind and shut.Then stands it a triumphal mark.
§ Moved—That the Bill be now read 2a.
§ EARL STANHOPE
said, that when he gave notice of his intention to move the rejection of this Bill upon its second reading, 1786 he did not know that the second reading was to have been moved by his noble and learned Friend; if he had known it, he certainly might have been justified in shrinking from any encounter with so high an authority and so consummate a master of debate. His noble and learned Friend had been pleased to say that, being acquainted with his (Earl Stanhope's) published writings, he was surprised at the course which he had now declared his intention of adopting. He (Earl Stanhope) did not recollect any of his published writings referring to this question; but he was sure that the course which he was now taking was in entire conformity with that which he had uniformly taken in the House of Commons, where he had voted against the Jewish claims from first to last. His noble and learned Friend, after raising that objection to the person who was about to bring the Amendment forward, took some objection also to the form of the Amendment itself, and urged that the insertion or otherwise of the words, "on the true faith of a Christian," had better be reserved for the Committee. He (Earl Stanhope) thought, however, with all deference, that if he had allowed the second reading to take place without opposition he should have been open to the charge of having relinquished the principle for which be contended; of which charge no one would have availed himself with greater earnestness and force than his noble and learned Friend himself. His noble and learned Friend had dwelt at considerable length upon what were the intentions of those who originally framed the oath of abjuration; but he (Earl Stanhope) submitted that that was only a collateral question; because their Lordships entered that House not as antiquaries, but as legislators. The question was not with what motives or intentions the Jews were first excluded, whether in express terms or by implication, from the walls of Parliament. The true question— the question which he ventured to put to the House was, whether in justice or policy they were bound or not bound to continue that exclusion. His noble and learned Friend had twice imputed the feelings of "scorn and contempt" as against the Jews to many who opposed this Bill. He (Earl Stanhope) most respectfully said that he did not clearly see with what right his noble and learned Friend ascribed those feelings to him. He entertained no such feelings towards his Jewish fellow-countrymen. He knew many excellent 1787 members of that persuasion, and he readily admitted the propriety with which they discharged the duties of their several stations; he knew, also, the charity and benevolence which many of them exercised, and he knew that their benevolence was by no means limited to the members of their own body. Entertaining these feelings, he had concurred in the measure which had been introduced by his noble and learned Friend some years since for extending the civil privileges of the Jews, permitting them to become magistrates in country districts, and aldermen in towns. That measure passed with very general concurrence—not more than thirty or forty Members being found to vote against it; but when he was now further called upon to extend to the Jews the power of sitting in Parliament, he was bound to ask himself whether there was not a most material difference between the duties of those who administered and those who framed the laws. Those who administered the laws were bound to execute them without any reference to their own opinions—they were bound by every obligation to execute the law as they found it, and their individual religious or political opinions ought to be of very little moment; but when you placed them in the position of legislators, and entrusted to them the function of framing laws, they were called to higher and more responsible duties; duties which involved their own individual opinions, and which bound them to give effect to their convictions. Upon that principle he could not conceal from himself that, to admit the Jews to the right of sitting in Parliament would tend to divest the Legislature of that Christian character which it had hitherto maintained. Their Lordships knew that it was a legal axiom that Christianity was part and parcel of the law of the land. If this were so, he asked whether it was fit that very lax Christians should be admitted to frame the laws of which it was admitted that Christianity formed one part? And on that ground he would appeal to the House to remember the great responsibility which would lie upon them if they lightly and without sufficient cause rendered of no effect that which had hitherto been adopted without question as a maxim of the constitution. The omission of these words would operate as an ill example to millions who looked up to them for guidance, and who would receive the adoption of the Bill before them as declaring in effect that no religious sanction was requisite in legislative proceedings. The noble and learned 1788 Lord had referred to America; but there was one fact in the history of the United States which did not tell in his favour. In the Convention which met immediately after the first peace with England, there was an absence of all religious tests, and the consequence was found to be a corresponding decline in other religious obligations. No less distinguished a man than Dr. Franklin, in a speech still preserved, brought forward a Motion for the use of daily prayer. His words were striking and forcible:—I have lived," he said, "a long while, and the longer I have lived the more persuaded I have become that God governs the affairs of men; and if a sparrow cannot fall to the ground without His notice, do you think it likely that an empire can rise without his aid?But his Motion was rejected by a large majority, for, as he himself stated in a note to his speech, all the members of the Convention, except two or three, were of opinion that prayers were unnecessary. That was a striking instance how soon, when there was no religious sanction to the meeting of any legislative assembly, other religions obligations might cease to have value in the eyes of the members of that assembly. When it was urged that the principle of the Christian character of the Legislature would he infringed by the removal of the words "upon the true faith of a Christian," the objection was frequently attempted to be answered by reference to the cases of those who, although not really Christians, had nevertheless sat within the walls of Parliament. The two cases most commonly referred to were those of Boling-broke and Gibbon. It was well known to their Lordships how, sitting in that House, and occupying a very prominent position in the State, Bolingbroke had nevertheless prepared and left for publication works denouncing the Christian religion as unfounded; and how, sitting in the other House, Gibbon had in his historical works aimed numerous blows at the truths of Christianity. He (Earl Stanhope) met that argument by pointing to the precisely similar case of the oath of allegiance. If the oath of abjuration did not keep out some who were not Christians, so the oath of allegiance to the reigning Sovereign failed to keep out some persons engaged in traitorous designs. Of course he was not now speaking of the present time, when it was our felicity to live in a period when there was no dispute at all with regard to 1789 the succession; but the case was very different 100 or 150 years ago, when there was an exiled family living first at St. Germains and afterwards at Rome, and claiming the attachment of a portion of the people of England. At that time some eminent statesmen used to swear true allegiance to William or George, being all the while engaged in traitorous correspondence with James, and included in the number were some men, who for their public conduct were held in high reverence—such a warrior as Marlborough, and such a statesman as Godolphin. Nay, the argument applied to the right rev. Bench itself, for in the "Stuart Papers," which he had an opportunity of examining, by favour of his late Majesty, he found numerous letters from no less eminent a man than Dr. Atterbury, then the Bishop of Rochester, who, while sitting in that House and taking an active part in its debates, having taken an oath of allegiance to King George, was all the while in correspondence with King James, as he termed him, promoting all the plans for the restoration of the exiled family. He did not suppose that these men intended to swear a false oath—there was evidently some kind of mental reservation. Their Lordships would recollect a precisely similar case of recent date in a neighbouring country. In France, during the reign of Louis Philippe, some of the most upright and honourable men in private life found the means of reconciling to themselves the course which they adopted of taking an oath of allegiance to the reigning Sovereign, all the while being in secret correspondence with the exiled family. He admitted, then, that our oath of allegiance had failed to keep out some who were not true subjects; but, for all that, there was not a single person in that or in the other House of Parliament, who proposed to dispense with that oath; and, by a parity of reasoning, it was impossible to see why we should get rid of the oath of abjuration, on the plea that it let in some who were not Christians. Thus far the argument was merely ad hominem; but it went much further, and it would be found that, even with these restrictions and exceptions, there were great advantages attending both the oath of allegiance and the oath of abjuration. Although the oath of allegiance failed to keep out some who were not true subjects, yet it effectually restrained their tone and language after they came in, preventing them from making indecorous attacks on the person 1790 of the reigning Sovereign, or on the title by which he occupied the throne. He regarded that as no inconsiderable benefit in itself, for he did not think there was any succession so rightful or any Sovereign so faultless as safely to stand the wear and tear of daily Parliamentary discussion, of being constantly called in question, held up to contempt, and exposed to invective of all kinds. The same argument was applicable to the oath of abjuration. Although persons under that oath had come into that and the other House of Parliament without being really Christian, yet with the oath before them, and liable to be called to order at any moment, they had felt themselves constrained to use a decorous and reverent tone towards the Christian faith. The oath had prevented those unseemly discussions and irreverent allusions which no other barrier could have checked. To illustrate this point, he asked their Lordships to consider what would have been the result, if such a man as Tom Paine had become a Member of the Legislature without taking the oath of abjuration, concluding with the words, "upon the true faith of a Christian." It was no extravagant supposition that Tom Paine might have become a Member of the English Parliament, since, being an Englishman, he did become a Member of the Legislature of France. Supposing him to have sat in the other House of Parliament, how, without the oath of abjuration could he have been restrained from constant invectives against the doctrines of Christianity and even the character of Christ? With the oath his tongue could have been held in check, for it might have been triumphantly referred to in reply, or in interruption of any such attack; but, without the oath, there was nothing to have prevented him from saying, "I know not why you call me to order; I have never professed to hold the Christian faith; I conceive it to be founded in error; and, believing that, I will take every opportunity to expose it." Was not that a course of proceeding which might be expected, if Parliament relinquished this safeguard. He did not mean to imply that the Jewish gentlemen now in question would take that course; but he saw no security, that all those who might by any chance enter Parliament—not Jews merely, but any others—if this oath were removed, when the safeguard of the oath of abjuration was removed, would be discreet and decorous in their language, and refrain 1791 from denouncing in the most unmeasured terms all the doctrines of Christianity. He thought his noble find learned Friend was scarcely warranted in assuming that all those who opposed the Jewish claims were enemies to the extension of civil and religious liberty. He know that many of their Lordships who thought it their duty to resist the admission of the Jews to Parliament also thought it their duty to support by every means in their power the cause of civil and religious liberty. For himself he had been from his earliest years a friend to the extension of equal privileges to all classes of his Christian fellow-subjects. He had uniformly supported the claims of the Roman Catholics, and had consented, rather than compromise his opinions on that subject, to remain for some years out of the House of Commons. He felt, therefore, that he at least was not open to that imputation. He maintained that not merely did the arguments by which the Roman Catholic claims were maintained not apply to the admission of the Jews, but that, on the contrary, some of the arguments which most powerfully vindicated those claims went against, and not in favour of, the Jews. In this view of the case he knew that many eminent members of the Church concurred with him, and it was a view that he now asked permission more fully to develop and explain. Here, then, was his argument. It was to be regretted that on many occasions too much was made of the points on which various religious denominations differed, and too little of those on which they agreed. He thought it important that there should be among the friends of our common Christianity a bond of union that would tend to unite the various denominations of Christians, and which would thereby of necessity exclude those who did not profess the Christian faith. In saying this he hoped it would not be supposed that he thought they ought either to compromise or gloss over the various points on which we as Christians, disagreed; but still he would say that momentous as were those points on which they differed, still more momentous were the points on which they held a common faith, and might with advantage cultivate a common fellow-feeling. This was an object of no slight importance, and one which ought not to be disregarded by their Lordships in the consideration of a subject like the present. He was happy to be able to quote on this part of the 1792 case a very high authority—Dr. Arnold—a man zealous for the advancement of civil and religious liberty, but who attached the greatest importance to the existence of a common bond of union between the different denominations of Christians. In another place a passage had been quoted from a letter addressed by Dr. Arnold to the Archbishop of Dublin. But this was only an extract from a private and familiar communication adverting to this one branch of the subject. Perhaps their Lordships would now permit him to quote another passage from a more elaborate performance, having reference not to the case of the Jews alone, but to the general principle which their admission would involve; premising that this passage appeared to him to meet an argument which had been spoken of by his noble and learned Friend as unanswerable, and as never having been assailed. Dr. Arnold said—It seems to be assumed in modern times that the being born of free parents within the territory of any particular State, and the paying towards the support of its Government, conveys a natural claim to the rights of citizenship. Now, to those who think that political society was ordained for higher purposes than those of mere police or of traffic the principle of the ancient commonwealths, in making agreement in religion and politics the test of citizenship, cannot but appear wise and good. Christianity has answered those questions most satisfactorily by making religious and moral agreement independent of race or national customs, by furnishing us with a sure criterion to distinguish between what is essential and eternal and what is indifferent and temporary, or local; allowing, nay commanding, us to be with regard to everything of this latter kind in the highest degree tolerant, liberal, and comprehensive, while it gives to the former that only sanction to which implicit reverence may safely and usefully be paid—the sanction of the truth of God.According to the views which he (Earl Stanhope) took of this subject, he would say that the exclusion of the Roman Catholics from the Legislature was religious intolerance, but that the admission of the Jews, as now proposed, would be not religious toleration but religious indifference; and he felt an humble hope that in the support he had given to the Roman Catholic claims, and in the vote he would give on the present question, he steered clear of intolerance on the one hand and of indifference on the other. There was another argument, to which he knew several of their Lordships attached considerable importance, to which he would shortly advert. It had been urged by a respected Member of 1793 their Lordships House, not now present—the Archbishop of Dublin—that this was a matter in reality touching the constituent body—that it was for them to exercise their right, and that having done so, Parliament, however it might regret their choice, had nothing to do but to ratify it. Now, he could not help thinking that the maxim here stated was repugnant to a leading principle of the British constitution. They imposed disqualifications on various grounds on various classes of persons. Aliens, for example, and also minors, were excluded, and it was provided that no Member could sit in the other House for an English constituency who had not £300 a year in land. He did not say whether that was a wise regulation or not, but that was the law as it stood at present, and it amounted to disqualification of a very large class. Why should it be said that on religious questions only the electors were to have entire freedom of choice? Were they to have qualifications connected with landed property, and age, and such comparatively unimportant points, and yet impose no qualification in connection with religion? To take that course would be in effect proclaiming to the world as our judgment and rule that secular considerations were of far more value than religious ones. He would now briefly refer to what his noble and learned Friend had said as to the motives of those by whom the oath of abjuration was framed. There was not, in his opinion, much advantage in discussing the motives of the framers of former legislative acts;—the only admissible arguments were arguments derived from justice and expediency. Just let their Lordships consider the extraordinary confusion to which the views of his noble and learned Friend on this point would lead them. Take, for example, the case of the Habeas Corpus Act. If there was any one statute to which all parties paid special deference it was, he believed, the Habeas Corpus Act. Why, on the principle laid down by his noble and learned Friend, that Act could not be defended in our day. If the story told by Bishop Burnet was to be believed, that Act passed through Parliament by a mere accident. The Bishop said that there being a Peer present of very unwieldy size, one of the Tellers—not so acute and sharp-witted as the Tellers they had in the present day—by way of jest counted him as "ten;" and the jest passing unobserved, that addition gave the majority, and the Habeas Corpus 1794 Act passed. He doubted whether that story of Bishop Burnet could be supported by reference to the records of the House; but, if it could, would any one propose to repeal the Habeas Corpus Act on that ground? The answer would be that the law was an excellent law: that, no matter by what means it came upon the Statute-book, since it was there they were determined to keep it. But although he did not think the argument based upon the motives and intentions of the framers of the abjuration oath was of any great importance, or that the argument which he supported was weakened by it; on the other hand, if the case were otherwise, and if the decision this night were to turn on the motives and intentions of the framers of the oath, he did not think that as far as the force of facts was concerned, he need fear to encounter the noble and learned Lord in that part of his speech. It was perfectly clear that the reason why the Jews were not expressly excluded was that there were no Jews to exclude. At the period when the oath was enacted the Jews were a most inconsiderable fragment of the people—they were liable to great popular obloquy—they were, in fact, by their position at that time in the country altogether incapacitated from sitting in Parliament; and he maintained that the idea never occurred to those who framed the oath of abjuration of the possibility of a Jew being elected a Member of the Legislature. If the idea had occurred, he thought words very clear and stringent would have been framed to meet the contingency. But his noble and learned Friend seemed to imply that the opponents of this measure were doing the Jew an injustice, inasmuch as, he said, he once had a right to sit in Parliament, and they were now seeking to deprive him of that right. He begged their Lordships to remember that in fact no Jew ever did sit in Parliament. Whether excluded by those words or not, the Jews were, in fact, excluded; and he was not seeking to deprive them of any privilege which they ever possessed, but was merely discussing whether, in justice or policy, they were able, so far as their votes were concerned, to admit into that and the other House of Parliament those who had never entered them before. There was one other consideration which, before concluding, he was anxious to press on the consideration of their Lordships. If they removed these words, "on the true faith of a Christian," not merely the Jews, 1795 but the followers of every religion or of no religion might, at some time or other, seek admission within the walls of Parliament. There was no rite so fantastic, no superstition so abject, whose adherents would not be entitled to be admitted. And let him not be told in reply that only a few such persons would in fact be admitted. It was a question of principle and not of numbers. The question was whether or not they should fling open their doors and not how many persons would be able to walk in. The removal of the words in question would entirely disconnect religious sanction from legislative duties, entirely abolish the right of the Legislature to require some testimony or profession of religion as a condition of being entrusted with a share in the framing of the laws. With regard to the dissociation of political duties from the profession of Christian principles, he might direct their Lordships' attention to several weighty remarks which had been delivered by eminent Members of our Church in a former age; but he would not derive them on this occasion from any of the high places in our ecclesiastical establishment. He would refer to an humble parsonage in the county of Kent, from which humble parsonage had gone forth words of no common eloquence and wisdom. He would cite two or three sentences written more than two centuries ago by Hooker, in his great work on "Ecclesiastical Polity"—So natural is the union of religion with justice that we may boldly deem there is neither where both are not. Seeing, therefore, it doth thus appear that the safety of all estates dependeth upon religion; that religion, unfeignedly loved, perfecteth man's abilities unto all kinds of virtuous services in the commonwealth; that men's desire, in general, is to hold no religion but the true; and that whatsoever good effects do grow out of their religion who embrace instead of the true a false, the roots thereof are certain sparks of the light of truth intermingled with the dark, ness of error, because no religion can wholly and only consist of untruths—we have reason to think that all true virtues are to honour true religion as their parent, and all well-ordered commonweals to love her as their chiefest stay. And this," (he goes on to say a little afterwards) "this is the politic use of religion.There could be no doubt that in past ages in this country, as even now in other parts of the world, the name of religion had been perverted to the purposes of tyranny and ambition; but the abuse gives no ground of argument against the use, and notwithstanding this perversion, he maintained that religious professions cannot safely he disjoined from legislative duties; 1796 and that the setting of religious sanctions at the threshold of the Legislature, in the front, as it were, of Parliament, had a purifying and ennobling effect on the expressions there spoken, and on the course of action there pursued. Believing, then, that the measure now before them, even though it might be slight in its first effects, was momentous in its principles and tendency; believing that no sufficient grounds had been laid for passing it; believing that it was regarded by a large proportion of the Christian people of this country as calculated to retard the course of Christian progress and of Christian truth, he now moved, in Parliamentary phrase, the postponement, but in point of fact the rejection, of this measure.
§ Amendment moved, to leave out "Now" and insert "this Day Three Months."
§ LORD LYNDHURST
explained. The noble Earl having referred to the position of the Jews a century and a half ago, he wished to say that he held in his hand the written opinions of eight or nine of the most eminent lawyers of the period in reference to that subject. He had before alluded to the opinion of Chief Justice Raymond. The following was that of Lord Chancellor Talbot:—I am of opinion that A B is a natural born subject of Great Britain, and as such capable of purchasing and enjoying land in fee, and I am not aware of any disability which is imposed upon him by law on account of his being a Jew.
THE MARQUESS OF CLANRICARDE
said, the noble Earl (Earl Stanhope) had not attempted to touch any of the arguments so ably advanced by the noble and learned Lord, unless it was that which, turned upon the intentions of those who framed the oath of abjuration. The noble Earl did not, however, contend that the question of the Jews was under consideration at the time. When the noble Earl quoted Dr. Arnold he ought to go the same length as Dr. Arnold, and meet the question fairly by enacting that the Jews should not sit in Parliament; but, instead of doing that, he attempted to sustain this miserable rag and shred of intolerance which still remained to disgrace the Statute-book, entirely by the incidental words of an oath not intended to affect them. He agreed with the noble Earl, that in olden times the Jews were not allowed to sit in Parliament—but in olden times the Jews were put to torture, and the noble Earl should not refer to the spirit of legislation in those days, unless he were pre- 1797 pared to carry it out in all things. Still more inconsistent was the argument of the noble Earl with regard to the oath. The noble Earl had rested the whole Christianity of the country not merely upon an oath, but upon the form of an oath, and had referred to history in support of his views; but did he not remember that not only statesmen, but right rev. Prelates in times of rebellion and disturbance broke their oaths and betrayed their sovereign? In the opening chapter of the noble Earl's admirable History he branded the leading men of the time with every stigma save one—perjury—which he did not mention, it being so common; and none who had heard the noble Earl's speech that night could doubt that his own opinion was conclusive as to the inutility of oaths in times of treason and sedition. The noble Earl had quoted Dr. Arnold as an authority upon this question; but he should have followed out the opinions of that rev. person to their full extent, and have excluded not only Jews, but Roman Catholics and all Dissenters. How could he on Dr. Arnold's principles explain his inconsistency in voting for the Roman Catholics, but against the Jews? Dr. Arnold's argument was, that the State had a right to look into the religion of those whom it should admit to sit in Parliament, and the same argument was contained in the quotation from Hooker which the noble Earl had read. But in that case the noble Earl ought to exclude both Roman Catholics and Jews, for both were antagonistic to the Established Church. He (the Marquess of Clanricarde) had been surprised to hear his noble Friend say that the admission of Jews would unchristianise the Legislature—a declaration which he had not attempted to prove. Neither had he met the question put by the noble and learned Lord who moved the second reading, whether the City of London had ceased to be a Christian city because its Lord Mayor was a Jew. Was the City of London at that moment a Christian city or not? was the corporation Christian? was the magistracy of England Christian? He would like, too, to know what the noble Earl considered to be the state of a temple of Divine worship which was intrusted to the care of Jews? Did not the noble Earl know that in many parishes in this city Jews had been elected churchwardens, in which capacity the celebration of Divine service and the provision of the bread and wine for the administration of 1798 the Holy Sacrament were entrusted to their charge? It was a mockery to talk about the admission of the Jews into Parliament tending to unchristianise the country, and such a declaration was perfectly unsustainable in argument. He (the Marquess of Clanricarde) supported all measures of this description upon the plain and simple ground—the only one upon which any Dissenters could be admitted to Parliament—namely, that the State had no right to inquire into the conscientious religious opinions of any freeborn subject of Her Majesty; and that any Englishman on whom they imposed the duties and charges of an English subject, had a right to the privileges of one. The State, no doubt, had a right to look into men's acts, and see whether they belonged to any specific society which was dangerous to the safety of the realm; but in the absence of any such suspicion every British subject had a right to aspire to the honours and dignities of his country. He would remind their Lordships of the position in which they stood at the present time. They had now, for several years, been in conflict upon this question with the Ministers of the Crown and with the House of Commons. Their Lordships had lately thought it right, upon their own judgment, to exclude from their House a Member who had been called thither by a writ from the Crown, and now they were seeking to prevent the House of Commons from admitting a Member who, having been duly elected by a large constituency, sought to take his seat among that body. Every one must see that that was a state of things which could not go on for ever; that it must end by the admission of the Jews into Parliament; and that it would be conducive neither to the honour and advantage of that House, should the House of Commons take upon itself to admit a Member whom their Lordships had been hitherto the means of excluding. If they rejected the present Bill it would only tend to the continuance of a conflict upon which they would be ultimately beaten, and in which they had no real or substantial object at issue. He asked them was it worth while to continue the contest. It was ridiculous to say that the admission of a few Jews into Parliament would have any serious or substantial effect on the character of the Legislature. He trusted, however, that the House would, that evening, by its decision upon this question, prove to the country that its views were 1799 in accordance with the spirit of the times, and that it did maintain the principle of true tolerance which admitted all Englishmen, whatever their religious opinions, to all the honours and advantages to which their merits enabled them to aspire.
§ LORD RAVENSWORTH
said, that nothing but the clearest conviction and a strong sense of duty could have induced him to differ from his noble Friend who had moved the Amendment (Earl Stanhope) for whose calm judgment and historical and constitutional knowledge he entertained the greatest respect, and to vote as he was about to do, in favour of the second reading of the Bill; and he was anxious not to give a silent vote, as on every previous occasion when any Bill for the express purpose of admitting the Jews had been brought before Parliament he had voted against it. He thought it therefore due to himself, that he should address to their Lordships a few observations in vindication of his personal consistency on this occasion. If necessary, he could easily find reasons for his vote in the altered complexion of the question of the admission of the Jews; but he would only refer to the wide distinction between that question and the vote he was called on to give that night for the repeal of an oath which had become useless and obsolete. There was a wide distinction between relieving Her Majesty's subjects from the obligation of taking an oath that was no longer necessary, and, giving a vote for the express purpose of passing an Act of Parliament to admit Jews to seats in the Legislature. No doubt the arguments against their admission had weight, and inconveniences might be anticipated from it; but still he felt bound to vote for the Bill for the repeal of the oath of abjuration. The Bill came before them, passed through the Commons by a large majority, asking them to give their assent to the repeal of an oath, the defence of the authority and validity of which, with the small exception contained in a few words at the end, was now abandoned by everybody, and no one would undertake to say it was necessary to the security of the constitution or the Crown. He had in many points been greatly disappointed by the arguments of his noble Friend (Earl Stanhope). The noble Earl, after going through the details of the oath of abjuration, asked their Lordships, were they bound in justice and policy to continue the exclusion of the Jews. He (Lord Ravensworth) expected 1800 that his noble Friend would have asked, were they bound in policy or justice to maintain the oath of abjuration—and that was the question their Lordships now had to answer. Hitherto, nothing had been said in defence of the oath, which applied altogether to periods other than the present, and to a class of persons different from those who were now affected by it. The question might be divided into three different heads—first of all, the oath of abjuration itself; secondly, the relation it bore to the Act of Settlement; and thirdly, the consequence which would follow on its repeal by the admission of the Jews. As to the first, it would be a waste of words to argue it, for the present form of the oath was now condemned by all parties. The question was, what was to be substituted for it? When the Bill was passing through the other House, it was discovered by some Members and strenuously insisted on in debate, that the oath contained the only recognition of the Act of Settlement. But whatever force was to be found in that objection was obviated by a clause in the new Bill, which provided a perfectly innocuous and unobjectionable recognition of the Act of Settlement—not that such recognition was of any real value, for in times of turbulence or rebellion such oath would be swept away like cobwebs before the storm, or like rotten walls before an inundation. As to the third and most important question, namely, the omission of the words "on the true faith of a Christian;" and the effect it would produce in the admission of the Jews to Parliament, he had before stated that there was a wide distinction between passing an Act for the express purpose of admitting them and assenting to a Bill for the repeal of this oath. Many inconveniences might result from the admission of the Jews, and his strong impression of these inconveniences would be quite sufficient to induce him to refuse his assent to an Act for that express object; but when he had to balance these possible inconveniences against the uselessness and almost impiety of forcing public men to take an oath which had long ceased to have any force, and which had been enacted to guard the State against Papists and Jacobites who were now admitted to power, he confessed that these objections weighed as dust in the balance against the evils of maintaining the oath. The inconveniences to which he had referred were not difficult to raise in theory, but be believed they would not be found to exist in practice, or 1801 if they did would soon be mended by the good sense of Parliament. Far greater evils had been anticipated when the contest was being carried on between Protestants and Roman Catholics, respecting the Relief Bill—a Bill which, he regretted to say, was yielded under the influence of terror and intimidation after the Legislature had refused to listen to reason and persuasion; and would their Lordships now refuse to make a concession which both reason and policy dictated? There were not a few inconveniences in maintaining the exclusion of the Jews. Was it no inconvenience that a contest should be going on year after year between the two Houses of Parliament? that the largest city in the world should be deprived of its representative? Under these circumstances he trusted that their Lordships would take advantage of the graceful opportunity of concession now afforded them. The Bill would be brought up to them year after year, and the conflict could not go on without producing more serious inconveniences, and what was now but a slight sore and irritation, would fester and gangrene. He should be ashamed to address to their Lordships anything like a threat, but already there were hints in the public press, that so long as this House refused to pass a measure for the admission of the Jews, so long the House of Commons would be justified in refusing the application made by their Lordships for the amendment of their appellate jurisdiction. ["Oh!"] He did not state this as an argument which ought to have any weight with their Lordships, but he did bring it forward to justify the remark he had just made, that, unless the question were soon settled, the evil might become much more serious than it was at present. Differences of party might be added to other inconveniences. The leader of the House of Commons on the side on which he had the honour to sit, always voted in favour of this, and similar measures; but not only did the present leader of the Conservative party in the other House support the Bill (for which perhaps reasons might be given), but his predecessor, Lord George Bentinck, had voted the same way, and many distinguished Members of the party had followed their leaders in this respect. It might be said, that these were arguments of expediency which ought not to weigh against the principle of maintaining what was called a Christian Legislature. The noble Earl had used this argument, and had referred to other cases of exclusion from Parlia- 1802 ment, as those of minors and persons not possessing a certain pecuniary qualification. If the noble Earl had followed up that argument, it would make against the imposition of any oath as a test. Did not the noble Earl know that the qualification oath was constantly evaded? In the same way, the words "On the true faith of a Christian," might be taken by an infidel, who had no belief; but a conscientious Jew could not take them, and he was effectually excluded. The Roman Catholics had been excluded by this oath for a century and a half, but it was now repealed, as far as they were concerned. He believed there was infinitely less danger and less violation of principle in giving assent to the second reading of this Bill. He had explained the reasons why he considered it best for the interest of the Legislature and the country that the measure should pass, and he was ready to give a hearty and cordial assent to the Motion.
said, the question was no common question. It was not a mere question of the admission of the Jews to Parliament, but of the maintenance by the Legislature, as a Legislature, of adherence to the fundamental principles of the Christian faith. If his opinions upon the question had needed confirmation it would have been supplied by the masterly arguments of the noble Earl (Earl Stanhope) who moved the Amendment, not one of which had been answered that evening. If he were asked whether he anticipated direct evils from the admission of a few Jews into Parliament he should be inclined to answer in the negative; but he looked to a far more important part of the question—to the moral effect which the adoption of such a measure would have upon the country at large, and on this ground he strongly opposed the Bill. If we once deserted Christianity, the protection of Providence might be withdrawn from us. He was at a loss to understand what danger or inconvenience could arise from the adoption of the Amendment; for although it had been alleged that inconvenient results might follow the constant rejection by the House of Lords of a measure which had frequently been sanctioned in the Commons, and it had been asked what would be thought of the repeated rejection by the House of Commons of the Appellate Jurisdiction Bill, yet they were exercising their proper legislative functions in disagreeing to a measure the inexpediency of 1803 which they affirmed; and not only would they be acting unconstitutionally but most unworthily if they agreed to a Bill the principle of which they disapproved. He was persuaded that if the door of the House of Commons were once thrown open by the abolition of the oath of abjuration there would be an end to the Christian character of the Legislature. Supposing that people were sufficiently ignorant or wicked to take an oath without any intention of keeping it, it was no reason why they should deprive themselves of the safeguard which now existed. He drew a broad distinction between the case of the Roman Catholics and that of the Jews, because, at all events, in that case the applicants for admission to the Legislature were Christians, and he hoped that their Lordships would never lose sight of their Christian obligations, or forget that independent of the performance of any constitutional duty they had a yet more important, more solemn, more awful duty to discharge—a duty to the Great Being to whom we were all accountable; to that Judge to whom we must all one day render an account of our actions, whether they be good or whether they be evil.
§ THE EARL OF ST. GERMANS
was surprised that no Member of Her Majesty's Government had, as yet, risen to address the House on this important subject. He apprehended that the main, if not the sole objection of the opponents of this measure was the admission of Jews to Parliament. His noble Friend who had last sat down must either have been absent or have very imperfectly heard the speech of his noble and learned Friend opposite, because he seemed to be entirely ignorant of the explanation given of the meaning of the words "on the true faith of a Christian." His noble and learned Friend had stated most distinctly that those words were introduced after the discovery of a paper by the Jesuits, in which the mental reservation with respect to the other oath was disclosed. It was admitted on all hands that the words "on the true faith of a Christian," were never intended to apply to Jews, but that it was by the merest accident that they were prevented from sitting in Parliament. Taking a plain, practical view of the case, he would say, if it can be shown that such a course is desirable, by all means let them be retained; but he totally denied that the effect of their rejection would be to destroy the Christian character of the Legislature. 1804 Lookind at the large number of Christians in the constituencies, and the small number of Jews in this country able to devote sufficient time to the discharge of Parliamentary duties, he should think that it was extremely improbable that such a number of Jews could be introduced into Parliament as to influence the decisions of the Legislature; and he should certainly expect they would not be very likely to interfere on any question affecting the ecclesiastical institutions of the country. The Jews were not a proselytising people. While most other sects had societies for the propagation of Christianity, no society existed for the propagation of Judaism. They rather seemed to be a peculiar people, waiting for the fulfilment of a prophecy; but while waiting, they conformed to the customs and the civil institutions of those countries throughout which they were scattered; and it was far more likely, in his opinion, that the Church would be endangered by Christians of other denominations than by Jews. The disabilities imposed on Dissenters had been swept gradually away and the result had been rather to strengthen than to weaken the Church. In his opinion all the attempts they made to retard the ultimate passing of this measure would only strengthen the hands of its supporters, and expose themselves to obloquy. No fear was to be entertained from the admission of Jews to Parliament; and in all other respects no class of men was more entitled to participate in the constitutional privileges of the subjects of Her Majesty. Conceiving that a difference in religious opinion could not destroy their rights, he gave a cordial assent to the measure.
§ THE MARQUESS OF LANSDOWNE
wished before the question was put to offer a single observation, not in opposition to the noble Earl the mover of the Amendment, but rather in explanation to the noble Lord who had just sat down, and who seemed to charge the Government with indifference with respect to the measure. The real reason why no noble Lord who was a Member of Her Majesty's Government had addressed the House was, because they thought it quite unnecessary to add anything to the clear and convincing arguments enunciated by the noble and learned Lord who introduced the Motion. The Bill, on the contrary, had the cordial support of Her Majesty's Government; and as he had voted most cheerfully for other Bills of a similar description, so he should 1805 vote cheerfully for this. Other Bills must have been liable to objection in matters of detail; but to this Bill he believed there could be no such objection. It was now admitted upon all sides of the House that the oath of abjuration was nothing but a relic of ancient times, and that, in consequence of the extinction of a peculiar class of disaffected persons against whom it was originally aimed, its retention had become totally opposed to the principles of the age in which we lived, and operated as a deprivation of political rights against a peculiar class of Her Majesty's subjects. The oath itself might very well be blotted out of their Parliamentary records, and be transferred to the Historical Society or the learned Society of Antiquaries, as a curious subject, bearing upon the social and political condition of this country in past ages. He could see no danger by the admission—not by express terms, because that was unnecessary—in the admission of Jews to the enjoyment of the same political rights as their co-subjects; indeed, he could not but think the accession of honest Jews to Parliament would be an advantage rather than otherwise; but if they were admitted it should certainly be on the principle that all those who contributed to the taxation of the country, and performed their share of those municipal duties which the constitution of the country cast upon them, ought to be admitted to a voice in the enactment of the laws by which they were bound.
§ On Question, That "now" stand part of the Motion? their Lordships divided:—Content, Present 46; Proxies 32:—78. Not-Content, Present 66; Proxies 44:—110. Majority 32.1807
|List of the CONTENT.|
|The Lord Chancellor||Minto|
|Clanricarde||Bath and Wells|
|Glenelg||Saye and Sele|
|List of the NOT CONTENT.|
|Dartmouth||Colville of Culross|
§ Resolved in the Negative; and Bill to be read 2a on this day Three Months.
§ House adjourned till To-morrow.