[The following text is a complete article from the August 1850 Illustrated London News in which the anonymous author argues that since Jews already have the right and duty to serve on juries and cast ballots, they should also be able to serve in Parliament as well. Using ABBYY FineReader software, I have produced the text from the page images in the Internet Archive's web version of the original volume in the University of Michigan Library. Thanks to both of them! — George P. Landow]
he question of the admissability of Jews to the British Legislature that been the great, if not the only topic of the past week. Upon this question the head of the Ministry stands in a peculiar position. The urgency and complication which it has assumed are principally due to the conduct of Lord John Russell, and the embarrassment which it causes has its main source in the procrastination, not to say the mediation, of which he has been guilty. The House of Commons has twice affirmed its desire that the Baron Rothschild, twice elected by the city of London, should take his seat, and the House of Lords, acting in accordance with its constitutional right, has twice refused its assent to the measure introduced by the Ministry. Under these circumstances, it was clearly the duty of Lord John Russell to have forced the subject to an issue, and to have risked the existence of his administration upon it. At the last moment, and while the electors of London, his Lordship’s constituents, as well as those of Baron Rothschild, were patiently awaiting his pleasure as to the further conduct of the bill, his Lordship coolly announced his determination to postpone it until next session. It was not to be expected that the electors of London, after the long delays that have occurred, and the many promises that have been made and broken, with regard to it, should have submitted to continue unrepresented for another twelvemonth; and they very properly recommended their member elect to offer himself at the bar of the House, and claim admission. Hence the long, technical, complicated, and embarrassing discussions that hare taken place; and hence, also, the difficult position in which the Ministry has placed itself.
The general question has long ago been decided by the common sense of the country. A Jew can elect members to Parliament; a majority of one, and that one a Jew, can return a representative for any borough or county in the kingdom; Jews can serve, and are frequently compelled to serve, as jurymen in cases affecting the interests, the liberties, and the lives of their fellow-subjects; and Jews can not only serve, but are obliged if elected to serve, as sheriffs and magistrates, and as mayors of boroughs : yet, by the accidental wording of a form of oath not intended to exclude them, they are prevented from sitting in Parliament. The City of London has pronounced itself in the most emphatic manner against this absurdity; and the statesmanship of the Legislature, and the members of the Ministry more particularly, have, on every relevant occasion since the present Parliament was elected, confirmed the enlightened judgment of the first constituency of the Empire, and the general opinion of the country upon the subject. Unwilling to bring the two Chambers of the Legislature into collision, and unwilling, at the same time, to embarrass a Ministry which, with all its faults of omission and commission, is the necessity of the country at the present time, some of its friends and the friends of that great cause of civil and religious liberty with which it was once the greatest pride of Lord John Russell and his coadjutors to be identified, have suggested that, in reality, there is no statute which can exclude a Jew from Parliament, and that Baron Rothschild may be admitted without asking the assent of the House of Lords, or doing the slightest violence either to the spirit or the letter of the Constitution. The discussion, complicated as it appears, has, in reality, been narrowed to this point. It is impossible to deny its deep importance. If, without straining, forcing, special pleading, quibbling, or hairsplitting, it could have been decided that Parliament, in strict accordance with the intent and scope of the law, had no power or right to exclude Baron Rothschild, it would have been a fortunate ending of a dispute between the two Houses, and one at which all parties would have had reason to rejoice. We must say. however, that the slightest doubt, in such a case, would have been a matter of future regret and difficulty, and that Lord John Russell, at the eleventh hour, has taken the only wise and safe course — that of refusal to consent to any compromise of which the complete, utter, unquestioned and unquestionable legality and constitutionality, was not as clear as a mathematical problem. The only pity is that, considering his personal relations with the city of London, and his responsibility to the country at large, he did not use the means at his command to settle the question at an earlier period, and that he should only have acted with vigour, courage, and impartiality, when under the thumb-screw of coercion. Sooner or later, the question must be authoritatively and finally settled. All the world sees that; and though no credit may be due to the Administration for their conduct of this delicate, but most important matter, it must be admitted that Lord John Russell's ultimate refusal to be a party to any compromise, or shirking, or trick, to avoid a difficulty with the House of Lords, is the wisest and most dignified, and, at the same time, the safest and best constitutional policy which he could have pursued. Such questions admit of no compromise. They demand an absolute settlement. We therefore applaud the decisive stand which the Ministry, acting under the powerful coercion of events, have at length made upon the subject. The House of Lords has never shown itself a really obstructive body. It weighs and considers, objects and amends, but never, in our time, has it factiously or obstinately impeded or finally rejected any measure of importance on which the leaders of party were agreed, and on which the common-sense of the country had pronounced a decided opinion. We may be certain that upon the Jew Bill it will ultimately yield to the House of Commons and the wishes of the people. It would, we may be sure, have yielded long ago, if those who had the management of this question had not procrastinated and trifled with it, on account of the weakness of their position on other subjects, and their dislike to dislocate still further the crazy lions of the old and almost defunct parties of Whig and Tory.
As regards the unchristianisation of the Legislature, which some estimable, conscientious, and strictly religious men have affirmed to be the consequence of the admission of Jews to Parliament, it seems somewhat too late in the day to raise the question. Oaths cannot exclude Pantheists or Atheists, neither of whom believe in the divine origin of Christianity, and, surely, none will seriously affirm that a stray Jew in the House of Commons will un-christianise it to a greater extent than it may be, and has been unchristianised by infidels and sham Christians. Besides, if Jews may, and do, elect members, the unchristianisation is in reality effected by that process. Lord John Russell himself, and his two Christian colleagues in the representation of London, might have been in a minority at the last or previous election if not for the votes of the Jews; and if this be the case, the fears of the unchristianisation of the House of Commons are of no account. To be consistent in the exclusion of Jews from the Legislature, we ought, in fact, to deny them all the privileges which they now enjoy — the privilege of voting, the privilege of serving on juries, and the higher privilege of administering the law as magistrates. We should even go further than this. In extreme cases of civil warfare, the soldier is called upon to exercise the functions of administrator of the law; and if we will not permit a conscientious Jew to legislate for us, amid 658, we ought not to permit a Jew to bear a sword or a musket, or even a special constable's tuff, in defence of the liberties of a Christian country. But the case is beyond argument, and its decision is simply a question of time. Baron Rothschild has but to resign his seat, and to be again elected by the City of London, as he assuredly would be if such a proceeding were deemed advisable, to settle the question immediately. Should the settlement be postponed much longer, we shall have not one Jew, but half a dozen knocking at the doors of St. Stephen's, and clamouring for admission, with a whole people to back their pretensions. It is high time for Lord John Russell to stake the existence of his Ministry upon this question, if upon no other, and to stand or fall by the decision of the House of Lords. Had he done so three months ago, the question would have been at an end. It is late, but not too late, to put it to this issue.
- Baron Rothschild taking the oaths in the House of Commons
- The Protestant Fight for Jewish Civil Liberties in Victorian England
“The Jewish Question.” Illustrated London News 17 (3 August 1850): 93-94.
Last modified 2 December 2015