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Emancipation of the Jews


Emancipation of the Jews - The Bill rejected by the House of Lords - Election of Baron Rothschild by the City of London - He refuses to be »worn on the "true faith of a Christian" - The Bill again introduced and again rejected by the Lords - Alderman Salomons elected Member for Greenwich - He insists on taking his seat and voting, in defiance of the authority of the Speaker, backed by the House - Removed by the Sergeant-at- Arms - He is prosecuted for sitting and voting, and incurs a penalty of £500 - The Jewish Members admitted by a Resolution of the House of Commons - Act of Parliament abolishing Jewish Disabilities - Colonial Self-government - Objections to the Government Measure - Conservative Tribute to the Liberal Party- Death of Queen Adelaide - Her Character - Her Benevolence and Humility - Directions for her Funeral - Death and Character of the Duke of Cambridge - Our Foreign Policy - Dispute with the Greek Government about the Claims of Mr. Finlay and Don Pacifico - Censure on the Government by the House of Lords - Debate upon it in the Commons - Mr. Roebuck's Counter-resolution - Lord Palmerston's Defence of his Policy - The last Speech of Sir Robert Peel - Majority in favour of the Government - The Death of Sir Robert Peel - National grief caused by this event - Tribute paid to his memory in Parliament - Public Honours declined by the Family - A Statue voted by the House of Commons - Eulogium in the French Assembly.
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An effort was made to decide the long-agitated question of the emancipation of the Jews in the session of 1849. On the 19th of February Lord John Russell moved that the House of Commons should go into committee for the purpose of considering the oaths taken by members of Parliament, excepting the Roman Catholic oath, settled in 1829. The oath of allegiance, he said, became a mockery when Cardinal York died, there being no descendants of James II. in existence; he therefore proposed to abolish it. The oath of abjuration, which was aimed against Papal aggression, had now no practical effect but to exclude the Jews from Parliament, which it did by the words " on the true faith of a Christian," which were never meant to exclude Jews, but only to give greater solemnity to the oath. He proposed, therefore, to omit these words when the oath was tendered to a Jew, and this he thought would complete the measure of religious liberty. The House resolved by a large majority - 214 to 111 - to go into committee on the subject. He then moved a resolution that it was expedient to alter the Parliamentary oaths, so as "to make provision in respect of the said oaths for the relief of Her Majesty's subjects professing the Jewish religion." A bill founded on this resolution was brought in by Lord John Russell. In the long discussion which it called forth, the maiden speech of Mr. Frederick Peel was the best in the debate. The second reading was carried by a majority of 278 to 185. The third reading, after an important debate, was carried by a majority of 66.

In the House of Lords the second reading was moved on the 26th of July, by the Earl of Carlisle, in an able speech, in which he observed that the Jews, though admitted to municipal privileges, were the only religious community debarred from political rights; but there was not, as far as he could see, a single valid objection upon which they could be refused. The Earl of Eglinton objected to their admission, on religious grounds; so also, more naturally, did the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Bishop of Exeter. The former argued that our national Christianity, to which we owed our greatness, would be grievously disparaged by the measure. The latter condemned it as a violation of the distinct contract between the sovereign and the nation - that the Crown should maintain " to the utmost the laws of God and the true profession of the Gospel." The Archbishop of Dublin (Wheatly) - always the powerful champion of religious freedom - contended on the other hand, that it was inconsistent with the principles and repugnant to the genius of Christianity that civil disqualifications and penalties should be imposed on those who did not conform to it. Their lordships must either retrace their steps, and exclude from office all who did not belong to the Established Church, or they must, in consistency, consent to the abrogation of this last restriction. The bill was rejected by a majority of 25 - the numbers being, for the second reading 70; against it, 95.

Before another attempt was made to open the portals of the legislature, the question was brought to a practical issue by an event similar to the Clare election, by which O'Connell forced on the decision with regard to Catholic Emancipation. The City of London had returned Baron Rothschild as one of its members; and at the morning sitting on the 26th of July, 1850, he presented himself at the table to take the oaths. "When the clerk presented the New Testament, he said, " I desire to be sworn on the Old Testament." Sir Robert Inglis, in a voice tremulous with emotion, exclaimed - " I protest against that." The Speaker then ordered Baron Rothschild to withdraw. An animated debate followed as to whether the Baron could be sworn in that way, although he declared that that was the form of oath most binding upon his conscience. He presented himself a second time, when there was another long debate. Ultimately, on the 6th of August, to which the matter was adjourned, the Attorney-General moved two resolutions - first, that Baron Rothschild was not entitled to vote in the House till he took the oath in the form prescribed by law; and, second, that the House would take the earliest opportunity in the next session to consider the oath of abjuration, with a view to the relief of the Jews. These resolutions were carried - the first, by a majority of 92 to 66; the second, by 142 to 106.

In pursuance of this resolution, Lord John Russell, soon after the meeting of Parliament in 1851, introduced his Jewish Emancipation Bill once more. The usual arguments were reiterated on both sides, and the second reading was carried by the reduced majority of 25. In the House of Lords, the second reading was moved by the Lord Chancellor, on the 17th of July, when it was thrown out by a majority of 36. In the meantime. Alderman Salomons had been returned as member for Greenwich, and, following the example of Baron Rothschild, he appeared at the bar, and offered to take the oath on the Old Testament, omitting the phrase, "on the true faith of a Christian." The Speaker then desired him to withdraw; but he took a seat, notwithstanding. The order of the Speaker was repeated in a more peremptory tone, and the honourable member retired to a bench behind the bar. The question of his right to sit was then debated. Sir Benjamin Hall asked the Ministers whether they were disposed to prosecute Mr. Salomons, if he persisted in taking his seat, in order to test his legal right. Lord John Russell having answered in the negative, Mr. Salomons entered the House, amidst loud cries of " Order!" " Chair!" the Speaker's imperative command, "Withdraw!" ringing above all. The Speaker then appealed to the House to enforce his order. Lord John Russell then moved a resolution that he should withdraw. Mr. Bernai Osborne moved an amendment. Tho House became a scene of confusion; and in the midst of a storm of angry cries and counter-cries, Mr. Anstey moved the adjournment of the debate. The House divided, and Mr. Salomons voted with the minority. The House again divided on Mr. Bernai Osborne's amendment, that the honourable gentleman was entitled to take his seat, which was negatived by 229 against 81. In defiance of this decision, Mr. Salomons again entered and took his seat. He then addressed the House, stating that it was far from his desire to do anything that might appear contumacious or presumptuous. Returned by a large constituency, he appeared in defence of their rights and privileges as well as his own; but whatever might be the decision of the House, he would abide by it, unless there was just sufficient force used to make him feel that he was acting under coercion. Lord John Russell called upon the House to support the authority of the Speaker and its own dignity. Two divisions followed - one on a motion for adjourning the debate, and another on the right of Mr. Salomons to sit, in both of which he voted. The last was carried by a large majority; when the Speaker renewed his order to withdraw, and the honourable gentleman not complying, the Sergeant-at-Arms touched him lightly on the shoulder, and led him below the bar. Another long debate ensued on the legal question; and the House divided on two motions, which had no result. The discussion of the question was adjourned to the 28th of July, when petitions from London and Greenwich, demanding the admission of their excluded representative, came under consideration. The Speaker announced that he had received a letter from Alderman Salomons, stating that several notices of actions for penalties had been served upon him, in consequence of his having sat and voted in the House. A motion that the petitioners should be heard at the bar of the House was rejected; and Lord John Russell's resolution, denying the right of Mr. Salomons to sit without taking the oath in the usual form, was carried by a majority of 55. And so the vexed question was placed in abeyance for another year, so far as Parliament was concerned. But an action was brought in the Court of Exchequer, against Alderman Salomons, to recover the penalty of £500, for sitting and voting without taking the oath. The question was elaborately argued by the ablest counsel. Judgment was given for the plaintiff. There was an appeal from this judgment, by a writ of error, when the Lord Chief Justice Campbell, with Justices Coleridge, Cresswell, Wightman, Williams, and Crompton, heard the case again argued at great length. The Court unanimously decided that the words, " on the true faith of a Christian," formed an essential part of the oath; and that, according to the existing law, the Jews were excluded from sitting in either House of Parliament. This judgment was given in the sittings after Hilary Term, 1852.

The history of this question of Jewish Emancipation gives proof, as striking as any upon record, of the obstinacy and tenacity of prejudice established by law, although no possible danger could arise to the British Constitution from the admission of the Jews; although Mr. Salomons had been elected Sheriff of London in 1835, and a bill was passed to enable him to act; although the year after, Mr. Moses Montefiore was likewise elected Sheriff of London, and knighted by the Queen; although in 1846 Jews elected to municipal offices were relieved by Parliament from taking the oaths; although Baron Rothschild and Alderman Salomons had been repeatedly elected by immense majorities; although bills for emancipating the Jews, the only class of Her Majesty's subjects still labouring under political disabilities on account of their religion, were passed year after year by the House of Commons, but were indignantly rejected by the House of Lords. At length, in 1858, the Commons were obliged to admit them by a resolution of their own House, and it was not till 1860 that an Act was passed permitting Jewish Members of Parliament to omit from the oath the words "on the true faith of a Christian."

The session of 1850 was creditably distinguished by the establishment of a policy of self-government for our colonies. They had become so numerous and so large as to be utterly unmanageable by the centralised system of the Colonial Office; while the liberal spirit that pervaded the Home Government, leading to the abolition of great monopolies, naturally reacted upon our fellow- subjects settled abroad, and made them discontented without constitutional rights. It was now felt that the time was come for a comprehensive measure of constitutional government for our American and Australian Colonies; and on the 8th of February, Lord John Russell, then Prime Minister, brought the subject before the House of Commons. It was very fully discussed, Sir W. Molesworth, Mr. Roebuck, Mr. Labouchere, and others who had taken an active part in colonial affairs, being the principal speakers. With regard to Canada, great progress had already been made in constitutional government. The same might be said of Nova Scotia and New Brunswick, in which the practice of administration closely approximated to the practice in this country. It was determined to introduce representative institutions of a similar kind in the Cape of Good Hope. In Australia it was proposed that there should be but one Council, two-thirds elected by the people, and one-third nominated by the Governor, Mr, Roebuck objected strongly to the Government measure, because it left the colonists free, to a great extent, to gratify the strong desire almost universally felt among them to have power to choose a constitution for themselves, instead of having a constitution sent out to them, cut and dry. He wanted the House to plant at once liberal institutions there, which would spare the colonists the agony of working out a scheme of government for themselves. He declared that " of all the abortions of an incompetent administration, this was the greatest." A ready- made constitution had been sent out by the Government to South Africa; why, then, could not Parliament send out a ready-made constitution to Australia? Lord John Russell replied to Mr. Roebuck's arguments, and after a lengthened debate, the bill was read a second time. There was strong division of opinion in committee as to whether there should be two chambers or one. Sir W. Molesworth moved an amendment to the effect that there should be two, which was rejected by a majority of 218 against 150. The bill passed the House of Commons on the 18th of May, and on the 31st was brought into the Lords, where also it was subjected to lengthened discussions and various amendments, which caused it to be sent back to the Commons for consideration on the 1st of August. On the motion of Lord John Russell, the amendments were agreed to, and the bill was passed. This was the principal legislative work of the session. These concessions to the colonies were necessary to preserve them to the mother country, as well as to ensure their progress and prosperity. In this respect, says a Conservative historian, "the nation has been deeply indebted to the Liberal administrators who have ruled the country since 1850; for it is doubtful whether the old Tory Government would have been as much impressed as their successors have been with the necessity of yielding on this vital point; yet that it was absolutely necessary is now apparent. Self-government is indispensable to colonies as soon as they have attained anything like mature years, for this plain reason, that it is forced on them by the necessities of their remote and isolated situation; while the same cause renders the Home Government ignorant of their wants and indifferent to their complaints. In every quarter and age of the globe, accordingly, colonies have contended for self- government; and those alone have been prosperous, and laid the foundation of mighty empires, which, springing from popularly-governed nations at home, have successfully asserted their title to establish similar institutions, and enjoy privileges as great in their new seats abroad. Witness the colonies of Greece, Carthage, and Rome, around the Mediterranean Sea, in ancient, and the more wide-spread colonies of Great Britain in modern times."

Adelaide Queen Dowager of Great Britain and Ireland, the exemplary wife of William IV., died on the 2nd of December, 1849. She was the eldest daughter of George, Duke of Saxe-Coburg Meiningen, who died when she was only eleven years of age. In July, 1818, she was married to the Duke of Clarence. Strong hopes were entertained that this union would produce an heir to the throne, but after repeated disappointments, they were relinquished. Two daughters were born; but one lived only a few hours, and the other only a few months. When her husband ascended the throne, in 1830, it devolved upon her to effect a reformation in the court, which had been bereft of a queen to preside over its ceremonials, its etiquette, and its morals, for twelve years. She acquitted herself in this difficult position with prudence, firmness, dignity, and conciliation, and succeeded in winning the respect and regard of the whole nation; while the King found in her a devoted wife, who attended him with affectionate assiduity during his long illness. Marlborough House and Bushey Park were assigned for her residence as Queen Dowager, with the magnificent allowance of £100,000 a year. She lived in a state of great retirement, and frequently visited her relatives in Germany. She also spent a portion of her time in Malta and Madeira, for the benefit of her health. Quiet and unobtrusive as Queen Adelaide was, and averse to meddling in politics, she did not altogether escape censure during the stormy period of the Reform agitation; and when the first Melbourne Cabinet was dissolved, in 1834, the Times laid the dismissal at her door, in words which were placarded all over the kingdom: "The Queen has done it all." But when the storm passed over, it was felt that she had been wronged; and her mild virtues, active benevolence, Christian spirit, and affable manners, won back the heart of the nation and restored her popularity. When the Princess Victoria, heiress to the throne, reached her eighteenth year, and became competent to reign on the demise of the King, Queen Adelaide acted with a magnanimity rare in the history of courts, and perhaps unprecedented in the history of our own court. She celebrated the auspicious event by a ball of unrivalled magnificence in St. James's Palace.

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Sir Charles Napier
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