The emancipation of the Jews

by Instant Noodle


The Jews are excluded from Parliament by bigotry—but not merely by the bigotry of the House of Peers.

Facts are stubborn things; they are also bigoted things: at least Matter-of-fact exhibits a remarkable bigotry in regard to the Jews.

Last week, in the law reports, appeared the old story of the plucked pigeon; dissipation, horse-dealing, bill-discounting, cheating, and rascality. Bigoted Matter-of-fact, as usual, exhibited the scoundrel of the tale as a gentleman of the Hebrew persuasion.

How is it, that if there is any villany, if there is any wickedness of a particularly dirty sort; a case of bill-stealing, receipt of stolen goods, fraudulent gambling, marine store-shop, or other disreputable establishment, the party chiefly implicated is sure, in the great majority of instances, to be a gentleman rejoicing in the name, slightly corrupted, of one of the prophets or patriarchs? For so it is, according to bigoted Matter-of-fact.

While so much bigotry exists, a corresponding amount of prejudice must also exist, tending to obstruct the entrance of Israelites into the House of Commons. For if the bigot Matter-of-fact’s assertion, that in nine cases out of ten a bill discounter, low-hell-keeper, fence, or other trader in wickedness, is a Jew, be believed, then the supposition that it is ten to one that a Jew is a rogue, is not very unreasonable.

Now the Jewish community is not numerous and poor, but just the reverse; and its chiefs are wallowing in riches. Would they not take the most effectual means of getting their disabilities removed, if, by diffusing education throughout their body, they could manage to abate that bigotry of Matter-of-fact which ascribes to it so large a portion of discreditable members?

Of all the struggles the Jewish people had to go through, getting the right to sit in the house of commons is often forgotten. But it took years of fighting blind prejudice before a couple of powerful personalities and a legal quirk made it possible.

David Salomons, a jew, had been elected to the seat of Greenwich with a healthy majority in the 1850s. He insisted on taking his seat, despite being ordered to withdraw by the speaker. Lord John Russell, the PM, ordered Salomons to withdraw, which he begrudgingly did. Another jew elected to the commons was Lionel de Rothschild, elected to a seat in the City of London, but blocked from taking up his seat formally because he, like Solomons, had refused to renounce Judaism.

A powerful personality, Salomons eventually got the commons behind him but, as with much of the radical constitution changes in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, it was repeatedly blocked by the Lords. In the meantime, Salomons was elected Mayor of London. Every time he voted, he was fined £500; a huge sum of money.

Here comes the bizzarre bit. A committee was founded to look into the matter of jews being able to serve in parliament. And who would end up serving on that committee? None other than Lionel de Rothschild, who could serve on committees even though he was barred from taking a seat.

Within a couple of years, both de Rothschild and Salomons had formally taken their seats, substituting “So help me, Jehovah” where necessary.

(October 1856)