Vol. 22 No. 11 · 1 June 2000

Bernard Wasserstein (LRB, 13 April) appears to be surprised that there are four references to Lord John Russell in the index to David Vital’s A People Apart: The Jews in Europe 1789-1939. Yet the mention of Russell is surely justified by his leadership of the campaign to secure political rights for non-Anglican minorities. It was Russell who in 1828 initiated the freeing of Dissenters from political disabilities by defeating Wellington’s Government in the House of Commons on the question and forcing it to legislate. Catholic emancipation was achieved in the following year. However, these changes made the Jews worse off, as the Government ill-advisedly accepted a backbench amendment in the House of Lords that oaths should be sworn ‘upon the true faith of a Christian’. In 1833-34, the Commons passed a measure to take these words out of the oath, but this was rejected by the Lords.

The matter became urgent in 1847 when Baron de Rothschild was elected to the House of Commons. Russell introduced a Jewish Relief Bill which was passed by the Commons but rejected by the Lords, a process that was repeated on several occasions over the succeeding 11 years. Rothschild was allowed to sit in a part of the Chamber technically outside the House, but was not permitted to speak or vote. In 1851 a second Jewish MP, David Salomons, was elected, and he was disinclined to show the same patience as Rothschild. Eventually the Lords grudgingly accepted a compromise whereby each House could decide for itself whether to admit Jews. The Commons did so in 1858, but the Lords excluded them for a further eight years.

Geoffrey Lock
Lower Broadheath, Worcestershire

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