Women Writers and the Campaign for Jewish Civil Rights in Early Victorian England

  • Nadia Valman


In the parliamentary debate of December 1847 on the admission of Jews to Parliament Lord Ashley, later Earl of Shaftesbury, articulated what was at stake in the question of Jewish emancipation. Hansard reports his speech:

Some years ago they stood out for a Protestant Parliament. They were perfectly right in doing so, but they were beaten. They now stood out for a Christian Parliament; and perhaps they would have a final struggle for a male Parliament. His noble Friend [Lord John Russell, who had proposed the motion to remove Jewish disabilities] was too candid to conceal his ultimate intentions; but he would just ask him, before he proceeded much further, to consider that, according to the principle laid down by him, not only Jews would be admitted to Parliament, but Mussulmans, Hindoos, and men of every form of faith under the sun in the British dominions. [Cheers].1

Ashley, evidently supported by a good number of MPs, considered opposition to the principle of Jewish emancipation as crucial to the preservation of a white, male, Christian Parliament. In opposing constitutional reform in these terms he was also constructing a particular version of English national identity. Indeed, the public debates on Jewish civil rights in mid-nineteenth century England were an occasion for the contestation of the future relationship between religion and the state, during which a number of models for understanding the place of the Jews in the polity were articulated by both Jews and non-Jews, politicians, clergymen and novelists.


Jewish Woman Jewish History Woman Writer Parliamentary Debate British Politics 
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© Palgrave Macmillan, a division of Macmillan Publishers Limited 2000

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  • Nadia Valman

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