THOMAS MACAULAY DECLINES TO PROPOSE A MOTION IN THE HOUSE OF LORDS
Letter from Thomas Macaulay to Lord John Russell. 19 June 1853. RAL 000/848
Macaulay declines Russell's request for him to propose a motion in the House of Commons in favour of admitting Jews into parliament. Although he supports Jewish emancipation, he finds the resolution disingenuous and of no practical merit.
Click image to enlarge view. Text of document below.
Albany June 19 1853
Dear Lord John,
I cannot undertake to move the Resolution. To speak frankly I do not agree with it. The Jews ought to be allowed to sit in parliament, but not for the reason alleged by Lord Lyndhurst. It is quite true that our ancestors, when they used the words, "on the faith of a Christian", were not thinking particularly of the Jews. But it is equally true that those words were used because it was contemplated as a thing monstrous and impossible that any man who refused to make a public profession of Christianity should sit in Parliament.
Suppose that while the Test Act was in force a Buddhist had insisted that he was at liberty to hold an office without taking the sacrament. Suppose that he had said "The Test Act was never meant to exclude Buddhists. Nobody in the parliament which passed that Act knew anything about Buddhists. The Papists and the Protestant Nonconformists were the people against whom the legislature wished to guard; and to allow the casual and unintended operation of the law to exclude me is not in accordance with the principles of the Constitution." This reasoning would not have appeared to me very convincing. Yet such is the reasoning of the resolution which you ask me to propose.
But even if I liked the resolution better, I should think it unwise to make a motion which must be barren of all consequence. The resolution, if carried, would only tell the world what the world already knows, that the House of Commons is for admitting Jews to sit in parliament. A bill is a much stronger declaration of our opinion than a resolution; and we have, this very session, passed a bill in favour of the Jews. I really cannot consent to perform a rhetorical exercise on the subject of religious liberty fort the amusement of the ladies. I hate speaking and it is my purpose never again to open my lips in public except when it is a clear duty to do so, and when I think it possible that I may be of use.
I return the resolution.
Ever, dear Lord John,
Yours very truly,