This passage comes from Friends of Religious Equality. Nonconformist Politics in Mid-Victorian England (pp. 127-29), which Professor Larsen has graciously shared with readers of the Victorian Web. [Follow for a review of this book. GPL]

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Illuminated Initial :"D"issent was overwhelmingly and publicly in favour of granting Jews full civil liberties. The hegemony of the political philosophy of militant Nonconformists is clearly demonstrated by the support which the Dissenting community as a whole gave to the political aspirations of their fellow citizens in the Jewish community. Despite its raison d'être as a defender of the rights of Protestant Nonconformists, the agenda of the Dissenting Deputies in 1847 was dominated by its efforts on behalf of Jews. The wording of the relevant petition by that body demonstrates that it embraced a wider political vision:

That your Petitioners are and ever have been the friends of civil and religious liberty and that they are as anxious that its blessings should be extended to all their fellow countrymen as well as to themselves . . . [Dissenting Deputies Minutes, Ms. 3038, 11 (20 December 1847): 432.]

Congregational voices were apparently invariably in favour of the measure. Even Campbell's British Banner saw the issue in terms of the distinctive political vision which Dissenters had to offer. It contrasted Churchmen, who try to evangelise Jews, but wish simultaneously to deprive them of 'social equality, political justice', with:

Dissenters, on the other hand, . . . [who] stand nobly forth, and say, "Is the Jew a man? He is bone of my bone, and flesh of my flesh, my fellow; and he shall not, if I can prevent it, be a slave! I demand for him equal rights and privileges, and a place within the pale of the Constitution!" Let all the people say, Even so, AMEN! [British Banner, 24 May 1848, p. 374.]

The Congregational Year Book, which limited its opinions to the consensus of Congregationalism, claimed that the measure for the admission of Jews was 'fraught with justice' and blamed its failure in the 1848 session on Churchmen:

The High-Church prejudices of many, and the fears of others, especially of the Lords Spiritual, were excited; and, consequently, notwithstanding the noble majority of the Commons, the bill was defeated. [Congregational Year Book (1848), p. 267]

In 1831 T. B. Macaulay had supported the removal of Jewish disabilities with a comment that would later be often quoted for purposes of criticism: 'We hear of essentially Protestant governments and essentially Christian governments, words which mean just as much as essentially Protestant cookery, or essentially Christian horsemanship' (p. 135). The Patriot admitted that it could not endorse this sentiment, but it nevertheless supported the cause in which it had been enlisted. It argued that it would be just as opposed to it as anyone else, 'If we did not deem it a Christian act, to admit our Jewish fellow-citizens into the Legislature, -- an act in perfect accordance with Christian principles, and adapted to recommend and promote the Christian faith' (Patriot, October 1847, p. 716). In other words, Macaulay is wrong if he is saying religion has nothing to do with the matter, since we are supporting this cause for theological reasons. The organs of Congregational thought, even those deemed more moderate, supported the measure.

Baptists, as could be anticipated, were of the same mind as Congregationalists. The wealthy metropolitan world of a Jew like Baron Rothschild, whose desire to sit in Parliament was central to the agitation, was not so far removed from that of Yorkshire Baptists to prevent them from taking up the cause of Jewish emancipation (p. 303). Moreover, denominations less associated with militant Dissent raised their voices on this issue as well. For example, the Methodist New Connexion Magazine unequivocally called upon the people of the denomination it represented to play a full part in the agitation on behalf of the Jewish Disabilities Bill: 'We trust that the members of our congregations will not be backward in signing any local petitions that may be got up in favour of this additional tribute to the principles of genuine liberty' (Friend, Tenth Month [October] 1858, p. 185). Even the Quaker journal, the Friend, believed that the bill established the important principle 'that a man's religious opinions are no criterion of his fitness for political offices'. Josiah Conder noted approvingly in 1853 that on the last occasion when members of Parliament had an opportunity to vote for the removal of Jewish disabilities 'an honourable unanimity was manifest' with not one of the Evangelical Nonconformists voting against it (Conder, Political Position, p. 66). The Dissenting community -- informed by a conviction that the principle of religious equality was a just one -- embraced Jewish emancipation.


Biagini, Eugenio. Liberty, Retrenchment, and Reform: Popular Liberalism in the Age of Gladstone. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992.

Helmstadter, R. J. "The Nonconformist Conscience," in Gerald Parsons (ed.), Religion in Victorian Britain, IV. Manchester: Manchester University Press.

Larsen, Timothy. Friends of Religious Equality. Nonconformist Politics in Mid-Victorian England. Boydell Press, Woodbridge, Suffolk: 1999. ISBN 0 85115 726 2.

Added 23 September 2000