Mirroring developments in Germany, by 1831 the Jewish Question, in the form of the desirability of granting Jews admission to Parliament, had also become a topic of fevered discussion in Britain. One of the most fascinating published opinions produced during this period was Civil Disabilities of the Jews, an essay produced by the historian, essayist and politician Thomas Macaulay (1800—1859). Ostensibly the argument of a classic Liberal in favor of extending political power to Jews, the text is in fact complex and thus more significant. Macaulay’s argument in favor of admitting Jews to Parliament reveals much about the extent and nature of Jewish power and influence in Britain at that time. He viewed emancipation as a means of ‘keeping the Jews in check.’ For example, he insisted that “Jews are not now excluded from political power. They possess it; and as long as they are allowed to accumulate property, they must possess it. The distinction which is sometimes made between civil privileges and political power, is a distinction without a difference. Privileges are power.” Jews were thus already incredibly powerful in the form of civil privileges, and since political power was accompanied by a set of checks and balances, Macaulay’s theory was that admitting Jews into such a system could be a way of better controlling their power and influence.
Macaulay was aware of the role of finance as the primary force of Jewish power in Britain. He asked: “What power in civilized society is so great as that of creditor over the debtor? If we take this away from the Jew, we take away from him the security of his property. If we leave it to him, we leave to him a power more despotic by far, than that of the King and all his cabinet.” Macaulay responds to Christian claims that “it would be impious to let a Jew sit in Parliament” by stating bluntly that “a Jew may make money, and money may make members of Parliament. … The Jew may govern the money market, and the money market may govern the world. … The scrawl of the Jew on the back of a piece of paper may be worth more than the word of three kings, or the national faith of three new American republics.” Macaulay’s insights into the nature of Jewish power at that time, and his assertions that Jews had already accumulated political power without the aid of the statute books, are quite profound. Yet his reasoning — that permitting Jews into the legislature would somehow offset this power, or make it accountable — seems pitifully naive and poorly thought out. Nevertheless, the context and content of his famous essay should be regarded as essential reading. Read more