27 December 1753
In the summer of 1753, the Whig government passed a bill enabling Jews, who were already resident in Britain, to be naturalised without having to receive the sacrament at Holy Communion. With a general election scheduled for the following year, opposition politicians and newspapers promptly whipped up public fears that their ‘Christian country’ would fall under the control of Jewish moneylenders and of ‘British Christians tilling and toiling for Jewish landlords.’1
John Perceval, Earl of Egmont, the effective opposition leader in the House of Commons, denounced the bill as a ‘hateful measure.’2 The Oxford Journal declared it would ‘countenance a set of Creatures, whom Heaven has peculiarly stigmatized for their unparalleled Cruelty, Obstinacy and Infidelity,’ while the Newcastle Courant predicted that the ‘distinguishing cry’ at the election would not be ‘Court or Country,’ but rather ‘Jew or Christian.’3 The London Evening Post even published a fake announcement ‘to inform the Publick’ that a ship stood ready at Limehouse ‘to take in those Christian families that may be inclined to transport themselves to any part of Turky, as chusing to live under a Mahometan [sic] rather than a Jewish Government.’4
In December, the Whig government realising that it might lose the elections in the face of such a barrage of bigotry and deliberate disinformation, decided to back a repeal of the Act, which received royal assent on Thursday 27 December. The Caledonian Mercury reported that ‘we hear that a great Number of the Merchants and Traders of the Cities of London and Westminster (who are not Jews) have agreed to make it a Day of Rejoicing, for the signal Deliverance of this kingdom from the Power of those Harpies: The Evening to conclude with Bonfires, Ringing of Bells, &c.’5
On Friday, as news of the repeal spread across Britian, euphoric crowds gathered to celebrate the confirmation that the ‘harpies’ had been effectively excluded from any possibility of naturalisation. At Devizes ‘the effigy of a Jew was carried through every street,’ its body put on a ‘large fire’ and its head ‘put up on the Pillory, which gave great Delight to the Farmers and Country People,’ while at Bicester the celebrations continued into Saturday with the ‘ringing of Bells all Day,’ and ‘a Half Hogshead of Ale was given to the Populace, who were numerous and unanimous in their cries; No Jews; No naturalization.’ As at Devizes, an effigy of a Jew, which was given the name ‘Ned’, was paraded ’round the town’ and then fixed to the middle of a bonfire, following by illuminations, which ‘were the largest ever known in Bicester.’6
- ‘London,’ The Oxford Journal, 22 December 1753, p. 2.
- ‘Conclusion of the Speech on the Jew Bill by the Earl of Egmont,’ The Manchester Mercury, 4 December 1753, p. 1.
- ‘Election News,’ The Oxford Journal, 15 September 1753, p. 3 and The Newcastle Courant, 25 August 1753, p. 1.
- The London Evening Post cited in The Manchester Mercury, 31 July 1753, p. 4.
- The Caledonian Mercury, 24 December 1753, p. 2.
- The Caledonian Mercury, 17 January 1754, pp. 1-2 and The Oxford Journal, 29 December 1753, p. 1.
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