RARE FIRST EDITIONS OF THE JEWISH NATURALIZATION ACT OF 1753 AND ITS REPEAL A FEW MONTHS LATER, LANDMARK DOCUMENTS IN JEWISH HISTORY
PARLIAMENT. An Act to permit Persons professing the Jewish Religion, to be naturalized by Parliament; and for other Purposes therein mentioned. WITH: An Act to Repeal. London: Thomas Baskett, 1753. Two pieces. Slim folio, original tan self-wrappers disbound; pp.(2) 407-410 and modern cardboard boards, pp. 1-4. $6500.
First edition of the Jewish Naturalization Act of 1753, the "Jew Bill" that notoriously provoked such fierce opposition that it was repealed within months by Parliament, together with a first edition of that repeal.
Under Cromwell, in 1656, it had finally "became possible, for the first time for three and a half centuries, for Jews to live, trade and worship openly and, for the most part, untroubled in the City of London" (Schama, History of Britain II:234-35). Subsequently, despite anti-Jewish agitation in the early years of George II's reign, the King was not inclined "to reverse the arrangement that had become established under the Protectorate… [and] the legality of the practice of Judaism in England at last received indirect parliamentary recognition in the Act for Suppressing Blasphemy of 1698" (Encyclopedia Judaica). However, British Jews seeking naturalization and the right to participate in the political process—be it voting, holding elected office or a government job—continued to be excluded by requirements that they receive the Sacrament and swear an oath as Christians. This constraint lessened when Britain sought to encourage settlement in the America by passing the Plantation Act in 1740, which removed the obstacle of a Sacramental Test for Jews who "inhabited or resided, or shall inhabit or reside for the space of seven years or more" in America. Soon after, in 1753, Britain attempted its own Naturalization Act (known as "The Jew Bill"), legislating a process for British Jews that removed the Sacramental Test, but continued to stipulate a Christian oath that prevented Jews from voting or holding office. Popular opposition was immediate. The 1753 Naturalization Act "was received by the nation, the historians tell us, 'with horror and execration.' Those who had voted for it were denounced by the people… On the first day of the next session, a bill to repeal it was introduced and hurriedly passed with the assent of both parties" (Daly, Settlement of the Jews in America).
The language of the repeal echoes that controversy, stating "whereas Occasion has been taken from the said Act, to raise Discontents, and to disquiet the minds of many of his Majesty's Subjects; be it enacted by the King's most Excellent Majesty, by and with the Advice and Content of the Lords Spiritual and Temporal, and Commons, in this present Parliament assembled, and by the Authority of the same, That the above-mentioned Act, and the several Matters and Things therein contained, shall be, and is and are hereby repealed and made void to all Intents and Purposes whatsoever." Opposition in America similarly followed. As noted by Ezra Stiles, president of Yale (1778-95), passage of the 1753 Jewish Naturalization Act produced a comparable "tumult in New York in procuring the taking place of [Jewish] naturalization there, and the opposition it has met with in Rhode Island, forbodes that Jews will never become incorporated with the people in America any more than Europe, Asia, or Africa." Nevertheless the intensity of opposition generating this repeal conversely "led to greater solidarity among the various sections of the [Jewish] community. From 1760 representatives of the Ashkenazi congregations began to act intermittently with the deputados of the Sephardim as a watch-committee in matters of common interest. This gradually developed in to the London Committee of Deputies of British Jews" (Encyclopedia Judaica). After several modest measures to permit the election of Jews were defeated in 1837 and 1841, a bill granting British Jews the right to political office finally passed in 1845. These first printings, from the Sessional Volumes of Parliament, printed in gothic type (indicative of first edition), are the earliest and most accurate contemporary sources of the Acts.