Macaulay, Thomas Babington°

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MACAULAY, THOMAS BABINGTON ° (Lord Macaulay ; 1800–1859), English historian and politician. A member of a family which had been in the forefront of antislavery agitation, Macaulay was elected to parliament in 1830. His maiden speech in the House of Commons was in support of a bill for the removal of the political disabilities affecting Jews in England. In an article (subsequently translated into several languages) in the Edinburgh Review of January 1831, he argued the same cause, supporting it again in the House of Commons in 1833 and 1841. Macaulay argued that, "The points of difference between Christianity and Judaism have very much to do with a man's fitness to be a bishop or a rabbi. But they have no more to do with his fitness to be a magistrate, a legislator, or a minister of finance than with his fitness to be a cobbler." He also urged that it was inconsistent to deny formal political rights to Jews in a society where they had acquired the substance of political power. Rarely had the case for Jewish emancipation been presented with the literary force of Macaulay's essays and speeches; the support of one of England's leading men of letters had a significant effect on public opinion. They are still among the most cogent set of arguments made for religious toleration and liberalism. Macaulay's own relations with Jews, almost certainly very slight, remain to be examined in detail.


T.B. Macaulay, Essau and Speech on Jewish Disabilities, ed. by I. Abrahams and S. Levy (1909); Roth, Mag Bibl, 55, 56, 60. add. bibliography: odnb online.

[Sefton D. Temkin]