Once again the course of an English Administration was disturbed by events occurring in Paris. During the earlier part of January, 1858, no one could have had the slightest reason to imagine that anything was likely to happen which could shake the seemingly strong government of Lord Palmerston. But on the 14th of January, 1858, Felice Orsini, an Italian exile who had suffered long imprisonment in an Austrian dungeon, made an attempt on the life of the Emperor of the French; and the attempt was believed to have been part of a murderous conspiracy got up amongst a certain class of Italian exiles who were sheltered in London. The affair created, naturally, immense commotion in Paris; for the attempt cost the lives of many persons wholly unconcerned with any organisation for or against the political growth of Italy. The Emperor and the Empress escaped uninjured from the explosion of the bombs in the Rue Lepelletier; but ten persons were killed and one hundred and fifty were wounded. In the not unnatural passion of the moment French public opinion fixed the blame on England, because England, it was said, had allowed herself to be made the sheltering ground of foreign assassins. A despatch was written by the French Government to the English Foreign Minister suggesting that something ought to be done to strengthen the laws of England so that the country should not be allowed to become the camping ground for conspirators and assassins. Lord Palmerston introduced a measure called the Conspiracy to Murder Bill, the object of which was to increase the penalties on the members of political organisations which had for their object to compass the death of political opponents. The public of England became filled with anger against Lord Palmerston on the assumption that he had prepared this measure merely in obedience to the dictation of the French Government, and that he was altering the laws of England at the command of the Emperor of the French. It was the especial complaint of Englishmen and English newspapers that Lord Palmerston had not even answered the Despatch of the French Government and had therefore seemed by his silence to admit that its accusations were true, and that England had not taken adequate measures to prevent her soil from becoming the shelter and the camping ground of political assassins. There was hot temper on both sides; and the result, so far as England was concerned, was that Lord Palmerston's measure was defeated on its second reading by a majority of 234 against 215 votes. Lord Palmerston resigned : and the Ministry of Lord Derby came into power. Mr. Disraeli became Chancellor of the Exchequer. Lord Stanley, son of Lord Derby, and whom most of us remember as successor to the title, took office as Colonial Secretary. Lord Stanley was then a comparatively young man, a man of undoubted ability, of great practical knowledge, a calm thinker, a profound student of political economy, a thinker who belonged to the school of John Stuart Mill, a man who had travelled as English statesmen had seldom travelled in those days, who knew India and the United States and Canada, and whose intellectual gifts were a theme of wonder as well as of admiration to the ordinary Tory Member of either House of Parliament. Lord Stanley, however, had none of his father's eloquence and little of his father's energy; he was a thinking man rather than a politician; and his career did not realise the great expectations which were formed at its outset. General Peel became Secretary for War.
It is not necessary to give the names of the other members of the Administration, except, indeed, that of the new Solicitor-General, Sir Hugh Cairns, who afterwards became Lord Cairns, and won a distinguished position both as politician and as lawyer. Mr. Disraeli at least must have had one great and unselfish ambition gratified by the action of this shortlived ministry. Mr. Disraeli belonged to an ancient Jewish family and was the son of Isaac Disraeli, a Jew who had a name which still survives in English literature. Benjamin Disraeli was received into the Jewish community when a child; but in very early years became a convinced Christian. Yet he had none of the turn of mind which has made so many a convert look back with a kind of shame and repugnance to the sect which he had quitted. Disraeli through all his political career had manfully, honourably, and consistently stood up for the civil and political rights of the Jews. For a long time the Jews had been excluded from all public office and from the right of representation in this country. Every office which a Jew could possibly have held under other conditions, and every seat which otherwise he might have taken in either House of Parliament, was kept from him because as a condition precedent to its acceptance he would have had to take an oath which repudiated the faith of his fathers and of himself. Against this stupid and barbaric kind of legislation all true reformers of England had been battling for many years. But somehow or other bigotry always seemed, even while forced to emancipate other sects and denominations, to find some way of keeping up the exclusion against the Jews. We have already in the course of this history mentioned the fact that while the Test and Corporations Act of 1828 removed this disability as regarded those whom we call Dissenters in the ordinary sense of the term, it introduced a new declaration containing the words "on the true faith of a Christian," which as a matter of course no Jew could consent to utter. Through session after session, by reformer after reformer, attempts had been made to admit members of the Jewish faith to Parliament. It was on one of those occasions that Macaulay made his first speech in the House of Commons; and he spoke, it is hardly necessary to say, in favour of the admission of the Jews. When a Bill was lucky enough to pass through the House of Commons in favour of admitting Jews to Parliament it was immediately thrown out by the House of Lords. Some distinguished Jews like Baron Lionel Rothschild were actually elected Members of the House of Commons and endeavoured to take their seats there, but were not allowed to do so because they refused to make a declaration "on the true faith of a Christian." It remained for the Ministry, of which Mr. Disraeli was the leader in the House of Commons, to carry the reform to a legitimate success, and to succeed in opening the House of Commons to the properly elected Jew as well as the properly elected Christian.