1905 Aliens Act

The unpopularity of the Jewish community in the 19th century can be traced back to an event that took place in Russia. On 13th March, 1881, Tsar Alexander II was assassinated by the People's Will group. One of those convicted of the attack was a young Jewish woman, Gesia Gelfman. Along with Sophia Perovskaya, Andrei Zhelyabov, Nikolai Kibalchich, Nikolai Rysakov, and Timofei Mikhailov, Gelfman was sentenced to death. (1)

The People's Will contacted the Russian government and claimed they would call off the terror campaign if the Russian people were granted a constitution that provided free elections and an end to censorship. Tsar Alexander III rejected this proposal and instead decided to blame the Jews for his father's death. The government claimed that 30% of those arrested for political crimes were Jewish, as were 50% of those involved in revolutionary organisations, even though Jews were a mere 5% of the overall population. (2)

As one Jewish historian, David Rosenberg, has pointed out, the assassination of Alexander II heralded an outbreak of Anti-Semitism: "Within a few weeks, impoverished and vulnerable Jewish communities suffered a wave of pogroms - random mob attacks on their villages and towns, which the authorities were unwilling to prevent and were accused of unofficially instigating. In 1881, pogroms were recorded in 166 Russian towns." (3)

Migration of Russian Jews to Britain

Over the next 25 years, more than a third of Russia's Jews left the country and large numbers settled in Britain. These people received a hostile reception from the right-wing press. (4) Even traditional trade unions were hostile to the Jewish immigrants. Ben Tillett, described them as the "dregs and scum of the continent" who made overcrowded slums "more foetid, putrid and congested". William Morris, Eleanor Marx, Ernest Belfort Bax and other members of the Socialist League defended them and encouraged Jewish workers to form their own unions. (5)

Russian Jews arriving in Britain
Russian Jews arriving in Britain

Three times during the 1890s, the Trade Union Congress passed resolutions calling for immigration controls. A group of Jewish trade unionists, led by Joseph Finn, published a document called Voice from the Aliens to counter one such resolution at the 1895 congress. "It is, and always has been, the policy of the ruling class to attribute the sufferings and miseries of the masses (which are natural consequences of class rule and class exploitation) to all sorts of causes except the real ones. The cry against the foreigner is not merely peculiar to England, it is international. Everywhere he is the scapegoat for other's sins. Every class finds in him an enemy. So long as the Anti-Alien settlement in this country was confined to politicians, wire-pullers, and to individual working-men, we, the organised aliens, took no heed; but when this ill-founded sentiment has been officially expressed by the organised working men of England, then we believe that it is time to lift our voices and argue the matter out."

The document pointed out: "The average annual immigration of Aliens in England according to the report of the Board of Trade for 1891-1893 has been 24,688, whilst the average annual emigration is put down by the Dictionary of Statistics at 164,000. In face of these figures, we repeat our argument. If immigration over-guts the market then emigration must logically relieve it. And, seeing that emigration is more than six times the immigration, we cannot see why England should cry out so loudly about the foreigner."

The document then went on to say: "We, the Jewish workers, have been spoken of as a blighting blister upon the English trades and workers, as men to whose hearts it is impossible to appeal, and were it not for us, the conditions of the native worker would be much improved. He would have plenty of work, good wages and what not. Well, let us look at the facts, let us examine the condition of such workers with whom the Jew never comes in contact, such as the agricultural labourer, the docker, the miner, the weaver, the chainmaker, shipbuilder, bricklayer and many others. Examine their condition, dear reader, and answer: is there any truth in the remark that we are a 'blighting blister' upon the English worker?” (6)

Despite these logical arguments The Daily Mail continued its campaign against the arrival of Jews being persecuted in Russia: "On 2nd February, 1900, a British liner called the Cheshire moored at Southampton, carrying refugees from anti-semitic pogroms in Russia... There were all kinds of Jews, all manner of Jews. They had breakfasted on board, but they rushed as though starving at the food. They helped themselves at will, they spilled coffee on the ground in wanton waste.... These were the penniless refugees and when the relief committee passed by they hid their gold, and fawned and whined, and in broken English asked for money for their train fare." (7)

British Brothers' League

Several Conservative Party members of the House of Commons from East London, including Major William Evans-Gordon (Stepney), Samuel Forde Ridley (Bethnal Green South West), Claude Hay (Hoxton), Walter Guthrie (Bow and Bromley), Spencer Charrington (Mile End) and Thomas Dewar (Tower Hamlets, St George) launched an anti-alien campaign in 1901. Two Jewish MPs, Harry Samuel (Limehouse) and Benjamin Cohen (Islington East) also called for restrictions on immigration. Evans-Gordon argued against "the settlement of large aggregations of Hebrews in a Christian land". In another article he argued that "east of Aldgate one walks into a foreign town" and the development of a separate community, "a solid and permanently distinct block - a race apart, as it were, in an enduring island of extraneous thought and custom". (8)

According to his biographer, Marc Brodie, Evans-Gordon "was instrumental in the establishment of" the British Brothers' League (BBL), "a purportedly working-class anti-immigration body". (9) Evans-Gordon and other Tory MPs in the area galvanised the poorer local populace into angry street marches calling for an end to Jewish immigration. It was stated that the government "would not have this country made the dumping ground for the scum of Europe" and complained that England should be "the heart of the Empire not the dustbin of Austria and Russia". (10)

William Stanley Shaw was elected President of the organisation. He later recalled "that the first manifesto of the British Brothers' League was issued in February, 1901, but we did not commence enrolling members until May, 1901." In the first year Shaw claimed that BBL had "between ten and twelve thousand members, of which some fifteen hundred had paid the sixpence subscription." (11)

Mancherjee Bhownagree, the Tory MP for Bethnal Green North-East, who had been born in India but had moved to London in 1882, also gave his support to the anti-immigrant campaign and endorsed "any action which might stop this undesirable addition to our population". Most members were "mostly local factory workers and unemployed, convinced by BBL propaganda that their precarious work situation, low pay, overcrowded housing and poor sanitation was caused by immigration. The BBL marched through impoverished East End districts, voicing working class concerns, but wealthier elements ran the organisation from its Gracechurch Street offices nestled comfortably within the City." (12)

The leaders of the British Brothers' League convinced many local workers that the influx of migrants willing to work long hours for low pay undermined their struggle for better conditions. Instead of unionising migrants, the BBL called for restriction of entry. The Liberal MP, Henry Norman of Wolverhampton South, also joined the campaign and advised other nations to "disinfect their own sewage". As a result of their campaign the BBL were able to present a petition to Parliament with 45,000 signatures, mostly collected in east London, calling for immigration control." (13)

British Brothers League poster (January 1902)
British Brothers' League poster (January 1902)

Holding "Britain for the British" banners and Union Jacks, the British Brothers' League took part in intimidating marches through the East End. The Jewish Chronicle observed derisively that "there appears to be very little British and nothing brotherly in the new league." In the 1900 General Election campaign saw several Conservative candidates stated their support of the British Brothers League. As a result "the brought into the House of Commons a cadre of Tory MPs representing East End constituencies who were committed in restricting immigration." (14)

Church leaders also joined the campaign against Jews (also referred to as Aliens). In 1902, the Bishop of Stepney, Cosmo Gordon Lang (later the Archbishop of Canterbury) had accused Jewish immigrants of only speaking three English words - "Board of Guardians". Lang went on to say: "I recognize the vigour and intelligence among the aliens but the fact remains that they are swamping whole areas once populated by English people and our churches are continually being left like islands in a sea of aliens." (15)

Anti-Semitism and the British Brothers' League

William Stanley Shaw, the original president of the British Brothers' League resigned in April 1902, and was replaced by Howard Vincent, the Conservative Party MP for Sheffied Central. He claimed that right-wing politicians had turned it into an anti-Semitic organisation. He pointed out in a letter to the East London Observer three months later that the "first condition that I made on starting the movement was the word 'Jew' should never be mentioned and that as far as possible the agitation should be kept clear of racial and religious animosity". He added that other members of the BBL were trying to make people believe that "alien" means "Jew" whereas he insisted it meant "foreigner". According to Shaw "religion had nothing to do with it". (16)

In a letter to the newspaper in September he explained his decision to resign in more detail. He criticised those Tory MPs who were exploiting the subject of immigration and questioned the reasons why "those noble personages who suddenly develop a burning interest in the troubles and perplexities of the masses." Shaw argued that the BBL had "started with the object of benefiting British workers" but had recently become "the pray of outside politicians". He went on to point out that "British workers should remember that this alien influx has been going on for twenty years, to a greater or lesser extent. It is no new discovery. The fault, too lies not with the immigrants in coming here, but with the British Government in allowing them to come. Do not blame the wrong people." (17)

1905 Alien Act

Major William Evans-Gordon was now the main figure in the British Brothers' League, an organisation that now had 12,000 members. Evans-Gordon toured eastern Europe to study the Jewish immigration question, and wrote of his journey in his book The Alien Immigrant, published in 1903. It has been described as an "exhaustively researched and well-received treatise focused on the social political, and economic effects of the mass emigration of Eastern Europeans into Britain." (18) Evans-Gordon concluded his study with the words: "it is a fact that the settlement of large aggregations of Hebrews in a Christian land has never been successful". (19)

Members of the recently formed Labour Party and Jewish trade unionists formed the Aliens Defence League to counteract the British Brothers' League. Evans-Gordon responded by forming a committee of MPs pledged to vote for restriction (the parliamentary pauper immigration committee) and this played an important part in forcing the government to establish a royal commission on alien immigration in 1902. As a member of the commission, Evans-Gordon was "the individual who dominated the whole investigation". Many of the witnesses called by the commission were organized by the BBL. (20)

The commission's report was presented in August 1903 and recommended a range of measures to restrict immigration. It argued that: "Immigrants arrived impoverished, destitute and dirty; practised insanitary habits; spread infectious diseases; were a burden on the rates; dispossessed native dwellers; caused native tradesmen to suffer a loss of trade; worked for rates below the 'native workman'; included criminals, prostitutes and anarchists; formed a compact non-assimilating community, that didn't intermarry; and interfered with the observance of Christian Sunday." (21)

After the publication of this report the government, under pressure from right-wing elements in the Conservative Party, and reactionary newspapers such as the Daily Mail, to do something about immigration controls. Eventually, Arthur Balfour, the prime minister, agreed to introduce an Aliens Act. Aside from anti-semitic sentiments, the act was also driven by the economic and social unrest in the East End of London where most immigrants settled. According to the government, the undercutting of British labour was therefore a central driving force to the passing of the legislation. (22)

In a leading article on 11th December, 1903, The Jewish Chronicle protested that the proposed Alien Act really had nothing to do with the Jews, but was a protectionist measure intended to appease the working classes at a time of unemployment and so help to retain the seats of Conservative MPs. (23) In the next few weeks the newspaper published several articles showing that immigration was declining and pressure on the housing market was easing. (24)

The first attempt to pass the Alien Act in 1904 ended in failure. Howard Vincent, the president of the British Brothers League, complained that members of the Labour Party and the left-wing of the Liberal Party had blocked the measure: "To kill the bill by talk was the avowed object of the Radical obstructionists, and, thanks to them, Stepney and Whitechapel, Hoxton and Tower Hamlets, Poplar and Limehouse, Shoreditch and Bethnal Green, must continue for a while to suffer the evils of unrestricted alien immigration, driving the working-classes from employment and from home, and the townspeople into bankruptcy." However, Vincent claimed that Balfour had assured William Evans-Gordon and Samuel Forde Ridley, two members of the BBL, that he intended to try again to get the measure passed: ""From every point of view I think a measure dealing with the subject is of great importance, and no time shall be lost in making an effort, and I think a more successful effort, to grapple with its difficulties." (25)

The novelist, Marie Corelli, gave her support to the campaign of the British Brothers' League: "The evils of overcrowding in London, as well as the large provincial cities, are steadily increasing, and it is hard to see why Great Britain should alone, out of all the countries in the world, be made a refuge for destitute foreigners. The size of the British Islands on the map, as compared with the rest of Europe, is so out of all proportion to the influx of alien population which annually floods our coasts, that this fact alone ought to be sufficient to press home to all reasoning and reasonable minds the necessity of enforcing legislation in such a way that a proper restriction may be set on the immigration of aliens to a country which has not sufficient room for the growth of its own people... Our first duty is to ourselves and the maintaining of our position with honour. British work, British wages and British homes should be among the first considerations of the British Government." (26)

When the Alien Bill was introduced again in 1905 Balfour claimed that the measure would save money for the country. "Why should we admit into this country people likely to become a public charge? Many countries which exclude immigrants have no Poor Laws they have not those great charities of which we justly boast. The immigrant comes in at his own peril and perishes if he cannot find a living. That is not the case here. From the famous statute of Elizabeth we have taken on ourselves the obligation of supporting every man, woman, and child in this country and saving them from starvation. Is the statute of Elizabeth to have European extension? Are we to be bound to support every man, woman, and child incapable of supporting themselves who choose to come to our shores? That argument seems to me to be preposterous. When it is remembered that some of these persons are a most undesirable element in the population, and are not likely to produce the healthy children... but are afflicted with disease either of mind or of body, which makes them intrinsically undesirable citizens, surely the fact that they are likely to become a public charge is a double reason for keeping them out of the country." (27)

William Evans-Gordon made a major speech on the proposed legislation: "I would remind the House that year by year some 1,500,000 of human beings of every age, sex, and religion, the healthy and hopeful, the diseased and hopeless, good, bad, and indifferent, are on the move from the South and East of Europe pressing towards the West. The expulsive forces which cause this great movement are in the main misgovernment and oppression. But other influences are at work. The enormous number of these people who have gone before make a drawing force to the people who are left behind, and this great travelling mass of humanity has produced among the shipping companies, and people connected with railways and other transport, a fierce competition. Every single person who can be induced to travel is another ticket sold. All these forces add naturally to the number of people who are on the move. This immigration is not by any means wholly Jewish. The Jewish emigrants do form a very large part of the whole, and in their case it may be said to take the form almost of a national migration. There are 5,500,000 Jews in the Russian Empire, but we cannot consider all these people to be possible emigrants, though a large number of them must be considered in that light, unless affairs in Eastern Europe undergo a profound modification. As things are, it is the poorest and the least fit of these people who move, and it is the residuum of these again who come to, or are left in this country." (28)

He went on to argue that this was causing considerable problems, such as overcrowding and low wages, for the working-classes living in London. This view was attacked by Charles Trevelyan: "The truth is if it were only an economic question we on this side of the House should regard it as almost too insignificant a matter to oppose, although we think it useless protection, but there are two serious results which we foresee from this legislation. The first is that it diverts the attention of the public from more serious remedies for the deep-seated and terrible evils of overcrowding and sweating in our country. Overcrowding and sweating are national institutions which the aliens find when they come here. They want to be sweated and overcrowded as little as the native-born, but at first landing they are naturally more liable to suffer from the conditions of the towns in which they find themselves. Their overcrowding and sweating is only a part of a system from which our population suffers immensely more than the few aliens who come over here." (29)

Stuart Samuel, the Liberal Party MP for Whitechapel, accused the government of proposing legislation that would stop Jews who were suffering from religious persecution from entering the country. "The Prime Minister... had laid it down that we were bound by out historical past to refuse admission to the victims of religious persecution upon the ground that to admit them would cost this country a certain sum of money. That sordid and unworthy argument he believed the people of this country would not approve of.... If the right hon. Gentleman thought that he represented the opinions of the people of this country, why did he not appeal to them in that case? The right hon. Gentleman knew perfectly well that up and down the country the people were in favour of religious freedom.... said that if they refused asylum in this country to the victims of religious persecution and threw them back into the country where they were religiously persecuted, they were participating in the wrong." (30)

Balfour claimed that this legislation would help to protect the working-class from immigrants willing to accept lower-wages. This idea was completely rejected by Kier Hardie, the leader of the Labour Party: "The right hon. Gentleman (Arthur Balfour) replied that the Bill proposed to give protection to underpaid British labour against the competition of foreigners. At the present time the workman knew he had no such protection, but if this Bill became law he would relatively be worse off than he was now, because he would have a nominal protection. He would be more liable to competition under the Bill than he was now. Under the Bill no poor workman could come in unless he brought a contract of employment with him, and therefore the whole machinery would be set up for importing foreign workmen under a contract of employment, and it would be easier for the employers who wanted to obtain a gang of foreign workmen to obtain them. Consequently a British workman who was being threatened with a strike or a lock-out would find his position worse under the Bill than he did at present. The Government, had no right to so legislate as to give the employer an unfair advantage over his workman during a trade dispute." (31)

Although the word "Jew" was absent from the legislation, Jews formed the vast bulk of the "aliens" category. Speaking during the committee stage of the Alien Bill, Balfour argued that Jews should be prevented from arriving in Britain because they were not "to the advantage of the civilisation of this country... that there should be an immense body of persons who, however patriotic, able and industrious, however much they threw themselves into the national life, they are a people apart and not only had a religion differing from the vast majority of their fellow countrymen but only intermarry amongst themselves." (32)

The Liberal Party believed that the Alien Act was popular with the electorate and decided not to oppose the bill with any great effort. However, a couple of its more left-wing members, Charles Trevelyan and Charles Wentworth Dilke, did argue strongly against the legislation. So did the two Labour MPs, Kier Hardie and Richard Bell. All four Jewish MPs who represented the Conservative Party, including Benjamin Cohen and Harry Samuel, voted for the legislation. Of the four Jewish Liberals, one abstained and three voted against the bill. (33)

As Geoffrey Alderman, the author of Modern British Jewry (1998) has pointed out: "It was not at the Jewish Board of Deputies that the principle of the legislation was condemned, but at the Jewish Working Men's Club, Great Alie Street, Aldgate, and by the Jewish Socialist-Zionist party, Poale Zion... Chief Rabbi Adler was reluctant to condemn it... At the general election of January 1906, in at least one constituency (Leeds Central) Adler's influence was discreetly employed by the Conservative interest." (34)

Britannia: "I can no longer offer shelter to fugitives. England is no longer a free country (1906)
Britannia: "I can no longer offer shelter to fugitives. England is no longer a free country (1906)

The Aliens Act was given royal assent in August 1905. With a great deal of justification, William Evans-Gordon was regarded by Chaim Weizmann, later the first president of Israel, as the "father of the Aliens Act". (35) It was the first time the government introduced immigration controls and registration, and gave the Home Secretary overall responsibility for immigration and nationality matters. The government argued that the act was designed to prevent paupers or criminals from entering the country and set up a mechanism to deport those who slipped through. Alfred Eckhard Zimmern, was one of many who opposed the legislation as being anti-Semitic, commented: "It is true that it does not specify Jews by name and that it is claimed that others besides Jews will be affected by the Act, but that is only a pretence." (36)

1906 General Election

In the 1906 General Election Tory MPs attempted to use the subject of immigration to win them votes. David Hope Kyd, the prospective MP for Whitechapel, told the electorate that Stuart Samuel, the sitting member, was pro-alien and it was "no good sending to Parliament a man who stands up... for the foreign Jews" and what was needed was "someone who could speak for the English in Whitechapel." (37) He was not the only Tory to mount a racist campaign as they appealed to "the British working man" to vote against "Pro-Alien Radical Jews" and "push back this intolerable invasion". (38)

The passing of the Alien Act did not help the Conservative Party in the 1906 General Election. The Liberal Party won 397 seats (48.9%) compared to the Conservative Party's 156 seats (43.4%). The Labour Party, led by Keir Hardie did well, increasing their seats from 2 to 29. In the landslide victory, the prime minister, Arthur Balfour, also lost his seat. Others who failed to get elected included supporters of the British Brothers League such as Samuel Forde Ridley (Bethnal Green South West), Walter Guthrie (Bow and Bromley), Thomas Dewar (Tower Hamlets, St George), Claude Hay (Hoxton), Harry Samuel (Limehouse), Benjamin Cohen (Islington East) and Mancherjee Bhownagree (Bethnal Green North-East). In Whitechapel, its Jewish MP, Stuart Samuel, who campaigned against the legislation, increased his majority over his racist opponent, David Hope Kyd. Margot Asquith wrote: "When the final figures of the Elections were published everyone was stunned, and it certainly looks as if it were the end of the great Tory Party as we have known it." (39)

However, the Alien Act was not repealed by the new Liberal government. As David Rosenberg has pointed out: "The Alien's Act drastically reduced the numbers of Jews seeking economic betterment in Britain who were permitted to enter; it also prevented greater numbers of asylum-seekers, escaping harrowing persecution, from finding refuge. In 1906, more than 500 Jewish refugees were granted political asylum. In 1908 the figure had fallen to twenty and by 1910, just five. During the same period, 1,378 Jews, who had been permitted to enter as immigrants but were found to be living on the streets without any visible means of support, had been rounded up and deported back to their country of origin." (40)

Primary Sources

(1) Joseph Finn, Voice from the Aliens (1895)

It is, and always has been, the policy of the ruling class to attribute the sufferings and miseries of the masses (which are natural consequences of class rule and class exploitation) to all sorts of causes except the real ones. The cry against the foreigner is not merely peculiar to England, it is international. Everywhere he is the scapegoat for other's sins. Every class finds in him an enemy. So long as the Anti-Alien settlement in this country was confined to politicians, wire-pullers, and to individual working-men, we, the organised aliens, took no heed; but when this ill-founded sentiment has been officially expressed by the organised working men of England, then we believe that it is time to lift our voices and argue the matter out....

The average annual immigration of Aliens in England according to the report of the Board of Trade for 1891-1893 has been 24,688, whilst the average annual emigration is put down by the Dictionary of Statistics at 164,000. In face of these figures, we repeat our argument. If immigration over-guts the market then emigration must logically relieve it. And, seeing that emigration is more than six times the immigration, we cannot see why England should cry out so loudly about the foreigner...

We, the Jewish workers, have been spoken of as a blighting blister upon the English trades and workers, as men to whose hearts it is impossible to appeal, and were it not for us, the conditions of the native worker would be much improved. He would have plenty of work, good wages and what not.

Well, let us look at the facts, let us examine the condition of such workers with whom the Jew never comes in contact, such as the agricultural labourer, the docker, the miner, the weaver, the chainmaker, shipbuilder, bricklayer and many others. Examine their condition, dear reader, and answer: is there any truth in the remark that we are a “blighting blister” upon the English worker?

(2) East London Observer (19th October, 1901)

The chairman (William Stanley Shaw), who was received with a loud outburst of applause, said that the great difficulty which lay in the way of dealing with the unrestricted immigration of foreign paupers was the fact that people did not understand the magnitude of the question. To the inhabitants of Stepney or Bethnal Green the problem was so overwhelming and appalling that he could not realise the the extreme gravity of the condition of things. The English work people have been driven out of their homes and turned adrift. The foreigners were turning the country, which was once known as the workshop of the world, into the workhouse of the world.

(3) East London Observer (27th August, 1904)

Sir Howard Vincent, M.P., honorary president of the British Brothers' League, had addressed a long letter to the members of the League on the position of the Alien question. He traces the development of the measures to deal with the alien immigration since 1885 and 1886. Finally he mentions the fate of the Aliens Bill in the past session. "To kill the bill by talk" he says, "was the avowed object of the Radical obstructionists, and, thanks to them, Stepney and Whitechapel, Hoxton and Tower Hamlets, Poplar and Limehouse, Shoreditch and Bethnal Green, must continue for a while to suffer the evils of unrestricted alien immigration, driving the working-classes from employment and from home, and the townspeople into bankruptcy."

It is true that the Prime Minister, in an answer to Mr. Forde Ridley and Major Evans-Gordon, promised to reinforce the whole Bill next session... "From every point of view I think a measure dealing with the subject is of great importance, and no time shall be lost in making an effort, and I think a more successful effort, to grapple with its difficulties."

(4) Marie Corelli, letter in The Morning Post (2nd May 1905)

The evils of overcrowding in London, as well as the large provincial cities, are steadily increasing, and it is hard to see why Great Britain should alone, out of all the countries in the world, be made a refuge for destitute foreigners.

The size of the British Islands on the map, as compared with the rest of Europe, is so out of all proportion to the influx of alien population which annually floods our coasts, that this fact alone ought to be sufficient to press home to all reasoning and reasonable minds the necessity of enforcing legislation in such a way that a proper restriction may be set on the immigration of aliens to a country which has not sufficient room for the growth of its own people...

Our first duty is to ourselves and the maintaining of our position with honour. British work, British wages and British homes should be among the first considerations of the British Government... I would suggest that committees of the British Brothers' League be formed in the large provincial cities, such as Birmingham, Leeds, Manchester, Sheffield, and Liverpool.

(5) William Stanley Shaw, letter to the East London Observer (27th September, 1902)

As the founder of the British Brothers' League... I should like to say that the first manifesto of the British Brothers League was issued in February, 1901, but we did not commence enrolling members until May, 1901. When I resigned the presidency, some six months ago, I estimate that there were between ten and twelve thousand members, of which some fifteen hundred had paid the sixpence subscription...

So much for the accuracy of the statements of some of those noble personages who suddenly develop a burning interest in the troubles and perplexities of the masses...

When the League was first started a certain Jewish section charged it (unjustly) with being anti-Semitic. Later on a certain Gentile section tried to make it anti-Semitic. The result was that a League started with the object of benefiting British workers was made to suffer for the follies of cranks or self-seekers (or both) and quickly became the pray of outside politicians - or would be politicians.

British workers should remember that this alien influx has been going on for twenty years, to a greater or lesser extent. It is no new discovery. The fault, too lies not with the immigrants in coming here, but with the British Government in allowing them to come. Do not blame the wrong people.

(6) Arthur Balfour, speech in the House of Commons (2nd May 1905)

We are the sieve through which the good immigrant goes while the bad, immigrant stays, That is why I said this is one of the new conditions which did not exist some years ago, and which require the House to take account of the character of the immigrant who comes to our shores. That seems a conclusive argument in favour of doing something, and why is it that it does not meet with the universal assent of hon. Gentlemen opposite? The best reason I have heard is that which declares that it interferes for the first time in our national history with the right of asylum. I deny absolutely that it interferes with the right of asylum as it was understood by our forefathers. What was understood by the right of asylum in old days was this. We supposed ourselves, and with considerable reason, to be the best governed country in Europe. We were aware that there were a great many countries in Europe where tyranny prevailed and where it produced, as a natural consequence, conspiracies and in many cases armed rebellion and we prided ourselves upon giving an asylum to the protagonists in a cause which we regarded as, with some exceptions, the cause of freedom. In so far as that doctrine is still maintained, it is not violated by this Bill...

Why should we admit into this country people likely to become a public charge? Many countries which exclude immigrants have no Poor Laws they have not those great charities of which we justly boast. The immigrant comes in at his own peril and perishes if he cannot find a living. That is not the case here. From the famous statute of Elizabeth we have taken on ourselves the obligation of supporting every man, woman, and child in this country and saving them from starvation. Is the statute of Elizabeth to have European extension? Are we to be bound to support every man, woman, and child incapable of supporting themselves who choose to come to our shores? That argument seems to me to be preposterous. When it is remembered that some of these persons are a most undesirable element in the population, and are not likely to produce the healthy children of which the last speaker has spoken, but are afflicted with disease either of mind or of body, which makes them intrinsically undesirable citizens, surely the fact that they are likely to become a public charge is a double reason for keeping them out of the country. What is the answer to that argument I There is absolutely no answer given except that the number of these people is so small relatively to the whole population of the country that they may be ignored...

That actually happens is that these foreign immigrants go into a small area of the East End of London, and they produce the evil of overcrowding... Let me translate that into the actual facts of Whitechapel. It means that the foreign immigrant first drives the British workman out of Whitechapel and then the small remnant has to pay the rates in order to carry out the sanitary arrangements and the Poor Law arrangements which are to remedy the state of things which he is the victim. How can you justify it? The truth is that the evil is not only great and pressing in these districts where it prevails, but it is one which these districts are perfectly incapable of dealing with unassisted. I listened really with some shame to the loud professions of philanthropic altruism on the part of Gentlemen who pay neither from their own pockets nor from the pockets of their constituents, nor from any section or class with which they have to deal. They look on and see all these things happening, and simply occupy themselves in resisting a measure by which, to some extent at all events, I hope this evil will be remedied.

I think I have made at all events that part of my case clear, which I think is almost the most important part of the whole argument. In my view we have a right to keep out everybody who does not add to the strength of the community - the industrial, social, and intellectual strength of the community. I think we have a right, which we ought to exercise in the case of all the classes mentioned in the form of words which I have just read to the House; and I cannot conceive a more ludicrous inconsistency than for the same House of Commons to assent to these persons coming into the country who are to be a charge on the rates and at the same time charging the same rates with large sums of money for the purpose of emigrating Englishmen, Britons, from our shores. Let me grant that all these undesirable aliens have every merit that can be attributed to them. Poverty, I admits is no crime; by itself if it involve a charge on the rates it might be no evil. But grant that the lunatic, the diseased, and all the other classes have no disqualification from becoming citizens of this country - are we to believe that they are better than our own citizens, our own flesh and blood, for the purpose of getting rid of whom we are charging our rates?

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Industrial Revolution

First World War

Russian Revolution

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United States: 1920-1945

References

(1) Cathy Porter, Fathers and Daughters: Russian Women in Revolution (1976) page 276

(2) Michael Burleigh, Blood & Rage: A Cultural History of Terrorism (2008) page 58

(3) David Rosenberg, Battle for the East End: Jewish Responses to Fascism in the 1930s (2011) page 20

(4) Lionel Morrison, A Century of Black Journalism in Britain (2007) page 170

(5) David Rosenberg, The Guardian (4th March, 2015)

(6) Joseph Finn, Voice from the Aliens (1895)

(7) The Daily Mail (3rd February, 1900)

(8) Colin Holmes, Anti-Semitism in British Society, 1876-1939 (1979) page 27

(9) Marc Brodie, William Evans-Gordon: Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (2004)

(10) David Rosenberg, Battle for the East End: Jewish Responses to Fascism in the 1930s (2011) page 23

(11) East London Observer (19th October, 1901)

(12) David Rosenberg, The Guardian (4th March, 2015)

(13) David Rosenberg, Rebel Footprints: A Guide to Uncovering London's Radical History (2015) page 94

(14) David Cesarani, The Jewish Chronicle and Anglo-Jewry, 1841–1991 (1994) page 74

(15) Stephen Aris, But there are no Jews in England (1970) page 32

(16) Colin Holmes, Anti-Semitism in British Society, 1876-1939 (1979) page 94

(17) William Stanley Shaw, letter to the East London Observer (27th September, 1902)

(18) Lara Trubowitz, Civil Antisemitism, Modernism, and British Culture, 1902-1939 (2012) pages 29-30

(19) William Evans-Gordon, The Alien Immigrant (1903) page 248

(20) Marc Brodie, William Evans-Gordon: Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (2004)

(21) David Rosenberg, Rebel Footprints: A Guide to Uncovering London's Radical History (2015) pages 94-95

(22) Bernard Gainer, The Alien Invasion: The Origins of the Aliens Act of 1905 (1972) pages 19-20

(23) The Jewish Chronicle (11th December, 1903)

(24) David Cesarani, The Jewish Chronicle and Anglo-Jewry, 1841–1991 (1994) page 99

(25) East London Observer (27th August, 1904)

(26) Marie Corelli, letter in The Morning Post (2nd May 1905)

(27) Arthur Balfour, speech in the House of Commons (2nd May 1905)

(28) William Evans-Gordon, speech in the House of Commons (2nd May 1905)

(29) Charles Trevelyan, speech in the House of Commons (2nd May 1905)

(30) Stuart Samuel, speech in the House of Commons (10th July, 1905)

(31) Kier Hardie, speech in the House of Commons (10th July, 1905)

(32) Geoffrey Alderman, Modern British Jewry (1998) page 133

(33) House of Commons vote on the Alien Act (5th May, 1905)

(34) Geoffrey Alderman, Modern British Jewry (1998) page 137

(35) Bernard Gainer, The Alien Invasion: The Origins of the Aliens Act of 1905 (1972) page 182

(36) Alfred Eckhard Zimmern, The Economic Journal (April, 1911)

(37) Colin Holmes, Anti-Semitism in British Society, 1876-1939 (1979) page 28

(38) Paul Thompson, Socialists, Liberals and Labour: the Struggle for London, 1885–1914 (1967) page 29

(39) Margot Asquith, The Autobiography of Margot Asquith (1962) page 245

(40) David Rosenberg, Battle for the East End: Jewish Responses to Fascism in the 1930s (2011) page 114