Isaac Isaacs

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This article is about the 9th Australian Governor-General (1855-1948). For the Adelaide businessman and mayor (1858-1935), see Isaac Isaacs (mayor).
The Right Honourable
Sir Isaac Isaacs
GCB GCMG KC
Ac.isaacs.jpg
9th Governor-General of Australia
In office
21 January 1931 – 23 January 1936
Monarch George V
Edward VIII
Preceded by The Lord Stonehaven
Succeeded by The Lord Gowrie
3rd Chief Justice of Australia
In office
2 April 1930 – 21 January 1931
Nominated by James Scullin
Appointed by The Lord Stonehaven
Preceded by Sir Adrian Knox
Succeeded by Sir Frank Gavan Duffy
Justice of the High Court of Australia
In office
12 October 1906 – 2 April 1930
Nominated by Alfred Deakin
Appointed by Henry Northcote, 1st Baron Northcote
Preceded by None
Succeeded by Sir Edward McTiernan
Attorney-General of Australia
In office
6 July 1905 – 10 October 1906
Prime Minister Alfred Deakin
Preceded by Josiah Symon
Succeeded by Littleton Groom
Member of the Australian Parliament
for Indi
In office
9 May 1901 – 10 October 1906
Preceded by None
Australian Federation
Succeeded by Joseph Brown
Personal details
Born Isaac Alfred Isaacs
(1855-08-06)6 August 1855
Melbourne, Victoria, Australia
Died 11 February 1948(1948-02-11) (aged 92)
South Yarra, Melbourne, Victoria
Australia
Spouse(s) Deborah 'Daisy' Jacobs (c.1870-1960) married 1888
Profession Barrister, Politician & Judge
Religion Judaism

Sir Isaac Alfred Isaacs GCB GCMG KC (6 June 1855 – 11 February 1948) was an Australian judge and politician who served as the 3rd Chief Justice of Australia and the 9th, and first Australian-born, Governor-General. He had previously served as Attorney-General in the Protectionist government of Alfred Deakin.

Early life[edit]

Isaacs was the son of Alfred Isaacs, a tailor of Jewish ancestry from the town of Mława, Poland. Seeking greater fortune, Alfred left Poland and worked his way across what is now Germany, spending some months in Berlin and Frankfurt. By 1845 he had passed through Paris and arrived to work in London, where he met Rebecca Abrahams; the two married in 1849. After news of the 1851 Victorian gold rush reached England, Australia became a very popular destination and the Isaacs decided to emigrate. By 1854 they had saved enough for the fare, departing from Liverpool in June 1854 and arriving in Melbourne in September.[1] Some time after arriving the Isaacs moved into a cottage and shopfront in Elizabeth Street, Melbourne, where Alfred continued his tailoring. Isaac Alfred Isaacs was born in this cottage on 6 August 1855.[2] His family moved to various locations around Melbourne while he was young, then in 1859 moved to Yackandandah in northern Victoria, close to family friends.[3] At this time Yackandandah was a gold mining settlement of 3,000 people.

Sir Isaac Isaacs and Lady Isaacs

Isaacs had three siblings who were all born in Yackandandah: John, who later became a solicitor and Victorian Member of Parliament; sisters Carolyn and Hannah. Another brother, born in Melbourne, and a sister, born in Yackandandah, both died very young.[4] His first formal schooling was from sometime after 1860 at a small private establishment. At eight he won the school arithmetic prize, winning his photograph by the schoolmaster, who was also a photographer and bootmaker. Yackandandah state school was opened in 1863 and Isaacs enrolled as a pupil. Here he excelled academically, particularly in arithmetic and languages, though he was a frequent truant, walking off to spend time in the nearby mining camps. To help Isaacs gain a better quality education, in 1867, his family moved to nearby Beechworth first enrolling him in the Common school then in the Beechworth Grammar School.[5] He excelled at the Grammar School, becoming dux in his first year and winning many academic prizes.[6] In his second year he was employed part-time as an assistant teacher at the school, and took up after school tutoring of fellow students. In September 1870, when Isaacs was just 15 years old, he passed his examination as a pupil teacher and taught at the school from then until 1873. Isaacs was next employed as an assistant teacher at the Beechworth State School, the successor to the Common school.[7]

While employed at the State School, Isaacs had his first experience of the Law, as an unsuccessful litigant in an 1875 County Court case. He disputed a payment arrangement with the headmaster of his school, resigning as part of the dispute. After returning to teaching, now back at the Grammar School, he expanded his interest in the law; reading law books and attending court sittings.[8]

As a child Isaacs became fluent in Russian, which his parents spoke frequently, as well as English and some German. Isaacs later gained varying degrees of proficiency in Italian, French, Greek, Hindustani and Chinese.[9]

Working life[edit]

In 1875 he moved to Melbourne and found work at the Prothonotary's Office of the Law Department. In 1876, while still working full-time, he studied law at the University of Melbourne. He graduated in 1880 with a Master of Laws degree in 1883. He married Deborah 'Daisy' Jacobs at her parents' home in St Kilda on 18 July 1888. They had two daughters, one born in 1890 and the other in 1892. The daughters were Marjorie Isaacs Cohen who died in 1968 and was survived by a son (Thomas B. Cohen), and Nancy Isaacs Cullen.[10] Lady Jacobs died at Bowral, New South Wales in 1960.[11]

In 1892 Isaacs was elected to the Victorian Legislative Assembly as a liberal. In 1893 he became Solicitor-General. He was the member for Bogong from May 1892 until May 1893 and between June 1893 and May 1901. In 1897 he was elected to the Convention, that drafted the Australian Constitution, where he supported those arguing for a more democratic draft. He took silk as a Queen's Counsel in 1899.[12]

Isaacs was elected to the first federal Parliament in 1901 to the seat of Indi as a critical supporter of Edmund Barton and his Protectionist government. He was one of a group of backbenchers pushing for more radical policies and he earned the dislike of many of his colleagues through what they saw as his aloofness and rather self-righteous attitude to politics.

Alfred Deakin appointed Isaacs Attorney-General in 1905 but he was a difficult colleague and in 1906 Deakin was keen to get him out of politics by appointing him to the High Court bench. He was the first serving Minister to resign from the Parliament. On the High Court he joined H. B. Higgins as a radical minority on the Court in opposition to the Chief Justice, Sir Samuel Griffith. He served on the Court for 24 years, acquiring a reputation as a learned radical but uncollegial justice.[citation needed] Isaacs was appointed a Knight Commander of the Order of St Michael and St George in the King's Birthday Honours of 1928 for his service on the High Court.[13]

Isaacs was one of only eight justices of the High Court to have served in the Parliament of Australia prior to his appointment to the Court; the others were Edmund Barton, Richard O'Connor, H. B. Higgins, Edward McTiernan, John Latham, Garfield Barwick, and Lionel Murphy. He was also one of two to have served in the Parliament of Victoria, along with Higgins.

In 1930, the Labor Prime Minister, James Scullin, appointed the 75-year-old Isaacs as Chief Justice. Shortly afterwards, however, Scullin decided to appoint an Australian as Governor-General and offered the post to Isaacs. Scullin personally advised King George V to make the appointment during his 1930 trip to Europe. The King reluctantly agreed to his advice,[14] although his own preferred appointee was Field Marshal Sir William Birdwood, who had commanded the Australian Imperial Force during the First World War. Isaacs agreed to a reduction in salary and conducted the office with great frugality. He gave up his official residences in Sydney and Melbourne and most official entertaining. Although he was sworn in to office in the chamber of the Victorian Legislative Council in Melbourne, rather than in Parliament House in Canberra, he was the first Governor-General to live permanently at Government House, Canberra. This was well-received with the public as was Isaacs's image of rather austere dignity. Issacs was promoted to a Knight Grand Cross of the Order of St Michael and St George in April 1932.[15] His term as Governor-General concluded on 23 January 1936, and he retired to Victoria.[6] In 1937, he was further honoured with the award of a Knight Grand Cross of the Order of the Bath.[16]

Opposition to political Zionism[edit]

Isaacs was 81 when his term ended in 1936, but his public life was far from over. He remained active in various causes for another decade and wrote frequently on matters of constitutional law. In the 1940s he became embroiled in controversy with the Jewish community both in Australia and internationally through his outspoken opposition to Zionism. His principal critic was Julius Stone.[17] Isaacs was supported by Rabbi Jacob Danglow (1880 - 1962) and Harold Boas. Isaacs insisted that Judaism was a religious identity and not a national or ethnic one. He opposed the notion of a Jewish homeland in Palestine. Isaacs said "[p]olitical Zionism to which I am irrevocably opposed for the reasons which will be found clearly stated, must be sharply distinguished from religious and cultural Zionism to which I am strongly attached."[18]

Isaacs opposed Zionism partly because he disliked nationalism of all kinds and saw Zionism as a form of Jewish national chauvinism—and partly because he saw the Zionist agitation in Palestine as disloyalty to the British Empire to which he was devoted. Following the King David Hotel bombing in 1946, he wrote that "the honour of Jews throughout the world demands the renunciation of political Zionism". Isaacs' main objections to Political Zionism were:-

  1. "A negation of Democracy, and an attempt to revert to the Church-State of bygone ages.
  2. Provocative anti-Semitism.
  3. Unwarranted by the Balfour Declaration, the Mandate, or any other right; contrary to Zionist assurances to Britain and to the Arabs and in present conditions unjust to other Palestinians politically and to other religions.
  4. As regards unrestricted immigration, a discriminatory and an undemocratic camouflage for a Jewish State.
  5. An obstruction to the consent of the Arabs to the peaceful and prosperous settlement in Palestine of hundreds of thousands of suffering European Jews, the victims of Nazi atrocities; and provocative of Moslem antagonism within and beyond the Empire, and consequently a danger to its integrity and safety.
  6. Inconsistent in demanding on one hand, on a basis of a separate Jewish nationality everywhere Jews are found, Jewish domination in Palestine, and at the same time claiming complete Jewish equality elsewhere than in Palestine, on the basis of a nationality common to the citizens of every faith."[19]

Isaacs said "the Zionist movement as a whole...now places its own unwarranted interpretation on the Balfour Declaration, and makes demands that are arousing the antagonism of the Moslem world of nearly 400 millions, thereby menacing the safety of our Empire, endangering world peace and imperiling some of the most sacred associations of the Jewish, Christian, and Moslem faiths. Besides their inherent injustice to others these demands would, I believe, seriously and detrimentally affect the general position of Jews throughout the world..".[20]

Death[edit]

Isaacs died on 12 February 1948 at the age of 92. He died at his home in South Yarra, Victoria. A state funeral was held on 15 February 1948.[21]

Honours[edit]

In May 1949 he was honoured with the naming of the Australian Electoral Division of Isaacs in the outer southern suburbs of Melbourne. At a redistribution in November 1968, the electorate was abolished and a separate Division of Isaacs was created in the south-eastern suburbs of Melbourne. It exists to this day.

The Canberra suburb of Isaacs was named after him in 1966.

In 1973 he was honoured on a postage stamp bearing his portrait issued by Australia Post.[22]

Isaacs's written works[edit]

  • The new agriculture, 1901, Melbourne : Department of Agriculture
  • Opinion of the Hon. Isaac A. Isaacs, K.C., M.P., re the case of Lieutenant Witton, 1902, Melbourne : [s.n.]
  • The Riverina Transport case, 1938, Melbourne : Australian Natives' Association, Victorian Board of Directors
  • Australian democracy and our constitutional system, 1939, Melbourne : Horticultural Press
  • An appeal for a greater Australia : the nation must itself take power for its post-war reconstruction; the constitutional issue stated; dynamic democracy, 1943, Melbourne : Horticultural Press
  • Referendum powers : :a stepping stone to greater freedom, 1946, Melbourne : [s.n.]
  • Palestine : peace and prosperity or war and destruction? Political Zionism : undemocratic, unjust, dangerous, 1946, Melbourne : Ramsey Ware Publishing

Biographies[edit]

  • Gordon, Max. Sir Isaac Isaacs: A Life of Service (Heinemann: Melbourne) 1963.
  • Cowen, Sir Zelman. Isaac Isaacs (Oxford University Press) 1967.
  • Cowen, Sir Zelman. Sir Isaac Isaacs (Melbourne University Press) 1979.

Articles[edit]

Lee, Godfrey S. The battle of the scholars: the debate between Sir Isaac Isaacs and Julius Stone over Zionism during World War II, Australian Journal of Politics and History, v.31, no.1, 1985, pp. 128–134

Kirby, Michael. Sir Isaac Isaacs – a sesquicentenary reflection [online]. Melbourne University Law Review, v.29, no.3, Dec 2005: 880–904.

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Gordon (1963), pp.1–5
  2. ^ Gordon (1963), pp.9–10
  3. ^ Gordon (1963), pp.12–14
  4. ^ Gordon (1963), pp.13,18
  5. ^ Gordon (1963), pp.19–20
  6. ^ a b Cowen, Zelman (1983). "Isaacs, Sir Isaac Alfred (1855–1948)". Australian Dictionary of Biography. Canberra: Australian National University. Retrieved 11 November 2008. 
  7. ^ Gordon (1963), p.23
  8. ^ Gordon (1963), pp.23–25
  9. ^ Gordon (1963), pp.12–13,17
  10. ^ Biography - Sir Isaac Isaacs | Australian Dictionary of Biography. anu.edu.au. Retrieved on 2013-12-06.
  11. ^ Colin Choat (2001). "Obituary - Lady Deborah (Daisy) Isaacs - Obituaries Australia". Obituaries Australia. Retrieved 2014-05-19. 
  12. ^ Sir Isaac Isaacs, Contribution and significance of an individual in the 1930s, Australia between the wars: 1930s, History Year 9, NSW | Online Education Home Schooling Skwirk Australia. Skwirk.com.au. Retrieved on 2011-06-06.
  13. ^ The London Gazette: (Supplement) no. 33390. p. 3849. 4 June 1928. Retrieved 11 May 2013.
  14. ^ Gavin Souter, Acts of Parliament, p. 268
  15. ^ The London Gazette: no. 33819. p. 2633. 22 April 1932. Retrieved 11 May 2013.
  16. ^ The London Gazette: (Supplement) no. 34396. p. 3079. 11 May 1937. Retrieved 11 May 2013.
  17. ^ Julius Stone, "Stand up and be counted!" An open letter to the Rt Hon Sir Isaac Isaacs on the occasion of the 26th anniversary of the Jewish National Home, 1944.
  18. ^ Isaacs, pp. 7–8.
  19. ^ Isaacs
  20. ^ Isaacs, pp. 8–9.
  21. ^ "Death of Sir Isaac Isaacs in Melbourne.". The Canberra Times (ACT : 1926 - 1995) (ACT: National Library of Australia). 12 February 1948. p. 1. Retrieved 19 May 2014. 
  22. ^ Australian stamp. None. Retrieved on 2011-06-06.

References[edit]

  • Gordon, Max (1963). Sir Isaac Isaacs. Adelaide: Heinemann. 
  • Isaacs, Sir Isaac. ‘Palestine: Peace and Prosperity or War and Destruction? Political Zionism: Undemocratic, Unjust, Dangerous’ (Ramsay Ware Publishing) 14 January 1946
Government offices
Preceded by
Josiah Symon
Attorney-General of Australia
1905–1906
Succeeded by
Littleton Groom
Preceded by
Lord Stonehaven
Governor-General of Australia
1931–1936
Succeeded by
Lord Gowrie
Parliament of Australia
New division Member for Indi
1901–1906
Succeeded by
Joseph Brown
Legal offices
Preceded by
Sir Adrian Knox
Chief Justice of Australia
1930–1931
Succeeded by
Sir Frank Gavan Duffy

External links[edit]