Saul Solomon

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For the South Australian photographer and politician, see Saul Solomon (photographer).
Portrait of Saul Solomon, at his seat in the Cape House of Assembly

Saul Solomon (25 May 1817 – 16 October 1892) was an influential liberal politician of the Cape Colony. A tireless defender of racial and religious equality, Saul Solomon was an important member of the movement for responsible government and an opponent of Lord Carnarvon's disastrous Confederation scheme.

Early life and background[edit]

Saul Solomon was born on the island of St Helena on 25 May 1817 (the nephew of the great St Helena businessman Saul Solomon senior). Although his family were St Helenan, they had close links to Cape Town; Saul Solomon's father Benjamin was in fact reputedly the first Jewish settler to make Cape Town his home.[1] Saul had a rudimentary formal education in South Africa before beginning work as an apprentice in a printing business. He later acquired the business and built it into the largest printing business in the country, founding the Cape Argus newspaper. He was also one of the founders of Old Mutual, today one of the largest insurance firms in South Africa.[2]

As representative for Cape Town, Solomon entered the very first Parliament of the Cape of Good Hope (Cape Parliament) when it opened in 1854. He remained an MP for this constituency until his retirement in 1883.[3]

Political career[edit]

Saul Solomon's original election promise had been "to give my decided opposition to all legislation tending to introduce distinctions either of class, colour or creed". Throughout his political career he strictly adhered to this manifesto – repeatedly turning down both cabinet and ministerial posts so as to be free to vote according to his beliefs. He thus assumed a very unique role in parliament, being a watchdog critic, as well as sometimes the power behind the government, depending on its policies.

Although he was from a Jewish background and even funded the establishment of the Cape's first synagogue in 1849, Solomon was openly secular in outlook, declaring himself to be "a liberal in politics and a voluntary in religion". In the first Cape parliament in 1854, he presented his "Voluntary bill" (intended to end government subsidies to churches, and to ensure equal treatment of all beliefs) but it was turned down. He proceeded to put it to parliament every year, only for it to be repeatedly rejected, until it was finally passed by the Molteno government in 1875.

The Responsible Government Movement[edit]

Reactionary cartoon depicting Saul Solomon with the prominent anti-imperialist leaders of southern Africa as his "pets". The pets shown are Zulu King Cetshwayo, the Beaufort lion John Molteno (Cape Prime Minister), and John X Merriman (shown as a monkey).

Solomon joined the movement for responsible government in the Cape and helped to institute it when it was established in 1872. The leader of the responsible government movement, Prime Minister John Charles Molteno, was an old friend and a great admirer of Saul Solomon's politics. The two men were both businessmen from poor immigrant backgrounds, who had outlooks that were relatively liberal for the times, and saw eye-to-eye on a number of issues. In fact, according to Saul Solomon's official biography, Molteno only accepted the office of Prime Minister after insisting that it first be offered to Solomon, who turned it down however due to his delicate health.[4][5] Solomon went on to give his powerful support to the Molteno Ministry on many occasions in the future, though he characteristically refused all offers of cabinet positions so as to be able to oppose the government if his conscience required it.[6][7]

Eastern Cape separatism[edit]

The eastern part of the Cape Colony had a long-running separatist movement, consisting of a portion of white settlers (the "Easterners"), led by parliamentarian John Paterson of Port Elizabeth, who resented the rule of the Cape Town parliament and wanted stricter labour laws to encourage the Xhosa to leave their lands and work on the settlers’ plantations.[8]

In accordance with his stated policy that "natives should be allowed to sell their labour as they desired, and that no semblance of coercion should be employed to provide labour for the farmer" and because he detested the Easterners' white supremacist views, Solomon took a strong stance against the separatist movement and for a united, multi-racial Cape.

Famously, when he was addressing parliament about the need to enforce the principles of racial equality that the Cape's constitution called for, the Separatist representatives all stood up and walked out on him. After a second's pause, he reportedly declared: "I would rather address empty benches than empty minds!"[2]

In parliament he went on to lead the "Westerners", who backed the Molteno-Merriman government in successfully crushing the separatist movement. Separatist parliamentarians branded him a "negrophile" – an intended insult that he in fact accepted with considerable pride, and he went on to push even further for social reform (for example repealing the discriminatory Contagious Diseases act[clarification needed]).[9]

The imposition of Confederation[edit]

Starting in 1874, the British Secretary of State for the Colonies, Lord Carnarvon, having federated Canada, began an ill-fated plan to impose the same system of confederation on the very different states of southern Africa.[10]

The Cape Colony in 1878, on the eve of the Confederation wars

Although earlier in his career Solomon had been in favour of a form of federated "United States of Southern Africa", he shared with the Cape government concerns about the form and timing of Carnarvon's confederation project. Of particular concern to many liberal politicians were the repressive "native policies" of Natal and the Boer republics (which would have affected the rights of many Cape citizens) and the fact that some neighbouring states, such as Zululand, would actually require military invasion to be incorporated into the confederation. Consequently Solomon ended up vigorously opposing Carnarvon's proposal.

As an alternative, Solomon proposed a looser system of federation, whereby the Cape could preserve its multi-racial franchise. Another proposed alternative was the "Molteno Plan" of the Cape Government, which advocated complete union instead of confederation, but with the Cape's constitution (including the multi-racial franchise) extended and imposed on the other states of southern Africa. Both suggestions were ignored by the British Colonial Office and over the next few years Carnarvon's disastrous confederation scheme unravelled as predicted, leaving a swath of destructive wars across southern Africa.[11]

Personal details and later life[edit]

Solomon and Molteno, sketched in old age.

Physically, Solomon was partially disabled. Childhood poverty and ill health, aggravated by a bout of rickets, had left him with badly stunted legs. When standing, this made him so short that he needed to stand on a chair to be seen when addressing Parliament. His physical condition was particularly drawn attention to by his very high-pitched voice, as well as by the frequent presence by his side of his friend and political ally Molteno, who was unusually tall and powerfully built,[12] and the image of the two men together was a topic for caricature by the political cartoonists of the time.[13]

Saul Solomon was nonetheless a famously eloquent and persuasive speaker, with an incredibly sharp mind and a skill for reasoned argument. His proposals were usually painstakingly researched and he characteristically spent long hours studying censuses and other government publications for the precise facts and figures that he believed should inform his opinions. Consequently he was typically always able to back up his opinions with great quantities of evidence as well as with a clear and sophisticated application of logic. This earned him considerable respect, even from his political opponents. [14]

His progressive views on equal rights extended to gender relations (for his marriage ceremony he famously asked that his wife should not have to vow to "obey" him), religion (He never officially renounced his Judaism, but he abhorred sectarian attitudes and attended churches as often as synagogues) and class (He asked his employees and household servants to simply call him "Saul").

Clarensville House in Sea Point

He had for most of his life lived at Clarensville House in Sea Point, Cape Town, where he and his wife enjoyed welcoming guests as varied as Cetewayo, King of the Zulus, and the future Kings, Princes Edward and George. However, after his daughter tragically drowned near their property in 1881, Solomon's health declined and he withdrew from public life, even handing his business over to his nephews.

He retired from public life completely in 1883 due to poor health and moved to Kilcreggan, Scotland in 1888.
It was here that he died in 1892, of "Chronic tubular nephritis".[15][16]

Saul Solomon's extended family remained deeply involved in politics and law in southern Africa for many years – though they varied greatly in their political allegiance. In particular, his nephews Sir Richard Solomon and Edward Phillip Solomon were very influential at the time of the Boer War and the lead up to the Union of South Africa.[17] Solomon's wife Georgina survived him by over 40 years, and was an influential suffragette. Of his three children, Daisy Solomon was also a suffragette, Hon. Saul Solomon was a high court Judge, and William Gladstone Solomon was a writer and a painter who moved to India.

See also[edit]

-

Political offices
Preceded by
Office created
Representative of Cape Town
1854–1868
Succeeded by
William Porter, CMG
Preceded by
???
Representative of Cape Town
1870–1883
Succeeded by
???

References[edit]

  1. ^ [1][dead link]
  2. ^ a b 1820gw – 2.3 Saul Solomon Family, accessdate=2012-12-06
  3. ^ Hearl, Trevor W. In Search of Saul Solomon of St Helena 1776–1852. The St Helena Institute. Retrieved 5 November 2010. 
  4. ^ Solomon, W. E. C: Saul Solomon – the Member for Cape Town. Cape Town: Oxford University Press, 1948.
  5. ^ R.W. Murray: South African Reminiscences. Cape Town:JC Juta & Co. 1894. p.79
  6. ^ "Saul Solomon". ancestry24.com. Retrieved 5 November 2010. 
  7. ^ Illustrated History of South Africa. The Reader's Digest Association South Africa (Pty) Ltd, 1992. ISBN 0-947008-90-X. p.129, "The Story of Saul Solomon"
  8. ^ Wilmot, A. The History of our own Times in South Africa, Volume 1. J.C. Juta & co., 1899. p.142 & p.227
  9. ^ Theal, George McCall (1919). History of South Africa, from 1873 to 1884. George Allen & Unwin, Ltd, London. Retrieved 2012-12-06. 
  10. ^ Illustrated History of South Africa p.182 "Confederation from the Barrel of a Gun" (1992) The Reader's Digest Association South Africa (Pty) Ltd, ISBN 0-947008-90-X
  11. ^ P. A. Molteno (1900) The life and times of Sir John Charles Molteno, K. C. M. G., First Premier of Cape Colony, Comprising a History of Representative Institutions and Responsible Government at the Cape, Smith, Elder & Co., London
  12. ^ Kruger, D. W. (1971) Dictionary of South African Biography p.485, Tafelberg Ltd. ISBN 0-624-00369-8.
  13. ^ Van Heyningen, N & Worden, E & Bickford-Smith, V. (1998) Cape Town, the Making of a City p.213, Uitgeverij Verloren ISBN 90-6550-161-4
  14. ^ W. Darley-Hartley (1934) Reminiscences – South African Experiences Vol.8
  15. ^ "Saul Solomon. Portrait of a Liberal". ancestry24.com. Retrieved 5 November 2010. 
  16. ^ "Family of Saul SOLOMON and Georgiana Margaret THOMSON". Bainhouse.co.uk. Retrieved 2012-12-06. 
  17. ^ "1820gw – 2.4 Edward Solomon Family". 1820gw.wikispaces.com. 13 June 1930. Retrieved 2012-12-06. 

Further reading[edit]

  • Illustrated History of South Africa. The Reader's Digest Association South Africa (Pty) Ltd, 1992. ISBN 0-947008-90-X
  • Solomon, W. E. C: Saul Solomon – the Member for Cape Town. Cape Town: Oxford University Press, 1948.
  • Green, L: A Taste of the South-Easter. Cape Town: Howard Timmins, 1971.
  • Green, L: I Heard the Old Men Say. Cape Town: Howard Timmins, 1964.