Goldwin Smith

Goldwin Smith (1823–1910) was a prominent 19th-century educator, historian and author. He was educated at Oxford University, where he became regius professor of modern history in 1858. Moving to the United States in 1868, he joined the faculty of Cornell University as a professor of English literature and Constitutional History. He moved to Toronto in 1871, where he continued to write prolifically until his death.

A “classic liberal,” Smith was ardently pro-democratic, anti-imperialist and anti-militaristic. An enemy of slavery and an admirer of Abraham Lincoln, he championed the cause of the North during the American Civil War. His booklet, Does the Bible Sanction American Slavery? (1863) had considerable impact on public opinion in Britain. As a life-long supporter of “Anglo-Saxon” unity, he worked for close ties between Britain, the United States and Canada.

According to the Encyclopaedia Britannica (1957 edition), Smith’s “principal historical writings – The United Kingdom: a Political History (1899), and The United States: an Outline of Political History (1893) – make no claim to original research, but are remarkable examples of terse and brilliant narrative.” The Columbia Encyclopedia (second edition) says that he “earned a position of great respect in the United States, Canada and Great Britain for his educational and social work.” Among the available profiles of his life is a biography by Elisabeth Wallace, Goldwin Smith: Victorian Liberal (Univ. of Toronto Press, 1957).

Although today it is considered tactless if not hateful to speak openly of a “Jewish question,” the often thorny matter of relations between Jews and non-Jews in society is a real issue that has bedeviled countless governments and scholars for centuries. In the following essay, a prominent British scholar tackles …