Ezekiel Hart

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Ezekiel Hart

Personal details
Born(1770-05-15)May 15, 1770
Trois-Rivières, Province of Quebec
DiedSeptember 16, 1843(1843-09-16) (aged 73)
Trois-Rivières, United Province of Canada
Spouse(s)Frances Lazarus
Occupation Entrepreneur, Politician

Ezekiel Hart (May 15, 1770 – September 16, 1843) was an entrepreneur and politician in British North America. He is often said to be the first Jew to be elected to public office in the British Empire, [1] though this assertion is discredited by the election of Francis Salvador to the South Carolina General Assembly in 1774. [2]

A politician is a person active in party politics, or a person holding or seeking office in government. Politicians propose, support and create laws or policies that govern the land and, by extension, its people. Broadly speaking, a "politician" can be anyone who seeks to achieve political power in any bureaucratic institution.

British North America Former British imperial territories

The term "British North America" refers to the former territories of the British Empire in North America, not including the Caribbean. The term was first used informally in 1783, but it was uncommon before the Report on the Affairs of British North America (1839), called the Durham Report. These territories today form modern-day Canada and the Pacific Northwest of the United States.

Public administration public leadership of public affairs directly responsible for executive action

Public administration is the implementation of government policy and also an academic discipline that studies this implementation and prepares civil servants for working in the public service. As a "field of inquiry with a diverse scope" whose fundamental goal is to "advance management and policies so that government can function". Some of the various definitions which have been offered for the term are: "the management of public programs"; the "translation of politics into the reality that citizens see every day"; and "the study of government decision making, the analysis of the policies themselves, the various inputs that have produced them, and the inputs necessary to produce alternative policies."


He was elected three times by the voters of Trois-Rivières to the Legislative Assembly of Lower Canada. Some members consistently prevented him from taking his seat by observing that as a Jew, he could not take the oath of office, which included the phrase "on the true faith of a Christian".

Trois-Rivières City in Quebec, Canada

Trois-Rivières is a city in the Mauricie administrative region of Quebec, Canada, at the confluence of the Saint-Maurice and Saint Lawrence rivers, on the north shore of the Saint Lawrence River across from the city of Bécancour. It is part of the densely populated Quebec City–Windsor Corridor and is approximately halfway between Montreal and Quebec City. Trois-Rivières is the economic and cultural hub of the Mauricie region. The settlement was founded by French colonists on July 4, 1634, as the second permanent settlement in New France, after Quebec City in 1608.

Legislative Assembly of Lower Canada lower house of the provincial government in Lower Canada

The Legislative Assembly of Lower Canada was the lower house of the bicameral structure of provincial government in Lower Canada until 1838. The legislative assembly was created by the Constitutional Act of 1791. The lower house consisted of elected legislative councillors who created bills to be passed up to the Legislative Council of Lower Canada, whose members were appointed by the governor general.

Oath of office an official promise by a person who has been elected to a public office to fulfill the duties of the office according to the law

An oath of office is an oath or affirmation a person takes before undertaking the duties of an office, usually a position in government or within a religious body, although such oaths are sometimes required of officers of other organizations. Such oaths are often required by the laws of the state, religious body, or other organization before the person may actually exercise the powers of the office or any religious body. It may be administered at an inauguration, coronation, enthronement, or other ceremony connected with the taking up of office itself, or it may be administered privately. In some cases it may be administered privately and then repeated during a public ceremony.


Early life

Hart was born May 15, 1767 at Trois-Rivières, Quebec, to Aaron Hart and Dorothea Judah. His father was member of the British forces, [3] and a well-known and successful businessman in Lower Canada. [4]

Aaron Hart (businessman) Canadian businessman

Aaron Philip Hart was a businessman in Lower Canada and one of the first Jews to settle in the colony. He is considered the father of Canadian Jewry. He was one of the founding members of Spanish and Portuguese Synagogue of Montreal, a wealthy man with numerous landed estates, and the married father of four sons, including the future politician Ezekiel Hart, and four daughters.

British Armed Forces combined military forces of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland

The British Armed Forces, also known as Her Majesty's Armed Forces, are the military services responsible for the defence of the United Kingdom, its overseas territories and the Crown dependencies. They also promote Britain's wider interests, support international peacekeeping efforts and provide humanitarian aid.

A businessperson is a person involved in the business sector – in particular someone undertaking activities for the purpose of generating cash flow, sales, and revenue utilizing a combination of human, financial, intellectual and physical capital with a view to fuelling economic development and growth. An entrepreneur is an example of a businessperson.

Hart obtained part of his education in the United States. In 1792 his father involved him in his fur trade activities. On January 29, 1794 he married Frances Lazarus, niece of Ephraim Hart. He, along with his brother Benjamin, served as a colonel in the militia during the American War of Independence.

United States Federal republic in North America

The United States of America (USA), commonly known as the United States or America, is a country composed of 50 states, a federal district, five major self-governing territories, and various possessions. At 3.8 million square miles, the United States is the world's third or fourth largest country by total area and is slightly smaller than the entire continent of Europe's 3.9 million square miles. With a population of over 327 million people, the U.S. is the third most populous country. The capital is Washington, D.C., and the largest city by population is New York City. Forty-eight states and the capital's federal district are contiguous in North America between Canada and Mexico. The State of Alaska is in the northwest corner of North America, bordered by Canada to the east and across the Bering Strait from Russia to the west. The State of Hawaii is an archipelago in the mid-Pacific Ocean. The U.S. territories are scattered about the Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean Sea, stretching across nine official time zones. The extremely diverse geography, climate, and wildlife of the United States make it one of the world's 17 megadiverse countries.

Fur trade worldwide industry dealing in the acquisition and sale of animal fur

The fur trade is a worldwide industry dealing in the acquisition and sale of animal fur. Since the establishment of a world fur market in the early modern period, furs of boreal, polar and cold temperate mammalian animals have been the most valued. Historically the trade stimulated the exploration and colonization of Siberia, northern North America, and the South Shetland and South Sandwich Islands.

Ephraim Hart was an American merchant who helped to organize the Board of Stock-Brokers, now known as the New York Stock Exchange.

Hart and his brothers Moses and Benjamin established a brewery in Trois-Rivières, the M. and E. Hart Company, in 1796. He remained a partner for only a few years. He then went into the import and export trade, owned a general store, and acquired property. Ezekiel Hart inherited the seigneury of Bécancour and bought land at Trois-Rivières and Cap-de-la-Madeleine.

Moses Hart Canadian businessman

Moses Hart was a Canadian businessman and seigneur, eldest son of Aaron Hart.

Brewery business that makes and sells beer

A brewery or brewing company is a business that makes and sells beer. The place at which beer is commercially made is either called a brewery or a beerhouse, where distinct sets of brewing equipment are called plant. The commercial brewing of beer has taken place since at least 2500 BC; in ancient Mesopotamia, brewers derived social sanction and divine protection from the goddess Ninkasi. Brewing was initially a cottage industry, with production taking place at home; by the ninth century monasteries and farms would produce beer on a larger scale, selling the excess; and by the eleventh and twelfth centuries larger, dedicated breweries with eight to ten workers were being built.

General store rural or small town store

A general merchant store is a rural or small town store that carries a general line of merchandise. It carries a broad selection of merchandise, sometimes in a small space, where people from the town and surrounding rural areas come to purchase all their general goods. The store carries routine stock and obtains special orders from warehouses. It differs from a convenience store or corner shop in that it will be the main shop for the community rather than a convenient supplement.

The Hart Affair

On April 11, 1807, Ezekiel Hart was elected to the Legislative Assembly of Lower Canada over three other candidates, obtaining 59 out of the 116 votes cast. (This was not the first time a Jew had run for election: Moses Hart, Ezekiel's older brother, had run unsuccessfully for a seat in William-Henry in 1796). The election having taken place on Shabbat, Hart refused to take his oath of allegiance at that time. He would await the opening of the session of the legislature in Quebec the following January.

A candidate, or nominee, is the prospective recipient of an award or honor, or a person seeking or being considered for some kind of position; for example:

Shabbat Jewish day of rest; Jewish Sabbath

Shabbat or Shabbos, or the Sabbath is Judaism's day of rest and seventh day of the week, on which religious Jews, Samaritans and certain Christians remember the Biblical creation of the heavens and the earth in six days and the Exodus of the Hebrews, and look forward to a future Messianic Age. Shabbat observance entails refraining from work activities, often with great rigor, and engaging in restful activities to honor the day. Judaism's traditional position is that unbroken seventh-day Shabbat originated among the Jewish people, as their first and most sacred institution, though some suggest other origins. Variations upon Shabbat are widespread in Judaism and, with adaptations, throughout the Abrahamic and many other religions.

Hart caused controversy when, being Jewish he swore his oath on a Hebrew Bible, instead of on the Christian Bible, and with his head covered in preparation for taking up his seat on January 29, 1808. [5] [6] (At the time, Jews were accustomed to swearing in courts of law in this manner. [7] ) The next day an objection was raised by the attorney general, Jonathan Sewell, seconded by Justice Pierre-Amable de Bonne, that the oath was not taken in the manner required for sitting in the assembly — an oath of abjuration, which would have required Hart to swear "on the true faith of a Christian". [8] Sewell moved that the assembly pass a resolution to this effect, and that Hart be provided with a copy of the resolution, "to the end that he may thereupon pursue such further course in the premises as the law of Parliament may be found to require".

Shortly after, Thomas Coffin, the runner-up in the election in Trois-Rivières, petitioned the assembly, calling for the removal of Hart because, as a Jew, he was "not capable of being elected to serve in the House of Assembly, or of taking the oaths requires, or sitting or voting in the Assembly," and asking that the election be considered null and void and that Coffin be given the seat for Trois-Rivières in his place. [9]

On April 18, Le Canadien , the mouthpiece of the Canadian Party, published a poem decrying the choice of a Jew for a seat as even more foolish than Caligula's appointment of his horse as a Roman consul and priest. [10] In the same issue, a more ideologically explicit attack was launched. Many antisemitic letters to the editor were published, one of which argued that the electors of Trois-Rivières should be reprimanded for electing a Jew to office.

Hart was a personal friend of many Quebec authorities, notably Sir James Henry Craig, Governor-General and Lieutenant Governor of Lower Canada, insomuch that he was godfather to one of his children, Ira James. Craig tried to protect Hart, but the legislature dismissed him.

Hart petitioned the legislature, saying that, while he believed that he was justified in the law in taking a seat by means of the oath used by Jews in the courts, he was willing to swear the oaths used for those elected to the assembly. After some deliberation, however, on February 20, 1808, the assembly resolved by a vote of 35 to 5 that "Ezekiel Hart, Esquire, professing the Jewish religion cannot take a seat, nor sit, nor vote, in this House." [11]

In 1808, new elections were held, and once again Trois-Rivières returned Hart as one of its two representatives. This time, to avoid controversy, Hart took the oath in the same fashion as a Christian.

In his presentation to the assembly, Pierre-Stanislas Bédard, the leader of Le Canadien, argued against granting a seat to Hart in the assembly. He claimed that

no Christian nation had granted Jews the rights of citizens, not for unjust reasons, but because they themselves do not wish to be part of any country. They may make a country their residence to pursue their business dealings, but never their home. This state of affairs is a result of the Jewish tradition, which requires Jews to wait for the messiah, their prince; while waiting, they cannot pledge allegiance to any other prince. [12]

When the assembly finally reconvened in 1809, Hart sat as a member for Trois-Rivières for a few days. After ascertaining that Hart had been expelled the previous year, the assembly voted to expel him again.

The events of 1807–1809 are known to many as the Hart Affair (French: L'Affaire Hart). [13] Some historians explain these events as the result of the rivalry between the contemporary English and French factions in Lower Canada rather than antisemitism. [14] Some have interpreted this affair as proof of ongoing hostility toward Jews among French Canadians. [12] Ezekiel Hart stated that, with only one exception, his opponents were Catholics, and he assumed they were encouraged in voting against him by their priests. [15]

Later life

Hart did not run for public office again. He continued to live in Trois-Rivières where he was a successful businessman and well-respected member of the community. He served in the militia during the War of 1812, serving as a lieutenant under Lieutenant Colonel Charles-Michel d'Irumberry de Salaberry in the 8th Battalion of Trois-Rivières militia. He was later promoted colonel in 1830.

His wife died on April 21, 1821, at Trois-Rivières.

On June 5, 1832, mainly because of Hart's activism, the Legislative Assembly of Lower Canada, under the influence and authority of Louis-Joseph Papineau, passed a bill (the 1832 Emancipation Act) that ultimately guaranteed full rights to people practising the Jewish faith, [16] 27 years before anywhere else in the British Empire. Papineau, who became speaker of the Assembly in 1815, earlier had supported Hart's expulsion in 1809. Samuel Becancour Hart, Ezekiel's son, had a strong influence on the legislation, as he, along with several other important Jewish figures, had sent a letter to King William, submitting a petition to the Legislative Assembly demanding that Jews be allowed to hold public office. [17]

Many of Hart's family members were also important people in the community. His brother Benjamin was an important businessman at Montreal. Because of his work, the Legislative Assembly granted Jews the right to erect a new synagogue and to keep registers of births, marriages and deaths within their community. His cousin Henry Judah was later elected to the Legislative Assembly of the Province of Canada for Champlain.



Ezekiel Hart died on September 16, 1843 at Trois-Rivières, at the age of 76. A prominent member of the community, he was accorded an impressive funeral in which all the stores in Trois-Rivières closed, and the 81st Foot paid him final honours. He was buried in the second Jewish cemetery in Trois-Rivières.

Hart had dictated his last will on June 20, 1839. At the time of his death, he lived in an enormous well-furnished house with 16 rooms. He was survived by his ten children: Samuel Becancour, Harriet, Aaron Ezekiel, Esther Elizabeth, Miriam, Carolina Athalia, Henry, Julia, Abraham Kitzinger, and Adolphus Mordecai.

In October 1909, the remains of Ezekiel Hart and others buried in the Jewish cemetery on Prison Street in Trois-Rivières were moved to Montreal's Mount Royal Cemetery of the Congregation of Spanish and Portuguese Jews.

Legacy and honours

See also

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  1. "Ezekiel Hart". Dictionary of Canadian Biography (online ed.). University of Toronto Press. 1979–2016.
  2. "A "portion of the People"", Nell Porter Brown, Harvard Magazine , January–February 2003.
  3. Levy, Richard S. (2005). Antisemitism: A Historical Encyclopedia of Prejudice and Persecution. ABC-CLIO. ISBN   1-85109-439-3.
  4. Tulchinsky, Gerald J. J. (1993). Taking Root: The Origins of the Canadian Jewish Community. University Press of New England. ISBN   0-87451-609-9.
  5. Brown, Michael (1986). The Beginning of Jewish Emancipation in Canada: The Hart Affair. Michael, vol. 10.
  6. Bloch, Abraham P. (1987). One a Day: An Anthology of Jewish Historical Anniversaries for Every Day of the Year. KTAV Publishing House, Inc. p. 31. ISBN   0-88125-108-9.
  7. Journals of the House of Assembly of Lower Canada. February 17, 1808. p. 120.
  8. Weinfeld, Morton; Shaffir, William; Cotler, Irwin (1981). The Canadian Jewish Mosaic. John Wiley & Sons. pp. 262, 385. ISBN   0-471-79929-7.
  9. Arnold, Abraham J. (1979). Ezekiel Hart and the Oath Problem in the Assembly of Lower Canada. Canadian Jewish Historical Society Journal, vol. 3. pp. 10–26, 13.
  10. "Si Caligula l'Empéreur." Le Canadien (Lower Canada). April 18. 1807. p. 87: "Si Caligula l'Empereur / Fit son Cheval Consul à Rome,/ Ici notre peuple Electeur / Surpasse beaucoup ce grand homme;/ Il prend par un choix surprenant,/ Un Juif pour son / représentant..."
  11. Journals of the House of Assembly of Lower Canada. February 20, 1808. p. 144.
  12. 1 2 Davies, Alan T. (1992). Antisemitism in Canada. Wilfrid Laurier University Press. pp. 14–16. ISBN   0-88920-216-8.
  13. Douville, Raymond (1939–1940). "L'Affaire Hart: Historical Circumstances of the Legislation Giving Jews a Status of Political Equality". Canadian Jewish Year Book 1. pp. 149–152.
  14. Sack, B.G. (1965). History of the Jews in Canada. trans. Ralph Novek, rev. ed. Montreal: Harvest House.
  15. Brown, Michael (1987). Jew or Juif. Jewish Publication Society. p. 197.
  16. "1832 Act to grant equal rights and privileges to Jews", Marianopolis University
  17. "Building Democracy: Hart & Papineau Archived 2008-06-07 at the Wayback Machine .." Historica. RetrievedMarch 5, 2009.
  18. The Hart Family Papers at the American Jewish Historical Society Archives
  19. The Hart Family Papers at the McCord Museum
  20. The Member from Trois-Rivières at Open Library
  21. The Member from Trois-Rivières at Google Books
  22. Hart & Papineau Archived 2016-04-15 at the Wayback Machine . FROM THE Heritage Minutes COLLECTION
  23. Plaque erected by the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada Archived 2009-03-25 at the Wayback Machine .

Political offices
Preceded by
John Lees, Tory
Louis-Charles Foucher, Tory
MLA, District of Trois-Rivières
with Louis-Charles Foucher, Tory
Joseph Badeaux, Tory

Succeeded by
Mathew Bell, Tory
Joseph Badeaux, Tory