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Samuel Sydney Silverman Edit Profile

lawyer , politician

Samuel Sydney Silverman was a British Labour politician and vocal opponent of capital punishment.


Born into a poor draper's family in Leopold Road in the Kensington Fields area of Kensington, Liverpool, Silverman attended Liverpool Institute and the University of Liverpool, thanks to scholarships. During the First World War he was a conscientious objector to military service and served three prison sentences, in Preston, Wormwood Scrubs and Belfast prisons.


Born in Liverpool to a poor family, he earned scholarshipsthat enabled him to attend the Liverpool Institute and then to study English literature at Liverpool University.


During World War I, Silverman was conscripted for military service but registered as a conscientious objector. His pacifist beliefs were influenced by Bertrand Russell. Unable to accept any of the alternatives to military service, he went to prison. It was here that he learned firsthand the need for penal reform.

When the war was over Silverman returned to the university, where he earned prominence as a debater in the Labor Club. After completing his degree in 1921, he accepted up a post as lecturer in English at the University of Helsinki. In 1925 he returned to England and by 1927 had completed a degree in law. He began a successful career as a solicitor, defending clients from among the poor neighborhoods of his childhood in criminal cases, landlord-tenant disputes, and compensation claims. Upon moving to London he opened an office and continued his practice as the “poor man's lawyer”.

Silverman entered local politics in Liverpool and in 1932 became a city councilor. He soon gained a reputation throughout the industrial north as a skilled speaker, and accepted an offer to stand for Parliament. He was elected as Labor inember for Nelson, Lancashire, retaining the seat until his death. Throughout this period he was in constant opposition to the leadership of the party, holding views to the left of the establishment, and thus remained a backbencher; he was ever offered any senior or ministerial post.

He campaigned for the abolition of capital punishment for nearly thirty years, but it was only in 1957 that he succeeded in obtaining the passage of a compromise reform act by which hanging was imposed for five categories of murder only. He wrote numerous pamphlets to promote his campaigns and published Hanged, and Innocent (1953), which described three cases in which the death penalty seemed to have been unjustly imposed. The passage of the Abolition of Death Penalty Bill seven years later was the climax of his prolonged fight.

Always proud of his Judaism, Silverman actively protested the activities of the Fascist leader, Sir Oswald Mosley, as well as the attacks on Jews in London and elsewhere in the 1930s. During World War II, although he usually rejected the use of force, Silverman realized that only by armed intervention would it be possible to put an end to the annihilation of Jews in Europe. In his belief, only Palestine could provide a secure refuge for the Jews of post-Holocaust Europe; he therefore openly opposed the government’s policy in Palestine. Silverman constantly clashed with Foreign Secretary Ernest Bevin over both his Palestine policy and his handling of relations with the Soviet Union. Silverman campaigned against the use of nuclear weapons and was a member of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament.

Silverman served as chairman of the British section of the World Jewish Congress (1940-1950), a member of its World Executive Council (1950-1960) and vice-president of the Zionist Federation of Great Britain (1947-1950).

Silverman's death in 1968 caused a by-election, which was won by the Conservative David Waddington.