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it was enacted, that ' no person shall ever hercafter be placed,

elected, or chosen, into any corporation, that shall not, within one year next before such election, have taken the Sacrament of the Lord's Supper according to the rites of the Church of Eng

lond.' After the Corporation act, came the Act of Uniformity, which compelled two thonsand ministers, who could not comply with the tests it required, to quit their livings.

« This • bill (says Hume) reinstated the Church in the same condition

in which it was before the commencement of the civil wars; ' and, as the old persecuting laws of Queen Elizabeth still sub5 sisted in their ful vigour, and new clauses of a like nature were now added, all the King's promises of toleration, and of indulgence to tender consciences, were thereby eluded and broken. '- Hume, vol. vii. 386.

In this way, the Corporation and Test Acts were passed; and, since their enaction, several efforts have been made for the relief of the Protestant Dissenters. In October 1673, a bill was brought in to distinguish between Protestants and Catholics, but was lost by prorogation of Parliament. The next year, the lost by the same mcans.

Two other bills of the same nature were lost in 1680, by the same maneuvre of the Court. Before their adjournment, however, the Commons had passed two strong resolutions in favour of the Dissenters. * In 1678-9, a test was provided, which admitted Protestant Dissenters into Parliament, but excluded Catholics.

The high authority of King William himself, was unsuccessfuly employed to procure a repeal of the Corporation and Test Acis. "I hope,? said he, in his speech to Parliament in March 1689, you are sensible there is a necessity of some law to settle • the oaths to be taken by all persons to be admitted to such places. I recommend it to your care, to make a speedy provision for it; and as I doubt not but that you will sufficiently provide against Papists, so I hope you will leave room for the admission of all Protestants that are able and willing to serve. This conjunction in my service will tend to the better uniting you among yourselves, and strengtheving you against your common adversaries. ?

Nothing * Resolved, nem. con.-' It is the opinion of this House, that the prosecution of Protestant Dissenters is at this time grievous to the • subject, a weakening of the Protestant interest, an encouragement

to Popery, and dangerous to the peace of the kingdom.' (Com. Jour. vol. 9. 701.) -Resolved, nem. con.-

-- It is the opinion of this • House, that the Acts of Parliament made in the reigns of Queen

Anne, Elizabeth, and King James, against Popish Recusants, ought not to be extended against. Protestant Dissenters. ' Com. Jour. vol. 9. 701.



Nothing, however, was done, either in that or the succeeding reign; and in 1711, an act passed, requiring all persons whoshould accept of offices, not only to take the sacrament of the Lord's Supper, but to conform strictly to the worship of the Church of England, during all the time they held thein. In 1718 this act was repealed. A motion was made in the House of Commons for the repeal of the Test Act, on the 12th of March 1735-6, and lost by 251 to 123. On a similar question in 1739, the numbers were 188 to $9. In 1787, the majority against the Dissenters was 78 ; in 1789, only 20 ; but in 1790, they were repulsed by a very great majority.

But though the Dissenters have not been able to procure a direct repeal of the Corporation and Test Acts, their condition has been extremely ameliorated (if the inconveniences which they complain of have not indeed been totally removed) by the annual Indemnity Bills, which, since the year 1743, have constantly passed, in favour of all offences against these statutes. Each bill of indemnity pardons all past offences, if the test is taken before a certain day; and then another indem nity act succeeds, covering afresh offenders from the last mentioned day: so that the original Test and Corporation Acts, the existence of which is considered by both sides to be of such extreme importance, which by one is complained of as so intolerable a grievance, and by the other cherished as such an impregnable bulwark of safety, have really had no sort of operation, nor been once carried into effect for more than 68 years.

From one of the greatest evils which grew out of the Corporation and Test Acts, the Dissenters have been relieved by the decision of a court of justice. They used, for a long time, to be nominated to corporate offices, because it was known they could not qualify to execute them; and by-laws, inflicting penalties on those who refused to serve, were expressly made to enrich corporations at their expense. The produce of these unjust exactions served, or nearly served, to build the mansionhouse of the city of London. In 1736, it appears that no less a sum than 20,7001. had been raised froin fines paid by persons to be excused serving the office of Sheriff; and out of that money it was resolved to erect the mansion-house, the first stone of which was laid in 1739. At length, this system of oppression was overthrown. An action was brought by the Chamberlain of London against Allen Evans esq., a Dissenter, for the penalty of 6001. for refusing to serve the office of Sherill of the city of London ; but the House of Lords, to whose tribunal it was carried in the last resort, determined, uurimously, in 1767, that Dissenters who could not conscientiously take the Sacrament, in obedience to the test laws, were excused from serving corporate offices. Upon that occasion, Lord Mansfield did himself the highest honour, by his defence of religious liberty ;evincing a hatred of oppression, a reluctance to indulge the bad passions of the multitude, and a zeal for the rights of mankind, which human beings generally lose, in proportion as they become old, rich, powerful, and famous.


Since that period, the Dissenters have suffered little or no practical oppression. A series of amnesties, for more than 60 years, has made them quite regardless of the penalties of taking office. Several corporations are in their hands; and the decision in Evans's case has established, that they are not punishable for declining the performance of duties to which they cannot conscientiously submit.

This is a short sketch of the history of the penal laws made against the Protestant Dissenters, and of the present state of these laws. It remains that we say something upon their expediency.

In the first place, we begin with a perfect admission of the right of the Legislature to exclude any description of men from civil offices, in consequence of their religious opinions-provided they are satisfied that such an exclusion is essential to the general wellbeing of the community. The Government has a right to do any thing that is for the good of the governed ; and it is possible that a particular religious sect may be so notorious for dangerous political opinions, that their faith may be taken as a test, or mark, of their doctrines upon government. In the changes and chances of the world, Socinian doctrines may be firmly united to republican habits,-as dependence on the See of Rome may be combined with the love of despotism ; and then it does not seem very unreasonable, that religious creeds, in themselves innocent, and not the subject of punishment, should become so, from their accidental alliance with dangerous opinions upon subjects purely secular, Cases might be put, where it would be insanity in any government not to distinguish its enemies by any mark, religious, physical, or moral, that chanced to present itselt

. It is quite idle, then, to argue this question as a question of general right; and in all debates and publications on this subject, which have fallen into our hands, we have observed that manifest advantages have been gained over the Dissenters, by their adopting this method of arguing the question. They have been completely defeated, in the mere metaphysical part of the dispute, and by these means occasioned a great pr judice against the practical part of their case. We therefore give up the question of right as indefensible,-or not worth de


fending: and shall argue the question merely upon grounds of expediency.

Admitting the right of Government to punish their own subjects, it will easily be allowed, that they ought not to be punished without reason; that no man ought to be cast into prison, to be put to death, to pain, or inconvenience, unless public utility requires it. A government that neglected such plain and obvious motions as these, would be universally execrated, and speedily destroyed.

The love of power is natural to Man; and great and useful exertions are made to obtain it. Government, too, has a right to say who shall, and who shall not, possess power ; but that right may be justly or oppressively, wisely or foolishly exercised, It would be absurd and vexatious, if all the offices of the state were confined to persons born in the northern parts of the island. It would be equally absurd and capricious, if they were cone' ferred only upon the sons of clergymen. Though the right to exclude is admitted, there must be a sound reason for each particular act of exclusion : to exclude from oflices, without such reason, is a tyrannical and foolish exercise of a right. It res. mains then to be seen, by what arguments the exclusion of the Dissenters can be justified ; and whether the right possessed by the Legislature has, in this instance, been exercised under a sound discretion.

Bishop Warburton calls the exclusion from offices a restraint, and not a punishment; and builds (as many have done after him) a great deal of useless reasoning upon this supposed distinction. Be it a restraint or a punishment, or let it receive any other modified appellation, it is an evil to those who are excluded; and, if no sort of reason exists why the Dissenters should suffer this evil, it ought not to be inflicted. Whether such reasons do, or do not exist, is the question before us,

Mere dissent from the dogmas of the Established Church, without the profession of any dangerous opinions in religion or politics, does not appear to us to be a sufficient reason for exclasion from civil offices. The first and readiest pretext is, that, by such wholesome inflictions, the Dissenters will be frightened back into the pale of the Church, This, however, is a pretext, which experience has long ago refuted. Mankind have shown themselves invincible. upon religious topics, under much greater sufferings than any which the Corporation and Test acts pretend to inflict upon them, The governments of all countries have, at one time or an: other, made death and cruelty the punishment for heterodox opinions ; but, after long experience, have been compelled to give up the attempt as utterly hopeless. But, if men will bravo

death death and pain in the preservation of their religious liberties, it does seem an hopeless undertaking to attempt to reclaim them by privation from civil offices. There is no man of sense, we believe, who does not regret extremely the torrent of fanaticism which is setting in upon this country; yet it would be the extreme of absurdity to attempt to arrest its progress, or- to reclaim men to the bosom of the Church, by telling them they should never be mayors and aldermen if they did not give up their religious tenets. The Church of Ireland, in spite of test laws, amounted, before their repeal, only to one fourth of the population of the whole island. Scotland has preserved its Chuch without Test laws. France lost its commerce, manufactures and population, the moment they were established by the revocation of the Edict of Nantes. We much doubt, if

any one single convert to the Church has ever been made by them. They have slumbered for seventy years. If, at this moment, when the Church of England is losing ground so fast to the sectaries, they should be revived and carried into strict execution,-is there any man so mad as to suppose, that such a remedy woukl not increase, rather than diminish, the evil ?

But, though the penal laws against Protestant Dissenters may not be calculated to gain proselytes to the Established Church, they may be considered, perhaps, as useful in guarding against sts already existing opponents, and rendering them less formidable, by depriving them of the power they woukl gain by the exercise of civil offices. It may be considered as a solid and necessary barrier to an Establishment, that those who cannot assent to its doctrines should be prevented from exercising authority over their fellow subjects. Now, if it were quite clear that those who differed from the Establishment wished to de stroy the Establishment, there might be some justice in such a provision. But it is a very conceivable case, that a sect may be contented with the free exercise of its own worship, without having any desire to destroy the established religion of the country. There is nothing in the creed of any protestant sect existing among us, which necessarily implies such a supposition, or makes the destruction of any other sect any part of their duty. We know of no general meeting of any dissenting ministers, where any resolutions or opinions to that effect have been professed, or even hinted at. The laws against Protestant Dissenters have been uniformly suspended for sewenty years, which we should presume they would not have been, had any such practices existed ; and if the opinions of sects are to be gathered from the opinions of a few fanatical members, the Church of England must be subjected to the same rule, and be charged with plans and inten

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