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tions against the Dissenters, which every respectable churchman, we are convinced, would disown. · To disapprove the doctrines of a Church is one thing,—to wish its destruction, and to attempt to subvert it, is another. The Protestant Dissenters have, however, had an opportunity of showing how they would act towards Episcopalians, when the power was placed in their
After the power of England ceased in America, they have shown, in the northern and middle colonies of that country, that they have been falsely accused of objecting to the introduction of bishops; and, in New England, where the legislative bodies are almost to a man Dissenters from the Church of England, there is no test to prevent churchmen holding offices. The sons of churchmen have the full benefit of the Universities; and the taxes for support of public worship, when paid by churchmen, are given to the Episcopal ministers. All this would not have been so, if the Dissenters really entertained that violent hatred against Bishops and Episcopalians, of which they are suspected in this country.
We are utterly unacquainted with any thing like an attempt against the safety of the Church or State, made by Protestant Dissenters, for this century and an half last past. The Corporation and Test acts were certainly passed for no such reason, At the period at which they were enacted, there was but one general feeling of suspicion and hatred against the Catholics. Every thing that was Protestant was highly popular in that Parliament. At that period, it was only the most rigid Dissenters who made it a matter of conscience not to receive the communion after the manner of the Church of England ; and any inconvenience which they might suffer, was by themselves person, ally waved,
in order to promote the great object of guarding against the Catholics. Alderman Sire, member for the city of London, and a most rigid Dissenter, declared, in the debate upon the Test act, that it was his wish that a most effectual security might be found against Popery, and that nothing
might interpose till that was done. At present, they were • willing to lye under the severity of the laws, rather than clos
a more necessary work with their concerns. And, not a month before the Test act was brought in, a bill passed the Commons, to give to the Dissenters a legal and constitutional toleration. As the Dissenters (says Hume) had seconded the cfforts • of the Commons against the King's declaration of indulgence,
and seemed resolute to accept of no toleration in an illegal manner, they had acquired great favour with the Parliament;
and a project was adopted, to unite the whole Protestant in?. terest against the common enemy, who now began to appear
• formidable. A bill passed the Commons for the ease and re* lief of the Protestant Nonconformists,' &c. &c. &c. (Hume; vol. vii. 8vo. p. 506.)
The arguments derived from the history of the Test laws are not, to be sure, of any great efficacy: they are merely adduced to show, that if such laws are necessary to defend the Church from Protestant Dissenters, such necessity is inferred from gène ral reasoning, not from any actual proof of danger existing when such laws were enacted. They were enacted, most unquestionably, not to guard the Church from Protestant Dissenters; but they were passed, by the assistance of Protestant Dissenters, to guard the Church from the Catholics. The Church of England requires, for its safety, that all Dissenters from its doctrines should be excluded from civil offices; and yet, all those who elect to civil offices, may be Dissenters. A mayor or an alderman may be chosen by burgesses, not one of whom belongs to the Church of England ; and why (if dissent is so dangerous to the Church) are Dissenters in Parliament ? In that situation, where they can do the most mischief, they are left entirely undisturbed. A man may be a member of Parliament if he dissents—but not an alderman. It is extremely difficult to fix a limit to such sort of defences to any Establishment. If a Church is to weaken its opponents by depriving them of civil power, why not, by depriving them (as was done twenty years ago
in Ireland) of the right of acquiring property, disposing of their estates by will ? &c. &c. If an Establishment, in short, is to be preserved by any other means than those of paying for its support, and then leaving it to the effect of opinion, we are quite at a loss to know where these means are to end. If men are to be driven into the national churches by the fear of losing their chance of civil offices, then the fear of losing their liberty, their limbs, or their lives, would be still a more powerful motive; and the spirit of antient persecution has been unwisely permitted to sleep.
We must remember, too, that when these laws were passed, restricting the Crown from selecting, for the greater number of civil offices, any but members of the Church of England, the King of England might legally be of any religion, and that he was actually a Catholic. The King of England must now not only be a Protestant, but a member of the Church of England. There is no reason, therefore, why the restriction placed upon the royal prerogative, of choosing, sliould be any longer continued. There is a Test law, it is indeed said, for the King ;-the first magistrate of the country must belong to the Established Church - Why are subordinata magistrates to consider themselves as aggrieved by submission to the same restraints ? In the first place, we have very little belief in the dangers of a Dissenting King. But, if the necessity of his conformity be proved, can the necessity of conformity in every public functionary be inferred from it ? Are there no reasons which make it necessary for a King of England to be an Episcopalian, which fly over the heads of customhouse-officers and tidewaiters, and leave even mayors and burgesses untouched ? If it were an evil to be submitted to for the good of the country, the example of the King would silence the murmurs of the suffering subject ; but many thousand persons, subjected to useless restraints, cannot possibly be consoled, by the instance of one person who submits to the same restraints, where they are useful and proper.
We have already endeavoured to show, that the Corporation and Test acts are very badly calculated to make proselytes to the Church; and if their principal nse is to guard the church from the hostility of those who must be considered as enemies because they are Dissenters, then these laws are extremely ill calculated for this purpose;--first, because they give no real security against this enmity ;-and, secondly, because they do a great deal more than there is occasion for, by compelling Dissenters to worship after a method of which they disapprove. It would be much better, in both points of view, that a Dissenter, before he took oflice, should merely make oath that he would enter into no plan or conspiracy for the destruction of the Church of England. --an oath that would be more fair and rational than a test, and which, we are convinced, no Dissenter would object to take. This sescurity, slight as it may appear, would be quite as effectual to the Church as the taking of the sacrament-for they are both religious ties of equal strength, where they are ties at all ;-and in many instances the taking the sacrament is no tie ;---for there are some very serious and honourable men among the Dissenters, who would make no scruple to take it after the manner of the Church of England, and yet might think themselves entitled, if opportunity offered, to deprive the Church of her privileges
. The Corporation and Test acts, therefore, are not direct or effectual safeguards against this imaginary danger, which this sort of oath would be, as far as any religious obligations are binding upon mankind. But if the basis of all these reasonings is sound-if, in all countries where there is an established church, there is to be an exclusion of dissenters from civil and political offices—and no man is to serve the State who cannot think with the Church-this is to divide the human race into two parts, and to make them irreconcileable enemies to each other. The reasoning must be as good any where else as in England. Scotland should exclude Episcopalian Christians--Austria Protestant Christians--Sweden Catholic Christians-Russia both Catholic and Protestant Christians. What a rich fund of animosity is here !
Eheu quantus equis, quantus adest viris
Sudor! Quinta moves funera ! We have a very high respect for established churches, and think them wise institutions for preserving the purity of religion ; but if they are to carry with them all these fruitful principles of hatred and persecution, it would be better for mankind that they had never existed at all
. The real enemies to religious establishments are those who disfigure them with all the odious and unnatural apparatus of penalty and exclusion,--who take
away from a bishop his mild paraphernalia of crosier and chaplain, and place a common informer at his heels, and a cat0-nine-tails in his hand.
It may, liowever, be very fairly doubted, whether the Church of England would not lose, instead of gaining any thing in the number of its proselytes and the extent of its power, if these Corporation and Test Acts were really carried into execution, If men are let alone, religious fanaticism dies away, or one fully chases out another. If there be no fanaticism, but only a rational difference of opinion from the Established Church, this slight difference (if it be not assisted by disqualification or persecution) would scarcely hold out against the superior fashion and eclat of the Established Church. But where men are told, that they must not be elected to offices, because they cannot be lieve in this or that speculative dogma of religion, they immediately become attached to their opinions; and the question between them and the Church becomes, not a languid question of reason, but a lively question of passion. Men meet together, and talk of their wrongs and their persecutions; till dissent gets from the skin into the bone, circulates with the blood, and becomes incurable. If the laws against the Dissenters were really put into execution, the enemies of the Church would only be rendered more formidable, because they would be made inore angry, and therefore more enterprising and more active. The mass of mankind, in this country at least, love peace, and love to follow their own occupations. If they had only to pay a few pounds every year, to a church in which they did not believe, this would pass over tranquilly enough; but when, in addition to this, they were oppressed and insulled by severe disqualifications and exclusions, the vis inertie would be overcome; and every Dissenter from the Church would be plotting against its existence. This appears to be the precise ellect which these laws are calculated to produce :-They contain un admirable rcecipt for converting all those who cannot agree with the doctrines
of the Church, into the furious and implacable enemies of its existence. Luckily for the Church, they are too foolish to be acted upon.
All that we have now said respecting the Corporation and Test Acts, is upon the supposition that they were enforced. Ent as an annual Indemnity bill passes to protect all offenders under these acts, and to prevent any punishment that may follow upon the transgression ; either these acts have no effect at all in protecting the Church, and are already as if they did not exist; or the good they do to the Church must be from a dread entertained by Dissenters, that the laws so suspended may at any period be enforced ; and that a punishment is always awaiting them, in case of misconduct. If the first of these suppositions be true, and these laws produce no effect at all, then we presume that no human being can object to their abolition. And if they are supposed to protect the Church, not by any actual privation to the Dissenters, but by menaces of that evil, then all the arguments we have used against the punishment, apply with redoubled force to the threat: For a law which punishes dissent from an established religion, must aid that established religion (if at all), either by preventing the increase of Dissenters by making proselytes to the Church, or by checking mischievous combinations for the destruction of the Church. And, if it be true, as we have already contended, that actual exclusion from civil offices will neither bring men back to the Church, nor prevent them from quitting the Church, it must also be true, that the mere threat of exclusion will never produce those effects; and, though fewer enemies are made to the Church, and more civil power is granted to the Dissenters by connivance, than if it never were actually withheld,--still a great degree of irritation is excited ; and the very essence of the law (which was meant to deny civil power to heterodoxy) is destroyed.
There may be some utility and meaning in keeping penal laws suspended over the heads of justly suspected sectaries for some short time. But when laws have been suspended for seventy years, and the Legislature has not found it necessary to let loose their terrors in one single instance for all that period, this does seem to be a probation which ought to satisfy the most vigilant and jealous Orthodoxy: and, to talk of the ruin which müst ensue to an establishment, from such an abolition, is really an offence against the common understanding of mankind. “But the threat is an idle threat. The fact is, that it would be quite impossible to carry the Corporation and Test Acts into execution. The inflic tion would be far too sweeping and comprehensive to be tolerated. Prosecutions would lye against all Dissenters who had any concern
VOL, XIX, NO. 37.