Lord John Russell
rose and said:—
I rise, Sir, in consequence of the notice which I some time ago gave upon the subject, for the purpose of submitting to the consideration of the House, a motion which, although it has not, for many 677 years, been submitted to the House, will, I am sure, not be esteemed less worthy of their attention, either on that account, or on account of the weakness of the advocate by whom it is about to be supported. I am satisfied that the great number of petitions in favour of civil and religious liberty, which are now upon your table, will, at least, induce the House to take the question into their most serious consideration; and if they do dismiss it, at least not to do so until after the investigation which its importance demands. There is one consideration, personal to myself, which I certainly feel very forcibly. It is not that I have the smallest doubt of the strength of the case. On the contrary, I feel that if brought before a House with no preconceived opinions—no long-cherished prejudices—an assembly, in short, new to the subject of the debate, I could not fail of success. Neither do I feel any diffidence arising from the conduct of the petitioners, whose conduct is such that no man, however he may differ from them, can impugn. There is, however, I confess, one circumstance which makes me approach this subject with a sort of awe, which, but for circumstances which I shall presently mention, would end in despair. I mean that, when the question was last before the House, though urged by the eloquence and enforced by the argument of Mr. Fox, than whom no man was ever more splendid in the one, or more forcible in the other, it miscarried. The contemplation of that failure, for such it was, is, I must confess, so dispiriting to my mind, that I would resign the case as hopeless, but for the conviction that if I cannot wield the same weapons as Mr. Fox, I have not the same enemies to encounter [hear]. So great has been the improvement in knowledge and liberality, particularly among the middle classes, that the successors of those who most warmly opposed the motion of 1790 are, in 1828, its most zealous supporters. For instance, let us look to what has taken place in the common-council of London. It is notorious, as has been mentioned by an hon. alderman, that in the year 1790, the corporation passed some strong resolutions against the repeal of the Test and Corporation acts, and voted thanks to those members of the city who had opposed the repeal is this House; but so great has been the change in men's minds on the subject since that time, that 678 the corporation has recently agreed to resolutions declaring those acts hostile to the principles of religious liberty. Another circumstance which I look upon as favourable to my motion is, that the powerful antagonist of Mr. Fox, in 1790, Mr. Pitt, as is now well known, did in a few years after his opposition to the measure, completely change his mind on the subject, and express a wish that the Test and Corporation acts should be repealed. He saw, as every man of enlarged and enlightened mind must have seen, that all things around him were changed since the passing of those acts; that the religious questions which had been the subject of the world's debate at the time of their enactment had given place to divisions purely political; that the dispute for power no longer lay between Catholic, Lutheran, and Calvinist, but between the adherents, of despotism, representative monarchy, and democracy; that he could only defend the constitution by rallying round it the victims of an extinct quarrel, and calling on men of different religious opinions to defend the same form of political government. There is only one word more which I would add by way of preface. It may be asked, if I remove these securities, what other tests would I propose? My answer is, that I am opposed to religious tests of every kind. What I should wish would be, to adopt and extend the principles of an act, the 5th of his present majesty, which enacts that persons taking office in the Customs and Excise shall not be compelled to take any oath but the oath of allegiance. I would wish to see applied to persons taking seats in parliament, and all the offices of government or corporations, a simple provision, that they should be called upon only to swear allegiance to the king.
I now come to the great principle involved in the numerous petitions before the House; petitions signed by the whole body of Dissenters, by Roman Catholics, and by many members of the established church. That principle is, that every man ought to be allowed to form his religious opinions by the impressions on his own mind, and that, when so formed, he should be at liberty to worship God according to the dictates of his conscience, without being subjected to any penalty or disqualification whatever; that every restraint or restriction imposed on any man on account of his religious creed is in the nature 679 of persecution, and is at once an offence to God, and an injury to man. This is the just and noble principle on which the Dissenters claim the repeal of the Test laws. But I will fairly admit, that there may be an exception to its application, and I will illustrate it by reference to the general principle of non-interference by one state in the internal affairs of another. It may be stated, that one state would not generally be justified in interfering in the internal concerns of another; but if some of the internal regulations or political institutions of one state are of such a nature as to tend directly to the injury of another, then the interference properly commences on the part of the state making such regulations, and not on the part of the state which complains of them. I will say the same of religion: if the religion of any body of men be found to contain political principles hostile to the state, or militating against that allegiance which is due from every subject of the Crown, in that case the question ceases to be a religious question; and you have a right to interfere and impose such restrictions as you may deem necessary, because you do not impose them on religious opinions; you impose them only on political doctrines [hear, hear!].
Having said thus much generally, I proceed, Sir, first to state the history of the acts of disqualification; and secondly, to inquire whether there is any thing in the circumstances of the present time which renders the continuance of those acts necessary.
And first for the history. It is well known to every one, that soon after the Reformation, many struggles took place in Europe, in which religion and politics were invariably connected. We are informed by the Italian cardinal who has written the History of the Troubles of the Low Countries, that Philip the 2nd upheld the Roman Catholic religion, not merely because he thought it the true religion, but likewise because he thought it the best security for political union, and obedience, throughout his vast dominions. In the same way our James the 1st professed the maxim, "No bishop, no king." On the other hand, Mr. Hume has declared it as his opinion, that for all we enjoy of liberty in this country we are indebted to the Puritans.
It is notorious, indeed, that the Presbyterians and Independents formed the main force of that party which commenced, 680 carried on, and finally triumphed, in the struggle against Charles the 1st. It was natural, therefore, when his son recovered his regal rights, that one of the first steps which he took, should be to endeavour to apply a cheek to the power of those who he knew, had contributed to the deposal and death of his father. In the preamble of the Corporation act it is stated, with reference to its purpose, that the succession in corporations should be perpetuated in the hands of persons well-affected to his majesty, and the established government; "That, notwithstanding all his majesty's endeavours and unparalleled indulgence in pardoning all that was past, nevertheless many evil spirits were still working." It was to counteract the working of these evil spirits, that the Corporation act was introduced; providing that commissioners should be appointed to see that no persons should be allowed to enter into any corporation, without taking the oaths of allegiance and supremacy, renouncing the Solemn League and Covenant, and on making oath, "that they did not consider it lawful, upon any pretence whatsoever, to take arms against the king, and that they abhorred the traitorous position of taking arms, by his authority, against his person, or against those who were commissioned by him." In the course of discussing the measure, however, some difference took place between the two Houses of parliament; the House of Lords wishing to give the Crown the power of retaining the authority of corporations in its own hands. This the House of Commons resisted; and at length successfully; consenting, however, to the admission of a clause, providing, that no person should be admitted into any office or place contemplated in the bill, without previously taking the sacrament of the Lord's Supper, according to the rites of the church of England.
Sir, it is somewhat remarkable, that Hume, in his History of England, seems to have considered this clause as of so little consequence, that although he gives a pretty full abstract of the act, he never thinks it worth his while to mention this particular clause. And so far was the act from contemplating the exclusion of Dissenters generally from situations of trust and honour, that there were then about fifty Presbyterians sitting in this House, of whom only two scrupled to take the sacrament according to the rites of the Church; of 681 England. It may be said, indeed, that the act intended the exclusion of those who separated entirely from the Church of England, and that when the Presbyterians ceased to partake the communion of the Church of England, they properly came within the scope of the statute. This argument is a fair one, and I am not denying its justice; I am only stating the fact generally, that the Presbyterians were not as a body intended to be excluded. The battery was directed against the "evil spirits," who refused all reconciliation, all compromise, with the Church.
The next act of which I have to take notice, and the only other act which I propose to refer tea committee, is the Test act. This act, every body knows, took its rise at a most remarkable period of our history—a period at which the fate of the country was at an awful crisis. It was passed when the minds of men were in a state of agitation and alarm—a state which, if it did not make them magnify the danger, at least prevented them from exercising their calm judgment in providing a fit remedy against it. The Test act was passed at a time when the nation was irritated and terrified at a knowledge that it possessed a concealed Roman Catholic king—a duke of York, the successor to the Throne, an avowed Papist—an odious alliance with France, secretly formed for the purpose of destroying the liberties of England, and an army at Blackheath ready to overawe all deliberation. Under these circumstances the Test act was passed, and about the object of it there can be no dispute, for this is clearly explained in the preamble, which also describes the public necessities out of which it arose. The act is entitled an act "for preventing dangers which may happen from Popish recusants, and quieting the minds of his majesty's good subjects, &c." The minds of his majesty's good subjects were disquieted—by whom?—by the Dissenters? No, by the Roman Catholics. It was, then, quite evident, that the Test act was not passed with a view of excluding Protestant Dissenters—so little so, that while it was under deliberation, and many persons were inclined to vote against it, because they thought it would operate against Dissenters, a well-known Dissenter rose in the House, and said, that the "Dissenters would rather lie under the severity of the law than clog so necessary a work." The 682 Test act, therefore, was intended as a guard against the partiality of the king upon the throne for a particular sect; but it is now made to apply to sects for which it was never intended, and to a sovereign of a totally different disposition.
The House of Commons attempted, on various occasions, to relieve Protestant Dissenters from the burthen which this' act imposed upon them; but the king always evaded the obnoxious measure, several times proroguing the parliament, and on one occasion the clerk of the Crown was ordered not to present to the' king a bill which had been passed by both Houses for the relief of the Dissenters. Thus the Commons were strong to persecute the Catholics, but not to relieve the Dissenters, and the king, who found' himself unable to relieve the Catholics, consoled himself by persecuting the Dissenters.
Let us now observe the difference in the manner of proceeding with regard to the Dissenters, and with regard to the Roman Catholics. When parliament wished; to dislodge the Dissenters they naturally and properly, properly, I mean, with a view to their object—gave to the king the power of purging the corporations, and imposed a test to exclude members who might be elected by a dissenting majority. They did not exclude them from offices under the Crown. Why? because they did not suspect the Crown of any partiality towards the Protestant Dissenters, and where there was no danger they took no security. 'But when they wished to guard against the Roman Catholics, they proceeded very differently. They put up their bar against the entrance to office; they guarded the road to the royal palace. Why? because the king was suspected to be a papist.
I wish, Sir, to lay the more stress upon, this, because, much as we hear of the wisdom of our ancestors, I think that wisdom, such as it was, is not properly appreciated. A religious test on admission to offices of the Crown is, in ordinary circumstances, an absurdity. It is at best a circuitous mode of ascertaining a man's political opinion. It is often a very false mode. For instance, in the hottest rage of the wars of the Reformation, queen Elizabeth could trust the Roman Catholic peers with the defence of the court of England against the Armada of Philip the 2nd, the great patron of Popery. To take an instance on the other side from, more modern times 683 —during the Irish rebellion—Wolfe Tone could have taken any religious test you could have put to him, but it would have been the height of imprudence to place him in any office of trust, and in all likelihood he would have joined the invading army. A religious test, therefore, is a bungling and fallacious proof of loyalty. A man's opinions are known from his conversation, his character, his associates; and the best security you can have in the disposal of office is to leave to the discretion of the executive to reward the loyal and keep down the disaffected.
But at the time of which I am speaking, this test could not be used. The king himself was pretty well known to be of the dangerous sect. Parliament, therefore, the best security failing, resorted to one of an inferior kind; the best under the circumstances. But for us, who have the security of a king attached to the Church of England, by law, by affection, and by principle, what need have we of keeping up the barrier that was erected, not to defend the throne from the people, but to defend the people from the throne? As a further illustration of what I have been saying, allow me to mention what appears at first sight a strange anomaly in our law. The sacramental test is not applied to ecclesiastical offices. A bishop's chancellor for instance, or a bishop's registrar, was never subject to it. Why? because parliament could safely confide to the discretion of the bishop that he would not appoint an enemy to the Church.
I come now to the time of our Revolution, when it might be expected that these illiberal and impolitic laws would be repealed; but in fact no alteration whatever was made in them. William came down to parliament and openly expressed his wish that all Dissenters, who were "willing and able to serve," should be admitted to offices and places of trust; but those who had to conduct the government, considering that the Revolution had changed the dynasty, and that the Church was greatly offended by the introduction of the Toleration act, did not think it safe, if it was meant that the establishment should last, to grant any further liberty to the Dissenters at that time. I hope that my right hon. friend near me (sir James Mackintosh) will confirm the statement I now make of the view which our Whig ancestors took of the position of affairs at that time. Indeed, I have the authority of 684 Bishop Burnet for saying that the church at that time was anxious for the repeal of the Toleration act, and wished for the restoration of the Stuart family. Under such circumstances, therefore, it would have been dangerous, by granting further concessions, to provoke the more active enmity of the great body of the clergy. In the same situation, affairs continued daring all the changes of parties (for when the high Tory party were in power, they, of course, were against granting any liberty whatever) till the time of George 1st, when earl Stanhope, a zealous Whig, proposed to introduce a clause for repealing certain parts of the Test and Corporation acts into a bill brought into the House of Lords. The clause met with serious opposition in the House of Lords, but at the same time was supported by some of the men most eminent for loyalty and public spirit, and likewise by some of the most learned among the bishops. I mention this latter circumstance, because we are not accustomed in the present day to hear from bishops sentiments favourable to liberty. The clause proposed by earl Stanhope was supported by the bishops of Gloucester and Lincoln, but more especially by Hoadly, bishop of Bangor, and Kennet, bishop of Peterborough, from whose speeches I will, with the permission of the House, read two short extracts:—Bishop Hoadly said, that "the imposing of religious tests as a qualification for civil and military employments abridges men of their natural rights, deprives the state of the services of many of its best subjects, and exposes the most sacred ordinances of the church to be profaned by irreligious men for temporal purposes. The principle of depriving men of any of their civil rights on account of their religion, however moderately exercised, and however speciously covered by the name of self-defence, would justify the persecutions of Heathens against Christians, and those of the Inquisition against Protestants." Bishop Kennet said, that "he could not allow this bill to be against the Church, but thought it tended rather to its advantage and security; that he had observed from history, the Church was most flourishing when the clergy did not affect more power than fell to their share, and were tender of the liberties of their fellow subjects; but that when the clergy promoted arbitrary measures and persecutions, as they did in the reign of Charles 1st, they brought scandal 685 and contempt upon themselves, and at last ruin upon the church and state." "That the words 'church,' and 'danger of the church,' had been used out of their original use to carry on sinister designs; that those words made a mighty noise in the mouths of silly women and children" [hear, hear]. I would not venture to use such language. The House will remember it was a bishop who was speaking. His speech continues in these words, "in his opinion, the Church of England, which he defined to be a scriptural institution upon a legal establishment, was founded upon a rock, and could not be endangered so long as we enjoyed the light of the Gospel and our excellent constitution." Similar sentiments were entertained by some of the most enlightened prelates of that day. Still, however, lord Stanhope failed in his object, and the clauses were rejected. Sir Robert Walpole, who succeeded, being a man who never gave up, during his long career, any practical good for the sake of a large and general principle, constantly opposed every effort made in parliament for removing the restrictions on Dissenters, at the same time telling them that he was favourable to their objects; that he approved of their views, but that he never would support them. Such was the wisdom of our ancestors at that period. They thought that the House of Hanover would not receive the support of the Church if they gave further relief to the Dissenters, and the Dissenters themselves consented to endure their privations for the sake of the inestimable blessing which they found to flow from the expulsion of the Stuart dynasty and the establishment of the Brunswick family. The Dissenters, indeed, as zealous in behalf of the House of Hanover and the political liberties of the country, as they were, in the reign of Charles 2nd, shewed themselves willing to submit to the operation of a severe law rather than allow the necessary work of the establishment of liberty to be at all endangered.
From the feeling of the government on this subject—merely wishing to favour, and not attempting to remove at once all disabilities—arose an anomalous state of things. Four acts of indemnity were passed in the reigns of George 1st, and 2nd. and before the year 1743—-acts indemnifying persons who had not complied with the forms of the Cor- 686 poration and Test acts. In point of strict justice nothing could be less defensible. If the Dissenters were dangerous, they ought to have been excluded altogether; and if not, they should have been fully admitted. A single instance will suffice to show the absurd and anomalous position in which the question regarding Dissenters was thus placed. In 1745, many Nonconformists came in to assist in supporting the government, and suppressing the rebellion raised by prince Charles, who attempted to obtain possession of the Throne. They acted most gallantly in co-operation with the king's forces, and their exertions were crowned with success. It might naturally be supposed, that they would have received some acknowledgment of their services. What reward does the House suppose was bestowed upon the men who had defended the king, maintained the authority of parliament, and vindicated the liberty of the country? Did the Crown shower orders and honours upon them? Did parliament vote them their thanks? Did the people express to them their gratitude? No such thing: the sovereign gave them no honours, the parliament no thanks, and the people no gratitude—they received for their glorious services from the munificence of king, parliament, and people—a full and free pardon. Is any thing more wanting to shew the absurdity of laws, which brand the most loyal of the king's subjects, and inflict penalty on the best deeds of patriotism and courage they can perform? The act of 1747, so far from being singular, however, has now for eighty-five years been the principle of your legislation on this subject—A pardon, such as it is, not like the act of 1747, but conditional and incomplete, is passed yearly to forgive good men for doing good service to their country.
So much for the history of these acts—And it brings me immediately to the principle upon which they are founded—you enacted them to guard against a particular danger; does that danger now exist? If danger were apprehended from Dissenters, why pass acts from year to year pardoning those who by law are excluded from taking office for taking office? I can easily imagine the necessity of pursuing such a course for five, ten, or fifteen years. Government may have said, "Wait a little, we are not assured of the loyalty of these persons: do not give them freedom 687 all at once, but see first how they will act." But that parliament should go on with acts of indemnity for eighty-five years—that they should not, at this time of day be satisfied of the loyalty of the Dissenters, is a thing against all rules of justice, of policy, and of prudence.
The next objection is to the nature of the Tests required, which are of a very serious and solemn character. The Sacrament of the Lord's Supper is held by the Church to be most sacred, and it is declared that those who receive it unworthily "eat and drink their own damnation." There are other words of similar import in different parts of our Liturgy. This solemn rite is used for the purpose of ascertaining the fitness of persons to hold civil office. A person of eminence in the last century, Dean Sherlock, said, indeed, "We oblige no man to take the sacrament, but if he can, and does receive it, we admit him to office." But this is a mere evasion—When men are told that if they take the sacrament, they will be fit to hold office, and not without, it is in fact holding out to them a temptation to abuse the sacrament, and to pervert the most holy of God's ordinances to purposes of the most paltry ambition. It is putting the consideration of patronage and profit in contradiction with the most sacred duty a Christian can perform. I beg to call the attention of the House to the practice which prevailed before the indemnity bills came into operation. It might happen that when a person went to receive the sacrament the clergyman would refuse to administer it, from motives of personal malice. If this were the case he sustained a civil injury. The learned dean to whom I have before referred, says, that "if a person were refused the sacrament from malice on the part of the clergyman, he might go into a court of law and complain of the civil injury which he suffered in consequence." It is held in the courts of law, that if any person who is refused the sacrament has committed some open sin, no civil injury has taken place. Let the House imagine the situation in which a clergyman is placed, who may from his own knowledge be aware that the person applying for the sacrament is not worthy to receive it, yet cannot prove that he has committed any open and notorious sin. According to the oath which he has taken, and the ordination imposed on him, he should refuse the sacrament under 688 such circumstances; but then he knows that if he does so, he will be dragged into a court of law, and forced to pay a penalty. This was the situation of a clergyman at the period to which I allude, and consequently being obliged to administer the sacrament to all persons, such scenes of scandal took place as it is hardly possible to describe. It is stated in historical works, that it was the custom for persons to be waiting in taverns and houses near the church, not going in until service was over. The ceremony used to be called "qualifying for office;" and an appointed person called out, "Those who want to be qualified will please to step up this way." Persons, then took the communion for the purpose of receiving office, and with no other intent whatever. Such are the consequences of mixing politics with religion. You embitter and aggravate political dissentions by the venom of theological disputes; you profane religion with the vices of political ambition, making it both hateful to man and offensive to God.
Seeing the right hon. representative for the University of Oxford opposite, I must really put it to him, whether he is prepared to say, that that University desires such acts as those now complained of to be continued, in order to maintain the purity of religion?—whether he thinks that legislation of this kind is calculated to induce men to entertain a greater respect for religion, or to induce Dissenters to believe that the church from which they differ is pure and blameless.
It is said, however, "after all, the grievances of which you complain are only theoretical—they no longer exist in practice—Dissenters are not in fact kept out of office." I will say, in the first place, that if the case be so, that is not a sufficient argument in support of these acts. Statutes imposing penalties and restrictions, on men on account of religious belief can be justified on no other ground than that of necessity. When that ground is taken away, the acts remain exposed in all their naked deformity of principle, and that principle is religious persecution. But it is not a fact that no practical grievance is suffered by the Dissenters. Indeed the fact is far otherwise—the real practical grievance is a great deal more than the legal grievances which appear on the face of the statute. Though it be true that by later; statutes indemnity was given to those who 689 omitted to qualify, yet that indemnity was given on the ground that the omission was occasioned by ignorance, absence, or unavoidable accident. Those words evidently do not apply to those persons who had omitted to qualify from grounds of religious scruple. The situation in which the Dissenters at present stand is evidently considered one of practical grievance by the best and ablest defender of the acts, I mean lord North, who said, speaking of those Dissenters who took advantage of the indemnity, "This sort of mental fraud did not recommend these persons to the indulgence of the legislature; it was an evasion and an abuse of an act of parliament." With, such a declaration as this staring them in the face, how can it be expected that men whose nice scruples are the cause of their dissent will submit to the stigma—will render themselves liable to the imputation—of acting fraudulently, in order to obtain offices and emoluments which the Church would allow them to obtain in no other way? That they will not do so, I know for a fact. A great portion of the Dissenters say among themselves, "we will not accept of office on these conditions: if we cannot hold office without the degradation of being liable to an imputation which we scorn, we will refrain from office and emolument altogether." What is the consequence? The state is deprived of the service of men who would be amongst her bravest defenders in military achievement, and the most illustrious of her servants in civil capacity. The individuals thus shut out will always retain—I will not say a bitterness—but—a soreness of feeling against the church which excludes them, and the state which makes their admission to office a reproach to them.
Not only this; it should also be recollected, that it is in the power of any corporation, actuated by bigotry, or personal animosity, to carry the Corporation act into effect against Dissenters. I have in my possession a statement of cases which have occurred in the course of the last few years, in which persons who had a minority of votes in elections for corporation offices have been declared duly elected, because a previous notice had been given that the individuals who had the majorities could not act from being Dissenters. If there are so many cases of this kind that appear in the records of a court of law, how many other cases must 690 there be in which the Dissenters will not come forward to expose themselves to the risk of such an objection? More than this: persons admitted to office ought, under the Test act, to produce their certificates. Dissenters do not like to expose themselves to the chance of those certificates being demanded. Rather than that, they will consent to forego office. The consequence is, that not one tenth part of the Dissenters who ought, in proportion to their numbers, at present hold office.
I have now stated, Sir, some of the practical grievances under which the Dissenters labour, but I am aware, whilst I am proving that these acts operate to the exclusion of Dissenters, I am only confirming many persons in the belief that it is necessary to continue them. I allude to those persons who use the argument of the security of the Church, and who think that in proportion as the number of Dissenters excluded is large, it is so much the better for the Church, that the establishment is so much the safer. I however, cannot admit that the security of the' Church is founded on any such exclusion. I think with bishop Kennet, and I believe the security of the establishment consists in its moderation, its fair temper, and in its decent worship being conformable to the wishes, sentiments, and consciences of the majority of the people; and if it were not so—if it were not agreeable to the people—can it be imagined that any Test, any exclusive laws, will save the Church, and prevent its being destroyed by the overwhelming mass of its enemies?
"But," says a learned prelate of the present day, "the property of the Church will be liable to be affected by the various classes of Dissenters, if you admit them all to office." I think that argument is the most impolitic that could be advanced; for if those who use it ostentatiously declare that they cannot admit the numerous millions—I will not say how many—of Protestant and Catholic Dissenters, to the enjoyment of the civil rights of English-: men, because such enjoyment necessarily tends to the destruction of the church property, in the minds of all those Dissenters the enjoyment of civil rights and the division of church property are sure to be confounded. I consider it most impolitic to use such an argument, and I likewise consider it quite unfounded. With respect to the Protestant Dissenters—at least the greatest part of them—they can- 691 not be supposed to entertain the desire of taking any of the church property to themselves. And why? Because they consider that a rich Church is not the instrument by which Christianity can be best promoted; and, therefore, they can have no wish to aggrandize themselves. If the security of the Church of England be founded solely on the Test and Corporation acts, I will ask what is the security for the Church of Scotland? By the articles of Union, the Presbyterian is declared the true religion—it is the established Church of that country, and yet no Test or Corporation acts exist there. Nothing of the kind. If these laws be necessary for the security of the Church of England, they ought likewise to be enacted for the security of the Church of Scotland.
But their case is still stronger.—In order to diminish still further the security of our northern Church, persons of the Church of Scotland cannot come to this country and take office without being liable to the penalties of these acts, although being of the church established by law in another part of the kingdom. Then, with respect to Ireland: if the Corporation and Test acts be necessary to the security of the Church in England, it would be supposed that they must necessarily exist in Ireland. That, however, is not the fact. The Corporation act never, I believe, existed in Ireland. The Test act was introduced there in the reign of Anne, and was abolished some forty-eight or forty-nine years ago, since which time it has not existed in that country. Yet the House will remember, that a right hon. friend near me, not many years ago, told them, that, in conversation, a person of considerable importance in the state said it would be dangerous to concede the Catholic claims, because it would lead to the repeal of the Test act in Ireland, without which the Church never would be safe. This anecdote shows how much of what is really fanciful and imaginary, enters into the arguments of those who talk of danger to the Church, and call for securities.
Another argument in support of these acts, which was much relied on in the course of the last century, was found in a letter of our great deliverer; who declared it to be "a thing contrary to all the laws and customs of all Christian states, whether Protestants or Papists, who admitted none to a share in the government, or public 692 employments, but those who professed the public and established religion, and endeavoured to secure it against all attempts whatsoever." Such was the argument of king William; but how does it apply to the present time? Is it now the case, that persons who do not profess the religion of the state are excluded from civil and military employments in all countries? The fact is notoriously otherwise. In France, the Netherlands, Germany, Austria, and Austria in Italy, no such law exists; but persons of all religious persuasions are eligible to office. The English Protestant Dissenter, if he were to leave his country, might be admitted to all the employments of Catholic Austria, might go from exclusion at Bath or Huntingdon, to sit in the municipality of Prague or of Milan, might even be admitted to the council of state of Vienna, and yet here he still stands a suppliant, imploring tardy justice from the parliament of Protestant England!
I have now gone through the chief points I wished to press upon the attention of the House. I have shown that history will not justify you in maintaining these acts. The first of them was raised as a barrier to the throne against a party who had recently overturned it. But whatever the Dissenters of that day might feel towards the House of Stuart, the Dissenters of the present feel nothing but loyalty towards the House of Hanover. The Test act, again, was intended as a barrier against the king, who was a converted Papist; you have now a sovereign who is firmly attached to the established religion. For a long period these acts were maintained for fear of driving the Church into the arms of the Jacobites: there is now no fear that the clergy will look for promotion or favour through any other than the legitimate channel of his majesty's Treasury and Chancery. I have shown you that all ground of necessity fails, the acts having been suspended for more than three quarters of a century. I have proved, I trust, that they violate the sacred rights of conscience, and are of the nature of religious persecution.—I have shown that, so far from not inflicting any hardship on the body upon whom they operate, they are fraught with great mischief, irritation, and injustice. I have shown, that they are totally at variance with our own policy in Scotland and Ireland, as well as with the enlightened legislation of all the Christian countries of Europe. If I am asked what advantage 693 the country is to derive from the abrogation of such laws, I answer, that the obvious tendency of the measure, independently of its justice, will be, to render the Dissenters better affected to the government, to inspire them with dispositions to bear the heavy burthens imposed on them by the necessities of the state with cheerfulness, or, at least, with resignation; and, above all, it will be more consonant to the tone and spirit of the age than the existence of those angry yet inefficient and impracticable laws which are a disgrace to the Statute-book. I have heard with considerable pain, that it is the intention of the new ministry to make this what is called a government question, to array all the power which their influence can muster against it. I am sorry to learn this; not on account of the question itself, whose progress they may retard, but never can prevent—I am sorry to hear it, because it is an indication, on the part of government, of a determination to resist the liberality which is daily gaining ground in the great mass of society. Whatever kings or parliaments may think of their power, they must more or less submit to be influenced by the spirit of the times in which they live. The history of the last few years speaks aloud this undeniable truth.—Of lord Liverpool, his warmest admirers must admit that the country governed him at least as much as he governed the country. It was conformity to this spirit that constituted all of hope and fame that attached to the political character of Mr. Canning—his name was great because he went along with the spirit of the times. Even the illustrious person now at the head of his majesty's government must consult the same voice, and conform to the same standard. That illustrious person is justly hailed as the preserver of Portugal, the deliverer of Spain, the conqueror of Waterloo,—as one of the greatest military chiefs his country has ever produced—that country, to whose gratitude and admiration he is entitled by a list of services never to be forgotten. But even he, with all his fame, standing in such a position as few men have ever stood in, with the patronage of the church, and the state, and the army in his hands,—an army of one hundred and ten thousand men, attached to him not merely by their interests or their professional hopes, but by the memory of past dangers—possessing the confidence, I had 694 almost said the authority, of his Sovereign—yet even he, with all his character, with all his patronage, with all his power, must modify the exercise of those several qualities, and in the tone and features of his government, if he would have it last, conform to the spirit of the times in" which he lives. No matter how great his achievements or his glory, to the spirit of improvement which has gone abroad he must bow. It is wisdom to do so without reluctance or hesitation,—it is wisdom to take his lesson from the signs of the hour, without waiting for the dictation of necessity, or allowing a meritorious body of: individuals to stand, year after year, at the doors of parliament, asking for what it is a disgrace to have so long refused. Such is the line of conduct that would best become the government; but, whether adopted by the government or not, the House is interested in observing it, and by agreeing with the motion with which I shall conclude, they will but discharge their duty, and render an act of justice to three millions of their fellow-subjects. I move, Sir, "That this House will resolve itself into a Committee of the whole House, to consider of so much of the Acts of the 13th and 25th of Charles 2nd, as requires persons, before they are admitted into any office or place in Corporations, or having accepted any office, civil or military, or any place of trust under the Crown, to receive the Sacrament of the Lord's Supper according to the Rites of the Church of England."
§ Mr. John Smith
rose to second the motion. He began by observing, that from conversations which he had lately held with several members of parliament, he was much surprised to find that great ignorance prevailed amongst them with respect to the nature of the statutes of which the Dissenters complained. He would, therefore, take the liberty of stating what those statutes were, in order that the House might see the necessity for its interference.
The Test act was passed, as his noble friend had said, without any reference whatever to the Dissenters; but its operation extended over a much wider range than those who had not examined the subject would be inclined to believe. It affected all persons who held any office under the king, as well as under those persons who derived their authority from the king; so that not only those who held 695 offices in the household, in the army, and in the navy, but a number of obscure individuals, who held small employments in any department connected, however remotely, with the government, were liable to the penalties of the act. Nor was it merely the commissioned officers of the army and navy who came under it. The non-commissioned officers, the sergeants, and corporals, were affected by it, as well as a whole host of civilians in the humblest walks of life, down to the very pedlar who hawked his goods about the country.
He would now point out the penalties to which those persons were exposed for not taking the sacrament. In the first instance, there was the forfeiture of the place which the offending individual held. Next, he was rendered incapable of holding any other. Again, he was disqualified from maintaining a suit at law. Still further, he was prevented from accepting the office of guardian, and, to crown all, he was rendered incapable of inheriting a legacy; and after being robbed of his property by the sweeping injustice of the act, he was saddled with a penalty of 500l. It was true, that these laws were so cruel that they were never enforced; but could that be alleged as a reason for keeping them in the Statute-book, or was it not an unanswerable argument in the mouths of those who called on the legislature for their repeal? He understood it was the intention of the right hon. Secretary, the member for the University of Oxford, to oppose the motion. Such at least was the report which he had heard, on more than one occasion, out of the House. But, whatever ground the right hon. gentleman might adopt in support of his views, he would not—he could not—rest his argument on the ground of religious opinions. Nor was it easy to imagine how he could argue for the continuance of such acts upon any principle of political expediency. Looking at it in that point of view, he would ask whether it would not be more merciful to throw a man into the Thames at once, than to deprive him of his civil rights, and expose him to all the injuries of a defenceless and degraded condition? The right hon. gentleman was one of those who knew how to feel for the distresses of others, and this was an appeal to his benevolent feelings too strong to be easily set aside. The whole of the penal statutes went upon one unfortunate and absurd mistake. Our ancestors, whom (he knew 696 not why) we were in the habit of calling wise, had considered that belief was an act of the will, and not of the understanding. Upon that false assumption they had gone on adding penalty to penalty, and statute to statute, in the vain endeavour to control, by fear and by force, what was only to be effected by persuasion. And who, he would remind the House again, were the individuals exposed to those acts, if they were enforced? The officers of the army and navy, commissioned and noncommissioned; the numerous persons employed in the various departments of the Customs and Excise; together with all those who were in the service of chartered companies, of whatever kind or description. He had spoken within these few days to an old friend of his, a Bank director, and had asked him, amongst other questions, whether he had qualified for that station? The answer was, that he supposed so, of course accompanied with some surprise that his qualification should be doubted. The next question he had put was one for which his friend was still less prepared:—it was, whether he had conformed to the religious ceremony required by these acts? It was scarcely necessary to say, that he had not conformed; for he did not even know that such a ceremony was required by the existing law. The House might take it for granted, that the officers of the army and navy were not much better informed on the subject than his friend. He had himself been in company with a field-officer not long ago, who had served in the four quarters of the world, but who had never heard of the Test act, its demands, or its penalties, through the whole course of his promotion and services. It was true he had never suffered from its operation; but that was not enough to sanction the existence of unjust and arbitrary laws. Why should they have any laws which they were ashamed, or incapable of enforcing?
The Dissenters of the present day were as intelligent, as loyal, as prosperous, and as industrious, a class of people as any within his majesty's dominions. It was now three or four and twenty years ago since the people had enrolled themselves as volunteers for the defence of their common country. At that period he had had the honour to command a corps raised in the city of London, and consisting of many Dissenters. He had had an opportunity of observing their conduct, not only in his 697 own corps, but generally throughout the country, when two hundred thousand Dissenters were volunteers. No men could display greater enthusiasm in the cause—no men could conduct themselves with more discretion. It had never entered the head of any one to suspect them of disaffection, or to represent them as unfit to be intrusted with arms. In every capacity it was the same—their conduct would bear the strictest scrutiny. In learning, in talent, in morals, they had distinguished themselves, as well as in the humbler virtues which constituted the worth of citizens. He could mention names amongst them which would at once command the reverence of Christians of every sect—that of Lardner, for instance; but it was unnecessary to particularize. They could boast of eminent men in all professions—of useful men in all the avocations of life. It was ridiculous, absurd, and mischievous, at that time of day, to slander such a class of persons by keeping on the Statute-book acts which, though they were not enforced, amounted to a gross insult. When he considered the nature of religious enthusiasm, and looked back at the actions it had given rise to—when he saw amongst the Dissenters of later date, men who had fought the battles of the country, and had shed their blood in its defence—men to whom we owed our former glory and our present safety—it was impossible not to feel the gross injustice, as well as the imprudence, of continuing these obnoxious statutes. The body of men of whom the non-commissioned officers were composed were generally Scotch. Of the Scotch, he would say, what had been said of them by a high authority—that the Scotch Presbyterian was not a very docile animal: on the contrary, he was disposed to adhere firmly to his religion; and it was the opinion of one of the most eminent men in the Scotch church, that a Presbyterian complying with the regulations of the Test act, abandoned his own faith and followed that of the Church of England. They had had Scotchmen amongst them who held situations of high importance; a circumstance not to be wondered at, when it was considered, that their talents, their industry, and their moral character, were of a description to give them a preference over the natives of most other countries. He asked, were such individuals to be exposed to the annoyance of an enactment like that now in question? Was it to be 698 expected that their soldiers, their officers and non-commissioned officers, would bear with such a law? He held it to be impossible. It was in vain to think of enforcing the conditions required by these acts on a people so attached to their own opinions as the Presbyterians, and so instructed, by those whom they regarded as authorities in matters of church government and discipline? They could not enforce it on them, nor on such officers of the army and navy as were Dissenters. Nay, if it was the misfortune of England to have a minister weak and wicked enough to enforce the legal penalties for the neglect, the Speaker of that House might expect some afternoon, while he was at his devotions, preparatory to the business of the day, to see a party of zealots enter the House, as once they had done, and tell him, that he must go and "seek the Lord elsewhere." To be sure, it was said on the other side, "We do not intend that these acts should be put in force, and we show you that we entertain no such intention by passing an annual Indemnity bill." What did hon. gentlemen mean by adopting this course? Was it that they desired to hold the Test act over the heads of the Dissenters in terrorem? Did the penalties mean nothing? If they did not, they were only calculated to inspire ridicule and contempt. He left it to the House to determine whether the course hitherto adopted ought to be persisted in.
In looking back at the history of the debates on this subject, he had observed an argument put forward under the sanction of some of the greatest names ever known in this country. It was an argument that was expected to silence all opposition, and was to this effect:—"That Dissenters were troublesome and impertinent persons, to complain of the exercise of that right which every government enjoyed, to regulate as it pleased the conduct and profession of all persons who should take office under it, either civil or military." This right, it was contended, was an abstract right, which every government might enforce, it being for those who sought office to consider whether or not they would comply with the regulations imposed upon them. He was ready to meet the assertion of this principle with utter disdain. He denied it altogether, and would take the liberty, as a plain man, to employ his common sense in looking at it. He held that no man could claim to exercise a 699 right to the wrong or injury of another. If this was true in the case of a single individual, it was true as it regarded a country. He submitted the assumption which was made to fix certain regulations upon taking office to the criterion of public utility. He meant by the phrase "public-utility," that course which gave the greatest happiness to the greatest number of individuals. Referring to this principle, he could not discover how the right claimed contributed to the happiness of any; but he clearly perceived that it impaired, or might impair, the happiness of all. It was, therefore, incumbent on the House to repeal an act which in principle was so hostile to the spirit of the constitution, and which in practice was found to be attended with so many inconveniences. The subject was too ridiculous to admit of argument. He would refer to a publication by a gentleman whom it was impossible to name without respect and admiration—one who had always exerted his talents, and they were various, on the side of liberality—he alluded to the rev. Sydney Smith—who, in one of his publications, had said, in reference to the exclusive principle unhappily adopted in our domestic policy, that it was not more rational to persevere in it, than to make a regulation that we should employ no individuals who happened to have red hair. The Dissenters felt no objection to the sacramental rite, but in so far as it was considered a holy one; but they did not wish that a rite ordained by the author of our religion, for sacred purposes, should be profaned by applying it to the attainment of civil offices. Rather than do so they were content to remain in poverty and obscurity: and surely their objection was a conscientious one. A Baptist or Unitarian might, for different reasons, say, that they would not comply with the sacramental test, because they entertained conscientious scruples which they were not content to sacrifice to their personal advantage. This might be considered a foolish principle, but he respected it. The parties making objections of this kind took for their rule the law of the Almighty, as they understood it, and by that law endeavoured to regulate their actions. Hypocrites in religion might dispense with the form as well as the substance, when it suited their convenience to do so; and it was the curse of a country which enacted such laws, to make hypocrites by act of parliament. But the men who, 700 in defiance of such laws and the penalties they threatened, and the poverty they entailed, stood firm to their conscientious opinions, instead of being objectionable, were "worthy of all acceptation," and were much more worthy of employment than those who were capable of courting it by the surrender of their principles. Was there any man in that House who could withhold his admiration from the purity of sentiment, and from the elevation of mind, which these individuals had so long displayed? And yet, what was the reward which they had hitherto received? Their reward was a cruel and unjust code of penal laws. He was sorry that such laws should ever have found their way into our Statute-book; for in every country in which such laws had been established, they had been found the certain promoters of bitterness and discord, if not of bloodshed and civil war.
The motion of that night called upon them to do an act of justice to three-eighths of the population of Great Britain, who were insulted, and grossly insulted, by the continuance of these unjust, and ridiculous, and antiquated laws. Let the House also reflect on the injury which these laws were inflicting on the inhabitants of another part of the empire. They were injuring, in Ireland, seven millions of persons, by keeping them in a state of degradation and ignorance, which was not only dreadful to themselves, but dangerous to the common weal. Were these laws repealed, the Dissenters would cherish feelings of amity towards the established church, and a union would be cemented between England and Ireland, which had hitherto existed in little but name. They lived in an age that well deserved to be called extraordinary and wonderful—an age in which moral improvement, and scientific improvement, and mechanical improvement, were raising men far above their former level, were giving them powers and endowments which they had never previously possessed, and were inciting them, with a force which could not be resisted, to those manly and invigorating pursuits after truth, which could not fail to confer the most signal benefits upon society. Would they, under such circumstances, persist in the support of laws which had been engendered by fanaticism, and nourished by unrelenting ignorance and prejudice? They ought not to forget, that Great Britain had been the nurse 701 of toleration; and that, though she had often acted in the spirit of persecution, she had been the first to teach a milder and a better spirit to the civilized world. He was sure that if common sense should continue to exercise its influence in the country, all the acts which disqualified individuals for civil offices on account of their religious opinions, must be obliterated from the Statute-book. Whenever that blessed period should arrive, Great Britain would be hailed as the arbitress and benefactress of mankind; and he was convinced that she was only prevented from enjoying that high distinction at the present moment, by the cruel enactments which she still retained among the statutes of her land. He was sorry to have trespassed so long upon the attention of the House; but the importance, the paramount importance, of the subject must be his excuse. "If you shall determine to proceed in the career which you have so long pursued," said the hon. member, "you may depend upon it, that great evils will impend over you, whereas all of them may be averted by your adopting a different course: peace and happiness may then come among you, and remain with you to the most distant generations." In conclusion, he thanked the House for listening to him so patiently, and ended by seconding the motion of his noble friend.
said, that having presented many petitions from his constituents, who were anxious for the repeal of these intolerant laws, he could not give a silent vote on this occasion. He did not participate in the great anxiety which some persons felt for the repeal of these laws, because he considered them as virtually repealed by the annual Indemnity acts. The Test act had been laid asleep for nearly a century, during which period not one opportunity had occurred, not one solitary occasion, upon which the friends of intolerance and bigotry had dared to put it in force. Could they, then, hope-could they flatter themselves, that any future occasion could arise, which would give them the power of enforcing this odious law?—A law which might inflict the most atrocious penalties on a man, who had served his country in some useful office, but who had refused to profane a solemn religious rite for secular purposes. It would be too revolting to the spirit of the age, too gross an insult on common sense, for any legislature, for any House 702 of Commons (even constituted as that House was), to enforce such a law. Then why keep it on the Statute-books? It was worse than childish to hold a rod over our backs which they dared not use. These intolerant laws had been repealed in every civilized country, but our own. England, enlightened England, was the only country which cherished and preserved them! It was believed by some, that these laws were a security to the established church, but this was a most mistaken opinion. What could compensate the church for the odium which these laws created against it? for the irritated and resentful feelings of a majority of the population of the kingdom, who were deprived of equal civil rights with that class of their fellow-citizens, who enjoyed the whole of the revenues which the state appropriates to religious services? The Dissenters were accused of denying to their Roman Catholic fellow-subjects, the enjoyment of those equal rights which they claimed for themselves; and it must be admitted, that some Dissenters were not free from old anti-catholic principles; but these prejudices were now fast disappearing. The House had received many petitions for the repeal of all civil disabilities, on account of religious belief. The Corporation act was yet very generally acted on, to the exclusion of Dissenters. This was, in some respects, a privilege rather than a penalty to the person excluded, who could decline to serve a troublesome office, without being subject to any fine for not serving it, which others would be subject to. But the act was here injurious to the public interest, by limiting the choice to a smaller number, and excluding men who might be most competent to fulfil the duties of a useful office. It was also highly injurious to the public interest, by keeping up that intolerant party-spirit, for which some corporations were so remarkable.
§ Mr. Speaker
; I feel how many apologies are due, not only to the hon. gentleman who has given way to me, but to the House itself, for thus early presenting myself to its notice, and for claiming its attention at a moment when the opinions of so many more able and experienced members are anxiously looked for. But, Sir, the present is one of those subjects which have ever made a deep impression on my mind: it is one in which those principles of civil and religious liberty which I have ever been taught to revere, are so inti- 703 mately involved, that I make no further excuse than to acknowledge my incapacity to do justice to the great cause in which I find myself engaged.
That a state should be placed in such a situation as to be obliged, for whatever reasons, and under whatever circumstances, to renounce the services of a considerable part of its subjects, ought ever to be esteemed a matter of serious regret; but when those causes which gave rise to a necessity have ceased to operate—when those circumstances have been changed by the lapse of time—then that exclusion which state policy originally might have justified, becomes little less than a tyranny, and an arbitrary interference with the sacred and equal rights of mankind.
If I were inclined to trace this exclusive policy to any other feeling than to that common vulgar feeling which actuates men to monopolize to themselves, and to a small circle around them, the honours and emoluments of the world; were it necessary to trace it to any other principle than to that principle by which the strong are universally found to oppress the weak, I might ascribe it to the prevalence of a system, or rather to the abuse of a system, which has grown out of a supposed alliance, between the Church and the State. Now, Sir, according to my view of this subject, I cannot conceive two things, the origin of which is more distinct, and the purpose of which ought to be more dissimilar, than Religion and the Civil government. And yet by this system, we are taught to blend' and to confound them together. We are taught to clothe the State with the sacred mantle of Religion, and to ascribe to it a character and attributes which cannot be said to belong to it: and we are taught to look upon religion as the mere handmaid of the government, itself a constituent part and estate of the realm, and we end by worshiping it as an engine in the hands of the civil power, and as the stepping-stone to individual ambition. Not that I am ready broadly to assert that, under no assignable circumstances, a state can be justified in making religious distinction the ground of civil disability. I am not prepared to say that our ancestors have universally been wrong in making religious faith the criterion by which to judge of loyalty and attachment to the state. But then this great distinction ought never to be lost sight of; namely, that these disabilities were im- 704 posed, not on account of the religious opinions of those who were their victims; not because this man believed in transubstantiation, or that held doctrines inconsistent with the national creed; but because there were certain feelings and political attachments supposed to be inherent in, and inseparable from, these religious professions. If you can prove that the Catholics of the present day are aiming at the subversion of our constitution, and are desirous of bringing back a race of kings, whose only pretension to the throne of these kingdoms was founded upon the shadowy claim of legitimacy, I own that they might fairly be looked upon as objects of suspicion. But then, the burthen of the proof rests with those who would deprive them of their rights as citizens. If you could prove that the Protestant Dissenters were plotting the overthrow of our establishments in church and state, I then—as undoubtedly was the case in the century before the last—should be obliged to confess that it would not be unjust or unfair to debar them from all offices of trust and power. But then another consideration would present itself: I should ask, do they possess the means, the physical power, to carry their designs into effect? for it would be absurd in us to enact new laws, or what, in fact, is the same thing, to continue laws already existing, in order to suppress mere abstract opinions—opinions not demonstrated by any overt act. But, were I even to allow, for the sake of argument, that these evil dispositions did exist in conjunction with the means of giving them effect; and here I must be understood, as admitting that proposition for the sake of argument only; for I do not think that there exists a body of men more loyal and more attached to the constitutional liberties of the country, then the Protestant Dissenters—then would come before us this great question, and then only would it be necessary to entertain it, for where there is no danger, there is no need of security—whether the laws as they now stand, whether the Test and Corporation acts, and the other restrictive laws, are adapted to furnish that security, and to ward off the danger which, under that supposition, might be said to impend over us.
Now, Sir, I think it might easily be shown, that of all the laws that could be devised, these are the least calculated to effect the purpose which they profess to 705 have in view. And this for two reasons:—In the first place, a man may be a very good and regular communicant with the Church of England, and yet entertain ideas very hostile to the liberties and the constitution of his country. Let me cite the example of the bishops who, in the reign of Charles the 2nd, all, with the exception of three, voted against the Bill of Exclusion; and the same bishops did, in the succeeding reign, unanimously oppose the Revolution and the establishment of king William. Thus, if these orthodox communicants had obtained their object, which was the permanency of their legitimate king, they would not only have destroyed the civil liberties of the state, but they would also have upset their own hierarchy, the preservation of which they owed, in great measure, to those very Dissenters whom, afterwards, they had the meanness to persecute.
My second argument is one to which I think some favour ought to be shown in this House. And here, it must be confessed, that we have an advantage which rarely falls to any disputants; for we are not only supported by those who are usually called the friends of religious liberty, among whom may be reckoned some of the brightest characters of the age, but we have also the silent acquiescence, and the tacit consent of our opponents themselves; for, to what other principle of common sense can I reconcile it, that these gentlemen should come down to this House, year after year, and give their votes for the bill of Indemnity (which is. in fact a virtual repeal of those laws which they now pretend are essential as bulwarks to our establishments) unless they were in their own minds intimately convinced of their utter inutility and worthlessness.
Were it necessary for me to go into the historical part of this question, I think it could easily be shown, that the Test act was enacted as a check upon the royal power, at a time when the king could not be intrusted with the nomination of his own servants. Strange it is, that it should now be supported under a monarch of a different character, and upheld, too, by gentlemen who have lately derived so much benefit from the free exercise of this prerogative; I think, too, it could easily be shown, that the Test act was intended to control the Catholics; for its immediate consequence was the deprivation of lord treasurer Clifford, who was one of the 706 most powerful and dangerous of that body, and to compel the resignation of the duke of York, (which in fact was its real object), who then held the office of high admiral.
But I should ill requite the indulgence which the House seems inclined to extend to me, were I unnecessarily to take up any considerable portion of its time, and I should give but a poor specimen of ray discretion upon the first time of addressing it, were I to enter upon a field which has been already occupied with so much ability by the noble lord who has preceded me. I shall, therefore, confine myself to make a few remarks upon the most obvious and prominent of those objections which have usually been made to the repeal of the Test and Corporation acts. In the first place, I must take notice of that argument by which it is pretended, that, in consequence of the annual act of Indemnity, these laws are rather an imaginary, than a real, grievance. Now, I must say that it is a singular mode of defending any body of laws, to say that they are only made tolerable by their constant and systematic infraction. But it must be recollected, that a bill of Indemnity, however useful for the service of the state, and to protect even members of the church from the penal effects of those statutes, is but a temporary concession, it is a licence granted; it is not a liberty recognised; on the contrary, it recognises that false and vicious principle of government, by which the stronger are allowed to suppress and exclude the weaker portion of the community on account of their religious opinions. But I deny that they can be esteemed merely imaginary grievances. What! is it no grievance for an Englishman to hold his liberties by an annual lease only? Is it no hardship to hold his rights by such a precarious tenure? Is it no grievance to be subject to the caprice of any one branch of the legislature, and to owe it to their forbearance only that he is not crushed by the weight of the penalties attached to these laws? Are these no grievances?
And here I must generally remark, that the evil of exclusive, and restrictive, laws does not consist so much in the actual deprivation of place and power to those who are their victims, as in the stigma which they cast upon them, as in the degradation into which they undeservedly plunge them, and in the insolent superiority with which they awe their opponents. 707 In the same strain of reasoning, it is attempted to be shown that the Protestant Dissenters are indifferent to their present situation, and consequently to the repeal of these acts. Now, Sir, I should have thought that the petitions laid upon your table, if not unequalled in numerical quantity, but such as have been rarely surpassed by liberality of sentiment and in unity of purpose, would have been a sufficient answer to this objection; but if there had not been a single petition laid upon your table, I still must have argued, that no Englishman could have sat down contentedly under such a deprivation of his rights; and if that argument were true, as applied to Englishmen in general, with how much greater force must it not come when it refers to a body of men not the worst educated in the community, and who have ever shown themselves the friends to the liberties of their country; at times, too, when those liberties were forgotten and perhaps betrayed by churchmen?
There are some gentlemen who are unwilling to repeal these acts because they say, they know not what will be the next concession required of them. This is a singular argument. What will you refuse that which is proper, because you may perhaps be asked for what is unreasonable? Will you refuse to pay a just debt, because your creditor may afterwards be induced to commit a robbery upon you? I know not what may be the ultimate object of the sectaries: I am not in the confidence of their committees or associations. I know them only by the casual intercourse of society; but this I know, that were I a Dissenter, I should never cease to knock at the doors of the constitution till they were thrown widely open to me; and I should never cease to raise my voice until I was placed upon a perfect equality with the rest of my fellow-countrymen.
Now, let it not be inferred from any thing I have said this night, or, if I may take the liberty of saying so, from any thing that has fallen from the noble lord below me, that we are hostile to, or indifferent to, the interests of the church. Whatever might be my opinion upon a review of the abstract question, I have no hesitation in declaring, that in this country an establishment is essential for the preservation of order, morality, and religion. I wish to see an establishment high and respected; respected from its own conduct, 708 and respectable from its situation; but I wish to see it stand on any other ground than on the narrow basis of exclusion. I wish to see it rely upon any other prop than upon the feeble one of persecution. Let others, if they please, shew their zeal for the Establishment, by supporting it with arguments connected with intolerance. I will shew mine by endeavouring to wipe off those blots that deface it, and which are at once derogatory to its honour, its interests, and its strength.
These Sir, are the principle reasons, however imperfectly expressed, which have induced me this night to come forward in support of the motion of the noble lord. What will be the conduct of those gentlemen who have uniformly shown themselves averse to make any concessions to the sectaries, it is not difficult for me to anticipate. But there are some honourable gentlemen, I am told, who are friendly to the Catholic question, and who now refuse to listen to the prayer of their Protestant brethren. How they are to reconcile this to their professions of liberality, it is for them to explain. From all that has fallen from me this night, it cannot be doubtful to those who have done me the honour to listen to me, that I must be a friend to that great cause, whether as regarding the peculiar interests of Ireland, or rather with reference to the great principles of general toleration. But I have yet to learn how the liberation of one body of men is to be effected by rivetting the chains of another. On the contrary, I think that every step we make this night will be in favour of Ireland—every advance we make for the relief of the Dissenters will be so much gained in the great cause of Catholic emancipation. Break but once through the line of bigotry and prejudice, and the victory is our own.
I must now call the attention of the House to a part of this subject which I own I approach with something like fear and reverence, but one which I trust will never be deemed incompatible with the duties, nor alien from the feelings, of a British House of Commons. That there is a religion of an origin and character infinitely more sacred than those which I must call human establishments in the world, and which are, in fact, but forms, and modifications of this original religion, is a truth which will hardly be disputed by the warmest advocate for Church and State. If, then, there is such a religion as the one 709 which I have described, the common source, and mother of all the different sects which diversify the Christian world, something to which we ought all to appeal, amidst our differences and our discords, our sects and our systems, I should be glad to know from any candid professor of that holy religion, whose ideas are not too far secularized by a connection with the state, how that can be useful to the offspring, which is hurtful to the parent; how that can be advantageous to the Church of England, which is destructive to Christianity itself.—I would further wish to ask him, whether he thinks that it can be deemed conformable to the principles of that religion to make that ceremony which ought to be the bond of union and affection among mankind, the very ground and symbol of their differences. I would ask him, whether it be pious to make the holiest rite that can subsist between man and his Creator the stepping-stone of ambition, of avarice and of vanity—whether it be decentTo make the symbol of atoning grace,An office key, the pick-lock of a place.It has been said, in opposition to this view of the question, that there is no greater objection to make the sacrament the test of civil qualification, than to make an oath the test of truth. Whatever apparent resemblance there may be between these two cases, on further examination we shall find that there is no analogy whatever between them, and that no common inference is to be drawn from them. An oath is the best possible mode of securing the truth, and well adapted for the purposes of its institution. I do not mean to say but that by our present system of legislation, oaths have been so much multiplied as to render them in many instances inefficacious, but they could not have been appointed for any other object than for the adjustment of human differences. Will any one pretend that this was the object of the ordination of the holy sacrament, or that it is not a profanation of its purpose to convert it to the uses to which it is daily applied? If we must persecute, if we must indulge that wicked instinct of our nature, let us, in God's name, refrain from the use of such means and of such an instrument as ought at least to be secure from such unholy contamination.
Considering, then, this question not merely as one designed to relieve a great and deserving body of his majesty's sub- 710 jects, but regarding it as equally interesting to all Christians and as a step in the great career of religious liberty, I will give my most zealous support to the motion of the noble lord. In giving that vote I trust that I shall this night have the happiness to see a decisive blow given to that system of laws, which has long been the reproach of this country and a disgrace to the enlightened age in which we live—a system of laws useless for any good purpose, impotent to protect, to defend or to save—powerful only to irritate, to harass and oppress, and which, in point of fact, has a devout tendency to produce the very evil, and to create the danger, which it affects to control.
§ Sir R. H. Inglis
rose and said:—
I approach, Sir, the consideration of this great question with the same distrust of myself, but with the same confidence in my cause, which, on his part, the noble lord—my noble friend, if I may so call him—has felt and expressed in submitting his motion to you. I shall be very happy, if I can carry to the discussion of it the same talent and temper which he has displayed.
Sir, in the history of the acts in question, and in the history of the attempts successively made to repeal them, I am, not disposed to differ much from my noble friend; except that I do not think that he has quite done justice to the character and earnestness of Walpole in pursuit of the same object which he himself has now in view; since Walpole was clearly hot content to rest in the failure of his first endeavours to procure the repeal of them, but renewed those endeavours in the year 1736, and quarrelled with one who, oh other points, had been among his greatest supporters, because, in this instance, he opposed him. This, however, is a minor I point, which it is scarcely necessary to notice.
I proceed, then, at once, to the consideration of the real question: Are the restrictions, the repeal of which is now required, restrictions on the natural rights of man? The passage in the noble lord's speech, in which he insisted on this position, was much cheered by the House, or rather by those who sat more immediately around him; and, in fact, it is on this ground that much of what we hear elsewhere, or see in the petitions, much of; what the noble lord, much of what the hon. gentleman who last addressed you, 711 have urged, mainly rests. On this ground, therefore, I will first meet the question. Let me say, in the first instance, that, on this, as on a somewhat similar subject, I should feel ashamed to resist, on the mere ground of expediency, a claim which any man, or any body of men, could urge as a matter of right and justice. It is because I do not see any such right or justice in the present case, that I resist the motion of my noble friend. Sir, the question of power is one of pure unmixed expediency: no man has an abstract right to it: power, as Burke has stated it, is the creature of society: when once established, indeed, its sanctions are from a higher source: but, in the beginning it is not like the right of life, or of liberty, original and absolute, but it is the arbitrary and artificial arrangement of men, modified and distributed in different ages and countries in every possible variety of combination. No one can, by nature, independently of the conventions of society, claim a right to govern his fellow men. The question, therefore, whether any man or any body of men, ought to be eligible to power is a question of pure expediency, not of justice; and such power may be regulated by sex, by age, by property, or by opinions, without any wrong to any one's natural claims. Sir, it is the highest right, and the first duty of every man, to worship God according to his own conscience; and God forbid that any man should be compelled to worship in one way, or be prohibited from worshipping in another, by any despotism of society: but I repeat it, a man's opinions may just as reasonably as the measure of his property exclude him from power: and, therefore, the question is still left one of mere policy, upon which men equally conscientious may well arrive at different conclusions.
Some established opinions every government, in every age, and in every country, with one single and late exception, has recognized and enforced. Some established form of religion there has ever been in every other civilized state:—all reason, all experience, all history, ancient and modern, the United States of America alone excepted, justify such a measure on the part of every government. Now, the very idea of an authorized religion implies some preference. I cannot conceive how an establishment can exist without some special protection and preference. The ques- 712 tion then follows, what preference of those belonging to that establishment, what exclusion of others, may be necessary to its preservation? I am very willing to admit that the least degree of exclusion, the lightest restraint, which can meet and satisfy that object ought to be imposed. But some exclusion, some restraint, is inseparable from the idea of the public and. recognized establishment of a Church. The question, in the present case, is not—let it ever be recollected—whether this connexion of church and state be or be not desirable in the abstract: with us that question is already decided. We are not legislating for a new country; we are not forming a constitution for New Zealand. We possess a church establishment inseparably connected with our state: and that establishment and that union we are bound to maintain:Spartam nactus es, hanc orna.I am to consider, then, whether, in the view of preserving the Church, more grievous restraints are imposed on those who dissent from it, than the necessity of the case requires. And here I cannot but remark the extraordinary fact, that, for thirty-six or thirty-seven years there has hardly been uttered one complaint to parliament on the subject of these restraints. It is true, that they now occupy a very considerable space in the petitions upon the table: but I cannot help thinking, that the silence, with which they had been treated for more than an entire generation, is a strong proof, that practically the grievances are not so great as for the purposes of argument they are represented. The substance of those grievances is embodied in a statement industriously circulated, called the "Case of the Dissenters;" and here I was surprised to observe, that the last rejection of their claims which is therein noticed is described as carried by only twenty against them; leaving an inference as if this House were nearly divided in opinion when the question last came before them: but what was the fact? The division stated took place, indeed, in 1789, but in 1790 the question was again brought before the House; and was lost by a division of two hundred and ninety to one hundred and five, Mr. Pitt and Mr. Burke voting in the majority.
To return to the point. The silence of the Dissenters since that time may safely be considered as a proof, that the griev- 713 ances under the Test and Corporation Laws were not much felt; were not, in degree, so excessive as they are now described to be.
I come, then, to the mode, the particular Test, applied by these Laws for the purpose of securing the Church. And here let me say, that those who object to the mode, and who do not profess to object to the purpose, ought perhaps themselves to propose a substitute. I will, however, consider the Test actually adopted, I own, that I think bishop Sherlock's defence of it is in theory, at least, unanswerable. Receiving the Sacrament is not the qualification; but the evidence of qualification, namely, the evidence of being a member of the Church of England. The Church requires all her members to receive the Holy Communion three times every year; and the law requires only, that you should give evidence of having done that which your own Church has already required you to do, whether you take office, or not: the constitution assuming that you are a member of the Church, or, at least, not so hostile to it, as to refuse communion with it.
As to the profanation of the rite, I thank my noble friend for the manner in which he treated this part of the subject. In the tone of his reference to it, he has set us all an example which I take the liberty of saying we shall all do well to imitate. Profanation is not necessarily, I hope not frequently, connected with this test: at any rate the abuse is not in itself an argument against such a test, any more than perjury is an argument against oaths. In practice, the test is seldom enforced. It has been repealed by law in respect to the more numerous classes to which it once applied; and in respect to others, is covered by the act of indemnity. In a county with which the noble lord and I are particularly connected, the whole number of persons who have qualified since the accession of the present king is only twenty-three. I speak of the county only, and not of the corporation. That number includes all members of the Church of England of course: whether any persons of the twenty-three felt it to be a violation of their consciences to take the sacrament according to the Church of England, I have no means of knowing; but the whole number is so small, as to prove, at any rate, how little the evil can be, in that quarter at least.—In fact, the act of indemnity relieves all scruples, as well as 714 all neglects. The original laws are kept in existence, to be enforced only when some great necessity shall arise: no one wishes to enforce them on the one side; and no great body of men, I should have thought, felt them a grievance on the other. They are at the same time the power which the constitution of England keeps in her own hand to protect the Church and herself, whenever such a combination of circumstances shall again arise as that which, two centuries ago, overthrew the altar and the throne, the Church and the State, in one common destruction.
Against the recurrence of these dangers the laws in question were framed. Something has been said by the noble lord, and still more by the hon. member who seconded the motion, and something also by the hon. gentleman who has just set down, on the "wisdom of our ancestors;" a topic often introduced, on late occasions, with a sneer. It seems, indeed, the best, because it is the most frequent, joke of those who use it. Now, Sir, I am willing to admit, that, in physical science, new and improved views are every day opening on mankind: but in moral science, and even in the arts of governing men, I am yet to learn that we are superior to our ancestors. The foundations of all moral truth were laid in a revelation not of yesterday. The principles of political government are to be found in the great authors of antiquity. No where can you find more intimate knowledge of human nature in society, than in the ten first books of Livy, in Tacitus, and in Thucydides; and in respect to the Institutions of our own country, I am content with the principles of the constitution, as established at the Revolution. I do not desire to be a better Whig than lord Somers; and I am surprised at the way in which the descendants of his great associates speak of the wisdom which established the safeguards of our present constitution.
The Dissenters of the present day enjoy the fullest rights of conscience: and I am willing to admit that there is nothing in their overt acts from which I apprehend any danger. With some of them I am intimate, for many more I have the highest respect; but it is perfectly clear, that the principles of Dissenters conscientiously opposed to the Church, can never give the same undivided allegi- 715 ance to the constitution in church and state which a churchman does. The principles, if carried to the same extent as formerly, would produce the same results. The laws which restrain Dissenters are, and will ever be, left inoperative, so long as those principles slumber also: but I think that they should be retained for the purpose of being exerted in extreme cases, if such should ever arise. In fact, a richly-endowed Church, with all its privileges and immunities, will always be an object of jealousy to those who differ from it: but, connected as it is with the constitution, the state is bound to protect it against any dangers from any quarters. Dangers will always exist: and, if the present disabilities were removed, and Dissenters placed on the fullest equality as to power with the Church, some new question, perhaps of property, would immediately be started, on which new struggles and new dangers would arise. The question of tythes would probably come: and, as we should have followed the example of America in giving no preference to any Church, we should be called upon to follow it further, and to enact that no man should pay any thing to any pastor but his own [hear, hear]. I accept the cheer of the hon. member for Montrose as a proof that my inference is correct; that there are those who would go so far.—No, Sir, differences must always exist; and the removal of the present matter of grievance will only bring the discontent one step nearer. I therefore prefer that the contest shall still continue about the out-works, and that we should not surrender them, because I am too sure that, in that case, we should have to fight for the citadel.
said, that, during the greater part of the speech of the hon. baronet, who had just sat down, he had reckoned on his vote in favour of the motion of the noble lord; for he had not thought it possible, until the hon. member had so declared it, that setting out as he did by laying it down as a principle, that the question was one of political expediency, and admitting that the least possible restriction should be put upon the Protestant Dissenters, that was consistent with the public security, and the protection which was due to the religion of the state, the hon. baronet should come to the conclusion, that the Dissenters ought to be 716 excluded by law from all offices in the state, civil and military.
The hon. baronet had taken for granted two material points that remained to be proved: first, that our constitution, in church and state, required protection; and, secondly, that such protection would be afforded to it by the exclusion in question. The hon. baronet had, indeed, said, that although he would not consent to the repeal of the Test and Corporation acts, he did not object, in ordinary times, to the passing of the act of Indemnity, by the provisions of which the Dissenters were protected from the penalties of the law; but that to guard against the recurrence of events, which in former times had overwhelmed both church and state, it was necessary and fit, that the power should be retained to put the law in execution, when a change of circumstances might require it. This, then, was the boasted indemnity of the Dissenter, that he was to be safe from those dreadful penalties, only as long as the dominant party in the state should be of opinion that the enforcing of those penalties was not necessary for their own security. See the situation of the Dissenter, who was told by some of those who oppposed his claims, that he suffered no practical grievance, for that he was, and would continue to be, protected by the act of Indemnity, annually renewed; whilst others, of which number was the hon. baronet, told him, that the protection of him (the Dissenter) depended on this—whether or not the ruling power should at any time consider, that the conduct, not of the individual himself, but of his party, continued to be such as to entitle him to indemnity, or subject him to punishment.
The hon. baronet had said, that it was extraordinary, if the Protestant Dissenters had any practical grievance to complain of, that their voices had not been heard within the walls of that House for the space of thirty-seven years. But under what circumstances was it, that the Dissenters had ceased to urge their claims before that House and the public. In the years 1787, 1789, and 1790, they on three different occasions attempted to awaken the legislature to a sense of the justice of their claim. On Mr. Beaufoy's second motion in May, 1789, the question was lost by a small majority, 22 only; but on Mr. Fox's motion, in March, 1790, the majority had increased to 189. Important events had occurred in the interval 717 between these two motions.* On the latter occasion all the artillery of Mr. Burke's eloquence was brought into the field. The example of the French revolution was held out as a warning against innovation; and all the topics connected with that event were brought in aid, and enforced with all the powers of oratory possessed by that extraordinary man. It was certain that the overwhelming majority on that occasion was obtained, not on the merits of the case, but on extrinsic circumstances, which were attempted too successfully to be associated with it. But the hopes of the Dissenters for the time were extinguished. A period of alarm ensued; and amidst the terror and dismay which spread itself over the land, and which it required years to dispel, what chance was there of redress for the Protestant Dissenters? It would have been wholly useless for the Dissenters to have brought forward their claims at such a period. It would have been, perhaps, worse than useless. It might have embarrassed and weakened the government at a time when its whole strength was required to meet the exigencies of that troubled period. It might be said, that the Dissenters had prolonged their silence far beyond that period; and it was true, that for very many years, they had not approached that House with their complaints; but were their just application to be refused for no other reason but because they had failed in importunity? The question was not, how long they had been passive under their sufferings. It mattered not whether it was thirty-seven, or fifty, or a hundred years. The question was, whether they had grievances to complain of, not how long they had consented to be silent under them. If they had real cause of complaint, there was but one course to be taken by a just and wise government, which was, to remove it.
This was the object of the motion of the noble lord, who bore a name worthy to be associated with the consideration of any question in which the liberties of the people of England were concerned. He had listened with unmixed satisfaction to the speech of that noble lord, whose talents enabled him to do so much justice to the cause of which he was the advocate. He had left little or nothing to be said by those who were to follow him in the debate. He (Mr. F.) would, therefore,* Parl. Hist., vol. xxviii, pp. 1, 387.718 touch shortly on the principal topics which this discussion necessarily involved.
First, as to the history of these acts. The Test act, it was clear, was levelled at the Roman Catholics alone. He admitted that the Corporation act, the first in point of time, was not passed with any reference to the Roman Catholics; nor was it intended to guard so much against the Presbyterian, as against the republican, sectaries, who had overturned both church and monarchy, and had driven the Presbyterians themselves out of the field. It was necessary, indeed, by the act, to take the Sacrament of the Lord's Supper, according to the usage of the Church of England; but the Presbyterians did not at that time refuse to communicate with the Church of England. It was the act of Uniformity which produced the final separation between the two religions. The Sacramental Test was not the only evidence of qualification which the Corporation act required. No declaration, indeed, was required against transubstantiation, as nothing probably at that early period after the Restoration was feared from the Roman Catholics; but political tests were required by the Corporation act. It was required, that the person admitted should testify by oath, that it was unlawful, under any pretence, to take up arms against the king, and by declaration that the solemn league and covenant was unlawful and not binding. In short, it would be found that the provisions both of the Corporation and Test acts, were intended as the probes by means of which the political principles of the party were to be got at; partly, no doubt, and in the latter act principally, by ascertaining his religious creed, which was supposed to be the evidence or test of his political principles. The Test act, which was not passed till eleven years after the Corporation act, was evidently intended to meet the dangers of a political crisis which threatened the subversion of the constitutional liberties of England. It was levelled against the Catholics, not as a religious, but a political, sect, at the head of which was the duke of York, and even the king himself, who aimed at the introduction of arbitrary rule, by assuming a power to dispense with the law, and who, although he had recalled his Declation of Indulgence, was still prepared to carry into execution his plan for establishing arbitrary power through the means of an army commanded by popish officers, 719 stationed almost at the gates of London. Churchmen and Dissenters joined to avert the impending calamity, and the Test act was passed, which compelled the duke of York and the popish officers to resign their employments, the Dissenters themselves submitting, for the public safety, to the disabilities to which they themselves became subject by the operation of the law.
Let the House judge how that body had been requited for this act of self-devotion. Although the parliament which passed the Test act appeared to be sensible of the merits of the Protestant Dissenters, and a bill for their relief had actually passed both Houses, it was lost, by the prorogation of parliament, as some state, or by the clandestine removal of it, as others say, from the table of the House of Lords, by the order or with the privity of the king. It was admitted by all, that the Test act was not passed at the time to meet any danger that was apprehended from the Protestant Dissenters; and yet it was argued, that it "was now necessary to preserve its enactments for the security both of church and state. As to the security of the state, when (Mr. Fergusson asked) had it been endangered by the conduct of the Protestant Dissenters? Who would venture to put the question upon that issue—upon the loyalty or disloyalty of that body? Had any class of his majesty's subjects ever given more striking, more efficient, or more generous, proofs of their attachment to their sovereign and to the constitution of their country, than the Protestant Dissenters? No prince of the house of Brunswick could ever, he was assured, be insensible to the claims which the Protestant Dissenters had to his protection and favour—he would add, to his gratitude. It was matter of history, almost of recollection, that when the crown and person of the then reigning prince of that illustrious family were both in peril, when the armies of the state had been defeated; when the pretender to the throne was advancing with his victorious troops into the very centre of the kingdom, sweeping the west of England, and carrying in his train numerous and powerful adherents, of the first families of the land; when the fidelity of too many of the members of the Church of England was shaken, what was the conduct of the Protestant Dissenters? Not one Dissenter was known to have joined the rebel force. Nay, in the face of those dreadful penalties that awaited them, they 720 flew to arms in defence of their sovereign and of their country; and by their courage and conduct in the field, contributed largely to the happy, but once doubtful, issue of that great contest.—What was the result, as far as respected the fate of the parties who had been engaged in that struggle?—One might imagine such an inquiry to have been made in foreign countries, where it might have been asked, What became of the rebellious subjects of the king, who had thus failed in their attempt upon his crown and life? A few were executed for the sake of example, and the rest were pardoned.—What became of those men, who so nobly and generously, and at so much hazard, had defended with their arms the person and authority of their king? They were pardoned too!—And how pardoned? Pardoned for an act of loyalty, but left subject for the future to the same penalties which the law denounced against a similar act of self-devotion.
The hon. member said, he would now turn more particularly to that portion of Dissenters, who were so only because they were members of their own national established church—the Church of Scotland. They were equally with the English Dissenters excluded from office and employment. They could not by law hold commissions in the army or navy—not the army and navy of England alone—but the army and navy of Scotland as much as of England—the army and navy of Great Britain—the army and navy which formed the defence of their common country, and to the expense of which they contributed in common. By law they were excluded, unless they renounced their faith, and excluded under the severest penalties. That they served their country, at the risk of those penalties, and served it effectually, was well known. Scotland had taken at all times her full share, if not more than her share, of the danger and the glory which attended the service of the country. In the field of Waterloo, where the question of the independence, not of Britain only, but of Europe and the world, was to be decided, who could tell what would have been its fate, even under the immortal leader of that day, had no arms been uplifted in its defence, but those of the sons of the Church of England—had the 42nd regiment, and the Scotch Greys, and the; numerous officers and soldiers, natives of Scotland, who fought on that day—had! the brave Irish too, the proscribed Catho- 721 lics, been withdrawn from that glorious but deadly contest? If they had the assistance of such men in the hour of peril, ought they not to conciliate them in a time of security and peace? Did they believe, that the services of the members of the Church of England were sufficient for the defence of the country? If so, let the Dissenters of all descriptions withdraw themselves from a service which was imputed to them as a crime; and let the government then see, whether it would be in their power to wage another war?
By the enactments complained of, the majority of the population of the three kingdoms—for such were the Dissenters of England, of Ireland, and of Scotland—were excluded from the service of the State, unless they renounced their faith, or became offenders against that law, and criminals subject to the severest penalties, In respect of the exclusion of the members of the Church of Scotland, it was the proscription of a whole nation. It was the exclusion by law from the service of the State, of every member of the religion of the State. The Presbyterian religion was as much the established religion of the State, as the religion professed by the members of the Church of England. It was so declared by law, and secured by solemn national compact, the Union between the two kingdoms. Upon that occasion Scotland—an ancient kingdom—the more ancient of the two;—treated with England upon an equal footing. Previously to the Union, the parliament of Scotland passed an act "for securing the Protestant Religion and Presbyterian church government within the kingdom of Scotland." By the act, after reciting that, by a former act, it was provided that the commissioners for the treaty of Union between the kingdoms should not treat of or concerning any alteration of the Scotch discipline or government of the Church of Scotland, it was enacted that the Presbyterian church government and discipline, should remain and continue unalterable, and be the only government of the Church within the kingdom of Scotland. The parliament of England in like manner passed an act for securing the Church of England as by law established, containing a similar prohibition to the commissioners from treating of any alteration in the liturgy, rights, ceremonies, discipline or government of the Church of England as by law established, and confirming and securing 722 the same, each of those acts providing, that they should be inserted in any treaty of Union to be concluded between the two countries; and they were accordingly inserted in the articles of Union, and were thereby declared to be essential and fundamental conditions of the said Union. Yet the members of one of their national and established churches could not serve their common sovereign and their common country without incurring those dreadful penalties. He did not, however, wish to put the claims of the members of the Church of Scotland on higher ground than the claims of other Protestant Dissenters from the Church of England. He wished to rest the case of both on the same broad ground of religious liberty. He would ask—he had almost said, he would take—nothing for his countrymen, which was not communicated to others who were suffering for the same cause.
He could not for a moment think that the continuance of such a law as that which was complained of could be necessary for the preservation of the Church of England. It was not found necessary for the preservation of the Church of Scotland, nor for the preservation of the Church of Ireland. He (Mr. Fergusson) was a member of an established church. His opinion was favourable to a national church establishment. He thought it was best fitted to the state of society in which they lived. A liberal provision should be made for the maintenance of the clergy, who should not be obliged to look to contribution for their support. They ought to live independent and respected; and they ought to have ample means for that purpose. They would, he feared, be reduced to a miserable state if "they were compelled to trust to the contributions of the faithful." If every man were to pay his own clergy, according to the plan of the hon. member for Aberdeen, he did not know what was the clergy which that hon. member would pay. He (Mr. Fergusson) was for up-holding the Church of England—indeed, he, as one of the members for Scotland was bound to uphold the Church of England by the terms of the Union between his own country and this, whose members were in like manner bound to uphold the Church of Scotland.—To admit the members of the Church of Scotland, and the general body of Dissenters, to the same rights as the members of the Church of England, to free them from the 723 penalties to which they were now subject for exercising those rights, could not in any manner affect the stability of the Church of England. The Church of England was safe in her privileges and immunities. She was safe in the enjoyment of her property. She held it under the sanction of the law—the same law under which the property of every member of that House was holden and no other. Was it to be supposed, for one moment, that the Dissenters entertained the insane project of possessing themselves of the property of the Church? On what ground could any hope rest of disturbing that property? If such fears were entertained of the Dissenters, why were they allowed by law to sit in that House? The very idea of such a danger, if any such was ever apprehended, was preposterous; and he could not believe, that any who might affect to entertain such apprehensions could be sincere. Let the House remember, to whom the spoils of the church had at all times fallen. If the Church of England was ever to be despoiled, it would not be by a religious sect, but by the hand of power. He believed, that that property was as safe as any other, and that nothing could shake its stability, that did not affect the security of all other property in the state.
The hon. gentleman said, he would now proceed to another, and distinct part of the case. The House had been told, and it had been relied upon as a complete answer to all the arguments for the repeal of the Corporation and Test acts, that the Dissenters suffered no practical grievance, for that by the acts of Indemnity, which were passed annually, they were saved and protected from all penalties and forfeitures for having omitted to do, what the acts, under those penalties enjoined that they should do; namely, to take the oaths and make the declaration required by the acts, and also to receive the Sacrament of the Lord's Supper, according to the rites and usage of the Church of England. He would take leave, with the permission of the House, to consider, in the first place, what was the nature and the extent of this indemnity. Honourable gentlemen might suppose that it was in the nature of a free pardon or act of grace for the offence which had been committed. It was no such thing. It was an indemnity upon a condition—and that condition, was, to do the very thing which the Dissenter could not do, according to the principles 724 of his religion—and the not doing of which was the reason why he required an indemnity or pardon. Yet the Dissenter, unless he did that very thing, was never pardoned. The indemnity never did or could take effect, until the Dissenter received the Sacrament of the Lord's Supper according to the usage of the Church of England. Let it be observed too, that the indemnity, such as it was, was in its turn an indemnity for the past and not for the future. It seemed to be confined to persons who at or before the passing of the act had or should have omitted to qualify, that is, persons who at the time of the passing of the act of Indemnity held offices which required them to qualify, and had omitted so to do. He did not see how the words or the spirit of the act could properly be held to extend to persons who should be appointed to offices after the passing of the act, and should be guilty of the omission. He would not pretend to say, whether, if a person were appointed to an office immediately after the passing of the act, and be allowed the six months to elapse without qualifying, an informer might not commence proceedings against him, and proceed to judgment before the next act might pass, in which case there was no indemnity; as it was expressly provided, that it should not extend to persons against whom judgment had been obtained.
There was another question of importance. What was the sort of omission which the act referred to? The words were "should have omitted as aforesaid;" and, in referring to the preamble, they would find that the persons who were to be indemnified "as aforesaid," were those who, "through ignorance of the law, absence, or some unavoidable accident, shall have omitted" to qualify.
It was the plain meaning of the act, that such persons, and such persons only, should be indemnified; and it was clear, that if the intention of the act were to be complied with, and the words just cited from the preamble were to be considered as embodied into the enacting part, no Dissenter who held an office without having complied with the provisions of the Test act, would be protected from its penalties, if his default had been wilful, and not occasioned by any of the causes enumerated in the preamble. The Dissenter, therefore, who year after year, should have continued to hold an office 725 without complying with the terms of the statute of Charles 2nd, was not likely to be able to plead any of the excuses mentioned in the act of Indemnity; and if not, he could not be saved by it, if its spirit and intention were to be followed.
But, supposing as the law now stood, that the Dissenter was protected by the terms of the act of Indemnity, what answer could be made to a member of either House of Parliament, to one of the bench of bishops for instance, who, by way of amendment, when the bill of Indemnity should be in its progress through the other House, should, with a view to make the letter of the law conformable to its spirit, propose that the words "through ignorance of the law, absence, or some unavoidable accident," should be embodied into the enacting part of the bill. The proposition would not be an unreasonable one, if it were thought right to prevent the abuse of the law, which the wilful omission to take the sacrament had always been considered to be, and had been so admitted by Mr. Fox in former debates on the Test acts, agreeing in that respect with lord North, the most able defender, as Mr. Fox was the most able opponent, of the provisions of that law.
He begged to call the attention of the House once more to the point, that the Dissenter was never pardoned unless he qualified; so that, if it should ever happen that the Indemnity act should not be renewed, a Dissenter, who had ceased to hold office for twenty years, would still be subject to the penalties of the law. Was it quite certain, that the Indemnity act would always be renewed? Might not one conceive times of party heat and violence, in which the sanction of some part or other of the legislature might be referred to the passing of this act? for, let it be remembered, that the Test and Corporation acts were existing laws, and, although it required the authority of king, lords, and commons, to suspend those acts, or to mitigate their severity, it required parliament only to be passive to leave them to their full operation; or, if the measure of relief should be attempted in parliament, it required only the authority of one branch of the legislature to prevent that relief. Other causes Gould be imagined that might prevent it. There might be an interregnum of the government, as there had been lately, which might stop the passing of the act. It 726 was known that a very few of the members of that House might delay considerably the passing of any act. They were then within twenty-eight days of the act of Indemnity expiring. The act might expire from any of the causes which he had enumerated; and every Dissenter who either held or had held an office, might be subjected to all the penalties which the law denounced against him. He might be told, that such fears were chimerical; for that which had been done for eighty years would continue to be done, and that there was not and ought not to be any apprehension whatever that the Dissenter would be left without protection. If this were the case, what became of the terror which was said to hang over the Dissenter lest the day might come when he was not to be indemnified, which was considered by some as a sort of security for his good behaviours But if a case could not be supposed, in which the legislature would refuse to protect the Dissenter by an indemnity; was there common sense in allowing the penalties to remain in the Statute-book for a single moment? Either the Dissenters had nothing whatever to fear from these penal enactments, and then they must cease to operate on their conduct altogether, or there was ground to apprehend that they might, some time or other, be brought into operation against them, and then the act of Indemnity was to the Dissenter not a protection but a snare. This was a dilemma, out of which he had never been able to see how the enemies of the repeal of I those penal acts could escape. It seemed also to be forgotten altogether, that one of those acts occasioned a real, substantial, practical, grievance, to the Dissenter, from which the act of Indemnity was not and could not be any protection to him whatever—he meant the Corporation act. That act required, that the person chosen into office should within twelve "months before that time, have received the Sacrament of the Lord's Supper according to the usage of the Church of England. It had been decided in the court of King's-bench, that where there were two candidates for a corporate office, one qualified by having taken the sacrament, the other not, and where the qualified candidate had given notice to the electors that the other was not qualified, and that the votes given to him would be thrown away, although the majority was in favour of the candidate who had not qualified, the candidate who had qualified, 727 was held with, the smaller number of votes to have been duly elected into the office. Could it be denied, then, that the provisions of the Corporation act operated so as to produce a direct positive disability in the conscientious Dissenter to be elected into any corporation?
He had only one point more to touch upon, and he should do so very shortly. He referred to the public scandal that was produced by the profanation of the most sacred ordinance of the religion of Christ, to the purposes of worldly ambition, interest, or cupidity. Mr. Fox had supposed the case of a person advancing to the altar for the purpose of receiving the communion, and it being asked, "Is this man going to make his peace with God and repent him of his sins?" The answer would be—No, he is only going to "qualify for the office of first lord of the Treasury." This profanation of the Sacrament of the Lord's Supper for the purposes he had mentioned, was to be complained of by the members of the Church of England still more than the Dissenters; for it was the solemn rites of their church that were thus profaned.
Before he sat down, he would address a few words to the members of the House, who had taken opposite sides on the great question of Catholic emancipation; he submitted to those who had voted, most conscientiously, he doubted not, against any further concessions to the Roman Catholics, that they might vote with perfect consistency for this measure of relief to their Protestant fellow-subjects: the repeal of the provisions respecting the sacramental test, did not weaken the security which the declaration against transubstantiation, and the oath of supremacy, still left as against the Roman Catholics. To those who had voted, as he had voted, for Catholic emancipation, he would say, that the cause of religious liberty, on which the foundation of their votes in favour of the Catholics could alone rest, was equally involved in the question then before the House. The questions differed only in degree. He would say with confidence, that no man, who upon principle, supported the cause of the Roman Catholics, could refuse his support to the cause of the Protestant Dissenters. He hoped and believed that the motion of the noble lord would receive support from all parties in that House; and, notwithstanding the formidable array which he saw opposed to him, he anticipated victory. He hoped 728 and believed that the cause of religious liberty would have that evening a signal triumph in the success of the motion of the noble lord.
§ Mr. Robert Palmer
said, that this was not a question of party, but one that should be decided on its own merits. Whether he had received a ministerial circular to attend or not, be would assure the hon. gentleman who had last spoken, that he should form his opinion on the question to the best of his ability, and give his vote as his conscience dictated. It had been conceded by every speaker, that the laws against the Dissenters were harsh in a high degree; but it was contended, that they were absolutely necessary to the safety of the church establishment. Again, it was said, that they were repealed every year by the operation of the Indemnity act; but that seemed to prove, on the other hand, that no necessity for them existed. He, however, certainly considered their existence no small grievance to the Dissenters. He was as much attached as any man could be to the church establishment, but he thought some better test might be devised than that of taking the Sacrament of the Lord's Supper. As to the importance of this subject in the eyes of the Dissenters themselves, if the House judged of it by the enormous number of petitions laying on their table, they might fairly conclude that the Dissenters felt the grievance vitally, and, consequently, that it was one to which the House was bound to give its most mature consideration. Before he concluded, he could not avoid remarking the total absence of any petition in favour of the Test and Corporation acts. This was a sign that no great fear was entertained, on the part of those who had the greatest interest in the established church, that any mighty danger would arise from the repeal of those acts. He was anxious for it, as an act of kindness and conciliation, and he returned his thanks to the noble lord for the ability with which he had brought the question before the House.
Mr. Secretary Huskisson
said, he fully agreed with the noble mover in considering the imposition of religious tests, as the means of civil qualification, highly objectionable. He certainly regretted their existence upon the Statute-book, but he had likewise to express his regret, that, under the present circumstances of the country, and at the present time, the noble 729 lord thought proper to bring forward this motion [a laugh, mingled with cries of "Oh!"] As soon as the noise had somewhat subsided, we understood the right hon. Secretary to beseech the indulgence of the House, and to express a hope that he should be allowed to explain the reasons which governed his conduct upon this occasion. He would repeat, then, that he regretted that, under the present circumstances, the noble lord had thought proper to introduce this motion. He was free to confess his objection to the Test and Corporation acts; but, after all that had occurred, he doubted whether the motion of the noble lord was calculated, or directed, to remove or to repress any urgent grievance. If, then, the motion was not directed to the cure of some urgent grievance, its agitation at present must militate against another and a more important question, and which involved grievances of a practical and distressing nature. The hon. gentleman who had spoken last but one had laid great weight upon the grievances of which the Dissenters had to complain. If the hon. gentleman knew any thing of the laws or constitution of the country, he must know that those grievances were rather of an imaginary character. Was the career of honour closed against the Dissenter? Could he no longer share the laurels of Waterloo or Trafalgar? Could he not reach the highest offices in the service of his country? There was no situation in the army or the navy of the country which did not lie open to him. He had yet to learn what obstacles existed against the honourable ambition of the Dissenters. They were qualified to fill the first military offices; and they had their full share of the civil power of the country. He stated facts which did not admit of contradiction. Were there any of the hon. member's (Mr. Fergusson's) industrious and intelligent countrymen who entertained the least apprehension that any law interfered with them in the prosecution of their efforts to obtain independence and station? He had now had the honour of sitting in that House for two and thirty years, and during that long period, he was now called upon for the first time to approach this question. It had been already truly stated, that nearly forty years had elapsed since the question had been agitated in parliament. It would be allowed on all hands, 730 that that was a sufficient proof that this was not a matter of great public and pressing grievance. But reasons had been assigned for this silence of the Dissenters for a period of nearly forty years? It was said that, on account of the foreign wars in which the country had been engaged, and of the progress of dangerous principles at home, the Dissenters conceived it better pot to agitate the public mind with the discussion of their question. Did the noble lord know the history of the last forty years? Was he not aware that a question analogous to this in principle—that a measure affecting the civil and religious disabilities of a large portion of his majesty's subjects—a measure of momentous importance to the empire at large had, during that period, been over and over again discussed—that it had engaged more than any other the attention of this House—that it had excited differences and. dissensions between the greatest men and the first statesmen of the day, and had led to changes of the utmost consequence in the government of the country? This was the history of the country, during the period to which allusion had been made. On the other hand, was it to be credited that the respectable petitioners now before the House, many of whom possessed acute intellects and elevated minds, enjoyed the highest consideration in the country, and were deservedly respected—was it to be credited that if such men conceived there was any thing in the state of the law to impede the fair, useful, and honourable, exercise of their talents, they would not have long since respectfully, but firmly and unanimously, called upon that House to remove the grievance? If an oppressive grievance existed, if a wrong of some kind or other were committed, would they have failed to remonstrate against the continuance of the system? The fact could not be so; for, during the long period of forty years, the parties most interested had preserved a total silence. He well recollected the debate upon this question in 1791. He was not then a member of that House. Since that period the question had not been discussed, and the happiest results had been the consequence. All those distressing feuds which formerly existed, had ceased: an end was put to those differences which had sprung up in society, and had interfered with the relations of public and private life. Men came toge- 731 ther in society, without any reference to those religious dogmas, upon which they happened to differ honestly and conscientiously. The members of the Church of England formed a cordial union with their Dissenting brethren. In that work of conciliation none had been so conspicuous as the ministers of the established church, and none were more ready now to foster that spirit which they had been the first to promote.—It was plain that this happy state of things must be interrupted by the agitation of the present motion; seeing that it would, at all events, tend to renew discussions which had better be avoided. It would draw attention to periods of our history which it would be well to cast in the shade, and it would revive sectarian animosities, which the charitable and the good were anxious to see buried in oblivion. The forbearance which had been hitherto manifested on these matters had been productive of the best effects; and not the least amongst them was the spirit of good-will and mutual kindness, which had grown up between the established church and the different Protestant communities of this country. It was therefore with no small regret that he found this motion brought forward under such circumstances, and without any urgent or practical grievance to warrant its introduction. There was no gentleman in that House who had observed his career in public life, or who had done him the honour to attend to what he had said, who did not know that he was no friend to the principle of religious tests, in reference to civil rights. He was no friend to such a principle. If a man's conduct and intentions were moral and pure, religion ought not to be employed as a test to exclude him from any situation, civil or military, in the service of his country. He should be glad to see all such tests abolished. But when he found them in existence, he would say that on coming to the consideration of this momentous subject they were bound to look at the system as a whole, one portion of which could not be properly dealt with, unless reference were made to all the rest. Now, he must say that, in that view of the question, he considered those tests not a very pressing evil but an evil of a very secondary nature indeed. He would look at the whole spirit of the system at once; and he would appeal to its results. Notwithstanding that some 732 classes of the community were suffering under great and crying grievances—notwithstanding that, so far, great detriment accrued to the best interests of the state—looking at the system altogether, it was impossible to separate it from the results which had followed in its train—it was impossible, in regarding the system, not to perceive the connexion between it and the strength and security of the empire at large. The strength, and security, and prosperity, of the empire mainly depended on the present system; although a portion of that system, in the sister country, bore a taint which destroyed every thing good and useful, and stimulated every thing bad, into increased activity and danger to the state and the condition of civil society. Impressed with these feelings, and under this view of the subject, he should be opposed to a change in the system.—In regard to the question immediately before the House, he could refer to the sentiments of one of the greatest statesmen that ever lived—a minister, whose views and counsels upon this, as upon all other subjects, he had endeavoured to support, and by whose judgment he had been guided he meant Mr. Pitt. His sentiments upon the present question would be found in the Correspondence which had been recently published, and which took place so far back as the year 1801, between that right hon. gentleman and his late majesty. It would be there seen how anxious Mr. Pitt was to modify the laws which affected the Dissenters; and it would be also seen, that, notwithstanding his great anxiety upon that head, he was opposed to any modification whatever of them until the Catholic question had been settled. Then, and not till then, did Mr. Pitt conceive that a proper opportunity would arise to take those laws into consideration, with a view to their revision and modification. In that very interesting correspondence the opinions of Mr. Pitt upon this and many other important subjects were fully detailed; and he begged to return his sincere thanks to the individuals who had given it to the world. The correspondence to which he had alluded, bore ample testimony to the sincerity of that great man on the subject of Catholic emancipation. Now that it had been published, he trusted that they should never again hear, either in that House, or in any other place, that Mr. Pitt's feeling, with respect to this question, 733 was merely an evanescent scintilla which had passed across his mind—a something that had not assumed any fixed shape, that had not been followed up by any definite plan, in conformity with the principles which he professed. It was because he felt anxious for the success of those principles, and because he thought that the present discussion would not advance them, but that, on the contrary, it was calculated, to create dissension and discord in the country, that he honestly and fearlessly expressed his regret that it had taken place. He looked to the probable consequences which would follow this discussion. He spoke of the consequences of the proposed measure, and of the present discussion, with reference to peculiar principles. He must say, that the principle which the question then before the House involved, appeared to him to be this—that whereas, up to the present hour, as the law stood—he would not say in its practice, but certainly in its principle—the rule of this country was to render conformity to the established church the condition of holding civil offices; but now an attempt was made to remove those laws, leaving others in existence, which bore upon a different part of the population. If, then, they repealed those laws which were the object of the noble lord's motion, and left other laws which were considered by many of an oppressive nature untouched, what became of that general rule? He contended, that from the moment such a course was adopted, the rule was entirely changed, and they created an exception. And who formed that exception? The Roman Catholics alone. The exception, it was quite clear, would, under such circumstances, be levelled and directed against the Catholic faith alone. They would, by acting as the noble lord desired, make that an exception which was now only part of a general rule. Having stated this, he would ask of those who, like himself, were anxious for the success of the Catholic question, whether the making of that change from the position in which the Roman Catholics were placed in the eyes of England and of the world, would not be the means of giving countenance and support to the doctrine, that the Roman Catholics were not, and ought not, to be allowed the same privileges as other nonconformists, unless they were prepared to do away with the spiritual authority of the see of Rome, and thus to remove all idea 734 of a divided allegiance? He was not prepared, he confessed, to take a step that; was likely to make an unfavourable impression with respect to that great question—the Catholic question—to which he' had always been a friend. He was not abstractedly unfriendly to the propositions of the noble lord; but he could not assent to it, because he was sure that with reference to the Catholic claims, it would make a bad impression. Upon that point he would appeal to the noble lord opposite.
Mr. Secretary Huskisson
continued,—Would the noble lord take upon himself to say, that the feeling in favour of the Roman Catholics was general, was universal, through all the Dissenters of this country? He was convinced that the present step, so far from being a step in favour of the Catholic claims, would be the means of arraying an additional power against them. He knew something of the feelings of the Dissenters, as well as the noble lord? (Nugent) who presented the petition of the Roman Catholic nobility and gentry in their favour; and he could tell that noble lord, that it would, he owned, be revolting to his feelings, to continue the disqualification of the first duke of the realm, and at the same time to display an ostentatious liberality, by attempting the repeal, with respect to the Dissenters, of certain forms to which every exciseman was subjected; and to do away with which, he believed the whole collective body would not subscribe one day's pay. He would tell the noble lord who had introduced the subject, that he was satisfied, if the question; were carried and finally settled, that the noble lord would find in the great body of Dissenters (not indeed amongst the liberal and enlightened part of that body) a strong feeling of opposition to the Catholic claims. He would tell the noble lord, that this question might be argued by different persons in very different ways. Would he deny that there were in this country a great many persons, perhaps a majority, who most sincerely, and conscientiously, and honourably, entertained the greatest apprehensions lest the Roman Catholics should be allowed a further participation in the privileges of the constitution, unless under certain engagements? He was ready to contend, that there was not one of those persons who was not convinced that, whenever concession was made, it ought to be 735 accompanied with some strong tests—with some efficient securities. If this were so, he would ask the noble lord, if he did not think that this class of sincere Protestants, who, if the oaths against supremacy and transubstantiation were removed, were anxious that some other securities should be given—would not feel it desirable to ask, with reference to the Roman Catholics, that on their part some guard, some security, should be given, if fresh rights were extended to them? Not only might the Protestant Dissenters, but the church of England men exclaim, in the event of a concession of the Catholic claims,—" We will have this check—we will have an annual bill of Indemnity." He did not mean to say that they could have this for ever, but he would assert, that if such a proposition were moved previously to the introduction of the Catholic question, it would raise new obstacles to the accomplishment of that measure. He begged gentlemen to recollect, that the Test act was introduced to guard against the Roman Catholics; and it was not impossible that very many persons in this country—indeed, he believed such to be the fact—were still desirous to retain this check on their conduct.—with a view to the success of the great question to which he had so often adverted, he must say, that he was not prepared to part with this security; and he felt this the more strongly, when he recollected that, only four years ago, they had passed an act to admit Roman Catholics into all the offices of the revenue, from the highest to the lowest, in this country; and that at that period they retained the principle to which he had adverted. It was in this view of the subject, that he for one was not prepared to support the noble lord's motion. He thanked the noble lord for the moderate, yet able, manner, in which he had brought forward his case. He was quite sure, if the discussion led to dissension out of doors, or to any exasperation, of those feelings which were generally mixed up with questions of this kind, that such an effect could not be traced to the way in which the subject had been introduced. Such dissensions and such feelings could only arise from the nature of the case itself, and could not be attributed to the tone or temper in which the noble lord had approached the subject. Nothing, he was bound to say, could be more mild, more prudent, or more discreet, than the way in which the noble lord had brought 736 the question before the House. Such were his feelings on the subject, and being strongly impressed with the truth and justice of the important principles contained in Mr. Pitt's correspondence, he deemed it to be his duty to take the position which, he had done on this occasion.
§ Lord Althorp
said, that if he understood the true principle of a free constitution, it was, that the general rule existed, that no one was to be excluded from any of his civil rights on account of his religious principles. He therefore thought, that if this principle was to be recognised in the present case, the onus probandi was on the adversaries of the present measures, and not only on those who were desirous of placing a restraint on men on account of their religious sentiments, but also on those who were for supporting those restraints which already existed. The hon. baronet (sir R. Inglis) had said, that he was unwilling to admit that every person had an equal right to power; but though the (lord Althorp) perhaps was not prepared to say that every person had an-equal right to power, he was at least quite sure that every one had a right to a-n equal capability for power. He therefore thought, that, unless the hon. baronet was prepared to shew that such admission to power was likely to be dangerous to the State, it would be the duty of the House—the duty of the legislature—to put all classes of persons on an equal footing. The hon. baronet had said, that the existence of those laws was necessary for the protection of the established church. Now, he was as desirous as any man for the protection of that church; neither could he agree with the hon. baronet when he, stated, that the lowest support in favour of the established church would be sufficient—that the lowest amount of disqualification was all that was necessary in that respect. With that position he could not agree, for he thought that no disqualification at all was necessary. That the established church ought to be supported he was quite ready to admit; indeed, no one could reverence that establishment more than he did; and, therefore, that its funds should be appropriated to one particular sect he should be the last to deny; but beyond this, he did not see that it was necessary to the support of the established church, that all other sects should be disqualified from a participation in, an equality of rights and privileges. The hon. baronet 737 had said, that he should be the last man to interfere with the right of all men to exercise their religious worship in whatever way seemed to them most proper; and had appeared to take merit to himself, that he admitted the principle of toleration to be proper. Now, he had certainly never expected in the present day—in the nineteenth century—when men's opinions were expanding and developing—he had never expected to hear any hon. member pluming himself upon his liberality in admitting the principle of toleration. But, if the acknowledgment of this principle was so great a thing, what would the refusal of it be? It would be the most unjustifiable tyranny!—it would be imprisonment!—it would be confiscation!—it would be murder! That was what the refusal of it would be; and he was therefore certain, that any thing like the excuse, that such and such things were to be tolerated, would never be admitted; and, indeed, he had thought that he should never have heard such a position advanced. The right hon. gentleman who had just sat down, in the course of his speech had stated, that the evils of the present act, which it was the object of this motion to oppose, were of a very trifling nature. The right hon. gentleman was for admitting that the principle of the act was merely conventional—that the reasons for supporting the bill were simply theoretical; as it was, in fact virtually repealed every year; but he would by no means admit that it embodied any practical grievance. Now, he contended, that what was kept to hang over the heads of so large a body was, in fact, a practical grievance; and he contended too, that it was a practical grievance to the Church of England. Was there any one in that House who would pretend to say, that the profanation of religion was not a practical evil? Was there any one in that House who would say, that the holding out an inducement to men to take oaths in which they did not believe, was not a practical evil? The Church of England proclaimed, that she was not at hostility with her neighbours, while the law assured them that every one who took office was guilty of a violation of its edicts. Those who were accustomed to look lightly at such matters might think that these things were no evil, but he was not one of those who could regard such matters with levity; and it therefore gave him much pain to see such points sanc- 738 tioned by the law, and laid open to the grossest abuses. Without trespassing further on the time of the House, it was for these reasons that he intended to support the motion of the noble lord, and he trusted that it would meet with the approbation of the House, as he was sure that it would be one of the steps to those important changes which it was time to make in behalf of those who were suffering for conscience sake.
§ Lord Nugent
said, that, from the temper in which the House had come to the discussion, he hoped that the recommendations in the opening speech of his noble friend on that score would be superfluous. The example of his noble and honourable friends, the mover and seconder, more powerful than even their recommendations, would, he was sure, be sufficient to deter gentlemen from the expression of any heated feelings on a question, on which, if some gentlemen were of opinion that the interest of the established church were indirectly menaced, some millions of persons in this country, of all the most useful, and of some of the most distinguished classes, felt their common law privileges to be cruelly and unjustly assailed.
A great deal of matter had been brought forward, particularly by the right hon. colonial secretary, which, whatever effect the right hon. gentleman might think it might have in justifying his own vote, did not, in strictness, bear on the question before the House. Nor should he (lord N.) have offered any observations, had he not been personally invited so to do, by the right hon. gentleman. He would not, however, be led into mixing up in the discussion of the claims of the Protestant Dissenters any opinions of his own on the grievances suffered by the Roman Catholics. He was perfectly ready to avow, for his part, that it was on one great principle of universal, undistinguishing right to religious liberty, and on that alone, that he gave his support to the Catholic question, and to that now under consideration. Still, he felt that the questions were not only entirely independent of each other, but were as distinctly separable in principle as any two questions could be that never can by possibility be opposed to each other [hear]. He could not comprehend, even after the speech of the right hon. gentleman, and, after all the attention with which he had listened to it, how it was possible for any honourable member who was in 739 the habit of voting for the Catholic question, to vote against this. Still any gentleman might, with the clearest consistency, vote for the motion of his noble friend, and oppose, if he felt he could do so with justice, any further relaxation of the Popery laws.
When he said that he could not conceive how it was possible for any supporter of the Catholic question to vote against this, he well remembered the avowal last year of one of the most illustrious and powerful of that phalanx of great men who, from time to time, have lent their aid to advance the Roman Catholic claims—one whose death has set a solemn and sacred seal on the opinions which his great talents and matchless eloquence supported in life.—But sadly had that authority been misapplied this night.—Mr. Canning's objections, he well remembered, were stated distinctly as with reference to the state of the question, and to the state of the government last year. He had heard it with sorrow—but how did it now justify the right hon. gentleman, who almost in the same words states the same conclusion, on premises how widely different! The right hon. gentleman said he would oppose the motion, because it stood in the way of the Catholic question; and he had done him (lord Nugent) the honour to appeal to him on that point. That appeal he would answer in one word. A substantive proposition was put to him which admitted at once of a plain answer. He looked at this question on its own grounds. He saw that the Protestant Dissenters were unjustly and wantonly aggrieved. He had, then, no choice left. He had no right to take into consideration what it might or might not stand in the way of. He must do justice [hear]. A man had lived a few years in this world to very little purpose, if he had not discovered this truth; that, when the road to justice and right lies plain and open, to choose a circuitous and bye path, was a course generally as remote from political wisdom as it was from political honesty. He need not now say that to the great question of Catholic emancipation he bore as eager and undeviating fidelity as any man breathing. If, in giving his vote, as he intended to do this evening, that vote should, in any respect, injure the cause of the Roman Catholics, he was sorry for it. But his consolation even then would be, that, if he had voted against their interests, he had 740 voted at least in conformity with their prayer [hear]. The Roman Catholics, whose names the right hon. gentleman had put forward to justify his vote were directly opposed to him upon it; and, if they were not, he (lord Nugent) should look with shame and sorrow upon those great names which he had seen with pride affixed to the petition he had the honour the other night to present from the British Roman Catholics for the repeal of the laws against the Protestant Dissenters [hear].
But the right hon. gentleman considered the Test and Corporation act to be mere theoretical grievances. Insult is no theoretical grievance.—The Protestant Dissenters felt themselves practically aggrieved by those laws. He did not know whether the exclusion of the Roman Catholics from eligibility to parliament and office could be considered a practical, substantial, injury to the great majority of that body—except in this—that it constantly reminded them, and gave others the power of reminding them, that they were of a class and caste pronounced inferior to others of their countrymen, because ineligible to what others were eligible to. So with the Protestant Dissenters. A man must know little of our common nature who was not aware that, in a free country, such disabilities did amount to a severe practical grievance. It is a very different thing to enjoy privilege as a freehold, or to hold it as a tenement, built as it were on the waste and unclaimed land of the constitution, but only suffered to endure from year to year upon the humble and vexatious tenure of an annual indemnity. Was it a fanciful grievance to the Dissenter when he found himself annually, he would say continually, exposed to a weight of disabilities which he could only remove by submitting to a form of plea which obtained for him, under a pardon, what all others enjoyed under a right, purchasing immunity at the expense of submitting to an insult, and exemption from actual persecution upon the presumed intention of committing an act of profanation. Was it no real suffering that, in failure of this, he should be subject to statutes which prevented Un from inheriting or bequeathing property, which would not allow him to be guardian even to his own children, degrading the father in the eyes of his children, the master in the eyes of his servants, and the citizen in those of his fellows?
And how was the grievous and intoler- 741 able nature of such persecution practically mitigated to the Dissenter? By an annual bill of Indemnity, of which no longer ago than the year 1789, no less a man than lord North had said, "That any Dissenter who availed himself of the pretext of the Indemnity bill was guilty of mental fraud,—of an evasion and abuse of the act of parliament which solemnly requires the tests to be fairly and fully given." Now, if these tests were "fully and fairly given," what was the situation in which these persons would be placed, in which every member in the House might, by possibility, and by the vigilance of an informer, be placed? His noble friend who had opened the debate had clearly shewn they were exposed to the base interests, and still baser passions, of informers, who might be urged by their own views, or by those of others, to betray them. Were they to place the Dissenters under such disabilities because they differed from the Church of England on doctrinal points? If not, they were placed in a still greater difficulty.—It was not in that House, or in office, that their political doctrines could be dangerous.—If they were dangerous to the established church, the danger would break forth in very different ways, and in very different places—where the flame could not be extinguished because it could not be reached. If the church be part of the state, preserve the church by reconciling all hearts in the service of the state. Do not yearly remind them of the only differences existing between them and you—the religious differences—approach them with feelings of fellowship and brotherhood, instead of annually reminding them of a fanciful and inoperative, and obsolete, proscription.
There was one part of the right hon. gentleman's speech, which he had heard with the greatest astonishment,—namely, that one of the motives which induced him to refuse his assent to this motion, not to the Dissenters, not to his (lord Nugent's) noble friend, but to the country at large, was, that for eight and thirty years the Dissenters of England had suffered these injuries patiently. Because the Dissenters had not complained,—because they had borne with these unjust laws,—because they had endured them in silence,—therefore redress was to be withheld! [hear]. This was a dangerous lesson for a government to teach a people. That, because they had been loyal and long-suffering,—because, though ill-treated, they had shewn 742 an undeviating attachment, and given a steady support to the government during a long and dangerous and eventful period,—that therefore their prayers should be rejected, their grievances under-rated, and the cause of them unremoved [hear]. Was it right to say this to three millions of people in this country, was it wise of a minister of the Crown so to say it that it might be heard by seven millions of people in Ireland. Such an expression, when it went over to Ireland, would be strangely construed. It would chill the hearts of the loyal, and justify the violence of the disaffected. How would such a sentiment be hailed by the Catholic Association? He should most cordially support the present measure; first, he would support it, because he considered those laws as leading to the profanation of a most sacred right; secondly, he would support it, because he conceived those laws were calculated to set up a religious party against the state; and thirdly, he would support it, because he thought that those laws enlisted the proudest if not the best feeling of the human heart in support of non-conformity. They afforded a reason for nonconformity. These laws would deter any gentleman of high feeling from conformity, lest possibly it might be attributed to him that he was induced from an improper motive to come forward. These few words had rather been extorted from him by the right hon. gentleman, than called forth by any wish of his to mix himself up with a measure which had already been so triumphantly debated by hon. members near him. If he had obtruded himself on the House, he had done so, under the excitement of strong feeling, and under the influence of his own decided conviction that the concession now required ought to be granted without delay.
§ Lord Milton
said, it was not long since a disclosure had been made of the course his majesty's ministers meant to take on this occasion. Since that disclosure had been made, he confessed he entertained a very great, and he hoped not an impertinent, curiosity, to hear the arguments on which those gentlemen meant to rest their opposition to this motion. At the commencement of the right hon. Secretary's speech—a speech which the right hon. gentleman would give him leave to say, was not at all like those clear statements which he was accustomed to give, with reference to commercial matters, for his con- 743 elusion was wholly at variance with his arguments—at the commencement of that speech, he undoubtedly felt not a little surprised. The right hon gentleman uttered many lamentations, because his noble friend had, under existing circumstances, as the right hon. gentleman expressed it, thought proper to moot this question in the House. But, for his part, he could not see any good ground for the right hon. gentleman's lamentations. They all knew what a convenient phrase "existing circumstances" was to any politician, to any gentleman in that House, who wished for an opportunity to defeat a particular measure. The right hon. gentleman spoke much about "existing circumstances," and he was naturally anxious to learn what those circumstances were, which rendered the introduction of the present measure so improper; but at last he found, towards the conclusion of the right hon. gentleman's speech, that the reason for not granting this boon to the Protestant Dissenters was, not that "existing circumstances" were opposed to it, but that it would stand in the way of the Roman Catholics. He begged to congratulate the Catholics of the sister kingdom, and the whole of its great population, on the manner in which the right hon. gentleman had that night shown the sincerity with which he advocated the Catholic cause. He did not know, however, whether the right hon. gentleman's arguments were also the arguments of government; or whether they were to wait for information on that point from another right hon. gentleman, with whom the right hon. gentleman has recently united himself? Which of these gentlemen was to propound to the House the feelings of government on this subject? What he had heard that night might be merely the sentiments of the right hon. Secretary for the Colonies; but ha should be exceedingly happy to hear from the right hon. gentleman behind him (Mr. Peel) that his opposition to this measure rested on the same ground as that of the Colonial Secretary; namely, an apprehension that its success would interfere with the Roman Catholic claims [hear]. The argument of the right hon. gentleman was a most extraordinary one. He said, he could not vote for the Protestant Dissenters, because their case formed a part of a whole, and that whole be confessed to be civil and religious liberty. Now, if that right hon. gentleman's opinions were cor- 744 rect—if he were right in his determination then he ought to vote also against the Catholics for precisely the same reason. The same reason which he had told the House prevented him from giving his vote in favour of the Dissenters, must be equally strong against his voting for the Catholics. But he must be allowed to say, that he differed entirely from the right hon. gentleman. One exclusion always became an apology for another. The exclusion of the Catholics thus became an apology for the exclusion of the Dissenters with one set of persons and the exclusion of the Dissenters an equally good apology with others for the exclusion of the Catholics. He did agree with those who had characterized those statutes as a disgrace to the age in which they lived, and he heartily wished they were got rid of. The origin of these acts had already been stated to the House in the course of the debate. The Corporation act was passed in that heighday of loyalty which followed the Restoration; but even then it was not passed without strong debates, and would not perhaps have been allowed to pass at all, if that powerful minister, lord Clarendon, had not come down to the House with what, in modem times, would have been called a "green bag," filled with rumours of insurrections, and alarms of plots which the Presbyterians were meditating. These plots were, in all probability, merely sham plots; but if, under sham plots, the Catholics were, sixteen years afterwards, excluded, so also by sham-plots were the Dissenters excluded by means of the Corporation act. The House had been told, that these acts were no practical grievance. He did not exactly understand what meaning some persons attached to the term "practical grievance." The Protestant Dissenters were a most respectable body, but, generally speaking, they did not move in the higher orders of society: he meant, that in the very highest ranks of society Dissenters were by no means frequent. It was very well for persons standing upon so high a ground to look down into the vale in which the Dissenters lived, and say, at a glance, that no practical grievance existed there. Let them look a little closer. Was it no practical grievance that in a town one might be an alderman, and another, who was. quite as good a man, might not? It ought to be recollected, that to be an alderman was quite as great 745 an honour to a grocer or a linen-draper as to be a member of parliament was to other men. It was quite true that these were objects of ambition. It might be very unphilosophical to care about them: it might be very unphilosophical in Mr. Tomkins, or Mr. Thompson, to wish to be an alderman [a laugh]; but they might have that wish—and why might it not be gratified? He would go a little lower. Was it not a practical grievance to a lower order of persons to be excluded from filling those situations in the departments of Customs and Excise for which they might be very well calculated? As matters now stood, they had men at every quarter sessions coming to qualify for such offices, by a profanation of the most shocking description. It was not, however, the Dissenters only who were affected by the present state of the law; many persons of the Church of England refused to qualify for office by taking the sacrament. The operations of these acts were not felt equally in all counties. In some counties there were Dissenters, nay, even Catholics, acting as magistrates under the protection of the Indemnity act. In other counties, however, this was not allowed; and thus there was no uniform rule for the whole country, but the practice of different counties varied according to the caprice of a lord lieutenant, or a bench of justices. In one county the orders of a magistrate (formerly a member of the House) had been disputed, because he had neglected to qualify by taking the Sacrament, and though the orders were good in law, they were nevertheless abandoned. In his opinion, these were practical grievances. In the county which he had the honour of representing, they were felt to be so, in consequence of Dissenters refusing to act as magistrates. For many of them were more scrupulous than others, and did not choose to act under the Indemnity act, which was passed every year; and this, therefore, was a practical grievance, not only upon the Dissenters, but upon the country at large. He did trust that these acts would ere long be erased from the Statute-book; he believed they would, notwithstanding the formidable array of household troops which had been referred to by an hon. member, and he certainly did see a great number of faces which they were not often in the habit of seeing, and which induced him to think there had been the application of what they used to call 746 "the whip;"—and notwithstanding the doubts of the right hon. gentleman opposite—[Mr. Huskisson said, he had not expressed any doubt]—he begged pardon. At all events, he understood the right hon. gentleman to make this inference—to infer, from the silence of the Dissenters, that they did not think they were labouring under any practical grievance from the continuance of these acts. Now, he did think it a little hard, that because in times of great distress, the Dissenters had not pressed their grievances on the House—he did think it a little hard to turn round upon the Dissenters now, and say, "You have not pressed your complaints upon us for eight and thirty years, and therefore we do not think it worth while to interfere and excite irritation in the country. The right hon. gentleman had argued in this way, but he must take the liberty of telling that right hon. gentleman, that his speech was the only one which tended to excite any irritation. From the commencement of the debate until that right hon. gentleman spoke, there had not been one syllable uttered which had a tendency to excite any thing like irritation. It was the right hon. gentleman who introduced the irritation, for they must be well aware, that the moment they began to talk about irritation, it was sure to be excited in persons who would not have thought of it if they had not been put in mind of it. The right hon. gentleman had talked about the excellent manner in which the church of England had behaved. He concurred in this eulogium, and thanked the Church of England for its silence on this occasion: but he hoped the right hon. gentleman would recollect, that when he had given them this meed of praise for their silence now, they ought to deserve the same upon all similar occasions. He hoped that they would see that such a line of conduct was more consistent with the sacred duties they had sworn to fulfil, than the course which they had too frequently been induced to adopt. He hoped that they would not forget the lesson of abstinence which the right hon. gentleman had read them on this occasion. From the silence of the Church of England, he thought that this inference might very fairly be drawn; namely, that no dangers could result to the Church of England from the repeal of these acts. He was quite sure, from the evidence he had had on former occasions; that they would not have been backward 747 in stating their fears, if they really saw ground for entertaining any. He would merely add, that far from being inclined to excite, it was his anxious wish to allay, irritation, and he thought that would be effected if the present motion were successful. He hoped to see that state of things arrive when no man could know what the religion of his neighbour was, by seeing the disabilities under which he laboured, and when a man's conduct through life should be the only test by which another could ascertain what religion he professed.
Mr. Secretary Peel
rose and said;—I am anxious, Sir, not to defer to a later period of the evening, the delivery of the very few observations which I think it incumbent upon me to make in reference to the motion which the noble lord has so ably introduced to the attention of the House. In the course of the very able and temperate address, the noble lord appealed to me personally, not as an individual member of this House—not as a minister of the Crown—but as the representative of the University of Oxford; and he made that appeal, as I understood, for the express purpose of eliciting from me the opinions which that learned body entertained upon this question, and the instructions which they have thought it right to convey to their representative for the guidance of his conduct in this debate. Sir, I beg to state, in reply to this appeal of the noble lord, that I have not been instructed on this occasion by that University, to deliver any opinion, nor have they intrusted me with any petition to present to the House in opposition to the claims of the Dissenters. I beg to state further, that I am not in possession of any instructions as to the course of conduct which they desire their representative to adopt; and I am, therefore, disposed to infer from this silence, that they have not thought it fit to do any thing with reference to this question, and that they are disposed to rely with confidence upon the judgment of this House. I cannot, however, permit myself to infer from this silence that the members of that University acquiesce in the prayer of the Protestant Dissenters, or that it is their wish that I should support it. All that I gather from it is, that I am left entirely unfettered in the application of my judgment, as to the vote which I may think proper to give upon the question. I approach the consideration of the noble lord's proposition unfet- 748 tered, therefore, by any obligations dependent upon my situation in this House, and prepared to decide upon that which may appear to me the real merits of the se. I trust, however, that I may be permitted to claim the merit of never having on any occasion taken any course with regard to the Dissenters, which might indicate any prejudice or bigotry in the judgment which I might form upon their claims for relief. I am sure the hon. member for Norwich (Mr. William Smith) will admit that he has not found in me, at any time, a prejudiced or bigotted opponent at those seasons when he has before brought the question of their situation before the House. And on one occasion, when the Dissenters Marriage-bill was under consideration, he must admit that I endeavoured to afford him all the assistance in my power towards the accomplishment of his object. I trust, therefore, that I may be at liberty to discuss this question, and to consider its merits in the various views which I may feel it incumbent on me to take of it, without subjecting myself to the imputation of indulging in hostility or bigotry to any class of my fellow-subjects.
I entreat the noble lord, however, to consider, in the very outset, the difficulties under which I and other ministers of the Crown are placed when they approach the discussion of these subjects. The noble lord has no responsibility beyond that which arises from the ordinary duty which he owes to his conscience; but a minister of the Crown must be influenced by other considerations, totally independent of the ordinary claims upon a member of the legislature. He has to bear in mind the effect which these measures may have upon the interests of all the various classes of his fellow-subjects. He is to be swayed by many considerations totally independent of his situation as a member of this House; and he must, therefore, be viewed as approaching the question not as a representative for any particular place, but as a responsible adviser of the Crown. In the first place, then, I beseech the noble lord to observe, that this question, like the Catholic question, though it may have in its favour the authority of some great men who have swayed the House by their eloquence and talent, has had equally strong authorities against it. By the admission of the noble lord himself, lord Stanhope, about eighty-five years ago had 749 endeavoured to procure the repeal of these acts, and had failed. Sir Robert Walpole, after him, was favourable to the same question upon principle; but he never could succeed in carrying it. Lord Chatham, who was prime minister of this country, certainly took no prejudiced or unfavourable view of the claims of the Dissenters; and yet, during his administration, nothing material was done in their favour. Lord North, however, took a much higher ground than any minister who has succeeded him, and opposed all concessions, on the point of principle. Then came the discussions in the time of Mr. Pitt, when, in the years 1789 and 1790, the repeal was opposed, both on the ground of abstract right and of expediency. With respect to the opinions of later administrations, I beg the House to recollect, that Mr. Canning, too, expressed his determination to oppose the claims of the Dissenters. I do not say that he was opposed to them on the ground of abstract right, but he certainly did declare, in his place in this House, during the last session, his intention, and I believe the intention of his administration [cries of "no, no"]. Well, then, I do not mean to add to his authority any of the opinions of those who acted with him; but, at least, it must be admitted that he declared his intention to oppose the Dissenters. To these high names must be added that of Mr. Burke; for although he may be said to have been at the time favourable to their claims, and that his subsequent opposition was founded upon a temporary view of our situation, yet it must be admitted, that he opposed them. When the question was discussed in the year 1790, Mr. Burke declared, that, if it had been brought forward ten years before, he should have felt himself bound to support the claims of the Dissenters; but he then saw so much danger to be apprehended to the establishment of the Church of England and the constitution of the country, that he could not consent to repeal the acts of which they complained.
I say, therefore, again, that there is not such high authority to be found in favour of the repeal of these acts, as we find advanced in favour of the Catholics; and that a minister of the Crown, charged with the responsibility of protecting all the interests of the country, may be permitted to consider the propriety of their repeal with something like 750 diffidence, when he considers the weight of high names who felt doubts upon the propriety of granting what is now require ed. That the subject is full of difficulty I am ready to admit; and I trust it will not be supposed that, for the sake of supporting my doubts, I could be guilty of concealing the impression I entertain of the real difficulties by which it is surrounded. A great deal has been said about the Sacramental Test, and I cannot but say, although there was some attempt to sneer at what he said, that my right hon. friend, the Secretary for the Colonies, took a very just view of that part of the subject. At the time when the Sacramental Test was first enjoined, it certainly was not considered either a desecration or a profanation. In fact, it was then usual, even for those who professed themselves Dissenters to take the Sacrament at least three times within the year; and there was then no objection among Dissenters to communicating with the Church of England, or to take the Sacrament, and I believe it is even stated by Baxter, the great ornament of this body of Christians, that such was the practice amongst the Dissenters. I am ready to admit that this Sacramental Test, which became a proof of qualification for office, and is still a proof of qualification, was not originally intended for that purpose. The whole of the arguments upon that question are, however, exhausted, in the controversy between dean Sherlock and bishop Hoadly, as well as in the various debates which have taken place in this House, and in which Pitt, Fox, and Burke argued upon all the circumstances of abstract right, or temporal expediency, and exhausted the subject. I do not, therefore, think it necessary for me to touch upon them now; but if I admit that the state of the law has undergone some alteration from the lapse of time, in requiring the Sacramental Test to be taken as a qualification for all offices, the Indemnity act saves those who take it from the profanation which is supposed to be attendant upon the consenting to such an act [cries of "No, no"]. I do not say that it does so in principle; but I contend that it must have that effect in practice. The House ought to recollect, that the Dissenters are in a very different situation now, from the time when it was usual to have a church in London appropriated to the express purpose of qualifying for minor offices; and 751 when those who were to take their turn before the clergyman waited in a neighbouring tavern, until they were called upon to take the Test. All this is now saved by the operation of the Indemnity act, and I cannot therefore see the grievance to be so great as has been contended.
I am not prepared, I confess, to argue that this question is essentially interwoven with the protection of the Church of England. I do not think that the two are so connected, that the Church of England must fall if the Test and Corporation acts are repealed: but in considering whether such ancient laws as these ought to be repealed, to argue thus—" should we enact them now?"—is not, in my opinion, by any means a fair mode of viewing the question. Whether we should or should not enact such laws in modern times, is not the test by which to judge of the propriety of repealing laws in an ancient monarchy like this, where manners and customs may often have grown up and become interwoven with the laws. I must say that the principles on which I am disposed to look at these laws—with the exception of their bearing upon the Catholic question, which I of course exclude—are precisely the same with those that have been laid down by my right hon. friend. With this exception I take the same view of them as my right hon. friend has taken. I think that my right hon. friend's principle is a right one: is there that great practical grievance, that insult resulting to the Dissenters from these acts, which calls upon the House to repeal them? Is there any thing so absurd in these tests as to make the repeal of them necessary? Or are they of such a nature that, if repealed, the Dissenters will be in a better situation? Nothing, in the whole course of this debate, has surprised me more than the enlarged, and I think, aggravated account of the practical grievance which these acts impose upon the Dissenters. I can only say, that so great is my respect for that large and respectable body denominated Protestant Dissenters, that if I could be satisfied that they really labour under such grievances as have been described, I should be very strongly induced to vote for the repeal of the acts complained of. But I do not think that the great body of Dissenters look at them, together with the Indemnity act, as so great an evil as hon. gentlemen have described.
752 We have been told, Sir, to look at the number of petitions that have been presented to the House. Now, if I were sure that these petitions had been quite spontaneous, and not set in motion by any external influence, I candidly declare that I should be disposed to pay much more attention to them. I am only speaking of them as a proof—for so they have been called—that the Dissenters look upon these acts as an insult and a grievance; and I must say that I cannot think they were altogether spontaneous; but that they are attributable to something else besides this feeling which has been attributed to the Dissenters. If they really felt it a grievance, nothing certainly could be more unfair than to urge their forbearance against them, as an argument why that grievance ought not to be removed. I do not think that my right hon. friend has argued in any such way; but that he merely inferred, from the silence of the Dissenters, that they did not feel the grievance to be so heavy as it has been represented to be, and as it has been said that they did feel it. I confess that I am inclined to draw the same inference. At all events, however, if the number of these petitions which have lately been presented is insisted upon as a strong argument, ought not the silence of the Dissenters to be taken in account the other way?—[An hon. member said "No."]—The hon. member says "No;" but I beg leave to differ from him. It had been said, "Look at the thousand petitions presented last year, and the six hundred this year"—and I am therefore tempted to ask, how many were presented at former periods? In consequence of what has been said upon this part of the subject, I have had the curiosity to search for the numbers which were presented in former years. I have taken the last ten years, and I will read to the House the number which were presented in each of those years. In 1824, there were four petitions presented; in 1825, one; in 1820, one; in 1817, not one; in 1818, not one; in 1819, not one; in 1821, not one; in 1822, not one; in 1823, not one; in 1826, not one. The whole number, therefore, in these ten years amounted only to six.
But what has been our own impression upon the subject? And here I must call upon the noble lord himself as an authority. In the discussions which have taken place on the Roman Catholic claims, have 753 the hon. gentlemen opposite insisted upon this topic, and urged upon the House the grievance and the insult of which they now complain? Have they ever proposed to remedy it? In the year 1813, Mr. Grattan passed a bill to remove the disabilities of the Roman Catholics, and the professed end of that bill also was, the removal of every civil disability, of whatever kind, on the score of religion. But what was the effect of that bill? It professed to do what I have stated; but, what did it do? Why, the bill actually subjected Catholics in this country to the operation of this very act, which is now said to be an insult and a grievance. The last bill, which was introduced in 1825, by the hon. baronet, the member for "Westminster, professed to remove those disabilities altogether; but that bill also left the Roman Catholic subject to the operation of this act in England. I must beg leave to call the attention of the House to the preamble of that bill, which ran as follows:—" And whereas, after due consideration of the situation, disposition, and conduct of his Majesty's Roman Catholic subjects, it appears just and fitting to communicate to them the enjoyment of the benefits and advantages of the constitution and government happily established in this united kingdom, so that all his Majesty's faithful and dutiful subjects may grow into one nation, whereby there may be an utter oblivion and extinguishment of all former dissensions and discords between them, thus consolidating the union between Great Britain and Ireland, and uniting and knitting together the hearts of all his Majesty's subjects in one and the same interest, for the support of his Majesty's person, family, Crown, and government, and for the defence of their common rights and liberties, it is provided," &c. Now, when it is considered, that a bill which was to have all these admirable effects never proposed to relieve the Roman Catholics from the operation of the law, of which the Protestant Dissenters are now complaining, I think I "am entitled to assume, that the grievances suffered from that law are rather of an imaginary than a practical and real nature. And of the fact that there was nothing in the provisions of that bill to repeal the law in question, there could exist no doubt. Upon a question raised by a noble lord as to that point, Mr. Canning, the warm supporter of the bill, had said, 754 "Sir; this bill does not tend, as is imagined by the petitioners, to equalize all religions in the state, but to equalize all the dissenting sects of religion. I am and this bill is, for a predominant Established Church; and I would not, even in appearance, meddle with the laws which secure that predominance to the Church of England. I would not sanction any measure which, even by inference, could be shown to be hostile to that establishment. But I am for the removal of practical grievance. And in this view of the subject, what is the fact with respect to Protestant Dissenters? It is this—that they labour under no practical grievance on account of their religious differences from us—that they sit with us in this House, and share our councils—that they are admissible to the offices of the state, and have, in fact, in very numerous instances, been admitted to them; but they hold these privileges subject to an annual renewal, by the annual act of Indemnity; so with the Roman Catholics, if this bill should pass. They will be admitted only to the same privileges, and they will hold them liable to the same condition." This, then, as I take it, is sufficient evidence that the Roman Catholic Relief bill of 1825 had never contemplated the relieving the Catholics from the operation of the Test and Corporation acts, as mitigated by the annual indemnity acts. I shall now offer a few words upon the actual nature and extent' of the operation of those acts. An hon. member opposite (Mr. Fergusson) has described, in very powerful and affecting terms, the distressing effect of these acts upon a country towards which no man can feel more cordially than I do—Scotland. I applaud the patriotic warmth (if I may be allowed so to express myself) with which the hon. member delivered himself; but, at the same time I cannot help thinking that there were points in his statement which were not a little tinged with exaggeration. For instance, in describing the condition of his countrymen under the Test and Corporation laws, with respect to the disposition of civil office, the hon. member said of Scotland, "that she was exposed to horrid penalties, and that her state at the present moment, was that of the absolute proscription of a whole nation! Now, I really think, that this declaration does go a little beyond the strict fact; and I appeal to my hon. 755 friend beside me, whether that is the real state of Scotland at the present moment? Whether it is not rather an inflamed and exaggerated description? Indeed, the hon. member's anxiety for Scotland in particular is not new. On former occasions great endeavours were made by particular individuals of that country, to obtain an especial consideration for her. Even after the debates of 1789 and 1790, it will be found that Scotland did not entirely despair of making out a peculiar case, and getting a peculiar adjudication; and sir Gilbert Elliott, aferwards lord Minto, had brought forward a petition from the General Assembly upon the subject. On that occasion, however, so slight did the real grievance of the question appear, that two noble persons, not likely to be in opposition without especial cause, upon such an occasion, lord Minto the then Lord Advocate, and lord Melville, voted against the motion. But, Sir, I go farther. The hon. member speaks of "horrid penalties," and "proscription." What are the feelings of Scotchmen generally now upon the subject? Where are the petitions from that country? From the whole of Scotland? There has not teen, I believe, a single petition for the repeal of these acts; and even if there had, I should have been prepared with a ready answer to them. Upon the military offices and honours it is not necessary to say any thing. The hon. gentleman says, "You have accepted the services of Scotchmen. You have shed the blood of the 42nd in the peninsula, and thinned the Scotch Greys at Waterloo. It is reasonable that we should have some reward for our services." Now, no one is more ready to admit the value of those services, than I am. But of the higher offices of government, the hon. member complains. "From these," he says, "the Test act shuts us out." Now, I must take leave to say, that of the present cabinet, composed of fourteen members, three—lord Melville, lord Aberdeen, and the President of the Board of Trade—are good Presbyterians, whom these acts nevertheless have not succeeded in shutting out. I desire not to be understood to say one word against a country which, by its native talent and unwearied industry, has raised itself to an honourable eminence among surrounding nations, and towards which, I repeat, no one can feel more warmly than, myself; but I do think, that the wrongs done to 756 Scotland by the Test and Corporation acts, that hon. member, in the ardour of his national partialities, has considerably overrated.
In the same way a noble lord on the other side has intimated that the parties interested in this question were not generally in the highest rank of life; and that from the mediocrity of their station, their rights are likely to be overlooked or to be forgotten. Perhaps the noble lord has properly described the Dissenters as belonging chiefly to the middle class; but, nevertheless, many persons of that persuasion move in a very exalted situation; and I fully agree with the noble lord, that the corporate privileges and honours to which those not immediately in that class aspire are fit and laudable objects of ambition for persons of their condition; such as it is a grievance to be excluded from, and which it is the duty of the legislature to uphold and sanction, rather than to make light of or offend. But, Sir, what is the fact as to the corporate honours? Are the Dissenters practically excluded from corporations? I believe that they are not. What is the practice in the city of London, for instance? I believe that Dissenters are admitted into the corporation of London [cries of "No!"]. I may be mistaken upon that point; but my impression is, that practically I am right [repeated dissent.] Then I am possibly wrong. In corporations, the test of the Sacrament certainly by law is necessary: in the case of admission to government offices, I believe the oath of submission is all that is required. But still I believe that the power which individuals have of putting the test to parties applying for admission to corporations, has not been constantly exercised. For example—an hon. member (Mr. Sheriff Spottiswoode) has just suggested the fact to me, that the very highest officer in the corporation of London—the lord mayor—was last year a Protestant Dissenter.
But the next question is this—can it be made at all apparent, what will be the effect of an alteration in the law? Under the existing system, there has, perhaps, been less of religious difference in England, for the last forty years, than in the same extent of time at any period of our history. Now, that fact, which an hon. member has treated as a reason for repealing the laws complained of, seems to me to be quite as capable of being made an argument 757 the other way. An hon. alderman informed us, the other night, that thirty-nine years ago, in the city of London, a few persons only had the resolution to stand up for a repeal of these acts; while at present there were not more than six or seven who venture to support them. Is not this a proof of the good understanding which has grown up between the Dissenters and the members of the Church of England? An understanding which I should be sorry, by any alteration of the system, to disturb. And it is not at all clear to me, that the Dissenters would gain what they expect by the repeal of these acts. If they excite suspicion and dislike, will they not, as far as the alteration goes, do mischief? The fact is, that the existing law merely gives a nominal predominance to the Protestant established church. A predominance of some sort will be admitted, on all hands, to be necessary, and the present is as slight a one as can well be imagined. Therefore, Sir, I confess I am sorry that I am called upon to vote upon the question, and heartily wish it had been allowed to remain quiescent; practically offensive as I am convinced it is to no one. All the intercourse between the Dissenters and the members of the established church, has been marked, of late years, by the most perfect cordiality; and I regret that any chance should be hazarded, by which it is possible that that temperate and candid feeling should be weakened. What the issue of the debate of this night may be, I cannot say; but of this I am certain, that I have entered into it with every disposition to assist and protect the real rights and privileges of the dissenting body. If the motion of the noble lord opposite shall be defeated, any sentiment of triumph which I may experience from the success of my own policy or opinions will be greatly abated by the fact, that such a result must be attended with disappointment to a class of persons for whom I have the highest respect—I may add, the warmest feelings of personal kindness.
§ Sir T. D. Acland
, who said:
Sir; I fear I shall scarcely be pardoned for pressing my claim on your attention in preference to that of my hon. and learned friend (Mr. Brougham), who has endeavoured to catch your eye; but, in truth, I am quite aware that, at a later period of the night, and when the hon. and learned gentleman shall have made 758 his observations on the speech we have just heard, I shall have very slight pretension to your notice; and I also wish to state my opinions shortly at this moment, because the candid and conciliatory tone of my right hon. friend opposite, seems to me to afford a favourable opportunity for the introduction of a suggestion which may facilitate an approximation, already, I think, sufficiently perceptible between the opposite views taken of this question. It is surely a fair inference, from the whole tenor of the debate, but especially from the speech of the right hon. gentleman, whom we have naturally regarded as the most formidable opponent of the proposed repeal of the Test and Corporation acts, that there is in reality far less practical difference than was supposed between those who support, and those who object, to the motion of my noble friend.
The House cannot have failed to observe, that, on both sides, the main stress has been held on arguments of the negative kind, more than on any contradictory, and irreconcileable, assertion of conflicting principles. My right hon. friend continually urges, that the Dissenters have no practical grievance to complain of, from the operation of these laws. On the other side it is alleged, that no practical benefit is secured to the church from their continuance. Now, supposing both these assertions true, which, to a certain extent, may be the case, the question would be, to which side should the indulgence of the legislature be granted? I have no hesitation in saying, that it should in fairness be exercised in relief of the supposed grievance; for, though the grievance may not be greatly or practically such, it may still be worth removing, if it be keenly felt by a large and respectable body, while, if the benefit be not real, it cannot be worth the keeping, especially when it loads the church with the burthen of unnecessary jealousy and discontent. The only just ground for restriction is, that it is necessary to the maintenance of the essential institutions of the state; but when such a restriction is, or is considered to be, a grievance, and while the benefit it confers is wholly imaginary, it is untenable on any ground of justice or policy. An imaginary benefit, in such cases, is none; but such is the constitution of Our nature, that, whether substantial or not, a grievance, once thoroughly considered as such, will retain as strong a hold on the minds of 759 men, excite as violent heart-burnings, implant as settled feelings of discontent, as though a real injury had been sustained. The highly-wrought speech of the hon. and learned gentleman near me (Mr. Fergusson), in his energetic description of the wrongs of Scotland, confessedly the weakest part of the case, has afforded ample proof to night of the truth of my position.
My right hon. friend, however, raises an argument against the Dissenters on this point—they cannot, he "says, really feel the grievance complained of as they assert, for they have allowed the question to remain at rest for thirty-seven years; and for ten years previous to the last, not a single petition have they presented.
Sir, in my view, the question is, not what they felt ten years ago, but what they feel now—what they are likely to feel for ten years to come; and this is the view which should be taken by a prudent government, and a wise legislature. Sir, I think that the seven hundred petitions already presented this session—the thousand petitions that covered the table during the last, afford ample disproof of any imputation of existing indifference on their part. Besides, I need not tell my right hon. friend, that it is the part of reasonable and calculating men, to press the suit they have at heart at such times as they may have the fairest hopes of bringing it to a successful issue. If they thought the temper of the House and the country unfavourable to the prosecution of their claims in former years, they did wisely for their own purposes to abstain from petitioning. If, in the present time of public feeling they discern more propitious symptoms, they do as wisely to come forward. What behoves us well to weigh is this—that they do petition now; that they do marshal themselves in eager and earnest anxiety for the event; and if the right hon. gentleman should succeed in rejecting their prayer at the present moment, what does he think will be their feelings and their conduct for the next ten years? He may depend upon it he will not lack abundant proof of these feelings. He will have plenty of petitions for the future. I know nothing of the plans or purposes of the Dissenters; I am no party to their proceedings; but I know still less of the workings of human nature amongst any class of men, if the right hon. gentleman's argument, that the indifference of the Dissenters is to be implied from their former silence, will, after the 760 use he has made of it this night, ever be left him again. Sir, I counsel him strongly to meet the forthcoming claims of this body by kind anticipation, while he may do so with dignity and conciliation; and I must again say, that I already hail, as the dawn of better days, as holding out a prospect of some final, and not very distant, adjustment of the question, the candid and temperate speech which he has just concluded. I see, in that speech, no hostility or bitterness towards that body or their claims. I heard no direct and substantive argument against it; and if really the whole of his objection, and that of all who have preceded him on the same side amounts to no more than this, that they wonder why the Dissenters should feel so much at a mere theoretical distinction, I do think so negative an objection must fall to the ground.
But, Sir, whatever may be the nature of the right hon. Secretary's objection to the Repeal, the objection to the laws themselves rests on far more substantial grounds, and is not confined to the Dissenters alone. If I should object to them as a Dissenter, I object to them still more as a Churchman. I cannot consent patiently to sanction by their means, the habitual profanation of the altar, the desecration of the most solemn and sacred rite of the Christian religion.
Even in the case of those who are in the habit of receiving the Sacrament in the regular discharge of their religious duties, the superinduction of a secular purpose, and interference on any particular occasion, does appear to me to be, so far, a contamination of the purity of the holy ordinance.
This was certainly my own case in early life, when I first qualified on taking the office of a magistrate in my own county—and I must say, that subsequent reflection has much increased my repugnance to mix up with that religious duty any civil matters with which it can have no possible connection.
But if these are my feelings, Sir, with no religious scruples as to the ordinance itself, what should and must be the feelings of those, not Dissenters merely, but even members of our own church, who, having less excuse for availing themselves of the act of Indemnity, are induced, as I doubt not many are, notwithstanding the researches of my hon. friend, the member for Ripon, to approach the Lord's Table 761 for the first time in their lives, by the requisition of the civil magistrate; and prostrating themselves at the altar of their Saviour, profess to humble themselves with the lowliness of a Christian, as creatures in the immediate presence of their Creator, solely as a step to the possession of some temporal advantage?
Surely, Sir, it is time that some remedy should be found to prevent the recurrence of such a profanation as this—and, if for no other reason, I would decidedly support my noble friend's motion to night, in the hope that it will lead to some change in those laws, which I believe to be absolutely indispensable to the feelings of Churchmen as well as Dissenters. I do not say that I am prepared to go the whole length with him, of supporting an unqualified repeal; nor do I mean to pledge myself now as to the precise extent to which I may be willing to go in the committee, with respect to the entire removal of the law. Indeed, I much wish not to be misunderstood as to the nature of the support I give to this present motion, and which is quite consistent with the principles on which, since I first came into this House, I have always supported the removal of the disabilities of the Roman Catholics. I have always thought those disabilities unnecessary, and therefore unjust; prejudicial to the state, and therefore expedient to be removed; but I have never been an advocate in theory, of what I understand by "the cause of civil and religious liberty." Practically, I am willing to carry that liberty to any extent consistent with the safety of the state, and its essential and fundamental institutions: to concede to Catholic or Dissenter the freest admission to the civil rights and privileges of their fellow citizens, limited only by necessity or danger clearly made out. I would concede this liberally, and without jealousy, as I would desire it myself in a similar case.—I see no such necessity now; I anticipate no such danger, either in near or distant prospect, and therefore my opinion has never varied on the Catholic question, though entertained irrespectively of abstract right.
The right hon. Secretary for the Colonies, who has placed his opposition to this motion from apprehension of its unfavourable influence on that great question, must excuse me for saying that I take a very different view of its effects, and that I am confident its success to night would great- 762 ly strengthen the ground on which the Catholic claims really stand.
Another reason, Sir, why I think these laws may be safely repealed is, that, in point of fact, and by the admission of my right hon. friend (Mr. Peel) himself, no real change will occur practically, as to the admission of Dissenters to civil office. He tells us, that at this moment three good Presbyterians are members of the cabinet, and that the lord Mayor of London last year was a Protestant Dissenter. I apprehend that he means to infer, there is therefore no cause of complaint to the Dissenter under the present state of the law.—My inference is, that no danger can arise to the church from the nominal removal of obstructions, which appear thus to have been done away entirely in practice, and that in the highest offices of both kinds to which the laws apply. I should be curious to know whether they were enforced in the case of the three members of the Cabinet, or whether they hold their seats-at this moment by virtue of the Indemnity. It is clear, at all events, that the laws are useless, absolutely nugatory, for any political purposes of the State.
An hon. member tells me, that the lord Mayor of last year did qualify for his office by taking the Sacrament, and that others, similarly situated, have done the same. If, Sir, this be so, if any scruples have been forced in their case, then I say that these laws do operate as a religious tyranny and oppression, the freedom and just rights of conscience have been violated, and we owe these gentlemen the only atonement we can offer them, that of relieving for the future, all who think and feel with them from the risk of similar degradation, by the earliest possible abolition, or effectual change, of a system liable to be carried into such unjust operation.
A suggestion has occurred to me, Sir, in which, should this motion be rejected, that relief might be immediately secured, by which all the practical evil of the system might be removed, and in which both parties might for some time safely and fairly concur. Indeed I think my noble friend ought himself to coincide in any middle course which offers present relief, and with it a fair prospect of the certain ultimate: arrangement of the whole subject.
My right hon. friend, too, would surely not object to any method of safe and effectual relief, which should still leave the theoretic principle of the law untouched 763 for the present. I really cannot anticipate opposition from him to this suggestion. We equally consider the Church of England, I can assure him, an essential part of the constitution of our country. We equally feel it a duty to resist any encroachment which would be attended with danger to the establishment; and I hope we also equally agree in the propriety of affording the Dissenters all the freedom from vexation and restraint which is consistent with the safety of the Church. What I would take the liberty of suggesting to him is this, that on the next passing of the Annual Indemnity bill, he should also introduce a bill for the Suspension of the Test and Corporation acts, pro futuro say for one year or more, and renew it periodically, until the time shall arrive for a more permanent and satisfactory settlement of the question. The principle of the laws would not be abandoned, and the power to call them again into operation in case of danger or necessity, would exist as fully as it now does, though I have yet heard of no one who seriously contemplates the possibility of such an occurrence. I am however not disposed to part with one security even in the abstract, without obtaining another—but by suspending these bills we should part with no security—we should rid ourselves of the present anomaly—we would simply substitute a plain, intelligible, and prospective mode of relief for the retrospective, clumsy, and in some instances, precarious, protection we now afford by the Annual Indemnity.
I am willing to admit that it may not be easy to discover at once the exact mode by which the two-fold object we have in view of relief to the Dissenter, and continued securities to the church establishment, may be attained, and secured on a permanent footing. But at all events time would be gained, and the friendly hand of conciliation extended to the petitioners—these are great steps—every vexatious interference and suspicious surmise would be at an end. Mr. Burke was of opinion, that the substitution of an oath for the Sacramental Test might be enacted, and actually produced a form which he had prepared, and considered adequate to meet the views of both parties. It is not for me to enter now into this part of the question; but, with good-will, I doubt not, some such scheme might be effected. If we are not yet ripe for so complete a change, we may have recourse 764 to the temporary measure of suspension, which would place the Dissenter at any given moment, in precisely the same situation as the actual repeal, and therefore remove, pro tempore, all possible ground of offence to him. By the Church, as the law is, in any beneficial view of protection, virtually a dead letter, no loss could be sustained—the principle of protection would remain on record—the power of renewing the restriction would not be done away.
But my own hope is, that we may possibly still arrive at a final and amicable adjustment, and with that view, and thanking the House for having listened to these suggestions, I shall certainly give my vote to night for going into a committee.
rose, and spoke to the following effect:—
Sir;—I assure my hon. friend, that I never gave way, upon any occasion, with greater pleasure than I did to him in the first instance, when I did not know what were the arguments which he intended to advance: but that pleasure has been greatly increased as the speech of my hon. friend proceeded—a speech which has relieved me from the necessity of referring to many points, to which I should otherwise have felt it my duty to advert. At the same time, I cannot remain entirely silent, after the course which has been pursued by the two right hon. Secretaries of State, who have opposed the motion of my noble friend.
One of those right hon. gentlemen, indeed, opposed the motion so slightly, as to leave little or no necessity for offering a reply to what fell from him. The first objection that presents itself to my mind applies to a point of constitutional doctrine laid down by the right hon. Secretary of State for the Home Department. That right hon. gentleman has stated what I am not prepared to admit: namely, that there is a distinction between a minister of the Crown, sitting in this House, and an ordinary member of parliament. "I," said the right hon. gentleman, "am a member of parliament, and a responsible minister of the Crown; whereas, you gentlemen opposite are called to act on your simple individual capacity; and therefore it is not at all proper for me to do in my double capacity, what it is quite proper for you to do in your single one." Now, Sir, some months ago I sat upon that side of the House which the right hon. gentleman now 765 occupies; but I do not therefore contend, that either myself, or my hon. friends, are entitled to alter our opinions and our course of conduct, with our altered position in the House. This doctrine is to me, Sir, quite unintelligible; but if it were intelligible—if it were constitutional—it would enable me to join those political reformers, to whom I have, at times, been opposed, and of whom my late friend, major Cartwright, may be considered the outward and visible head. Those pure reformers always contended, that the ministers of the Crown ought not to have seats in this House; while I, on the contrary, maintained, against the worthy major, that they did not sit here as ministers of the Crown—that they lost the character of servants of the Crown, the moment they entered this House—and that they sat in it entirely as representatives of the people. This, Sir, is my argument. I contend, that they are not ministers of the Crown in this House. They sit here as representatives of the people. They may prepare their measures in the cabinet, ready to be submitted to parliament; but they are not known as the servants of the Crown, whenever they enter the walls of this House, but entirely as representatives of the people. If there really be this distinction in their character—this double capacity—if the duties of a member of parliament be merged in those of a minister of the Crown, then, undoubtedly, the good old constitutional doctrine is become like one of those vulgar errors that have had their day, and are now exploded.
Then, Sir, the right hon. gentleman does not merely find it necessary to defend his own cause—though a sufficiently able combatant himself, he has thought it proper to call in aid another and more doughty combatant, the worthy baronet on the bench above him—whom I heard with as little possible effect as human nature would permit—not, certainly, as the hon. baronet seemed to think, with a laugh or a sneer, but assuredly with a very moderate share of conviction. At all events, the arguments contained in the speech of the right hon. Secretary were, at any rate, formed on the views of the question taken by the hon. baronet. He has followed him into the field, saying, "Be thou my shield and my chosen knight, and I will fight in thy train." [Mr. Peel intimated, across the table, that he had not followed the arguments of the hon. baronet.] To me, Sir, 766 it appears, that the view taken of the Sacramental test, by the right hon. gentleman, so worthy of notice, is one which he has been reminded of by, and which he willingly and joyfully adopted from, the champion at his side.
We are told, Sir, by the right hon. Secretary, that the principle upon which the Test and Corporation acts were framed, was, to allot to the Dissenters the least possible degree of exclusion, consistent with the safety of the British constitution. Now what, Sir, is the worthy baronet's idea of the minimum of exclusion? Why, Sir, it is a total exclusion from all places of profit, trust, and honour, under the Crown. The hon. baronet, who, I believe, holds a lucrative office under the Crown himself, and who is, no doubt, supported by three fourths of the place-holders and office bearers in the House, looking down front the lofty eminence of trust and emolument on all persons not in the pale of the Church, have discovered, that the slightest punishment, the minimum of penalties they can inflict upon those persons, is, that they ought to be prevented from ever enjoying any emoluments, any places of trust or profit, to which they, as members of the established church, have a sole right.Then," said the hon. baronet, "I do not like to talk so slightingly of—I do not like to disparage—the wisdom of our ancestors." Far be it from me, Sir, to disparage the praise thus bestowed, by the? hon. baronet, on the "wisdom of our ancestors." The phrase, however, I consider to have been one of the most fruitful sources of mischief to the country: but I must inform the hon. baronet, that that phrase had been disparaged long before the existence of the Test and Corporation acts—not by ridicule, but by sound argument—not by the sneers of the senseless, but by the soundest wisdom, the greatest knowledge, the highest intellect, that England ever produced. I commend the phrase to the mitigated censure of the hon. baronet. For it was a lord High Chancellor of England—a person of the name of Bacon, or some such name—a name, perhaps, which has no respect in the eyes of the hon. baronet—who first stamped the seal of disparagement on the phrase which the hon. baronet brings forward this evening "to fright the House from its propriety." He it was, Sir, who first reprobated the eternally-recurring praises of the "wisdom of our ancestors." He it was, who laughed 767 at the phrase "experience of past ages;" In truth," said he, "if not a contradiction in terms, it is the grossest abuse of language: for it proceeds upon this basis, that the world was older and wiser when it was younger, or than it now is, when every youth knows more than the grey hairs of former times.Sir, the right hon. Secretary thinks it a peculiarly strong argument, that the Sacramental Test only enforced, by act of parliament, upon official persons, that which it is the duty of every person to do without such enforcement: and the hon. baronet contends, that the act of Uniformity requires it. God forbid, Sir, that I should presume to say what is, or what is not, to be found in the Statute-book: but at least I can say, that I have looked into the Index—I have looked into the Rubric—I have looked into the Canons of the Church of 1603; but I cannot find, except in the latter, that uniformity is enforced: and, as those Canons were never confirmed by act of parliament, I must consider them to be without authority. If the hon. baronet referred to the act of Uniformity of the 13th and 14th of Charles the Second, that act I maintain, only requires uniformity in prayer, and directs how the ministers ought to perform the Sacrament. It further requires, that they should, every Sunday, read prayers, and once in each month perform the two Sacraments. Now, the Sacrament of the Lord's Supper might be performed when two or three were gathered together; but the other could not, although the act wisely enforced it, unless there was somebody on whom it could be bestowed. In looking into the Acts I find, that amongst the illustrious individuals and high officers, who are subjected to the test, are the keepers of chases, game, and warrens. Those high personages are called upon to take the Sacrament once a quarter. Now, Sir, to quiet the tender consciences, and to still the alarms of the hon. baronet and the right hon. Secretary, I beg leave to assure them, that they may sleep soundly in. their beds, for there is no statute existing, which inflicts a punishment upon them—no penalty demandable of them—provided they should not have taken the Sacrament, according to the Church of England, unless they hold some office. If any person dissents from the established church, he is not allowed to take the Sacrament, unless he takes a place; but he cannot hold a 768 place, unless he takes the Sacrament. Where, then, is the exigency for it, in other cases? And if that exigency does not exist, the hon. baronet's argument leaves the question just where it found it.
But, Sir, the hon. baronet says, that he is a friend to improvement in the arts and sciences, and that he wishes to seethe present age wiser than those of former days; although, at the same time, he cannot approve of our improvements iii morals and in politics. He would have us adhere to the wisdom of the ancient sages of Greece and Rome, who knew nothing of a representative government, nothing of juries, nothing of quarter-sessions and an unpaid magistracy, nothing of an established church, the safety and security of which was the corner-stone of the hon. baronet's argument.
We have been told, Sir, that the imposing the Sacrament as a test has been long in existence; and we have often been asked, "What does it signify?" This question has been repeated, Sir, this evening; and it has been answered—unanswerably answered—by my hon. friend below me (Mr. Fergusson), and by the hon. gentleman who spoke so ably in the early part of the evening (Mr. Wilbraham). "What does it signify?" Why, Sir, I say it signifies every thing. First and foremost it signifies a great deal to the Church itself: and here I speak as a Churchman—as a member of the Christian church established in England—founded on the doctrines of the Scripture, patronized by the State, and confirmed by statute, as well as by common law. I would ask every man—particularly every serious man, who has made religion an object of his contemplation, and who values it a rush, whether there could, by possibility, be devised a greater impropriety—a more polluting, more degrading, indecency and impiety, than to make the Sacrament a custom of the constitution, and the test of office. It is the most holy rite of our religion—of the purest religion upon earth—of a religion which, above all others, that all time had seen dawn upon man, was most abhorrent of secular ties, most alien from fleshly purposes—of a peculiarly mild character, and which, from its beginning, though Other religions allowed mankind to share with other Gods, had forbad contamination with such Gods, and fleshly lusts, and the worship of Mammon.—this religion, the purest of all 769 Religions, and this rite, the most holy rite of that religion, was, by this statute, degraded and polluted, by being made the passport to the place of a common gamekeeper. Is not this enough—is not this sufficient—to make us all say, that it ought to exist no longer? Does not this fact cast upon those who maintain the necessity of continuing this act in force, the onus of showing—not by talking to us about the wisdom of our ancestors, of the law, of the state, of tythes, of the clergy, but by sound argument—the necessity, the absolute necessity, for the safety of the church, as part and parcel of the safety of the state, that this precise form should be upheld.
And what arguments, Sir, do the opponents of the Protestant Dissenters use, in support of the continuance of these obnoxious tests? The right hon. Secretary says, that no practical grievance has arisen to that body, from the continuance of these restrictions; that what the Churchman can have, that the Dissenter can have also. What, Sir! is it no grievance—to use the expression of the late Mr. Canning—"to have the mark of the chain remaining, although the fetter itself may have been knocked away?" Assuming, Sir, for the sake of argument, that no practical grievance is inflicted by those laws—though that there is none I utterly deny—is the stigma nothing? Is it nothing that a Dissenter, wherever he goes, is looked on, and treated as an inferior person to a Churchman? Is it nothing that Churchmen should be able to say, "we are in possession of the good things?" Is it nothing to be thus degraded by law, and insulted as a body? Is it nothing, even, that the hon. baronet should say, as he has said this night, "we will allow you to do so and so?" "What is it that gives the hon. baronet the title to use this language, any more than my hon. friend, the member for Norwich, but that the law encourages and entitles him to use it? The only difference between them is, that the hon. baronet conscientiously believes in one faith, and my hon. friend, the member for Norwich in another. The hon. baronet says, that the presence of my hon. friend in this House, is a proof that there is no practical grievance: but this very reference is, I contend, an insult—not meant, I am satisfied—for the hon. baronet is of a kindly disposition, but the effect of that degradation, which 770 the law allows; Is this not a menace Sir? Can it be advantageous to the church? I am sure it cannot. It increases the animosity of the Dissenters against that church, and does not, in the least, tend to make them better subjects.
It has been said, that the late lord mayor of London was a Dissenter; and when I saw the worthy sheriff approach the right hon. gentleman, I felt some alarm, as I have naturally a sort of professional apprehension of the approach of that officer; although I am not aware of any present cause of fear, seeing that I am protected by my privilege. If, however, the worthy sheriff had remained in his seat, and had not served the right hon. gentleman with the argument, that the late lord mayor of London was a Dissenter, it would have been better for the right hon. gentleman's view of the question. That very circumstance makes, Sir, in favour of my argument. For being a Dissenter, he was only able to hold this place by taking the sacrament of the Established Church. He was obliged, therefore, to repress his repugnance to that sacrament, before he could enter upon the office.
It has been said, that Richard Baxter, not only took the sacrament himself, but maintained, that Presbyterians might safely take it. I know, Sir, the people of Scotland well: I have spent several years of my life amongst them; and sure I am that not one Presbyterian in a thousand would, on any terms, take the Sacrament of the Church of England. A strict Presbyterian will not go into a place of worship where there is an organ he will, on no account, kneel at an altar. They did not think that the Church of England was so very distinct from the church of Rome, that they could renounce their" own church, and adhere to the former, "If," said they, "you place two eggs on a plate, one of them is not more like the other, than the Church of England is like her elder sister the Church of Rome. This, I confess, was very calumnious. No two services can be more unlike each other. It shews, however, the jealousy of the Presbyterians. But, if the Presbyterians disliked the Romish church, on account of the vestments of the priests, and its altars, and regarded kneeling as idolatrous, is it to be wondered at, that they should evince repugnance at what they consider a; mixture of idolatry, with 771 Christian worship? The late lord mayor of London was obliged to comply with this test, if called upon. It is not always that a public officer is called upon to take the sacrament. It seldom so happens, unless where there is a contested election. In that case, the opposing candidate may compel compliance with the statute. If, then, in a contest, one candidate has the majority of electors on his side—has been fairly and honestly chosen—and is furthermore a man of the greatest merit—the other candidate may nevertheless, say to him, "You have the majority, it is true—you have been fairly elected—you cannot be defeated by any plea during the election—but you have not qualified, and therefore it is impossible for you to be returned."
The right hon. Secretary, the member for Liverpool, may recollect, perhaps, a contest which recently took place in that town, and which certainly was one of the most ridiculous I ever heard of. Two gentlemen, both belonging to the same party, actually' expended more than ten thousand pounds each, in contesting the office of mayor. It was one of the hardest fought contests ever known; yet, hard fought as it was, if one of the candidates had had the misfortune to differ from the Established Church, as to the thirty-nine articles, and the other had not, the Dissenter would have lost his election. So also in a case which has recently occurred in the city of London, respecting the appointment of an alderman for the Ward of Vintry, and which remains hung up for the judgment of the court of King's-bench—if one of the candidates had happened to have differed from the Church of England about the article of transubstantiation, and had not qualified, there would have been an end to this tedious controversy—all the trouble of the law-suit would have been saved, and his opponent elected—not because he was the fittest person for the office, or because he had most votes, but merely because one of the parties happened to be a Dissenter.
Now, Sir, if this is not a real grievance, I have yet to learn what a grievance is. The House can only come to the knowledge of a few of such cases as these: but how many must there be of which we know nothing! But, supposing there was no contest at all, and that the Dissenter walked over the course without opposition '—suppose him unanimously elected— 772 suppose him the very fittest person to fill that office—a single malicious individual may defeat the election, by resorting to the qualifications required by the statute, and out the Dissenter must, as a matter of course, go!
What, Sir, are the consequences resulting from all this? Why, that the Dissenter, under such circumstances, will not seek office. He will go to his country-house or his library—he will withdraw himself from public life, and seek in private that occupation which in public is denied to him—he will lose his appetite for that government, that church establishment, and that constitution, which oblige him to seek seclusion, and deprive him of that for which he is most fitted, and to which he is best entitled.
Is this, Sir, the way to conciliate three millions of Dissenters, who are not ignorant—as the right hon. Secretary for the Colonies imagines them to be—of the laws which oppress them? They do not say, "What does it signify; or what are we the worse for these restrictions." They know they are the worse for them; and, on behalf of the constitution, the church, and the state, I am anxious to impress the fact upon the House, that the Dissenters are the worse for these disabilities. I tell the House, and I warn it again and again to consider, that these persons are thereby made the worse subjects.
Again, it is said, that after their own laches—that after having so long passed over the matter in silence, the Dissenters have no right to come forward to claim the repeal of these laws. But that argument, Sir, will be of no avail. In the year 1787, when the question was discussed in this House, there was a division of 176 against the motion, and 98 for it. Another discussion took place in 1789, when the Dissenters were defeated by so small a majority as 122 against 102. If matters had gone on smoothly and quietly, and if the anticipations of Mr. Pitt in 1790 and 1792 had been realised—if peace had continued throughout the world, and this-country had continued to enjoy the blessings of external tranquillity—if that other event had not occurred, which had disturbed the prosperity of so many nations, and of France herself, though ultimately tending greatly to her improvement—if the French Revolution had not taken place—I will venture to say, that long before this time, the Dissenters would have been re- 773 leased from the Test and Corporation acts; for, under the circumstances at that time, the majority of twenty was considered by their opponents, not a victory but a defeat.
It has been said that, under the benign influence of these laws, the Dissenters have gone on, and will go on, quietly for ages. But what, Sir, were the riots at Birmingham I am satisfied that, if these tests had not existed, pointing out one set of men to the animosity of another, those riots would never have taken place. There would have been no means of influencing the passions of the people, or of exciting those outrages which were so much to be deplored. After this, exasperated feelings sprung into existence; and, if the Dissenters ceased immediately to prosecute their claims, it was because they waited for a more favourable opportunity of pressing them. After the breaking out of the French Revolution, it would have been insanity to have done so. The Catholics themselves did nothing; and from 1793 to 1805, a period of twelve years, not a word was said by the Dissenters, on account of that Revolution, and the two French wars; and wisely and generously did they act, in abstaining from urging their suit. When, in 1805, Mr. Fox introduced the Catholic question into the House of Commons, and lord Grenville into the House of Lords, I have reason to know that the Dissenters declined to bring forward their own grievances, lest, by so doing, they should thereby do injury to the cause of the Catholics.
These, Sir, were the causes of the laches and the silence of the Dissenters, now endeavoured to be brought against them; and I must say, that the right hon. gentleman, in reckoning up the number of the petitions presented by them to this House at former periods, has not treated the subject either with the gravity which becomes it, or with his usual good sense. Their case is now, however, brought forward, and the right hon. gentleman says he cannot consent to yield them any thing. He says, indeed, that if he was convinced that the Dissenters really did feel themselves aggrieved, that they were not moved by external influence—that the petitions were the spontaneous acts of the petitioners, he would do—what?—agree to the motion of my noble friend? No!—but he would, in that case, turn his consideration as to what were their grievances. This, Sir, I 774 cannot think a very logical mode of proceeding. If external influence be used on one side, is it not also exerted on the other? Is there not the established clergy in every parish? are not many of them hostile to the claims of the Dissenters—and if so, why do they not come forward and petition against them? The reason is, that the people will not do so, and are not hostile: and this is another proof, that no harm can accrue to the Established Church from restoring the Dissenters to their rights. Of this I am quite satisfied, that the representatives of every town will hear from the places they represent, the voice of their constituents in approval of the vote which they shall give in support of my noble friend's motion: for every where there has arisen a body of constituents, intelligent, wealthy, and, if I may use the expression, influential, to a degree of which those who have not well considered the subject can form no adequate notion—I mean the Dissenters—and these, and not only these, but a large portion of the members of the Established Church will feel, that their representatives have best discharged their duty, by listening to the prayer of the oppressed portion of their countrymen. In no town will the members of the established church take offence at such a vote. He will conciliate neither by voting against the motion of my noble friend—he may offend both—and he must, of necessity, do an act of injustice to one of them.
Sir, we have this evening heard much of the authorities of great names against this question; but great names, I am happy to say, can also be adduced in sanction of the claims of the Protestant Dissenters. Fox, Chatham, and Walpole, were favourable to the abolition of these acts; and I may add the name of Pitt; for, in the recently published correspondence between his late majesty and that minister—and, for the publication of which correspondence I heartily thank those who have given it to the world, though with a very different object, I admit, from that which it actually promotes—in that correspondence, Mr. Pitt distinctly avows his opinion to be in favour of one general measure of relief for all disqualified persons. It may, Sir, seem presumptuous in me to differ from a man so skilled in parliamentary, and cabinet proceedings, but it is not alone my I opinion that the Catholic question ought to be kept distinct from that of the Pro- 775 testant Dissenters. I have consulted many of the wisest men in this House, to whom their interests have been committed '—men the most devoted to the great work of doing justice to the Catholics—and they, with one voice, approved of the feeling and the judgment of the leaders of the Catholics, that the two questions should be kept distinct, and recommended, with one voice, the separation of the respective claims, "We do not know," said they, "whether or not we shall do injury to the cause of the Dissenters, but of this we are assured, that to mix up the interest of these' two great classes, cannot serve the cause of the Catholics." That was their full persuasion, and it is also mine.
But it has been said that the authority of Mr. Burke is on the other side. Sir, I am as willing as any man to treat with respect—with the profoundest deference—the opinion of that great man: but it must be a matter of perfect notoriety to every person in this House, that, but for the perversion that the intellect of that eminent man underwent, on all points that directly or indirectly could be supposed to have any connection with the French Revolution, or with which any of the principles applicable to that great event could at all be brought into contact, he would have been decidedly in favour of what justice and liberality demand on behalf of the Dissenters. In fact, his authority, might, with equal propriety, be cited on the question of the Slave Trade. An hon. friend of mine, who is no longer a member of this House, and whose absence I sincerely deplore—I mean Mr. Wilberforce—told me that Mr. Burke avowed to him, that he had once been favourable to the abolition of the Slave Trade, but that he had altered his opinion, and could only consider it to be, "a shred of the accursed web of Jacobinism." I entertain, Sir, a profound respect for the talents of that great man, but, after such an exaggerated expression of his feelings—after manifesting that he felt, or imagined he perceived, a connection between the relief of the Dissenters and the events of the French Revolution, it would be vain to hope for any thing like the wisdom or the candour that, at other seasons, and under other circumstances, characterized the opinions of that great man. And, whatever may be the degree of veneration for the man, I cannot admit his authority to be decisive of claims which involve the rights and interests of mil- 776 lions, and least of all is his authority to be acknowledged, where his most inveterate prejudices had been roused into activity, where his feelings and his passions caused him to view every thing through the distorted medium of that overwhelming event. Even Mr. Windham, who agreed with Mr. Burke on so many subjects, dissented from him upon this, and had sanctioned a repeal of these acts. Then, Sir, comes the authority of Mr. Canning.—He made—and I regret that he did so, for two reasons—a declaration against the repeal of those laws. In the first place, I regret it on his own account, because I think that it was a very rash, and a very ill-advised declaration, and calculated to be injurious to his personal character; in the second place, I regret it—not on account of the question, because to that, proceeding as the declaration did on a total misinformation with regard to the facts, it can do no harm—but on account of the injury it is calculated to inflict on those liberal principles of which Mr. Canning, during the latter part of his life, was the useful assertor and patron, by throwing some discredit on the soundness of his judgment on general subjects of a large and important nature. Much, Sir, as I respect the memory of Mr. Canning, still, as I cannot give any weight to the authority of Mr. Burke; viewing every thing as he did, through the distorted medium of one engrossing subject, so I cannot give any weight to the authority of Mr. Canning, labouring, as he evidently did, under a complete misconception with reference to the whole of this question. The very words used by Mr. Canning—" As there is no practical grievance "abundantly prove this. If Mr. Canning had been aware of the real facts; if he had heard the statements which have been this night made; if he had deliberately read the Corporation act; if he had listened to the unanswered, because unanswerable, arguments of lawyers in this House—I say unanswerable, and I call on any one to answer the argument of my hon. and learned friend on this side of the House—if Mr. Canning had done and seen all this, and had felt, as he must have felt, that the construction of the law is such as it has this night been justly represented to be, I cannot believe that he would still have refused his acquiescence in a remedy for the evils of which we complain. Mr. Canning never knew that 777 persons dissenting from the Church of England might be kept out of corporations; that they were liable to undergo a second election after having been unanimously chosen for an office in the first instance. If Mr. Canning had known all this, his enlightened mind would have revolted at the motion, that the Annual Indemnity act was a cure for the grievance.
Sir, that bill is the last point upon which I beg leave to trouble you with a few words. As long as the Dissenters were hostile to the existing government, so long it might be necessary to retain the Corporation and Test acts for the protection of the restored family. But, Sir, we have for eighty-five years past had the best possible proof that all such danger was felt to be at an end. Year after year, such is the confidence of parliament in the Dissenters, the Annual Indemnity-bill is passed without opposition in this House, and without exciting the slightest alarm in the country. Why not, then, pass a Perpetual Indemnity-bill, now that you find an Annual Indemnity-bill is not sufficient for the purpose in view? To adhere to the practice hitherto pursued, is both an insult and an injury. It is an insult, because the inference is, that your confidence in the Dissenters is imperfect—it is an injury, because you exclude them from offices of trust and emolument, and expose them to a variety of vexatious proceedings. Sir, the sum and substance of the whole argument seems to be this:—We are told that little remains to be done for the Dissenters. Our answer is, why then not do that little? In proportion to the little which they have to ask, is the little which you are called upon to give. Be influenced by the duty which you owe to the Dissenters; but, above all, be influenced by the respect which you owe to the rites and ordinances of your own church, obviously profaned by those very acts which were passed to support them. Nor is that profanation rare. In one not very distant corporation which I could name, above sixty of those outrages take place annually; nay, a particular church is set apart for that subject, in order that the Common Council of the corporation may there qualify. It is a mockery, under such circumstances, to say that a great grievance does not exist. Such an assertion is utterly repugnant to truth and to common sense. Let any one deny the fact; let any one deny the law; let any one con- 778 tend that the evil is ideal; and I will answer him by referring to the seventeen hundred petitions to which I implore the attention of the House.
§ Lord Palmerston
said, he was anxious to state shortly the grounds upon which his vote would be given, because as that vote would be adverse to the motion of the noble lord, he should be sorry that his motives should be misconstrued, and that he should be supposed to approve of the laws in question, or to think that they afforded any real security to the established church. He was as much a friend, as the noble lord who made this motion to civil and religious liberty; he was an enemy to all interference between man and his conscience; he utterly disbelieved that such interference can ever give security to the church or to the state, it could do no good; it must do evil; it must either turn honest men into hypocrites, or make loyal men discontented. The legitimate objects of civil and political safe-guards, were civil and political institutions; with the secret opinions of the human breast, religious and speculative, the laws of man could not without tyranny interfere, unless such opinions were embodied into acts, and such acts became dangerous to the civil and political institutions of society.
The laws in question were founded upon the supposition, that peculiar religious tenets were necessary indications of peculiar political opinions: but, however this might have been true in former times, it was not true in the days in which we live. Let any man look back to the eventful period of the last thirty years, and say whether, amidst all the internal dangers to which England has, during that time, been exposed, amidst all the plots and conspiracies and treasons which have successively threatened the constitution, it was possible to trace the workings of theological opinions, or whether, on the contrary, all these disorders have not arisen from causes purely political, and entirely unconnected with religious differences. If, then, it was expedient to require precautionary tests from those who are to be admitted to situations of trust and offices of power, those tests ought to have reference to the trust and power to be conferred, and should be of a political and not of a religious character. But the laws in question proceeded upon a different principle, and while they ex- 779 cluded the most loyal and well-affected man, provided he had peculiar opinions on points of theological doctrine and church discipline, they freely admitted the most determined enemy to the constitution, if only he had no objection to a particular mode of performing a religious rite.
But then it might be said, that these laws were the safe-guards and bulwarks of the established church. Weak and perilous, indeed, would be the condition of that church which should depend for its support upon the aid of such legislative enactments. The strength of a church consisted in the number and character of those who profess its doctrines; but doctrines and opinions could not be propagated by compulsion; on the contrary, the human mind revolted instinctively against the force which was employed to compel it, and clung with additional tenacity to those very opinions from which we endeavoured to wrench it. The history of mankind taught us but one lesson on this subject, and showed that those religions had struck the deepest and firmest root, whose infancy had been most exposed to the storms and tempests of persecution. The Church of England had for its safe-guards the purity of its doctrine, the piety and learning of its ministers, their moral conduct and exemplary lives. It had for its bulwarks the attachment and reverence of the people; while those safe-guards remained, while those bulwarks continued to exist, it might smile upon the attacks of its enemies, if enemies it had; it might do more, it might look with charity upon their differences; but, if ever it should cease to rely upon its purity and piety, it would look in vain to legislative props for its support.
But if those laws were unjust towards the Dissenter, and unnecessary for the security of the Church; why, it might be asked, should they not be immediately repealed? He answered, that for the last eighty years they had virtually and practically been repealed; that the annual Indemnity act, notwithstanding the legal refinements and hypothetical cases which had that night been put, had converted them into a dead letter; merciless and severe though they might be, yet for eighty long years, they had been asleep and spell-bound; and, as he saw no possibility of their being awakened, he would 780 not trouble himself to care about an existence, which had ceased to deserve that name. He looked upon the revival of those laws as absolutely impossible; it would be an evil to which the country could not submit, it would be an evil affecting not merely the Dissenters, but the members of the Church of England; for as the test was required, for almost every possible office, or employment under the Crown, from the highest in the state to the most insignificant and menial, it might fairly be assumed that, for one Dissenter who would become obnoxious to the penalties if the acts were to be revived, there would be ten members of the Church of England caught in the trammels of the law.
The revival of those laws, then, being an event not to be supposed, the only question was, whether their dormant existence was an evil of sufficient magnitude to call for the interposition of parliament? His opinion was, that parliament should dispose of practical evils before they began to deal with theoretical ones; and he objected to take up the last, until the first had been redressed. There were two classes of men upon whom the laws imposed civil and political disabilities on account of religious opinions; the Protestant Dissenters, and the Roman Catholics. The penalties on the first were virtually repealed, and had no operation, or at least a very trifling one; the penalties on the last were in full, and oppressive force. He did not choose to begin with the lesser evil, and leave untouched the greater; he would begin with the greater, and when that was brought down to the level of the lesser, then he should be prepared to consider the whole subject upon a general view, and to deal with both classes upon a common and uniform principle. That was, in his opinion, the statesman-like mode of proceeding—that was the only way by which they could hope to heal differences and tranquillize the empire—that was the only course which could be just towards the Catholics. The proceeding recommended must necessarily tend to increase their discontent. Parliament was refusing, session after session, to redress the real grievances of the Catholics, and they were now called upon to relieve the Dissenters from grievances that were theoretical, or at least extremely trivial. This was an undue partiality and preference, he would wish to pursue an opposite course; he would 781 first strike off the fetters from the Catholic, before he took off the nominal restraint from the Dissenter; and when they were both thus brought to an equal enjoyment of the same practical liberty, then he should be ready to consider the expediency of wiping away from both the remembrance of former injustice.
§ The House then divided: Ayes 237; Noes 193. Majority for lord John Russell's motion 44. The result of the division was hailed with loud cheers in the body of the House. The House accordingly went into the committee on the said Acts: the Committee reported progress, and obtained leave to sit again on Thursday. Adjourned at half after one o'clock.
|List of the Majority, and also of the Minority.|
|Abercromby, hon. J.||Clements, lord|
|Acland, sir T.||Clive, H.|
|Anson, hon. G.||Clive, E. B.|
|Althorp, viscount||Colborne, N. R.|
|Baillie, colonel||Coke, T. W.|
|Barclay, D.||Cradock, S.|
|Barclay, C.||Crompton, S.|
|Baring, A.||Curteis, E. J.|
|Baring, sir T.||Cole, sir C.|
|Baring, F.||Campbell, W.|
|Benett, John||Davenport, E. D.|
|Bentinck, lord G.||Davies, colonel|
|Bernal, R.||Dawson, A.|
|Bingham, lord||Denison, W.|
|Birch, J.||Denison, E. J.|
|Brougham, Henry||Ducane, P.|
|Brougham, J.||Duncombe, T.|
|Brownlow, C.||Dundas, hon. G.|
|Bruce, lord||Dundas, sir R.|
|Burdett, sir F.||Dundas, hon. T.|
|Buxton, T. F.||Dundas, C.|
|Byng, G.||Dowdeswell, J. E.|
|Bright, H.||Dickinson, W.|
|Buck, L.||Daly, J.|
|Boyle, hon. J.||Easthope, John|
|Baring, B.||Ebrington, viscount|
|Browne, James||Ellis, hon. G. Agar|
|Calcraft, J.||Euston, earl|
|Calthorpe, hon. A.||Fazakerley, N.|
|Calthorpe, hon. F.||Fergusson, sir R.|
|Calvert, C.||Fergusson, R.|
|Calvert, N.||Fitzgerald, M.|
|Carew, R. S.||Fitzgerald, J.|
|Carter, J.||Fitzgibbon, hon. R.|
|Clifton, lord||Fitzroy, lord C.|
|Caulfield, hon. H.||Forbes, J.|
|Cave, R. O.||Fortescue, hon. G.|
|Cavendish, lord G.||Frankland, R.|
|Cavendish, H.||French, A.|
|Cavendish, C.||Foley, J. H.|
|Clarke, hon. C.||Fyler, T.|
|Greene, T.||Normanby, viscount|
|Gordon, R.||Nugent, lord|
|Graham, sir J.||Owen, sir J.|
|Grattan, J.||Onslow, A.|
|Grattan, H.||O'Hara, J.|
|Grosvenor, hon. R.||O'Brien, Lucius|
|Guest, J.||Ord, W.|
|Gascoyne, gen.||Osborne, lord F.|
|Gye, F.||Owen, H.|
|Guise, sir W.||Pallmer, C. N.|
|Harvey, D. W.||Palmer, C. F.|
|Hulse, sir C.||Palmer, R.|
|Heathcote, sir G.||Parnell, sir H.|
|Heneage, G.||Pendarvis, E. W.|
|Heron, sir R.||Phillipps, sir G.|
|Hobhouse, J. C.||Phillips, G.|
|Howard, H.||Phillimore, Dr.|
|Howick, lord||Phillipps, sir R. B.|
|Hume, J.||Perceval, S.|
|Hurst, R.||Ponsonby, hon. W.|
|Hutchinson, J. H.||Ponsonby, hon. G.|
|Halse, J.||Ponsonby, hon. F.|
|Heathcote, sir W.||Portman, E. B.|
|Hay, lord J.||Power, R.|
|Horton, R. W.||Powlett, lord W.|
|Jephson, C.||Poyntz, W. S.|
|Jermyn, earl||Price, R.|
|Jolliffe, H.||Proby, hon. G.|
|Jones, J.||Protheroe, E.|
|Kennedy, T. F.||Powell, W. E.|
|King, hon. R.||Ramsbottom, J.|
|Knight, R.||Ramsden, J. C.|
|Knox, hon. T.||Rice, T. S.|
|Kekewich, S.||Ridley, sir M. W.|
|Kemp, T.||Robarts, A.|
|King, sir J.||Robinson, sir G.|
|Leycester, R.||Robinson, G. R.|
|Lamb, hon. G.||Rowley, sir W.|
|Labouchere, H.||Rumbold, C. E.|
|Lambert, J.||Russell, lord G. W.|
|Lascelles, hon. W.||Russell, lord W.|
|Lawley, F.||Russell, lord J.|
|Lennard, T. B.||Russell, R. G.|
|Lester, B.||Rancliffe, lord|
|Littleton, E. J.||Rickford, W.|
|Lloyd, T.||Sandon, viscount|
|Lumley, J.||Scarlett, sir J.|
|Lushington, Dr.||Sebright, sir J.|
|Langston, J. H.||Slaney, R. A.|
|Lott, H.||Smith, John|
|Marjoribanks, S.||Smith, George|
|Maitland, C. F.||Smith, hon. R.|
|Maberly, J.||Stanley, lord|
|Maberly, W.||Stanley, hon. E.|
|Macdonald, sir J.||Stuart, V.|
|Macintosh, sir J.||Stuart, lord J.|
|Marshall, J.||Sykes, D.|
|Marshall, W.||Seymour, H.|
|Martin, J.||Smith, Abel|
|Milbank, M.||Tavistock, marquis|
|Milton, viscount||Taylor, M. A.|
|Monck, J. B.||Tennyson, C.|
|Morland, sir S. B.||Tomson, C. P.|
|Morpeth, lord||Thompson, alderman|
|Mandeville, viscount||Tomes, J.|
|Marriot, J.||Townshend, lord C.|
|Newport, sir J.||Tynte, C.|
|Waithman, alderman||Walker, Joshua|
|Wall, C.||Walrond, B.|
|Warburton, H.||Ward, W.|
|Western, C. C.||Webb, E.|
|Whitbread, S.||Wells, John|
|Whitbread, W.||Warrender, sir G.|
|Williams, T. P.||Duncannon, viscount|
|Wilson, sir R.||Smith, Wm.|
|Wood, John||PAIRED OFF.|
|Wood, C.||Sefton, earl of|
|Wynn, sir W.||Wrottesley, sir J.|
|Wynn, right hon. C.||Gurney, H.|
|Wyvill, M.||Wilkins, W.|
|Atkins, alderman||Cust, hon. E.|
|Alcock, T.||Cuff, J.|
|Ashurst, W.||Dalrymple, A.|
|Ashley, lord||Davenport, D.|
|Astell, W.||Davis, R. H.|
|Astley, sir J.||Downes, lord|
|Attwood, M.||Drake, T.|
|Arbuthnot, hon. col.||Dundas, right hon. W.|
|Alexander, H.||Dundas, hon. H.|
|Antrobus, G. C.||Dawkins, H.|
|Arkwright, R.||Dottin, A. R.|
|Baker, E.||Douglas, W. K.|
|Bankes, H.||Eastnor, lord|
|Bankes, G.||East, sir E. H.|
|Bastard, captain||Eden, hon. R.|
|Bastard, E. P.||Egerton, W.|
|Batley, C. H.||Elphinstone, J. D.|
|Beckett, sir J.||Estcourt, T. G.|
|Belfast, earl of||Ellis, hon. A.|
|Beresford, major||Eliot, lord|
|Beresford, sir J.||Fane, hon. H.|
|Borradaile, R.||Fane, T.|
|Brydges, sir J.||Fitzgerald, rt. hon. V.|
|Bradshaw, J.||Foster, J. L.|
|Byron, J.||Fellowes, W. H.|
|Blair, T.||Fetherston, sir G.|
|Bonham, H.||Goulburn, rt. hon. H.|
|Brudenell, lord||Gower, lord F.|
|Buller, R.||Grant, sir A.|
|Calvert, J.||Hodgson, F.|
|Carmarthen, marquis||Handcock, R.|
|Campbell, A.||Hardinge, sir H.|
|Capel, J.||Hastings, sir C.|
|Cecil, lord T.||Herries, rt. hon. J. C.|
|Chandos, marquis||Hill, sir G.|
|Chaplin, T.||Holmes, W.|
|Chaplin, C.||Hope, sir A.|
|Clinton, J. F.||Hope, sir W. J.|
|Cockburne, sir G.||Hotham, lord|
|Collett, E.||Huskisson, rt. hon. W.|
|Cocks, J.||Houldsworth, T.|
|Cooper, R.||Inglis, sir R.|
|Cooper, hon. W. A.||Irving, J.|
|Corry, lord||Innes, sir H.|
|Corry, hon. L.||Jenkinson, hon. C.|
|Courtenay, T. P.||King, hon. H.|
|Cripps, J.||Knatchbull, sir E.|
|Croker, J. W.||Lennox, lord G.|
|[...] hon. P.||Lamb, right hon. W.|
|Legge, hon. A.||Rochford, G.|
|Lewis, T. F.||St. Paul, sir H.|
|Lewis, W.||Scott, hon. W.|
|Lowther, viscount||Scott, hon. H. J.|
|Lushington, colonel||Scott, H.|
|Lucy, G.||Sinclair, hon. J.|
|Lygon, hon. H.||Seymour, H.|
|Lindsay, hon. H.||Shelley, sir J.|
|Lindsay, colonel||Shirley, J. E.|
|Luttrell, J. F.||Sibthorp, C.|
|Mackinnon, C.||Smith, C. H.|
|M'Naghten, E. A.||Somerset, lord G.|
|Malcolm, N.||Somerset, lord E.|
|Macqueen, T. P.||Somerset, lord F.|
|Manning, W.||Sotheron, admiral|
|Manners, lord R.||Spottiswoode, A.|
|Martin, sir T. B.||Strathaven, lord|
|Meynell, H.||Strutt, J. H.|
|Moore, G.||Talmash, hon. J.|
|Morgan, sir C.||Talmash, hon. F.|
|Morgan, G.||Taylor, G. W.|
|Mundy, F.||Thompson, G. L.|
|Mountcharles, earl||Thynne, lord J.|
|Nicholl, sir J.||Tindal, sir N.|
|Nightingall, sir M.||Tomline, W. E.|
|Northcote, H. S.||Trant, W. H.|
|Norton, G.||Townshend, hon. J.|
|Newborough, lord||Trench, colonel|
|O'Neil, A.||Tullamore, lord|
|Owen, sir E.||Tunno, E.|
|Palmerston, lord||Twiss, H.|
|Peachey, general||Ure, M.|
|Pearse, J.||Uxbridge, earl of|
|Peel, right hon. R.||Vivian, sir H.|
|Peel, L.||Willoughby, H.|
|Peel, W.||Walpole, hon. J.|
|Peel, J.||West, F.|
|Pellew, hon. captain||Wetherell, sir C.|
|Pennant, G. D.||Wigram, W.|
|Percy, hon. C.||Wilson, colonel|
|Piggott, G. F.||Wilson, R. F.|
|Petit, L. H.||Wood, colonel|
|Planta, J.||Worcester, marquis of|
|Powell, A.||Wyndham, W.|
|Price, R.||Yorke, sir J.|
|Rae, sir W.|
|Rose, sir G.||TELLERS.|
|Rose, G. P.||Clerk, sir G.|
|Ross, C.||Dawson, G.|