§ Order read, for resuming Adjourned Debate on Amendment proposed to Question [23rd April], "That the Bill be now read a second time."
§ And which Amendment was, to leave out the word "now," and at the end of the Question to add the words "upon this day six months."—(Sir R. Assheton Cross.)
§ Question again proposed, "That the word 'now' stand part of the Question."
§ Debate resumed.
§ MR. BERESFORD HOPE
Sir, it has been persistently asserted that this Bill is a grave concession to civil and religious liberty; but I contend that its real aspect is that of a Brad-laugh Relief Bill; a Brad-laugh Belief Bill simply, absolutely, and entirely; and I say this, knowing that every speaker on the other side of the House has used all kinds of arguments to prove it is not so. The Prime Minister has ratiocinated, and the Judge Advocate General has vociferated, and all in one key. But what are the facts? When, at the beginning of the Session, Mr. Brad-laugh threatened to come down at the head of his rabble and take us all by storm, my lion, and learned Friend the Attorney General, with that sweet and gentle persuasiveness which sits so charmingly upon him, got up and gave Notice of this Bill. Later on in the Session, in face of the ominous Notice of the hon. Member for Cheltenham (Baron de Ferrières), my hon. and learned Friend the Attorney General got up, sweeter than ever, and said that, of course, the precedents of Roman Catholic Emancipation and of O'Connell must be followed, and the Bill was not to be retrospective. When I heard that, I wondered at the faith with which some people can believe in the short memory of others. Roman Catholic Emancipation is not yet ancient history; it is not yet in the dark ages; for do we not rejoice to have in 1599 this House at the present moment, in perennial youth that hon. and gallant Gentleman (The O'Gorman Mahon), whose nomination of O'Connell for Clare brought about that emancipation? How that great act of Christian justice to the votaries of a great Christian Church can be compared to the capitulation to the vulgar brawlings avid the impudent threatenings of a lot of wandering Atheists passes my understanding. The Prime Minister may, from his long wanderings in many lauds, be likened to Sindbad the Sailor; but there is no doubt that Mr. Brad-laugh is to him a veritable "Old Man of the Sea"—an old man, though no way grand. Mr. Brad-laugh has turned up at most inconvenient times and places, and he will continue to turn up. The ground of this Bill is the desperate resort of a Government, a Government which, by its maladroit mismanagement, has raised a trouble to a scandal, and a scandal to a grave and dangerous question of national morality, national policy, and national religion.
I must, I fear, follow up rather technical considerations, while I chiefly address myself to what was the heart of the Prime Minister's argument—namely, the denial that the Oath under discussion was not merely a Theistical Oath in the abstract, but an Oath that involved a reference to a moral, active Deity. Of course, at the end of his speech, he shifted his ground, and maximized the Christian features of the Oath; but I am now speaking of the earlier and larger portion of it. the Prime Minister said—If you call on us to draw these distinctions, let them be rational distinctions. I do not say let them he Christian distinctions; hut let them be rational distinctions. I can understand one rational distinction, that you should frame the Oath in such a way as that its terms should recognize, not merely the acknowledgment of the existence of the Deity, but the providence of the Deity, and man's responsibility to the Deity… But is that your present rule? No.The Prime Minister, in answer to his own question, said "No;" but I am ready to cry on the housetops "Yes!" The Oath does involve man's responsibility to the Deity; and I will soon show why. But, first of all, let me dispose of and brush away one or two pretensions that have been set up. One is that the Oath, in its present form, is not only not Christian, but even 1600 anti-Christian. Suppose, by an impossibility, that the Oath, as it is, had been constructed out of nothing; that the Oath, in its present shape, had been the first form of ritual admission to Parliament ever devised; it might then have been plausibly argued that such an Oath, which did not name the Christian Deity, was non-Christian. But its historical origin is absolutely the contrary. The Oath, in former days, was an Oath that no one but a Christian—a Christian of a highly dogmatic form of belief—could take. Stop by step, no doubt, it has been relaxed; but has any step of that relaxation made the taking of the Oath more difficult or more inconsistent to the Christian of strong dogmatic convictions? It never has, for nothing has been imported into it antagonistic to the belief of the fullest believer. Several classes of thinkers, indeed, have been let in. At one time only the Protestant could take the Oath. Then it was made possible for the Roman Catholic. Then the door was opened to the member of that ancient and venerable, but imperfect, religion—the Jewish religion— with whom we have such solemn differences, but whose adherents, like us, believe in the Ten Commandments as God's foundation of morality. Step by step the Oath has been relaxed; but, after each alteration, the Protestant has been able to take the Oath in as complete a Protestant sense as before, and with his Protestantism intact and inviolate. So, when the Jews were admitted to Parliament, did the Roman Catholic find that he was able to take the Oath less conscientiously? The Oath may now let in persons whom its original framers wished to keep out; but it turns no one out whom they wished to keep in. It remains the same to the Representatives of those who framed the earlier form, and to thorn it is as Christian an Oath as ever, for all its references to the Deity and to duty and responsibility present themselves through a Christian medium, as to the Jews they do that of their allegiance to the God of Abraham. It is, forsooth, said that the words, "So help me God," are only the form, and not the substance, of the Oath. I daresay that, by a highly technical use of words, there may be what can, by courtesy, be called arguments, set up to establish the distinction; but I maintain that a man who is ad- 1601 mitted into this House through taking the Oath is as much so by the use of the words, "So help me God," as by uttering any other of the words in the Oath, for these are words conditioning and ratifying the whole contract.
But then the Prime Minister gave rein to his classical erudition, his great literary taste, his appreciation of all that is most magnificent in rhetoric, and in the diction of imagination. So he fell back upon the most dangerous and most delusive of all arguments, and supported his contention by a scrap of poetry. Lucretius, as a poet, needs no certificate from the House. I have nothing to say against him as a master of phrases; but I assert that to prop up a solid argument on a matter of political morality out of Lucretius is futile. The Deity which Lucretius, the follower of Epicurus, constructs cannot be the Deity of the Theist of a Christian ago. The Theism which grows up in a Christian ago and a Christian country, though it may believe that it abjures Christianity, cannot really throw it off. It is unconsciously tinged with a Christian colouring. The Theist has taken in with his mother's milk Christian instincts of morality, a Christian code of right and wrong, Christian social obligations. He is very much, indeed, of a Christian without his knowing it. The Theist, however pure and virtuous, of Pagan times and lands, had no such advantage. Epicurean Deity to him need have presented but slight intellectual difficulties. I will come, however, more directly to the point. In two-thirds of his speech, as I have noticed, the Prime Minister minimized the Theistic bearings of the Oath; and, in the remaining part of his speech, he maximized its Christian elements. He revelled in pouring his contempt on the people, who, he said, were so irrational as to believe there was any recognition of man's responsibility to the Deity in the Oath; and he propped up his argument by a scrap from Lucretius. Now, what is Lucretius's description of the Deity?Ipsa suis polleus opibus nihil indiga nostri,or, in English, "relying upon its own resources, wanting no help from us." This is definite. Now, what is the contract involved in the Oath, and what conception of duty does it involve? "What does the swearer mean when he says, "So help 1602 me God? "He makes a certain promise, and he invokes certain help, certain assistance, certain patronage, on the condition of his keeping his promise, which promise is, or is not, valuable in proportion to the reality of the conditions. What does "so" mean? Why, let the something called God help me in connection with what I have promised, help me if I carry out what I have promised, and do not help me if I do not carry out my promise. How, then, the Prime Minister, with his great acuteness and his wonderful power of discrimination, could have overlooked the presence, or gone astray in the meaning, of that single monosyllable, I cannot understand. He will hardly contend that if God was to give us His help, then he can be indifferent to the help we reciprocally give Him through our obedience; and if things be so, then the whole Lucretian fallacy, the argument built on sand, crumbles away. The Deity of the Oath, in its own terms, is indiga nostril. How the Prime Minister could have overlooked the fact that by the use of the little word "so" the help of the Deity was invoked on condition of the promise made being observed I cannot comprehend. How that bargain with the so-named "God" could be anything else but a recognition of man's responsibility to an Eternal and Unseen Power passes my understanding. I say this Oath does amount to a recognition that man, with all his passions, all his self-interests, and all his lusts, does live in responsibility to active Deity, and that there is a Power greater and stronger than himself, whose justice there is no escape from.
But we are told that Atheists should be enfranchised as the symmetrical complement of Roman Catholics and Jews, and on the ground of civil and religious liberty. What is called disenfranchising an Atheist is not allowing him to take a seat in this House, because he has voluntarily made the preliminary assurance of his fulfilling his duties in this House, which we have the right to exact, impossible, by declaring that he is a person who cannot enter into that contract with, on the one side, the Omnipotent Arbiter of Truth and Untruth; and, on the other, with the House, with Mr. Speaker, with his country, and with his Sovereign, as the witnesses needed to testify that the man making the promise 1603 will faithfully and truly perform his duty of Member. There is only left his word; and what is the worth of a word from the man who repudiates the foundations of moral responsibility? It is just the same as the case of an idiot would be. We do not admit an idiot. Why? Because, as he does not understand right and wrong, he cannot fulfil a verbal obligation. He is not a safe man to charge with responsibility, because he is outside of the power of contracting; and so, for the like cause, the Atheist is morally an unsafe man. There is no possibility of binding him to his obligation. The word "God" has no meaning to him, while, for the extent to which it needs a meaning in the Oath, it has the same meaning for Christian, for Jew, and for all who recognize a supernatural moral government of the Universe. I now come back again to the contention of the Prime Minister that the Oath, in its present form, is not only non-Christian, but oven anti-Christian. I have a higher authority for my opposition to the view of the Prime Minister than Lucretius. It is an authority for whom I have much stronger respect than I have even for the Prime Minister, for it is none other than St. Paul. The Apostle found at Athens an Altar to the Unknown God, the seat of a lowly-developed Theistical worship. Did he warn his audience off the narrow ledge of this dangerous delusion? Quite the reverse. He took the Unknown God to himself, and made Him a Known One, in an exposition of rational and moral Theism. If we study the précis of St. Paul's Sermon, as given in the Acts of the Apostles—not in the light of our fuller knowledge, but as it stands, we shall notice how short a distance it travels in positive Christianity. It speaks, indeed, of judgment to come, but through the "man" sent by God. On our Lord's Divinity it does not touch. St. Paul knew that be was addressing an auditory not yet fit to receive the mysteries of the Faith, so placed them on the ledge of moral Theism as a sure starting-place from which to take their upward flight. Yet the Prime Minister talks with contempt of the narrow ledge of Theism. Have I not shown that this contemptuous phrase is an inadequate and an unphilo-sophical representation of the difference between the belief in moral government, in eternal right and wrong, in 1604 future retribution, and the confused recognition of a mere brute nature in man lumbering on through the ages, without intelligible beginning or rational ending—nothing to hope, nothing to fear, nothing to live for, and nothing to die for. Reference has already been made in this House to a remarkable series of letters that have appeared in a Newcastle paper, signed, by "a Convinced Atheist;" but there is one passage in those letters which I must read, for it exposes the hollowness of the reference to the Quaker's Affirmation. It runs as follows:—The Quaker objects to the Oath, because he believes God Almighty objects to it. Mr. Brad-laugh objects to the Oath as a farce and a piece of humbug, seeing he does not believe that any God Almighty exists. The Atheist objects to an Oath chiefly because it identifies civil obligations with religious duties; because it is a leading sign among all civilized communities of an Omnipresent and Omnipotent Sovereign.I cannot agree with those who argue that not much harm will result if one of these foolish Atheists is allowed to enter Parliament, because I cannot be so sure of the safety. England is only 21 miles from Prance, even without a Channel Tunnel. In France, the negation of religion has taken a first place among Party questions. In that country, antagonism to religion, worked up by a political Party for political ends, has, within the last few years, taken portentous dimensions. So flagrant has the mischief grown that religion has inspired a very remarkable defender. In the dreary materialistic days of the Second Empire, there was no more powerful champion of Liberalism than M. Jules Simon, whose Liberté was a text-book of Liberal politics. M. Simon became one of the Government of National Defence; and he was afterwards, for a short time, Prime Minister under the Republic. Well, within these few late weeks he has published another book, bearing, like his former one, "Liberté" on the title page, but with two other substantives prefixed, "Dieu, Patrie, Liberié." This is an eloquent, logical, yet passionate protest against the growth of Atheism in France, wrung from a man of intellect by the sight of what is going on around him. I will read two extracts from the book, and I must apologize for presenting them in my own poor translation. M. Simon says— 1605Independent morality is morality independent of Revelation; it is not morality independent of God. Atheistic morality has been maintained at rare intervals through the ages by some theorists; it has only once been imposed in France for a fortnight by Hebert and Chaumette. Robespierre was irritated and revolted by it. The 'giants of the Convention,' accustomed to bear everything, did not bear that. The neutral school in Holland and elsewhere has never been anything, except the school without specific confessions. Neutral between Luther and Calvin, but not neutral between God and nothingness. Independent of the truth which is conspicuous and triumphant, man has need of God to defend himself against himself, and society has need of Him against men.M. Simon has also written—We do not understand, like them, the function of the State; we believe that it cannot guarantee rights and punish crimes without admitting an eternal justice, and, in consequence, a God who is the source of it. We do not understand, like them, the interest of society; we believe that bread and the sun are not more necessary for our bodies than love and doctrine are for our souls. Devoted as we are to liberty, we will not that it shall impose on us a faith; we will still less that it shall impose on us a negation.I accept these words of M. Simon. He may never have heard of our Oath. He probably wrote without thought of the present controversy in England. But the principles which he lays down in face of a danger which is our own danger, only full blown, perfectly correspond with the trouble which has come upon us. I cannot stop short of his position, for, like him, I cling to liberty; but I cannot claim less than he does for country and for God without treason to that God. It may be a long time before Atheism is as dangerously rampant in England as it is already in France; but if it secures any recognition in the case of the wretched peripatetic lecturer, who is the spoiled child of this Bill, a forward step will be gained; and therefore against that forward step I, with my Friends, intend to offer all the resistance in our power.
§ DR. LYONS
said, as an independent Liberal, he rose to oppose the Bill, and to add the voice of Dublin to that of London and of Liverpool. He was not without some right to intervene in this debate, for he ventured to affirm that, had the Amendment proposed by him been adopted on a memorable occasion in the last Session, the question would have been set at rest during this Parliament; but it had seemed fit to the right 1606 hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition to substitute an Amendment which, to his surprise, he afterwards found had only the effect of a Sessional Order; and hence the annual recurrence of this subject. He had, from the first, taken but one view in regard to this question. No doubt, it now presented itself under a technically different aspect to that in which it originally appeared; but he thought he could show that, to all intents and purposes, it was one and the same question—not about a class, not about a great body of individuals, but about one single person. He had listened with the profoundest attention and admiration to the grand effort of one of the greatest orators of modern times in defence of this Bill. But while he was momentarily led away by those transcendent outbursts of eloquence, which the Prime Minister had seldom equalled and never surpassed, he felt that his reason was not being enlisted on the side of the right hon. Gentleman. He knew not by what accident it was that the right hon. Gentleman, whose mind was at all times enriched with classic precedents, and with recollections of everything that was great and immortal in the history of the ages that had gone before, should have selected, for illustration, the representative of the baldest, the most sterile, and the least generally accepted of the doctrines of the ancients, in a passage from Lucretius, which, no doubt, was majestic in language, but which was far indeed from representing the views, the feelings, and the principles of the great sages of antiquity in Greece or in Rome. He (Dr. Lyons) would say, without fear of contradiction, and it could not but be well known to the Prime Minister that, in Greek and Latin literature, the classics were full of passages which showed the amplest recognition, in every action of life, of the presence of a Supreme and All-ruling Deity. Homer and Hesiod traced all human action to the Gods. Protagoras, the Abderite, who said he did not discuss whether there were or were not Gods, was, by order of the Athenians, "exterminated" from city and land, and his books burned in public. It was unfortunate, too, to cite Lucretius, because it was well known that, probably influenced by the unsatisfying nature of his own sterile views, and those of his master, Epicurus, at a comparatively early 1607 period he was said, on the best authorities, to have ended his life by committing suicide. Virgil, born on the day of Lucretius's death, did not in any way share his opinions; for he, in purer language and in higher spirit, had at all times most fully recognized the presence and the influence of a Deity. This was seen in the beautiful words of the Eclogue—Ab Jove principium Musæ; Jovis omnia plena:Ille colit terras; illi mea carmina curæ.The Prime Minister must have had present to his mind those noble passages from another writer of about the same age, in which the nature of the Gods was most amply discussed. Cicero expressly says, in a passage of the profoundest wisdom—"Atque haud scio, an pietâte adversus Deos sublata fides etiam, et societas humani generis, et una excellentissima virtus justitia tollatur;" and he predicted that a great perturbation of life and great confusion must follow the removal of sanctity and religion. He could not understand how the Prime Minister could have overlooked the great colloquy on this subject in Cicero's essay "De Natura Deorum." In that essay he must have learned a doctrine of a very different kind from that preached by Lucretius. Nowhere, he (Dr. Lyons) ventured to affirm, in ancient or modern writings, could the whole subject of the relations of mankind and human society to the Deity be found more fully and philosophically discussed than in that now too little known conference between Cicero, Velleius the Senator, Balbus, and Caius Cotta—Cicero's "familiaris" and "Cotta meus," as he affectionately and constantly termed him. In more modern times, so profound and critical a philosopher and jurist as Leibnitz affirmed that God was, by His very essence, the Author of all Natural Law, as He was, for the same reason, the Author of all Truth. In fact, as he had said, the classic authors, from Pindar downwards, and the great Mediâval writers, formed an unbroken chain of the recognition of the Deity. But, no doubt, the Prime Minister had a difficult task before him, for he could not believe it was a congenial one to a man of his mind and attainments, and therefore it was that lie had been induced to quote Lucretius as an authority. The Prime Minister treated the House to a cannonade of 1608 ethics and classical references. Like a skilful commander, he threw his heaviest metal before them, in the hope that the chief object at which he aimed might be lost sight of in the cloud of smoke that followed. But when the enthusiasm and the glamour of the Prime Minister's oratory had passed away, they could not but be sensible that the objects in favour of which his powers had been exerted were not worthy of them. He held that the statement so vaguely made in the course of the debate, that there were at present in the House shoals of Atheists, one of whom was a Cabinet Minister, who had taken the Oath, should not be allowed to go before the country unchallenged and unrepudiated. He could only say that during the time he had held a seat in the House he had never hoard from any hon. Member an expression which could warrant such an assertion. It might be that, in hot youth, ardent men had uttered sentiments which their maturer judgment condemned; and it was contrary to the dignity and order of the House to make such charges in that loose way, and they ought not to have been made, for he ventured to think that they were entirely groundless. Frequent references had also been made during the discussion, by which it had been attempted to show that there was a parallel between this case and that of Catholic Emancipation and the admission of Mr. O'Connell to that House. In the most emphatic manner possible, he wished to protest against any such supposition. Catholic Emancipation was the subject of discussion for a period of over 60 years; it was advocated long before the Union, and was the subject of Cabinet consideration before the Union, with some of the ablest and wisest in the land—the late John Keogh, one of the truest patriots of his time, the late Drs. Troy, Hussey, &c. It was no secret, moreover, to tell that it was part of the Union compact, which, unfortunately, never was kept, that Emancipation should be granted; the great influence that the Catholic popular Party exercised in favour of the Union was because of the promises held out to them that the Union would be followed by Catholic Emancipation. But it was not so generally known that Catholic Emancipation was strongly pressed upon the King after the Union; and though it 1609 was delayed until the time of O'Connell, Lord Castlereagh had loft it on record as his opinion, that if Pitt, although he resigned upon that question mainly, had brought more direct and urgent pressure to bear upon the King, that just claim must have been granted at the time of the Union. References had been also made to the admission of Jews; but the cases of O'Connell and the Jewish Emancipation were not parallel to the present case, for neither O'Connell nor the Jewish Members ever condescended to mask their opinions. One radical difference between these instances and the case of Mr. Brad-laugh was that Mr. O'Connell and the Jews were prepared to sacrifice everything rather than stoop to the meanness and the profanity of taking an Oath which would have no binding effect upon their consciences. From the moment that Brad-laugh volunteered to take the Oath, after having declined to take it as conveying to him no meaning or binding words, he lost all right to be a fit associate of the Members of that House. It was said that Mr. Brad-laugh represented a principle. He (Dr. Lyons) did think that in the magnificent oration of the Prime Minister, when he held up before their minds great philosophical conclusions, they would have been told that crowds of Atheists were waiting for admission into that House; and the case was enveloped in a cloud of reasoning, comparing it with that of the Catholics and Jews seeking Emancipation; but the cloud cleared away, and all that remained was a single individual. Who was this individual who decked himself out in philosophical trappings, who strutted and swelled as if he were worthy to represent the Porch, or to haunt the Groves of Academus? Even the Shades of Epicurus would rise to repudiate him from his "herd." Surely the land of Bacon, of Paley, and of Bentham would reject him. The whole history of the case was unfortunate, lamentable, and discreditable. Through it works of Mr. Brad-laugh that had, unfortunately, become too well known had been brought further into prominent notice, debasing and corrupting the mind of the country. The crisis which the question had now reached was the result of the timidity of the Government. If they had openly and boldly grappled with the case of Mr. Brad-laugh at the first, the present difficulty would never 1610 have arisen. He (Dr. Lyons) had often before said that it was a great misfortune to the Liberal Party to have to deal with such a question; but they had missed the only true way of dealing with it—namely, to have at once fallen back on the strong common sense of the House and the country, which abhorred the man and his vile practices and pretensions, and, though tolerant to the full, revolted at all that gave a shock to religion and morality. If hon. Gentlemen opposite had to deal with the question, they, also, would have found it a trouble and a misfortune. The case had been nothing but a misfortune and a trouble to the present Government, and they had not done with it even now, for it would find an echo and form a subject for the denunciation of the Liberal Party on many an occasion hereafter. The feeling of the country was undoubtedly one of religious toleration; but the Empire also felt the great importance of religion as the essence of its Constitutional being. Those distinguished men who devoted themselves to philosophical studies and abstract science, and who, unfortunately, abandoned religion, would not condescend to come into that House under an Oath or an Affirmation in which they did not believe. But, by the act of going to the Table and mumbling the words of the Oath, Mr. Brad-laugh had scandalized the House, and for ever lost all claim to respect in the House and out of it.
Notice taken, that 40 Members were not present; House counted, and 40 Members being found present,
§ DR. LYONS
, resuming, said, that the present day, when there was more than usual risk—and instances were but too common—of weak minds departing from the rules of morality, was not the time to weaken the foundations of rectitude and justice; and he hoped that religion would long remain the acknowledged foundation of law and morals in the Empire. He (Dr. Lyons) felt great reluctance in making allusion, in that House or elsewhere, to utterances that fell from the Judicial Bench. But the higher his respect for the majesty of the law and the Judicial Ermine, the more deeply he felt the necessity of protesting against the opinions laid down recently by the Lord Chief Justice. He believed their gravity, and the consequences likely to flow from 1611 them, were not immediately measurable. But when it was stated that Christianity was no longer the law of the land, he begged emphatically, in and out of the House, to protest against this novel doctrine, so far-reaching and so fatal in its consequences. Irish Statute Law would be found explicit on the subject. In the first Parliament of Charles II. the Scotch Houses passed a stringent Act against the crime of blasphemy. A further Act was passed in Scotland, under William III., against blasphemy, and both Acts enjoined a death penalty. The Parliament of England, in the latter Reign, passed a like Act, almost contemporaneously; and this was repealed in part, but confirmed in principle, in the Reign of George III. The Crown of these Realms was, wisely or not, strictly limited in a Protestant Succession. The marriage of the Sovereign was by law limited to a Protestant. The religion of the Viceroy of Ireland was by law strictly defined, and so was that of the Lord Chancellor of Ireland until a very recent date. In the administration of the Coronation Oath, the Archbishop or Bishop was, to this day, directed by Act of Parliament to say to the Sovereign—Will you, to the utmost of your power, maintain the laws of God, the true profession of the Gospel, and the Protestant religion established by the law?The King or Queen shall lay hands on the Holy Gospels and say—"So help me God," and then shall kiss the Book. He (Dr. Lyons) could not but see that, in thus taking security at that most solemn moment of entry on the duties of Office from the Head of the Realm, the State was, by and through its Head, and by its own most deliberate act, through its constituted authorities, endorsing, to the fullest extent possible, the essentially religious fabric of the Constitution. Till the Act of William III. was repealed, and other and new religious ceremonials were appointed for the Head of the State, he could not yield up his reason to the dictate of any official, however highly placed, that Christianity was not still part and parcel of both the Common Law and the Statute Law of the land. He could have but one consolation in seeing this important measure pass from this House to a higher Place, and that was that it would afford a full opportunity to noble and learned Lords to deal in an adequate manner with this 1612 most vital and important Constitutional principle, now, for the first time in the history of this country, called into question, and with, as he believed, such awful issues at stake. He could have no doubt as to the result, and that Christianity would be unequivocally declared to be the law of the land. He ventured to remind the House that even by the Viceroys of Canada, of India, and of Ireland, as by the great Law Officers, down to the holders of various positions throughout the country, an Oath was taken on accession to Office. he had always felt great regret at being unable to support the Government through the various stops of this controversy; but the feeling of the country against the admission of Mr. Brad-laugh to the House was rising higher and higher, and he believed it would rise higher still. He knew, from personal observation, that the feeling in Ireland was of the most intense character. Prom one end of the country to the other there was but one opinion; and not only on principle did he oppose the Bill himself, but he also seriously believed it would be impossible for any Representative to stand on the hustings in any part of Ireland after supporting the measure. An illustrious correspondent, fully competent to represent English opinion, writes—The feeling of the country has been steadily rising against it, for its effect will be to remove our Commonwealth from its foundation in the Natural and Divine Law to the bottomless pit of negation.Were they to face the danger of un-Christianizing the country for the sake of admitting Mr. Brad-laugh to the House? It was said—"You may as well admit him, for the next Parliament will;" but that was no argument why they should support the Bill, and he challenged the assertion. Were they to suppose that, when they had passed away, the waters of Lethe would wash away every trace of evidence of the scene which was enacted by Mr. Brad-laugh last Session at that Table? He was not prepared to face what a distinguished and statesmanlike mind had designated a "bottomless pit of negation," involving the whole nation in chaos, with Mr. Brad-laugh presiding over the ruins of all that they had hitherto revered and cherished. With these observations, he begged to offer his strongest protest against the Bill.
§ MR. AKERS-DOUGLAS
said, he was glad to find an hon. Member who usually supported Her Majesty's Government exercising his conscientious and independent opinion, although in an opposite direction to the interests of his Party. He (Mr. Akers - Douglas) protested against the measure, as having been introduced in deference to the intimidation of a mob outside the House, and because it was against the opinion of the country. The Prime Minister, knowing the feeling of the country, ought not to have attempted to force the Bill on Parliament. If he was determined to bring it in, he should have taken the opinion of the constituencies upon it; and if the right hon. Gentleman had done that they would never again have heard of the Bill, and he hoped that the majority of the House would pause before affirming a proposal of so pernicious a character. There was no analogy whatever between the Catholic Emancipation Act and the measure removing the disabilities of Jews and this Bill. These effected an alteration of the law, for the sake of those who had religious scruples against the existing Oath; this sought to alter the law in order to enable a man who had no conscientious scruples of any kind to make an Affirmation. These were questions between various forms of religion; this was a question between religion and irreligion. The Bill could not be divorced from the circumstances which led to its introduction; and he ventured to predict that the taint of Atheism and the odour of blasphemy would ever hang round it. An attempt had been made to meet the scruples of conscience of some Liberal Members by removing the retrospective character of the Bill; but he did not see what difference it would make whether it was prospective or retrospective; it would not alter its character, for its object and its result would still remain the same. If hon. Members opposite would make up their minds to vote according to their consciences, and not according to the bidding of their Whip, they would save themselves afterwards many unfortunate recollections, and be able to say that they had done their best to maintain religious feeling in the House. The Prime Minister might attempt to disguise it; but it would always remain, in the eyes of the country, a Brad-laugh 1614 Relief Bill. He believed the Government would be only too glad to get rid of it, provided, at the same, they could get rid of Mr. Brad-laugh. Those who supported the Bill did so, not because the Bill was right, but because they were afraid it would be made a question of confidence; and he would urge those hon. Members not to sacrifice their principles to the interests of their Party.
§ MR. BELLINGHAM
said, he wished to protest, as a Representative of an Irish constituency and as a Catholic, in the strongest way he could against the Bill; and he confessed that, in the first place, he could not believe in the sincerity of Her Majesty's Government in bringing it forward; and he charged them with a deliberate attempt to throw dust in the eyes of the nation by pretending that this was a Bill drafted on the same lines as those that had gone before for the removal of religious disabilities. Some time ago he had asked the Prime Minister whether the Government would remove all religious disabilities—such disabilities, for instance, as prevented the Sovereign or the Lord Chancellor of England being a Catholic. That, the Prime Minister said, they were not prepared to do; and he (Mr. Bellingham) should say that, in putting the question, he did not anticipate any other answer. He was not advocating the removal of these tests at the present moment, though he regarded them as fallacious and unnecessary. He brought the matter forward merely to test the bona fides of Her Majesty's Government, and to ascertain whether the real object of Ministers was to get rid of all religious disabilities, or simply an attempt to extricate themselves from a difficult and embarrassing position. The Government were insincere, and stood before the nation in the unenviable position of avowed aiders and abettors of Atheism. If the Sovereign of this country embraced the Catholic faith, he or she would at once be disqualified from ruling, and no Catholic could hold the Office of Lord Chancellor. Yet, although the Government were doing all they could for Atheists, they would not move a finger to relieve real religious disabilities. He did not, as he had said before, bring those instances forward to advocate the abolition of tests, but simply and solely to show the insincerity of the Government in this matter; and, for himself, he 1615 would say that, even if these tests were abolished, which he thought ought to be removed, he should still vote against the Bill. He felt sure that nine out of every ten Catholics in the country would prefer that those disabilities should continue, and that there should be even backward legislation of a penal character, than that this Affirmation Bill should become law. He did not see himself how an Atheist could affirm any more than he could take the Oath, because he believed in nothing superior to himself, and an Affirmation would be devoid of all conscientious and binding effect. The principle of substituting an Affirmation for the Oath seemed to him exactly like saying to the Almighty—"We are independent of you, and don't want you any more;" and, therefore, to advocate this Bill was, to his mind, the same thing as to call for open impiety and contempt of God. If the law was bettor than the people, as it ought to be, it would tend to consolidate the commonwealth; but if it was worse than the people, as it would inevitably be, if the Bill passed, it would tend to disintegrate and demoralize the people. The question before the House was not a question at all of the abolition of religious tests; he repudiated that argument entirely; it was one simply and solely of a revolution and the abolition of Oaths in toto. "What would the nation say to it? It would say, and say rightly, there was no analogy between the Catholic Question and this. The Ministry would not dare go to the country on this question. If, however, the Government were determined to effect this change, why need it be effected with such rapidity? It was beyond doubt that the country was against this measure. What, then, was urging the Government? The two Members for Northampton, the complete and incomplete Members, and the extreme Radical section whom the Primo Minister did not wish to offend. He (Mr. Bellingham) ventured, however, to prophesy that they would not conciliate the mob who clamoured for the Bill; and they would find their case like that of the woman in the fable who sacrificed her offspring to the wolves without avail. He would appeal to any hon. Members opposite, who thought more of religion than politics, to vote against the measure; and he would appeal to the few Catholic Members who were, apparently, 1616 afraid to offend the susceptibility of the Prime Minister, to remember how serious a thing it would be for them if they aided the passing of this iniquitous Bill, which was generally disliked by the people. He had, at least, the satisfaction of knowing that in his present action he had the support of the entire constituency he represented.
§ VISCOUNT LYMINGTON
said, that, from the first, he had always opposed any attempt which would facilitate the entrance of Mr. Brad-laugh into that House through the agency of the Oath. He oven voted against the question of Mr. Brad-laugh being allowed to take the Oath being referred to a Select Committee; because he viewed it as a matter of conscience and religious feeling, which could not be relegated to any Committee, but in regard to which each Member must decide according to his own sense of right and propriety. But he considered that the present Bill presented the question in an entirely different aspect, because they were not asked to be parties to an act which might appear to them to savour of blasphemy or profanation; but the question was put to them whether, considering the whole question, it was wise, it was right that the House should take steps by which Mr. Brad-laugh should be admitted to that House legally and in a proper manner. For that reason he should give his support to the Bill. The Parliamentary history of the question seemed to him of slight import. If this were a Bill which, in his mind, would really prejudice the interests of Christianity, he would oppose it by every means in his power, whatever attitude the Government might have taken up upon the subject, and should make use of all the resources of Parliamentary procedure in order to defeat it; but he was not of that opinion, and he protested against the use, upon a question of such a delicate character, of the ordinary weapons of Party warfare, which appeared to him calculated to vulgarize and lower the cause, and to destroy those high interests of religion, of which the opponents of this Bill had put themselves forward as the special and infallible champions. For the real interests of religion he did not entertain any such misapprehension; they must be of a very weakly and unstable growth, if they depended for their vitality upon the exist- 1617 ence of a particular politico-religious formula. Indeed, he would go farther, and take a stronger view than the Government, and assert that, in his opinion, it would, on the whole, be wise and expedient to abolish the Oath altogether, which, as hastily administered in the House in a now Parliament to 40 Members at once, had never impressed him as being attended with any strong sense of religious obligation. If the Oath had a sacred signification—and he maintained that the act which the present custom entailed of kissing the Testament gave to the Oath a distinct recognition of Christianity—it appeared to him that the really religious view would be to insist upon its only being taken by those who could take it in its highest interpretation. Besides, to permit some to affirm and some to take the Oath would be to divide into two camps the Atheists and the Christians in a very undesirable manner. There was another argument in favour of the total abolition of the Oath—that it would prevent in the future what might happen—the spectacle of Members coming forward in the future and electing to affirm, because they declined to take the Oath. He maintained that the blank Atheism of Mr. Brad-laugh was not the Atheism that was most to be feared. Atheism, advocated as it had been by Mr. Brad-laugh, was not likely to attract much support; indeed, it was much more likely to offend. The real danger to Christianity rather lay in the subtler forms of indistinct Theism which now existed, and which treated religion as a purely abstract matter—a question for intellectual research, and not a Divine principle which controlled the conduct of our present and the interests of a future life. He could not deny that Mr. Brad-laugh, by the letter which he wrote to The Times, had compelled the House to notice his religious opinions, and very properly to forbid his taking the Oath, which would have been at once an act of blasphemy, and, from a civil point of view, highly objectionable, as tending to degrade and discredit the position of all Oaths, which, so long as they existed, Parliament was bound to see respected. He (Viscount Lyming-ton) was told that, in the division which would take place on Thursday, the Bill would receive the almost unanimous opposition of the Irish Members. 1618 He wished to put it to the House, and to the Irish Members, what was the ground upon which they were going to oppose the admission of Mr. Brad-laugh? [An hon. MEMBER: Atheism.] Yes; it was Atheism. But were they not going to oppose Mr. Brad-laugh on the ground of his character, of his writings, and of utterances—[Mr. HARRINGTON: Absence of character.]—and also on account of what he had published and spoken outside that House? He (Viscount Lymington) maintained that it was a very dangerous doctrine, as regarded political freedom and the very principles of popular and Constitutional Government, to say that that House had the power to select, according to the claims of character, as to who should enter it, and to interfere in that respect with the rights of legally elected Members and their constituents. The Irish Members should remember that the principle might be extended, and that similar objections might be made in the future against them on account of their political writings and utterances; and he would ask whether some Irish Members had not made political utterances which were wanting in loyalty to the Constitution of the country? These utterances had never been denied; and it seemed equally reasonable that a Conservative Member should interpose when those Members came up to swear allegiance to the Crown and Constitution, for the Oath implied, not only a religious, but a civil obligation. He was anxious to hear from hon. Members representing popular constituencies in Ireland how, by the division which would shortly take place, they were going to justify their adoption of a principle which, if carried out, might seriously cripple the liberties of any country? He thoroughly sympathized with the feelings of disgust which Mr. Brad-laugh had aroused among all religious and respectable citizens; but he wished to impress on the House that, in the determination of this question, they should be guided, not by personal feelings against a particular man, but rather by their views of religion itself, and of what were really the true and permanent interests of the State; and, above all, by the only sound doctrine of political freedom and Constitutional life—that so long as the proposal of the Government did not involve any act on the part of Mr. Brad- 1619 laugh which could savour of blasphemy or impropriety. A majority of the House, while it doubtless had the power, had not the right to interfere, or in any way to prejudice the choice of a constituency, or to question the language or conduct of any man, so long as that language or conduct had not disqualified him by the laws of the land.
§ MR. EDWARD CLARKE
said, that the speech of the noble Viscount who had just spoken (Viscount Lymington) was remarkable for the painful efforts he made to justify the change of front on this question. The noble Viscount avowed that he viewed with repugnance and aversion the character of Mr. Brad-laugh, and that he felt strongly with regard to the mischief his teachings were likely to produce; and he said that, through the whole controversy, he had opposed the proposal that Mr. Bradlaugh should be allowed to take the Oath. Now, the noble Viscount ought to justify the course he was going to take, the immediate result of which would be to introduce into the House of Commons that one person whose teachings and character he regarded with so much aversion and disgust. In attempting to justify that course, the noble Viscount, following the example of the Prime Minister, drew a distinction between the Atheism of Mr. Bradlaugh and that more subtle form which was unfortunately fashionable, he believed, at both our great Universities, and which had invaded the current of public thought, and he went on to say that they must pass the Bill in order to terminate a religious controversy which was doing harm to religion so long as it existed. The two arguments answered each other. He (Mr. Clarke) believed, as the Prime Minister had remarked, that there was a subtler form of Atheism than that which was illustrated by Mr. Bradlaugh, and which would require a different man to Mr. Bradlaugh to support it. It was because Mr. Bradlaugh had associated with his opinions on religion opinions on morality that were loathsome to the mass of the people, that he (Mr. Clarke) believed this controversy would do no harm to religion so long as it was associated as it had been with Mr. Bradlaugh. The sitting Member for Northampton (Mr. Labouchere) had told the House, in his usual tone of airy superiority, that Mr. Bradlaugh and his 1620 friends were not greatly interested in the fortunes of this Bill; that they had been contending for a Constitutional right which was ignored by this Bill; and that the Bill itself was very different from what they wished. Hon. Members on the other side also complained that the Opposition associated this Bill with the name of Mr. Bradlaugh, and that they had charged the Government with having systematically assisted him into the House. The association was inevitable, and the charge true, to the great damage of the Liberal Party, inasmuch as that one person alone would benefit by the measure. The Bill would not have been brought forward at all had it not been for Mr. Bradlaugh; and he (Mr. Clarke) believed it was only brought forward on account of the disarrangement of the prospects of the Session, and not simply because the Government had been influenced by threats at the door of the House; and when the Government found the pressure so strong that the Leader of the House, night after night, got up and bewailed the waste of time in the despatch of Public Business, how was it possible to dissociate the Bill from the name of Mr. Bradlaugh, or all the filthy associations that surrounded his name? He could, therefore, quite understand the endeavour of the Government to dissociate the Bill from the name of Bradlaugh. The Bill, they said, was to be only of a prospective character, and Mr. Bradlaugh would have to try his fortune once more at Northampton at a future election; but that was a poor and futile attempt to sever themselves from Mr. Bradlaugh. It was a despicable movement, and a ruse through which the country saw perfectly. In so acting, the Government had surrendered the chief argument before the country in favour of this Bill—the only argument which was beginning to move and awaken the country. A few months ago, Constitutional Rights Associations were springing up, founded on this proposition—that a Member once elected to Parliament, and not at the time of his election subject to any disqualification by law, was entitled to speak and vote in that House on behalf of those who sent him there. There had been two occasions on which the Government had endeavoured, by clever Resolutions, to prevent the House from exclud- 1621 ing Mr. Bradlaugh from his seat; and on the 26th of April, 1881, when an attempt was made from that side of the House, and which was successful, to prevent Mr. Bradlaugh from taking the Oath and his seat, an Amendment was moved by the hon. and learned Member for Christchurch (Mr. Davey), that when a Member, duly elected, presented himself at the Table, and was proceeding to comply with the forms prescribed by the House and to take the Oath, that House would not, on grounds extraneous to the transaction, object to his taking the Oath. From the singular phrase employed, he (Mr. Clarke) believed that Amendment must have come from the hands of the Minister who, some time ago, described a certain transaction in Ireland as neither a bargain nor a Treaty. Striking out the characteristic phrase, which was the key to its authorship, that Amendment embodied the contention of the right hon. Gentleman the late Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster (Mr. John Bright), and was the foundation of those Constitutional Eights Associations that were springing up. There was something in that contention. It was capable of complete refutation; but it afforded a ground for endeavouring to secure for Mr. Bradlaugh his right to a seat in that House. The Government had not the courage of their opinions; for, after having brought forward that proposition in 1881, they now brought in a Bill which, so far from recognizing Mr. Bradlaugh's right to a seat in that House, proceeded on the very ground that he had no such right. In the remarkable speech of the Prime Minister, which, in the magnificence of its diction and the dignity of its utterance, was worthy of the greatest orator in that House, the right hon. Gentleman entered on an explanation of the circumstances under which the Bill had been introduced; but, unfortunately, it turned out that the explanation did not fit with the facts. The Government, in introducing the Bill, had surrendered the one Constitutional principle which alone could excuse the action upon which they formerly supported Mr. Bradlaugh, and they had also contravened another great principle. In the first place, the Bill only dealt with Parliamentary Oaths. There could be no doubt that it had always been the law of this country that everyone should, before he was appointed to any important position in the 1622 State, or admitted to the Councils of the State, take an Oath. As a matter of fact, there was no important position in the State in which this obligation was excluded. The Crown was not exempt; and there was not a Judge upon the Bench, not a Privy Councillor, not a Judge in the humblest of Her Majesty's Courts, that was not called upon to take the Oath. He could understand a proposal to abolish all Oaths; that would be a logical position; but the Prime Minister had directly said he was not in favour of the abolition of Oaths in general. If there were ever words that sought to establish the sanctity of an Oath, they were the words of the Prime Minister. What right had Members of j the Legislature to exempt themselves from the obligations that were imposed upon everyone filling a public post? Surely the duty of a Privy Councillor, or a magistrate of Quarter Sessions, or the duties of jurors trying civil cases, were not more important than the duties of those who sat in that House to consult upon public matters, and to pass laws. With what decency, then, could Parliament exempt its Members, who undertook such important functions, from that obligation, which, from time immemorial, had sanctified the control and discharge of all public duties in all classes of the community? That was one of the Constitutional privileges invaded by this Bill. But there was another important consideration. That House was supposed to be a Representative Assembly, which only acquired its authority from those who sent it here. The Party opposite were constantly enforcing that maxim. They said they wanted a Reform Bill, because that House did not adequately represent the opinions of the people. They were told that next Session, or the Session after, the Government were going to propose a change of the electoral system, which would lead to a clearer expression of the opinions of the country. Yet the Minister who led the Liberal Party, which insisted on the Representative character of that Assembly, was deliberately asking the House to act in contradiction of the desire of all classes of the people. But he (Mr. Clarke) did not rely solely on the Petitions which had been presented, although a measure against which 600,000 signatures had been appended to Petitions was one about which any Government would do well to hesi- 1623 tate. The Prime Minister, the other night, made some curious observations with regard to the elections which had taken place since that question came before the House. He (Mr. Clarke) did not know whether the right hon. Gentleman meant to encourage his supporters; but his remarks were, at all events, candid. The Prime Minister told his Party that it had been the privilege of the Liberal Party to vote in favour of liberty of conscience, and that they were very likely to suffer if they voted for the Bill. It was, however, hardly consoling to Liberal Members to be persuaded to vote for a Bill which they regarded as objectionable, with the probable consequence of losing their seats for so doing. Then, quite apart from the Petitions, the Prime Minister had admitted that in every election since the Bradlaugh question came to the front the Liberal Party had lost votes, and the Conservative Party had gained votes. That was perfectly true. There could be no doubt that, in the event of an appeal to the country, the Conservative Party would not lose a single vote, while the Liberals would inevitably lose votes. How did they like that prospect? Did the Government recollect that it was estimated of those who voted at the last General Election, that if 5 per cent, or one in 20, of the votes of all the constituencies were transferred from the Liberal to the Conservative side, the Tory Party would have had a majority of 100? An inspection of the poll books would show that to be the case. It was not likely that the question would be got out of the way and forgotten before the General Election. Even if the Bill passed the second reading, there would be a good deal to do to it before it left the House of Commons. If it ever got into Committee, he should be prepared to suggest that Atheists, in coming into the House, should not be allowed the unrestricted choice of making an Affirmation or taking the Oath. It was urged again and again that the Atheist should be allowed to come to the House of Commons and affirm, because he was allowed to do so in a Court of Justice in the witness-box. The answer to that was two-fold. The first was, that they wanted his testimony for the sake of society in general. Did that apply to the presence of Atheists in that House? No one could state that a man would make a hotter Member of Parliament for 1624 having an infusion of Atheism in his constitution. Then the House each day began by invoking God as the Author of all wisdom, counsel, and understanding. Would, then, one or a dozen Atheists make the House a safer body to whom to intrust the legislation of the country? Again, in the case of witnesses, when an Atheist went into the witness-box, it was required that the Judge should be satisfied that he was a man whose conscience would not be bound by the form of an Oath. But there was no analogous proceeding proposed in this Bill. If Atheists were admitted into the House, let them be treated in that way; and if the Bill ever reached Committee, he should propose an Amendment providing that only the man who at the Table of the House declared the Oath would not be binding on his conscience should be allowed to make an Affirmation. They would then see whether the Government cared to pass the Bill. An avowed Atheist would never sit for any constituency again— unless it was the constituency of Northampton. But, fortunately, that House was not the only Legislative Body in the country, and there was some security that the people of the country would be directly consulted before the Bill was allowed to pass. The Prime Minister had acknowledged that the Bill was opposed to the consciences of the people. They had all heard with admiration the speech of the noble Lord the Member for Woodstock (Lord Randolph Churchill). All would acknowledge, after reading that speech, that the Conservative Party had fought the fight well. He (Mr. Clarke) had only one fault to find with the eloquent peroration of that speech, and that was that it was not sufficiently hopeful of the future of the Tory Party. Hon. Members opposite desired to satisfy their Party obligations, in the hope that the Bill would soon be forgotten. But nine out of every 10 men in the country were opposed to the Bill, and it would not be forgotten. If the second reading was passed by a small majority, he doubted whether the Government would care to force the Bill through the House. Much time would be occupied; but he rather thought that it was an advantage for the Government to have the Bill delayed, as it was not at all clear whether their great measures—the Municipal Government Bill and the Tenants' Compensa- 1625 tion Bill—were in a forward enough state to be presented to Parliament. Then they would be able to say to the country that the cause of a barren Session was the opposition of the country to that Bill. He did not think, however, they would care to say much about the Bill to the constituencies. He had noticed that in recentLiberaldemonstrations—in that recently held in his own borough and presided, over by the noble Earl the Master of the Buckhounds (the Earl of Cork), and in one held not long ago at Wolverhampton—not a word had been said about the Affirmation Bill. The Bill had been accepted under pressure, and the Prime Minister must have felt it to be an ignoble task that he had to defend it in that House. They know that there were differences in the Cabinet about the future of religious teaching in the country. The Prime Minister had owed no small part of his power and authority to the fact that, while he had in politics been the ardent supporter of Radical opinions, he had throughout his life advocated the expression and maintenance of religious feeling. Some of the Colleagues of the right hon. Gentleman, however, held very different views. He (Mr. Clarke) feared that already the system of education adopted in 1871 had done considerable mischief to the cause of religion. When they blurred and rendered indistinct the lines which denned religious dogma, they went a great way towards weakening the hold of religion on the people. But one Member of the Cabinet had avowed that he hoped to carry the process further, and to exclude religious teaching altogether from the schools. The present measure could not be dissociated, on the one hand, from the name of Mr. Bradlaugh; nor, on the other, from those teachings which pointed to a continued and increased discouragement of religious teaching in this country. There was no need to denounce Mr. Brad-laugh, or to use hard words about him. They knew that he was an avowed Atheist, and that he conducted a periodical which advocated Atheistical, Republican, and Malthusian principles. Such was the teaching of Mr. Bradlaugh, and they knew that he had been convicted by a jury of his countrymen for publishing an obscene book, and that he was only saved from the punishment lie so richly deserved by a technical flaw in the indictment. These were 1626 facts which could be stated, without any attack being made or any hard words being used. In the face of these facts, how could the Government hope to dissociate the Bill from the name of Mr. Bradlaugh, or to disguise from the people the mischievous effects of this legislation? And how could they hope to justify themselves, when they might be driven to a General Election, and when they came face to face with the constituents, who, in every way which was open to them, had clearly expressed their opinions on this subject, and who had heard the Prime Minister declare that, in spite of their avowed opinions, he was going against their will to force this legislation upon the House and the country?
§ MR. GUY DAWNAY
said, he did not feel that he should be doing his duty to those he represented, unless he raised his voice in protest against the measure, which was not only wholly unnecessary, if not mischievous, in its pretended object as a general measure; but which, in the attempt which had been made to conceal its real object—namely, the admission of Mr. Bradlaugh—was a transparent and a shameless sham. He could not believe that there was a single Member of the House, or a single intelligent man in the country, who could honestly say that he believed that, except to suit the circumstances of Mr. Bradlaugh's individual case, and to still the clamour of his small mob of ignorant sympathizers, any such measure would ever have been brought forward by any Christian Government. The Government had not, even in the speech of the Prime Minister, answered the main objection which had been urged by the Opposition against the Bill; their tactics had, in fact, been those which were known among military men as skirmishing in the rear. With much of the rattle and the roar of a real attack, they had contented themselves with brandishing aloft the banner of the toleration of irreligion, amid somewhat premature shouts of argumentative victory. The surrender of the allegiance to the Deity would inevitably be followed by the surrender of allegiance to the Throne. Almost precisely the same arguments would apply, and would undoubtedly be used. Some Socialist Representative would be elected to the House, and, with Mr. Bradlaugh's example before him, would refuse to make that declaration. A per 1627 verted constituency would insist on returning him again and again. There would be some manufactured agitation. Some Chancellor of the Duchy might again be found to point out that the Socialistic sympathizers then demonstrating in their dozens in Palace Yard would soon throng in their thousands, if deprived of what they considered their rights. Such arguments would have their effect on a timorous Government, and the Minister would say—"You cannot deprive a constituency of the services of a Representative who has been duly elected. The Government exists for the good of, and by the will of, the people, and a constituency has a right to express its own ideas as to the best form of Government. It will be better in the circumstances to abolish the declaration of allegiance altogether, or make it a mere voluntary act." As surely as night followed day wore the present Government doing their utmost to bring about the time when that proposal would be not only a political possibility, but a political fact. The demand of Atheists to affirm was not made from any tenderness of conscience, but because they wanted to flaunt their Atheism in the face of the House of Commons. The hon. and learned Gentleman the Attorney General attempted an impossible task, when he tried to include in the toleration of any form of religion, the toleration of the absence of all religion. That the position was untenable might be illustrated, with regard to dress, by supposing that, owing to the absence of any restriction, an hon. Member might discard modern conventionalities, and insist on his right to enter the House as a Gymnosophist. The state of mind of the Atheist debarred him from entering into a solemn obligation; but the objection was not based on the Atheistic ledge, narrow or immense. It was based on the gulf which separated the Atheism they could take no cognizance of from the Atheism avowed publicly at the Table of the House. No reasons had been advanced by the Government why they should do away with the recognition of God in their Parliamentary Oath. Her Majesty's Ministers could not slur over the plain fact that, if they surrendered this Oath, they did it with the single object of admitting a professed and professional Atheist, who, in forcing himself on that House, would outrage the deep religious feelings of the country. The 1628 Oath was not a test of any form of religious belief, and it excluded none who would openly recognize the existence of a God. It was the wanton proclamation of Atheism by Mr. Bradlaugh that had given the House the right to judge, convict, and exclude him. The Opposition were taunted with drawing a line which it was said would include Voltaire, Diderôt, Robespierre, and Gibbon; but, looking to the times they lived in, he refused to judge them. The House could not exclude Atheists; but it could as yet exclude Atheists as Atheists. There might be unfortunate individuals who doubted, who denied in their hearts the existence of a God. That question lay between themselves and the God whom they denied. With their want of faith the House had no concern—of that want of faith it had no knowledge; but here they were asked to admit a man whose unbelief, avowed and gloried in, placed him as a mental monstrosity in a different category from his fellow-creatures. He isolated himself from fellowship in a creation he denied; his boasted want of belief constituted a sort of moral insanity—of religious impotence—which removed him altogether from the sphere in which the rest of mankind had their being. The Prime Minister said he had no fear of Atheism; but had any man, to whom God had given such power and such gifts, the right, by such words, to abdicate that power, and to refuse the service of those gifts? Had the right hon. Gentleman the right to say he had no fear of Atheism, when across the narrow seas stood out in dark relief such an example and such a warning of the fatal effects of Governmental godlessness? It was unjust to associate the blind gropings after truth of Lucretius with the spiritual Nihilism of modern Atheism. The philosophy of Lucretius was the reverent revolt of a superior mind against the debasing superstition which materialized and degraded the Godhead into mere immortal exaggerations of human vices and human passions; and it had nothing in common with the blank impious denial of the educated Atheism of the present age. With regard to the remarks of the Prime Minister as to the line which had been drawn by the opponents of the Bill in regard to responsibilities to the Deity, he (Mr. Dawnay) denied emphatically the conclusions of the Prime Minister, and insisted that the 1629 words "So help me God "did recognize and indicate not only the existence of a Deity, but man's responsibility to Him; The words "So help me God" did, in the clearest and most distinct manner, involve and infer—and he challenged the right hon. Gentleman, not by one motion of dissent, to contradict his assertion—a denial of the hopeless doctrine that the Divine Nature—Sejuncta a nostris rebus, semotaque longe,Nec bene promeritis capitur, nec tangitur irâ.That, which the right hon. Gentleman denied to them, was the very root and base of their contention. It was that tangitur irâ which Mr. Bradlaugh had denied. He, no doubt, denied far more, but as regarded his attitude towards the Oath, it was that specific point which he denied. It was the belief in that tangitur irâ which enabled the Mahommedan, the Brahmin, and the Buddhist to pronounce in their fullest meaning the words "So help me God," and would enforce that adjuration on their consciences. With the denial of that belief, what virtue remained in the words "solemnly, truly, and sincerely?" The Atheists, for whom they were asked to legislate, were to be allowed to make a "solemn Affirmation." Why, the words were a mockery! What, he would ask, was the original and etymological means ing of the word "solemn?" It meant "something observed once a year with religious ceremonies—religiously grave, religiously regular." The idea of religion was as inherent in the word "solemnity" as in the English word "piety;" and, if divested of that idea as a necessary complement of its gravity, a "solemn Affirmation" became a term altogether devoid of meaning, absolutely illogical and absurd. He supposed the Government would define the word "solemn "with the same convenient elasticity which they had already used with regard to another term which had served them well—the word Suzerainty; but the real point was not to be obscured by subterfuge. The question for the House was, whether it would assent to any formula of words which would accept the signature of Mr. Bradlaugh on the Roll of Members, whilst, with the same stroke of the pen, he would erase the name of God from the Oath. It had been asked why no mention was made in the Queen's Speech of the Government intention to introduce this Bill. 1630 The answer was not far to seek. Not; even the Government, who had introduced this measure, would dare to do a thing so blasphemous as to include in that Speech a measure designed to allow an Atheist to come to the Table and parade his denial of a God, and then to conclude that Speech by calling down; "now, as heretofore, the blessing of Almighty God upon their labours." Whether that blessing had followed their labours during the past three years he would leave others to decide. The right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister had quoted some magnificent, but melancholy, lines of ancient poetry the other night; and he (Mr. Dawnay) would, in his turn, venture to remind the Government of one old line—Discite justitiam moniti et non temnere Divos.Let them disregard those warnings if they would succeed in passing this measure, if they could, and before three years were over they would find how thoroughly they had also succeeded in alienating the support of any man in the Kingdom who not only had a vote to give, but a conscience to direct that vote; how fully they had also succeeded in completing, by its alliance with Atheism, the condemnation and degradation of the name of Radicalism, and in calling down upon themselves, not the blessing of a long-suffering Heaven, but the almost universal execration of the country.
§ MR. HORACE DAVEY
said, that his hon. and learned Friend the Member for Plymouth (Mr. E. Clarke) had, in very severe tones, endeavoured to intimidate hon. Members on that (the Ministerial) side of the House from voting for this measure, by telling them, if they did, they would be sent about their business at the next General Election by an angry and infuriated people. He (Mr. Davey) did not anticipate any such result occurring; and, therefore, he did not feel particularly alarmed by the denunciation of his hon. and learned Friend. He would say more. Believing that this Bill was founded on the principle of true toleration—toleration of the opinions of others, because you expected that they would respect your own—he would rather lose his seat over and over again than for one moment be false to that principle. His hon. and learned Friend had a little overstated what fell from the Prime 1631 Minister, when he said that the right hon. Gentleman admitted that the measure was opposed to the religious principles of large numbers of the people, and was proposed in violation of their will. What the right hon. Gentleman had really said was that it was opposed to the religious prejudices of the people. It was said that hon. Members on that (the Ministerial) side placed Nonconformists, Roman Catholics, and Jews in the same category as Atheists. That he denied. What they said was that there was a great family likeness between the arguments used in this case and those which were employed when it was proposed to admit Nonconformists, Roman Catholics, and Jews into the House. It was said, when it was proposed to admit Nonconformists, that if they did that they would destroy the Church of England and the Constitution of the country, of which the Church of England was a part. But, now, the friends of the Church of England declared that that Church was more strongly rooted in the affections of the people than ever. When Catholic Emancipation was proposed, they were told that the Protestant Constitution of the country would be destroyed if such a measure was passed. And yet the country remained as Protestant as before. When the admission of the Jews was in question, the House was told that the Christian character of the House of Commons was in peril; but he ventured to say that since Gentlemen professing the Jewish religion had entered that Assembly, nothing of the kind had occurred, and those hon. Members were not the least respected there. He had listened with pleasure to the extracts which the noble Lord the Member for Woodstock (Lord Randolph Churchill) read from the speeches of Mr. Disraeli on that subject—they always appeared to him (Mr. Davej7) to be among the finest he had ever made—but he could not help remembering that the political ancestors of the noble Lord, to whom those eloquent speeches were addressed, voted against the cause which Mr. Disraeli supported. He suspected that if the noble Lord the Member for Woodstock had been a Member of Parliament 50 years ago, he would have voted against the cause which he now supported with so much enthusiasm; and he (Mr. Davey), in connection with the subject, was reminded of those who built the tombs of the Prophets whom 1632 their fathers had stoned. A great deal of misapprehension existed as to the scope of the Bill. Their opponents declared it was a measure for the admission of Atheists into Parliament. But that was a totally unfounded representation, for Atheists were already admitted; they were not prevented by law from taking the Oath. There was nothing to hinder an avowed Atheist from taking the Oath, as hon. Members opposite themselves admitted, provided he had I not avowed his Atheism within the House itself. But how narrow a principle that was to maintain; and how untrue it was to say that the Bill was brought in for the purpose of permitting Atheists to enter the House, when they were already empowered to do so, provided they did not avow their Atheism within the walls of the House. The speeches of the hon. and learned Member for Launceston (Sir Hardinge Giffard) and of the noble Lord the Member for Woodstock, if they proved anything, proved too much. There was a great deal more to be said, from a purely legal point of view, in favour of excluding Jews from Parliament than there was for excluding Atheists, and the only logical conclusion to be drawn from the words of Lord Tenterden, quoted by the hon. and learned Member, and Lord Erskine, quoted by the noble Lord, was that if you were to exclude anyone, you must not only exclude Atheists, but all who did not profess the Christian religion. The hon. and learned Member for Launceston had forgotten to quote the context of the judicial decisions which he had read to the House. That context would show that the law operated as strongly against Socinians and other religious Bodies as it did against Atheism. He (Mr. Davey) saw no cogency in the argument derived from the Oath taken by Judges and other functionaries of State. Because that Oath was taken, there was no reason for imposing a fresh religious test. In fact, those who opposed the Bill, while they professed principles of religious toleration, were only ready to tolerate opinions which, in the main, agreed with their own. That was not toleration. The only basis for toleration was mutual respect. He respected his own opinions, and he expected others to do the like; and, therefore, he accorded respect to the convictions of others, however different they might be from his own. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for South 1633 West Lancashire (Sir E. Assheton Cross) had characterized the respect shown by the Prime Minister to the opinion of the majority of the House, in the change made with respect to the retrospective character of the Bill, as a despicable trick. It was a strange thing thus to characterize a concession which involved no principle. He would venture to say that nothing could be more despicable or contemptible than to endeavour to influence religious prejudice, and to excite religious passion, with a view to serve political and Party purposes. He set as high a value as any man on the religious character of this country; but that character was not to be maintained by mere lip service, or by forcing every Member in that House to take the Oath, and invoke the name of the Almighty as a passport to the House. It was to be maintained by keeping up a high standard of honour, and of self-respect, and by the character of the people for justice and truth, and all those virtues which they were accustomed to associate with the religious character. It was, indeed, in his opinion, a question whether it was worth while to retain the Oath at all. Looking at the way in which Members at the beginning of a Parliament were allowed to take the Oath in batches, he had serious doubts whether it would not be better to abolish the Oath altogether, and substitute for it a simple Declaration. The object of the Bill was to prevent the profanation and desecration of the Oath; and, as they were not able to prevent the constituencies from electing Members to Parliament, who held peculiar religious beliefs, or no belief at all, then hon. Members opposite, if they had the courage of their opinions, should bring in a Bill to make Atheism a disqualification for admission to the House. To allow constituencies to elect men, irrespective of their belief in religion, and to compel them to take the Oath, or to stay outside, was a mockery; therefore, he supported the Bill, not because he approved, of the choice of the people of Northampton, or of the opinions held by Mr. Bradlaugh, but because it was based on the lines of religious toleration, and would provide a remedy for a considerable difficulty. He held that the only safe and reliable ground for the House to rest upon was to respect the choice of a constituency which had elected a Gentleman duly qualified by law to 1634 represent them in the House of Commons. It was not by the personal qualifications of the individual immediately concerned that this Bill ought to be judged. It was an attempt to carry to its logical issue the Liberal legislation of former years, founded on the principle that diverse opinions on religious questions should form no disqualification for the performance of civil duties.
§ MR. O'DONNELL
said, that all who had had the pleasure of listening to the hon. and learned Member for Christ-church (Mr. Davey) must have been very much impressed by his anxiety to avoid anything like inflammatory matter. He (Mr. O'Donnell) felt bound to bear his own humble testimony to the fact, that, from the beginning to the end of the hon. and learned Member's oration, there was nothing whatever, in the slightest degree, approaching matter of an inflammatory character. The hon. Member who addressed the House above the Gangway on that (the Opposition) side, the hon. Member for the North Riding of Yorkshire (Mr. Guy Dawnay), had treated the important question before the House in a most admirable manner, and the close reasoning of the hon. Member, and his exposure of the fallacies put forward in support of the Ministerial view, deserved, he (Mr. O'Donnell) thought, the warm recognition of all who had the pleasure of listening to him. He was afraid, however, that he could not quite coincide with the hon. Member in the expression of his confident conviction that, before very long, the popular opinion would declare itself on the side of those who exposed the assaults on revealed religion in that House. He was afraid that the way in which popular opinion would declare itself, would depend very much on the action of the leading classes and leading authorities in the Kingdom; because, if they looked beyond the boundaries of these Islands, they would see that the tendency of irreligious movements, when once commenced, was not to go back, but gradually to widen, and to grow stronger, and the hour of reaction did not arrive until a widespread, social devastation had taken place. There was one point, at any rate, on which he trusted they could feel confident, and with regard to which they could be inspired with a certain hope. He believed that the votes of hon. Mem- 1635 bers would disappoint the expectations of Her Majesty's Government. It was well to know that, in order to carry the Bill, the active concurrence of the other branch of the Legislature would be required; and, in his opinion, it would be difficult indeed to depend on any ground upon the resistance of the other House of Parliament, if it did not justify its existence upon a Bill of this description. He trusted that if this Bill should, by any misfortune, obtain a majority in that House, steps would be taken to provide that the country should be directly consulted upon this all-important question. He entirely agreed with hon. Members who had spoken on that side of the House, and he absolutely denied to the House and to the Government, under present circumstances, the power of initiating and carrying through such a vast and fundamental change in the Constitution of the Kingdom as was involved in this Bill. He had all along maintained the view that the Bill was above everything the creation of the genius of the Prime Minister himself. If he went outside the sphere of the Prime Minister's initiative influence, he could see no ground and no excuse for the introduction of such a measure. An attempt had been made to throw upon the opponents of the Bill the appearance of Mr. Bradlaugh as a Legislator in that House, and the responsibility for the sort of importance which had come to be attached to his proceedings. That he entirely denied. He stated, at the very commencement, when Mr. Bradlaugh undertook to affront the House, and attempted to make the House his accomplice in the profanation of the Oath, that if the House had been led by a Prime Minister capable of appreciating the gravity of the insult offered to the House and the Constitution, and willing to meet that insult in the spirit demanded by the occasion, then a few and manly words from that Representative of Her Majesty's Government would have given a cue to public opinion throughout the country, and the class, ignorant in many respects of the gravity of the situation, would never have become waverers in this important question, and the various classes of apologists of, and sympathizers with, the peculiar pretensions of the Elect of Northampton would never have taken the ground they had since ventured to take 1636 up. It seemed to him that, by some unfortunate fatality, the distinguished Christian Secular who led that House had been impelled to associate with the name and pretensions of Mr. Bradlaugh every species of attraction which could be gathered from a somewhat pell-mell collection of poetry, philosophy, history, and irrelevant references of all kinds. He had observed also that the Premier had expressed the opinion and the hope that this Affirmation Bill might put an end to the discussion of the subject. It was quite possible that if the Bill were treated with the firmness and with the resolution which were required—even in this eleventh hour, it was possible that the Bill summarily, resolutely, and by an overwhelming majority, rejected by the common sense of Parliament, would bring about the termination of the odious agitation which had been sent on foot for the last couple of years. But the Prime Minister and Her Majesty's Government were greatly mistaken if they imagined that the passing of the Affirmation Bill would put an end to the questions involved in it. Concessions of this character, on the contrary, to voluntary Atheism, had a tendency to provoke a demand for future concessions; and he wished to point out, although it might have escaped the attention of the Prime Minister, that Christianity had some convictions and some rights in this matter also. Her Majesty's Government were very much mistaken if they fancied that the Affirmation Bill, which threw open the alternative either to take an Oath in the name of God, or not to take it, would lead to the consequences apparently relied upon by the Prime Minister. With what conscience and with what feeling could a Christian come up to that Table, and take the name of God in a House which, by a deliberate vote, had sanctioned a sort of odious partition between God and Anti-Christ? Had Her Majesty's Government ever considered whether it would not be the case that many hon. Members of the House would indignantly refuse to drag in the name of God as Witness of an Oath of Allegiance or a Declaration of any other description in that House, when the most notorious and offensive Atheist could go scot-free, and, ignoring the name of God altogether, by a mere wordy Declaration, would acquire all the rights and 1637 privileges of a Member? If it were ever his fate to appear again at the Table of the House, prior to entering upon legislative duties at the commencement of a new Parliament, if this measure were the law, he should certainly take the Affirmation, because he should consider that it would be little short of impiety to take an Oath under such circumstances. Many of them believed it to be wrong to take an Oath, that was unnecessary, and when they had the choice of making an Affirmation, instead of taking the Oath it would certainly be unnecessary. He would point out also that they were not free from the danger 'of the desecration of the Oath, and that was the main part of the specious plea advanced by the Government. They would not be free from the desecration of the Oath by the passing of this Bill, because the Bill gave to every Member the free option and power of choosing whether he would take the Oath or not; and if it were passed by Parliament, it would be possible for the most offensive Atheist, who might even have paraded his intention of taking the Oath in order to insult the Christian religion of the country, to come in under the Government proposal, and take the Oath in the spirit of an insult, justifying it by the measure passed by the Legislature. He did not pretend to deal with the reference made with respect to rights, which had been brought forward by the advocates of the Bill. When they were dealing with the Bill brought in by a Liberal Government, the less they entered into considerations of Liberal respect for popular rights the better. The Liberal Government chose to be very touchy, and very tender in regard to the bereavement of the constituency of Northampton; but they thought very little of the feeling of the Irish constituencies and their Representatives, seeing that they were engaged in thrusting Members into prison, on fusty Statutes centuries old. They were confronted, however, with this statement on the side of Her Majesty's Ministers, that the matter had now been brought to such a point, and to so fine an issue in that House, that nothing more was left in the words of the Prime Minister than "a narrow ledge" on which to rest the religious faith of the people in some sort of God or other. It might be a question of detail. That depended on 1638 the point of view from which the matter was regarded. It was probably only a question of detail in the mind of that eminent servant of the Roman Crown, who once put to the people the alternative of "Christ or Barabbas." But they were questions of detail which, in the minds of other men, seemed to be questions of principle of the gravest and most tremendous importance. If they were comparing belief in God with all other dogmas and with all other questions of right or ceremony, or with matters however hallowed by usage or authority, it seemed to him that all other questions were the mere fringe of detail in comparison with the substance, essence, and body of the religious belief itself. The hon. Member for the North Riding of Yorkshire, in terms no less happy than the logic of his argument, was careful not to press the irrelevancy with which the Prime Minister dragged in the idea of the new conception of the Deity as the justification of his action on the present occasion. He (Mr. O'Donnell) wanted to know what connection there could be between an Oath in Parliament and the conception of the Deity, and with the God which was invoked in the Oath in Parliament? Unless it were to afford an opportunity for the Liberal Party to display their appreciation of Latinity, he could not conceive what was the relevancy of the Prime Minister's reference. However, they were told that they ought to look on this question not from the point of view of the Northampton Election, and in reference to the personal case of Mr. Brad-laugh. For the sake of argument, let that be taken for granted, let it be assumed, that the Prime Minister had not got Mr. Bradlaugh in view, and was not considering the special case raised by that personage. But, under these circumstances, the Prime Minister was bound to tell the House for whose benefit the Bill had been brought into the House; and if the Bill were not a Bradlaugh Relief Bill, who were the numerous class sufficiently important, sufficiently deserving, and sufficiently reputable to claim this intervention on the part of the Government. If it was not Mr. Bradlaugh who was alone sought to be introduced into the House by the Bill, he wanted to know who were the persons who were sought to be introduced? What were the grievances that were 1639 sought to be remedied? Who were the classes who were, in the purview of the Minister, to be represented, and to express the opinions of the future House of Commons, if the Bill became law? If it were not Mr. Bradlaugh, was it his supporters, and were they to contemplate, among the only classes who as yet had come much above the horizon, the persons who distributed the literary productions of the hon. Member for Northampton? Was it the authors of what he did not mis-describe in calling the bestial blackguardism of the Freethinker and similar organs? Were those the classes to be benefited by this Bill? He put the question, and he demanded an answer. If the Bill were not a Bradlaugh Relief Bill, then was it a Bill for the relief of the Fruits of Philosophy; or of other satellites or parasites which had gathered around the excluded Member for Northampton? He did not intend to linger for more than a moment upon the audacity of the reference to the Emancipation of the Jews, or, rather, the admission of Jews into Parliament, which the supporters of the Government had had the self-possession, or the self-forgetfulness, to mention in that House. Whatever might have been the historical or social reasons which operated so long against the admission of Jews to that House, at any rate, as regarded the greatest and most fundamental question of all, there never could be any practical difference between the Jews and the Christians; and it was simply audacity pushed to the utmost in a question of this hind to attempt to drag in the name of the great race of Monotheists who alone had handed down the traditions of the Almighty to the earliest days of the Christian Church with the bestial associations and the foul impurities and impiety which hung round the name of the Member for Northampton. The central system of the Jewish creed was ours; the commandments of the Jews were ours; the books of the Prophets were ours; the songs of Israel were sung by our Christian congregations. He confessed there was no portion of the case brought forward by the Government which struck him as being more unworthy of the attention of Parliament than that portion which presumed to place the religious question on a level with the audacious and repulsive question which had been obtruded on their 1640 notice. There was another case also which had been pressed into the service of this unfortunate Bill. They were told, forsooth, that they were to emancipate Mr. Bradlaugh and his "merry men," because the Christian Dissenters of England had been emancipated; and some of the modern representatives of the Christian Dissenters of England had not been ashamed to use that argument. He had always understood, and, Catholic though he was, he had sympathized with the contention, that an exalted aesthetic view of the Christian doctrine had been the prevailing view and dogma of the Christian Dissenters of England; and he did not understand those self-forgetful Dissenters who had chosen to drag down the traditions of their ancestors to the miserable level of this debate. He had heard the right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister speak of the claim of the hon. Member for Northampton, who represented nothing and nobody except subjects and persons whose characters could not be discussed in that House without hon. Members feeling obliged to spy Strangers as a preliminary to any investigation of the question. The Prime Minister ventured to couple the name of Mr. Bradlaugh and his cause with the name of O'Connell and the Catholics of Ireland. The right hon. Gentleman left out of consideration other matters on which he might legitimately have touched. But the Catholics of Great Britain and Ireland were emancipated after long and careful argument, and proof which had convinced the Protestants of the Realm that they could be emancipated, not only with safety, but with advantage to the general interests of the Kingdom. There was never any question as to the binding character of Christian morality upon the consciences of Catholics; and as to their services to the State, he would only quote to the House the confession of an eminent statesman who had ventured on such a parallel. He would quote the testimony of the great Duke of Wellington in favour of the Emancipation of the Catholics. The Duke of Wellington reminded the House of Lords that on many a desperate field, in many a terrible crisis in the darkest hour of the fight, battles had been won by thousands and tens of thousands of Catholic soldiers, who poured out their life-blood freely for the benefit of the State. 1641 Whether or not these services had been gratefully remembered by England was another question; but it was these services and considerations which, in the end, impelled the Imperial Parliament to recognize the rights of the Catholic citizens of the Empire to an equal share in the authority and duties of citizenship. He asked the Prime Minister, what were the merits and services to the State and the Empire which had been performed by the class represented by Mr. Brad-laugh, and if they could be placed on a level with the valour and suffering which bad carried our banner triumphantly over every field in the Peninsula until it waved over the crowning defeat of Napoleon at Waterloo? What kind of services had Mr. Bradlaugh and his followers rendered to the State? One day or other, there would appear in that House a Bill, which he (Mr. O'Donnell) believed had passed the Upper House, for putting some check upon, and providing some protection for, those unfortunate women who were led into vice and wickedness in the wretched quarters of our large towns. It could not be difficult to trace a connection between vice of that kind and the wholesale dissemination of the vicious manuals which had been associated with the principal part of the life work of this protégé of a Liberal Government. If he were to consider the case of an Atheist from a human—he did not propose for a moment to consider it from a theological point of view, because, from that point of view, an Atheist was a man who denied God— but it was worth while at the present moment to consider the case from a human point of view, and from the human point of view what was an Atheist in his own conception? An Atheist was a man who professed himself to be only distinguished, in certain particular details of development and structure, from the beast and the brute. It was not he (Mr. O'Donnell) who had drawn that distinction. On the contrary, he denied it, even to those misguided men who maintained the theory, although they denied their obligation to be subject to the same moral laws of a Creator as Christians. He denied the distinction endeavoured to be forced upon him. While all other men were distinguished by a belief in a God and a Creator, recognizing themselves as subject to that Creator, the Atheist rejected emphatically all idea of any such 1642 connection with any Divinity or Deity. He discarded it altogether, and absolutely maintained that man was only another link of progress or retrogression in the mere scale of a bestial being. In the face of that contention, which was a fundamental article in the doctrine of Atheism, he (Mr. O'Donnell) wanted to know where wore the moral bases for this proposed legislation? By what right, if the Atheist's contentions were admitted, could they punish, he would not say sin, but crime? By what right could they stigmatize acts as moral or evil? From the Atheist's point of view, how could they decide what was moral or immoral, criminal or not criminal? In the case of man, he professed to be governed by the same nature and the same instincts. How could they expect any claim from such men who refused the rights and responsibilities which were willingly recognized and broadly assumed by all men who recognized the Government of a moral Providence to whom they were responsible? It was not Christians who imposed a disqualification upon the Atheist. The Atheist imposed the disqualification upon himself. He professed that he was devoid of the very fundamental principles in virtue of which society exercised authority, in virtue of which human legislation was conducted, and connected by reference to moral law in the human breast, and imposed on human society. As long as the Atheist maintained that attitude, they ought not to confer on him rights which he refused to accept. He bad dealt, in the course of his remarks, with the special case of the hon. Member for Northampton (Mr. Bradlaugh), and he had dealt with the general case of the rights of the Atheists to maintain a position among the places and connections which were entitled to respect and to human reverence. He could not, unfortunately, deal with the classes behind that particular Athiest in the present case, because, as far as he could say, the classes behind him were much more deserving of the attention of the police courts than of the Legislature of the land. But he thought there was another aspect of the case which might be fairly considered. They were entitled to bear this in mind—by every argument which they were able to test, by every proof which they were able to appreciate, and examine, the overwhelming bulk of the opinion of the nation was 1643 utterly against this course of gratuitous violation of the fundamental principles of the Constitution, and the belief of the British and Irish people. In England, beyond all doubt, the overwhelming majority of the people were true to the faith of their fathers; and, whether in the English Church or among the Dissenting communities, the vast majority of the people were against this gratuitous sacrifice of religion to a paltry and despicable cause. He was told, but he should be sorry to believe it true, that some of the Scotch Members believed that they would only be continuing the work of John Knox in destroying the Catholic Church in Scotland if they could succeed in destroying the Constitution of Great Britain and Ireland. He hoped the votes of the majority of the Scotch Members would refute the character which some ingenious advocates and admirers of the Ministry had claimed for Scotland at large. For his own part, he confessed that down to the present he had seen much more evidence in Scotland of an acute appreciation of theological differences than a wholesale readiness to abolish belief in God; and it was quite possible that, in Scotland, the expectation of the hon. Member for the North Riding of Yorkshire would be ratified at the next Election, and that those hon. Members who had thrown overboard the belief in God as part of the Constitution, in response to the suggestion of the Liberal Whip, would discover that their action was not approved of by believers in the Church of Scotland. In regard to Ireland, there could be no doubt that Ireland was actually united on this question from the North to the South and from the East to the West. Among all the constituencies and among all the Representatives of Ireland, he did not believe there would be found three battered reputations or expectant placemen who would be dragged into the Ministerial Lobby. As a matter of State policy, he would impress on Her Majesty's Government this consideration. Important in their view, as was this constituency of Northampton; superlative in their regard, as were the party claims of Mr. Bradlaugh; he would suggest to them to consider whether this was the time, or whether any time could be an expedient time, for introducing such a new, such a vast, and such a loathsome definition between the public opinion of Ireland and the law 1644 of the land as would be implied in the success of the Ministerial proposition? All Ireland, without distinction, recognized in religion the surest and the necessary basis of legislation; and if, by any manipulation of votes, or by any exercise of Ministerial authority, the Liberal view were imposed on the Legislature by the influence of the Government, that, he said, would only be another distinction, and a distinction of the gravest import, between the people of Ireland and the peoples, whatever they might be called, who inhabited the rest of the Kingdom. He said nothing offensive to the belief of any man, or any community; but he considered this a fundamental question on which desertion was vital and fatal; and he could not doubt that if Parliament deliberately cast away the very last of the ties which bound the present to the great past, in England, there would result political as well as religious consequences of the gravest importance. There was no doubt whatever that, in the minds of the persons supporting Mr. Bradlaugh, their objections to that part of the Oath which recognized God were not much stronger than to those which recognized allegiance to even a temporal Sovereign. He believed with the views of the enormous majority of his co-religionists in that House, the passing of a Bill to substitute Affirmation for the invocation of the Divine Name would impose on them the necessity of not invoking the Divine Name, under such odious circumstances. Lot it be remembered that neither that House nor any other Assembly could escape from the law that "No man can serve two masters," and that all the attempts of Her Majesty's Government to establish a skilful equilibrium between religion and impiety would only result in the consequence of imposing on those who believed in religion the necessity of holding aloof from everything which would be a blasphemous mockery of religion, if the House generally were to divorce itself from the recognition of the Divine Government in society.
§ VISCOUNT EMLYN
said, he should not have intervened in this debate, but for a speech delivered some nights ago by the right hon. and learned Gentleman the.Judge Advocate General (Mr. Osborne Morgan). The speech in question was a remarkable one. The right hon. and learned Gentleman started by 1645 asserting that, on the question at present before the House, he represented the opinion of the Principality of Wales. He knew not from whom the right hon. and learned Gentleman had obtained the right to speak on behalf of the Principality—however, in proceeding with his arguments, he mentioned those who, he thought, would vote with him, and those who would probably go into the Opposition Lobby. But here the eloquence of the right hon. and learned Gentleman seemed to have blinded him to the fact that he had a Colleague in the representation of the county of Denbigh (Sir Watkin Wynne), a Gentleman much respected, and whose name was a household word throughout the Principality of Wales; for he appeared absolutely to have forgotten the existence of that Gentleman, while he ignored the fact, that had not ill-health prevented his attendance, he would probably be found in the Opposition Lobby. He made no reference to that, and he (Viscount Emlyn) would therefore ask the right hon. and. learned Gentleman if he was authorized to imply that his hon. Colleague, if he could be present, would vote in the same Lobby with himself? The right hon. and learned Gentleman then passed on to make a personal reference, saying that he believed he (Viscount Emlyn) would be the only Member from Wales who would vote against the Bill. Without knowing whether that would be so or not, he (Viscount Emlyn) was glad to say that his vote certainly would be recorded against it. Then the right hon. and learned Gentleman went on to direct a sneer at himself, which he was contend to pass by, leaving the question of its justice, good taste, and. courtesy to the judgment of the House. Having listened to the speech of the right hon. and learned Gentleman, who had constituted himself the Representative of the whole public opinion of Wales, he (Viscout Emlyn) confessed that he had absolutely failed to find in that speech an argument of any kind which would justify oneany in voting for the Bill. With the permission of the House, he would pass in review some of the statements made by the right hon. and learned Gentleman in the course of his speech. In the first place, he said that many persons of varied religious views were able, at present, to come into the House; but it 1646 was impossible to gather from his speech whether that was objectionable, or the reverse. He next made a statement of a character which astonished him (Viscount Emlyn), and which would astonish him from whatever part of the House it proceeded—namely, that the Oath as at present adminstered admitted to the House a whole "army of humbugs." Without pausing to consider the delicacy or elegance of that language, he would ask the right hon. and learned Gentleman to whom he referred as constituting an "army of humbugs"— who where those hon. Gentlemen, and for what constituencies did they sit? The next statement of the right hon. and learned Gentleman was also startling, as coming from the Treasury Bench. He said, at the beginning of a new Parliament, Members came to the Table, practically to take an Oath which they meant to break. Now, he had no wish to misrepresent the right hon. and learned Gentleman, and he regretted that he was not in his place; but he would read to the House the exact words made use of, and ask whether he had not correctly expressed their meaning? They were—At the beginning of a New Parliament, Members now came to the Table in gangs to take the Oath, almost without knowing what they are doing.He believed the hon. Member for Northampton (Mr. Labouchere) had made a statement very much of the same kind; but the right hon. and learned Gentleman not satisfied with that, made a quotation which went even further. He was careful, however, to say that it was not taken from any book he himself had written; it was to this effect—"Oh! Blasphemous; the Book of Life is made a superstitious instrument on which they gabble o'er the Oaths they mean to break.…" He (Viscount Emlyn) said that a greater libel was never uttered in that House against Members of Parliament, and that the right hon. and learned Gentleman, if he thought it proper to make a charge of the kind, should have made it in specific terms, so that anyone in the House could answer him. But, even if those charges were true, what had they to do with the question before the House? How did the right hon. and learned Gentleman propose to deal with the matter? Would any of the 1647 "whole army of humbugs" sitting in the House now be debarred from doing so; and would any of the gangs of Members who came to the Table to take the Oath they intended to break be debarred? The Bill did not touch an atom of those questions; and they knew well that, if it became law, the right of Mr. Bradlaugh and of such Members to take the Oath would be exactly the same as it was at the present time. And then the right hon. and learned Gentleman wont on to speak of the religious character of the constituency which he represented, and of the other constituencies in Wales— of their crowded Sunday schools and chapels. He agreed with the right hon. and learned Gentleman on that point; but he went on to say that the majority of the people were in favour of this Bill, because they hated tests more than they hated Atheism. That must be to a certain extent taken as an epigrammatic phrase, made use of more for the sake of effect than because it accurately represented facts. But, putting that aside, what were the tests which the right hon. and learned Gentleman referred to? They could only be the tests affected in this Bill, and they were simply those of reference to Almighty God. Therefore, the statement was brought down to this, that reference to God was a test which the constituents of the right hon. and learned Gentleman hated more than Atheism. he utterly denied the truth of that statement with regard to his own constituents, or those of any other hon. Member from Wales; and he challenged hon. Members on the opposite Benches, representing Welsh constituencies, to rise in their places and say that the test he had described, the only one touched in the Bill, was hated by their constituents more than Atheism itself. But he would ask for what conscientious scruples were they required to make this sacrifice? That was a question which hon. and right hon. and learned Gentlemen opposite had been very careful not to touch, and for this reason—there were no conscientious scruples to which they could refer. Putting aside the question as to whether scruples concerning this test could properly be called conscientious, he put it to the House that the hon. Member for Northampton (Mr. Bradlaugh), in whose behalf this Bill was admittedly introduced, did not profess to have any conscientious 1648 scruples in the matter; he did not tell them that conscientious scruples would not allow him to take the Oath; on the contrary, he claimed to take it now, and nothing but the vote of the House had stopped him from doing so. He would ask the right hon. and learned Gentleman whether it was by the action of the Government that Mr. Bradlaugh had not profaned that Oath long ago? Looking at the feeling which the Welsh constituencies avowedly held in favour of religious freedom and toleration, and which everyone in that House respected, he told the right hon. Gentleman that he had no right to build upon a people's love of religious liberty the odious statement that they were in favour of admitting into the House of Commons, to legislate as to their chapels and Sunday schools, pronounced Atheists, in whose behalf the Bill was being forced upon them. Hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite had forgotten how widely the two things, religious toleration and the encouragement of Atheism, diverged. It was very convenient to cast at hon. Members on those Benches the grand words, "Religious freedom and toleration; "bat, as the noble Lord the Member for West Kent (Viscount Lewis-ham) had pointed out at an earlier stage of the debate, they were not fighting against religious freedom, but against the tyranny of irreligion. Then the right hon. and learned Gentleman went on to say that "the arguments on the other side of the House always degenerated into the cry of "Bradlaugh;" but had he given himself the trouble to listen to the speech of the Prime Minister, he would have gathered that that right hon. Gentleman himself did not deny, or question, the proposition that it was on behalf of Mr. Bradlaugh that the Bill had been brought in. The Prime Minister, in referring to that special point, observed—It is said that you ought not to alter the Law for the sake of one person, that one person being Mr. Bradlaugh, but it so happens that these laws are commonly altered for the sake of one person.The argument of the right hon. and learned Gentleman was, therefore, distinctly opposed to the admission of the Prime Minister that the Bill was brought in for the sake of Mr. Bradlaugh. He would touch for one moment upon a most remarkable part of the speech of 1649 the Prime Minister. Speaking of the Petitions brought in in regard to this Bill, and admitting entirely that the weight of those Petitions was against it, the right hon. Gentleman went on, not to argue that they did not represent the feeling of the country, but that he was justified in going against the feeling of the country. There were many questions on which it was desirable that the Government should be less dependent, and less open to pressure; in fact, he should like to see a little more backbone in their policy. When hon. Members saw a question of this kind, which had not been before the constituencies, brought before Parliament, they had a right to ask how it was that the Government claimed and arrogated to themselves the right of going against the opinions of the constituencies, and going so far as to say that in questions of this kind, their judgment was not to be depended upon? He could understand why the Government should prefer that this question should never be tested by the constituencies. When the right hon. Gentleman said that in election after election, the Government had been losing votes, he could quite understand their anxiety to smother the question before many other elections came about. But, suppose for a moment that the Government had the right to go against the opinion of the country, in what way were they doing it, and for what reason? The Bill was not one they had carefully matured; it was not a question which, after careful consideration for a long time, they had at length come to the definite conclusion they must deal with. The question had been before them for three years, but they had never touched it. They had dealt with the matter just whichever way the tide seemed to go; but had never pushed the view they were now holding to the front until Mr. Brad-laugh's threats and Mr. Bradlaugh's mob had forced them on. It was under these threats, it was under the dictation of a mob assembled near the Houses of Parliament, that they had claimed for themselves the right to put aside the opinion of the people of England, and say, "It is not worthy of respect." There was no doubt about it that they had allowed themselves to be forced by this mob to act contrary to the opinion of the people of England. The Prime Minister had spoken of the effect the keeping of this question open would have on the 1650 educated classes of the country; but to his (Viscount Emlyn's) mind, no worse effect could be produced on those classes than by the settlement of the question in this way. He could conceive nothing worse than that the Government should keep the question open and dangling before the people for three years, without attempting to deal with it; that whenever it arose, the Prime Minister should abdicate the functions of the Leader of the House, and allow the whole matter to drift; and that, in the end, he should allow himself—or suffer it to appear that he allowed himself—to be moved by a mob, who hurled threats at his head, into making way for a blasphemer and Atheist to come to the Table. He now came to the concluding part of the Prime Minister's speech. No one could listen to it unmoved; but when he heard the right hon. Gentleman paring down all the recognition of religion which existed in the House, and when he heard him term that recognition "a mere shred to which they clung so closely," he could not but feel that this was strange language for anyone to hear in Parliament, and from the Prime Minister, when they remembered that that shred of religion to which the right hon. Gentleman referred so lightly, was nothing more nor less than the recognition of God. [A laugh.] The hon. and learned Solicitor General might jeer if he pleased; but the people of England would understand that, and no sophistry from the greatest statesman in the country, none of this paring down, would influence them. What they were doing, or proposing to do, was to strike the name of God from the Affirmation which was taken in this House. The right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for the University of Dublin (Mr. Gibson) had put the matter very plainly. He had said that this question was very easily understood, and it did not require a statesman nor a lawyer to explain it; but it certainly did require a statesman of ability and a great lawyer to conceal its meaning from the House. And then they were told that they were to have in place of the Affirmation as it stood—in place of any reference to the name of God—a "solemn Affirmation." A "solemn Affirmation," forsooth! Whence was the solemnity to be derived? He challenged any hon. or right hon. Gentleman to contradict this statement, that no solemnity was pos- 1651 sible, except where it was connected with a reverent recognition of God. The Government told them that they had a "solemn affirmation" in the oath that was taken by Atheists in Courts of Justice. That question he did not go into. They must deal with the question that was before them— namely, the Oath in Parliament. The Government asked the House to strike out of its Affirmation the name of God, and they said in the same breath that when they did that the Declaration would retain as much solemnity as it had before. Well, he repeated, whence was that solemnity derived? He knew of no solemnity in matters of this kind, save with reference to the name of God. He had been anxious to put on record his protest against the assumption that the constituencies of Wales were in favour of the Bill. He should unhesitatingly give his strongest opposition to it in the present stage, and in every other, if it should go beyond the present; and, in doing so, he should be giving expression to the opinion not only of the people of Wales, but of the people of the Empire at large.
§ MR. J. G. TALBOT
said, he must apologise to the House for taking part in the discussion at so late an hour (12.50); but he was anxious to make a few observations now, for two reasons—first, because the Government had appealed to them, and he thought not unreasonably, not to protract this debate beyond due limits; and, in the second place, he felt that it would not be right, considering the importance of the constituency he had the honour to represent in the House, if no voice wore raised in their behalf on this great and important question. Putting those two considerations together, and knowing the narrow limits within which their time was now compressed, he felt that if he did not trouble the House now, he might not be able to find a fitting opportunity later on. He therefore asked the indulgence of hon. Members for a few minutes. The subject which had been before them to-night had been fully and adequately discussed; but it seemed to him there were still some considerations which might be urged on the attention of the House. The Prime Minister, in that most remarkable, and, if he might say so, even for him, that stupendous effort of genius—which they heard last 1652 week on this Bill—and which had seemed to him (Mr. Talbot) all the more remarkable, because the right.hon. Gentleman did what hardly anyone else in the House could have done— namely, threw round a subject most unsavoury, a halo of sanctity and Christianity—appealed to them to put an end to these unseemly proceedings, and had said that the scenes which were enacted here were scenes which were not creditable to Parliament or to the country. He entirely agreed with the Prime Minister in that; but the opponents of the Bill were not responsible for these scenes. No doubt, someone else was. The history of this transaction was painful, and he thought Her Majesty's Government were more to be pitied than blamed for the position they found themselves in. But the pity which should be felt for them was more that pity which attached to men who, having failed to take the correct course at the outset, found themselves unable, as things proceeded, to recover the ground they had lost, and, consequently, sank deeper and deeper into the mire. In the spring of 1880, when the hon. Member who now represented Northampton (Mr. Labouchere) went to the then chief authority in the arrangements of the Liberal Party (Mr. Adam), and told him that if he would write a letter which could be shown at Northampton, it would be desirable, in order to consolidate the Liberal Party in Northampton, the cause of all this difficulty took place. The Liberal Party had not the courage of it a convictions, and was obliged to consolidate itself and support the two Gentlemen who sought the suffrages of the people of Northampton. Then there was the unhappy telegram sent by the hon. Member for Bristol (Mr. Morley), a telegram afterwards bitterly regretted by the sender, which completed the disaster. From that point, disaster had followed on disaster, until they had arrived at the state of things in which they found themselves that night. The House was told that they ought not to object to the admission of these people into the House, because they had already agreed to the admission of Roman Catholics and Jews; and they had been told to-night that neither Roman Catholics nor Jews had injuriously affected the character of the House. That was true; but, it must be remembered, neither Roman Catholics 1653 nor Jewshad any intention of affecting injuriously the religious character of either the House or the country. But when he came to look at the utterances of the people who were associated with the Gentleman it was now sought to admit to this House, he could not admit that, if allowed into the House, they would make no difference in its constitution. He did not know whether hon. Members had seen a remarkable letter which had appeared in one of the Northern newspapers—a letter addressed to The Newcastle Chronicle—in which the writer adverted in terms of triumphant expectation to the results which were to ensue from the passing of this Bill. These utterances were so remarkable that he must ask the House to listen to a few of them. Speaking of the late Member for Newcastle (Mr. Ashton Dilke), whose early death they had to deplore a short time ago, the writer said—The journals which he owned have done excellent service in delivering the minds of the multitude from that bait to idleness, the hoary superstition of setting aside every seventh day to the worship of the 'Almighty;' while the periodical which he himself edited seldom let slip an opportunity of exposing the hollow-ness, the folly, and ignorance of the Christian Missionary system.These were the results which this avowed Atheist who wrote to The Newcastle Chronicle anticipated from the admission of persons of this kind into Parliament— the abolition of that distinction between the days of the week—the week days and the Sunday—which had been long looked on as perhaps the chief bulwark of religion in this country, and was certainly not one of the least blessings that Christianity had brought to the labouring men of this country, and the abolition of that noble and self-denying work which had led, amongst other things, to the liberation of the slave. These were the results which were looked forward to as attendant upon the triumph of Atheism. Speaking of the precepts of the junior hon. Member for Newcastle (Mr. John Morley), the writer went on to say—These are noble precepts, and when they have been carefully applied, and their gradually improving results handed down for a generation or two, then will dawn upon old England that happy time which Freethought philosophers have foretold, when the little child will repeat to its approving parent Shelley's dictum,' There is no God.'1654 Speaking of Mr. Bradlaugh, this writer said—While a great many Liberals would be content with merely opening museums and such like places on Sundays, Mr. Bradlaugh would destroy the Sunday itself, eradicating from men's minds every trace of the unhallowed superstition. This fatal legacy from Judaism bears the blood marks of ancient heathendom about it; it is a toothed drag upon the world's industry, a provider of misery for millions, and a disgrace to modern enlightenment. It must he done away with; and there is no man living whose efforts in this direction have been crowned with greater success than those of Mr. C. Bradlaugh. It was in doing battle against the 'Lord's Day' that Mr. Bradlaugh came first prominently before the English public. That was in 1855, when the 'Sunday Trading Bill' was introduced, and when the riots ensued in Hyde Park. Since that time Sunday has been his chief working day; through the enterprize of himself and a number of active colleagues, multitudes of the labouring people of England have lost all reverence for the day which their parents had taught them to set apart for God's worship. For this reason alone Mr. Bradlaugh deserves the gratitude of us all…. But let me refer briefly to another and a greater service which the Secularist leader has rendered to his fellow countrymen. He has greatly helped to banish error from the State; but there probably never lived an Englishman who has done so much to banish error from the family. The family was before the State; it contains the rudiments of a national organization, and is, indeed, the basis of society. The life of the family gives the tone to civil government. The knowledge of this fact has made reformers look first to the family circle. This they have been accustomed to do from the days of Plato down to those of the Gotha programme, the family being reckoned the mainspring of the national virtue and the keystone of the political arch. How can the cistern be filled with pure water if its feeders are charged with noxious fluids? Whoever gave the Jews their theocracy understood this, and thence their family life was hedged about by stern laws; two Commandments out of the 10 were formed expressly to fortify and sanctify the union among man, wife, and children, and the Kingdom of the promised Messiah Himself was made to depend on keeping the family pure and its links entire. Every body knows the place which the institution of family has ever held in the Christian system. There was a time when the old heathen world, sinking under the weight of its lasciviousness and moral rottenness, had to yield to a new régimé, whose most powerful weapons were love and chastity. The family was at the beginning of Christian civilization; and, by acting upon the family, Christian religion has constituted itself the guardian of the national purity. It had often teen contended that if an effective blow were to be dealt at the State, it would have to be delivered through the family. But never before, I am convinced, either in this or any other country, has there been an attack upon the family institution so skilfully devised and successfully undertaken as that by Mr. Bradlaugh.1655 In answer to this quotation, it might be said—"What has that to do with the Bill before the House?" It had that to do with it. These wore the sentiments and opinions that Mr. Brad-laugh's friends relied on as constituting the triumph they hoped to achieve through his coming into the House, no (Mr. Talbot) would ask the House, were they ready, at the bidding of a Liberal Government, or anyone else, to pass a law which would tend, in the opinion of the people who advocated it, to achieve triumphs such as these—the destruction of the English Sunday, and the destruction of the English family life? These were not Party matters—he hoped they were all of one Party on such subjects as those. Would any hon. Member who gave a moment's consideration to the subject doubt what the answer ought to be when such a question was put to them? They were told they ought to pass the Bill because there were already many Atheists in the House. He should like to ask hon. Members who said that, what sort of compliment did they think they were paying to their Friends? If there were Atheists in the House, where were they, and who were they? He did not suppose they were sitting on the Conservative side of the House; and if they were sitting on the other, it was hardly a complimentary thing for hon. Members to tell their Friends they were Atheists—that they had come to the Table and subscribed an Oath that they did not believe in. But they must not suppose this was the final step. The Affirmation said that the man making it solemnly promised allegiance to Her Majesty; but the very man for whom it was proposed to provide this Affirmation had declared that he was not prepared to bear true allegiance. What was this gross imposture which was to be passed off upon the House? If hon. Members would look at the matter in the light of clear reason, instead of Party obligation, he was quite sure they would come to the conclusion that this Bill ought to be thrown out with all the indignity it deserved. It was not only not satisfactory, but it was hopelessly confused. They were told that the Bill was going to be prospective only; but, if that was the case, why was it not made so now? He supposed words were to be introduced in Committee—though he hoped they 1656 would never reach that stage—to provide that the Bill should only be prospective. If that was the determination of the Government after deliberation, surely a matter of this grave importance ought to have been sufficiently considered before the Bill was introduced. Was Mr. Bradlaugh a man for whom Parliament ought to pass anything of this kind? He had tried to show that Mr. Bradlaugh's principles were destructive, not only of the religion we all professed to respect and revere, but they went to the root of all our institutions, whether social or religious. Was he the kind of man for whom the House could have that amount of respect which was called for if such a fundamental change was to be made? Was he not a man who had shown, by the manner in which he had treated that House, that he was not worthy of such consideration? Some hon. Members had compared him to the Jews and Roman Catholics; but the Jews and Roman Catholics were ready to wait through long years of patient endurance and civil disabilities before they were admitted to the House. he would not now argue whether those who opposed them were right or wrong; but, at all events, they proceeded in a Constitutional manner, and when Parliament gave them relief, it did so after due consideration. But this man had not proceeded in that manner. First, he came and claimed to affirm, as a person who had already affirmed in Courts of Justice; and when that claim was rejected by a majority of the House, and according to law, he then came forward and said he did not care about the Oath, but if they would not let him affirm, he would swear anything they liked. Was that a man for whom they were to change the law of England? This was one of the most preposterous proposals ever known. The noble Lord the Member for Barnstaple (Viscount Lymington) said he never would have consented to admitting Mr. Bradlaugh on taking the Oath; and the hon. and learned Member for Christchurch (Mr. Davey) said he thought the Affirmation was better than the Oath. That might be a perfectly legitimate subject for consideration hereafter; but he (Mr. Talbot) could not help thinking that if that was the hon. and learned Member's opinion, and he had the courage to carry it out, he should not vote for this Bill, but 1657 should bring in a Bill, or induce the Government to bring in a Bill, to alter the present principle altogether, and provide that, in future, there should be Affirmation only. One word more, as to the way in which the Oath was supposed to be taken. It was said that, at the beginning of the Session, the Oath was taken in an unseemly manner, and that those proceedings were not calculated to inspire spectators with reverence. He did not think the House was responsible for the arrangements, and he hoped those who were responsible would improve the arrangements. The fact that the authorities had not given them the best method of administering the Oath was surely not a sufficient argument for so great a change. The Prime Minister had appealed to hon. Members to do away with this flimsy shred of a religious test, and, once and for all, to have done with religious disabilities. In the first place, he entirely challenged and traversed the Prime Minister when he called this a test at all. He did not look at this as a religious or Theistic test. This Assembly had a right to say in what way those who came to take their seats should begin their great and responsible duties. They had a right to impose obligations on those who entered that House; and he entirely denied that that had anything to do with, or was in any sense, a Theistic test. He would go a step further, and, answering the Prime Minister's argument upon Lucretian doctrines, he would say that he would rather welcome even those who could not go beyond a general and even a vague recognition of a Supreme Power, if they had a real feeling of submission to such Unseen Power as regulating and controlling their actions. Though not believing them to be in the condition in which he hoped he himself and his hon. Friends were, he would welcome such persons as persons with whom obligations were sacred; but he could not accept, as in that category, any person who admitted no reverence to any Supreme Being at all. When one of the great preachers of Christianity approached Athens, and found there an altar to an Unknown God, instead of casting a slight or an imputation upon that doctrine, he endeavoured to declare to those who were in an imperfect state of belief the true doctrine about Him 1658 whom they ignorantly worshipped. He would rather have an altar to an Unknown God than no altar at all. And, in conclusion, he would say that so long as he had a seat in that House he would not be a party to depriving the House of that which had for so many centuries sanctioned all its legislation and proceedings—the recognition of a Power above and beyond us, and which we all bowed to and revered.
§ MR. J. A. CAMPBELL
said, that, in this important discussion, no Representative from Scotland had addressed the House to-night; and his principal object in rising was to make some reference to remarks which had been made on previous evenings, with respect to the opinion entertained upon this Bill in Scotland. The noble Lord the Member for Haddingtonshire (Lord Elcho), on the first evening of the debate, expressed his opinion that there was a strong feeling in Scotland against this Bill. To that statement, opposite opinions were expressed by hon. Members who followed in the debate. The hon. Member for the City of Aberdeen (Dr. Webster) was especially decided in contradicting the assertion of the noble Lord. He said there was no public opinion in Scotland against the Bill; and he seemed to rest that statement upon two bases. One was, that at his own meetings with his constituents, at which he had freely expressed his views on the question, and explained the course he had taken in voting with the Government, there had been no dissatisfaction expressed. That was negative evidence to the hon. Member as to the feeling in Aberdeen; but what he seemed chiefly to rest upon was the fact that he had presented a Petition in favour of the Bill from the Aberdeen Presbytery of the United Presbyterian Church. To those who knew Scotland, it was unnecessary to give an explanation on the subject; but there might be hon. Members who were not familiar with the religious distinctions in Scotland, and for their benefit, he (Mr. J. A. Campbell) wished to explain, without any disrespect whatever to his hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen, and without in any way disparaging the Church for which the hon. Member spoke, that the United Presbyterian Church did not mean a Union of all Presbyterian Churches, as some, not acquainted with 1659 Scotland, might suppose from its name, but it was simply one of the three principal Presbyterian Churches of Scotland; and it so happened that in Aberdeen and neighbourhood, that Church was by no means so powerful as it was in some other parts of Scotland. In fact, its Aberdeen Presbytery represented only 16 congregations, while a Petition from the Aberdeen Presbytery of either the Established Church or the Free Church would have represented more than double that number of congregations. The hon. Member also spoke of the deference that was due to the opinions of this Church, characterizing it as one of the most religious bodies in Scotland. He (Mr. Campbell) had no objection whatever to that description, provided that it did not convoy any reflection on other Churches whose Presbyteries had not petitioned in favour of the Bill. Then the hon. Member for Kilmarnock (Mr. Dick-Peddie) also referred to the action of the United Presbyterian Church in laudatory terms. He spoke of that Church as the most advanced and intelligent in the country, especially in regard to political questions. He (Mr. Campbell) was not quite sure what particular merit there was in a Church being advanced, and especially in its being advanced in political intelligence; but the hon. Member had, in that way, expressed his good opinion of the Church to which he belonged. He did not find fault with that opinion, but the hon. Member founded upon that description of his Church a claim for great consideration being given to the fact that that Church had not sent any Petition against the Bill, and had sent one Petition in favour of the Bill. But if this was a good Bill, and if that Church was so politically intelligent, how was it that it had sent only one Petition in favour of it? The United Presbyterian Church con-sisted of 30 Presbyteries, and only one had petitioned in favour of the Bill; and if anything was to be made of the opinion of that Church, what appeared was, that one Presbytery had petitioned in favour of the Bill, and 29 had not. But, unfortunately, the hon. Member had added that on political questions, Churches, in his opinion, were very unsafe guides indeed. That did not exactly square with what the hon. Member had been saying before; 1660 but he had no doubt the hon. Member, when he said that, was thinking of the Churches which had petitioned against the Bill. Speaking of those, he especially referred to the Church of Scotland, and characterized it as the proper ally of the Tory Party. The Church of Scotland had no Party politics at all. It did not, as a Church, meddle with Party matters. If it did ever intervene by Petition in regard to matters of a political kind it did so, because they had a religious side as well, and it was to that religious side only that their Petitions had reference. In the present instance, many Petitions had come from different Organizations of the Church of Scotland. The Petitioners saw dangers to the cause of religion in the proposed legislation. The way in which the Petitions had come was an evidence that the Church was not liable to the charge of being allied to any particular Party. The Petitions, as a general rule, had not been arrived at unanimously, but had been agreed to after free discussion. He himself had the honour of presenting a Petition against the Bill from the Synod of Angus and Mearns; and the Synod clerk, in forwarding it to him, mentioned that it had been adopted by 28 votes to 12. He said this, to show that the Church of Scotland was not acting in a blind fashion, but that, in petitioning against the Bill, it was doing so by majorities sufficiently large to show what the general feeling was, and yet with minorities sufficient to show that entire liberty of judgment was exercised. It was said that the Petitions had come chiefly from Churches and Orange Lodges. The hon. Gentleman who made that assertion must have forgotten what Petitions had been presented to the House. Not long ago, the right hon. Baronet the Member for North Devon (Sir Stafford Northcote) presented a Petition from Edinburgh signed by 14,500 of the inhabitants, and he (Mr. J. A. Campbell), only a short time ago, presented a Petition from 1,003 working men, not Orangemen, in Glasgow, and another Petition from Glasgow, signed by 23,000 of the inhabitants. They heard, yesterday, some rather disparaging remarks as to the way in which Petitions had been prepared. If irregularities had been committed, they must be regretted and condemned. But what 1661 were the irregularities alleged? They were irregularities perfectly consistent with honesty of purpose; they wore irregularities to be accounted for by over-zeal and ignorance on the part of a few; they were irregularities which might have occurred, and which he believed had occurred, in respect to Petitions both for and against the Bill. There were, however, irregularities of a different kind, which were not so easily excused; for instance, such as having a printed heading to attract signatures, which did not honestly and properly describe what the Petition was. There was, at present, a Petition being signed in Glasgow for the Bill, and if the House would allow him, he would read the placard which was used as a means of attracting signatures to it. The placard was headed, "Liberals," and went on—Support the Eight Honourable W. E. Gladstone and the Government by signing the Petition in favour of the Government Affirmation Bill which recognizes the right of private judgment for all.The other evening, the Prime Minister spoke of the question of this Bill as one in regard to which the facts were but very partially known out-of-doors. It appeared to him (Mr. J. A. Campbell) that the facts were not likely to be well known, if people were to be misled by such placards as the one he had read. The House was told that the opinion of Scotland was not to be measured or ascertained by Petitions, but by the votes of the Representatives; it was said that the true test of the opinion of Scotland was the opinion of the Representatives. The hon. Member for Dungarvan (Mr. O'Donnell) had expressed a hope that the Representatives of Scotland would, in the main, oppose the Bill; and he (Mr. J. A. Campbell) trusted that some opponents of the Bill would be found, even amongst those who generally supported the Government. But he asked how many of the Scotch Representatives were elected on this question? He could readily understand in what a difficulty it would have placed Liberal candidates in Scotland at the last Election, if this question had been anticipated. Hon. Gentlemen, no doubt, knew that in Scotland the people were very fond at an election time of a process which was called "heckling" a candidate, and they could, therefore, understand in what an awk- 1662 ward position a Liberal candidate would have been placed if, after delivering his address, some influential local politician had asked him if he would support a measure to enable an unbeliever to take his seat without taking the Oath. The candidate would have been greatly perplexed by having such a question addressed to him; and if his answer had been in the affirmative, his supporters must have been thrown into no small consternation. The Representative who was best qualified to say what was the popular feeling of Scotland with regard to this Bill was, in his (Mr. J. A. Campbell's) opinion, he who had most recently passed through the ordeal of a contested election. Without meaning any disrespect, therefore, to the hon. Members for Aberdeen and Kilmarnock, he would pass them by, and turn rather for an opinion to the noble Lord the Member for Haddingtonshire (Lord Elcho). They had heard that the objection to the Bill on the ground of the offence it gave to the religious feelings and instincts of the people was not a proper one, because the Parliamentary Oath was not intended to be used as a religious test. He admitted that the Parliamentary Oath was the Oath of Allegiance. The purpose was that there should be exacted from every Member of the House a solemn declaration of loyalty. But it was provided that that solemn declaration should be made in the form of the Oath, in which Oath our responsibility to God was recognized. It was true that an Affirmation was, in certain specified cases, allowed in lieu of the Oath; but it was not allowed under such circumstences or in such a way as in the least degree to make the declaration in any respect less solemn and less binding. As they were reminded by the hon. Member for Finsbury (Mr. W. M. Torrens), the Affirmation, as they knew it, was not an alternative but an equivalent for the Oath; it was an equivalent given by persons who had a religious objection to taking the Oath, not because they did not believe in God, but because they had conscientious scruples about using His Name in the terms of the Oath. In their case, the Affirmation was as solemn as the Oath, and it was as binding to them as the Oath was to those who took the Oath. He had no wish to detain the House at that late hour (1.30 a.m); 1663 but he asked them to remember that the Affirmation which the Bill proposed was not at all the Affirmation which they now know. It was the same in form; but the circumstances under which it was to be made rendered it entirely different. The Bill had been properly characterized that night as a "one man" Bill. It had been framed for one man, and that one man did not represent, as O'Connell and Alderman Salomons did, a class who had been aggrieved; and, for all they knew, he was only the only man who would ever be relieved by the Bill. The matter really amounted to this—whether the Affirmation, as it was proposed to be made by one who avowed himself an Atheist, could be regarded as a solemn and binding promise? No doubt, the evidence of such a person was taken in a Court of Law; but they were dealing with an entirely different matter. In a Court of Law, it might be necessary, in the interests of justice, to take his evidence with such security as might be had for its truth; but when they came to the Oath of Allegiance, they were upon entirely different ground. There was no necessity to accept a promise of loyal allegiance, unless it was given under such sanctions as were entitled to their respect. There was no intolerance in that. There was no persecution of anyone in opposing the Bill. But when he was asked, whether an avowed Atheist could solemnly promise to bear true allegiance to the Crown, he must answer that an Atheist could not do so in the sense of giving anything like a binding promise at all equivalent to the Oath of Allegiance. It might even be argued that his inability to make a solemn promise in the sense of a promise given under the sanction of a reference, expressed or understood, to Almighty God, brought the avowed Atheist within the range of the exception made by Lord Lyndhurst, in the words quoted the other evening by the Prime Minister. The words of Lord Lyndhurst were that there was to be no test whatever applied with respect to the exercise of civil functions, "except the test of civil capacity and a fulfilment of civil conditions." But the taking of the Oath of Allegiance was a civil condition; and if the Atheist could not take it, and could not make an Affirmation equivalent to it, he did not fulfil 1664 that civil condition. It must follow that he was not qualified, and could not be qualified, to take his seat in the House; and thus the answer to the argument which they had often heard, that every duly qualified Member should be allowed to take his seat, would be, in the case of an Atheist, that he was not duly qualified. The lion, and learned Gentleman the Attorney General, in his speech in moving the second reading, said that at present there was no disqualification known to exist on account of religious beliefs. But the disqualification in the case in point was not on account of religious belief, but on account of an avowed absence of religious belief. That absence of religious belief rendered the man unable to take a solemn Oath, or to make an equally solemn Affirmation. In the rejection of the Bill, there would be no invasion of the rights of a constituency. A constituency could claim no right to have a Representative in that House who could not comply with the requirements of the House. It was well, also, to consider what were the rights of others. What wore the rights of the Crown? What were the rights of the whole community? Had the Crown no right to look for a solemn pledge of allegiance from all those who composed Parliament—from those to whom it was the custom of the Crown to refer as the "faithful Commons? "Had the nation at large, especially in these times, no right to insist that those who composed its Parliament should all be men who could, as in the presence of God, make a solemn profession of their loyalty?
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Debate be now adjourned."—(Mr. Newdeqate.)
§ SIR H. DRUMMOND WOLFF
said, that, before the debate was adjourned, he wished to call attention to the extraordinary absence of Cabinet Ministers from an important discussion of that kind. Ministers had, that night, asked them to sacrifice the rights of private Members, and for the last two hours, except for a few minutes when the Secretary of state for the Home Department chose to stroll in, they had only been treated to the presence of insignificant Members of the Government.
§ THE DEPUTY SPEAKER (Sir ARTHUR OTWAY)
I must remind the hon. Member for Portsmouth (Sir H. Drummond Wolff) that, under the New Rules, he is bound to confine himself to the Question of Adjournment.
§ SIR H. DRUMMOND WOLFF
said, he was speaking to the Question of Adjournment. He considered it a great reason for adjournment, that they had had for the last two hours no one on the Treasury Bench but the most insignificant Members of the Government. It occurred to him that when the Government had asked them to sacrifice their rights, it was their duty to be present and hear the arguments advanced. He was happy to see that the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for the Homo Department had just come in; but what was one amongst so many? It was because for some time they had not been favoured with the presence of any Cabinet Minister that he supported the Motion for Adjournment.
§ Question put, and agreed to.
§ Debate further adjourned till Thursday.