§ Lord Holland moved, that the 13th Charles 2nd, and 25th Charles 2nd, and 16th George 2nd (all referred to in the preamble of the Bill of Repeal), should be read at the table. After this,
rose, and spoke to the following effect:—
I have now, my lords, to propose the second reading of that bill which, as I observed when it went through its first stage, is anxiously expected by large, loyal, and respectable, classes of the community; a bill solicited by numerous petitions to both Houses of Parliament, amounting, exclusive of those laid upon the table this day, to not less than eight hundred and sixty-one; a bill, which has been brought up from the Commons of the United Kingdom, and recommended to your adoption in. the shape in which it now stands by a vote of that branch of the legislature nearly unanimous
Your lordships well know, that, if you give this measure a second reading you sanction its principle; in other words, you thereby express your conviction, that it is just, expedient, or necessary, and perhaps all, to abrogate the Sacramental Test as a qualification for civil and temporal office, and to substitute for it, a plain and simple declaration, that the powers conferred by such office, shall not be employed to weaken, injure, or disturb, the church established by law. Such is the principle of the bill, and although this measure, or measures of this nature, were, during the last century, frequently proposed in another place, and even more frequently agitated and discussed in pamphlets, public meetings, and, I believe, I may add pulpits; yet the principle was never distinctly brought under the consideration of this House of Parliament since the period when our great deliverer, William the 3rd, recommended the adoption of the very measure now proposed in some memorable words,* to which I shall probably have* "I am, with all the expedition I can, filling up the vacancies that are in offices and1451 occasion to advert in the course of these proceedings. It is indeed well known, that another illustrious prince, George the 1st, at the period of his accession, was, as well as his ministers, anxious to introduce some measure of this description, and a clause for the purpose was actually proposed to be inserted in "A Bill for strengthening the Protestant Succession." The bill passed into a law; the clause was proposed by earl Stanhope, then Secretary of State
That clause would, I believe, have accomplished the object, but in a way at once so indirect and unusual, not to say ludicrous, that it can excite no wonder that it was rejected by your lordships' ancestors
With that exception, no such proposal has been made to this House since the period of the Revolution; and I think it a fortunate and auspicious circumstance, that, up to the time at which I am speaking, no opinion directly hostile to the measure I recommend, has ever been expressed by a British House of Lords. Here, then, is a bill, which, after having glided smoothly through all those perilous passes which proved so fatal to its predecessors, has safely arrived at thisRegion mild of calm and serene air,"*where, until this day, not a breath of adverse wind has blown upon it,—" semperque innubilus ætherIntegit et large diffuso lumine ridet."†My lords, I hail the omen; I consider it auspicious, both as to place, and as to season—as to place, for the reason I have stated; as to season, because there is no cloud in the political horizon, no factions in the state, no schism, no controversy in the church, to intercept or molest its progress; all this is auspicious indeed of success, and not of success only, but of benefits likely to result from that success, when it shall fortunately be obtained. Happy indeed will it be for this House, creditable to this parliament, and glorious to theplaces of trust by this Revolution. I know you are sensible there is a necessity of some law to settle the Oaths to be taken by all persons to be admitted to such places. I recommend it to your cave to make a speedy provision for it; and, as I doubt not but you will sufficiently provide against Papists, so I hope you will leave room for the admission of all Protestants that are willing and able to serve."—* Comus. †1452 reign in which we live, if future historians shall have to record, that an Act of Mercy, which alike broke asunder the chains of the Crown, and the fetters of the people, was as obviously and undeniably the result of deliberate wisdom and dispassionate justice, as the laws imposing those chains and fetters had been obviously and undeniably the offspring of precipitation, fear, suspicion, and alarm.
I am well aware that an important duty devolves upon the individual who proposes for adoption a measure with such an object; that in order to give to it its due character of deliberation and solemnity, he is called upon, to state at full length and with all possible clearness, the nature, history, and operation of the laws he proposes to repeal. I proceed to that undertaking, not altogether calm and confident, but yet, I trust, undismayed; though I cannot but reflect upon the intricacy of the subject, and the difficulties that surround the origin of these statutes, passed in one of the most interesting, but complicated, periods of our history. When I recollect that the state of the law is involved in many technicalities and perplexities, I fear I have been rash (though I can assure your lordships, not unsolicited by others) in stepping forward to engage in a task much above my powers, and, in some respects, inconsistent with pursuits, so entirely unprofessional as mine. Your lordships, therefore, must forgive me if, from anxiety to be clear, I should unfortunately deviate into prolixity—but enough of this. Instead of detaining you with idle apologies and excuses about myself, producing the very evil I deprecate, I will now proceed to call your lordships' attention to the statutes themselves. It was with that view I moved that the Corporation and Test acts should be read, and requested the gentlemen in attendance to lay several others on the table, which, though not touched by the bill now under consideration, are necessary, or at least useful, in illustrating the state and operation of the law; I did so in the hope that, should I fail in correctly explaining myself, your lordships might collect my meaning by a ready reference to the acts; and that, should I be mistaken or incorrect in my views of them, your lordships should have every opportunity of rectifying my mistakes.
The Sacramental Test rests upon two statutes of the reign of Charles 2nd, 1453 commonly known by the names of the Corporation act and the Test act, which resemble each other in two particulars; they both require, that a person elected or appointed to office, should receive the Sacrament of the Lord's Supper, according to the rites of the Church of England, and they were both passed in the reign of Charles 2nd. In every other respect, they form a contrast, not a parallel. It is scarcely possible to point out two statutes passed at any period of our history more dissimilar or even opposite in their origin and intentions. The Corporation act, as it is called, was introduced into the other House without being accompanied by any Test of the sort. It was brought in with other designs, for the purpose of expelling immediately from the then existing corporations, persons who before that date had taken an active and an offensive part in the recent troubles and were obnoxious to the government then lately restored. It was a temporary, I may say a party, measure, struck out at the heat of the moment, to gratify, animate, and strengthen, the triumphant—begotten in the hey-day of zeal and loyalty, and partaking somewhat both of servility to the Crown, and of violence to those who were the objects of its resentment; a resentment which was, perhaps, naturally to be expected and even excused at such a period. In its object, tendency, and provisions, it was at first merely temporary. As it is, great part of it has expired, and all the rest of it has been repealed except* this very Sacramental Test we are now considering. I believe, however, it will be the shortest, and certainly the clearest, way for me to state what were the provisions of the Corporation act, which have expired or have been repealed. Its object being to expel from corporations Presbyterians and others then in actual possession; one declaration and one oath were for that purpose devised; the first to disclaim the "Solemn League and Covenant," the other to express abhorrence of the doctrine, that it is lawful to take up arms under the king's authority against his person. The penalty annexed to the omission of signing this declaration, or taking this oath, was very unlike that of the Test act. It was merely a loss of the office, nothing else. In the* His lordship should have included in this exception the Oaths of Allegiance and Supremacy which are still required by 13 Chas. 2nd.1454 third place, a commission was appointed to administer the oath to the then members of all the corporations in England, and to; expel such as would not take the oath prescribed, it was imperative upon them to do so, but they had, moreover, the power of expelling such as did comply with the act, and take the oath and declaration; in short, they were, in fact, empowered to expel whom they chose, and they were no doubt expected, if not instructed, to expel all whom they thought adverse to the court. This commission was only to last two years; and in this shape the bill was originally framed. It was brought up to this House; a proposition was here made to make the commission permanent; that proposition was resisted by the Commons, but though finally rejected, a compromise seems to have been resorted to, and in the course of it the Sacramental Test for the first time introduced. But here we must define what the nature of that provision and what the Sacramental Test actually was.
Your lordships may be surprised to hear, that, although the clause obliging every member of a corporation, to take the Sacrament according to the rites and usages practised in the Church of England, sounds like the clause in the subsequent law called the Test act, yet it neither meant at the time, nor could mean at the time, any such thing. In the first place, two years were to elapse before the clause was to have any effect, and we must first ask, for the understanding of the words, what was the state of the country and of the church at the time of the enactment. Why! the benefices, the livings of the church, were three to one, aye, perhaps four out of five, in the hands of the Presbyterians. No act of uniformity had passed, so that to say, according to the "Rites and Usages of the Church of England as now practised," was in truth to say nothing, for it was a matter of question between two parties how they should then be practised. Nay, more strong hopes were held out to the Presbyterians, that their rites and usages would continue part of the rites and usages of the Church of England, that is to say, of the church in possession. It is idle therefore to assert, that the meaning of the Sacramental Test at that time could be to exclude Presbyterians or Protestant Dissenters from Corporations. I may be asked, "what was the meaning?" I confess the subject is involved in some ob- 1455 scurity. The conjecture I am about to hazard may not be actually proved by history, but yet, whatever might be the intention of the clause, I confidently assert, that it was not, and could not be, to prevent Protestant Dissenters from being or becoming members of corporations, and that for the reasons I have stated, and others that I will state by and by, but perhaps the House will give me leave now to explain what my conjecture is and what are the grounds upon which I rest it. I desire your lordships to receive it as conjecture only; I do not pronounce it as fact, "Valeat, quantum valere potest."
In explaining it, I must mention a fact, curious indeed, but yet not redounding to the credit of men otherwise entitled to our respect. I fear I must include in the censure, that truly patriotic nobleman, lord Southampton, who, at the period of which I speak, seems to have taken an active part in this House, as active indeed, as lord Clarendon himself. The fact I allude to is related by Carte, in his Life of the Duke of Ormonde,* and has been confirmed by the testimony of contemporaries, which subsequent publications, in the course of the last half century, have disclosed. The duke of Ormonde, while residing abroad with Charles 2nd at Cologne, discovered,* Vol. ii.—p. 254, 255, 256.—After relating that the duke of Ormonde discovered the king's religion to be Roman Catholic at Cologne; that sir Henry Bennett and lord Bristol corroborated that fact; that the match with Portugal was resolved upon soon after the Restoration, without the knowledge of himself or lord Clarendon, and persisted in, on very frivolous pretences, in spite of the remonstrances of the latter, and that the duke of Ormonde attributed that resolution to the king's predilection for the Roman Catholic religion, Carte goes on to say—He" (Ormonde) "had kept the discovery of the king's change a secret from his friend the chancellor all the time they were abroad together, but now he thought it necessary to discover it to him and the earl of Southampton, that they might agree on some measures to prevent as well the king's being prevailed upon to declare himself, as the Roman Catholic priests publishing his secretly embracing their religion. They apprehended very ill consequences from either of them, and agreed that, as soon as the new parliament should meet, a clause should be inserted in some act to make it a prœmunire for any person to say, that the king was a Papist.—This was the first act that passed for the security of his majesty's person and government.1456 to his sorrow and dismay, that the exiled prince, whose fortunes he was following, was unquestionably a Roman Catholic. He discovered the circumstance by an accidental disclosure of his habits of devotion; and his discovery was confirmed by the concurrent testimony of sir Henry Bennett, afterwards lord Arlington, and of lord Bristol. He felt all the importance, he dreaded all the consequences of the fact he had discovered; but he kept it secret from his friends, and even from his dearest friend, lord Clarendon, nor did he divulge it to him, until after their arrival in England. Soon after the Restoration it was found that the king, from motives unknown to Clarendon or Southampton, had determined to marry a Roman Catholic, the Infanta of Portugal. The duke of Ormonde, naturally suspecting the real, but hidden, motive of this determination, disclosed the result of his observations and inquiries about the king's religion, to his two great political friends and associates. Hereupon the three statesmen held a council as to what was to be done on so momentous and alarming an occasion. My lords, I blush to relate the result of this grave deliberation, It is painful to expose the iniquities of men generally good. They thought, and justly thought, that the knowledge of the fact might renew the troubles of the kingdom, create suspicion among Protestants, and by elating the hopes of the Roman Catholics, encourage them to promote plots both at home and abroad. They thought, moreover, that, combined with the king's connection with the court of France, the fact itself might facilitate designs against the liberties of the country. Well, then, what did they do in this emergency? Oh Gloria ! these wise and good men, for such I allow them, especially lord Southampton, generally to have been, determined to bring in a law, to make it a Præmunire to say that the king was a Papist! A law to despoil every man of hisproperty, for saying that which they had ascertained to be true; and to do so because they had ascertained it to be true-One is really sorry to relate such anecdotes, and yet when noble lords talk as they are a little too prone to do, of the virtue and wisdom of our ancestors, it is, I own, somewhat tempting, and may prove not altogether unwholesome, to bring to light the peccadilloes, which some of the best of them committed in their time. These great states- 1457 men knew that the king was a Papist; they knew it from the duke of Ormonde, and yet they devised and passed a law to subject any innocent or honourable man who should do by others what the duke of Ormonde had done by them, namely, communicate what was true, to the forfeiture of his goods and chattels, and to all the heavy penalties of a præmunire. I would fain believe, and I do, that they and especially Southampton, when they resorted to such shameful and unjustifiable means of protecting the prince from annoyance, were equally anxious to do something for the security of the people. I am inclined to think that, with that view, the test to which I have been referring was introduced by this House, and perhaps by lord Southampton himself, into the Corporation act. They might, from the discovery they had made, have become anxious to keep Roman Catholics out of corporations. They might reasonably argue thus—" we are driving out of corporations large bodies of these Covenanters and Puritans; we really have not cavaliers and partizans enough who are Protestants to fill the vacancies. The consequence will be, there will be many Roman Catholics elected, and when the king shall find that party strong, for which he has a secret predilection, he may harbour further designs, and avow them; and when they, the Papists, learn that the king is of their religion, they may be tempted to aspire to an ascendancy, of which, in any other circumstances, they must despair. To provide against all this, let us endeavour to keep Roman Catholics out of corporations; and here is an opportunity of doing it, as it were, clandestinely:—slip into this Corporation act a test which none who is not a Protestant can possibly take."
As I before remarked, I give this merely as a conjecture.—It is however clear, from our Journals, that Southampton attended the bill constantly; and history reports him as taking an active part in the progress of it.—But, while I am not prepared to describe my conjecture as unquestionably true, I am prepared boldly to defy contradiction, when I say, that there is no ground for supposing that the clause was directed against Protestant Dissenters.—It could not apply at the time to any Protestant Dissenters.—All, or nearly all, would have taken it without scruple. It has indeed been said, that Independents would not; but, even if there is any truth 1458 in that exception, which I doubt, it extended to very few of that denomination.
The truth is, that occasional conformity was practised by all Protestant Dissenters, down to the time of the reign of queen Anne, when the act against it was passed, and at the period of which I am now speaking, it was not only practised and allowed by the strictest among them, but actually enjoined as a duty.—Baxter, their great authority, so considered it. He, and they who followed him, deemed schism a crime; and, wherever a Protestant church was established, even though it retained rites which in their judgment were objectionable, nay actually abominations, they nevertheless remained in communion with that church, and enjoined occasional conformity as a duty.
The reverend lords will bear me out in this statement.—The practice of an occasional conformity continued, with some individual exceptions, through the whole reign of Charles 2nd—and endured to the time of queen Anne. This your lordships should bear in mind; for, when people talk of the authority of an act of Parliament, of the wisdom of our ancestors, the test of long experience, and other matters of that kind, as affecting this question—let it be always recollected, that these vaunted acts, so wise, so expedient, so provident, have never been in actual force, never practically executed for more than three or, at the most, seven years, during the whole hundred and fifty-six that they have remained on your Statute-book—that is the period between the passing the Occasional-Conformity-bill, and its repeal, which was, if I mistake not, in 1718.
This remark applies to both the acts—but I return to the Corporation act, and, though the effect of it has, in some respects, been greater than that of the Test act, I insist upon its spirit, its intent, and its enactments, being entirely different.—Not only the penalty inflicted for omission was milder, but it must never be forgotten, the test imposed, though by subsequent events it became the same, was, at the time of passing the first act, unknown, uncertain and undetermined. They who imposed it could not know what it was, nor positively foresee what it would be, nor consequently whom it would admit or whom it would exclude.—The penalty was merely the loss of the place, nor did the act insist on a man taking the Sacrament on his ac- 1459 cepting office. That holy rite was not made the stepping-stone to worldly advantage. The person elected, or appointed, was obliged to bring proofs, or certificates, of having, within a certain time, two years I think—
.—I thank my noble and learned friend; one year, then, taken the Sacrament, according to the rites of the Church of England—and this provision was not to take place till two years after the passing of the act. Now, how could the legislators of that day anticipate future legislation any more than we can do? Unless they did, how could they know, before-hand, what the test they were prescribing would, two years afterwards, be? Suppose the act of Uniformity had not passed, what then would have been the effect of the Corporation act which passed before it? Why, it would have stood thus: All persons accepting office in a corporation must have taken the Sacrament according to the rites of the Presbyterian church, or rather according to the individual whim of the officiating parish minister, who might decide what those rites, in the particular instance, should be.—The general design of the Corporation act was to effect a purpose possibly salutary, possibly necessary, but certainly of a temporary nature. Many of its provisions have expired; others are repealed; and in those points, as in others, it forms a complete contrast to the Test act, and is as much at variance with it, in its subsequent fate and treatment, as it was in its original design, history and principle.
The Test act, to which I now come, was founded on a distrust of the exercise of the prerogative; it sprung from a deep-rooted suspicion in the public, of the possessor of, and a yet deeper of the presumptive heir to, the Crown. It was wrested from the king—he had recourse to every subterfuge to avoid it. The Money-bill was actually withheld until the Crown had given its consent to the Test act.—It was, in truth, a stigma, perhaps well merited, but a stigma fixed on the reigning prince and his family, and it was known and felt to be an invasion of what had always been the true, ancient, and lawful prerogative of the Crown.
That such was the case, no man who reads the history of the times, can, for one moment, doubt. It followed the Declaration of Indulgence, and the strange, in- 1460 consistent, I know not how to describe the sudden conversion of that extraordinary man, lord Shaftesbury. It arose out of cabals, irritation and violence, scarcely paralleled in our history.
But, why do I argue such a point? Read the act: look to the ingredients of the drug; look to the label upon it, and doubt, if you can, what disorder it was intended to remedy. What say the title and the preamble; for they are mixed up together, and are, in truth, one and the same.—Do they say, the act is directed against Protestant Dissenters?—that it is to enforce conformity?—to secure the Crown?—to form a bulwark for the church?—to strengthen alliance between church and state? &c. &c.—No ! not a word of all this. It is, "to prevent the danger arising from Popish Recusants, and for quieting the minds of his Majesty's subjects." It was not, then, intended to strengthen the Crown, nor to defend the church, nor to unite it with the Crown, then in possession of the enemy it most dreaded: it was passed to allay the suspicions of the people, with respect to the-designs of the prince upon the Throne. With proofs of this the debates and memoirs of the time abound.—I could go through them in detail; but it would waste your lordships' time, and your recollection, or a reference to the historical documents will satisfy you, that the view I have given of the transaction is not to be denied.—One fact is conclusive—all the Dissenters in the House of Commons, no inconsiderable number, voted for the Test act.—I do not know that all the bishops in the Lords' did.—I am inclined to think not, but, I do not know—that it was supported by the Dissenters I do.—And yet, true it is, that some of those Dissenters, very few I believe, but some, had begun to differ by that time, with Baxter's doctrine, and had grown somewhat scrupulous about occasional conformity with the church. There was one distinguished for his honesty, in those troublesome times, who had served in parliament in Charles 1st time, and lived to see the Revolution of 1688.—I mean Mr. Love.—He stated, when the Test act was in the Commons, that it might aggrieve him and some of his brethren, but, that they would vote for it in full expectation of a speedy measure of relief. Such, indeed, was the understanding; and there was at that very 1461 moment a bill actually in the House for the ease of Protestant Dissenters.—A bill to relieve them, by a side wind, from the pressure of the Test, or I should rather say, to accommodate the Test in a way not to aggrieve them, but admit them into the church. That bill was intended to go side by side, pari passu, with the Test act; but before they reached their destined goal, the Dissenters, to use a vulgar phrase, were jockeyed out of their relief; and, by some crossing and jostling, the Test act got the start; and the Money-bill having passed also, the king was not sorry to prorogue the parliament, and leave the Dissenters in the lurch.—Truth is, my lords, the great and wise men of that day—and great and wise men there were among them—who contributed to pass the Test act, accepted it or resorted to it as a substitute for something they thought better, but could not attain and durst not attempt.—Throughout the reign, they were all suspicious of the king, and yet more of his brother.—It was thought he had designs—it was known he had connections with foreign countries. These public men were too well read in the constitution, too deeply imbued with the true principles of liberty, not to know, that the confirmation of their suspicions would justify, and, in prudence, require, the exclusion of a family engaged in such designs.—They knew that a king, who could not safely be trusted with the just prerogatives of the Crown, was not fit to reign, and should be expelled or excluded. But they could not achieve that object, nor attempt it, without danger, and they satisfied themselves with that which, if less fit, was more attainable, namely, a limitation and restriction of the prerogative.—In this many persons, especially Church of England men, who shuddered at the notion of exclusion, or of any interruption in the succession, were willing to acquiesce.
This is the key to the whole transaction, and the Test act was consequently passed to guard against a Popish prince and a Popish successor—then, to all appearance, an inevitable inconvenience.—But, now all such dangers have vanished: we have fortunately got rid of the Stuarts; they and the dangers they menaced are buried and gone with all the Capulets. We have no dread of a Popish prince or a Popish successor. We have neither; the thing is impossible, and the provisions then devised against its consequences are 1462 now clearly unnecessary, and inapplicable. Our laws secure us a Protestant prince, and a Protestant succession; and even with respect to our Roman Catholic fellow subjects, the danger, if any, of their admission to their rights, is otherwise amply provided against—I think, unnecessarily, and unwisely—I would, as the House well knows, most gladly remove those restrictions; but be that as it will, the acts now before us neither are necessary, nor useful, to the maintenance of them.—Persons anxious to keep out Roman Catholics will have their object as completely secured by the laws which will remain after this bill is passed, as they could be by those which it repeals.
I will not dwell on the dreadful penalties inflicted by the Test act, not only for non-compliance, but for mere neglect of its provisions.—My lords, they are terrible—loss and incapacity of office, incapacity of inheriting legacies, of acting as guardians or executors, and fines to an enormous amount. Punishments, in short, equivalent almost to civil death and outlawry itself.
What I have endeavoured to prove is, that the original intention and present effect of the act are at variance—that the principles from which it sprung are almost the reverse of those which its continuance on the Statute-book sanctions, and on which its supporters defend that continuance.—It meant to protect, assist, and cooperate with, Protestant Dissenters—it now oppresses or degrades them! It was directed against Roman Catholics only—they are now excluded by the operation of other acts. The principle which the existence of this act now establishes is that of jealousy of a Protestant prince, and of a Protestant people. It is one injurious to the prerogatives of the Crown, injurious to the privileges of the people, oppressive to the Dissenter, invasive of the rights of the Church itself, and inconvenient to the state. The prerogatives of the Crown were not given for the personal gratification of the prince, but for the benefit of the people; they form part, and an essential part, too, of their privileges. Noble lords may smile at hearing me extol the prerogative; but it is, and has always been, my opinion, no act or conduct of mine, during my whole political life, is inconsistent with that opinion, and I could cite more than one which would prove my adherence to it in practice as well as in theory. Prero- 1463 gative is privilege. Parliament and people may advise the king in the exercise of it, They may, and sometimes ought, to enforce that advice by the exertion of other privileges, with which the constitution ha; invested them; but I repeat it, they cannot trench, by positive law, on the just and ancient prerogatives, and, above all this particular prerogative, without injury to themselves, and injustice to the community. For what is this prerogative?—The right of the prince on the throne to call on the services of all his liege subjects, and the right of rewarding them for the honest and zealous discharge of those services. What power more grateful to a generous mind, more congenial to the feelings of a prince of the House of Brunswick, or more conducive to the real benefit of the community?—Why, then, are such portions of our fellow-subjects to be debarred of the honour of serving a monarch to whom they are attached, and why are we to withhold from him the prerogative of rewarding them?——"Reward,The part of Heaven in Kings; for PunishmentIs Hangman's work, and drudgery for Devils."*It is that noble and godlike prerogative which this iniquitous, impious, and unnecessary, law, in principle, seeks to disfigure and abridge. The principle it would establish is this, that a man's religion, not his character, his talents, or his actions, fit him for office, or entitle him to reward. The lesson it teaches is this—that the gratitude of the state shall be limited to those with whom it agrees in religion, not extended to those on whom it depends for support, or from whom it derives strength and prosperity—that the zeal, the labour, the devotions of the subject shall be checked, if he cannot, on matters purely speculative and abstract, on which Providence has ordained that we should almost all differ, either agree, or affect to agree, with certain dogmas and theories of authority.—After he hasScorn'd delights and liv'd laborious days,animated with a zeal to serve his prince and his country, and to raise his name among the benefactors of mankind, and, when he expects to find the fair guerdon of his exertions, then steps forward this accursed law, and says" No; you have earned these honours, it is true, but I shall* Dryden.1464 snatch them from you; you have shewn the zeal, and borne the burthen, of a subject, but the fame, the reward, the distinction, shall never be yours—and why? because (oh, shame!), because you have some conscientious scruples about the manner of taking the Sacrament of the Lord's Supper."—and, are there men, and Englishmen, who will maintain, that this is no persecution, no hardship, no injustice? Can they, with the praises of the constitution flickering on their lips—of that constitution, one principal maxim of which is, that he who contributes to the state has a share of its power, that all born under it are eligible according to their merits—can they, I say, after vaunting their attachment to such a constitution, have the face to assert, that those who are debarred from its enjoyments, suffer no injury, and have no right to complain? Shall they tell me that I am indulged with paying the taxes and performing the duties of a subject, and that that is a circumstance which must endear to me the government of the country; that the privation of power, emolument, and fame, is a mere trifle, a nothing.—I can have no right to political power; I may be thankful for living in a country where I may enjoy my personal liberty, my property, and my opinions—while they, forsooth, revelling in the possession of that very power, striving to procure it, enjoying it when obtained, and attached to the constitution from whence they derive it (for it is a little remarkable, my lords, that those who maintain that the privation of political power is no great evil, are, in their own persons, mighty lovers of that same article, and annex no small value to the monopoly of it) kindly undertake the task of persuading me, that it is no grievance to be excluded, without fault of my own, from enjoyments so gratifying to them, and to which, but for these statutes, I might have reasonably aspired? Such is the lesson these laws inculcate, such the language by which they must be defended.
Another principle sanctioned by the Test act is the right of the state to render religious ordinances subservient to purposes purely political.—I approach this subject with some delicacy and apprehension—I feel a reluctance in commenting on the inferences which men draw from their sense of religion, because I am conscious that I am speaking to many who are more earnestly impressed than myself with the 1465 solemnity of such topics, and I should be deeply concerned, if a phrase should escape me, that gave them the slightest pain, either as irreverent in itself, or reflecting on their sincerity.—I must, however, acknowledge, that it always has been a standing wonder with me, how persons sincerely and deeply impressed with a sense of religion, and with the importance and solemnity of that rite of religion in particular, could reconcile to their consciences, the selection of the Lord's Supper as a test and qualification for worldly offices—I do not question their sincerity, I am, on the contrary, satisfied of it; but I own I consider it as one among the many humiliating proofs of the strange contradictions in the human understanding—for mark the operation of this law, and consider the extent and consequences of the profanation, which, if it does not compel, it tempts so many to commit!—In the first place, to the scoffer, to the man of no religion, it prostitutes the most holy ceremony of the Church. He has no scruple, though he may have no desire, to take the Communion; but this law makes it his interest; and, to serve his interest, the Church must administer it to him; and this, too, for its security! What security in a test which its bitterest enemies can take, and which is not so likely to disarm their enmity, as to invite their impiety and derision?—The hypocrite and the infidel are admitted—the conscientious Dissenter is excluded.—What is the justice—where is the sense of such a proceeding? What is the nature of that device which, miscalled protection, lets in your enemy, if enemy you have—lets in the unprincipled, and excludes none but the conscientious? If a man is sincerely a Dissenter, this law exposes him to temptation. Does he resist it?—the state is deprived of the services of an honest man. Does he yield?—where is your security against his opinions, or, if you will have it so, his hostility? Do you think it is disarmed or mitigated, because you have galled him in the tenderest point, wounded his conscience, and disturbed his repose?
But not Dissenters only are exposed to such painful trials by this law—look to its operation on the churchmen—for they, too, are exposed to temptations, they, too, may be betrayed by its operation to commit a sin which may embitter the rest of their lives with self-reproach and remorse. The strict doctrine of the church, with 1466 respect to this holy rite, is, if I mistake not, no less than this:—Every communicant must approach the altar with faith, charity, repentance, and a stedfast purpose to lead a new life; he must be prepared to partake of the Lord's Supper in a temper suitable to so solemn a covenant with the Deity—nay more,—the absence of such disposition, at such a moment, is a sin, and visited with anathemas dreadful even to repeat. He that eats of the bread and drinks of the cup unprepared, eats and drinks, according to the strict interpretation of the church, his own damnation.—Such, if I mistake not, is the awful denunciation, the orthodox principle, of the Church of England. What, then, says the law?—It says to the member of that church, when appointed to office—"You must either renounce your prospects and your office or you must take this awful Sacrament without reference to your being properly prepared to do so or not."—It says to him, at the moment his ambition is gratified, and worldly prospects are opening before him, that is, in the hour of his elation and prosperity, a season surely not particularly propitious to self-abasement and repentance, "Eat and drink at the risk of your salvation hereafter, or refuse at the certain loss to yourself and your family of all worldly advancement and prosperity here." Gracious God, my lords, can there be a system more horrid, or torture more refined, than this?—One's reason revolts, one's heart recoils, at so iniquitous, so cruel, an alternative. The ingenuity of man can scarcely devise a more exquisite torment for a mind impressed with religious awe, and at the same time glowing with zeal and affection for his country, his family, and his friends. Nor is it the communicant alone who is exposed to these cruel dilemmas. The clergyman who, in the discharge of his sacred functions, is sincerely and painfully anxious to administer the Sacrament in a manner agreeably to the injunctions of his church, and pleasing in the sight of the Deity himself, is placed by this law in a cruel and perplexing predicament. He is exposed both to self-reproach and to ecclesiastical censure, if he administers the Sacrament to the unworthy, and he is equally exposed, if I am rightly informed, to penal consequences, or at least to legal vexations and humiliation, if he refuses it. I know not how far a beneficed clergyman can be compelled to observe the rubrick 1467 and the canons, but I conclude there is some process, and I am sure if there is not the means of enforcing the obligation, he has by his oath and his office contracted that of observing them.—Yet by the legal consequences arising from these Test and Corporation laws, that observance may expose him to temporal punishment, or at least to being questioned in temporal courts. The canons, and I think the rubrick, say, he shall not administer the Sacrament to bad livers, to the profligate, to the blasphemers, to persons who live in enmity with their neighbours—but if any of those, on appointment to office, come to take the Sacrament, and he refuses it, an action against him for damages will lie—at least, I believe so. I see a noble and learned lord seems to doubt it, and I may be wrong; but even if be, it is equally favourable to my argument. I have a dilemma from which there is no escaping, as I shall presently explain.—It certainly is the general opinion, and not an unreasonable one, that while these laws are in force, an action will lie in the common courts of law against a clergyman who refuses the Sacrament to a man who applies to be qualified for an office by taking it. There is a civil injury and damage—and if it is said that the clergyman may justify, his spiritual functions are equally subjected to the cognizance of a secular tribunal. Now mind, my lords, what might happen—I will suppose it possible,—an extreme case, perhaps, but yet possible—that a king should appoint a lord chancellor not quite so moral as the famous lord Shaftesbury, and a Secretary of State not quite so pious and religious as the equally famous lord Bolingbroke. I will further suppose, that to some subordinate situation in the law, was advanced, at the same time, a smart barrister, who was more remarkable for his ready acuteness, learning, and vivacity, than for sweetness of temper, or mildness of disposition. Well, we will conduct these three persons together to church to qualify for their recent appointments, and there we will further suppose that the parish priest, without being an absolute parson Adams, has yet the simplicity to imagine that his spiritual duties supersede all other considerations, and that, in observing the injunctions of his ecclesiastical superiors, and the canons of his church, he can incur neither injury nor reproach, or offend the laws of God or of man. Well, then, when 1468 the two noblemen and the lawyer present themselves, he says to the first, "My lord, I really am very sorry, but I cannot receive you at the communion table; really there are some circumstances so notorious in my parish respecting your lordship's moral character and conduct, that I must conscientiously consider you as one of the 'bad livers,' from whom I am compelled to withhold the Sacrament—and as to you, my lord," turning to the Secretary of State, "I really have seen in manuscript and in print such writings, and have heard from credible authority, such language of your lordship's, respecting the very ceremony I am about to administer, and the Deity, whose altar you now wish to approach, that till I am enjoined by my ecclesiastical superiors to communicate with blasphemers and infidels, I must decline handing the bread and wine to your lordship.—As to you, Sir," turning to the lawyer, "it is equally impossible for me to admit you. Why, it is notorious, you have brought lawsuits, and stirred about disputes among my parishioners. You are not upon speaking terms with one half of them, and there is a want of charity and good-fellowship in all your conduct in the parish, that clearly brings you within the description of persons to whom I am precluded from offering the Holy Sacrament."
Now what, as the law now stands, would be the answer to the clergyman so conducting himself, according to the strict duties of his sacred profession? The two lords possibly would withdraw themselves in silence, and with that politeness and courtesy, which the habits of such high station, and the intercourse with members of this House so naturally create. But, not so the little lawyer, who, by the terms of my hypothesis, is a captious, sharp, and disputatious, practitioner. What then could he, and what in probability would he, say? Something like this:—" You won't give me the Sacrament, Mr. Reverend, won't you; Very well, we'll see who'll gain at that game.—We'll have you in Banco Regis in no time.—I'll have swinging damages of you. You have spoilt my preferment, lost me my place, and you shall pay for it.—I'll let fly my little Per Quods at you, and we shall soon see who'll smart for the costs." Oh, but it may be said, the clergyman may justify, may plead the fact and the law, and get a verdict in his favour. Be it so, and be the judges and 1469 jury (the latter of which may, by the by, all be Dissenters) as impartial, as just, and as discerning, in such a case, as the Ecclesiastical Court itself; still there is the anomaly of a Secular Court deciding on a matter purely spiritual, namely, the fitness of a man to take the holy Sacrament, and the propriety of the conscientious motives which induced the priest to refuse it. My lords, this anomaly is, as far as it goes, an indignity to the clergy. Let me not be told, that no church, but the church of Rome, would so consider it; that no priesthood, but such as are Popish, hold their heads so high, or view with any jealousy, even an unnecessary and unusual interference of secular authorities. It is not so; all churches—and Protestant churches—feel in some degree such a jealousy. I will not quote bishop Gibson, and others of minor authority. I will go to the first and greatest authority among Protestants, to the early Reformers themselves. What will the learned lord say to Luther himself?—Speaking of the mania of meddling with ecclesiastical matters, which it seems that some of the learned profession of the law were affected with, even in his day, he has the following passage;—but when I read part of it, I must beg the House, and the right reverend prelates to recollect, that certain strong phrases in it are not mine, but those of an intrepid and sanctified reformer.—"I could wish," says he, "the lawyers would appear in the game, so would I thoroughly try and teach them what jubjectum Juris is. I acknowledge Jus is a fair spouse, so long as she remaineth in her own bed, but when she strideth into that of another, and will rule divinitie in the church, then she becometh a great strumpet and—" (Illud quod dicere nolo, my lords, for the word is too strong for polite ears) "I never read such fundamental and fearful examples of heart's-hardening as in lawyers. They far surpass the Jews, Pharaoh and the others. In a word, they are next neighbours to the devil. My heart panteth and quaketh whenever I think of them."*
But to return to the question, whether such an action against a clergyman, as I have made a lawyer describe would lie or not? I will tell your lordships my authorities, without pretending they are conclusive, and with this remark, that it is indifferent to my argument whether they be so * Luther's Works translated into English, p. 418.
1470 or no, because either way, the anomaly produced by the statute in question, injurious in one case to the clergy, in the other to the state and the community is a grievance. I have no positive rule of law or dictum of a judge to justify me in the supposition that such an action would lie; but there has always been a persuasion, that it would, and that persuasion expressed, if not by great lawyers, yet by grave, sedate, and learned men. I will not quote Oldmixon as one, though with all his partiality and bitterness, he is a writer by no means despicable for his acuteness, and knowledge; and on this point more intitled to notice, as living, and writing near the time between the passing, and the repeal of, the Occasional Conformity bill; when the provisions of the Test act were actually and strictly executed, and the real practical operation of the law might be ascertained. But this opinion is strongly confirmed by what passed on the repeal of the Occasional Conformity bill, and to which I have before alluded; I mean the clause moved by lord Stanhope in this House, On the 19th December, 1718. The preamble of that clause runs thus:* "Whereas great complaint has been made by the clergy of the Church of England as by law established, that they axe, frequently threatened with vexatious law suits, and exposed to other hardships in case they refuse to administer the holy Sacrament of the Lord's Supper to such persons, as by reason of their offices or places of trust, are obliged to receive the same." Lord Stanhope was not, indeed, a lawyer, and I allow that his (object in this clause, being, in truth, to relieve the Dissenters from the test), his recital in the preamble, of the hardship felt or apprehended by the clergy, was a pretence on which to engraft the strange enactment that followed: namely, that no clergyman should be sued for refusing the sacrament to a person appointed to office, and that a person so appointed, and writing to offer to take the sacrament, and receiving no answer, should be considered as having taken it, for all the purposes of the Test act. But, acknowledging this, I still think the clause is some evidence of the law and the practice, or at least the opinion of the law, at that day; for lord Stanhope, in addition to his personal knowledge and abilities, was Secretary of State, and it is hardly credible that* See Lords' Journals, 1718.1471 he should have recited, as the reason or the pretext of a measure he recommended, an allegation, which, if not true, he must have known to have been false, and which could so readily have been refuted. But no matter how this really stands. Suppose the action does not lie—suppose the clergy are exposed to no such hardships as I have described, and the clause of lord Stanhope professed to remedy; what, then, is the consequence? why, different indeed, but if possible yet worse. The clergy, as I have shewn, do not wish the secular to interfere with their spiritual jurisdiction. Still less, give me leave to say, for the people of England, do we laymen and subjects, wish the spiritual to interfere with secular jurisdictions and rights. Now, if the clergy can refuse the sacrament to whom they please, or at least, to whom their spiritual courts please, and if the refusal of the sacrament is a bar to advancement in the army, in the law, in all civil employment and professions, it then follows, that the clergy and ecclesiastical courts, have a veto on the king's prerogative; though not the distribution of patronage, the power of intercepting all civil promotion. Where could such power be more improvidently, more improperly, lodged? Is there any man who would submit to transfer this ancient prerogative of the Crown to the clergy, to the parson of the parish, to the judges of those spiritual courts, whose tedious process is at once the nuisance and laughing-stock of the country? Either way the principle and effect of the act, if really enforced, is anomalous and injurious. Parsons and civilians, the individuals least qualified to exercise such a discretion, have a veto on the king's prerogative, and a voice in the promotion of the king's subjects, or the courts of common-law have a right to interfere in a question purely spiritual, and to decide, not on the actions, but on the religious principles of individuals, and their fitness and preparation for ghostly and spiritual comfort; absurd, and objectionable, all ways, and absurdity and objections, flowing as direct consequences from the law I now propose to repeal.
But the best way to expose the iniquity, the monstrous iniquity of the law, would be to, suppose what is nearly impossible that it should really be unchained and let loose on society, that the Annual Indemnity bills, as they are miscalled, should not pass. What would ensue? Such a scene of confusion, injustice, and oppression, as no 1472 tongue can tell, and no country, accustomed to a regular administration of law, and to the enjoyment of freedom, could endure to submit to. I wish to speak with decency and respect, but my hypothesis, the hypothesis that the law should be enforced! is revolting in itself. Why, I speak: within compass, when I say, that two thirds, nay, three fourths, of the persons employed in all branches of the public service have never complied with this law. And if so, I say parliament will not, cannot, in spite of its omnipotence, which I do not wish to disparage, parliament, I say, or wag on the point of saying, dare not let the law be enforced. Imagine only—figure to yourselves—what would follow. Your magistrates at one fell blow converted into criminals; your admirals and generals, your navy and your army turned out outcasts, beggars, and delinquents, on society, and pointed at as slaves and felons in the land which they had saved.
But I may be told, "this is all good for declamation and rhetorical flourish—but you are describing what neither is, has been, or can ever be: your grievance is imaginary, great, no doubt, but such as can never occur. The Indemnity bills prevent all this mischief, and will continue to prevent it; and therefore no change in the present state of things can be necessary." If such be the answer, I reply first (without, however, granting the fact of the Indemnity acts removing all practical grievance, to which I shall come presently) with a question to those who answer me:—And I say, if my grievance is imaginary what is your security?—The security must be imaginary if the grievance is so, but the converse of the proposition is not true, and the grievance may be real, and in many senses it is real, though the security is imaginary.—Persons may not be practically excluded; and, if not, the security offered by the law is defeated; and yet the admission, the manner of the admission, the condition of those so admitted, may be, and in truth it is, a great and galling grievance. Surely, surely, we are not disposed to harbour such grovelling sentiments—to admit of so false as well as so degrading a system of philosophy, as to deem nothing a grievance that does not touch our pockets, rob, or deprive us of pounds, shillings, and pence, or injure our mere interests !—What? is there no passion but avarice and sordid selfish ambition in mankind, and, above all, in Englishmen? 1473 —No love of glory, no zeal for one's country, no ardour for distinction, no jealous sense of honour, no honest pride?—Will not every man of common observation, or of common feeling, will not, I repeat it, every Englishman, I will not say this House, whose very essence is honour, spurn the miserable sophistry which denies that degradation, unmerited inferiority, and exposure to reproach, where there is no moral turpitude, is a hardship, a grievance, and almost an intolerable one? Is it no mortification to the conscientious magistrate who discharges his useful duties with advantage to the public, to feel that he is there by sufferance—to feel he is there by another and inferior tenure than that of his colleagues and brethren—to feel that because he has some notions on speculative points, (for which, as the involuntary results of his judgment, he is entitled neither to praise nor censure) he may be taunted with evasion and breach of those laws which it is his duty to administer? His brother magistrate, nay the parties he tries, might say to him, "You act indeed as a magistrate and are one, but you are not the less a delinquent. The sword of justice is hanging over you. You escape, indeed, from year to year, but you are neither innocent nor pardoned." This, I contend, is a moral grievance which the Indemnity bills leave untouched, or rather create. A grievance to the subject, and I may add an injury to the state—for it is not to be supposed that your laws can be suspended on false pretences, that your Statute-book can exhibit subterfuge, impotence, and hypocrisy; and that those who administer them can be placed in the situation of "respited felons," without impairing in the public mind that reverence for the law, and that confidence in those who administer it, which in a wholesome condition of society, should always be preserved.
But I return to actual grievance, and I say that these annual acts which by a misnomer are called Indemnity acts, but are merely acts for postponing the period of punishment: I say these acts may mitigate some, and may in truth annihilate much of the grievance, but they do not remove it.—I have known in the circle of my own acquaintance, some fit for office and willing in other respects, who have been deterred by scruples from placing themselves in the situation I have just 1474 been describing—and this too, not from, pride, but from conscience, from extreme, perhaps overstrained, reverence for the laws, and unwillingness, even in theory, to violate them. This may be over scrupulous, it may be a conscientiousness your lordships neither admire nor approve; but at least it is not one of a nature to disqualify men from office, since it arises from a feeling that peculiarly renders a man useful and honest in the discharge of political duties.
Other grievances, too, still remain. Dissenters in corporations may be borne harmless by the Indemnity bills. After six months unmolested enjoyment of their offices, they are safe by the fifth of George 1st; but they may still be defeated in their endeavours to get there by the operation of the 13th of Charles 2nd. Notice that they are not qualified at the moment of the election will vitiate the votes given in their favour, and might, nay, I believe has, in some few instances, enabled a minority to carry an election against them.—I will not press what I think a sound but somewhat nice and subtle argument, on the effect of these Indemnity bills. Practically, I know that persons in office, who have neglected to qualify, from whatever motive, can and do take the benefit of the act, and the astuteness of lawyers cannot certainly discover the means of ascertaining the motive of an omission—above all when so loose a word as "accident" is admitted as a justifiable plea. Yet it has been urged, and it is true, that these bills do not profess to do more than to give time to qualify to those who from illness, accident, or absence, have omitted to do so; and those who omit to do so from scruple or dislike might, I have heard it urged, be debarred the benefit of these temporary respites. Even if such exception be impracticable, and if it be the real though concealed intention of the legislature, to rescue wilful as well as accidental negligence, from the penalties of the old acts (and it no doubt is so), the method of effecting the purpose is mean, indirect, cowardly, and highly discreditable to our legislation. I believe this construction has had some practical effect on those whose overstrained scruples and consequent exclusion from office I have before adverted to. It is whimsical however, that one of the most practical grievances which the present state of the law actually produces, falls exclusively on members of the Church of England. The 1475 grievance I allude to has shifted. It lay during the first half of last century, heavy on the Dissenter, but now it is shifted in a more mitigated shape upon the Church-of-England-man. In either case it elucidates that great truth, that a vicious principle cannot be admitted in legislation without inflicting injustice in some quarter or another, in a greater or a less degree. Your lordships know that in most corporations there are places of burthen as well as emolument. Now by common-law all subjects are obliged, under certain penalties, to take those offices, when imposed on them by the corporations to which they belong. In the course of last century this usage, combined with the Corporation act, was ingeniously but wickedly perverted to the purpose of extorting money from the Dissenters, who scrupled taking the Sacrament. Such was the case in London. The corporation was in the habit of choosing non-conformist sheriffs—they knew they would not qualify, and they compelled them to pay the fine: I am sorry to mention such a practice in a body like the corporation of London, but I rejoice to think that that very body who, fifty or sixty years ago, acted with such bigotry and injustice, has justly and liberally petitioned this House to repeal those odious laws, which they formerly held in such superstitious veneration, and which they turned to; such iniquitous purposes. I am afraid the magnificent pile of the Mansion-house was raised out of these fines, and has been for that very reason somewhat severely, but not inaptly, called "the Palace of Intolerance." The practice went on till one who had, in his own sphere of life, that sturdy, honourable, and persevering spirit, which distinguished the immortal Hampden, and which is of more common growth in English bosoms than in any other, was marked out as its victim, Mr. Evans—for the names of such unbending and useful men should be commemorated—resisted the attempt; he fought his case intrepidly in all the courts of law, and through all the fields of chicanery and persecution, where his enemies were enabled to drag him, he finally appealed to this House. That appeal drew forth the ever memorable judgment of lord Mansfield, one of the greatest magistrates, and accomplished orators that ever graced the forum or the Senate. That speech and that judgment, whatever may have been his political delinquencies, and I am sure 1476 I do not know of any, though he was lavishly accused of them in the libels of the day, but I repeat, whatever they were, that noble speech and judgment, teeming with wisdom, philosophy, justice, and philanthropy, made a large amends for them all. They secured justice at the time; they have perpetuated benefits to posterity. He said in that speech, that he read the preface of De Thou every year of his life, and never without tears of gratitude and admiration for the just sentiments of religious liberty which it inculcates. My lords, one may say without extravagance, that the very speech in which his study of that great and impartial historian is recorded, should be studied as earnestly and as frequently by all who wish to imbibe the true principles of philosophical toleration and Christian charity in legislation. He decided, that the Toleration act had not, as some narrow minds had imagined, merely rescued the Dissenters from punishment and persecution; it had acknowledged their rights, protected their worship, and in some senses established their religion. After such an acknowledgment you could not (he said) convert their adherence to that dissect which you had legalized into a crime, and visit it with fine and punishment. Just and benevolent judgment, which rescued the Dissenter from extortion and vexation—but what were its other consequences?—Why, it threw on the members of the Church of England in corporate towns, an undue proportion of the burthens. The Dissenter urges his dissent, and escapes his fine—the Church-of England-man must bear the burthen. It comes in consequence more frequently upon him, and he must pay the fine. Pass this bill, and both are on an equality—in that respect some opulent Dissenters will lose money, and that speedily too, by the repeal which they are so active in soliciting. They know this well, but they do not and they will not relax in their endeavours. I honour them for it. It proves their spirit, their true English and honourable spirit, which prefers far above such considerations of pelf, the sense of conscious independence, the pride and satisfaction of equality before the law.
My lords; I think I have proved that the original intention and view of these laws have been long since answered; that they are not, and cannot be, contemplated. in our times. That they were, in truth, 1477 distinct and different from, and in some senses actually opposite to, the principles which the continuance of these laws on the Statute-book now sanctions and inculcates. I think I have shown, that the principle, or rather the theory, of the law which is to be gathered from their present existence, is abhorrent to the spirit of our common-law and constitution, injurious to the prerogative of the Crown, and to the privileges of the People, derogatory to the Church, unjust to the Clergy, cruel to the Dissenter, and utterly repugnant to the temper of the times and the feelings and disposition of our society. I think I have shewn, that were such laws to be really executed, a scene of such confusion and iniquity would ensue, as no free and enlightened community could endure. I hope I have demonstrated, that the clumsy and disingenuous contrivance by which these consequences are eluded, are at once imperfect, disgraceful, and injurious to the State.
Here, then, I close my case.—If I have proved all this, I have a right to expect, nay to demand, of your wisdom, your charity, and your justice, the repeal of these laws—I do so, loudly and confidently.—I conjure you by every sense of duty, to cleanse your Statute-book of a pestilent humour, which, even in its quiescent state, taiuts the complexion and sours the aspect of our laws; and which, if any accident were to bring it into activity, would distort and disfigure, and perhaps destroy, the very frame of your constitution and society.
My lords; I am aware that it is customary, in proposing the enactment or the repeal of any law which has been much discussed, to forestall the objections, after one has alleged the reasons for the measure one recommends. I prefer on this occasion, a breach to an observance of that custom—not that I do not well recollect in my own time, and have not read in the works of others, many vehement and powerful remonstrances against the repeal of the Test act. But, though many of them proceeded from great politicians and great divines, they were at the time combated and answered by politicians as great, and divines as learned and as authoritative, of the same day. They were all too abstract, too metaphysical, and above all, too virulent and too polemical to make the revival of their controversies prudent, necessary, or useful—I wish to avoid such topics. 1478 I think it advantageous to the peace of the world, as well as to the fair and dispassionate consideration of this measure, that they should not be introduced.—All I will remark in them is this, that the same forebodings and predictions—for they were such rather than arguments or inquiries—were resorted to on the same subject, and urged with as much, or perhaps more, talent and success in Ireland as here. Dean Swift, in a work written in 1708, and reprinted in 1734, when a repeal of the Irish Test act was contemplated, a work distinguished by as much wit and acumen, and if possible by more acrimony than usual, paints in lively colours the effect of the Repeal.
"When the door," says he, "is open to let Dissenters into the commissions of the peace, to make them high sheriffs, mayors of corporations, and officers of the army and militia, I do not see how it can be otherwise, considering their activity and our supineness"—here the Dean, to borrow one of his own phrases, eats a little into his own cloth—" but that they may, in a very few years, grow to a majority in the House of Commons, and consequently make themselves the national religion, and have a fair pretence to demand the revenues of the Church for their teachers."
Such, were Swift's predictions, and the dread of their completion no doubt retarded the repeal of the Sacramental test in Ireland many years. Even when it passed in 1780, though the traces of so recent a transaction are wonderfully scanty and imperfect, it is clear that such apprehensions were not entirely extinct; for in the Journals of the Irish House of Lords is a protest, signed by four respectable prelates (one of whom was an archbishop), in terms vague indeed enough, but sufficiently alarming. They dissent, "because the bill makes an alteration in the Constitution of this kingdom, the consequences whereof are much to be apprehended, though possibly they may not all be foreseen to their full extent." The right reverend alarmists seem, indeed, not to have been very distinct in their prognostics of evil; and the calamity apprehended, to all appearance, will remain as unknown to posterity as it was unforeseen by those who most dreaded its approach.—Near fifty years have elapsed—the Church of Ireland, which surely is not built of stronger materials, or founded on a steadier rock than that of England, has been exposed 1479 neither to danger, nor even to panic, from the admission of Dissenters.—None of its various perils are traced to that source: and, on the contrary, you have evidence upon oath, both from Churchmen and Dissenters, given before committees of this House, that the admission of Dissenters to office has produced no inconvenience, and much good-will, and that the revival of the Sacramental test would be a fearful experiment, deprecated both by Churchmen and Protestant Dissenters.
As far, then, as the two cases are analogous, we have experience in favour of the repeal, and proof that alarms may be entertained on subjects of this kind by sincere men and zealous divines, which in experiment turns out to be groundless and visionary. With respect to more modern objections connected with our own times, I cannot answer them, for I have, with the exception of two, heard none whatever brought forward. Those two I will not refute, I will barely state them, and let them refute one another.—It was said by that witty man to whose works I was just now alluding, that in the Custom-house "two and two do not make four;" and a much older author, Hesiod, I think, has said, in speaking of frugality, that he is a fool that does not know that the half is bigger than the whole.* One might parody such riddles in speaking of political logic; for it is possible that one objection enforced by authority, and urged with vehemence, might be too many for me; but when two such as I am about to repeat come together, I know pretty well how to deal with them. The first of the objections is, that this bill, if passed, will promote, accelerate, and perhaps secure—the second objection is, that it will impede, retard, and perhaps defeat—the measure which, for convenience sake, we call Catholic Emancipation. Now, both these speculations cannot be true, and they may well pair off together. Indeed it would require no great stretch of ingenuity to argue from the equal weight of authority which has maintained each of these conflicting propositions, that neither could be true, and that the bill, if passed, would probably neither promote nor impede, nor have any effect whatever, on the fate of the other impending discussion. Be that as it will, I certainly cannot with one poor*—Hesiod, Opera et Dies, v. 40,1480 syllable deny, that, if I thought it would assist the Catholic measure, that circumstance would enhance its merit in my eyes—that if on trial it shall be found to promote it, I shall rejoice—but I can with truth profess, that such is not my motive for proposing or for urging it. If, on the other hand, it should prove injurious to the claims of the Roman Catholics, I shall deeply deplore such a result; but I shall not and cannot repent of the share I am taking in promoting this measure.—I am so satisfied of the justice of this bill, that even if I apprehended such unpleasant consequences from it, I would not, I could not, from any such apprehension, alter my vote or relax my endeavours to carry it. God forbid that I should consent to perpetuate the injuries and insults inflicted on one class of men, for the purpose of swelling the grievance, strengthening the argument, or adding to the auxiliaries of another. Such crooked and iniquitous policy shall never guide my conduct, here or elsewhere. Such motive of action would be unparliamentary and unconstitutional; it would be worse, it would be base, immoral, and unjust; and I hope and believe I should disdain to resort to it.
Having said thus much, let me add, in fairness to the Roman Catholics themselves, that some, most eminent among them for their rank and virtues, with whom I have conversed, openly and honourably applaud this sentiment. They have approved this view of the subject; nay, they have urged me, even if I deemed the measure unfavourable to them, to act justly by others, and not with reference to the advancement of their own claims—they have told me, that they wished, on all such subjects, that what we deemed right we should do, and that on justice, not on contrivance, still less on the sacrifice of other men's claims or interests, they relied for the final success of their own cause.—These are feelings that become them as Englishmen; and it is but bare justice to record them.
It remains for me to say one word on another subject; namely, the part of the bill relating to a Declaration to be signed by those who take office. My lords, it is unnecessary for me to tell you, that that provision formed no part of the original bill, and it would be disingenuous in me not to acknowledge, that it is one which I should never have suggested either as necessary or useful, and that if the bill 1481 were without it, it would equally have my warm and zealous support; but yet I can with perfect honesty and sincerity, recommend the adoption of this part of the measure; for though, in my judgment, unnecessary, it allays, I am told, the fears of some, and gratifies the feelings of others.—If the enactment of such a Declaration reconciles one conscientious mind to the measure I not only recommend, but cordially and earnestly urge its adoption, as giving to the great work in which we are engaged, not the character of victory, but that more desirable one, of peace, union, and conciliation.—It is in that spirit I acquiesce. I recommend and support it. One reserve, however, I must make to protect myself on any future occasion from the charge of disingenuousness or inconsistency. My acquiescence in the Declaration, as here applied, does not preclude me from objecting to it strongly, if it be attempted to transfer it elsewhere. I see no objection to it as it stands—I can hardly conceive that any man called upon by this bill to sign it, can object to it: at least, I am sure that were I to be appointed to office—not a very likely event I acknowledge—I should have no scruple whatever in signing it; but should any security-grinder, as they have been termed, at any subsequent period endeavour to transfer it, mutatis mutandis, from office to seats in parliament, I must frankly avow that I should earnestly and strenuously resist it. Indeed, I hardly think I could, in my character of member of this House, sign it, or any promissory engagement, myself. I have not, God knows, nor am I likely to have, any intention, wish, or design, of subverting, weakening, or disturbing, the church established by law; but as a legislator I could not declare, that in no possible emergency I would consent to laws that might have that effect. Such scruple does not arise from any hostility to the Church. It applies to a promise of this nature with respect to any human institution. I should feel equally unwilling to declare as much in the character of legislator, in favour of the trial by jury, the privileges of parliament, the prerogatives of the Crown, the liberty of the press, or the rights of the people. The supreme power of parliament must, in my judgment, be always left at full liberty to legislate for the good of the country, as emergencies arise, and the exigencies of the State and the community may require. No shackles, 1482 no promises, no pledge, ought to bind a legislature, which, unless it is free and unfettered, cannot, in the vicissitude of human affairs, be sufficient to provide for the security and welfare of the community.
My lords; I have done. I fear I have been dreadfully prolix, but your lordships must attribute that fault to its real cause—my earnest desire that the merits of this great question should be fully understood by the House and the country; that the vote of this evening should be, and should be felt to be by the public and posterity, the result of calm and peaceable deliberation, not the termination of an angry contest; that it should be, not the triumph of one class of men over the prejudices of another, but the just and wise decision of the House for the interests and happiness of all. That so it may prove is my earnest prayer and confident hope.
The Archbishop of York said:—It is with the greatest reluctance that I, at any time, offer myself to your lordships' notice; but, my lords, there are occasions—and, in my opinion, the present is certainly one of those occasions—when, holding the situation which I have the honour to hold in the Church of this country, it may become my duty, almost, not to confine myself to a silent vote on the question before your lordships.—It may seem, indeed, the more incumbent upon me to state my own feelings respecting it, as my most reverend friend, the primate of our Church—whose sentiments on this subject I have the happiness to know accord entirely with my own—is unhappily prevented, by severe indisposition, from attending in his place this day. That nothing but severe indisposition could have deprived the House of my most reverend friend's valuable assistance on this occasion, your lordships, who have so long witnessed the zeal and partiality which he has uniformly manifested in the discharge of his parliamentary duties will, I am persuaded, readily believe.—It will not, however, my lords, be necessary for me to trouble your lordships, in this instance, with more than a very few words, as it is my intention to direct what I have to say to one single point.—I have, then, my lords, no hesitation in declaring, that I feel bound, on every principle, to give my vote for the repeal of an act, which has, I fear, led, in too many instances, to the profanation of the most sacred or- 1483 dinance of our religion. My lords: religious tests, imposed for political purposes, must, in themselves, be always liable, more or less, to endanger religious sincerity. Nothing, therefore, but paramount necessity—I mean some obvious and urgent danger apprehended to the state—can, in my opinion, justify their being so imposed; and, of course, it follows that they ought to be discontinued, whenever the necessity which first called for them; shall appear no longer to exist.—At the same time, my lords, I will venture confidently to affirm—notwithstanding what has been asserted to the contrary by the noble baron—I say, I will venture confidently to affirm, that these acts were originally designed, expressly and most particularly designed, for the protection of the Church of England—that Church, therefore, my lords, has a right to claim at our hands, aye, and to expect also, if these acts are now to be repealed, that something shall be substituted for them, which shall not only avow distinctly, but secure likewise, as far as it may be possible to secure, that most important object. Whether the provisions in this bill, as they now stand, may prove sufficient for that purpose, or what amendments it may be right to make to them, will best be ascertained when the bill itself shall come into the committee—and in the earnest hope that the measure may eventually be rendered such as to afford satisfaction to all parties, I shall give my vote for the second reading of the bill.
The Earl of Winchelsea
said, he thought it imperative upon their lordships to insert in this measure some clause rendering the support and maintenance of orthodoxy necessary on the part of those Dissenters who were appointed to public offices. The Church ought to be protected against the machinations of persons who avowedly professed Deism and Infidelity. It was not his intention to oppose the second reading of the bill; but when it went into a committee, he should propose such alterations in the preamble as would, in his opinion, have this effect. Was it not, he asked, right to have some provisions made against blasphemy and irreligion? He hoped that if he should have the honour to propose any such clauses, he should receive the support, not only of every friend of the Established Church, but of every real friend of civil and religious liberty. It had been repeatedly used as an argument for 1484 the total repeal of the Corporation and Test acts, that they were passed at a period of anticipated danger to the constitution in Church and State; that no such danger as then existed was now to be apprehended; and that therefore there was no just ground for not repealing them. But let their lordships inquire if danger of a different kind did not exist in this their day, which called for the vigilant attention of the legislature. The danger which he feared, arose from the active exertions and machinations of certain individuals, for the dissemination of blasphemous and infidel principles, striking at the root of the doctrines, not only of the Established Church, but of Christianity itself. Among the numerous instances of these demoralizing designs which might be alleged, and of which their lordships were probably aware, he needed only to call their attention to the existence of a society, which, for the last few years had, absurdly enough, denominated itself "The Society of Freethinking Christians." This society had laid a petition upon their lordships' table, which they had made a vehicle for the most bitter attacks, not only upon the Church of England, but upon Christianity itself. It was against such persons as these that their lordships were called upon to guard the constitution in Church and State. He would say in the words of the immortal Burke, "that the most horrid and cruel blow that can be offered to civil society is through Atheism and Infidelity. An infidel is an outlaw of the constitution, not only of this country, but of the human race. He is never to be supported, never to be tolerated." It was his opinion, that if their lordships did not repel the attacks, and crush the efforts of such miscreants, they would soon see their principles propagated in every direction among the people, who would be taught to scorn, as obsolete, every institution which served as prop to good government, every doctrine which was essential to the maintenance of genuine Christianity. In rejecting Christianity, as this bill at present rejected it—for he called on the reverend bench of bishops to point out to him any clause in it which would prevent Infidelity from legislating for the country—in rejecting Christianity he said, which had hitherto formed an integral part of the constitution, they were endangering the existence of their own liberty. In taking away the belief of a future state of existence, and of reward and 1485 punishment after death, they were striking at the sanctity of judicial oaths, they were undermining the validity of moral evidence, and they were preparing for their country the greatest and most irremediable calamities. The people would soon follow the disastrous course which had flung France into so much bloodshed and misery, and which had hitherto disabled her from enjoying that liberty for which she had dared and suffered so much. It was to prevent such a catastrophe that he now called upon the bench of bishops to stand forth manfully in defence of those doctrines which they were pledged by their holy profession to support, and to give to the country a security that, in future ages as in the past, Christianity shall in this country still be connected with the state. He would remind them of another expression of the same great statesman, whose noble sentiments he had before quoted to their lordships. That illustrious statesman had truly said, that the cause of the Church of England was included in that of Christianity, and that of Christianity in the Church of England. There was nothing but an empty appellation of security in the present bill. What security could there be for the temporalities of the Church, when Infidelity stalked through the land, and in insolent disdain cast off the mask in which it had so long arrayed itself. No one would go further than he would, to tolerate the various sects into which Christianity was divided; but to the atheist and infidel he would afford no toleration. He felt convinced that the word of God was not an empty fable, and that Christianity was not a vain boast. A Socinian, a Unitarian, and an Infidel held no opinions in common with those of the real Christian. He hoped to see some clause inserted in this bill which would give the country a security that Christianity would still be connected with the state within its dominions, and which would prevent Infidelity from being exalted to offices of high trust and importance in the empire.
The Bishop of Lincoln
said:—My Lords, in expressing my concurrence in what has fallen from the most reverend prelate, I feel it necessary to advert to the origin of those laws which it is now considered expedient to repeal. I feel this to be the more necessary, because the noble baron, in urging their repeal, has dwelt at considerable length, on the circumstances in which the country was placed when they 1486 were first passed, on the precipitation with which they were hurried through parliament, and also on the ferment which then existed in the public mind. I do not mean to deny the general correctness of the representations of the noble lord. The Corporation act was passed at a time when the injuries which the Church of England had received from the Puritans were fresh in the recollection of men, and when the dominant party were inclined rather to consult their resentments or their fears, than the dictates of prudence and moderation. With regard to the Test act, it was passed at a time of great excitement, when the public mind had been roused to a state of frenzy by plots, and rumours of plots, against the Protestant religion, and when such was the alarm of all classes, that the Protestant Dissenters consented to their own disqualification, in order to facilitate the exclusion of the Roman Catholics from offices of trust and power. It should be recollected, however, that both these Acts were continued at the Revolution, in which the Protestant Dissenters cordially co-operated. Your lordships, therefore, cannot attribute the continuance of them, at that period, to any irritation which existed in the bosom of parliament, against the Protestant Dissenters; they were continued deliberately, and on principles of sound policy; for, combined with the Toleration act, they constituted the system by which the wise and great men of that day hoped to prevent the recurrence of those contests and animosities, which, from the time of the Reformation, had divided England against itself, on the score of religion.
After the Reformation, the legislature was called upon to provide against a danger which had not before arisen. Up to that period, all the subjects of the state professed, or were supposed to profess, the religion of the state. No dissent from that religion was tolerated; nor, in this respect, did our first reformers contemplate any deviation from the policy of those who had gone before them. They conceived that in what they had done they had restored the Church of Christ to its primitive purity; but the outward unity of the Church was a principle maintained by them as strongly as by the Roman Catholics. They wished to make all the inhabitants of this country of one religion; the religion which they had purified from superstition and error. The 1487 circumstances of the times, however, prevented them from carrying their wishes into effect. Before the Reformation all persons had bowed, with implicit deference, to the decisions of the Church of Rome. After the Reformation, their reason was unshackled; and it was not at all surprising that many abused, at first, the liberty to which they were unused, ran into the opposite extreme, and rejected authority altogether. In our own country, numbers of persons were dissatisfied with the extent to which the Reformation had been carried. They thought that enough had not been done to purify the old religion—they thought that every ceremony which savoured of it ought to be abolished—and they soon evinced their determination to make the Established Church what they wished, or to subvert it. This spirit, which first showed itself under the reign of queen Elizabeth, became more visible under the feeble reign of her successor, who, though he had sagacity enough to foresee the consequences to which it was leading, had neither sufficient wisdom nor firmness to avert them. The true policy for the government of that day to pursue would have been to say to the dissatisfied party—" We wish not to interfere with your religious opinions; we recognise the right of every man to worship God according to the dictates of his own conscience; if he errs, he is amenable for his errors not to man but to his Maker; if, therefore, you cannot conscientiously join in the worship of the Established Church, separate yourselves from it, but separate quietly; do not disturb the peace of the community." Such was the language which, in my opinion, ought to have been held to the Puritans; but the notion to which I have alluded, respecting the necessity of maintaining the outward unity of the Church, and the prejudices of James respecting the extent of his authority, prevented it. James was determined to effect, at least, an outward conformity. He first tried what is called a Comprehension:—he assembled the leading divines of the opposite parties at Hampton-court, in the hope of bringing them to an agreement; but, though eminently qualified, both by the natural bent of his genius, and his acquirements, to moderate in the theological schools, he soon found that he had undertaken a task far beyond his power. Foiled in his attempts at conciliation, he resorted to less gentle and less justifiable modes of 1488 producing Conformity, which were pursued with increased violence by the advisers of his unfortunate son, till at length the elements of religious, being mixed up with those of political, discord, a storm was raised which swept away both the Church and Throne in its fury. After the Restoration another attempt, equally ineffectual with the former, was made to reconcile the contending parties; and on its failure recourse was had, for the first time, to the policy of excluding from office all who dissented from the Established Church. This policy was continued at the Revolution, and combined, as I have already observed with the Toleration act—by which the Dissenters obtained, what they had never before enjoyed—legal protection in the exercise of their religion, while the security of the Church was provided for by their exclusion from political power.
This, my lords, is, I believe, a true account of the origin of these laws; and notwithstanding all that has fallen from the noble lord, I must confess my inability to discover any injustice in their principle. If the Church is, as the preamble to this bill declares it to be, inseparably united with the State, the state is justified in enacting such laws as it deems necessary to preserve that union inviolate; and if the avowed principles of any body of men afford sufficient ground for concluding that they will employ any political power which they may obtain in attempts to disturb the union, they may without injustice be excluded from political power.
But the noble baron says, that tests punish religious opinions, and that religious opinions cannot, without injustice, be made the subject of punishment. I am aware, my lords, that the noble baron can appeal to high authority in support of this proposition—to the authority of his illustrious uncle; but much as I am disposed to defer to that authority, I must think that the proposition, stated thus broadly and without limitation, cannot be maintained. It is not, however, necessary for me to enter into the discussion of the abstract proposition. I contend, the intent of a Test law is not punishment: it is a measure of self-defence; and I believe that in the very case in which lord Mansfield delivered the celebrated opinion alluded to by the noble baron; the ground of the decision was, that the Corporation and Test laws were designed not as punishments, but as restraints. In 1489 providing for my own security, I may do that which operates as an inconvenience or hardship on those against whom I am guarding myself, but I cannot, with any propriety of language, be said to inflict a punishment on them.
The noble baron urged another argument, which has frequently been used, that the Test law excludes only a conscientious Dissenter, while the man without religion takes it without scruple; but the conscientious Dissenter was the very person whom these laws were designed to exclude, for it was from the conscientious Dissenter that danger was apprehended. The statesmen who continued these laws at the Revolution, had either lived themselves, or conversed with those who had lived, at a time when men—goaded on, I admit, by the harshest and most impolitic treatment—succeeded in persuading themselves that they were bound in conscience to aim at the subversion of a Church, containing anything in its rites or discipline, for which an express warrant could not be found in Scripture. In proportion, therefore, to their sincerity in the opinions which they professed, was the danger to be apprehended from their admission to political power. The same reason appears to have guided the framers of these laws in the choice of the test which they adopted. They wanted a test which no conscientious Dissenter could take, and the most effectual test for their purpose was a religious test. Your lordships must not suppose that I am defending the sacramental test, I am only accounting for its selection; notwithstanding all the ingenuity which has been exerted, and never was greater ingenuity exerted, than in defence of the Sacramental test, I feel that the mind can never be thoroughly reconciled to the idea of making a participation in one of the most solemn ordinances of religion, a passport to secular office, or of holding out a worldly inducement to the performance of an act which ought to originate in purely religious feeling.
But to turn from the origin of these laws, to the question immediately before the House, I think that a Test-law can only be justified as a measure of self-defence; as a provision against danger, and that not an imaginary danger, such as may be conjured up by the fears of timid, or the artifices of designing men, but a real danger. A mere surmise, a remote probability of danger, does not afford a suffi- 1490 cient reason for excluding a large body of the subjects of the realm, from eligibility to office, and thereby depriving the state of their services. It has, I think, been satisfactorily shown, that at the time when these laws were passed, the avowed principles of the Protestant Dissenters, with reference to the Church, afforded a sufficient ground for their exclusion. But the question for the consideration of your lordships is, whether that ground still continues to exist? I must confess that I am not prepared to answer the question in the affirmative. I am persuaded that the toleration which the Protestant Dissenters have enjoyed since the Revolution, has produced its natural effect, of softening the hostile feelings entertained by their ancestors against the Established Church. The angry passions which induced men to contend for a trifling rite or ceremony, with as much bitterness as if religion itself was at stake, have long since subsided; and I believe that many of those who are called orthodox Dissenters, are sincerely anxious for the preservation of the Established Church, which they regard as a powerful bulwark against the aggressions of the Church of Rome. But it may be said that although danger may not exist at present, it may arise hereafter, and that while these acts remain unrepealed, the Church possesses the means of protecting itself, by resisting the passing of the Annual Indemnity bill; but if these laws are once repealed the Church will be left entirely without protection. My lords, when the hour of danger arrives, the feeling of the legislature and the country will either be favourable to the Established Church, or adverse to it. In the former case, it will experience no difficulty in procuring the enactment of laws necessary for its protection; in the latter, it will in vain attempt to resist the passing of the Annual Indemnity bill. The truth is, the principle of these laws was exclusion; that principle we have long since abandoned in practice either because we were unable, or because we saw no necessity, to maintain it; and, though I attach little importance to the Declaration contained in the present bill, as a security, I think it at least as effectual as the mere existence upon the Statute-book of laws which, from year to year, we regularly suspend.
In the remarks which I have addressed to your lordships, I have confined myself to that which I deem the real question 1491 before the House: the expediency or inexpediency of repealing the Sacramental Test. With respect to the Declaration, I have already said I attach but little importance to it as a security; but, if the bill pass into a committee, I hope that some endeavour will be made to ascertain more precisely the description of offices, the holders of which shall be required to make that Declaration. It is my conviction, as firmly as it can be that of the noble earl who spoke last, that the cause of religion in this country is intimately blended with the safety of the Established Church. I am aware that such a declaration, proceeding from a member of the order to which I belong, exposes him who makes it to the invidious remark, either that he is positively actuated by interested motives; or that at least his interest biasses his judgment, and that his opinions are consequently entitled to little weight; tout, feeling this conviction, I should feel it my bounden duty to resist the repeal of the Sacramental Test if I thought that the safety of the Church of England would be compromised by the repeal. I entertain no such apprehension; the best security of the Church of England is the hold which it possesses on the esteem and affections of the people. The legislature may, undoubtedly, contribute essentially to its stability and well-being; not, however, by throwing around it the external fences of restrictive laws, but by defining more accurately the privileges which belong to it as an Established Church, by improving its internal polity, and by providing it with less expensive and less circuitous modes of administering its discipline.
The Bishop of Durham
said:—My lords, on a question of such a kind, and of such importance to the great interests of Church and State, as that which is now before us; your lordships will probably not be surprised that more than one of the episcopal bench should be desirous of offering their opinions; and although much of what I might have been disposed to say, has been anticipated by the most reverend prelate who spoke earlier in the debate, and by the right reverend prelate who has just sat down, yet, considering not only the magnitude of the question itself, but the manner in which it has been treated, both in and out of parliament, by its advocates on the one hand, and its opponents on the other, I cannot but feel 1492 anxious briefly to state to your lordships the grounds and reasons of the vote I intend to give.
My lords; I have laboured with great earnestness and sincerity, to satisfy myself that the measure now proposed may be acceded to, with safety and with credit to the Established Church. And I should have had less difficulty in bringing myself to that persuasion (as at length I have done) had not some of the advocates of the Dissenters, and the Dissenters themselves, in their petitions to parliament, and other accredited documents, grounded their pretensions upon certain abstract rights, to which I cannot possibly accede. It has been assumed that it is a natural, inherent, and inalienable right, belonging to every member of the community, to be deemed eligible to offices of trust and power in the State, without regard to his religious opinions, and even if his opinions be diametrically opposite to those which the State has adopted as its own. Such a principle as this can only be admissible in some state of society wholly different from that in which we are placed; in some imaginary state, some Utopian commonwealth, or, rather, in some state antecedent to the formation of any regular government whatsoever. In a state like ours, where for ages, there has subsisted an established mode of government, founded upon principles altogether opposite to these notions, I conceive that all such reasoning on them is misplaced and irrelevant; nor can it be necessary on this occasion to attempt to refute them. In themselves, I hold them to be altogether fallacious and visionary; and if they were ever to be advanced in this House as fit topics of discussion, I should be ready to encounter them. But, at present, they need not be even taken into consideration; nor shall I waste either your lordships' time or my own, with any further notice of them. Any trouble of this kind is indeed spared (and I am glad that it is so) by the very bill itself now brought before us; the preamble to which distinctly and unequivocally recognises the true and only sound principle, on which the whole discussion should rest. The preamble sets forth, that the Protestant Episcopal Church of England is established permanently and inviolably. This is the principle which I mean, therefore, to assume in the present inquiry. I ask no more, and I can be content with nothing less.
1493 It is impossible, however, my lords, to separate this question from historical evidence. But my right reverend friend has gone so fully into this part of the subject, that I need not do more than take a very general and cursory view of it. It will be sufficient to remind your lordships (and it is the one main point on which I would insist), that the history of our country clearly shows the connexion between religion and government, the inseparable alliance between church and state, to have been the fundamental basis of our political constitution, from its earliest periods—certainly, ever since we have been a Christian community. Your lordships well know what was the state of the case from the sixth to the sixteenth century, during the domination of papal power. I need not enumerate the statutes against heresy during that period, nor the various coercive measures adopted, to prevent any one from moving even his little finger against the authority of the Church of Rome—measures and enactments somewhat more oppressive than mere exclusion from offices of trust and power. Thank God those times are past; but we may be thankful, also, that those who liberated this country from such tyranny and oppression, did not, in so doing, discard religion from its place, nor separate it from its union with the State. It was the glory of the Protestant Reformation in this country, or rather, I should say, it was its peculiar felicity, providentially so, that it was enabled to preserve the Church entire, and to maintain its connexion with the State, by uniting both under one supreme head—the sovereign of the realm. In this respect, few, if any, of the foreign churches that embraced the Reformation experienced the same advantages. These advantages, my lords, might have been continued, by the exclusion of Papists only from office, had not dissatisfied and turbulent spirits arisen between that period and the Restoration, by whom the Church and the monarchy were overthrown. On the Restoration, it was found necessary to exclude these also. Thence arose the Test-laws, which, whether or not they were, in the first instance, directed chiefly against the Papists, were certainly, afterwards, by the Toleration act, applied to the exclusion of Protestant Dissenters also. At the Revolution, the great statesmen who placed king William on the throne, found 1494 it necessary to renew and re-establish the connexion between the Protestant Episcopal Church and the State, and to determine that such connexion should be permanent and inviolable; not only to ward off present and immediate dangers, but effectually to guard against the recurrence of such evils as had been, for so long a time, experienced.
It appears then, my lords, that these acts, now so much spoken against, originated really in state-necessity, using that term in its proper and most favourable acceptation. They were, in truth, measures of self-defence—defence, that is, of the constitution itself, and, consequently, of the best interests of the whole community. And thus matters have continued to the present day. The Established Church is still an integral part of the constitution, and under this system our country has attained to the highest degree of national prosperity. Nor is it difficult to discern why our Protestant Episcopal Establishment has obtained this preference and ascendancy; experience having amply proved, that it is, of all others, the best adapted to the political form of government with which it is united, and best harmonizes with all its civil institutions.
Upon this principle, my lords, it is evident that the Test-laws were founded. From the evils that had been experienced, both before and after the Reformation, it was deemed necessary to confine offices of power and trust to members of the Established Church. And this being determined upon, the Sacramental test was resorted to, simply, as the most direct and unequivocal evidence of church-membership. There was, evidently, no intention to compel any man to take the Sacrament against his conscience. But it was conceived, that every person in communion with the Church, must be in the habit of performing that duty, and could have no difficulty or scruple in complying with it. And when viewed simply in this light, I own I cannot regard it as deserving of all that obloquy and vituperation that have been cast upon it. I have no great partiality, my lords, for this particular test; but I cannot help saying thus much, to rescue from unmerited and unmeasured reproach, some of the greatest and best men who have vindicated this, now so obnoxious, measure. My lords, when I find such men as Bishop Sherlock, with a host of others, only lesser luminaries than him 1495 self, coming forward in its defence, I am inclined to pause before I join in ascribing to it all the profanation and impiety which have been charged upon it. And whoever reads the masterly tract of Bishop Sherlock upon the subject, will find that, in his defence of it, not a trace can be discovered of irreverence towards that solemn and sacred ordinance. Yet, my lords, as I have just said, I am not disposed to uphold the use of this ordinance for such; purposes. Were it only used by persons in communion with our Church, or by persons accustomed to use it, independently of any secular object, no profanation, perhaps, could fairly be charged upon it; and I should be at a loss to perceive the harm of merely producing a certificate that it had been so performed. But this is, evidently, no longer the case. It is no longer a decisive proof of church-membership, nor, indeed, was it ever entirely so, since there were many conscientious Dissenters, in former times, who did not object to receiving this Sacrament in our Church. We know, also, that it is continually taken (if at all), merely as a qualification for office; and, not unfrequently, it is to be feared, under circumstances that indicate even an intentional desecration of it. Its continuance, therefore, certainly may give occasion to scandal and offence; and I believe a great majority of our own clergy feel this so strongly, as to be far from disinclined to abandon it, and to provide some less exceptionable substitute in its stead.
The substitute, my lords, proposed in this bill, is a political, instead of a religious, test—not proving church-membership, but disclaiming hostility to the Church. Its primary object, however, is the same—that of giving security against injury or molestation to the established religion of the State; which is to be done by a prescribed form of words, instead of a religious rite. How far the Declaration, as it now stands, may be deemed sufficient for that purpose, or what other previsions or amendments in the bill may be desirable for carrying it more completely into effect, may be points for consideration when the bill goes into a committee. At present, my lords, I confess, the greatest security I look to in the bill is that which is contained in its preamble. So distinct and positive an affirmation, by the two Houses of Parliament, and, eventually, by the Sovereign himself (should this bill pass 1496 into a law), that our Protestant Episcopal Church is established permanently and inviolably, cannot, I should hope, but have its due weight upon the public mind. It will show that, in the view and intention of the legislature, this union of the Church with the State, as an integral part of the constitution of the realm, is not to be disturbed. I conceive, also, that the Declaration itself, to be taken by the parties concerned, ought, in fair construction, to be understood, in connexion with the preamble, as pledging the individual to an acquiescence in that acknowledgment.
My Lords; I have made these observations, from the anxious desire of not being considered, by my concurrence in this measure, as compromising this great and fundamental principle. And I am the more anxious in this respect, from a firm conviction that, under Providence, the Church of England is, at this moment, and has been, ever since the Reformation, one of the strongest bulwarks of pure Christianity, not only in this country, but throughout the Christian world. But, in claiming thus much for our national church, I do not mean to disparage or depreciate the pretensions of those who separate from us. I cannot forget what obligations we owe to them in literature, in arts and sciences, in religion, in biblical criticism, and even in government itself. No one can more willingly recognise these services than I do. Many such there have been among them, and many such, I trust, there still are. Yet, I persuade myself, that such men, when not under the influence of agitators unlike themselves, will be most ready to allow the necessity of upholding that fabric of civil and ecclesiastical polity which has so long subsisted among us, even for their own sakes. They cannot be so unread in the history of our own country, as not to know the evils that ensued on the overthrow of our church and monarchy, during the Commonwealth. They cannot but know, that when, on that overthrow, a struggle took place for the ascendancy, the party that first prevailed denied toleration to the rest: and the party that next succeeded were still more intolerant than their predecessors. I could mention to your lordships innumerable publications, in those times, written expressly against toleration and religious liberty. And what could be expected now, if our present establishments were subverted? Under which of the several parties that might 1497 then prevail, do the various bodies of Dissenters imagine that they would be more secure, or enjoy a greater portion either of civil or religious freedom?
My Lords; I will not trouble your lordships with further observations, having been only desirous to express my own strong feelings, as to the necessity of upholding, permanently and inviolably, our long established and venerable institutions in church and state, and the reasons which induce me to concur in the second reading of the present bill.
§ The Earl of Eldon
said, he did not think it consistent with his sense of the importance of the question before their lordships to give a silent vote upon it. To him it was most painful to witness what labour had been used by some persons to resist the principle that the Established Church was inseparable from the State, and that it was impossible to destroy the connection between the Church and State without destroying the constitution. The Roman Catholics were in the habit of saying, that they were unjustly deprived of the benefits of the constitution. Now, if they would say that their object was to secure the benefits of the constitution, and not to alter that constitution, he would come to issue with them on that point. It gave him particular satisfaction to think, that in opposing the repeal of the Corporation and Test acts, he was supporting the original intention of their enactment. Their lordships had learned, that though this measure was at first manfully opposed in the other House, yet those who had done so had ultimately acquiesced in it. To be sure there was a strong majority in its favour; but then, though there might be some elsewhere who thought it consistent with their own interests to give up the interests of the State, and that against their own opinions and in compliance with the opinions of a majority, that was no reason why he or their lordships, should yield up their opinion to the majority of the other House of parliament; on the contrary, he felt it to be his duty, and that of any other peer, to act on their own conscientious conviction and even though they should have a majority of their lordships' House against them. He had heard much of the march of mind and the progress of information, and of persons changing opinions which they had held for years; but he did not think it possible that the march of 1498 mind could have been so speedy as to induce some of the changes of opinions which he had witnessed within the last year; least of all did he expect that such a bill as that proposed would have ever been received into their lordships' House, even under the idea of making amendments on it. The bill was said to stand on the principle set forth in its preamble. But what was that principle? Why that it was expedient—"expedient" !—a word used by those who had nothing else to say. But their lordships ought not to be satisfied with the bare assertion that such a measure was expedient. They ought to take care that the provisions of the bill proved the expediency of it. Then, looking at the provisions, they contained no such proof; for, as to the Declaration, it would be more consistent to bring in a bill at once for the unqualified repeal of the Test-laws, than this bill, every clause of which militated against the constitution. But what was it expedient to do? To repeal the Sacramental Test. Now, if it could be shown to him that the intended substitute for that test was a sufficient security for the Church, it would be all right, and he would require nothing more; but he must say that he had never heard greater misrepresentations on any subject than on the Sacramental test. But to go to the other clauses of the bill, the next ran thus:—" Whereas, the Protestant Church of these realms, is established and inviolate." How? By the existing laws. If thus the existing laws constituted the defence, and contributed to the inviolability of the Church, surely the repealing of those laws could not be the way to keep that Church established by law; nor was the removal of her defences the way to preserve her inviolate. Then, as to the proof that the Declaration was a sufficient defence in place of the Test-laws, he believed it was required by the existing law of persons taking offices in the Universities of Scotland, to make a sort of confession of faith; but he was sure that, some of those learned and reverend persons must have found considerable difficulty in making that confession of faith, when he remembered the opinions they acknowledged in their petitions on this question. But what was the substitute for the Sacramental test? A simple Declaration. Instead of making the taker of office describe himself as belonging to some sort of religion—whe- 1499 ther a Unitarian, a Catholic, or a Freethinker, it did not require him even to say—he had only to answer, that he was of the Christian faith; neither did it call on him to observe the Declaration by such phrases as "lam a Christian," or "as I stand in the presence of my God." The confidence to be reposed in the proposed Declaration did not rest upon the faith of the Christian, or on the confession of any faith whatever.—He had never been more surprised than when he heard the noble lord who opened the debate, inform their lordships that while the Declaration was to be extended, not merely to corporate offices, but to all offices of trust and emolument under the Crown, the bill left it entirely to the king to say, with respect to these latter functionaries, whether his majesty would require such a Declaration or not. He could not but object to the provisions of such a bill, the object of which was, to take away the Sacramental Test, merely on the ground of "expediency," and to substitute in its place a Declaration, which, in some instances, might or might not be taken, according to the will of the sovereign. The principle of the proposed law went to destroy the Sacramental Test for the purpose of substituting this Declaration, and unless their lordships approved of that substitution, they ought not to consent to the second reading of the bill. He differed extremely from all he had read and heard respecting the propriety of omitting to maintain that great principle of the constitution; namely that the Church of England was not an establishment erected for mere purposes of convenience, but was essentially and inseparably a part of the state. The Sacramental test was well calculated to effect that great object, and it signified not what they substituted for it, so long as what was substituted was of inferior efficacy. Further, he maintained that, in compliance with our existing constitution, the Church of England must be supported; and could best be supported by the admission of only its own members to offices of trust and emolument. Such had been the principle of the constitution of this country for ages. Their lordships should take good care that they did not disunite those whom the constitution had joined together; and if they did any thing towards disjoining them, they should be equally careful to use some sort of cement, and enable the Church and 1500 State Establishments to protect each other by mutual service and support. The ground of expediency set forth in the preamble to that bill he could not help thinking afforded a low principle on which to legislate. He objected to the repeal of laws hitherto preserved with so much anxiety and care as the Corporation and Test acts. The Corporation Act did not require any man to take the sacrament. He meant, it did not impose upon him that duty against his inclination: it only said, "you shall not be elected a member of a corporation, except, in the twelve months antecedent to your application for office, you shall have received the sacrament." The fact was, its provisions were directed towards members of the Church of England, and to them originally was the act intended to apply. The Test Act required the taking of the Sacrament on the acceptance of office. The inference was, that if such provisions for the security of the Church had not been necessary they would not have been made. He supposed no noble lord would maintain that it was not desirable to have an Established Church; and he was prepared to contend, that the necessary effect of the proposed enactment must be to weaken its foundation, and consequently to militate against its permanency. He would venture to say, if noble lords would read the petitions presented to parliament on this subject, they would hardly find a single sentence in one of them which their lordships would be willing to affirm in the preamble of an act of parliament like the present. Those petitions evinced hostility towards the Established Church, at the same time that they denounced all religious Tests as pernicious. On referring to one of them, he found it affirmed that the Church of England, had its foundation in Rome—that it derived its origin from Heathenism and Popery—and that it wielded the sword of persecution; together with other statements of a similar nature.
The sentiments contained in the petitions were so extravagant that perhaps they were not deserving of attention. But he looked to the sober principle involved in the present measure. It was said, that the Corporation Act was originally directed against the Sectaries—the Test-act against the Papists: that the Test-act had never been intended to operate against the Dissenters; yet it did happen that both acts operated against 1501 them. In the reign of Charles 2nd. the act related to the Dissenters; but when they came to the Toleration act, there was no doubt that the Test and Corporation act was directed against both. He alluded to the law passed in the reign of William 3rd; from which it was evident, that the acts referred to had been directed both against Dissenters and Papists. They went on in silent operation until the reign of George 2nd, when the act of indemnity was passed. The legislature passed act after act to enlarge the time for taking the Test. It was evident that parliament was anxious to have it taken; and with a view of accomplishing its object, it extended the time within which persons holding office could comply with the law. It had been said, that it was an extraordinary thing to go on passing Indemnity acts year after year, instead of at once abolishing the law which they were intended for the time to supersede. However, he maintained that those Indemnity acts, passed year by year, were neither more nor less than acknowledgments and recognitions on the part of the legislature, that the Corporation and Test-acts ought not to be dispensed with. He desired to know whether the passing of these acts from year to year, was not rather confirmatory of the opinion of parliament that the law should not be repealed, than that it ought to be abolished? Forty years ago, in consequence of his firm conviction of their propriety, be had voted against the repeal of these acts. He had thus voted at a time when a great many noble lords whom he then saw around him, were not born; and he might say the same of some of the reverend Prelates who now supported the measure before their lordships. In 1787, the question was brought forward in the other House, and was rejected by a majority of that House. In 1789, the question was again discussed, when the majority against it was 20; but in 1790, on its being once more introduced, its opponents out-numbered its supporters by 187. The question had not since been brought forward until the present occasion. The majority by which it was rejected in 1790 was not extraordinary, when it was considered that its opponents, who then constituted the supporters of our happy establishment, found that mines had been laid under the Established Church, which only waited for the match to explode them. If any joy could be felt at the unfortunate 1502 events that occurred in other countries about that period, it arose from the consideration, that those events rendered Englishmen more alive to the attempts made to disjoin the Church and State; and, accordingly, the parliament of that day voted to prevent the destruction of the alliance which had hitherto subsisted between our establishments. What was to prevent Corporations from being made up entirely of members of the Church of Rome if nothing more than the Declaration now suggested was required? He had examined the question deliberately, and in detail, for the purpose of ascertaining whether he had been wrong or not. The result of his investigation was, that he had been right; and he could not, therefore, consent to give up the constitution, as well as the Church Establishment, to the extent that the present bill proposed. He could not do this: it must be the work of others. Be they within or without the Church it mattered not to him. His prayer to God was, that the individuals who promoted this measure might have afterwards the satisfaction of thinking, that as they had intended no mischief to the Church, no mischief had ensued. But at the same time, that he gave them credit for sincerity, he claimed a similar allowance for himself, when he solemnly said, as he then did from his heart and soul, "Not-Content" to the present bill.
§ The Duke of Wellington
said:—I did not mean to trouble your lordships with my opinions on the present measure in this stage of the proceedings, and I should have reserved what I intended to offer for a future opportunity, had it not been for the statements of my noble and learned friend, relative to the line of conduct adopted by government, when the present bill was first brought forward in the other House. It is certainly true, that my right hon. friends in the other House did oppose the bill when it was first introduced to their notice: and the principle on which they opposed it was, that although they did not approve entirely of the existing law on the subject, they had found it to conduce so much to the advantage of Church and State, without impairing the religious peace of the country—a peace which has been enjoyed by this country in a greater degree than by any other—that they conceived we might risk the loss of our present advantages, if the system under which those advantages had been 1503 attained and preserved should be inconsiderately abrogated. That principle it was on which they opposed the bill in the first instance. Afterwards, however, on finding that a large majority of the House of Commons agreed to the bill, and that many who opposed it, opposed it on grounds not applicable to the measure now before your lordships, my right hon. friends adopted the measure with an amendment, which, in their opinion, afforded ample security to the Church, at the same time that the bill itself as modified, appeared to be calculated, so far from impairing, to improve the religious peace which this country has so long enjoyed. On that principle it was, that the measure, which had been originally opposed by my right hon. friends connected with government in the other House, afterwards received their concurrence and support. I fully agree with my noble friend, that the security of the Church of England, and the union existing between it and the State, depend neither on the law about to be repealed by the present bill, nor upon the provisions of this measure itself. That union and security, which we must all desire to see continued, depend upon the oath taken by his majesty, to which we are all, in our respective stations, parties, and not only on that oath, but on the act of Settlement, and the different acts of union from time to time agreed to; all of which provide for the intimate and inseparable union of Church and State, and for the security of both. The question we have to consider is, what security does the existing system of laws as they now stand, afford the Church Establishment. My lords, I am very dubious as to the amount of security afforded through the means of a system of exclusion from office, to be carried into effect by a law which it is necessary to suspend by an annual act, that admits every man into office whom it was the intention of the original framers of that law to exclude. It is perfectly true, it was not the intention of those who brought in that Suspension-law originally, that Dissenters from the Church of England should be permitted to enter into corporations under its provisions. The law was intended to relieve those whom time or circumstances had rendered unable to qualify themselves according to the system which government devised. It has also been said, that the Dissenters availed themselves of the relaxation of the law for 1504 the purpose of getting into corporations; and this the law allowed. What security then, I ask, my lords, is to be found in the existing system? So far from Dissenters being excluded by the Corporation and Test acts from all corporations—so far is this from being the fact—that some corporations are absolutely and entirely in the possession of Dissenters. Can you suppose, my lords, that the repeal of laws so inoperative as these can afford any serious obstacle to the perfect security of the Church, and the permanent union of that establishment with the State? The fact is, that the existing laws have not only failed completely in answering their intended purpose, but are anomalous and absurd—anomalous in their origin, absurd in their operation. If a man were asked the question, on his election to any corporate office, whether he had received the Sacrament of the Church of England, and he said "No," then he lost every vote that had been tendered on his behalf, and there was an end of his election; but if, on the contrary, by accident or design he got in without the question relative to the Sacrament being put to him, then the votes tendered for him were held good, and his election valid; so that no power could remove him from the office which he held. I ask my noble and learned friend, is there any security in that? My noble and learned friend says, that the original intention of the framers of these acts was, that the Sacrament should not be taken by Dissenters; but the law requires that a man, on entering into any corporation, shall receive the Sacrament without regard to his religious belief. Thus, my lords, an individual whose object it is to get into a particular office, may feel disposed, naturally enough, to take the Sacrament before his election, merely as a matter of form, and thus a sacred rite of our Church is prostituted to a shameful and scandalous purpose. I confess, my lords, I should have opposed this bill if I thought it calculated to weaken the securities at present enjoyed by the Church. I consider the opposition offered in the first instance, by my right hon. friends in the other House of Parliament, as arising out of a desire to preserve the religious peace of the country, at the same time that they secured the integrity of the Establishment. My right hon. friends at first contemplated the existing system as having given religious peace to this country for forty 1505 years. I repeat that, during forty years, that peace has never been disturbed, nor the question which is now before your lordships agitated. But, my lords, the subject of security and of religious peace was fully discussed in the other House, through which the bill before your lordships was carried by a large majority, and it now comes before your lordships and is opposed by a small minority here. Under these circumstances, I conceive that the present measure comes before you with no trifling recommendations. You have had petitions from many parishes in this kingdom, and from various societies of professing Christians, all tending to shew that religious rancour and animosity can alone be generated by a perseverance in the present system, and that their contraries may be expected to arise out of a departure from it. To these sentiments I think it is our duty to consent, taking the chance for religious peace which the majority of the House of Commons consider as likely to arise, and to be continued, out of the present measure, conjoined with some degree of security—perhaps all the security necessary—offered to the Church. I, therefore, think it advisable to entertain the proposition submitted to you by the noble lord. By agreeing to it, you will attain the advantages to which I have alluded, at the same time, that you will ensure a security fully equivalent to the security, if security I may call it, which your lordships are about to repeal, by agreeing to the bill now before you.
said, that after the able, eloquent, and perfectly satisfactory, speech of the noble mover, and after the sentiments which their lordships had heard from several right reverend prelates—sentiments which did no less honour to themselves than to the assembly to which they were addressed, and the Church to which they belonged—it would ill become him to go at large into the general arguments which might be adduced in favour of the second reading of the bill. He felt great satisfaction at the opinion expressed by the noble duke at the head of his majesty's government, and the commencement of his intention to support the measure, which it might have been the original purpose of government to oppose. Little was he, who was favourable to the bill then before their lordships, disposed to quarrel with the determination of government. Of one thing he felt confident, that if his 1506 majesty's ministers considered the repeal of the existing acts calculated to endanger the Church, or to put in hazard its union with the State, they never would support it. If he could bring himself to think that the proposed measure would, in any degree, shake the foundation on which the Church of England stood, he would be ready to fight side by side with the noble and learned lord, and to support him to the uttermost: for he fully concurred with him in considering, that the union subsisting between Church and State could never be violated with impunity, and he trusted in God it would always prove inviolable. He thought the present measure supported by many and urgent motives; not the least of which was, that it would have the effect of removing much religious difference and animosity which at present existed; at the same time, that, so far from weakening the Church, it would conciliate a great, number of individuals in her favour. These, in his mind, were sufficient reasons for passing the bill. He could not bring himself to think with the noble and learned lord, that because in the preamble nothing was set forth but its expediency, it ought not to pass. He admitted that it had been customary, in former times, to assign the grounds for the adoption of a particular measure, in the preamble of the bill which was to carry it into effect, and perhaps that was not an unwise practice. It afforded some historical information, at the same time that it assigned the reasons for the adoption of the particular measure. However, the custom had of late years fallen into disuse, and a general expression of the expediency of the measure was resorted to. He could never concede that an individual was prevented from voting on a law, because the grounds of its enactment were not distinctly stated in the preamble, provided he was convinced that the law was a wise one. The reason why he thought it expedient to abrogate the present law was, because he felt that it was frequently conducive to a profanation of religion, by imposing the necessity of taking a Sacramental Test for temporal purposes. He could not believe the present acts to be consistent with a right Christian feeling of the nature and object of the Sacrament. One thing might be said in its favour, that the existing system was not frequently called into operation: but that was no argument for its continuance, for, if in- 1507 operative, it was idle to maintain it. Though many noble lords had, doubtless, held various public offices, few had ever been called on to qualify themselves for office, by complying with the Sacramental Test. He himself had never been so called oil to qualify, except when he was appointed chancellor bf the Exchequer. And why then, he could not tell, except, perhaps, that the chancellorship of the Exchequer was a very dangerous office. Soon after he had been nominated, he was told that it was absolutely necessary that he should, upon a certain Sunday, in a certain church, qualify himself for retaining office by taking the Sacrament. God knew he had not the smallest objection to do that; but it so happened, that he had received it shortly before his appointment, and he naturally said to his informant, "Won't that do?" But the answer was, "Oh ! no, not at all, by no means." He complied, and to the church on the day intimated he proceeded, for the purpose of receiving the Sacrament; and he would say it was one of the most painful duties he had ever been called upon to perform, considering its object, and combining, as it did, two duties, of the combination of which he could not approve. Suppose he had refused—suppose he could not have made up his mind to mix together temporal and religious duties—or suppose he had been a rigid Presbyterian—he should be curious to know what the noble and learned lord would have said to him when he went before him to take the oaths necessary to be taken previous to acting as chancellor of the Exchequer. The law required, before he could exercise the office of chancellor of the Exchequer, that he should take the oaths, either in the court of Chancery; the court of Exchequer, or before the Sessions, and that he should produce a certificate of having taken the Sacrament according to the Church of England. If, trusting to the bill of Indemnity, he had not taken the Sacrament, and his noble and his learned friend had not asked the question, he might have fulfilled the duties of his office; but if his noble and learned friend had asked the question, he could not have been allowed to take the oaths, and he could not have held the office. He mentioned this to show that the Test act imposed a painful sacrifice even on the members of the Church of England, without any adequate benefit to the public, or 1508 adding to the security of the Church. He thought this bill ought to pass; and if it did, he saw in it no reasonable ground for alarm. If the bill passed, the Church of England would present the magnificent spectacle of a Church strong in the purity of its doctrine—strong in the affections and attachment of the great majority of the people—strong in its connection with the State—strong in its wealth, to which it had as much right as their lordships had to their estates; but, above all, strong in its faith and its discipline, subsisting in its own strength, unprotected by restrictions, and unimpaired by exclusions; and long, he would say, might it flourish, dispensing its blessings over the country, and preserving its faith and its discipline for the benefit of those who received its succour.
The Bishop of Chester
said:—My lords, I should not trespass upon your lordships' patience at this late hour, were it not that I feel it to be my duty, as a prelate of the Established Church, and as a member of the legislature, to assign to the public, and particularly to that part of it with which, by my station in the Church, I happen to be more immediately connected, my reasons for adopting the course which I think it necessary to take in relation to the subject now under your lordships' consideration.
My lords, although I am fully prepared to Concur in the present measure—and I do most cordially and unequivocally concur in it—yet I should be extremely sorry if, by giving a silent Vote, I should be considered as acquiescing in the censure which has been passed upon the acts in question, upon the persons with whom they originated, and those by whom they have been since defended and maintained. I find it impossible to give my consent to the measure, without protesting against the doctrine, that the laws which this measure is intended in part to repeal, and the persons who procured their enactment, are to be branded with the imputation of intolerance. The Corporation and Test acts have been repeatedly characterized as odious and unjustifiable restraints on religious liberty and civil rights, equally opposed to the plainest principles of toleration and the soundest maxims of good government.
My lords, it is not my wish, on the present occasion, to go into a discussion of general principles. If it be assumed as a 1509 postulate, that the general good of the community requires the maintenance of an Established Church, it is obvious that the legislature is bound to extend to it that kind and degree of protection which is necessary for its security. And if there be any description of persons in the state who hold themselves bound in conscience, or at least are of necessity disposed, to do all in their power to subvert that establishment, I maintain that the state has a right to exclude them from such offices as might confer upon them the power of injuring the Church;—it being a principle universally acknowledged, and acted upon to a great extent in the institutions of this free country, that the civil rights of subjects may be circumscribed and limited, for the general good. And it is extremely inaccurate, not to say disingenuous and unfair, to describe such limitation, as a stigma affixed by intolerance to the profession of certain religious opinions. The opinions themselves may be perfectly true; and those who profess them may be thoroughly sincere: yet as long as those opinions render their professors disaffected towards the Church Establishment, which the public good requires to be maintained—so long may they be considered to disqualify them from certain offices. It is not a whit more unjust to exclude a man from office on account of his moral or intellectual peculiarities, than it is to exclude him from physical incapacity, or to deprive him of the right of choosing his representative, because he is not possessed of a certain amount of property.
If the experience of the middle part of the seventeenth century had made it apparent, that the indiscriminate admission of non-conformists to offices of power and trust, was incompatible with the safety of the Church, the legislature was justified in restricting a right, the conditions of exercising which, every legislature must reserve to itself the power of prescribing. As reference has been made to the sentiments of the House of Commons on the subject now under consideration, I wish, my lords, to direct your attention to the observations made by the Lords, in their conference with the Commons, when the bill for preventing Occasional Conformity was discussed. The Lords, at that time, took the liberal side of the question, and defended the principles of Toleration in opposition to the more vehement Commons. Yet the managers of that con- 1510 ference, though liberal to a certain extent, did not compromise nor relinquish that principle of protection, which, if it be once lost sight of, or neglected, the safety of all our establishments, my lords, must hang upon a thread. The same persons who declared, that the greatest misfortune which could befal a man was, to be placed in a state of incapacity to serve his sovereign, made also the following declaration; "The Lords look on the fixing of qualifications for places of trust, to be a thing so entirely lodged with the legislature, that without giving any reason for it, upon any apprehension of danger, how remote soever, every government may put such rules, restraints, or conditions, on all who serve in any place of trust, as they shall see cause for."* I am not prepared, my lords, to go quite so far as this; for I agree with my right rev. friend, that there must be an urgent, and undoubted case of necessity and danger, to justify a legislature in the adoption of severe, restrictive measures. It was therefore not the Church, which stigmatized the Dissenters in their character of religionists; but it was the legislature, which, having determined, for the sake of the general good, to protect and uphold the Church, said to the Dissenters we are persuaded, and the experience of the last thirty years has proved to us, that you are bent upon destroying the Establishment; we cannot, therefore, in justice to ourselves and to the state, admit you into offices, which will give you the power of accomplishing your designs.
But, my lords, when I maintain that our ancestors were justified in excluding non-conformists from offices of power and trust, I maintain it only on the supposition of their being convinced, on reasonable grounds, that no measure, short of exclusion, would secure the constitution from danger. For, undoubtedly, when we assert that a restraint, upon the civil rights of subjects is justifiable, we must be understood to mean the lowest degree of restraint, which is adequate to the demands of public expediency.
In point of fact, the Corporation and Test acts have not answered the purpose of absolute exclusion, except against the Roman Catholics, and not even against them under the government of a popish king. The more moderate Non-conformists do not consider a single act of communion* Parliamentary History, vol. vi. p. 81.1511 with the Established Church as separating them from their own sect, or affording an infallible mark of connection with us. Accordingly, many of them have, at all times conformed to the provisions of the Test act. However, my lords, I admit that the effect of the Sacramental Test has been, to alienate more completely from the Church the most conscientious of the Dissenters. That conformity, at which they did not scruple, as an evidence of Christian charity, they revolted from as a means of obtaining office. The less scrupulous among the Dissenters do not object to occasional conformity; and thus find it an easy matter to evade the provisions of the law.
But in point of fact, it is of little consequence to inquire whether or no these laws answered their exclusive purpose for the first fifty or sixty years after their enactment. During the last eighty years the passing of an annual Indemnity bill has afforded every facility that could be desired for accepting office, to those who do not regard as sinful, all communion with our Church. Many have qualified for office, and many more have taken office without qualifying at all, under cover of the Indemnity acts; at the same time, I am aware, that these acts were intended rather to protect the careless Churchman, who neglected to qualify, than the artful Dissenter who purposely omitted so to do. What the case may be in other corporations, I know not; but I believe that, in the corporation of London, although the aldermen may qualify, it is not usual for the members of the Common Council to do so. I, therefore, confess I am quite ready to give up a security which has long ceased to be exclusive in its operation, and which, except in so far as it is exclusive, is no security at all. My lords, I wish the bill to pass, if for no other reason, yet for this—because the present laws do not answer their purpose. If it be indispensable to the safety of the Church to retain a test, I cordially concur in all that has been said against employing the sacrament for this purpose.
I object to the adoption of the Sacramental Test on higher grounds than those of mere political expediency. I know all that can be said in its behalf. I know that it is required merely as an evidence of Church membership; and that it is an evidence, which every member of the Church is bound to exhibit to the Christian world, whether he 1512 take office or not. I know that, as the State commands no man to take upon him an office of power or trust, so it compels no man to receive the Holy Sacrament, who is unfit to be a partaker of it; and that he who receives it unworthily, does so at his own peril, in defiance of the warnings and admonitions of the Church. But, my lords, in all questions of this nature it becomes necessary to look at the practical effects resulting from the adoption of a particular system. In the present state of the Christian world, it is impossible to deny, that a test of this description leads directly to a profanation and abuse of the most holy ordinance of our religion; I have no hesitation in saying, that the Test act, which compels the clergy of our Church to administer the Holy Sacrament to persons, whom by the spirit, if not the letter of their ministerial instructions they may be directed to repel, is a burthen upon their consciences; and I must confess, that I have no disposition to retain, as a political security for the Church, that which is a religious grievance to her ministers, and a scandal to her godly discipline.
I wish to refer your lordships to the opinions of bishop Warburton upon this subject. No person has spoken more strongly in favour of a test than that prelate—indeed, all that can be said for an exclusive test has been said by him, as all that can be said for a Sacramental Test has been urged by his illustrious contemporary Sherlock. In his celebrated work, "The Alliance between the Church and State," he gives no opinion on the Sacramental Test, except incidentally, where he says in a note, "I am fully persuaded that the use of it may be well defended;" and refers those who doubt, to the treatise of Sherlock. This was in 1736; subsequently, however, in 1765, Warburton wrote some remarks on "Neale's History of the Puritans," which he communicated to his friend Hurd, and these were his expressions—" I think a test absolutely necessary for the security of the Established religion, where there are diversities of sects, but I think the Sacramental Test the worst that could have been chosen, for it is both evaded and profaned." Now, my lords, with regard to the Declaration contained in the bill, the Church, I think, has reason to be satisfied with it, as affording quite as valid a security as the laws, which are about to be in part repealed. 1513 Indeed, I feel perfectly persuaded that in passing the proposed bill, we shall be taking a security (to say the least of it) as ample as that we are about to relinquish. In saying this, however, I would not be understood as precluding myself from assenting to any amendments which may be hereafter proposed, with a view to render the bill more complete, without rendering it more offensive to the Dissenters.
It would be unreasonable for us to concur so absolutely in the bill as it now stands, as to tie ourselves up from adopting any improvement which may be suggested, and of which the measure shall appear to be capable, with the view of reducing to a more perfect and effective form. But on the whole I think with the present bill the Church has abundant reason to be satisfied. The object of the exclusive test is to shut out from office those who, of necessity, and upon religious principles, are considered inimical to, and disposed to subvert or essentially and fundamentally to change, the Establishment. Yet that test has proved to be ineffectual. If the Declaration now proposed be taken by a conscientious Dissenter, it will prevent him from endeavouring—at least from directly endeavouring—to injure the Establishment; and that is more than the Sacramental Test, if taken, could effect; if it be taken by a person who does not conscientiously intend to observe it, that person would not be kept out of office by any test whatever. Much has been said, if not now, yet on former occasions, on the subject of bulwarks. My lords, there is a great deal in the sound of a word. When a thing has been called a bulwark for years, people are apt to take for granted, without inquiry, that it really is so; and when once they have got the idea of bulwarks into their heads, they imagine, naturally, enough, that to take away the bulwarks must weaken or destroy the edifice. I confess, my lords, I have no very high opinion of the serviceableness or importance of those bulwarks which it has been necessary to prop up year after year with the shoring of an Indemnity act, lest they should fall on the heads of those whom they were intended to protect. If bulwarks they were, they were tottering bulwarks, and it was hardly worth while to maintain them; they menaced danger, rather than promised security. But granting that they once served for the purposes 1514 of defence, I think they are no longer required. I think, my lords, we have within the citadel itself abundant materials of resistance and defence, not so much against the conscientious Dissenters, who stand aloof from us in minor points of difference, as against the enemies of all religion, who are endeavouring to sap and undermine the fortress of Christianity itself. I think we have within the citadel, that which renders unnecessary these hornworks and counterscarps without. If your lordships will encourage, or if need be, compel the engineers who are stationed on the ramparts to do their duty, we shall then overawe the more violent of our adversaries by the moral strength of our position, and by and by induce the more moderate to seek for refuge and protection within the walls of that fortress, which they were once confederated to beleaguer and destroy.
But, my lords, we are accused of relinquishing a principle. It is true: and if the principle be either intrinsically vicious, or true in itself, but no longer applicable to the circumstances of our case, we consult both our credit and security by relinquishing it. But what is the principle which we abandon? Not the principle that Dissenters are only to be admitted to office upon giving the requisite security; but that they are not to be admitted at all, offer what security they may. Now this, my lords, is a principle which I am not prepared to contend for, in the case of any Christian sect whatsoever. If all can give reasonable security, let all be admitted to the exercise of their constitutional rights. From one description of persons you may receive a security, which which will not be satisfactory in the case of another; but if sufficient security be offered, exclusion becomes indefensible.
But, my lords, I find it impossible to concur in the sentiments which have fallen from a noble earl opposite, on the subject of the laws as they now stand, affording a test of Christian principle in this country. Neither can I agree with that noble lord, in thinking that if we do away with these acts, the necessary consequence will be, to deteriorate the character we have hitherto maintained as a Christian country; at the same time that we afford encouragement and support to Atheism and Infidelity, which are already too rife among us. My lords, all I have to say in answer to the first of these observations is, that I have no desire to make the Cor- 1515 poration and Test acts serve a purpose for which they were never intended. Those acts, my lords, were never yet designed to be a test or distinction between Christians and Infidels; but only between one sect of Christians and another; and even then, rather as regards their political notions, than as it respects their religious principles, except as the latter might be affected by the former.
The second of the noble earl's objections is, indeed, of a very serious kind. But I have no fear, lest the religious character of this country should be impaired by the measure now under consideration. This was a Christian country before these acts were passed, and will be so when they are done away. Its constitution is essentially Christian; not in virtue of the Test acts, but as having Christianity taken for granted, and interwoven in its whole texture, and made, from the very first, part and parcel of the law of the land. What, my lords, are we to be alarmed for the Christian character of this country, because we repeal a restrictive regulation, when we have the Episcopal Church, on one hand, in one portion of our dominions, and the Presbyterian Church, on the other hand, in Scotland—while we are able to boast the Bill of Rights, the Act of Settlement, and other important securities for the maintenance of the Protestant religion?
My lords, I am convinced there is no reason to fear that this country will suffer in its Christian character by the abolition of the Corporation and Test acts. I trust in the character of the Church itself—in the purity of its doctrine. I trust in the ability and care of its governors—in the faithfulness and activity of its ministers. I have confidence, my lords, in the feelings and principles of the conscientious Dissenters themselves; and in all these I find a more certain safeguard for our Christian reputation, than in the continuance of any system of exclusive laws. If I were called upon to point out the quarter from which danger is really to be apprehended to the character of this country as a Christian land, I would take leave to direct your lordships' attention, not to the repeal of the Test and Corporation acts, but to an exclusive measure of a far different kind—I mean the exclusion of religion from the public institutions of the country—to the countenance and support given to an institution for the instruction 1516 of youth, the doors of which are shut against religion under every form and modification. My lords, when I see a seminary of that description established, and about to be opened—when I observe that its pretensions, as regards education, are of a high order—that it has been founded under the most flattering and imposing auspices—and when I find that, although set on foot for the education of youth, it excludes Christianity by name, I must confess that I am somewhat alarmed. When I see attempts daily made to depreciate the value of religion—when I see her formally excluded from a province in which she has hitherto maintained an undisputed and legitimate pre-eminence—when I see that it is attempted to obliterate the very name of Christianity from the cycle of useful knowledge, and to withdraw the education of youth from those hands to which it has long been beneficially intrusted;—I confess I perceive some danger as likely to result to us in our character of a Christian people. And yet, my lords, after all, perhaps there is no great cause for alarm, for sure I am that no sooner shall the first-fruits of this sort of education be evinced—no sooner shall this device of Infidelity show its front, and develop its tendencies, than the whole body of sincere Christians in this country will rise in condemnation of it.
I feel confident that when the danger shall be clearly visible, there will be a cordial and uncompromising co-operation of all who are attached to the Catholic Church of Christ, and especially of all who belong to that branch of it which has ever formed the strong hold of true religion, and the best security of civil liberty in this country. They will all unite to prevent the results likely to ensue from a system of education carried on independently of religion. I repeat, my lords, this is the quarter, if any, from which I apprehend danger; but so far am I from thinking there is any ground for alarm in the adoption of the present measure, that I have always considered it advantageous to the Established Church, and conducive to her strength and security, to remove all exclusions and disabilities which are not absolutely requisite for her safety, and to render her as little odious as possible to those who differ from her. My lords, I attribute the state of religious quiet, which we at present enjoy, in great measure, to the operation of the Toleration acts, in 1517 the adoption of which the Church of England has not been reluctant to proceed on principles of liberality and Christian charity. I am sorry, my lords, that I have been obliged to trespass so long upon your lordships' patience; but I thought it my duty, as a bishop of the Established Church, to say what I have now said on this important occasion, when it is proposed to repeal acts long supposed to constitute important props and supports of the Establishment. Under these circumstances I deemed it necessary to state more at large, than I should otherwise have done, my reasons for offering my cordial co-operation and concurrence in the present measure.
The Earl of Mansfield
said, that the consideration for their lordships was, whether they would repeal acts which had hitherto proved the best bulwark of the Church, for the purpose of substituting a Declaration, of the effect of which, having no experience, they could not properly judge. If the present law was proved to be oppressive and offensive, let them calmly investigate the evil, and modify it as might, appear necessary; but the necessity should be clearly and distinctly made out: and he doubted whether it had been made apparent on the present occasion. If some sufficient declaration were substituted, he had no objection to the repeal of the laws; but as for the proposed Declaration, he looked upon it as insufficient and insecure. Had a motion been brought forward for a committee to consider what ought to be substituted for the existing laws, he would not have offered the least objection; but he felt himself called upon to oppose the bill as it then stood.
§ The bill was then read a second time. After which,
The Earl of Winchelsea
expressed his intention of moving, that the following clause be inserted in the bill—And whereas, many religious and conscientious persons having objected to the necessity of taking the Sacrament of the Lord's Supper, for the purposes aforesaid, as tending to an irreverent use of the same; and whereas, experience for many years past having proved that many Protestant Dissenters from the Church of England and Ireland may be admitted to offices in corporations, and to offices of trust under the Crown, without injury to the Constitution in Church and State, it 1518 is expedient that some other provision be substituted in lieu of the said Sacramental Test:And whereas, by the laws of this realm, constituting and confirming for ever the treaties of union between England and Ireland, it is solemnly enacted and declared, that the churches of England and Ireland, as by law established, be united into one Protestant Episcopal Church, to be called the United Church of England and Ireland; and that the doctrine, worship, and government of the said United Church shall be, and shall remain, in full force for ever, as the same are now by law established for the Church of England; and that the continuance and preservation of the said United Church, as the Established Church of England and Ireland, shall be deemed and taken to be an essential and fundamental part of the said Union; and that, in like manner, the doctrine, worship, and government, of the Church of Scotland shall remain, and be preserved as the same are now by law established, and by the acts for the Union of the two kingdoms of England and Scotland:And whereas, it is just and fitting that all persons now required by law to take the Sacramental Test aforesaid should, on being excused therefrom, be required to give some other sufficient assurance of their being well-disposed to the continuance and preservation of the said United Church:Be it therefore enacted, that so much and such parts of the said several acts passed in the 13th and 25th years of the reign of king George 2nd, and of the said acts passed in the 16th of the reign of king George 2nd, as require, &c., be repealed. And be it further enacted, that in lieu of being required to take or receive the said Sacrament, as aforesaid, all persons who are at present by law required to take the said Sacrament, &c., either as a qualification for being admissible to any corporation, or to any office of trust, or as a condition subsequent to being admitted to any such corporation, &c., shall, except as hereafter excepted, immediately before their admission to such corporation, &c., make and subscribe the declaration following:—'I. A. B., being about to be admitted to (as the case may be), do solemnly declare, in the presence of Almighty God, and of his Son, our Saviour Jesus Christ, 1519 that I do firmly hold and believe, that the canonical books of the Old and New Testament, as they are set forth by authority within this realm, are true, and do contain the true revealed word of Almighty God; and I do promise and swear that I will do nothing to injure or weaken the united Church of England and Ireland, as by law established, or to bring into contempt the doctrine, discipline, and government thereof.—So help me God:'And whereas, there are several offices of trust under the Crown, of too little power or influence to make it necessary to require the said declaration from persons admitted to the same; be it therefore enacted, that his majesty in council shall be enabled to enumerate and publish, by order of council, a list of such inferior offices as his said majesty in Council shall deem not to require the said declaration to be made as a qualification for admission to the same. Provided always, and be it further enacted, that nothing herein contained shall be construed so as to empower his majesty, as aforsaid, to excuse from taking the said declaration, any person about to be admitted to be a member of his majesty's most honourable Privy Council, or any person appointed and named to be judge in any of his majesty's courts of King's-bench, Common Pleas, or Exchequer, or Judge of any Court of Record within this realm, or to be justice of the peace in a county of the same, or to hold any office of state under his majesty, his heirs, and successors:And whereas, there is an ancient and laudable custom, that the judges of assize, on their several circuits in England and Wales, do solemnly attend divine service, according to the rites of the Church of England, in the cathedral, or other principal Church of the city or town, wherein the said assize is holden:Be it hereby enacted and declared, that nothing herein contained shall be deemed or taken to derogate from the said laudable custom:And be it further declared, that it shall be part of the duty of the said judges of assize to attend divine service, according to the rites of the Church of England, as aforesaid, unless prevented by illness or other unavoidable impediment.
said, that with respect to the clause proposed by the noble earl, and which, by the bye, was more like a bill than a clause, if his lordship thought 1520 proper, he could introduce it on Monday, on the motion for going into a committee.