§ Earl Grey
said, he had now to present to their Lordships a Petition which appeared to him to deserve their most serious and attentive consideration. The petition came from a number of members of the University of Cambridge, who, although members of the Established Church, prayed that their Lordships would relieve the Dissenters from one of those grievances which, in their petitions to Parliament, the Dissenters had described as one with which their interests were deeply connected, and which they anxiously wished 498 to be removed. In the prayer of that petition he need not state to their Lordships, to whom his opinions were well known, his entire concurrence. That petition had been put into his hands by most respectable individuals, and he was happy to bring it before the House, praying, as it did, for an object which appeared to him to be just and reasonable in itself, and which, if agreed to, would, in his opinion, prove eminently conducive to the interests of the Established Church. It was signed by sixty-three members of the University of Cambridge—a number bearing a most respectable proportion to the whole number of members of the senate generally resident in that University. The number generally resident, he was told, was somewhere between 170 and 180. The number of persons by whom it was signed amounted, therefore, to more than one-third of the usual residents. He believed that, from the resident members of the senate, there must be deducted several who, from age, infirmity and other causes, seldom took part in the affairs of the Senate, and he had also to observe, that several members of the Senate, who had not signed the petition, to the number of eight or ten at least, were favourable to its prayer. He had, therefore, to state, and he would state it with confidence, that a very considerable proportion of those members of the Senate who took part generally in the affairs of that body were favourable to the prayer of this petition. But he felt still greater satisfaction in stating, that it was signed by men who were highly respectable for their moral worth and their extensive attainments. It was signed by two heads of Houses, by nine professors, and by eleven tutors of colleges, comprising some of the most eminent members of the University. He need not state to any one who was at all acquainted with the University of Cambridge the high character of those by whom the petition was signed, when he mentioned the names of Professors Airy, Sedgwick, Musgrave, Lee, and many others, than whom there were not persons in the University more eminent for general knowledge, more eminent for science, or for the excellence of their moral conduct in life, and all of them were well known to be zealously attached to the interests of the Established Church. Amongst the tutors they found the names of men equally celebrated. It was only 499 necessary, in proof of this allegation, to mention the names of Messrs. Peacock, Bowstead, and Thirlwall. The last-named gentleman was considered one of the most eminent scholars in Europe, and no body of men could be more estimable for their moral character, for their extensive acquirements, or for the enlightened and honest zeal which distinguished their attachment to the Established Church. Amongst others whom he might particularly notice was the reverend Mr. Hughes,—a gentleman who was highly distinguished in the University, and who, he believed, was examining chaplain to the Bishop of Lincoln. It could not for a moment be supposed that such individuals as these could harbour any design against the interests of the Established Church. He might, perhaps, be asked how it happened, that an application of this kind had been made to their Lordships, when it might have been made to the senate of the University? The reason was short and satisfactory. It was merely this—that under the existing system the petitioners had it not in their power to proceed in that manner with any probable chance of success. According to the constitution of the senate, as probably most of their Lordships were aware, it was in the power of the Caput, and not only of the Caput, but in the power of every individual of that body, to put a veto on any proposition that might be made. On two occasions, attempts were made to bring the case of the Dissenters before the Senate. Professor Parish endeavoured to bring it under consideration in Michaelmas term last. His proposition was at once met by a positive negative. It was afterwards introduced by Professor Hewitt, in Hilary term last, and it was again met by a positive denial. The petitioners found that they could proceed in no other way, and therefore they had come to this House. They had no chance of succeeding where such a power existed; for if nine-tenths of the University of Cambridge were in favour of any particular measure, though it might appear to be for the interest of the University or of the Church, yet any one member of the caput might, by exercising this prejudicial veto, put an end to the proceeding. Such was the reason which induced the petitioners to come to that House. Having explained the origin of the petition, he wished to state to their Lordships the object of the petition; and 500 he could not acquit himself better than by reading a portion of the petition itself, which was admirably drawn up, its premises clear, and its deductions conclusive. It set forth,—'That your petitioners are honestly attached to the doctrines and discipline of the Church of England, as by law established; and are well persuaded of the great benefits it hath conferred, and is conferring, upon the kingdom at large. They beg leave, also, to declare their sincere attachment to the University of Cambridge, grounded upon its connexion with the Established Religion of the country, and upon the wholesome effect it hath produced on the learning, piety, and character of the nation. Strongly impressed with this conviction, they would humbly submit to your hon. House their belief, as Protestant Christians, that no system of civil or ecclesiastical polity was ever so devised by the wisdom of man as not to require, from time to time, some modification from the change of external circumstances, or the progress of opinion. In conformity with these sentiments, they would further suggest to your hon. House, that no corporate body, like the University of Cambridge, can exist, in a free country, in honour or in safety, unless its benefits be communicated to all classes as widely as is compatible with the Christian principles of its foundation.' He entirely agreed in those general expressions of feeling,—he concurred in the general views contained in the petition then before the House, coming as it did from members of the Established Church, who felt an ardent desire to promote its interests, and whose duty it was to support its welfare by all the means in their power,—coming from individuals who, to use their own emphatic words, "were honestly attached to the doctrines and discipline of the Church of England," and whom, therefore, no application could induce, if such by possibility could be made, to lend themselves to any project that could, in the slightest degree, militate against the principles which they professed. The petitioners proceeded to say,—'Among the changes which they think might be at once adopted with advantage and safety, they would suggest to your hon. House the expediency of abrogating, by legislative enactment, every religious test exacted from members of the University, before 501 they proceed to degrees, whether of Bachelor, Master, or Doctor, in Arts, Law, and Physic. In praying for the abolition of these restrictions, they rejoice in being able to assure your hon. House, that they are only asking for a restitution of their ancient academic laws and laudable customs. These restrictions were imposed on the University in the reign of King James 1st., most of them in a manner informal and unprecedented, and grievously against the wishes of many of the then members of the Senate, during times of bitter party animosities, and during the prevalence of dogmas, both in Church and State, which are at variance with the present spirit of English law, and with the true principles of Christian toleration.' Many of their Lordships might suppose, that what this petition prayed for was not consistent with the original institution of the University of Cambridge. But such was not the fact: the petitioners sought to remove restrictions which were imposed on the University long subsequent to its foundation, and under the circumstances which were stated in the petition. Perhaps their Lordships would allow him to advert, very shortly, to the constitution of the University of Cambridge. The bye-laws of the University, or Statuta Antiqua, took their rise under Acts of Parliament passed in the time of Henry 8th, Edward 6th, and Mary. A Statute, passed in the 12th year of the reign of Queen Elizabeth, had embodied nearly all the former Statutes and constituted thus the general rules by which this society was originally governed. In these rules there was no mention whatever made of those restrictions which were now the subject of complaint; and though oaths were prescribed, there was nothing in them which looked like religious tests. In those worst times of the Reformation, when the persons at the head of the Church were as zealous as any that now lived for its security, there was no such thing as a religious test introduced. It was not till a subsequent period, that these restrictions were introduced, namely, in the early part of the reign of James 1st. In the year 1604, the Convocation framed a Book of Constitutions and Canons Ecclesiastical; but the articles that were now the subject of discussion were introduced in consequence of a letter from the King. In that letter, it was required, that no person should have permission to gra- 502 duate as a Bachelor of Divinity, Doctor of Divinity, of Law, or of Physic, unless he subscribed to the third article of the 36th Canon. This letter of the King was afterwards adopted and confirmed by a Grace, by which Bachelors in Divinity, and Doctors in Divinity, in Law, and in Physic, were not to be admitted to degrees, without subscribing to what was contained in the third article of the 36th Canon, which, containing the 39 Articles of the Church of England, of course operated to exclude Dissenters. This, however, it would be observed, did not extend to Masters of Arts, which degree appeared, so far, to be still open to all; but they were afterwards excluded from that in the following singular, and, as the petitioners described it, informal manner. The manner was so informal and unusual, that it might almost be a question on what sufficient authority the exclusion now rested In the year 1606, another document, signed J. R., was sent to the University. This document was stated to be the substance of what had passed between the King and certain members of the University of Cambridge, and in it the King desired, that in future no degree whatever should be granted, except as before stated; but that no person whatever should be admitted to take any degree whatever who had not first subscribed to the 3rd Article of the 36th Canon. This was all that had taken place on this subject. There had been no confirmation of this second document by a Grace; but this letter, which was written from Newmarket, where the King was then attending the races, was the sole authority on which the exclusion of Dissenters from all degrees whatever now rested. The directions contained in the letter was well known to be against the opinion of many Members of the Senate at that time; and it was but fair to presume that as the letter of the King, which had been previously forwarded, had been confirmed by a Grace, that this last letter was not so confirmed—because, if proposed, it was not likely that it would have met with that formal and necessary ratification. But be that as it might, in practice these restrictions had been adopted up to the present day, probably in consequence of that negative possessed by the Caput, by which the granting of a degree might be refused, if the conditions were not complied with, These orders and regulations 503 remained in abeyance from the year 1641 until the restoration of Charles 2nd, when they were renewed, and had been continued to this day. In 1777, an alteration was made: Bachelors of Arts were not called on to subscribe the articles contained in the 36th Canon, but they were required to sign a declaration, stating that the applicant was a bonâ fide member of the Church of England. With that single exception, he did not know, that there was to be found in the records or statutes of the University anything confirming or acknowledging the exclusion which had been established. The operation of that alteration was, to admit to the degree of Bachelor of Arts all persons subscribing the declaration which he had mentioned, but leaving the practice, as it had prevailed from the year 1616, of subscription to the three articles of the 36th Canon, in other respects undisturbed. The operation of the whole was, to exclude all persons, not being members of the Church of England, from taking degrees; and it was this exclusion, so justly complained of as a grievance by the Dissenters, that the petitioners, watchful over the interests of the University—anxious for the security of the Church, but, at the same time, desirous of removing what they considered as no less detrimental to the particular class which it more immediately affected, than to the University and the Church,—earnestly prayed their Lordships to re-consider—to revise a regulation introduced in the manner which he had described, which they believed to be at variance with the principles both of justice and policy. He did not think, that any danger was likely to result to the Established Church by adopting such a course. On the contrary, he was of opinion that it would be productive of great and manifold benefits. He could not imagine, that the admission to university honours of individuals of high character and great learning, though differing from the Established Church in their religious tenets, could be productive of any ill effect. Those individuals having the benefit of a learned education, having reaped the fruits of that instruction which the University afforded, when they arrived at that period when they naturally wished to apply for those distinctions to which they were entitled, ought not to be stopped short in their honourable career. He could not conceive that any danger either to the Church or to the University could or 504 would result from acceding to their application. In his view of the question, it would be more really conducive to the true interests of the Church and to the true interests of the University if that course was adopted which would bring members of the Church of England and Dissenters more closely together,—which would tend to soften angry feelings, to obliterate the marked line of distinction which now existed between the two bodies, and to do away with that animosity which a sense of injury and of exclusion necessarily engendered. This, in his opinion, would be truly beneficial. This was not his own opinion merely. In stating it, he expressed the opinion of many wise and good men. The illustrious Duke opposite (the Duke of Cumberland) had asked him on a former occasion, whether this petition came from members of both Universities; and he informed the illustrious Duke in reply, that it emanated only from the University of Cambridge. The reason of this was, that there existed, as their Lordships were aware, a most material distinction between the rules and regulations of the two Universities. At Cambridge a Dissenter of any denomination might be admitted to the advantage of a learned education without subscribing any declaration whatever, and many were now obtaining education there who were not members of the Established Church. This was not the practice at the other University, where the students, on matriculation, took the oath. Now, he would ask, had any evil or any disadvantage whatever been experienced by the Church of England from the practice which prevailed in the University of Cambridge? Far from it. He believed, that instances could be adduced where Dissenters who were educated at Cambridge had become members of the Established Church. If Dissenters were admitted to all the previous advantages of education in the University,—if they studied there for three years, (the time necessary to elapse before a degree could be conferred)—when they had been suffered to go so far, was it, he demanded, expedient,—was it just,—could it be useful to the Church, to stop short at the period when they had by study and by long residence a right to expect, in reason, that they should receive the well-earned fruits of their care and industry? Was that the time to shut the door against them, and to refuse them the liberty of profiting 505 by those advantages which their education at the University had enabled them to possess? Why should not a Dissenter educated at the University be allowed to assume those academic honours which gave importance to professional men? Many of the Dissenters educated at Cambridge had evinced abilities of the highest order. He had heard of a Quaker there who had distinguished himself greatly at his examinations. Was it, he again asked, fitting, after a residence of three years,—after having received all the benefit of an enlightened education—that the Dissenter should be told, that he must stop short—that he should be deprived of that which was the object of his most anxious desire? It those individuals were, by these means, deprived of those advantages which they ought to derive from a great civil establishment, would they not struggle hard in order that they might be allowed to attain them by the formation of other establishments? That was a consideration which he thought it was very natural the Dissenters should suffer to influence their conduct, for assuredly if they were not admitted to the full benefit of the two Universities, it could not be expected that they should not seek those honours elsewhere; and it would be both impracticable and unjust to prevent them from obtaining the same advantages which they vainly looked for in those Universities, conformably with their own views and feelings. Both the profession of law and of medicine was rendered more difficult of access to them than to members of the Establishment. If a Dissenter wished to become an attorney, he must act as a clerk for five years; but if he could have taken a degree, that would reduce the term by two years. So, if he wished to become a barrister, however excellent his education might have been, still, as he had not taken a degree, which his religious scruples prevented, he was obliged to remain on the books for five years before he could be called: while, if he were admitted to take a degree, three years would be sufficient. The Dissenter might arrive at the honour of a licentiate of the College of Physicians or of Surgeons; but, without a degree, he could not become a fellow of either. This was a serious civil injury; and he saw no reason why the Dissenter should not be placed on equal terms with those who, in point of education, had only the same advantage as himself. He would 506 state as a strong argument in favour of his views that, in the University of Dublin, Dissenters of all denominations could obtain degrees. They were admitted in the year 1793, about the time when the first concessions were made to the Roman Catholics, to the privilege of taking degrees in arts and medicine; and the concession of this privilege was made with the entire consent, concurrence, and support of the two members for the University of Dublin, then sitting in Parliament; it being objected to by nobody, he believed, but by a person whose name was celebrated in the annals of religious controversy, the late Dr. Duigenan. He was not aware that any disadvantage of any kind had been incurred, either by the University of Dublin or by the Established Church, in consequence of the liberal, just, and wise grant of that privilege. On the contrary, he believed it had been most beneficial in its effects, and so far from producing, what he supposed was apprehended by some persons would be the result of pursuing a similar policy with respect to the English Universities,—anything like schism or dissent in the University, or weakening the influence of the Established Church,—he did not know a single instance of a conversion being effected among persons professing the established religion in consequence of the concession of degrees to Dissenters, though he did know that many individuals who once dissented had become members of the Church of England. Believing as he did in the superior purity and excellence of the doctrines and tenets of the Established Church, he certainly did think that the most likely effect of conceding what was asked for in the petition to which he was now calling their Lordships' notice, would be to bring over to the Established Church many persons who did not at present belong to it. He thought, therefore, that he had stated sufficient reasons for inducing their Lordships to inquire carefully into the expediency of complying with the prayer of the petition,—a prayer founded, as he conceived, in justice, and supported on grounds entirely consistent with the most earnest desire, which in all these discussions ought to be professed and entertained, for the security and welfare of the Established Church. It was, in his opinion, unnecessary for him to state anything further on these points before he proceeded to read the remainder of the petition, to 507 which he was desirous of calling their Lordships' most serious attention. He believed, that he had satisfactorily shown that the petition asked for nothing inconsistent with the original constitution of the University. It proposed, that Dissenters should be admitted to the privilege of obtaining degrees—a concession which could be in no wise dangerous either to the University or the Establishment, and would at the same time relieve from disabilities, of which they justly complained, a class of persons who, on account of their general attachment to the liberties and constitution of the country, were as much deserving of the attention of that House as any class of his Majesty's subjects. He professed himself to be a sincere and ardent well-wisher to the success of their claims whenever they were supported by justice; but whenever they were pushed to an unreasonable length, and pressed forward in combination with declarations which, if acted on, would, he thought, be destructive of the Established Church, he should not fail to oppose them. He lamented that a want of moderation should have been shown by any portion of the Dissenters, for he thought that it could be productive of no other result than deep injury to their cause; but he conscientiously believed that the great majority of those who dissented from the Church disapproved very much of the proceedings to which he alluded. They were, indeed, entirely disclaimed by several members of that respectable body with whom he had had that day an interview, and who stated, that, though not as Dissenters, but as members of the community, they might entertain the opinion, which had been maintained by some men attached to the doctrines of the Church of England, that the existence of any Established Church whatever did not tend to the advantage of religion; yet they were not willing to press that question on the Legislature, being desirous of confining their complaints to those grievances of which they could fairly complain, and from which he would most, anxiously and earnestly endeavour to relieve them, whenever he had an opportunity of successfully bringing forward a measure for that purpose. He would now read the concluding paragraphs of the petition; and he begged to state, that he entirely concurred in the view taken by the petitioners of this part of the subject:—"Your petitioners" the noble Earl read, 508 "conscientiously believe, that if the prayer of this petition be granted, the great advantage of good academic education might be extended to many excellent men who are now, for conscience sake, debarred from a full participation in them, though true friends to the institutions of the country; and your petitioners are convinced that this is the best way at once to promote the public good and to strengthen the foundations of the Civil and Ecclesiastical Establishments of this realm. The University is a body recognized by the law of England as a lay corporation, invested with important civil privileges, anti on that account resting on no secure foundation which is not in harmony with the social system of the State. Your petitioners therefore humbly beg leave to suggest, that as the legislative bodies of the United Kingdom have repealed the Test-act, and admitted Christians of all denominations to seats in Parliament, and to places of dignity and honour, they think it both impolitic and unjust that any religious test should be exacted in the University, previously to conferring the civil privileges implied in the degrees above enumerated. Lastly, your petitioners disclaim all intention of hereby interfering, directly or indirectly, with the private Statutes and regulations of individual colleges, founded as those colleges are on specific benefactions, and governed by peculiar laws, of which the respective heads and fellows are the legal and natural guardians. To the several clauses of this petition the consideration of your honourable House is humbly but earnestly entreated, and your petitioners, as in duty bound, will ever pray." He had stated all that appeared to him to be necessary in support of the very just and excellent prayer of the petition; and having done so, he would only say, that he thought the names attached to it would prevent all reasonable men from apprehending that any measure was contemplated which could at all be dangerous to Church or State; and he, therefore, as a friend to the Dissenters—as a friend to the Universities of this country—and above all, as a friend to the Established Church—offered the petition to their Lordships, requesting them to give it their most attentive and serious consideration.
§ The Duke of Wellington
said, that he had intended to follow on this, the course which he had usually pursued on similar 509 occasions, viz., to avoid entering into any discussion of the question raised by the petition. Bit the importance of the subject, the importance attached by the noble Earl himself to this petition, the formal notice which he gave of his intention to bring it forward, the attention with which it had been received in that House, and the general attention which it was likely to excite in consequence of the noble Earl's speech, called on him to address at least a few words to their Lordships on the subject. He could not, however, help lamenting that the illustrious Duke, the Chancellor of the University of Cambridge, should not be present upon this occasion, as he would have been so touch better able to have stated to their Lordships the peculiar circumstances connected with the University of Cambridge, to which this petition referred. It certainly could not be expected that he should be much acquainted with matters of this description relating to either of the Universities, and much less so in relation to the University of Cambridge than to the University of Oxford. But what must their Lordships think of the prayers of this petition, when, from the statement of the noble Earl himself, it appeared that this University was a corporation? That it was a corporation with the power of judging and deciding on the matters referred to in this petition—a corporation, invested not only with the power of judging, but also perfectly capable of judging, on these subjects. What, then, was the case? Sixty members of this corporation; sixty most respectable individuals he would admit—and he was sorry the illustrious Duke was not present to bear testimony to their respectability—these sixty individuals came to their Lordships, and desired them to interfere in their legislative capacity, in order to overrule the regulations of this corporation. Here was a primary objection. The noble Earl had stated to them, doubtless with great accuracy, the history of these regulations, and had, on the demand of these sixty individuals, called on their Lordships to alter them. He did not know, that it was the duty of their Lordships to enter at all into the regulations of these Universities, at all events without the consent of the Senate. There were between 200 and 300 members of the Senate resident at Cambridge. [Earl Grey: Only 180.] Be it so. There were 180 members of the 510 Senate resident at Cambridge, and there were about 4,000 non-resident. If the House were to act on the petition of these sixty individuals, what would they be doing? Why, when the subject came to be regularly discussed before the Senate, it would be found that these sixty individuals did not comprise more than a fiftieth part of the whole number, and that all the remainder of the corporation would be opposed to the noble Earl. These gentlemen, then, proceeded to say, that whether there were or were not a majority in the Senate, the subject could not be ascertained, because the Caput of the Senate had refused to allow the subject to be brought forward. That House could not enter into the question whether the Caput was right or wrong in coming to this determination; but it was clear, that if the disposition to interfere with their regulations were as strong as it was apprehended by these gentlemen, it would have been only necessary for something like a majority to have proposed it, and it would have been carried into execution.
§ The Duke of Wellington
And why should they, when there was so great a majority as 4,000 against sixty? Under such circumstances, it was the duty of the Caput to make the objection. He really thought it would become the House to consider well, in all these questions relative to the Dissenters, who they were and what they were. Many of them differed in a very slight degree from the Established Church, objecting only to one or two articles. There were others who did not agree with the Established Church on any one point; others who denied altogether the existence of the Trinity; and others who were complete Atheists. It was highly important for their Lordships to look to this variety of opinions, and to consider well the probable effects of the removal of these restrictions before they adopted any such measure as the present. The regulations of the University of Cambridge were different to those of the University of Oxford. The noble Earl had said, that Dissenters might go to Cambridge and receive their education till they came to the degree of Bachelor of Arts. But the Dissenter would not, under the existing regulations, receive his degree unless he signed certain articles. These articles were 511 neither more nor less than the Articles of the Established Church; that was to say, after receiving the education of the Establishment, they were required to sign these articles, being articles of Christians—the articles of their education as Christians—and it was on their refusal only to sign these articles, that their degree was refused them. Surely it was not on such a point as this that their Lordships were to interfere. It was said, that persons not obtaining the degree were liable to certain disadvantages in the professions of medicine and law. It was perfectly true, that in the profession of medicine a certain education, received at the University, did give certain advantages in the way of promotion and in the way of time. This was likewise the case with barristers and attorneys. Gentlemen who had obtained this degree, had the advantage of being called to the bar at the King's Inns, he believed, two years earlier than those who had not. But this did not arise from any rule of the Universities; the rule was laid down by the Benchers of the Inns. They could not call on the Universities to alter this rule, for the Universities had nothing to do with it. The alteration of that regulation was quite a different question; but he entreated their Lordships not to interfere with an institution like the University of Cambridge, at the instance of so small a minority of its members; nor, at their demand, compel an alteration in its bye-laws, which would so seriously affect its government.
was of opinion, that no question could be brought before their Lordships more important, or more interesting to large classes of his Majesty's subjects, than that which had been introduced to the notice of the House by the presentation of the present petition. In considering this subject, he apprehended there would be felt not merely difficulties in principle, but practical difficulties, which even if the difficulties in principle should be surmounted, the Legislature would not be able successfully to encounter. Undoubtedly the objections mentioned by his noble friend who had just sat down to interfering by parliamentary enactment, with the charters and privileges of the University of Cambridge were not small. He must confess, that he felt the greatest disposition to acquiesce, if practicable, in the wishes of the pe- 512 titioners. He saw great advantage to the public in providing for the joint education of all classes of his Majesty's subjects, though entertaining different religious opinions, in an establishment where the Ministers of the Established Church received their instruction. He considered that such unions formed in early life for the purpose of education, would be productive of great advantage to the Established Church, and of very great advantage to the community. Moreover it could not be considered in any other light than as a great disadvantage to cause any persons professing a particular religious belief to entertain the feeling, that they were harshly treated by the laws of the country, and excluded from benefits solely on account of their religious opinions. Undoubtedly there could not be any objection, on principle, to extending to persons dissenting from the Church of England, all such advantages resulting from the conferring of degrees in the Universities as might place them on an equal footing with their fellow-subjects who were members of the Church of England in the profession of medicine and the law. But he must, at the same time, declare, that nothing should induce him to consent to persons dissenting from the doctrines of the Church of England, exercising power and authority in the Universities, which, though they might be lay corporations, he could not but consider as being practically, intimately, and essentially connected with the Established Church. Here he drew a distinction, from which nothing should induce him to depart. Any advantage which the Dissenters required to enjoy at the Universities, and which it would be consistent with principle, and practically possible for their Lordships to grant, let them have it in common with their fellow-subjects of the Established Church; but he would grant them nothing which, by possibility, could lead to their obtaining any power or authority from which injury might result to the Church of England. He would do nothing which could injure the Church of England. He stated that distinctly, as the principle by which he should be guided, if he should be called on to give any vote on this deeply interesting and important subject. At present he was ready to do anything in his power, whatever his private and personal feelings might be on the question, for the purpose 513 of maintaining, if it were possible, religious harmony in this country. The preservation of religious peace was the object of the noble Duke who had just sat down, in forwarding the two great measures of relief which passed during his noble friend's tenure of office. In the attainment of that object, he (Lord Ellenborough) would be ever ready to assist; and he confessed, that at the present moment he saw nothing more likely to prevent its consummation, than the adoption of a course by the Legislature which should have the effect of associating with that difference in religious opinions which they might not be able to overcome a sense of oppression arising from political distinctions; and by uniting both in one deep feeling of animosity, of inflicting on this country one of the greatest curses with which any community could be visited.
The Lord Chancellor
said, he had heard with the greatest satisfaction, many of the sentiments to which the noble Baron had just given utterance. The expressions which had fallen from the noble Baron, of toleration and of friendly regard towards those who conscientiously dissented from the Established Church, and the wise counsel which he had given to the members of the Establishment, to follow the path of peace and conciliation, as being the most likely to lead to the security of their own Church, had caused him (the Lord Chancellor) great satisfaction; and he could not help thinking, that they came with peculiar and appropriate grace from the descendant of one of the most eloquent, learned, and, without desiring to institute any disparaging or invidious comparison to any of his brethren now living, one of the most tolerant and enlightened prelates that ever adorned the Episcopal Bench. He repeated, that it was highly grateful to him to find such sentiments entertained by the noble Lord, with whom he also agreed in thinking that it was hardly possible to overrate the importance of the subject under consideration, as it would be difficult to overrate the difficulties attending it. In his mind there did not exist any difficulty in point of principle, but merely as to the details of the measure, and the manner in which it might be thought expedient to carry it into effect. Whether, for instance, any guards or restrictions should, on mature consideration, be deemed necessary (and if they were not necessary, they were 514 most inexpedient) in carrying into effect the great principle of civil and religious liberty, which this question jointly involved. That there might be difficulties besetting their path, in seeking the best mode of acting on these principles, he was as ready as the noble Baron to admit. But he must say, that he considered this to be no speculative question; it was no visionary or fancied grievance of which the Dissenters now complained; it was not a matter merely of abstract principle, as many of the subjects lately taken up by that highly respectable and most virtuous and enlightened body of men appeared to him to be; but it was a practical evil—a grievance which met them in the ordinary transactions of life, and which imposed a burthen on them in the way of disqualification, from which the rest of their fellow subjects were free—free, he repeated, only because they conscientiously adhered to the doctrines of the established religion of the State, and conformed to its rules and discipline, and from which the Dissenters were not free, only because they as conscientiously dissented from the Established Church, and would not conform to its discipline. By the same rule as he claimed for himself, and for the bulk of their Lordships, the undeniable and imprescriptible right to have a Church which they approved of, and to follow the principles which they professed—by the same rule, and by the parity of the same reason, was he compelled (but he did it cheerfully, and, therefore, should not say that he was compelled) at once to grant to all Dissenters the right, as high and imprescriptible on their part, to worship their Creator according to the dictates of their own conscience, without being degraded in their own eyes or those of their fellow-subjects for so doing. He would not, however, weary their Lordships by insisting on truisms, for be believed no person would be found hardy enough to remain adverse in principle to the propositions which he had just stated. But though universally admitted in principle, they were yet denied in practice, and there was no denial of them which created a greater practical grievance to the Dissenters than their actual exclusion from all academic distinctions. Their Lordships would not, he believed, admit (at least he would not) that it could be possible to maintain this exclusion much longer, 515 whether by the law or practice of the country, or by the University statutes, royal ordinances, or academical rules. That it should continue much longer in these our days he held to be a thing utterly impossible. If any man were asked to point to the country, and the age in which it was inconceivable that such an exclusion existed, he would, if he were ignorant of the fact, at once point to England as the country, and to the nineteenth century as the era. If a man wished to follow the medical profession, being desirous to devote his faculties and time to that most useful employment, painful to many individuals, but useful beyond almost all other professions to the community at large, he might, it he belonged to the Established Church, be enabled to pursue the profession by going to the university at Oxford or Cambridge, by residing within his own country, and by obtaining his education there; not, however, his medical education, be it observed, because, though the two Universities were the only two bodies having the power of granting medical degrees, they were also the only bodies which at once had the monopoly of the privilege, and of the incapacity to teach. They at once claimed for themselves the exclusive power of making doctors, and, at the same time, loudly admitted, for they proclaimed their incapacity, that they could not teach medicine. They could only make doctors, not qualify them. They could make a man a master of arts by teaching him mathematics and the classics; but he must learn medicine elsewhere; and after qualifying himself by seven years' study in another part of the world, return to the bosom of his alma mater for the purpose of obtaining a degree. But if the same individual happened to be a conscientious Dissenter, he could not go to Oxford at all. He would, to be sure, be admitted at Cambridge, but even there he could not be able to obtain a mathematical or doctor's degree. For the purpose of obtaining a degree in medicine, he must quit his home, his family, and friends, and must go to a foreign country, He must repair to Paris, to the Dutch universities, as formerly used to be the case, or to the Scotch universities, or he might study in London, where a knowledge of the medical art might be acquired, but where, though it was the emporium of science as of commerce, a degree was not to be obtained. It should 516 be borne in mind, that the law of Scotland was very different, in many respects, from the law of England; and he (the Lord Chancellor) knew of many parents who had been deterred by that very circumstance alone from sending their children to that country for the purpose of medical education. Still, however, the Dissenter had no choice; he might go abroad and remain there for three or four years, at great expense, receiving instructions in medical science, and he might return again and find himself just in the same situation, as far as concerned the means of obtaining a degree, as when he first left. Why was he subjected to this hardship? Simply because he conscientiously differed from the religious opinions of the majority of his fellow-subjects in this part of the country. That was the reason, and the only reason of the grievance under which the Dissenter now laboured, and under which he justly, and not one note louder than he ought, now complained. The noble Duke (Wellington) had, to be sure, an easy method of disposing of all objections on this as well as on most other questions. The noble Duke had asked what great evil was there in allowing students at the Universities to proceed with their education, taking care, before they obtained their degrees, to make them sign the articles of Christianity, as he called them. But the noble Duke ought not to forget that these articles were the articles of Christianity, adopted by one particular Church; and, however much the noble Duke and himself might venerate its form of worship, the pure and rigid Presbyterian considered it to be scarcely removed from what he regarded as little better than Paganism—namely, Popery. It must have been quite evident to the House, that the noble Duke dwelt with much satisfaction upon the circumstance, that the present petition had been signed only by sixty of the resident members of the Senate of the University; that they bore no proportion to the whole number, and, therefore, a preponderating majority must be considered as opposed to the prayer then addressed to their Lordships. Now, he would suppose, that a large body of the non-resident members took a different view of the subject from that adopted by the petitioners, still he should say, that the assumption of the noble Duke, that there existed a preponderating majority against the prayer of the 517 petition was perfectly gratuitous. He begged their Lordships to recollect, that the petition was signed only by resident members of the University; and if any portion of that learned body could be supposed to feel a hankering after such opinions as those of which the noble Duke was the advocate, it would be rather members who resided, than those who might be scattered about the kingdom, and living in unreserved communication with their fellow-countrymen. The House must know, as well as he did, that the question was never fairly put before the members of the Senate; but he hoped the time was at hand when that learned body might seriously reflect upon the importance of that which then engaged the attention of their Lordships, though they might not have the opportunity of doing so in a collective capacity. He did sincerely wish to see the time, when, by the consent of the Universities themselves, the great grievance now complained of by the Dissenters would be effectually and graciously removed; and the great blot which the present practice occasioned, wiped off from the constitution of the Universities—a blot which no friend of learning, of religion, or of the well-being of the State, could regard otherwise than most detrimental to the true interests of the Universities, and an almost insurmountable barrier to their extensive usefulness and prosperity. As he had already said, and to that he begged especial attention, the question had never been fairly put to the Senate; for the veto of the Caput put a chance of that sort beyond hope, inasmuch as every decision come to by those six lords of the articles required perfect unanimity. In future, as in times past, they might expect that no opinion would ever be pronounced by the assembled Senate; and, for the simple reason, that whenever a proposition of that nature was laid before the Caput, there was always found some one dissentient, and, therefore it was, that the question never reached the Senate. For aught, therefore, which their Lordships could know, the great majority of the Senate might be in favour of the prayer of the petition, since the question which it involved could never come into discussion. That, beyond all dispute, was the ground upon which the petition then stood before their Lordships. There were, it was clear, certain difficulties in coming at the real sentiments of the members of the University; 518 that he was not averse from acknowledging; but in what manner the disabilities under which the Dissenters laboured were to be removed—and that they ought to be removed could not be doubted—formed a totally different question. But though there were doubts and difficulties, also, as to the proper mode of removing those disabilities, he had no doubt that the University would seriously and sincerely apply itself to the task of investigating the question, with a view of devising the best mode of overcoming all those difficulties. In his judgment, it would be the greatest of all slanders upon that learned body to suppose them capable of shrinking from the fullest inquiry into their whole system and management—their rights, privileges, and correlative duties. There was not a man, he was sure, in the whole community, who would insinuate a whisper, conveying the idea that they entertained the slightest reluctance to undertake the urgent and imperative duty of meeting the present demands in the spirit which the state of public feeling on the subject required. From such an inquiry he anticipated the happiest results; and he had no doubt that the conversation of that day would have the effect of calling the attention of the University of Cambridge to the fair and just demands of the Dissenters, and to the fitness, the safety, and the expediency of losing no time in turning a careful and scrutinizing eye on the growing importance of that great question.
§ The Earl of Durham
adverted to the regret expressed by the noble Duke, on account of the absence of the illustrious Field-marshal, the Chancellor of the University of Cambridge, from whom he might have had some assistance in the present conversation; but it was to be recollected that there was still present another illustrious Field-marshal, the Chancellor of the University of Dublin, to whom the noble Duke might well look for that concurrence and support, of which, in the other instance, some accident, no doubt, had deprived him. The noble Duke certainly regretted the absence of that illustrious personage, but that was not the only misfortune which befel him in the course of his advocacy of that which he was pleased to describe, as the real sentiments of the University. The laws of the University, as the House was well aware, excluded Dissenters from the advantages of degrees with a view to the practice of 519 the lay professions. Now, with the permission of the noble Duke, he would ask him this,—when he was the Commander-in-Chief of that gallant and conquering army which sustained the glory of the British name through so many campaigns, and brought a very doubtful contest to a conclusion full of triumph,—he would ask that noble Duke, whether he thought it was likely he should have brought that war to so glorious a conclusion if he had been compelled, in his selection and employment of officers, to inquire, in the first instance, whether they had subscribed the thirty-nine Articles of the Church? He hoped that their Lordships would not attach any importance to the argument founded upon the assertion, that the effect of the changes which the petitioners sought would be to overwhelm all Corporations. The present petition had been considered as an attack upon Corporations; but he was sure noble Lords would feel, that that was anything but a faithful representation of the matter, for the petitioners did not complain of any act done by the Corporation. But if they had, it would not have been a complaint uttered for the first time, as the history of that, as well as the history of other Universities, fully testified. He would just beg their Lordships' attention to a short extract from Dyer's Academic Unity, in which that writer stated, that "The preface to the statutes made in his (Edward 6th's) reign rightly begins with declaring 'that the ancient Statutes are obscure, unintelligible, semi-barbarous; and that others, more intelligible, fashioned more according to the condition of the times, and to the practice of the new learning, became requisite.'" His noble friend had referred to the well-known letter of James 1st; but it should be recollected in all references to that communication, that the first of the Stuarts was a monarch in no wise celebrated for his attachment to liberty. He was adverting briefly to the various topics which had been touched on in the course of the discussion, for it did appear to him a matter of the highest importance that every light should be thrown upon a question of such moment; and for the purpose of letting in that light as effectively as possible, he did not scruple to appeal to the illustrious Duke opposite, to state, as he might be able to do, from his long residence in Germany, whether it were not the case that, in the Universities of that country, 520 there were no religious distinctions or tests whatever, and in no Universities were the sciences, and every branch of learning more successfully cultivated. This was the case even with theology, for the learned Dr. Parr had declared, that he obtained more theological knowledge from a very short study in Germany, than he had acquired during many years in England. When, therefore, all these circumstances were considered, it would be wise for the heads of the University to reflect, whether, the restrictions imposed by them might not ultimately have the effect, in a great measure, of superseding themselves. He perfectly concurred in the gratification expressed by his noble and learned friend on the Woolsack, at the liberal tone of the speech of the noble Baron opposite, who had so ably expressed his opinions in favour of the principle of the measure; and he was equally ready with his noble and learned friend to bear his humble testimony to the toleration and wisdom of the learned and illustrious Prelate from whom the noble Baron had proved himself to be a worthy descendant. That noble Baron, however, was afraid to carry his principles into complete practice, on account of some presumed danger to the Church Establishment. But, he would ask the noble Baron, what possible danger could arise to the Church of England from acceding to the just claims of the Dissenters? It surely was not intended to be insisted on, that the Established Church could not exist unless it was propped up and supported by exclusive privileges. All he, as an advocate and admirer of that Church would ask was, a clear stage and no favour. Indeed, in his opinion, these exclusive privileges inflicted more injury than they conferred benefits on the Establishment, as they permitted those who enjoyed its honours and dignities, to leave to others the performance of those duties which should be exercised by their own personal exertion. From the high eminence on which they were placed, they unfortunately overlooked the efforts of those low, but zealous labourers, who sowed a seed, of which the abundant harvests were now exhibiting themselves, and, by their unremitting exertions, placed themselves in a position so powerful, that that House, even if it had the will, had not the capability to overcome them. It could not be supposed, that if these privileges were refused to the Dissenters, they 521 would still willingly continue to submit to the degradation. It was impossible that any man in his senses could believe they would. No, the contest would still continue; the struggles of the Dissenters to free themselves from degrading disabilities would go on; they would be arrayed against the Established Church in a strife which would never cease until that which justice demanded was acceded to by an enlightened toleration. Concession to the claims of the Dissenters had been founded on an argument, the announcement of which was most impolitic. It had been said, that granting their just claims, doing justice to them, would be incompatible with the safety of the Establishment. He had read this ground of opposition over and over, in pamphlets and newspapers. He would not contend, though he had the impression, that such a ground of opposition had been taken in that House; but he was confident it had been frequently made; and, he would simply ask, was it safe, was it politic, was it advantageous to the Establishment? The noble Duke appeared to think that Dissenters were not as united as they might be—that there were shades of difference in the extent to which they urged their claims; but, all must admit, that they were powerful in wealth, in intelligence, in number, and in activity. Was it policy thus to array such a body, so powerful in appliances, in a contest with the State authorities, and make them hostile to our institutions, civil and religious, by continuing their disabilities? But they were recommended to wait until a proposition for improvement proceeded from other quarters—till the heads of the Church of their own free will, and as the spontaneous result of their liberality—proposed that, of which the Dissenters had now so reasonably and so justly required the concession. He feared that they would wait long if they waited for the operation of reason alone—an apprehension in which he found himself strengthened by the opinion of Archdeacon Paley, in his defence of Bishop Law. It bore with so much force on the present question, that he could not refrain from reading it to their Lordships:—"As the man who attacks a flourishing establishment writes with a halter round his neck, few ever will be found to attempt alterations, but men of more spirit than prudence, of more sincerity than caution, of warm, eager, and impetuous tempers; 522 that, consequently, if we are to wait for improvement till the cool, the calm, the discreet part of mankind begin it, till the Church governors solicit, or Ministers of State propose it, I will venture to pronounce that (without His interposition with whom nothing is impossible) we may remain as we are till the renovation of all things." Concurring in that opinion, he conceived the present course adopted by the Dissenters to be most laudable; and he hoped that they would not relax in their exertions, till they had obtained that which would do equal honour to all, the full concession of those rights they demanded.
The Duke of Cumberland
concurred with the noble Duke near him in everything that he had said that night, and, though he was himself the Chancellor of the University or Dublin, it did not follow that he should maintain the applicability of the laws of that learned body to the government of the English Universities. He lamented as much as the noble Earl opposite, the absence of his illustrious relative—an absence he was sure occasioned by nothing less than sickness.
§ Petition to lie on the Table.