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subject; but in order to retain those advantages, and to improve them as much as possible, I shall now move, that leave be given to bring in a bill to repeal so much of the said act passed in the 25th of Charles II. in. titled, “ An act for preventing dangers which may happen from popish recusants,” as obliges all persons, who are admitted to any office civil or military, to receive the sacrament of the Lord's supper, within a time limited by the said act, and for explaining and amending so much of the said act as relates to the declaration against transubstantiation.
SIR ROBERT WALPOLE.
His Speech in Reply.
As I have hitherto appeared to be an utter enemy to all persecution, I hope my disagreeing with this motion
I will not be looked on as any sign of my having changed my opinion, or of my having any intention to alter my conduct for the future ; so far otherwise, sir, I have still, and I hope shall always have, as tender a regard for the dissenters of all denominations, as any man can have who is a true member of the church established by law. As a sincere member of the church of England I must, and I do wish, that all the dissenters in the kingdoin could be gained over to the established church; but though I wish for this happy event, yet I shall never be for attempting the accomplishment of that wish by any methods that have the least tendency towards persecution, or towards doing a real injury to any man whose conscience will not allow him to embrace the established
religion of his country. For all such I shall continue to have a real concern, because I think this difference of opinion is a man's misfortune, and not his crime.
But, sir, the word persecution has, in my opinion, been very much mistaken by the honourable gentleman who made you this motion ; for according to the meaning he has put upon the words, there could be no established church or established religion in the world, but what must be deemed guilty of persecuting all those who differ from it; and yet those gentlemen will, I believe, grant, that in every society there ought to be an established religion, or a certain form of public worship established by the laws of that society; therefore we must find out a meaning for these words different from that which has been put upon them.
As there is in every society a certain form of government established, I hope it will be granted, that it is the duty of every member of that society to support and preserve that form of government as long as he thinks it the best that can be established ; and on the other hand, if there be any man, or any set of men, who are convinced that a different form of government would render the society much more happy and powerful, I believe it will likewise be granted, that it is the duty of all such men to endeavour in a peaceable way, at least, to bring about an alteration. These two duties therefore being altogether inconsistent, nay, even destructive of one another, it is absolutely impossible for the one set of men to do their duty, without laying the other set under some hardships. When those hardships are no greater than what are absolutely necessary for the end intended, they are just and reasonable, and such as those who are subjected to them ought not to com. plain of; but when they are greater than what are re. cessary, they then begin to take and to deserve the name of oppression ; and according to the degrees of this excess, the degrees of oppression are always to be computed. In this kingdom we know there is a set of men Vol. 1
who think it their duty to endeavour to bring about an 'alteration of our present happy establishment, I mean our nonjurors; who for that very reason are excluded from all posts or places in our government; which is certainly a hardship upon them ; but I am sure it cannot be called an oppression, nor can this exclusion with respect to them be called a punishment.
And if there be a set of men in this kingdom who think the doctrines of the established church inconsistent with christianity, or the ceremonies of our public worship idolatrous, it is their duty as christians to attempt to bring about an alteration in our established re. ligion, and they certainly will attempt it as soon as it is in their power; nay, with all deference to the honour. able gentlemen who have spoke upon the other side of the question, for all of whom I have the greatest esteem, I must look upon this very motion as a be. ginning of that attempt; but as I am a member of the church of England, and think it the best religion that can be established, I think it my duty to prevent its being ever in the power of such men to succeed in any such attempt; and for this purpose, I think it ab
I . solutely necessary to exclude them from any share in the executive part of our government at least ; because if the executive part should once come to be generally in their hands, they would very probably get the legislative part likewise ; from which time it would be in vain to think of preventing, in a peaceable manner, their doing whatever they had a mind; and it must be presumed they would do what they thought them. selves in duty bound to do. To exclude a man from a profitable post or employment, I shall admit to be a hardship upon the man só excluded; but as it is absolutely necessary for the preservation of our established church, to exclude those who think it their duty to destroy it, from any share in the executive part of our government; therefore this exclusion can no more be called persecution, than it can be called oppression to
exclude nonjurors from any share of our government executive or legislative; nor can such exclusion be deemed a punishment in the one case any more than in the other.
In the supposed case of a brave dissenter's being advanced to the command of a regiment, I shall grant that it would be a great hardship upon him to be turned out of his command, and to be exposed to a starving condition, upon his return to his native country; but the same case may be supposed with respect to a Roman catholic gentleman; yet there would be no persecution in either case; because the excluding of all such men from any command in our army, especially here at home, is, I think, absolutely necessary for the preservation of our constitution in the happy state it is in at present; nor could such an exclusion be called a punish. ment upon the man so excluded, no more than it can be called a punishment upon a man of five foot and a half to be excluded from being a soldier in the guards : for neither of these exclusions proceeds from any crime or fault in the man, it being as impossible for a man to alter his opinion when he has a mind, as it is to add two or three inches to his stature when he has occasion for it; but as the latter becomes necessary for the sake of preserving the beauty and symmetry of a regiment, so the former becomes necessary for the sake of preserving the beauty and symmetry of a society.
The argument raised from the supposed abuse of the blessed sacrament of the Lord's supper, is founded upon a fact which I cannot admit; for as there is nothing in this law that can compel the admission of an unworthy person; as the ministers of our church may refuse to admit any person to that sacrament, who does not devoutly and humbly desire it, or for any other lawful cause, [See Statute 1, Edward VI. Chap. 1.] I must presume no unworthy persons are admitted ; or at least, if there be, it does not proceed from any fault in this or any other of our statutes, but from the criminal and ira religious neglect of the minister who admits them.
As to the unity and peace of our people, I am per. suaded, sir, the repeal of this law, and another which I believe is likewise intended, would raise most terrible disturbances and confusions ; for with respect to all posts and employments that go by election, we should have all the dissenters combining closely together to bring in their friends, which would of course breed many riots and tumults. And as to our trade, it depends so much upon the peace and tranquillity of the nation, that if we have a mind to preserve it, we ought not to make any new regulation or repeal any old, if by so doing we run the risque of raising heart-burnings and jealousies among our people.
His Speech on the same Subjeci.
I SHALL take up very little of your time in replying to what has been said ; for in my opinion, the arguments for the motion have been enforced by what has been said by way of answer to them.
If the hardships imposed upon the dissenters, by the law under our consideration, are greater than what are absolutely necessary for preventing its being in their power to destroy the established church, it must be granted, from what has been said on the other side of the question, that this law is a persecuting law. Now, sir, to determine this question in the affirmative, we need have recourse to no other nation but Scotland : with regard to that nation, we know that the Presbyterian re.