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year 1680, a bill in favour of the Dissenters, repealing the xxxv. Eliz. c. 1. passed both houses, and lay ready for the royal, assent, the Court ventured upon a very extraordinary expedient : the clerk of the crown was ordered to convey away the bill, and accordingly, it was never afterwards to be found.
• In the same session, (Dec. 1680), a bill was brought into • the Commons," for uniting His Majesty's Protestant subjects •" to the Church of England,” which repealed the declara•tion of assent and consent, and some other particulars • usually objected to by the Dissenters. And whereas it was
apprehended this bill might not comprehend all the Dissenters “- within the pale of the Church, there was another bill brought *in at the same time, for exempting his Majesty's Protestant subjects dissenting from the Church of England, from the “penalties of certain laws, which is the title of the present • Toleration-Act. Both these bills were read a second time, *and referred to the same Committee. On the 24th of Dec.,
a bill was ordered into the Commons to repeal the Act xiii. • Car. II. st. 2. c. 1. (commonly called the CORPORATION
Act), which had been made on purpose to exclude Dissenters * from corporation offices. On the 6th of Jan. 1881, this bill .. was read a second time, and referred to å select committee. " In the mean time, on the 3d of January, a bill came down « from the Lords, entitled, " An Act for distinguishing Pro6-* testant Dissenters from Popish recusants ;'
designed to comprehend a virtual repeal of the Test as to • Protestant Dissenters. It is remarkable, that, so far as
appears, there was no division upon any one of these bills. • Nevertheless, they were all defeated by the sudden proro*gation of Parliament on the 16th of January, only four days • after the last bill was sent down by the Lords: the Commons
being apprised of the King's intention, only time enough to
pass in haste a few votes on the state of the nation, the last • of which was in these words : “ That it is the opinion of this .. House, that the prosecution of Protestant Dissenters upon
the penal laws, is at this time grievous to the subject, a weakening of the Protestant interest, an encouragement to
Popery, and dangerous to the peace of the kingdom.” The • Parliament was soon after dissolved by proclamation. Thus," adds the Writer from whom we copy this statement, the
continuance of the Test Act to the present time, and the o exclusion of Dissenters from all public offices, is the re• ward they enjoy for their generous and disinterested pa• triotism ?'*
* Furneaux's Letters to Blackstone. p. 171. note.
Too late the Dissenters repented of their disinterested but illjudged concurrence in the Act by which they shut themselves up, together with the papists, under the penal laws. The intolerant act of the xxxvth of Elizabeth was now strictly enforced by the Court, in revenge for their patriotic concurrence in that measure. 'Dissenting ministers were prosecuted in all
parts of the country, and obliged to pay heavy fines for the discharge of their duty. The jails were filled with those who were unable to pay these fines, and at Uxbridge alone, 200 warrants for distress were issued.'
It cannot, then, be denied that, as regards the Test Act, Dissenters lie under its disqualifying force, entirely through an accidental inadvertency in the original framing of the bill, their reliance upon the honour of Parliament in assenting to the act itself, and the vindictive cunning of a Popish king. The per-' petuation of that disqualifying Act, as regards them, is, therefore, a standing disgrace upon the Legislature. There never was any political necessity pretended for subjecting them to this exclusion. We have the solemn and repeated declarations of both Houses, that such was not the intention of the Act, that Dissenters did not deserve to be so excluded, and that they were, on the contrary, entitled to an entire exemption from all the penal and disqualifying statutes under which they previously laboured. Those penal statutes have since been repealed, but the disqualifying law is still suspended over the heads of Dissenters as if in terrorem, its injustice and iniquity being annually proclaimed by the Legislature in the form of an indemnity bill, which is something between a boon and an insult. • The ef* fect of our annual Indemnity Acts,' remarks Mr. Beldam,
has been to convert the sacramental test into a species of political portcullis, now seldom or never employed against Protestant Dissenters; to be regretted chiefly on account of the odious distinction it insinuates: and only to be feared, as it perpetuates the possibility of their exclusion.'
Now, if abstract principles formed a sufficient motive for doing right, abstract principles of justice, honour, and gratitude, would have obtained for the Dissenters the payment of this longstanding legislative debt years ago. Well might the minister say, that, if the door was opened, the Dissenters must come in. It was shut and bolted one dark night, to keep out a gang of rogues, and some honest members of the household happened to be outside at the time. Do not open it again for us, they exclaimed to the servants, lest the robbers should burst in. Thank you, said the good people of the house, you are very kind and considerate, and we will take you in at the window if
you will wait a little. But down comes the landlord, who had no dread of the rogues, and declares that not a window. shall be opened : it serves the fools right, and there let them stand. But mark the sequel. A long time after, when these members of the household asked for admittance, there were some treacherous fellow-servants who declared that they had been shut out for misbehaviour, and that they ought not to be allowed to come in agaio. No, no, they said ; keep the door fast till the rogues break it in, and then, when the door is wide open, the honest Dissenters must come in, doubtless; but so long as we are snug inside, the fewer, the better cheer,' --who cares a rush about the Puritans? No Popery for ever, and another bottle.
Now, to carry on our story, by and by, in the broad daylight, some brave fellows within the house began to exclaim • Who is afraid of rogues ? Rogues, do you call those gentlemen on the other side of the moat? That is very uncivil language. They are as honest men as any of us ; or, if they or their fathers were once given to firing hay-stacks and committing other depredations, do not you hear them say, that they have left off such practices, and are become honest and peaceable members of the community ? Suppose you let us in, who were only shut out the other night by mistake,' say some of the poor honest ser. vants standing by, and settle the matter with them afterwards.'
Go and be hanged, you selfish rascals,'is the angry reply; 'to be thinking only of yourselves, when there is a much larger number of fair-spoken, respectable looking gentlemen waiting yonder, whom we are talking of taking into our service. Have you no feeling for them, who have been kept out so long as well as yourselves? Why, as to that matter, some of us think they are as well out as in; but, as they are no acquaintance of ours, we beg to be excused having any thing to do with them. We wish them no harm ; but is it quite fair to put old servants on the same footing as reformed highwaymen and Penitentiary folk ?' 'Hold your tongues, and wait till we think proper to open the door.'-'When will that be ? You shut it in a great hurry, when it was so dark that you could not tell an honest man from a rogue, and the dogs were barking, and you knew bad people were about. That was all very well. But now that it is broad day-light, surely you need not be afraid to undo the bolt: can you not take sufficient means to prevent improper persons from getting into your house, without barricadoing your doors and windows, as if it were time of war, keeping yourselves in darkness and us in the cold? We think that you have little cause for apprehension from any quarter ; but, in common justice'-None of your abstract principles; we do not understand abstract principles here; we detest them ;-away with you.' ! Yes, yes, cries an old woman from within ; ' they are all in league with the papishes, keep them out. So it is, that let Dissenters be supposed favourable to the claims of the Irish, or hostile to them, the reason is equally good for not relieving them. Either they are to be considered as leagued with the Catholics to overturn the Church, or they are to be punished for their want of liberality in not making common cause with them.
There is, in our humble opinion, another very sufficient reason why Dissenters ought not, in petitioning for the repeal of the Test Act, to take the ground of abstract principles of right; because such a mode of arguing would imply, that the passing of the Test Act was an infraction of political rights, an unjust and unnecessary measure. Will any man--unless it be Dr. Lingard -be found to maintain such a position as this? The particular test may have been ill-chosen, and, as we shall have occasion to shew presently, is, on religious grounds highly objectionable ; but, of its efficiency and necessity at the time, there can surely be no doubt. The immediate consequence of its passing into law was, the removal of the Duke of York and Lord Clitford from the offices of Lord High Admiral and Lord High Treasurer. It did operate, therefore, as it was designed to operate, as a check upon the royal prerogative. The Act was not meant to trench upon the liberties of
the subject, but to fetter the powers of the monarch. It did not exclude the Nonconformists from Parliament, where the strength of the Dissenters was wanted for the purpose of controlling the Court party, but merely, and, as regards the Dissenters, accidentally, from offices at the disposal of the Crown. A statute passed five years afterwards, (30 Car. II.) furnishes, as has been remarked, a still further proof of the feeling which dictated the Test Act. It recites, that the previous Act had not had the de
sired effect, by reason of the free access such Popish servants • have had to his Majesty,' and extends the exclusion to members of parliament, but in such a way .as not to include Protestant Dissenters in its operation. It drops the Sacramental Test, and prescribes a declaration against Catholicism, to be signed as the qualification for filling a seat in Parliament, and also for acting as a sworn servant of his Majesty, which last provision has been since repealed; the Act now, therefore, operates only to exclude Catholics from Parliament*. Now it is a fair subject for parliamentary investigation, whether the necessity for continuing these restrictions on the royal prerogative, has not ceased ; but with this, Dissenters as such, have no concern.
Circular Address issued by the Deputies.
Their being actually eligible as members of the legislature, where, if any where, either Dissenting or Catholic influence would be most formidable, proves that it never was thought necessary to take securities from them. They have a right to require that the Sovereign should be as much at liberty to avail himself of their services, as the people are in choosing their representatives. But let not the Test Act be confounded with the penal acts of Elizabeth. It was a precautionary, not a punitive measure. It was dictated and justified by the principle of self-preservation. Its gross injustice, as regards the Dissenters, was undesigned, and formed no part of the intended measure. For that unforeseen consequence, they have to thank, in the first place, Charles II. of blessed memory, and latterly, the dislike which Irish orators and English gentlemen bear towards abstract principles,-together with a little lurking spite towards Dissenters in a quarter which shall not be alluded to. Let not Protestant Dissenters then stultify their cause, by declaiming against the original object of the Test Act, as if it were at variance with the soundest principles of legislative wisdom and religious liberty. Let them not, as Dissenters, pretend to dictate to Parliament, whether such restrictions on the prerogative be now necessary or not, as regards the Papists. It is enough for them to demand that they should themselves be exempted from the operation of disqualifying statutes, which were never intended to apply to them, which cast an undeserved stigma upon them as a body, and from which the faith of Parliament is solemnly pledged to relieve them.
The most important and delicate point in what is called the Catholic Question, is this—Will it be compatible with the safety of the State to admit Roman Catholics into the Legislature? We are persuaded that all thinking persons must regard this as the measure most objectionable. Compared with this, the possible case of our having a Catholic privy.counsellor or two in the Cabinet, a Catholic lord chief-justice, a Catholic lord high-admiral, or even a Catholic first lord of the treasury,– would be attended with no danger. Nay, we might go further, and say, with a Protestant Parliament, we might defy the influence of the Crown itself, should another James the Second be mad enough to risk, for an old mass, the loss of more than three kingdoms. We have been told truly, that Necker, a Protestant, was the minister of Catholic France, and that the Duke of Wellington was, without a murmur on the score of his heresy, appointed generalissimo of the armies of bigoted Spain; and we are free to confess that we should entertain no serious alarm, were either our Chancellor of the Exchequer Vol. XXVII. N.S.