« PreviousContinue »
or Master of the Ordnance ascertained to be a Papist-or a Mohammedan. But, as to admitting the Catholics' into the Legislature-we wish to give no opinion as to whether it would be safe or not. Only we must point out a very important distinction, which has been either overlooked or sedulously kept out of sight. With regard to eligibility to offices of trust, the appointment being in the Crown, the restriction is laid upon the royal prerogative, and the only possible danger must arise from the disposition and views of the Court. But, in the case of eligibility to serve as members of a British House of Commons, the choice rests with the people and their priests or demagogues, and the danger, if danger there be, will arise from the turbulence or ignorance of the million,-or rather six millions. In the one case, the object of distrust is the monarch, surrounded with Protestant advisers, holding his throne almost by virtue of his hereditary Protestantism, and bound by all the obligations of religion, honour, and interest to uphold the Protestant faith. In the other case, the distrust relates to the many-headed majesty-a priest-ridden, halfcivilized, fanatical, much injured nation, with whom it would rest to send over, in the capacity of legislators, some score or more of chosen representatives--Cobbett, O'Connel, and the pious Æneas.
This may be very just and proper upon abstract principles, and very safe and expedient too; at least, we are not now called upon to prove the contrary ;-our wish is simply to point out the wide distinction between a Test Act excluding from civil offices, and an act excluding from eligibility as members of a Protestant legislature. Now it so happens that Protestant Dissenters are not, and never have been, excluded from seats in Parliament. They have as free a right to sit there as John William Bankes would have, if he had gained his election at Cambridge. Dissenters are at liberty to unite all their force to return men of their own party to serve in Parliament ; there is nothing to prevent it, but their own want of zeal, and their well-known quiet and peaceable disposition. Nor has any evil been found to result from their having this privilege. Nay, if it has not proved of much benefit to themselves for who, alas ! have been their representatives ?-it has proved, at some critical periods, a benefit to the nation. In the most important branch of the Catholic Question, then, Dissenters have no eoncern whateyer. - Neither is their political predicament the same, nor their relation to the State the same, nor do they stand in any respect on the same footing. Dissenters being admitted into Parliament, the excluding them from corporations and posts of trust, is an absurdity as well as an
injury; a relic of an iniquitous system of persecution, not a prudential measure ;-a fragment of the old penal laws which the Toleration Act, that swept the rest away, has spared ;like part of a broken pilaster, without base or capital, adhering to an old wall, and which is neither an ornament nor of use. These detached and useless statutes may be retained out of love for antiquity, dislike of innovation, or from the remains of some lurking grudge ; but we defy any man to as: sign a reason worthy of a statesman or of an honest man, suffering them still to remain as a blot upon the Statutebook.
Mr. Beldam's book, which every Protestant Dissenter ought to have in his possession, will shew that, although there may be little to complain of in the present administration of the laws, there remain still unrepealed, some very intolerant, vexatious, and iniquitous enactments. • Every department of ' tuition being prohibited to Protestant Dissenters by various statutes and canons, it is only on condition of qualifying specially, that they are now permitted under a remedial sta* tute (19 Geo. III. c. 44. § 2.) to exercise these professions ' with impunity. That remedial statute, while it relieves Dissenting school-masters from the ancient penalties, makes their exemption depend on qualifying in the manner therein prescribed; while it expressly excludes them from all public appointments, except among Dissenters. We should hardly deem it advisable, however, to be very eloquent on the subject of these outstanding anomalies in our civil code, these organic remains of the monster intolerance. We would rather indulge the hope, that Mr. Peel, when he has nothing better to do, would have the kindness to take his spunge, and apply his oxalic acid to these foul ink-stains on the robe of justice. They disgrace our laws, more than they injure the subject.
With regard to the Test Act, however, as already intimated, there are strong reasons for its repeal, irrespective entirely of the claims of either Dissenters or Catholics. It was far from being the design of those who framed the act, to compel conformity to the Church of England. In this respect, it differed most essentially from the penal severities levelled specifically against the Nonconformists. Coupled with the declaration against transubstantiation, the test was simply meant to exclude the papist, and that upon political grounds, although, unhappily, by a religious test. We have little doubt that the framers of the Test were not at first aware that the Dissenters would scruple to qualify. The ejected London ministers had, in 1662, agreed to sanction occasional communion with the Church of England, in order to express their charity towards • it as a part of the Church of Christ.' This judgement, the celebrated Mr. Howe, writing in defence of the ministers who adhered to the practice, represents as having been adopted
by their fellow-sufferers throughout the nation ever since.' What chiefly led to the discontinuance of the practice was, the enactment of the Test itself; many of the ministers, after the passing of that act, abstaining from it, because they * would not act upon a suspicious motive, and because they
disapproved of the use of a religious ordinance as a civil . test.'* Alderman Love might foresee that this would be the case ; he must have known too, that some of his constituents, though by no means all the Dissenters, scrupled this occasional conformity. But the fact was, that the act required no more than a large class of Dissenters had long been in the habit of practising, while they were still recognized as Dissenters, in the eye of society and in the eye of the law, and subject as such to all the pains and penalties of the existing statutes. The taking the sacrament according to the rites of the Church of England, and renouncing transubstantiation, were two corresponding parts of the same act, by which the Dissenter renounced nothing,—the Papist abjured his Church. It was not expected, that the Papist would qualify ; otherwise another test would have been devised; for the object was, not to proselyte either the Papist or the Dissenter, not 10 promote ecclesiastical conformity, but to exclude the papist, and the papist only, from the Cabinet and the Succession.
But what has been the practical consequence of making a participation of this sacred ordinance a test of political competency? It ought to have been foreseen, that it would necessitate a scandalous desecration of the most solemn rite of the Christian religion ;-that it would compel placemen of all descriptions of character, however notorious their profligacy, to present themselves at the altars of the Established Church, and demand admission to communion as a qualification for office; that it would subject the conscientious clergyman to the most painful, and degrading, and cruel embarrassment, or, in the event of his refusal, to a civil action for damages; that it would, in short, give birth to scenes the most revolting, profaneness the most awful, from one end of the kingdom to the other, from the noble lord in the blue riband, an infidel, perhaps, or Socinian, down to the exciseman who qualifies in the morning, and gets drunk in the afternoon. • Mr. Fox desired to know, could be a greater proof of the • indecency resulting from the practice of qualifying by oaths,
* Conder on Nonconformity. p. 303. (2d Edition).
• than if, when a man was seen upon the point of taking the
sacrament, it should be asked, 'Is this man going to make • his peace with heaven, and to repent him of his sins ? the * answer should be, No; he goes to the communion-table, only • because he has lately received the appointment of first lord • of the treasury !'* Mr. Fox was not a devout man himself, but he could judge, as well as others, of the sins of religious men, by which, occasion is given to the infidel to blaspheme. Cowper, however, could have no political or sectarian motive for exaggerating this tremendous abuse; and how forcibly does he deprecate it, in his often cited lines, as a most flagrant national sin !
• Hast thou by statute shoved from its design
He wipes and scours the silver cup in vain.' Expostulation. It seems that there were apologists for the practice in Cowper's time.-For what will not apologists be found ? The Slave Trade, Juggernaut, the Suttees—all have, or have had, their advocates and patrons. We have never had the good fortune to hear such apologies for the sacramental test, but we can guess at their nature. The attempt would be to shift the responsibility from the imposer and the officiator, on the
poor sinner who is commanded by the one, and suffered by the other, to eat and drink what must prove condemnation to him who, in that act, “ discerns not the Lord's body.” It would be pleaded, that the individual is chargeable with the guilt of the abuse. But we read of such a thing in Scripture as the guilt of being partakers of other men's sins; and by what self-satisfying sophistry this consideration is evaded by those whom it chiefly concerns, we cannot pretend to understand. Mr. Burke, the opponent and calumniator of the Dissenters on that occasion, said in his place, in the debate of March 2, 1790, that the existing test he had always thought a bad 6 and an insufficient test for the end which it was meant to • accomplish. He was convinced that it was an abuse of the
* Speech on the Motion for the Repeal of the Test Act, May 8, 1789.
• sacramental rite ; and the sacramental rite was too solemn un
act for prostitution. Where conscience really existed, it ought
not to be wounded. By wounding a man's conscience, they • annihilated the God within him-if he might be allowed so • to express it-and violated him in his sanctuary,'*
Whatever interest, then, the Dissenters may have in the repeal of this invidious, profane, and useless test-useless, for the other declaration sufficiently excludes the Catholic from civil offices, and this test has no operation in excluding him from the Legislature-the clergy of the Church of England have infinitely stronger motives, one might think, for earnestly desiring and soliciting its repeal. Why they should have suffered the Dissenters, in this instance, to advocate their cause, we cannot tell. Long usage blunts the feelings. For seven and thirty years, the Dissenters have themselves mani. fested a magnanimous, or, rather, a criminal indifference upon the subject; but this we will venture to say, that had it been imposed upon their clergy, to administer this qualification, not a session would have passed over in all that period, without their voice being heard in indignant remonstrance, till they had delivered themselves from the sacrilegious burden. Sure we are, that, if timidity and a sense of ecclesiastical obedience prevent the pious clergy of the Establishment from expressing their wishes on this subject, they would unfeigoedly rejoice were the test abolished. Mr. Burke took the draft of another test in his pocket, which he proposed to substitute for the sacramental one ; but he candidly owned, that, as he should bave voted for the repeal ten years before, so, if the hear-say information which he had received respecting the wicked designs of the Dissenters of that day, should be proved erroneous, he would hold himself bound to vote for the
repeal of both the Test and the Corporation Acts at once.
It may be said-as the ready answer to all that is unanswerable in any other way—this is not the time. 'Go thy way for • this time; when I have a convenient season, I will call for thee' -has been the standing peace-maker between the debtor and creditor, between conscience and abstract principles, from the days of Festus till now. You will injure the Catholic cause; you will not gain your object; you will make Mr. Canning
angry;'--all this has been sagely urged by our Newspaper oracles and other telegraphs of public opinion. We are plain, straight-forward persons, and feel unable to give any advice as to what precise conjunction of the stars will be the most lucky moment for once more petitioning a British House of Com
* Speeches, vol. iii. p. 482,