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a testimonial from six housekeepers, stating them to be of sober life and character, together with their belief that they were qualified to perform the functions of preachers.” Without following this measure through its various stages, it may suffice to say that it was rejected.
LORD LIVERPOOL, in the name of the government, expressed his wish that Lord Sydmouth would withdraw his bill, remarking that “TOLERATIVE laws were matters or which he thought the legislature should not touch, unless it were from causes of great paramount necessity.”
LORD HOLLAND maintained “that every man had a right to preach, as well as print, what he conceived to be for the good of his fellowcreatures ; and that if he should disturb the tranquillity of his country he was liable to punishment; in the same manner as every man was entitled, without a license, to carry arms, though it did not follow that he was entitled to employ them to the injury of others. If any person thought he knew the meaning of the Scriptures, it was his duty to communicate his opinions. He agreed with the celebrated Locke, that the Toleration Act was not a complete measure, but was merely the first step towards it.”*
LORD STANHOPE expressed views on this occasion remarkable for liberality of sentiment. His lordship said, “He did not now rise to oppose the bill, because it had already received its death-wound. He hoped, however, it would be followed by a measure of a very different nature. Never since he had been a member of Parliament had he received so much pleasure as this day, at observing the number of petitions, so numerously signed, which had been presented against this most wretched bill. The event had shewn that there was still a public opinion in the country, and that, when called into action, it could manifest itself speedily, and with effect. He was one of those who detested that act which they called the Toleration Act, because it did not go far enough. He hated the name of the Toleration Act. He hated the word toleration, because he loved liberty. He believed he might say that he was one of those who had read as many statutes on the subject of religion, not as the lawyers only, but, he might say, as my lords the bishops. He had gone through them with a professional man by his side; and with his pen had abstracted and marked off three hundred laws atout religion; and he ventured to assert they were of such a nature as would make their lordships disgusted with the statute-book, and ashamed of their ancestors who, enacted them." These are sentiments which might have been uttered by an extreme Dissenter.
* Brooks's Religious Liberty, vol. 2, pp. 390, 891.
LORD GREY also commended himself by the liberality of the opinions which he expressed on the occasion. His lordship remarked, “He could not allow the question to be put without declaring his unchangeable objection both to the details and to the principle of the bill, to which no modifications could ever reconcile him. The principle of the bill was restraint-restraint vexatious and uncalled for. That it was a bill of restraint even his noble friend who introduced it had not denied, or attempted to disguise. He was, however, against all restraint. He went along with his noble friend, Lord Holland, in thinking that every man who was impressed with the belief that he had a call to preach, ought to have every liberty allowed him so to do."
It may be interesting to observe, that the late Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr. Sutton, behaved exceedingly well on this occasion. He declared his utter abhorrence of every species of persecution. After which his grace continued by saying, “ Whilst he lamented the errors, as he thought them, of the Protestant dissenters from the Church of England, he admitted that they had A FULL RIGHT TO THE SOBER AND CONSCIENTIOUS PROFESSION OF THEIR OWN RELIGIOUS OPINIONS. The sacred writings were allowed by all Protestants to be the great standard of religious doctrine ; but the interpretation of them was liable to error. Uniformity of religious belief was not to be expected, so variously constituted were the minds of men ; and, consequently, RELIGIOUS COERCION WAS NOT ONLY ABSURD AND IMPOLITIC, but for all good purposes impracticable.”
The above somewhat lengthy notice of Lord Sydmouth's attempted interference with the rights of conscience, has been given on account of its vexatious and mischievous tendency, and ITS BETRAYAL OF THE LINGERING SPIRIT OF AGAINST DISSENTERS; and with satisfaction and thankfulness, be it spoken, this was the LAST ATTEMPT that has been made to abridge their liberties.
The utterance of sentiments such as delivered by LORD STANHOPE, must have been considered as the extreme of religious liberalism in the august assembly to which they were addressed—sentiments much in agreement with those in the celebrated act for establishing religious freedom in the Assembly of Virginia, in the year of the American Ind endence, 1786. It will be observed, that a remarkable contrast is thus presented with some of the statutes, to which reference has been made in these pages. This act is considered a model law upon religious liberty; and although it is not intended to point to America as a pattern in all respects upon the question of freedom, it is manifest
AND INVETERATE INTOLERANCE
that upon the subject of RELIGIOUS RIGHTS they were greatly in advance of this country.
A brief space may be not unsuitably occupied in giving the act of the Assembly of Virginia ENTIRE, it being quite relevant to the subject under consideration :
“Well aware that Almighty God has created the mind free; that all attempts to influence it by temporal punishments or burthens, or by civil incapacitations, tend only to beget habits of hypocrisy, and are a departure from the Holy Author of our religion, who, being Lord of body and mind, yet chose not to propagate it by coercions on either ; that the impious presumption of legislatures and rulers, civil and ecclesiastical, (who being themselves but fallible and uninspired men, have assumed dominion over the faith of others, setting up their own opinion and modes of thinking as alone true and infallible, and, as such, endeavouring to impose them on others,) hath established and maintained false religions over the greatest part of the world, and through all time.
“That to compel a man to furnish contributions of money for the propagation of opinions which he disbelieves, is sinful and tyrannical ; that even the forcing a man to support this or that teacher of his own religious persuasion, is depriving him of the comfortable liberty of giving his contributions to the particular pastor whose morals he would make his pattern, and whose powers he feels most persuasive to righteousness, and withdrawing from the ministry those temporal rewards which, proceeding from an approbation of their personal conduct, are an additional incitement to earnest and unremitted labours for the instruction of mankind.
“That our civil rights have no dependence on our religious opinions, any more than on our opinions in physic or geometry ; that, therefore, the proscribing any citizen as unworthy the public confidence, by laying upon him an incapacity of being called to offices of trust and emolument, unless he profess or renounce this or that religious opinion, is depriving him injuriously of those privileges and advantages to which, in common with his fellow-citizens, he has a natural right, and tends also to corrupt the principles of that very religion it is meant to encourage, by bribing, with a monopoly of worldly honours and emoluments, those who will externally conform to it; that though, indeed, those are criminal who do not withstand such temptations, yet neither are those innocent who lay them in the way.
" That to suffer the civil magistrate to intrude his powers into the field of opinion, and restrain the profession or propagation of prin
ciples on the supposition of their ill tendency, is a dangerous fallacy, which at once destroys all religious liberty ; because he being, of course, judge of that tendency, will make his opinions the rule of judgment, and approve or condemn the sentiments of others only as they shall agree with or differ from his own ; that it is time enough, for the rightful purposes of civil government, for its officers to interpose when principles break out into overt acts against peace and good order.
“And finally, Truth is great, and will prevail if left to herself, and is the proper and sufficient antagonist to Error, and can have nothing to fear from the conflict, unless (by human interposition) disarmed of her natural weapons-free argument and debate; error ceasing to be dangerous when it is permitted freely to contradict them.
“BE IT THEREFORE ENACTED BY THE GENERAL ASSEMBLY, THAT NO MAN SHALL BE COMPELLED TO SUPPORT ANY RELIGIOUS WORSHIP, PLACE, OR MINISTRY WHATSOEVER ; NOR SHALL BE FORCED, RESTRAINED, MOLESTED, OR BURTHENED, IN HIS BODY OR GOODS; NOR SHALL OTHERWISE SUFFER ON ACCOUNT OF HIS RELIGIOUS OPINIONS OR BELIEF; BUT ALL MEN BE FREE TO PROFESS, AND BY ARGUMENT TO MAINTAIN, THEIR OPINION IN MATTERS OF RELIGION, AND THAT THE SAME SHALL IN NO WISE DIMINISH, ENLARGE, OR AFFECT THEIR CIVIL CAPACITIES.
“And though we well know that this Assembly, elected by the people for the ordinary purposes of legislation only, have no power to restrain the acts of succeeding Assemblies, constituted with powers equal to our own, and that, therefore, to declare this act irrevocable would be of no effect in law; yet we are free to declare, and do declare, that the rights hereby asserted are natural rights of mankind, and that if any act shall be hereafter passed to repeal the present, or to narrow its operation, such act will be an infringement of natural ights."
This noble document requires no comment. The following extracts from Brooks, from their elevated sentiments, may be considered as a worthy pendent to it, as emanating from this side of the Atlantic :
“Liberty of religion is the birthright of man. It is a precious inheritance given him by his Creator, and is inseparably connected with his rational constitution. Not only has every man an indubitable right to the use of his intellectual powers on all points and duties in theology, but God has created him under indispensable obligations to claim and exercise that right. We can no more release ourselves than we can be released by others, from the most awful responsibility 10 God, for the employment of our understanding and consciences on all subjects connected with our faith and salvation. To deny that we
are to judge for ourselves in such matters is to deny our obligation to our Maker, especially since we cannot be answerable for opinions not our own; but those who take from us this responsibility would surely tremble to answer for us at the tribunal of God. Or if they were rash enough to do this, we are not weak enough to trust them; we know
EVERY ONE of us shall give account of HIMSELF to God.' If, therefore, every man enjoy an undoubted right to believe the Gospel, and to worship God, no man, or body of men, can possibly have any right to forbid, or license, or interrupt him,
“Christian faith and worship cannot be the subject of prohibitory laws, founded on a pure basis. The demands of religion can never be satisfied but by an entire release from every disabling and penal statute. In this unclouded and unembarrassed state alone religion displays her spotless majesty. Loosened from the bonds of human traditions and secular institutions, she walks at large, and appears in her true character—a visitor from heaven among the children of men—to guide their erring steps, to enlighten their beclouded minds, to purify their depraved affections, to make them great by conferring on them a holy immortality, conducting them in her amiable and lovely train to celestial rest and peace.”
In 1812, an advance was made in religious civilization by the passing of what was termed the New Toleration Act. A comparative view is given by Brooks of the benefits conferred upon Dissenters by this act, in the following terms ;
“This new act absolutely repeals the Five Mile and Conventicle Acts, and another of a most offensive kind against the Quakers. It then proceeds to relieve from the penalties of the several acts mentioned in former tolerant acts, all Protestants who resort to a congregation allowed by the acts there referred to. As under the old Toleration Act, so also by this, all places of worship must be CERTIFIED to the proper court; but by the former only FIVE PERSONS could meet together, in addition to a man's own family, without having the place registered ; whereas by this the number is extended to TWENTY. By the former act no person was allowed to preach till he had taken the oaths; by this act any person may preach without having taken the oaths ; and he is merely liable to be called upon to take them once, if he be REQUIRED IN WRITING FROM A JUSTICE OF THE PEACE. By the old Toleration Acts, persons were obliged to attend the quarter sessions to take the oaths; by this act, any person may take them before one justice only; and in no case can such person be compelled
* Brooks's History of Religious Liberty, vol. 2, pp. 397, 399.