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should have committed the management of their suit to a man of 'so little pretensions to parliamentary skill, and of talents so humble as niine.
“ Sir, their conduct admits of only one explanation: they have confidence in the justice of their cause, and they have equal confidence in the candor and liberality of the House. They know that in addressing the most énlightened men of the most enlightened age, the artificial aids of rhetoric cannot be necessary to enforce the arguments of reason. They know that in addressing a parliament which possesses, beyond any that ever assembled within these walls, the confidence and affection of the people-a parliament under whose auspices and by whose guidance this kingdom, to the disappointment of her enemies, and the astonishment of the world, has recovered from her desolated state--a parliament whose de
. cisions proclaim to every part of the empire, that under their government no individual shall be deprived of his rights without just cause, nor penalties be inflicted without the commission of a crime : they know that in addressing such a parliament, it will be sufficient for them to prove, that, contrary to the first principles of justice, they are subjected to punishment, without the im. putation of guilt; amerced of the common privileges of citizens, without the suspicion of offence; and condemned to perpetual degradation and dishonor, unless they will consent to incur the guilt of renouncing that right of private judgment in matters of religion, which the God of nature has given them.
• Three different classes of our fellow-subjects are aggrieved by those provisions in our laws, of which I shall propose the repeal. .
“ The first is composed of all those Englishmen, who are dissenters from the church of England.
« The second is composed of all the members of the established church of Scotland.
« The third consists of all those respectable clergy. men of the church of England, who think that the prostitution of the most solemn ordinance of their faith to the purposes of a civil test is little less than a sacrilegious abuse.
“ Of these several descriptions of my fellow-citizens, entitled as they all are to particular regard, the Dissenters have the first claim to my attention ; for they have publicly requestedma request which they confined to their own case - lest they should be thought presumptuous in expressing the complaints of others--they have publicly requested, that I would submit to the consideration of parliament the propriety of relieving from penalties of disqualification and reproach so many hundred thousands of his Majesty's ardently, loyal and affectionate subjects.
“ Thus authorized, I am happy in the outset of our deliberations to declare, that the grievances, of which the Dissenters complain, are of a civil, and not of an ecclesiastical nature. They humbly solicit a restoration of their civil rights, not an enlargement of their ecclesiastical privileges. It is of consequence that this fact should be distinctly stated and clearly understood ; for the
very word dissenter leads so naturally to the supposition that these complaints are of an ecclesiastical kind, and their acknowledged merit as citizens so naturally excludes the idea of its being possible that the law should have dem prived them of any of their civil rights, that I feel myself under a necessity of stating, at the very threshold of the business, that their prayer has nothing ecclesia astical for its object. They wish not to diminish the provision which the legislature has made for the esta
blished church ; nor do they envy her the revenue she enjoys, or the ecclesiastical privileges of dignity and honor with which she is invested. If their aim had been to attack the rights of others, and not merely to recover their own, they would not have chosen a member of the church of England, for their advocate, nor could I have accepted such a trust. So far are they indeed from tresa passing on the rights of others, that even the restitution of their own, they did not solicit till the public tranquillity was completely restored, and till a season of leisure from other avocations had afforded the legislature a convenient opportunity of considering the hardships by which they are aggrieved. That men of acknowledged merit, as citizens of known attachment to the constitution, and of zealous loyalty to the Sovereign, should at no time solicit relief from unmerited disabilities and undeserved reproach, is not to be expected from the Dissenters, for it is not to be expected from human nature ; but in praying for that relief, they have chosen the time which they thought the most convenient to parliament, and the mode which they deemed the most respecta ful to the House. United in sentiment on this occasion, to a degree which I believe is unexampled in any other body of men, and hitherto unknown among themselves, and forming in most of the towns of England a large proportion of the inhabitants, they did not choose to crowd your table with petitions ; they wished to owe their success, not to the number of the claimants, but to the equity of the claim ; and they have observed, that justice never pleads more powerfully with the House, than when she approaches accompanied only by her own complete perfections."
Here Mr. Beaufor introduced a clear and concise nar. rative of the origin of the obnoxious acts.
16 The cor
poration act," said he, “ declared that no person should be elected into any municipal office, who should not, one year before his election, have taken the sacrament according to the usage of the church of England. The Test act required of every person accepting a civil or military office under the crown to take the sacrament in like manner within a limited time, in default of which he was liable to a fine of sool, and incurred other penalties in the highest degree severe and rigorous. The arst of these acts was passed in the year 1651; and the despotic and arbitraty spirit in which it was framed, sufficiently appeared from a single clause in the act, empowering the King for a limited time to remove at his pleasure all municipal officers by commissioners of his ap- : pointment. This act was levelled indiscriminately against Protestant, and Catholic dissenters; but in the year 1673, the æra of the Test act, the state of things was materially changed. The jealousy of parliament, in regard to the Protestant dissenters, had now subsided, and the alarm of all the different denominations of Protestants was equally excited by the dangers to which Protestantism itself was exposed by the flagrant attempts of the court, to effect the restoration of the Popish religion. The King himself was believed on good ground to be nothing better than a concealed Papist. The duke of York, his brother, and immediate successor to the crown, was not only an avowed convert to that religion, but a flaming and furious zealot. Lord CLIFFORD, the first minister, and other persons high in authority were also bigoted Papists; and a declaration of indulgence had been published by the King, in order to make way for the introduction of Popery. In these circumstances, the Test act was a measure of national policy and safety. If bore the title of an act for preventing the danger which may happen from Popish Recusants; and the dissenters, far from concurring in the opposition made by the court to this bill, publicly declared, through the medium of Mr. Alderman Love, one of the members for the city of London, and himself a Dissenter, that in a time of public danger they would in no wise impede the progress of a measure deemed essential to the safety of the kingdom; and though they were accidentally included in the operation of it, they would wave their claim to an exemption, trusting to the good faith, justice, and humanity of parliament, that a future provision should be made for their relief. This seasonable declaration extremely facilitated the passing of the bill, and was received with just and generous applause. A bill for their relief was accordingly at a subsequent period of the session passed by the commons, but defeated by the sudden prorogation of parlia. ment.
A second bill was in a succeeding parliament brought in, and passed by both Houses ; but while it lay ready for the royal assent, the King degraded his dignity so far as secretly to order the clerk of the crown to withdraw the bill; and the parliament being soon after dissolved, it never passed into a law. But the relief which the unprincipled profligacy of CHARLES refused to grant, the magnanimity of WILLIAM was impatient to bestow. In one of his earliest speeches from the throne, he expressed his earnest hope, that such alteration would be made in the laws, as would leave room for the admis. sion of all his protestant subjects who were willing to serve him. But at this period the High Church and Tory interest predominated, in opposition to the wise and salutary policy of the court. From the memorable protest of the lords upon this subject, in the year 1689, it appeared, nevertheless, that the sentiments of several of