§ Lord Holland moved the order of the day for going into a committee on this bill.
The Earl of Rosebery
said, that before the bill went into the committee, he was desirous of saying a few words upon the general principles and provisions of the Test and Corporation acts, particularly as they affected Scotland; for, notwithstanding all that had been urged, on more than one occasion, by the noble and learned lord (Eldon), he still continued to think, and was ready to maintain, that the interests of the people of Scotland were materially concerned in these statutes, and that but for the annual bill of Indemnity, they would inevitably suffer to a great extent, from the consequences which naturally flowed from them. He offered himself, perhaps, to their lordships for this purpose the more readily, as it so 1572 happened, that though connected with Scotland himself, both by birth and property, he had been educated a member of the Church of England, and had always preferred its constitution, discipline, and liturgy to the government of the Church of Scotland, without any liturgy at all, though he believed, in point of doctrine, very little, if any, difference existed between the two, both preaching the pure principles of the Christian faith. His observations, therefore, whether they were correct or erroneous, were at least disinterested and sincere. Upon this branch of the subject then—the connection of these acts with the rights and interests of the inhabitants of Scotland—it was only necessary for their lordships to inquire in what situation they would be placed, if the enactments of them were really enforced, next to ask, what were the engagements entered into between the two countries at the period of the Union, and then to recollect what was not only expected from, but what was uniformly complied with by the sovereign of this realm, on his accession to the throne, and the result would shew such a mixture of contradiction, as well as of injustice, that neither would have been tolerated to this hour but for the intervention of the annual Indemnity, which came in to mitigate these evils, and to counteract these inconsistencies. For what are the facts which induced him to make this broad statement? In the first place, then, the people of Scotland, under the operation of the Test and Corporation acts, are debarred from holding any civil employment in the southern division of the island, or of serving their country in the army or navy—that is, they must either renounce their religious tenets, or abandon their political, or professional, pursuits: but then, by the Act of Union, they are indulged with the hope and expectation, or rather promise, that this is not to be the case (which would be only a vain and delusive one, except for the Act of Indemnity) as it is declared in the most express terms by that treaty, that the rights, privileges and advantages of both countries shall be reciprocal; and lastly comes the fact of his majesty's being bound immediately on mounting the throne to make a most solemn declaration, that he will maintain the Presbyterian as the established religion of Scotland, although he is to be incapacitated on account of that very religion which he undertakes in that solemn man- 1573 ner to recognise and maintain, from conferring any commission in his army or navy, and from granting any office under the Crown in England, on the subjects of the northern part of the kingdom. Surely this is an anomaly never before heard of in a state guided by rational or consistent counsels, and is such a restraint, imposed on the natives of Scotland, that he thought the right rev. prelate (Lincoln), who the other evening drew a distinction between restraint and punishment, would concur with him in describing this to be a punishment to which the Scotch ought not to be subjected. Putting, therefore, for the moment, out of the question the case of the Dissenters from the Church of England in this country, he requested, on behalf of the people of Scotland, to say, that as they had a religion established by law, and as they were incorporated with England so as to form but one country, they were entitled, as a matter of strict right, to the enjoyment of every office or situation which could be held by the subject of any part of the kingdom—that any thing-short of this was a stigma on them, and therefore a hardship and injustice. In this view, he considered the Scotch as far more aggrieved by the enactments of the Test and Corporation laws than the Dissenters in England, in as much as the former live under an established religion, and form a national church, by their adherence to which, they are excluded from political, naval, or military advancement. The other points connected with the general question, had been so exhausted by the perspicuous and comprehensive speech of the noble baron who had introduced the bill to the notice of the House, a speech not less distinguished by the tone of moderation and temper which it displayed, than by the unanswerable arguments by which he supported his principles and conclusions, that he should sum up what further he had to say, by declaring that he assented to this measure of relief, for the object of enabling his majesty to exercise his just prerogative without doubt or impediment, with a view of strengthening the Church of England, by putting an end to the feelings of jealousy and irritation which he feared were now entertained by those who dissented from her, and as the best method of preventing the greatest of all national evils, religious exasperation and hatred.
§ The Earl of Eldon
said, that the ques- 1574 tion then before their lordships, as it regarded Scotland, was an excessively delicate question. When the Act of Union took place, the Scotch were extremely anxious to take care that no Englishman, looking to the statute of William and Mary, should have any thing to do with any office in Scotland, unless he first subscribed their confession of faith. On the other hand, the English were equally desirous that the people of Scotland should not be admitted into office in this country. If their lordships would look back at the discussions which took place in 1787, 1789, and 1790, they would find that a great deal was then said about what the Act of Union permitted. All that he would then say, however, was, that the Act of Union was extremely cautious to provide that no alteration should be made in the Scotch Church Establishment, and that no persons should be admitted to office in that country, unless they first subscribed the confession of faith. There was a Test in that country, therefore, on the same principle as the test for holding office in this country. He saw with abhorrence, that there were to be in this country academies and universities, without religion being taught in them, because it was stated that no one could tell what Christianity was; and when he saw that persons holding offices in Scotch universities were connected with these new academics, he could not help expressing his astonishment, that they should ever have had the honour of holding those offices, It was stated in the Act of Union, that the Church of England was to be inviolably preserved. But how? It was not merely a simple declaration; it was a declaration, that it should be preserved by the laws and statutes there mentioned; and with respect to the laws there mentioned, it was not confined to them, but there was an express declaration, that every law and statute passed in this country for the purpose of the preservation of the establishment of the Church of England—not merely for the purpose of the preservation of its worship, discipline, and government, but for the preservation of the Church itself—should remain inviolate for ever. He was perfectly ready to admit, that no legislator could legislate inviolably for posterity; but, on the other hand, the use of that word was a caution to posterity, not without sufficient and ample reasons, to inno- 1575 vate against laws which were understood to be the fundamental laws of the country; and if there were those who could find out that the Corporation and Test acts were not acts for the preservation of the establishment of the Church of Eng-: land, he could only say, that those persons had gone much further in the march of intellect than the humble individual who; now addressed their lordships. That march had certainly been both very rapid and very slow. Their lordships would; recollect that from the year 1662 to the year 1828, pretty nearly two centuries, it had never been found out, by those who were charged to take care of the established Church of England, except by one or two individuals, and it had never been found out by those who were charged with the interest of the Church of Scotland, that the Test and Corporation acts were a desecration of the sacrament: but within one week their opinion had been entirely changed. The march of intellect, in the latter case, had certainly been exceedingly rapid, however slow it might have been in the first instance. It was very true, that his majesty, on his accession to the throne, solemnly declared that he would preserve the Presbyterian church; but it was equally true, that his majesty undertook to keep inviolate the establishment of the Church of England; and when their lordships had on their table a thousand petitions—he knew, though he would not state, how they had been obtained—stating that it was a degradation to any man, and against all principle with respect to government, to have such tests, their lordships, he hoped, would let him remind them, that his majesty was obliged to take the Sacrament, and before he began to exercise the royal functions was I obliged to submit to that which those petitions stated to be a degradation. Why did their lordships impose it upon the king, if they considered it improper to; subject persons to it who filled inferior offices? He contended, that it had become part of the constitution of this country, as established at the Revolution, Now, with respect to king William, it was true that he objected to the test after he came to the throne; but while he was prince of Orange he never made any such objection, and when he did object, after becoming king, the legislature would not hear of his objection. With regard to his friends, the Scotch, he thought they 1576 had no right to complain, for they had certainly always had a tolerably fair share of offices amongst them, notwithstanding this test, so much complained of. The question however was this—whether, under the effect of acts of parliament, passed for the security of our constitution, we had or had not more security than we ought? Now, his opinion was, that the Church of England, combined with the state, formed together the constitution of Great Britain, and that the Test and Corporation acts were necessary to the preservation of that constitution. His noble friends said, it was time enough when any danger to the constitution arose, to legislate for that danger; but he could never agree to that doctrine: he would rather rest the safety of the constitution on those securities with which it was at present surrounded, than run any risks, on the chance of future legislation. He therefore entreated those who were the guardians of the Church, to pause before they allowed her to be stripped of these safeguards, by which she had been so long protected; lest, those miseries, from which we had so happily been rescued, should return; in which case they would have to look again to the restoration of the constitution, such as it was established in the time of Charles 2nd, and look, perhaps, for such restoration in vain.
said, that what had fallen from the learned earl required that he should trouble their lordships with a few words in explanation: and first, he wished the clerk to turn to an entry on he Journals of the 16th of March, 1689. The noble earl argued, that one of the great objects of the Revolution was to support these particular laws. Now, when king William came down to the House to give the royal assent to the bill for annulling the attainder of lord Russell, he addressed them in these memorable words:—" I am, with all the expedition I can, filling up the vacancies that are in offices and places of trust by this Revolution. I know you are sensible there is a necessity of some law to settle the oaths to be taken by all persons to be admitted to such places. I recommend it to your care to make a speedy provision for it; and as I doubt not but you will sufficiently provide against Papists, so I hope you will leave room for the admission of all Protestants that are willing and able to serve." The noble earl had said, that the present objections 1577 to this test were the consequence of the "march of intellect;" but let him look to the protests entered on the Journals of that House, and he would find if the word "desecration" meant the same as "profanation," that no five successive years had elapsed since the Revolution, in which the term was not applied to this test, either in protests, motions, or petitions. The noble earl, in referring to the circumstances of the union with Scotland, had left out one most important fact,—namely, that on the clause being read, in which were introduced the act of the 2nd of Elizabeth and another act, it was moved in the House of Commons, that the Corporation and Test acts should also be named in it; but which motion was rejected by the House. A similar motion was made in this House, and was attended with a similar result. But, said the noble earl, parliament was precluded, by the Union, from repealing these laws. Now the words of the Act of Union were, "until parliament shall otherwise direct." And then his noble friend had said, that the constitution of this country was contained in those statutes. Now, he held that the constitution of this country consisted in this—that the King, Lords, and Commons possessed the power of making laws and statutes; not that the statutes when so made were the constitution. Were, then, the Corporation and Test acts the constitution of this, country? Would his noble friend maintain, then, that Fortescue and sir E. Coke did not live under the British constitution, because those great men had lived before those laws were made? If they were not the constitution, then the repeal of them could not be said to be a repeal of the constitution. Their lordships would find that the same objections which his noble friend had attributed, with a sneer, "to the march of intellect," existed two centuries ago. They would find that intellect had marched as far as that, at the very time when the Test act was passed, and still more so at the period of William 3rd. Why, if their lordships were to hear what the great whigs of that day, who were objects of so much admiration with his noble friend, said on the subject, they would find their language much stronger than any which was to be found in the numerous petitions upon the table. They would find that they designated it as "a profanation," not "a desecration," 1578 perhaps; for that term he believed belonged, to the march of intellect; but the same arguments were used then as at the present day. He was surprised, therefore, to hear his noble friend treat the objections to it as something new. As he before said, king William himself recommended this proceeding. The opposite party, however, said they would provide for the Dissenters in another way; and were it not for that promise, the great man at the head of the government (for a great man he certainly was) would have insisted on the Test and Corporation acts being repealed. Such was also the feeling of George 1st, and the leading men of that time; but many obstacles arose, and accidental circumstances, which disappointed the hopes of the Dissenters. As to our having, at the union with Scotland, bound ourselves to preserve those acts inviolate, such was not the fact. It had certainly been an endeavour on the part of lord. Nottingham to introduce those two laws into the articles of Union, but without success, the object being to defeat the Union altogether. When their lordships found that the effort of that party to introduce those acts was a part of their tactics to get rid of that measure, it afforded a strong proof that those acts ought to have been repealed. Yet, now their lordships were to be told, that they were as much concluded by those acts, as by those which appeared on the face of the Act of Union. He hoped, therefore, that no act passed so recently as the reign of Charles 2nd would be deemed as an inviolable part of the constitution.
§ The Earl of Eldon
said, he had never stated, that the constitution was formed by the laws and statutes. What he had always said was, that the constitution, as it had existed for a considerable period of time, was a constitution consisting of the union of the State and the Established Church, and that they were united by laws for the preservation of the constitution so acknowledged and so established. If their lordships thought proper to change the constitution they might do so; but he would not be accessary to any such deed. He must act on his own opinion, and he would say, without hesitation, as he hoped to answer to God and his country, that if every man in that House supported the bill, he alone would go below the bar and vote against it. He had not denied that king William had recommended mea- 1579 sures for the relief of the Dissenters: he had only compared the declaration of William prince of' Orange, with the speech of king William; and when he looked at both those documents, and saw what parliament haddone, and what they had forborne to do, he adhered to his former statement. The parliament, notwithstanding that recommendation, had shown, by the laws they had passed and preserved, that it was their determination to maintain that constitution, which was the constitution of this country from that moment to this. He knew a message had been sent by Charles the 2nd to parliament—not proposing to admit Dissenters to office, for that they "were expressly refused—but certainly proposing some measures of ease for them: a bill was brought into parliament for their relief, which did not pass. It did pass, however, in the first year of William and Mary. He did not hesitate to state that the Sacramental Test was of the most sacred nature, and if any body could propose another test, equally strong, to be substituted, God forbid that he should object to it. What he said was, that it was matter of surprise to him, that, down to this period certain lords in that House had never come forward until now, to say that this was a species of test that ought not to exist. All he would say was, that no consideration on this side of the grave should induce him ever to be a party to such a separation between the Church and State as this bill would effect, unless such an alteration were introduced into it as: would enable them to hand down to posterity that Church in a state of security equal to that in which they had received it from their ancestors, and which had produced so large a share of happiness, not only to this empire, but to every part of the world. All he looked for was, that the constitution should be secured: provided that were accomplished, he was not struggling for this test or that.
said, he considered it necessary that their lordships should understand exactly what the law required in Scotland as to religious qualifications. He entirely agreed with his noble friend who had commenced the discussion as to the justice of the claims of the people of Scotland to the repeal of the Test act. But they had not the same right to complain of the Corporation act; and though their lordships' table was loaded with petitions, they were not all for the repeal of the Cor- 1580 poration act. He had presented one himself from Edinburgh, only for the repeal of the Test act. By one of the articles of Union with Scotland it was stipulated, that the people of that country should not be subjected, in Scotland, to any religious Test whatever. The parliament of Great Britain was not at liberty, therefore, to extend any such Test to Scotland. But it seemed that the claim of the people of Scotland was considered really intrusive. The House had been told, that they already had rather too many English offices. But that was a sort of language against which he must protest. With regard to civil offices, there were those of the judges, justices, sheriffs, and many others, to which there was no reason why natives of Scotland, long residing in England, and having acquired property here, should not be eligible. Again, were they to be told that commissions in the army and navy were English offices; and that the people of Scotland, who were called on to serve the state, would be unable to hold a commission but for the Annual Indemnity bills? This was a proposition he should be astonished to hear in any quarter whatever. If his majesty happened to be in Scotland, and any office became vacant, the appointment, there could be no doubt, would hot be liable to the Test act. The king might bestow the seals of a secretaryship of state on any person under those circumstances, without His being subject to the operation of the Test act. He was anxious to explain the circumstances attending the offices to which his learned friend had alluded as being, under an act of king William, subject to a religious test, There were certain offices, the holders of which were obliged to subscribe a profession of faith of the Scotch Church, but this Test was confined to Ecclesiastical offices, and the professors in the universities, and, perhaps, to parochial schoolmasters.
The Earl of Falmouth
assured his noble friends who belonged to Scotland, that he did not rise to call them intruders; all he would say on that head was, that if intruders at all, they were very useful ones, and that on some occasions he hardly knew what this country would have done without them. With respect to the bill before the House, the opinions he entertained had been so ably advocated on a late occasion, that he had then felt it unnecessary to trouble their lordships with 1581 them. He had been particularly gratified by the speech of the noble and learned lord (Eldon) whose conviction was the result of long observation, and of experience in matters of state policy, hardly equalled by that of any living man: if this conviction was also the result of an ardent, perhaps enthusiastic, attachment to the main principles of the constitution, it was not on that account that it would have the less influence with him. Upon the expediency of this bill he would only observe, that, if he had rightly understood the noble duke at the head of the government, it appeared the principle reason with him for thinking it expedient, had been, that such was the feeling of the other House of Parliament. It might be right sometimes that a minister of the Crown should attach due weight to such a feeling, but their lordships knew too well the principles upon which their value and importance in the state depended, not to be cautious how they admitted the doctrine, that the will of the House of Commons ought to prevail with them there. No man could feel more respect for that branch of the legislature than he did: he knew its utility, as all must know it; but as to its influence upon their lordships' decisions, he would express his understanding of the constitution in a very few words—he would give precisely the same attention to the measures recommended by the Commons as the Commons would give to those emanating from the Peers—and no more. But the noble duke had changed his intentions with a view to conciliation. He (lord F.) hoped that, on such occasions, all the spirit of conciliation was not to be evinced towards the noble duke's constant opponents, and that some small portion of it would be thought due to those who had been his firm political friends—who had upheld those principles which the noble duke had professed to uphold, and who would still uphold them under all changes and all circumstances. In this feeling he trusted that the bill was open to great alteration, since to the principle of substituting such a Declaration for the Sacramental Test, he never could assent, considering it, as he did, to be positively good for nothing at all: even the words "in the presence of Almighty God," after "I, A. B. do solemnly declare," appeared to have been studiously avoided, as if to discard all such solemnity. He declared, too, that he had never heard the shadow of a 1582 reason why the security of an oath should not be taken upon this, as upon other occasions. It had been said by a right rev. prelate, with whose excellence of character he was not unacquainted, and who, by his able defence of the connexion between the Church and State, on other questions, had attained the eminence from, which he was the better able to dispense around him the benefits of a bright example—by him it had been said, that, "no honest man could make this Declaration, coupling it with the preamble of the bill, and not feel bound by it." But in judging by his own high principles, that right rev. prelate (the bishop of Durham) had forgotten that they did not legislate for honest men: they did not make laws for men's honesty and virtues; it was against the obliquities of human nature that they had to provide; and in this point of view, how could such a Declaration for a moment be thought effectual? Again, it was said that Deists and Atheists were not to be bound by any oaths or declarations; but there was another tribunal, of which, even an Atheist, if there existed so wretched a being, must live in awe—that of public opinion—even an Atheist would quake before the scourge of public opinion; and in proportion as the Test should be made sacred and solemn, would Christians take care that it should not be broken, with impunity. He knew that he might render himself liable to the charge of being an ultra Tory, by advocating old-fashioned, and as they might be called, obsolete principles. This was a very foolish term, by the bye, to apply to any party in. this country; but if he interpreted it rightly, the increase of kingly power and prerogative came within its meaning. Now, he was going to shew, that in this sense at least, he was, no ultra Tory; for he should strenuously object to the clauses at the end of the bill, giving to the Crown the power of dispensing with any Test upon admission to offices or places, and he entirely agreed with the learned lord, that those clauses ought to be expunged. He would no more consent to increase the privileges and power of the Crown, than he would take away one jot from the securities of the constitution, or liberties of the people. To him, therefore, this bill, as it now stood, was in the highest degree objectionable. He thought the principle of substituting so absolutely worthless a Declaration for the Sacramental Test, in- 1583 expedient and dangerous; and that to give an arbitrary power of dispensing with all Tests, to the Crown, would be unwise and unconstitutional: for which reasons, unless greatly altered, in the way he had pointed out, he should decidedly oppose the bill. He would only add, that however uselessly he might have addressed their lordships upon so important a subject, he could assure them, that he had expressed himself with sincerity, and without the slightest tinge of party feeling.
§ The Duke of Wellington
said, he rose merely to state to their lordships, that the noble lord who had just sat down did not appear perfectly to understand the ground on which he had recommended this measure. Now, he had not gone the length which the noble lord had attributed to him. He had not called on their lordships to agree to this bill, because it had been passed in the House of Commons. He had merely assigned that as one of the reasons that had induced him to recommend the measure to their lordships. He certainly had alluded to the feeling in favour of the bill, which had for some time been growing up in the House of Commons, as a good reason for entertaining it in their lordships' house; but other reasons also operated on his mind. Many individuals of high eminence in the Church, and who were as much interested as any persons in the kingdom in the preservation of the constitution, had expressed themselves as being favourable to an alteration of the law. The religious feelings of those venerable persons disposed them to entertain this measure, because they felt strong objections to the Sacramental Test. Under these circumstances, wishing to advance and to preserve the blessings of religious peace and tranquillity—conceiving the present to be a good opportunity for securing to the country so inestimable an advantage—he had felt it to be his duty to recommend the measure to their lordships. It was on all these grounds that he supported the bill, and not on the single ground of its having been carried in the House of Commons. He was not one of those who considered that the best means of preserving the constitution of the country was by adhering to measures, which had been called for by particular circumstances, because they had been in existence for two hundred years, since the lapse of time might render it proper to modify, if not to remove them 1584 altogether. The noble lord stated that he had objections to this bill. If the noble lord suffered the bill to go into a committee, and would there state his propositions, every attention would be paid to them. All he hoped was, that their lordships would not unnecessarily make any alterations in the measure that were likely to give dissatisfaction; that they would not do any thing which might be calculated to disturb that conciliatory spirit which was now growing up—a spirit that, would redound to the benefit of the country, and which, so far from opposing, they ought, on the contrary, to do every thing to foster and promote.
§ The Earl of Harewood
said, he considered a bill of this, nature, a measure which was so interesting to a large portion of the population, called for deliberate consideration, and ought not to be hastily passed. It appeared extraordinary to him, after the long silence which had prevailed on this subject, that it should be thus suddenly brought before Parliament; and, looking to this circumstance, it seemed as if the government had been taken by surprise. Would any man believe, that after thirty-five or forty years perfect quiescence under these laws, that persons calling themselves Dissenters, without any thing having been done to increase the pressure of those enactments, should suddenly feel the pressure to be so grievous that they could no longer bear it? Was this measure brought forward solely on account of the general feeling of the Dissenters? Because if it were not, he must look for the cause elsewhere. He might be wrong; but he must conceive that cause to be closely connected with another measure, which involved political considerations of great importance. He believed that it was with reference to that measure, that this question was brought forward at present. The question, however, for their lordships' consideration was, whether the present was a satisfactory measure. It was brought from the other House of Parliament—that House having, by this bill, admitted that some Declaration was necessary. Now, it appeared to him to be very curious, that in the Declaration contained in the bill, no notice was taken of this important question; namely, whether a man to whom the Declaration was about to be administered was or was not a Christian? He should be sorry to exclude the Dissenters from those privi- 1585 leges which they enjoyed under the Indemnity bill; but when they came to that House with a new Declaration, their lordships ought to see that it was a proper one. When he looked to the Declaration, it appeared to him to" be deficient. In forming a Declaration suitable to such a bill, it ought to proceed on this simple; proposition — that the man taking it, thereby declared himself to be a believer in Christianity. The answer to this, he knew was, that it was useless to provide such a Test, for persons who did not believe would take any oath that might be propounded to them. But, notwithstanding that, he did not wish to see a Declation that did not contain some provision of this nature standing on the records of parliament. He wished merely that a: clause should be inserted in the Declaration, from which it would appear, that; every man who took it, believed in the Christian religion. It was not because he! expected any great security from the Declaration that he was desirous of having it ! thus altered; but he wished it so to be worded for the credit of parliament.
The Bishop of Llandaff
said, he was of opinion that a Test could easily be formed, which would provide for the perfect security of the Church of England, and be satisfactory to the other party. As to the Church of Scotland, it was, he conceived, perfectly safe as the bill at present stood, Additions had been suggested to the Declaration, but they did not immediately meet his ideas on the subject; and he meant, at the proper time, to propose such alterations as appeared to him more likely to effect the object which every Declaration must have in view. The phrase, "the wisdom of our ancestors," had, he thought, on a former night, been taken up and animadverted on very inconsiderately. He hoped that this arose from the heat and fervour of the moment. It. had been said on that occasion, that the measures which they were now called on to repeal, had been framed and carried in a spirit of violence and faction; but he would maintain, on the contrary, that they were the result of policy and reason, and were rendered necessary by the circumstances of the time. Great dangers at that period threatened the interests both of the State and of the Church. It was right that those dangers should be resisted; but it was equally proper, at the present, moment, when no hostility towards the Church was 1586 manifested, that the measures which were formerly necessary should be relaxed. Grave and serious attention ought to be bestowed on this measure, before it was allowed to be passed into a law. He spoke more especially with reference to the Declaration; but he mentioned this point without meaning to create any discussion on it at present. It would, however, in his opinion, be more satisfactory if the words of the Declaration were framed in a style of phrase as nearly similar to an oath as possible. The effect of the Declaration was to invest certain persons with civil offices, who, unless they took that Declaration, would be considered unfit for them. Therefore, they ought, in drawing up the Declaration, to take care to provide for the inviolability of that union of Church and State which at present existed; and therefore he thought it would be proper to call on those taking the Test to declare, on the faith of Christians, that they would not endeavour, by the exercise of any power with which their respective offices might invest them, to interfere with the rights and immunities of the Church of England. With such a modification, he should approve of the bill; and, indeed, he conceived that it was essential to its safety.
The Earl of Haddington
was anxious that the inviolability of the Church of Scotland should be strictly preserved. The learned lord (Eldon) had stated, that the safety of the constitution of Great Britain was intimately connected with the safety of the Church of England. He admitted this position in its fullest extent. He felt that the Church of England was an essential part of the constitution of England; but he must be allowed to say, that the Church of Scotland was as much so. Both churches formed a part of the constitution. Such, then, being the case, he presumed that, to have omitted the Church of Scotland in this measure, would have been wrong; because it would appear as if, in point of fact, when the inviolability of only one Church was noticed, the inviolability of the other was not recognized. The Church of Scotland, however, needed no Test; and, with respect to that point, he would never consent that any Test should be imposed with reference to it. Beyond that, he would state his firm belief to be, that the Church of England needed Tests just as little. His opinion of the Church of England was such as induced, 1587 him to think that she could as safely exist without Tests as the Church of Scotland.
§ Lord Colchester.
—I have ever been of; opinion, that the stability of all Governments was best ensured by vesting the political powers of the State in those of its subjects who conform to its Established Religion. In that spirit the Laws were made which it is now proposed to repeal; and they are allowed on all hands to have been necessary in their own day. But, under the nominal existence of these laws, controlled as they have been, or rather suspended, for the last four-score years by the annual Indemnity Act, the Security originally intended has been practically annulled; and nothing has remained but the Inconvenience, greatly exaggerated, and over-rated, as I think—the inconvenience of placing the Clergy often in the situation of being called upon to administer the Holy Sacrament under unsuitable circumstances, and inducing the Dissenters also to take offices under the expected protection of the Indemnity Act, to which offices they were, at the same time, by the permanent Laws of the Country, inadmissible.
These inconveniencies, the original advantage having long since ceased, I am not unwilling to concur in removing; and I shall therefore join in the vote of this night for going into the Committee upon this Bill,—with an earnest desire, nevertheless, to render the Declaration which it is proposed to substitute as an Equivalent for the Sacramental Test, more binding in its form, by assuming the character of an Oath, and more specific in its description of the profession of religious faith of the person who takes it, by requiring that he shall declare himself to be a Protestant.
Another most important amendment will be required in that proposed enactment, which gives to the King's Council the absolute powers of prescribing the class of persons from whom the Declaration shall be required—the time when,— and in truth, whether it shall ever, at any time, be required in any case whatever. Such an abdication by Parliament of its own legislative duties, and such a transfer of its own proper powers to the Sovereign, has been unknown to our Statute Book since the days of Henry the Eighth; and the whole of that portion of the present Bill must be remodelled, and whatever exceptions it maybe fit to make for confining 1588 this new Test to the higher and more efficient offices, and exempting the inferior classes of the civil and military services, all such limitations should be expressly defined by the hand of Parliament itself. In order to render the Bill more fit for its professed ends in these important provisions,—I shall, therefore, concur in the present motion; reserving my vote on the final adoption or rejection of the entire Bill, according to the altered form in which it may hereafter come before the House upon the Report.
§ Lord Redesdale
said, he should oppose the bill; and his great reason for doing so was, that the constitution compelled the king to be a member of the Church of England. He was compelled to take an oath, in which he swore to support the Church of England and Ireland, as by law established; and yet they were, by this bill, about to provide, that every one of his ministers might be of a different Church [hear]. The king was compelled to be of the Church of England, but all his confidential advisers might profess another faith. This was his great objection, and he did not know how it could be removed.
The House then went into a committee on the bill. When the clause enacting the repeal of certain parts of the 13th and 25th of Charles 2nd, and certain parts of the act of the 16th of George 2nd was read,
§ The Earl of Eldon moved an amendment, exempting from the necessity of taking the Declaration such members of the Church of England, and such Dissenters, as had taken the Sacramental Test six months before coming into office: such a ceremonial having in fact, qualified them, they ought not to be considered liable to another Test. He could see no reason why individuals who were willing to take the Sacramental Test should be required to take the Declaration. Such persons, being members of the Church of England, or Dissenters who did not scruple to take the Sacramental Test, ought to be allowed to qualify under the acts now in force, if they pleased. It should be left to their opinion.
said, that of the two amendments the first was wholly unnecessary; the second extremely mischievous. There would be no hardship in proposing the intended Declaration to persons already qualified for office under the 1589 existing law; and they certainly could have no possible objection to the taking of it. The second amendment, however, would be extremely mischievous. The object of ministers, and of parliament, was to preserve the religious peace of the country, and to do away with those apparent differences which divided the several religious persuasions in this country. It was the desire of ministers to have such distinctions abolished; and he trusted that they would be seconded in their efforts by that House. There should be no distinction in civil offices between Dissenters and Church of England men. Both should be equally admitted to office on declaring their determination to support the constitution faithfully and loyally. He would entreat their lordships not to mar the object of parliament in the proposed measure, and not to increase the religious distinctions and differences in the country. He trusted they would put the Dissenters and the members of the Church of England upon the same footing, and that the same qualification for office would be required from both.
§ The Earl of Harrowby
agreed in considering the first amendment superfluous, and the second extremely mischievous. The learned lord had said, that it would be a hardship to require from persons who had already taken the Sacramental Test, a new Declaration in the shape of another Test. But that Test merely consisted of a Declaration, to which those who had already taken the Sacramental Test could have no possible objection. The other amendment would be most mischievous, as it was calculated to maintain those invidious distinctions which it was the object of the bill to remove.
The Bishop of Chester
sincerely hoped that the amendments would not be agreed to. To those amendments he was strongly opposed; and he was surprised that some consideration for his consistency did not operate to prevent the learned lord from proposing them. The noble lord had formerly declared, that he supported the Sacramental Test as the means of keeping the Dissenters out of office. Now, however, he stated that many Dissenters took the Test as a qualification for office, and he; proposed to except such Dissenters from the Declaration contained in the bill. The noble lord would be content with the taking of the Sacrament as a proof of the sincerity of a Church of England man, 1590 and he would include in his exception the Dissenter, who merely took that Sacrament as the means of qualifying for office, and not as an expression of his conformity to the Communion of the Church of England. Now the principle of the present bill—a principle to which he should give his decided support, was to prevent the mingling of the sacred and solemn rite of the Sacrament with the qualification for civic, and other worldly employments.
§ The Earl of Eldon
would recommend the right rev. prelate to attend to his own consistency rather than to be talking about that of others. He had at least been as consistent as the right rev. prelate on this subject, and he would be so to the end. He did not know whether the present bill applied to ecclesiastical corporations; indeed, he believed the framers of it were themselves ignorant whether it went to that extent. If it did apply to ecclesiastical corporations, the right rev. prelate opposite, in being promoted, as it was very likely he would be in the course of time, to a certain high and permanent station in the church, would be obliged to take the Declaration prescribed by this bill before he could be admitted.
The Bishop of Chester
did not consider it fair in the noble lord to put an hypothesis which was not a fact, and to argue upon a case which could not happen under the existing laws. He would advise the noble lord to found his reasonings upon something more tangible and more to the purpose. Such a course would be more consistent with the discharge of his duty, and more likely, perhaps, to attain his object.
§ The Earl of Eldon
begged the reverend prelate would abstain from thus gratuitously tendering his advice. He had advised him (lord Eldon) to mind his duty, but he should not offend the rev. prelate by advising him as to the mode in which he should discharge his duty.
The Bishop of Litchfield
said, the noble earl would except from the proposed Declaration all such members of the Church of England, as well as Dissenters, who had taken the Sacrament according to the rites of the Established Church. But many members of the Church of England might have taken the Sacrament in the discharge of their religious duties, whereas, to qualify for office, it must be taken for that especial purpose, and before certain magisterial functionaries. There- 1591 fore, many of the persons whom the noble earl would except by his amendment, would not actually, under the existing law, have qualified themselves for office. He was opposed to the amendment. The amendment was then put and negatived. On the question being put, upon the first clause,
§ Lord Redesdale
objected to it. He did not think the security which it proposed at all sufficient. Indeed, it was perfectly ridiculous. From experience he would say, that the Declaration would be entirely nugatory and of no avail. The Chairman said, they had not as yet come to the second clause, which contained the Declaration.
§ Lord Redesdale
said, that his objection to that clause was applicable to the whole bill. By the act of settlement, they bound the prince upon the throne by oath to maintain the Protestant establishment; and by this bill they would leave every officer under the sovereign free to profess what religion he pleased. Could there be a greater absurdity in legislation?
The question was then put upon the first clause, and carried. The second clause having been read,
§ The Duke of Wellington
proposed as an amendment, that after the words in the Declaration, —" I, A. B., do solemnly," the following be introduced, "and sincerely, in the presence of Almighty God, profess, testify, and"—
The Bishop of Llandaff
proposed, as an additional amendment, that after the word "and," and before the word "declare" there be introduced the words "upon the faith of a Christian." The principle of the measure was to admit persons to office who dissented from the communion of the Church of England. Now, he did not conceive it sufficient to require from such persons, when entering upon office, to declare that they would use none of the influence of which they might become possessed, in virtue of that office, to injure, weaken, or subvert the established church. He conceived that they should be further required, as every magistrate was called upon on entering upon office, to promise to discharge the duties of it, to maintain and uphold the rights and privileges of the Established Church whenever in danger. He should therefore propose, as a further amendment, that after the word "entitle," at the end of the Declaration, the subscriber be further palled upon to say, under the 1592 solemn sanction already imparted to the Declaration—" and that I will so far as concerns the duties of the said office, respect and maintain the rights and privileges of the Established Church of these realms."
§ The Earl of Eldon
proposed, that the word "swear" be substituted for the word "declare," and that the subscriber to the Declaration be further required to state that he was a Christian, and that he believed that the Scriptures, as received by the Protestant Churches, contained the revealed word of God. Those who took the Oath of Abjuration were obliged to profess themselves Christians; but this bill required no such profession. He should like to know what those rights and privileges were. If the subscriber were required, not merely to maintain the rights and privileges of the Established Church, but the rights and privileges of the bishops and clergy of that Church, then he could understand what was meant. But the phrase, as it at present stood, was perfectly unintelligible to him.
§ Lord Tenterden
said, the amendment proposed by the noble duke should be considered separately from the other amendments, and decided upon its own merits. As that amendment was calculated to give greater solemnity to the Declaration, he was prepared to vote for it. As for the Declaration itself, it required much amendment.
The amendment proposed by the duke of Wellington was agreed to.
The Bishop of Llandaff
then proposed, that after the word "declare," the words "upon the true faith of a Christian," be introduced.
§ The Earl of Eldon
claimed precedence in point of order for his amendment. He moved, that the word "swear" be substituted for "declare."
wished to call the attention of their lordships to the nature of the amendments now proposed. They required the candidate for office, first, to declare that he spoke on the faith of a Christian, and then, having drawn from him a declaration of so solemn a nature, they next required him to declare that not only he would not use his office to injure the interests of the church of England, but would use it to maintain and support those interests. In fact, they proposed a declaration, the object of which was to oblige the Dissenter, who, conscientiously 1593 differed from the doctrines of the Established Church to maintain those doctrines, and to support the establishment, so far as he was enabled to do so by the powers 'of his office. He urged their lordships to consider the practical evils of these amendments. The practical evils were, that for I seventy or eighty years, Dissenters had been admitted to office without being required to declare that they would contribute to the support or security of the Church. At the end of that period, the loyalty of the Dissenters was considered to have been so amply proved, that they were thought worthy of being relieved altogether from the Tests and disabilities imposed upon them, not merely by the operation of an Annual Bill of Indemnity, but by an act. repealing those Tests which they had for a long time felt so grievous in their operation. The object of the present bill was, therefore, to relieve them from that control, and from those difficulties, which were not more dangerous to their interests than degrading to their character. It was proposed in the spirit of conciliation, and brought forward with the desire of showing the loyal Dissenters of England, that parliament deemed them deserving of a fair measure of grace, favour, and reasonable confidence. In that spirit he would vote for the bill and the Declaration as they now stood. He in treated their lordships not to be led, step by step, by amendments which appeared at first, view plausible, to convert a measure of grace, favour, and conciliation, into one of jealousy and suspicion. The Declarations now proposed were at best useless: he thought they were likely to be injurious. It was impossible to object, to the terms of the amendments; but though they could offend no churchman, they might be as objectionable to the Dissenters as those which it was now proposed to repeal; and if so, they ought not to be adopted, as they would go to defeat altogether the spirit and object of the bill. If that was not their character, then he objected to them as unnecessary, and not only unnecessary, but injurious, as they shewed a degree of suspicion not warranted by the conduct of the Dissenters. The objection as to the amendments being unnecessary, peculiarly applied to the proposition for the candidate for office declaring his belief in Christianity. The act of the 9th and 10th of William and Mary already provided against any danger which 1594 could arise from persons not professing the Christian religion obtaining possession of office. Under that act any person who, by writing or otherwise expressed his disbelief in the Christian religion, or in the authority of the sacred scriptures, might be deprived of his office. Therefore, any additional precaution on that head was unnecessary. He disliked the alterations now proposed, as they went to change the healing character of the measure; and he therefore trusted they would be rejected.
The Earl of Malmesbury
said, he was decidedly opposed to the continuance of the Sacramental Test, and expected to have found the bill repealing that act entitled to his unqualified support. He did, however, trust that something would be substituted for what was taken away. He had a sincere respect for the body of Protestant Dissenters, and would advocate; the removal of all disabilities from them; but there were some who called themselves Dissenters (he alluded to the Unitarians), in reference to whom the term was certainly a misnomer. They were not Dissenters; they were not Christians. He was willing to admit the Dissenters—as well those who had been called in that House "the miserable Wesleyans," as those denominated Presbyterians; but those who were not Christians he certainly would exclude.
§ Lord Tenterden
wished to call the attention of their lordships to that part of the bill which preceded this clause. Their lordships were not, perhaps, aware of the material difference between the Corporation and Test acts. He was of opinion, that sufficient consideration had not been paid to the distinction between the qualification for Corporation and other offices. He would suggest the expediency of considering whether there ought not to be a material difference between the two acts in the measure before the committee. The Corporation act required persons accepting office to take the Sacrament, and the Test act was framed at the outset against Popish recusants. It appeared to him that, in repealing those two acts, proper substitutes were not recommended; seeing that they affected different interests, and were intended to apply to different classes. The Corporation act applied only to England, and not to Scotland; for that act was passed by the legislature of England, which, at the time, had no power to 1595 bind Scotland. It was different, however, as to the Test-act; for that was national, and applied to this side of the Tweed as well as the other. These distinctions, he submitted had not been sufficiently adverted to. He should vote for the amendment; and he was induced to do so with the hope that, before the bill finally received the sanction of the House, it would be provided, that offices in Corporations should be filled by members of the Church of England; but he did not wish to restrict the Test act to the same narrow limits.
§ The Earl of Harrowby
said, he thought that the distinction between the principle and object of the two acts could be better discussed in a future stage of the committee, than upon the present clause. He, for one, could certainly not conceive what danger could arise to the State from leaving the bill with the original Declaration; nor could he apprehend the additional value of the proposed substitute to counteract such a danger, if any should happen to arise. He differed entirely from his noble and learned friend with respect to the danger of the whole measure, and he was fortified in this opinion by the conduct of the legislature, not at any one particular period under a sudden exigency, but during an uninterrupted series of years, when they had uniformly interposed to suspend these acts, and thereby manifested their indisposition to believe that any danger arose to the Church from the admission into office of a large proportion of the Dissenters. A right rev. prelate had re-stated what he believed to be an historical mistake, respecting the origin of these statutes; namely, that they were originally intended to exclude from civil office all who were not bonâ fide members of the Church of England. This was certainly not the fact; for in the parliament immediately after the Restoration, when the House of Commons ordered all its members to take the Sacrament, two only out of fifty-four Dissenters then in parliament objected to take it according to the forms of the Church of England. With this fact before their eyes, the parliament which passed the Corporation act only a few months afterwards, could not have done so with the intention or the hope of excluding all Dissenters. It was only between the years 1711 and 1718, during the existence of the act against Occasional Conformity, that the intention of the legisla- 1596 ture appeared to be to confirm official and corporate situations to bonâ fide members of the Church of England. Previously to that act, and after its repeal, the only object either of the Corporation act or of the Test act was to exclude such Dissenters as was so hostile to the Church, as to conceive it as a sin to partake of its rites.
Be that, however, as it might, they had both, as he thought, lain dormant for near a century; and his first impression, on hearing that the repeal was to be proposed, was unfavourable to the measure. It had been so on the ground that religious peace had, in point of fact, been preserved under those acts, and that no practical grievance existed. It had appeared, however, in the course of the debates, that practical grievances did exist, in spite of the Annual Indemnity acts, and were felt, as well they might, not only by Dissenters but by members of the Church of England. The extension of these grievances, and the expediency of removing them, having been acknowledged by the other House, it was clear that their continuance would be adverse to religious peace. The measure also was no longer the same. A Declaration was substituted for the Sacramental Test, and upon this ground he rejoiced that the government had wisely decided, not only to withdraw all opposition, but to modify and support the bill. He should have felt no apprehension, if the bill had passed in its original shape, as he thought the best way of securing the continuance of peace and harmony would have been an unequivocal display of confidence and liberality on the part of those who were conferring the boon. He was however perfectly willing, and even desirous, to allay the apprehensions of others. He could not, on his own part, feel that alarm for the Church which was exhibited by those who professed themselves its warmest friends. He had a higher opinion of that Church than they appeared to entertain. With its pure and apostolical doctrines, its liturgy, the best of all uninspired writings, its system of discipline, susceptible as it was of amendment, and the general acquirements, zeal and good conduct of its clergy, it stood far too high in his estimation, to be in need of such ineffectual and odious support. If he had sometimes thought that the Church was too much inclined to rest upon secular supports, it was only with the greater pleasure 1597 that he had witnessed the conduct of the right reverend bench upon the present occasion. The Church now placed her strength upon the higher and nobler grounds of her own intrinsic merits, and rested her rejection of the Sacramental Test upon truly Christian motives—upon the removal of a scandal and a profanation. Long might she pursue a course, by which both her dignity and her security were equally advanced. Let her throw away her crutches, and, with mien erect, pursue her own majestic march— "et vera incessu pateat Dea."
Strongly as he felt these opinions, he was still ready to lean to the accommodation of the opinions of others, and not refuse any reasonable concession to soothe and allay individual differences. These Tests, it was true, had been miscalled bulwarks; but there were those who thought them so, and he neither wished to dismantle the fortress nor to dishearten the garrison; if therefore any reasonable substitute were agreed upon, which appeared to answer the same end as the old qualification, it should have his support; provided, however, that it did not fritter away the grace of this measure to the Dissenters, and prevent their accepting it with joy and delight, or make it a question among them, after what had passed, whether or not they had received a boon when this act should have been enacted for them. In looking at the original Test, and that proposed in its room, they ought to begin by comparing the relative value of the two stipulations. The Sacrament was one, and a Declaration the other. What was the force of the former? It went no further than this—that the Dissenter did not consider the Church of England as so corrupt, that he could not communicate with it without sin. It did not even by inference imply that he preferred it to his own; and a member of a Corporation, who had qualified on a Sunday, in order to become so, might, without any breach of consistency or any violation of his conscience, move on Monday for an Address to parliament to abolish Episcopacy. This Test did not require that he should declare that he would do nothing to injure the Church of England. If, therefore, the Test and Corporation acts had been in constant operation, they afforded no security whatever. What were they, then, when they had slumbered for a century, and must long ago have received their 1598 death-blow, if they had not been suffered to exist under the condition of perpetual sleep?
The worst of this Declaration, on the contrary, seemed to him to be framed in such a manner that it was impossible for any man to escape from the main point to which they had reference. The expression was, that no influence derived from office should be used to the detriment of the Church of England, or of the rights of its bishops or clergy. The Sacramental Test did not, even by inference, go so far as this Declaration. He could not help thinking, that any thing beyond this was going into lengths that were superfluous, and therefore invidious: and, let it be observed, that this was a guard to the Church, beyond what was thought necessary for the security of any other essential institution in the country.
The proposition, however, was, that an oath should be substituted for a Declaration. Far from being of opinion, that fresh oaths should be heaped upon the Statute-book, he wished rather to diminish their number. Why was an oath proposed? Because it was feared that the bond of a Declaration would be broken; and would not those who overlooked so solemn a Declaration be the very persons to break an oath? What necessity was there for evincing any desire to carry their apprehensions to that length, in defiance of the experience which they had of the value of conciliation and the diffusion of goodwill among all classes of Christians? In every view which he could take of the subject, he saw no necessity for the proposed amendment of the bill which had been sent up to their lordships' House.
The Bishop of Durham
defended the clergy of the Established Church from any excessive proneness to seek the aid of the secular arm. However, if they were altogether to abandon the benefit of that security, they might as well be at once without the enactment of the various statutes which had fenced round the Established Church. With respect to the question before them, he knew that many persons were alarmed at the omission in the bill of any thing like a strong profession of Christianity. This objection ought certainly to be removed.
§ The Earl of Harrowby
protested, that nothing was further from his intention than to say any thing which could excite an unpleasant sensation in the minds of 1599 any member of the reverend bench. He thought he had sufficiently guarded himself against any such imputation. It ought not to be supposed, that in saying that the amendments proposed were so numerous and so various, that it appeared as if they were proposed with no other intention than to defeat the bill, that he was making any reflection on the reverend bench, as only one of the amendments proposed came from that quarter. He never meant to impute to the reverend bench that they had any wish to defeat this bill. He declared his solemn belief that they had no such intention. Such an intention would be opposed to the enlightened and liberal sentiments which had been expressed by many, and concurred in by all the members of that bench. All he had intended to do was to express his regret that the Church had, in some instances, depended too much upon the secular arm of the state, and too little upon the strength and veracity of its doctrines—an observation which, he believed, had found an echo in the breast of every man who heard him.
The Earl of Carnarvon
said, that though he was anxious to give the reverend bench every reasonable satisfaction, he could not refrain from reminding them, that if they would listen to every suspicion which ingenuity would discover for them, they would make this bill not a measure of peace, but of religious animosity and discord. The question which they were called upon to decide was, whether they should introduce an oath instead of a Declaration into the bill. Now, it appeared to him, that their lordships had already virtually decided that question by agreeing to that part of the clause, which called upon every person taking office to sign a Declaration. The bill was intended as a measure of religious peace; but it would not retain that character if it made it incumbent upon individuals to say, "I swear" instead of "I declare" so and so. He hardly knew whether a bill which had been introduced that session for the purpose of conferring relief, in certain cases, on Quakers, had passed or not; but if it had, it would be rendered nugatory by the substitution of the words "I swear," for "I declare;" for, as their religious tenets prevented them from swearing, those words would effectually exclude them from any office of trust and importance. Independently of this objection to substi- 1600 tuting an oath for a Declaration, there was great force in the argument which had been so well put by the noble earl opposite—that in the various laws which the House had already made, it had gone much too far in the multiplication of useless and unnecessary oaths. Their lordships had made men so familiar with oaths, that they them without even listening to them, as they took were mumbled over by a clerk, who generally read them as if he was anxious that they should not be understood. The real question for consideration was simply this —is not a solemn declaration, in the face of God, equivalent to an oath? He called upon their lordships to consider what was the security, if indeed it were one, which the legislature had provided against the Roman Catholics. It was the Declaration against transubstantiation: for there were many conscientious Catholics who would take the Oath of Abjuration, but who would not make the declaration against transubstantiation. If, then, that declaration was the principal security which deprived the Catholics of the rights and privileges enjoyed by their fellow-subjects, why should it now be deemed necessary to introduce into the bill a word which would exclude from the benefit of it one of the mildest and most beneficent sects in the empire? He should certainly vote against the introduction of the words "I swear."
The Bishop of Chester
expressed himself more favourable to inserting a Declation than an oath in this bill. The Declation in question was to be made in the presence of Almighty God, and he could not see that there was more in an oath than in such a Declaration.
§ The Earl of Eldon
said, that as their lordships called on the king, in his coronation oath, to swear to maintain the Church, the bishops, and the clergy, in their due rights and privileges, it was only fitting that they should call upon all subjects who held office under him to take the same oath. He doubted whether this measure would be a measure of religious peace. The acts which it sought to repeal better deserved that appellation; for, on the one hand, they were confirmatory of the supremacy of the Church, and on the other they held out an indemnity to all Dissenters, in all cases where such indemnity could safely be afforded them. One objection to this bill was, that it gave a dispensing power to the Crown, and would leave it to his majesty to determine 1601 whether any of the persons who held offices of trust under him should take either Declaration or oath. He called upon their lordships, whatever might be the consequences, to do justice to the constitution in their conduct regarding this bill. He had heard it said with surprise and regret, that oaths had of late years been so multiplied by the legislature that they now went for nothing. He could not bring himself to believe that there was any foundation for such an assertion. He had a firm persuasion that, with some few exceptions, an oath had a mighty effect upon the consciences of Englishmen. After a long life spent in the administration of justice, he felt himself bound to say that nothing could be more dangerous to the morality of the community than to hear noble lords in their places in parliament publicly disparage the effect of an oath, by comparing it with that of a Declaration. He was of opinion, that as an oath was much more solemn in its nature, it ought, in this case, to be preferred to a Declaration. In his opposition to this bill, he was governed by nothing but a sense of duty; and, acting upon that sense of duty, he could not lend his assistance to depriving his fellow-subjects of the constitution which they had so long enjoyed. On these grounds he had met the bill with a decided negative; but as the House had decided that the bill should be read a second time, he was now desirous of making it as innocuous as possible.
The Bishop of Bath and Wells
said, he had voted for the repeal of the Test and Corporation acts, in the expectation that it would promote peace and good understanding between the Church and the Dissenters. He trusted that the bill would be so framed as to render it a boon, for which the Dissenters might feel some gratitude. For that reason he would rather have a Declaration than an oath inserted in the bill: but he would add, after the words of the Declaration, the following words, "in the name of Jesus Christ." He thought that no offence could be taken at those words by any conscientious Dissenter. It would be shameful if any person who took office in a Christian country should be reluctant to declare publicly that he was a Christian.
The Marquis of Lansdowne
said, he was of opinion that it was almost impossible to look at this amendment, without looking eodem intuitu at the amendments and 1602 clauses which would shortly be submitted to their discussion. He must extend his view of the subject to the general character of the remedy which they were now providing, not so much to meet any actual danger, as to show to the country, that the spirit in which this act of relief was conceived, was one of mere relief to the Dissenter, without intending to take one jot from the security of the Church of England. In approaching this subject, he felt relieved in reflecting that he was not, in the present stage of the proceeding, called upon to argue whether it was fitting to retain upon the Statute-book acts which their lordships annually recognized, but which they were called upon to recognize only to avert the mischief, which, if not corrected, they would of necessity produce,—acts which they had never noticed for a hundred years, except to arrest and nullify, not to further and protect the operation of their enactments. He felt relieved, he said, in reflecting that he was not called upon to contend that the holiest rite of our religion was not the most fitting key to open the door to civil employment. He was happy to find that it appeared to be the general opinion of their lordships to do away with securities so unnecessary and so useless as were those provided in the acts which this bill intended to repeal; and he would therefore take that opportunity of stating, that so far from its being a sudden thought to bring on a discussion on these acts to answer the purposes of a certain party in Church and State, it had for years past been an object for which the Dissenters had been preparing, and for which their preparations had produced a just and beneficial effect. After several observations on the beneficial consequences of the repeal of the Test act in Ireland, the noble marquis proceeded as follows:—"I must here protest, my lords, against what I can never hear without pain and surprise; namely, that these acts of exclusion are parts of the constitution. I am one of those who can never subscribe to any such doctrine. King, Lords, and Commons, are, I admit, parts of the constitution, and so is the Church, as long as it meets with their approbation and support. But are the means which we devise for the support of the constitution part of the constitution itself? They may be necessary or they may be not—they may be rejected or they may be not—they vary according to times 1603 and circumstances, according to the feelings, the prejudices, and I will even add, the principles of men. But there is one principle of the constitution which never varies; there is one principle, which I may call its fundamental and pervading principle, and that is, that every subject of the realm is admissible to every office within it. The noble and learned lord, and those with whom he has acted, have, in the course of their public career, been guilty—perhaps necessarily guilty — of several innovations upon the constitution, because they deemed them expedient to its safety. They introduced the Convention bill; they supported the suspension of the habeas corpus; and perhaps they did both, not without reason. Now, I will venture to say, that if unfortunately it had been necessary to continue those measures to the present time, the noble and learned lord would be the last man in the country to say, that because they were necessary to secure the constitution, they therefore formed part of the constitution. I must also inform your lordships, that I cannot go the length of the reverend prelate, who addressed us early in the evening, that in adopting this bill we are admitting a new principle into the constitution. The principle of the constitution is, that every subject is admissible to office. That principle may, I allow, be legitimately suspended; but when we remove the suspension, we revert to the fundamental principle of the Constitution, that all who tender allegiance to the state are admissible to offices of trust and authority. The noble and learned lord likewise tells you, that you are compelled to substitute for this Test of the Sacrament, an oath, or something that shall be equivalent to it, because you have a right to demand that from the subject which, by a solemn compact, you demand from the king. Now, I say, that it is exactly because you impose upon the king an oath to maintain the Church, its rights and privileges, that you are left at liberty to dispense with it as far as regards others. The king is the head of the Church, and must therefore be in strict communion with it. In that very circumstance, you find a security for the Church only inferior to that which you derive from the opinion in which it is held, and which, I trust, you will always find its best safeguard against assault and injury—a security far superior to any which it may derive from oaths, or declarations, or tests, or any thing which 1604 any legislature can devise for its defence. Oaths, when most efficacious, are but frail and artificial props to ecclesiastical establishments. Their most impregnable Support is the estimation and reverence in which they are held by the great mass of the people. I am happy to say that the Church of England flourishes in the opinion and the reverence of the people; and that that reverence, and that that opinion will be increased by the conduct which the bishops of the Church have pursued on this occasion, and which appears as a pledge of peace on their part to every sect of dissenting Christians."—The noble marquis proceeded to observe, that he was most anxious to adopt the clause in such a form as would best reconcile it to the Church of England and to the Dissenters at large. He confessed that the amendment of the noble duke, in its present form, presented the fairest pledge of its character. He did not see any reason for adding to the Declaration the words—" in the name of Jesus Christ." He considered the simplicity of the Declaration to be much in its favour, and he could not conceive of what stuff that man's conscience could be made, who could find a distinction between taking an oath to support the Church, and a solemn Declaration in the face of God not to assail it. If there were any such men, against them acts of parliament would be of no force. They could only be put down by the indignation which would burst upon them, whenever their acts exposed the laxity of their principles. It would be vain to expect to catch such miscreants within the nets of ordinary legislation: they would break through them without difficulty, and would only laugh at our efforts to embarrass and annoy them. For these reasons he preferred the Declaration, because it had all the security of an oath, without causing that mischievous multiplication of oaths against which it was incumbent that the legislature should guard. In conclusion, he stated his Conviction that unless this bill passed, it would be made, year after year, a ground of disturbing the religious peace and harmony of the community.
The committee then divided:—For lord Eldon's amendment, 32; against it, 100; majority, 68. The amendment was consequently lost, and the words, "I declare" were continued in the clause.
§ The Duke of Wellington
proposed as an 1605 amendment, that after the word "declare," should be added the words—" that I recognise the Books of the Old and New Testament, according to the authorised version, as, truly expressing the revealed will of God."
The Archbishop of York
expressed his great satisfaction at the words introduced by the noble duke, and hoped that they would be received with the same satisfaction by those for whose benefit the bill was intended.
The Earl of Winchelsea
proposed as an amendment, to add, "in the presence of the Almighty God, and his Son our Saviour, Jesus Christ."
The Earl of Lauderdale
suggested to the duke of Wellington, that the words should be not "published by authority," but "the version of the Scriptures received by the Protestant Church."—To this the duke of Wellington was understood to assent, as these were the words of another statute, which the noble duke said he wished to copy.
The Bishop of Chester
hoped the noble duke would not press his amendment, as it would oblige him to object to the words if added. It was much to be desired that they should abstain from dogmatising.
The Earl of Winchelsea
said, his object was to exclude from office those who would not subscribe to the declaration of Christ being the Son of God; which he thought could give no offence to any person who believed the fundamental doctrines of our faith.
The Earl of Carnarvon
.—If your lordships, in an evil hour, shall think fit to accede to the amendment proposed by the noble duke, I shall feel it to be my duty to oppose this bill in every future stage, Instead of limiting yourselves to imposing upon all aspirants for office a Declaration that they will not injure the rights and privileges of the Church, you are calling upon them to make a Declaration of their creed. You are entering into details of faith, when you call upon them to declare what part of the Old and New Testament they believe in. Can you say, that there are no controverted books, no apocryphal writings, on which different sects do not entertain different opinions? Whilst you express your desire to throw open the doors of office to all classes of Dissenters, why do you close them again by calling upon them to make a Declaration of their belief in all parts of the Old and New Testament, 1606 which you have made canonical by authority? By such Declaration, we plunge at once into an endless labyrinth, and we substitute for an antique law, which scarcely embarrasses any one, a new clause, of which no one can define the meaning.
said, he approved of the Declaration. If they added any oaths, they would not add to the security of the Church, and would defeat their purpose. The Church did not need any such protection: its security was founded on the purity of its doctrines and the strictness of its faith. To impose these difficulties discovered something like a case of weakness. So far from upholding the character and dignity of the Church of England, they had a direct tendency to injure the one and degrade the other. Although at the present period, in consequence of the impulse given to knowledge, that occurred which had always occurred while knowledge was in its infancy; namely, the existence of a disposition to shake off ancient religious restraints, and to lean to infidel opinions, he was nevertheless persuaded, that that disposition was confined to a certain class of persons, and that at no time, since the Reformation, did the Church of England stand in higher estimation than at the present moment. Never were its functionaries more distinguished by their attention to their duties; and when the nature of the annual supply which the Church received from the universities was considered, there was every apparent security for her rising higher and higher in the public esteem. Under these circumstances, and feeling that the Church required no such protection, he should lament the transformation of the civil Declaration which the bill contained into a religious Test. The supremacy of the Church of England was conferred on her by law. The means, therefore, by which that supremacy was supported ought to be civil. It was exceedingly desirable to put an end to the Test and Corporation acts, not only to rescue our fellow-subjects from the obloquy cast upon them, but as a warning against future legislation in the same spirit. Although he did ample justice to the motives of those who proposed the various changes in the Declaration, he begged to remind them, that if they thus went on, step by step, altering its nature, they would undo with one hand what they had done with the other. It was a most memorable circumstance attending this 1607 bill, that, in that House of Parliament in which the Dissenters possessed a considerable influence, it was not passed until after a division, and by no very large majority; but that in their lordships' House, in which not only no such influence existed, but in which the presence of the heads of the Church, and many other circumstances concurred to strengthen its interests, the bill was received with great cordiality. He hoped the Declaration and every part of the bill would be so modified, as to give relief to the Dissenters and confer benefit on the Church.
§ Lord Redesdale
said, he would ask their lordships, what was the simple law on this subject as it now stood? Why, it merely supposed that those persons who took offices were members of the Established Church; and, therefore, instead of interrogating them individually—"Are you a member of the Church of England?" it said, "Do you conform to the ceremonies of that Church? because if you do, I will not inquire more particularly." This was the simple law as it now stood; and the Declaration would only introduce doubt and difficulty where none existed now. If they would simply repeal the present law, matters would stand precisely as they did before the passing of that law. The Church of England stood before the passing of the Test and Corporation acts, and it stood now. To introduce a clause like this would lead to endless disputes. Many men would declare what they would not swear to; and some did not think an oath binding, if it was not proposed in their own way. He could see no end of the difficulties to which this clause would lead, If they would say, that it was no longer necessary that persons taking office should show that they were members of the Established Church by adhering to its ceremonies, let them repeal the law altogether, and not add complicated difficulties by such an alteration as that now proposed. And, after all, what did it do? It allowed a man to exercise every other influence in the world but that which he derived from his office. It admitted to office any person, whatever his religious opinions might be, if he would promise not to make his office the means of subverting the church. The first Church in this country was the Church of Rome; but at one time they had a king upon the throne who had the House of Lords at. his command. He, was a sort of absolute king, who by 1608 the influence of his political power threw off the supremacy of the Pope, and so they went on until the Church of England was Established. Political influence, therefore, their lordships would see, created what was called the Established Church.
§ The Duke of Wellington
observed, that he had introduced his amendment with a hope that it might tend to the production of unanimity. Having, however, become aware that the words of it were objectionable, as they might have the effect which he never intended, of excluding Roman Catholics from being officers of the army and navy, he should propose a more comprehensive form of expression.
A desultory conversation here took place, with respect to the form of putting the amendments.
§ Earl Grey
said, that as to the words which it was the intention of the noble duke to insert, he did not wish them to form a part of the bill. For his own part, he should have been more content with a simple repeal of the existing laws, without any Declaration at all. He should prefer that the Church of England should stand, as assuredly it would stand, upon that rock which was formed by the purity of its doctrines and the superior character of its professors. These would form security enough, without the aid of Test and Corporation acts. On these the Church of Ireland had rested in safety, without any such assistance as these acts were supposed to afford; or if it was exposed to any danger it was owing to those severe and intolerant laws which made the majority of the people of Ireland the enemies of the church establishment. If, then, he should have preferred the simple repeal of the existing laws, so also he should prefer the simple Declaration as it originally stood, to the amendments which had been proposed in it. To the first words introduced by the noble duke he had no objection; but he was afraid that by their endeavours to conciliate, they frequently got into difficulties. The ground which the noble duke had taken on this question entitled him to the thanks of the country, and increased the confidence which he had in the noble duke's administration. If some further proof of the candidate for office being a Christian were necessary, it would be better, perhaps, to add, as a reverend prelate had proposed, the words ",on the true faith of a Christian," or words to that effect. As far, however, as unanimity was 1609 concerned, he thought the Declaration would have been better as it stood.
On the motion being put for introducing; after the word "declare," the words,; "upon the true faith of a Christian,"
said, he would not press any noble lords to join with him in his objection, but he could not say "content" to the motion.
The amendment was then carried without a division. After which, the Earl of Winchelsea moved the introduction of the words, "and in our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ;" upon which the House divided: Contents 15; Not Contents 113: Majority 98.
§ Lord Tenterden
next addressed the House, on the clause referring to chief magistrates of corporate towns. The learned lord said, he fully subscribed to all that had been urged with reference to the importance to be attached to the Established Church. That Church was, and ought to be supported as part of the constitution; consequently every thing that upheld its dignity and gave it consequence should be attended to. So long as we had an Established Church, so long ought every thing to be done to give effect and dignity to it. He therefore proposed, that after the word "That," the following words be inserted, "I entertain no opinion on the subject of religion, which can or may prevent me attending the morning and evening service of the Church of England, as set forth in the Book of Common Prayer."
The Bishop of Chester
asked whether it was not the fact, that in point of law, no magistrate could attend conventicles in the insignia of his office—whether that law was not in force and perfectly well known?
§ The House divided: Contents 22; Not Contents 111: Majority against the amendment 89. The consideration of the other clauses was postponed until the bringing up of the report.