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undergoing military discipline (that phrase is delicate enough I think) to-morrow.
A Dissenting Minister may be settled in a place where he, or his family, have ill-health. It is requisite for him to remove ; but, if he does, he becomes liable to military discipline, unless he gets another Congregation immediately. And why should this be? The Ministers of our Church are not liable to military discipline, though they remove from their congregations for many years together. It is notorious that one-half of those, who own the livings in England and Wales, do not reside upon them. They are elsewhere, and very frequently the excuse is, that the air of the place does not agree with them. And, is no allowance of this sort to be made for the Dissenting Ministers? Why are they to be exposed to the ballotting for the militia the moment they leave their place of abode ?
But, how is a man to become a Minister, if he be not one already? How is he, if this Act should pass, to obtain his Certificate?
We have seen, that, as the law now stands, he has nothing to do but to go to the Justices at their Quarter Sessions, and offer to take the Oaths and to sign the Declaration, and that having done it, he has his Certificate of course, the expense being settled by law at sixPENCE. But, what is he, if this Act pass, to do in order to get his certificate of being qualified ? Not of being a Minister ; for, he is not to be looked upon as such, nor to be entitled to any exemptions, until he has actually gotten a separate congregation of his own.
In order to be permitted to qualify, he must, before he can show himself to the Justices at the Sessions, procure several substantial and reputable householders, belonging to the same congregation with himself, to certify, on their consciences, in writing, to his being a Protestant Dissenter of their sect and of the same congregation, and to their indivicual and long knowledge, to his sobriety of conversation, and to his ability and fitness to preach ; he must bring credible witnesses to prove that such certificate was duly signed by the parties ; and, until he has done all this, the Justices are not 10 permit him to take the oaths and sign the declaration, and, if he officiates as a Minister without it, he is to be liable to all the heavy penalties and punishments, which were in existence before the Toleration Act was passed.
Now, the reader will easily perceive the effect of this provision. The trouble, the expense, and the difficulties of many sorts. But, even after this; after all these difficulties are got over, a person of this description, who has qualified for the Ministry, but who has not actually got a congregation, is not to be entitled to any of the exemptions above-mentioned. He may still (though he has qualified as Minister) be ballotted for the militia and may undergo the study of military discipline, whether he has a taste for such study or not.
The remaining provision relates to the admitting of men to be Ministers on probation, or trial. And here the man, to be so admitted, must bring a certificate from several Ministers of the same sect, who have taken the oaths, the signatures to which certificate are to be proved to the Justices as in the other case. certificate, too, is talk of long previous knowledge about life and conversation ; and, when the Justices are satisfied, and have suffered him to take the oaths and subscribe the declaration; they may then, for a limited time to be specified in the Cer. tificate, let him officiate as a probationer to any Dissenting Congregation, and, during a limited time, they may exempt him from prosecution and punishment under the old laws.
But, even during the time that he is in this state of probation as a Minister, he is not to be exempted from burdensome offices, or from the Local, or the other militia ; and, it may so happen, that his captain or serjeant will come and take him out of his pulpit and put him into the guard-house or black-hole.
What an alteration is here ! As the law now stands any man may be come a Minister without any certificate or witness or any thing else but his own oaths and his declaration; and, the moment he does become a Minister, he is secured against being forced into the militia, or to become a constable or other peace or parochial officer.
It is very clear, that if this Act of Lord Sidmouth should pass, that the Justices will, in fact, have the selecting of all the Dissenting Ministers; for, there is so much placed in their power, that it would be impossible to avoid this effect.
The Act will not, perhaps, say, that they shall have it in their discretion to refuse certificates; but, if it make provision for signatures of recommendation by substantial and reputable persons, it will, and it must, make them the judges of whether the parties signing be of this description. That's enough! Leave any one point wholly to them. Make them the sole masters of any link in the chain, and you do, in reality, put the whole thing in their power. You give them the selection of the persons to be Ministers, and you also enable them to limit the numbers ; and, of course, the Toleration Act would be virtually repealed.
I shall be told, that this is not the intention at all; that nothing is further from the views of the author of the bill; and that I am quite mistaken as to the effect of it. As to what may be the views of the author of the bill, that is another matter. I am speaking of what the bill would produce; and, if it be what it is represented to be, it would produce what I am now describing.
It will not, perhaps, say, that the Justices shall have it in their discre. tion to reject any man on account of their dislike of him, or without any reason assigned. The Act will not say this perhaps ; but as to the fulfilment of its own provisions relative to the substantial and reputable householders, it must give the Justices a discretion; they must be the judges and the sole judges of the recommendations they receive ; it must be left to them to decide whether the persons signing the recommendation be, or be not, substantiul and reputable people; and, we all know very well, that what one man may think substantial another may not, and that, with regard to who is, or is not, reputable, the difference in men's opinions may be still wider. Those whom Major CartWRIGHT, for instance, would think very reputable people, John Bowles (who is a Justice by the bye) would be very likely to think just the contrary; and, if a flat refusal were not grounded upon such an objection, there might, at least, be delay; the applicant, together with his witnesses, might be sent away to seek more reputable vouchers for his character; when he came, he might be sent back again; bis witness to the signatures might be questioned and cross-questioned ; and thus the vexation and humiliation might become so great, and, indeed, the expense, that, with one thing and another, it might amount to a very serious persecution.
But, why should I suppose that the Justices would act thus. I do not say that they would. It is not necessary for me to say that they would.
It is enough for me to know that they could. I am not saying what would be, but what might be. I am reasoning and not conjuring.
But when one is reasoning upon probabilities; when one is endeavouring to ascertain what it is likely the Justices would do, it is worth while to ask what the Justices are.
In the country, more than two-thirds, I believe, of those who attend at the Sessions are Clergymen of the Church of England. Where this is the case it surely is not too much to expect, that the road to the Dissent. ing Ministry will not be smoothed by the Justices. And, as to the other Justices, they must have taken the Test at any rate. There are very few, perhaps, who do not belong to the Church of England ; but, at the least, they must have taken the Test; they must have done an act, by which they do, in fact, declare themselves to be of that Church, so that they cannot be expected to be favourable to the Dissenters.
But, what I look upon as of more consequence than all the rest, is, the political influence that might, and that inevitably would, prevail here. The Justices are all appointed, they are all selected, by the Government. The Sheriffs are all selected and appointed in the same way. Every one, who will have power from this bill, does, except in a few of the Corporations, derive that power from the same source. This being the case, can any one suppose, that, in a matter where there is discretion, the decision will not be on the side of the Government, especially in cases where there is no apparent injury done to the party; for, to some persons it will always be difficult to make it out that a man is injured by a refusal to suffer him to preach; and, as to the public, I would fain see the man who would undertake to prove to a dozen of Clergymen and 'Squires that a well-set young fellow would not be better employed in the Local Militia, fighting for the preservation of their Tithes and Estates, than in preaching and praying to a Dissenting Congregation.
Such as were admitted as Ministers would, at any rate, have to pass review before the Justices, who would naturally have a leaning against all those whom they looked upon as bad politicians. If, for instance, I were to apply for a qualification. A thing by no means probable, to be sure ; but, I put it as a strong case. If I were to apply to the Justices, does the reader not imagine, that they would think a little before they granted it? To be sure they would; and, indeed, no man can doubt, that, in every instance, political considerations would have great weight. The Act would, in short, give the Government, or rather the Ministry, through the Justices, the selection of the Dissenting Ministers; and, to suppose that they would select such as were not favourable to their own views, one must first see them in the habit of supporting at elections those whom they expect to oppose them in the House.
Does any one imagine, that this was not seen clearly at the time of passing the TOLERATION Act? It was clearly seen, that, if there was any discretionary power lodged with the Justices, the Act would either have no effect in the way of toleration, or would cause toleration to be bartered for political purposes. Therefore it was that the Toleration Act left no discretion at all; but made it imperative upon the Justices to grant and to record the document constituting any man a Dissenting Minister, if he presented himself before them and offered to comply with the conditions specified in the Act.
But, there is a further consideration that must now have great weight given to it. At the time when the Toleration Act was passed, the custom of making clergymen Justices did not, I believe, prevail to any extent worthy of notice; and, indeed, I believe, it did not exist at all. This custom, if it had existed, would certainly have been an additional motive for the imperative provision of the Toleration Act; for to conclude that a clergyman, acting as a Justice, would, as far as possible, increase the obstacles to the Ministry of the Dissenters, it is not necessary to suppose him a bad man, but on the contrary, to conclude that he would not increase these obstacles, you must first suppose him completely divested of every thing worthy of the name of zeal for the Church, to whom every virtuous and able Dissenting Minister must necessarily be a formidable enemy:
Either, therefore, your clerical Justice must be something very little better than a traitor to the Church, or he must be almost irresistibly drawn to raise obstacles in the way of good and clever men in their way to the Dissenting Ministry. This consideration, however, though weighty, is trifling compared to another arising out of the change in the magisterial part of our government since the time when the TOLERATION Act was passed. I allude to that very material measure, the Appointment of Justices of the Peace with SALARIES, and REMOVEABLE AT PLEASURE. Such a thing had never been heard of in England in 1688. It has been heard of now, and seen too ; and we now have in the metropolis, twenty-four men, commonly called POLICE MAGISTRATES, who have all the powers of Justices of the Peace, not only in the metropolis itself, but in all the four populous counties adjoining it, namely, Middlesex, Essex, Kent, and Surrey, for all which counties they have Commissions of the Peace, and, of course, where they are amongst the Justices sitting at the General Sessions for these counties. These men were first appointed under an Act of Parliament, passed in the year 1792, just upon the eve of the late, or Anti-Jacobin war. They are paid 5001. a year each, free of all deductions
Amongst other provisions in the Act by which they were appointed, they were disqualified, as Excisemen are, to vote at elections, for members to serve in Parliament. But, they are fully qualified by the Police Act to sit cheek by jowl with the gentlemen of the counties of Essex, Middlesex, Kent, and Surrey, at the General Sessions of the Peace of those counties ; and, of course, they would be fully qualified to hear, and to determine on, the applications of persons to become Dissenting Ministers, if the proposed Act were to be passed. Here, in and round the metropolis, are, it is well known, the greater part of the Dissenters. A fourth part, perhaps, of the population of England, if not more, live within the jurisdiction of these STIPENDIARY JUSTICES, who, from their numbers, are at all times likely to form a majority of the Justices present at the General Sessions of the Peace held in any of the above four counties ; and, who, from the very nature of their situation, must be disposed to do nothing hostile or displeasing to the Ministry of the day, their places being held at the pleasure of the Crown.
The nature of their situation, with regard to the Ministry, and the natural tendency of it to create an undue bias in politics, is clearly marked out by the provisions of the Act by which they were appointed, and which, as to elections, for Members of Parliament, puts them upon a footing with Eccisemen and others, who are deprived of the elective franchise merely on account of the strong temptations of their offices, Yet, if the Act of Lord SIDMOUTH were to pass, these men would have
the discretionary power that I have shown above in the licensing of onehalf, perhaps, or more than one-half of all the Dissenting Ministers in England and Wales ; because it is from the Metropolis chiefly that these Ministers start.
After what has been said, there is no one, I imagine, who can doubt, that the effect of the proposed Act would be to lessen the number of Dissenting ininisters, and, indeed, if the Act could be enforced, to render the TOLERATION Act, or, rather, Acrs (for the last is a very important one) of none, or, of very little, avail. Upon this point there can, I think, be very little difference of opinion : whether it be right to render these Acts a nullity is another question, but this is a question which I have not time to discuss here, though I shall not fail to do it in my next.* State Prison, Newgate, Tuesday,
WM. COBBETT. May 21, 1811.
At a numerous and most respectable Meeting of Protestant Dissenters of various denominations, and other Friends to Religious Liberty, residing in difa ferent parts of the United Empire, held at the London Tavern, Bishopsgatestreet, on the 15th of May, 1811, Samuel Mills, Esq., Chairman, the following Resolutions were agreed to :
1. That this Meeting believe that there are at least two millions of Protestant Dissenters in the kingdom of England and Wales, including persons of opulent fortunes, high literary attainments, and active benevolence; that their exertions have contributed to promote industry, knowledge, good morals, social order, and public prosperity ; that they are not inferior to any fellow subjects in fervent love to their country, nor in ardent loyalty to their venerable Sovereign, whose early promise to " preserve the tolerations inviolate,” has made an indelible impression on their hearts, and that any means which might excite their discontent and enfeeble their attachment, would therefore at any time, and especially at this period, be inconsistent with the national interest, and with wise and liberal policy.
2. That although this Meeting consider the right to worship God according to individual judgment as an inalienable right, superior to all social Regulations; and although they have long anticipated a period when all Penal Laws for wors shipping God according to their consciences would be abolished, they have been unwilling to agitate the public mind for the attainment of their hopes, and presuming that no persons would in this age venture to assail the act of Toleration, after the ever-memorable declaration of the King, they have been content to regard it with grateful emotions, and to esteem it as an effectual protection from the recurrence of former persecutions.
3. That the persons assembled at this Meeting have received with great ans. iety the communications frequently made by the Right Hon. Lord Viscount Sidmouth, of his intention to propose legislative Enactments interfering with the laws relating to Protestant Dissenters ; that they did hope the applications he has received, and the information communicated would have prevented his perseverance; but they have learned the disappointment of their hopes, and have ascertained the provisions of the Bill which he has at length introduced into Parliament with extreme regret, and with painful apprehension.
4. That this Bill declares that all the provisions relating to the Dissenting Ministers contained in the Toleration Act, and in the subsequent Act for their further relief, were intended to be limited only to Ministers of separate Congregations, and enacts, l. That such Ministers, upon being admitted to the peace. able possession and enjoyment of the peace of Ministers of a separate Congregation, may, on a certificate in writing, under the hands of several substantial and reputable Householders belonging to such Congregation, signed in the presence of some creditable witness, who is to inake proof of their signatures upon oath at a General Sessions of the Peace, be permitted to take oaths and to sign the Declarations previously required, and shall then, and then only, during their continuance to be Ministers of such separate Congregation, be entitled to all the privileges and exemptions which the former Acts had conferred. 2nd. That any