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(Political Register, May, 1811.)
This measure, to the great mortification of the lovers of wrangling, has been abandoned.
The Bill, of which I took notice, and the substance of which I gave, in the preceding pages, was brought forth for a second reading, in the House of
other person who may desire to qualify himself to preach as a Dissenting Mi. nister, must procure several substantial and reputable householders, being Dis. senters of the same Sect, and of the same Congregation, to certify on their consciences, in writing, to his being a Protestant Dissenting Minister of their Sect, and of the same Congregation, and to their individual and long knowledge to his sobriety of conversation, and to his ability and fitness to preach; and that such Certificate must be proved as before stated, before he be perinitted to take the oath and subscribe the declaration, before he be exempt from the pains, penalties and punishments to which he would otherwise be liable as a Dissenting Minister. And, 3rd. That any person of sober life and conversation admitted to preach on probation to any separate Congregation must produce a Certificate from several Dissenting Ministers, who have taken the oath (to be also proved on oath at a General Sessions) of his life and conversation, and to their long previous knowledge, before he can be adınitted to take the Oaths and subscribe the Declaration, and that he may then, during a limited period, to be specified in the Certificate, officiate as a probationer to any Dissenting Congregation, and be during a limited period exempt from prosecution and punishment; but neither of the two last-mentioned classes of persons will be entitled to any privileges, or to the exemptions from offices conferred on Dissenting Ministers by the Toleration Act.
5. That the principle assumed as the foundation of the Bill is incorrect. That the Toleration Act authorized any persons to become Dissenting Ministers, who conceived themselves to be called and qualified to preach, upon giving security to the State for their Loyalty and Christian Principles, by taking certain Oaths, and by subscribing certain Declarations, and not only prevented their persecution under Laws made in times less favourable to civil and religious liberty, but conceiving their labours to be of public utility, granted to them exemptions from all parochial offices and other duties which might interfere with their more important exertions—that such construction of the Oath of Toleration has been sanctioned by the general practice of a century, and has never been impugned by any decision in a superior Court of Law-and that if even such construction be incorrect, and legislative exposition be required, such declaratory Bill ought to follow the intention of the only Act which has subsequently passed; and should extend, and not contract; protect, and not impair the relief afforded by the former, ancient, and venerable Statute.
6. That the Bill introduced into Parliament is not justified by any necessity, and will be highly injurious – that it is unnecessary, because the evils presumed to result from the abuses of the existing laws by a few persons who may have improperly taken the oaths required from Dissenting Preachers and Teachers, do not exist but to a most inconsiderable extent, and because the extension of all such abuses has been anxiously and would be effectually discountenanced by every class of Protestant Dissenters, and that it must be injurious, because it will introduce forms unprecedented, inconvenient, or impracticable-will render itinerant Preachers, Students of Divinity, Ministers on Probation, and many per. sons, to whose ardent piety and disinterested labours, multitudes are indebted for Religious Instruction, liable to serve all Civil Offices; and will expose all Ministers or the witnesses to the Certificates to be harassed by repeated attendances at different Sessions, and to capricious examinations and unlimited expense, because by limiting the right of persons to become Dissenting Ministers in obedience to their consciences, it will impose new restrictions on toleration, and because it will create a precedent for future attempts at even more dangerous or fatal experiments against religious liberty.
Lords, on Tuesday last, the 21st instant, by its author, Lord Viscount SIDMOUTH, late Mr. Addington, and sometime Prime Minister of this kingdom.
When he brought it out for a second reading there was, it appears from the report of the proceedings in the House of Lords, not less than five hundred petitions against it, presented by different peers.
After these petitions had been presented, Lord Sidmouth moved that the Bill should be then reud a second lime. He complained of the misrepresentations that had gone forth about his Bill, and said a great deal in its justification ; but the tide was too strong against him.
7. That although most reluctant to interference with political affairs, they therefore cannot regard the present attempt without peculiar sensations of alarm, and that veneration for their ancestors, regard to their posterity, respect for rights which they can never abandon, and the sacred obligations which they feel will therefore compel them to disregard all doctrinal and ritual distinctions, and to unite, by every legitimate effort, to prevent the pending Bill from passing into a Law, and to oppose the smallest diminution of the privileges secured by the Act of Toleration.
8. That, from the noble declaration of the liberal-minded and illustrious Prince Regent of the Empire, that he will deliver up the Constitution unaltered, to his Royal Father, this Meeting are encouraged to indulge a confident hope, that measures so innovating and injurious can never obtain the sanction of his high authority, and that they also rejoice that it has not been introduced by his Ma. jesty's Government; and that respectful application be therefore made to them for their wise and continued protection. That a Petition to the House of Lords against the Bill be signed by all the Persons present at this Meeting; and that all Congregations of Protestant Dissenters, and other friends to Religious Liberty, throughout the Empire, be recommended to present similar Petitions ; and that a Committee, consisting of Persons resident in London, and in the Country, be appointed to effectuate these proceedings, and to adopt any measures they may deem expedient, to prevent the successful prosecution of this Bill; and that each Committee may increase their number; and that any three Members be competent to act.
9. That these Resolutions be communicated by the Committee now appointed to the Committee for guarding the Privileges of the Methodists, and to the Deputies and Ministers of the Congregations of Protestant Dissenters of the three denominations in or near London, and that their co-operation and assistance be respectfully invited.
10. That a Subscription be entered into to defray the expenses which may be incurred; and that Friends to Religious Liberty throughout the Empire be invited to contribute ; and that such Subscription be appropriated at the discretion of the Committee.
11. That Subscriptions be received by Messrs. Robarts, Curtis, and Co., Lom• bard-street; Sir James Esdaile and Co., Lombard-street; and Down, Thornton, and Co., Bartholomew lane.
12. That Thomas Pellatt, Esq., of Ironmongers'-hall, and John Wilks, Esq., of Hoxton-square, be solicited to act as Joint-Secretaries to the Committee.
13. That the acknowledgments of this Meeting be presented to the Gentlemen by whom it was convened, for the vigilance meritoriously displayed, and for their prompt attention to every attempted infringement of the invaluable and long-established rights of the Protestant Dissenters.
14. That this Meeting present their ardent thanks to the Chairman, for the attachment to Religious Liberty which he has displayed, by consenting to preside on this occasion, and for the attention and ability which he has manifested.
15. That their thanks be also presented to John Wilks, Esq., for the ability and zeal which he has manifested as temporary Secretary, and for his eloquent and useful exertions at this Meeting.
16. That these Resolutions be published in the Newspapers, signed by the Chairman, and that measures be adopted by the Committee, necessary to give them requisite publicity.
Samuel Mills, Chairman.
The ARCHBISHOP OF CANTERBURY said, that no persecution was intended; but, he recommended the stopping of the Bill.
Several other Lords spoke ; some, and especially the Lord Chancellor and the Earl of Buckinghamshire, defended the Bill; but, still thought it not advisable to press it at that time.
When, therefore, the question was put upon the motion of Lord Side mouth, it was negatived without a division.
Thus ended this offspring of the statesman of Richmond Park; but, since the subject has been brought forward, there is something more to be said upon it than has yet been said.
I have before endeavoured to show the effects which the Bill would produce; and, my conclusion was this : that it would lessen the number of Dissenting Ministers, and, indeed, render, as to them, the Toleration Act of very little avail; but, whether it was right to do this was a ques. tion that I did not then enter vpon, and that I reserved for the present Article.
In order to answer the question whether it would be desirable to lessen the number of Dissenting Ministers, we ought first to inquire a little into what sort of people they are, and what is the nature and what the tendency of their ministry. For, upon the good or evil that they produce depends the answer to the question before us.
That men, that all men, should be allowed to worship their Maker in their own way, is, I think, not to be doubted; but, if the government once begins to meddle, it must establish somewhat of an uniform creed, and that this creed will not suit all men is very certain. Whether the government ought ever to meddle with religion is a question that I will not now attempt to discuss; but this I am not at all afraid to assert : that, without a state religion, a kingly government and an aristocracy will never long exist, in any country upon earth ; therefore, when the Dissenters, as in the present case, come forward and volunteer their praises of kingly government, and boast so loudly, and so perfectly gratuitously, of their" ardent loyalty to their venerable Sovereign,” whose goodness to them " has made an indelible impression upon their hearts;" when they do this, they do, in effect, acknowledge the utility and the excellence of a state religion ; because, as I said before, and as all history will clearly prove, without a state religion a kingly gorernment cannot exist.
If this be the case, it must be allowed that the government is bound to protect its own religion, which is to be done only by keeping down others as much as is necessary to secure a predominance to that of the state. And, then, we come to the question : whether it ought not, for this purpose, now to do something to lessen the number of Dissenting Ministers, who are daily increasing, and whose influence increases in proportion beyond that of their number. Indeed, if we allow that a state religion is necessary, this is no question at all; for, in proportion as these Dissenting Ministers increase, the Church of England inust lose its power.
But, in another view of the matter, in a moral view, I mean, it may still be a question with some persons, whether the increase of these Ministers be a good or an evil. I say, in a moral view; for, as to religion without morality, none but fools or knaves do, or ever did profess it.
Now, as to the moral benefit arising from the teaching of Dissenting Ministers, it is sometimes very great, and I believe it is sometimes very small indeed, and, in many cases, I believe, their teaching tends to immorality and to misery.
Amongst the Ministers of some of the sects there are many truly learned and most excellent men, and such there always have been amongst them; and, even amongst the sects called Methodistical, there have been, and, doubtless, are, many men of the same description. But, on the other hand, it must be allowed that there are many of the Methodistical Preachers, who are fit for anything rather than teaching the people morality. I am willing to give the most of them full credit for sincerity of motive, but to believe, that the Creator of the Universe can be gratified with the ranting and raving and howling that are heard in some of the Meeting-Houses, is really as preposterous as any part of the Mahommedan Creed; and, if possible, it is still more absurd to suppose, that such incoherent sounds should have a tendency to mend the morals of the people, to make them more honest, industrious and public-spirited, for this last is a sort of morality by no means to be left out of the account.
I have heard it observed by very sensible and acute persons, that even these ranters do more good than harm ; but, if they do any harm at all, the question is, I think, at once decided against them; for, that they can do any good appears to me utterly impossible.
I am clearly of opinion, that, to lessen the number of this description of Ministers (for so they are called) would be a benefit to the country, provided it could be done without creating a new source of political influence. And, as to the politics of the whole sect of the Methodists, they are very bad. Never has any thing been done by them, which bespoke an attachment to public liberty. “Their kingdom,” they tell us, is "not of this world;" but, they do, nevertheless, not neglect the good things of it; and, some of them are to be found amongst the rankest jobbers in the country. Indeed, it is well known, that that set of politicians, ironically called THE SAINTS, who have been the main prop of the Pitt system ; it is well known, that under the garb of sanctity, they have been aiding and abetting in all the worst things that have been done during the last twenty years. These are very different people from the Old Dissenters, who have generally been a public-spirited race of men. The political history of THE SAINTS, as they are called, would exhibit a series of the most infamous intrigues and most rapacious plunder, that, perhaps, ever was heard of in the world. They have never been found wanting at any dirty job; and have invariably lent their aid in those acts. which have been the most inimical to the liberty of England.
Their petitioning now, I look upon as a selfish act. If a Bill had been before the House to enable the government to bring 200,000 German soldiers into the country, not a man of them would have petitioned. They never petitioned against any of the acts of Pitt and his associates, from the year 1792 to the year 1799 ; and, therefore, I give them very little credit for their alacrity now.
Seeing them in this light, I must confess, that I do not wish to see their numbers increase ; and, at any rate, I cannot imagine any ground, upon which their Ministers can, without having congregations, claim eremption from service in the Militia.
As the law now stands, any man, be he who he may, except he be a Catholic or an Infidel, can exempt himself from the Militia service for life, by only paying sixpence. An exemption from Militia service is now, to a young man, worth 100 pounds at least. But he can obtain it for a sixpence. A carter, for instance, who is 25 years of age, is now liable to be drafted into the Old Militia and also into Lord Castlereagh's Locals, may obtain a security for life for sixpence. He has only to go to the Quarter Sessions and there take the oath of fidelity and that of abjuration, and to declare that he is a Prolestunt and a Christian and that he believes in the Scriptures. He has only to do this and pay sixpence, and he is secure against military discipline for his life. And what objection is there to it? Who need object to take the oath of allegiance to the King, to abjure the Pope, or to declare himself a Christian? This is all; and thus, you see, as the law now stands, any man but a Catholic or an Infidel may, without any perjury or falsehood, exempt himself from all militia service. So that, really the project of our good old Richmond-Park Minister, was not wholly destitute of reason in its support.
He is reported to have given some instances of the abuse of this privilege. He mentioned an instance in Staffordshire of a man's having taken out a license who could neither write nor read. And why not, as the law now stands ? The man, in all likelihood, did not relish MILITARY DISCIPLINE, and, being told that there was a law to exempt him from it for life, if he would but take a couple of true oaths and make one true declaration and give a sixpence, he, of course, betook himself to these cheap and simple and infallible means. There is many a young man who is prevented from marrying by this dread of military discipline: here is the remedy at hand: here is the law come in to his aid. Our old friend of Richmond Park seems to have taken it for granted that his man in Staffordshire actually became a Preacher. Why should he ? The law does not require it. It gives him a license to preach, and protects him from the Militia discipline; but, it does not compel him to preach, nor does it require of him any declaration that he will preach, or, that he intends to preach, or that he ever had such a thought in his head. The man need not be Dissenter at all. A Church-goer may take out the license as well as any other man; and, indeed, any man but a Catholic or an Infidel has this protection at his command.
Now, surely, this is not the way in which it was intended the law should stand? We see, that it is possible, for the militia to be left without any body to fill its ranks, except Catholics, Jews, Turks, Heathens, and other Unbelievers; for, every Christian Protestant may excuse himself if he will, and that, too, without any perjury, falsehood, or deception. For suppose John Stiles, who is just coming 20 years old, and who has a stronger liking for some milkmaid than he has for what the soldiers call the Drum-Major's Daughter ; suppose he is a churchgoer; what is that to him or to the Justices ? They have no authority to ask him whether he can write or read, or what he means to do with his license when he has got it. His license is to show to a constable, when he comes to warn him for militia duty. He has paid for his license, and has, of course, a right to use it for whatever purpose may appear most beneficial to himself.
It is something curious, that the law should be so made as to leave the country to the chance of being defended solely by Catholics, Jews, Turks, and Infidels ; that the law should enable every one to exempt himself from the service of defence ; except those only, in whom the government will not put trust !
It is, too, not much less curious, that the Catholics should, in this respect, be put upon a footing with the Jews, and Turks; and, I must say, that, when I hear the Dissenters complaining of persecution, I cannot help reflecting on the behaviour of some of them towards the