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clamours aim at redress. But a clamour made merely for the purpose of rendering the people discontented with their situation, without an endeavour to give them a practical remedy, is indeed one of the worst acts of sedition.
I have read and heard much upon the conduct of our courts in the business of libels. I was extremely willing to enter into, and very free to act as facts should turn out on that inquiry, aiming constantly at remedy as the end of all clamour, all debate, all writing, and all inquiry; for which reason I did embrace, and do now with joy, this method of giving quiet to the courts, jurisdiction to juries, liberty to the press, and satisfaction to the people. I thank my friends for what they have done; I hope the public will one day reap the benefit of their pious and judicious endeavours. They have now sown the seed; I hope they will live to see the flourishing harvest. Their bill is sown in weakness, it will, I trust, be reaped in power ; and then, however, we shall have reason apply to them what my Lord Coke says was an aphorism continually in the mouth of a great sage of the law, “Blessed be not the complaining tongue, but blessed be the amending hand.”
SPEECH ON THE ACTS OF UNIFORMITY.
MR. SPEAKER,— I should not trouble the house upon this question, if I could at all acquiesce in many of the arguments, or justify the vote I shall give upon several of the reasons, which have been urged in favour of it. I should indeed be very much concerned if I were thought to be influenced to that vote by those arguments.
In particular, I do most exceedingly condemn all such arguments as involve any kind of reflection on the personal character of the gentlemen, who have brought in a petition so decent in the style of it, and so constitutional in the mode. Besides the unimpeachable integrity and piety of many of the promoters of this petition, which render those aspersions as idle as they are unjust, such a way of treating the subject can have no other effect than to turn the attention of the
NOTE.—The persons associated for this purpose were distinguished at the time by the name of “The Feathers Tavern Association,” from the place where their meetings were usually held. Their petition was presented on the 6th of February, 1772 ; and on a motion that it should be brought up, the same was negatived on a division, in which Mr. Burke voted in the majority, by 217 against 71.
house from the merits of the petition, the only thing properly before us, and which we are sufficiently competent to decide upon, to the motives of the petitioners, which belong exclusively to the great Searcher of hearts.
We all know that those who loll at their ease in high dignities, whether of the church or of the state, are commonly averse to all reformation. It is hard to persuade them that there can be amiss in establishments, which by feeling experience they find to be so very comfortable. It is as true that from the same selfish motives those, who are struggling upwards, are apt to find every thing wrong, and out of order. These are truths upon one side and on the other; and neither on the one side or the other, in argument, are they worth a single farthing. I wish, therefore, so much had not been said upon these ill-chosen, and worse than ill-chosen, these very invidious topics.
I wish still more that the dissensions and animosities, which bad slept for a century, had not been just now most unseasonably revived. But if we must be driven, whether we will or not, to recollect these unhappy transactions, let our memory be complete and equitable, let us recollect the whole of them together. If the dissenters, as an honourable gentleman has described them, have formerly risen from a “whining, canting, snivelling generation,” to be a body dreadful and ruinous to all our establishments, let him call to mind the follies, the violences, the outrages and persecutions, that conjured up, very blameably, but very naturally, that same spirit of retaliation. Let him recollect, along with the injuries, the services which dissenters have done to our church and to our state. bave once destroyed, more than once they have saved them. This is but common justice, which they and all mankind have a right to.
There are, Mr. Speaker, besides these prejudices and animosities, which I would have wholly removed from the debate, things more regularly and argumentatively urged against the petition; which, however, do not at all appear to me conclusive.
First, two honourable gentlemen, one near me, the other, I think, on the other side of the house, assert, that if you alter her symbols, you destroy the being of the Church of England. This, for the sake of the liberty of that church, I must absolutely deny. The church, like every body corporate, may alter her laws without changing her identity. As an independent church, professing fallibility, she has claimed a right of acting without the consent of any other; as a church, she claims, and has always exercised, a right of reforming whatever appeared amiss in her doctrine, her discipline, or her rites. She did so, when she shook off the papal supremacy in the reign of
Henry the Eighth, which was an act of the body of the English Church, as well as of the state (I do not inquire how obtained.) She did so, when she twice changed the liturgy in the reign of King Edward, when she then established articles, which were themselves a variation from former professions. She did so, when she cut off three articles from her original 42, and reduced them to the present 39; and she certainly would not lose her corporate identity, nor subvert her fundamental principles, though she were to leave ten of the 39, which remain, out of any future confession of her faith. She would limit her corporate powers, on the contrary, and she would oppose her fundamental principles, if she were to deny herself the prudential exercise of such capacity of reformation. This, therefore, can be no objection to your receiving the petition.
In the next place, Sir, I am clear that the Act of Union, reciting and ratifying one Scotch and one English Act of Parliament, has not rendered any change whatsoever in our church impossible, but by a dissolution of the Union between the two kingdoms.
The honourable gentleman, who has last touched upon that point, has not gone quite so far as the gentlemen, who first insisted upon it. However, as none of them wholly abandon that post, it will not be safe to leave it behind me unattacked. I believe no one will wish their interpretation of that act to be considered as authentic. What shall we think of the wisdom (to say nothing of the competence) of that legislature, which should ordain to itself such a fundamental law at its outset, as to disable itself from executing its own functions ; which should prevent it from making any further laws, ho ver wanted, and that too on the most interesting subject that belongs to human society, and where she most frequently wants its interposition; which should fix those fundamental laws, that are forever to prevent it from adapting itself to its opinions, however clear, or to its own necessities, however urgent? Such an act, Mr. Speaker, would for ever put the church out of its own power ; it certainly would put it far above the state, and erect it into that species of independency, which it has been the great principle of our policy to prevent.
The act never meant, I am sure, any such unnatural restraint on the joint legislature it was then forming. History shows us what it meant, and all that it could mean with any degree of common sense.
In the reign of Charles the First a violent and ill-considered attempt was made, unjustly, to establish the platform of the government, and the rites of the Church of England, in Scotland, contrary to the genius and desires of far the majority of that nation. This usarpation excited a most mutinous spirit in that country. It pro
duced that shocking fanatical covenant (I mean the covenant of 1636)
To prevent such violent enterprises on the one side or on the other,
act of union provided, that Presbytery should continue the Scotch, as Episcopacy the English establishment, and that this separate and mutually independent church-government was to be considered as a part of the union, without aiming at putting the regulation within each church out of its own power, without putting both churches out of the power of the state. It could not mean to forbid us to set any thing ecclesiastical in order, but at the expense of tearing up all foundations, and forfeiting the inestimable benefits (for inestimable they are), which we derive from the happy union of the two kingdoms. To suppose otherwise, is to suppose that the act intended we could not meddle at all with the church, but we must as a preliminary destroy the state.
Well then, Sir, this is, I hope, satisfactory. The act of union does not stand in our way, but Sir, gentlemen think we are not competent to the reformation desired, chiefly from our want of theological learning.
If ever there was anything, to which from reason, nature, habit and principle, I am totally averse, it is persecution for conscientious difference in opinion. If these gentlemen complained justly of any compulsion upon them in that article, I would hardly wait for their petitions ; as soon as I knew the evil I would haste to the cure, I would even run before their complaints.
I will not enter into the abstract merits of our articles and liturgy -perhaps there are some things in them, which one would wish had not been there. They are not without the marks and characters of human frailty.
But is it not human frailty and imperfection, and even a considerable degree of them, that becomes a ground for your
alteration ; for by no alteration will you get rid of these errors, however you may
delight yourselves in varying to infinity the fashion of them., But the ground for a legislative alteration of a legal establishment is this, and this only; that you find the inclinations of the majority of the people, concurring with your own sense of the intolerable nature of the abuse, are in favour of a change.
If this be the case in the present instance, certainly you ought to make the alteration that is proposed, to satisfy your own consciences, and to give content to your people. But if you have no evidence of this nature, it ill becomes your gravity, on the petition of a few gentlemen, to listen to anything that tends to shake one of the capital pillars of the state, and alarm the body of your people upon that one ground, in which every hope and fear, every interest, passion, prejudice, every thing which can affect the human breast, are all involved together. If you make this a season for religious alterations, depend upon it you will soon find it a season of religious tumults and religious wars.
These gentlemen complain of hardships. No considerable number show discontent, but, in order to give satisfaction to any number of respectable men, who come in so decent and constitutional a mode before us, let us examine a little what that hardship is. They want to be preferred clergymen in the Church of England, as by law established, but their consciences will not suffer them to conform to the doctrines and practices of that church ; that is, they want to be teachers in a church to which they do not belong, and it is an odd sort of hardship. They want to receive the emoluments appropriated for teaching one set of doctrines, whilst they are teaching another. A church, in any legal sense, is only a certain system of religious doctrines and practices, fixed and ascertained by some law ; by the difference of which laws, different churches (as different commonwealths) are made in various parts of the world ; and the establishment is a tax laid by the same sovereign authority for payment of those who teach and so practice. For no legislature was ever so absurd as to tax its people to support men for teaching and acting as they please, but by some prescribed rule.
The hardship amounts to this, that the people of England are not taxed two shillings in the pound to pay them for teaching, as divine truths, their own particular fancies. For the state has so taxed the people, and by way of relieving these gentlemen, it would be a cruel hardship on the people to be compelled to pay, from the sweat of their brow, the most heavy of all taxes to condemn, as heretical, the doctrines, which they repute to be orthodox, and to reprobate, as superstitious, the practices, which they use as pious and holy. If a