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SPEECH ON A BILL FOR RESTRAINING DORMANT
CLAIMS OF THE CHURCH.
If I considered this bill as an attack upon the church, brought in for the purpose of impoverishing and weakening the clergy, I should be one of the foremost in an early and vigorous opposition to it.
I admit, the same reasons do not press for limiting the claims of the church, that existed for limiting the crown by that wisest of all laws, which has secured the property, the peace, and the freedom of this country from the most dangerous mode of attack which could be made upon
them all. I am very sensible of the propriety of maintaining that venerable body with decency, (and with more than mere decency). I would maintain it according to the ranks wisely established in it with that sober and temperate splendour, that is suitable to a sacred character invested with high dignity.
There ought to be a symmetry between all the parts and orders of a state. A poor clergy in an opulent nation can have little correspondence with the body it is to instruct, and it is a disgrace to the public sentiments of religion. Such irreligious frugality is even bad economy, as the little that is given, is entirely thrown away. Such an impoverished and degraded clergy in quiet times could never execute their duty, and in time of disorder would infinitely aggravate the public confusions.
That the property of the church is a favoured and privileged property, I readily admit. It is made with great wisdom, since a perpetual body with a perpetual duty ought to have a perpetual provision.
The question is not the property of the church, or its security. The question is, whether you will render the principle of prescription a principle of the law of this land, and incorporate it with the whole of your jurisprudence; whether, having given it first against the laity, then against the crown, you will now extend it to the church.
The acts, which were made, giving limitation against the laity, were not acts against the property of those, who might be precluded by limitations The act of quiet against the crown was not against the interests of the crown, but against a power of vexation.
If the principle of prescription be not a constitution of positive Note. This motion was made the 17th of February, 1772, and rejected on a division ; the numbers being, ayes, 117, noes, 141,
law, but a principle of natural equity, then to hold it out against any man, is not doing him injustice.
That tithes are due of common right is readily granted ;--and if this principle had been kept in its original straitness, it might, indeed, be supposed that to plead an exemption was to plead a long-continued fraud; and that no man could be deceived in such a title ; as the moment he bought land he must know that he bought land tithed. Prescription could not aid him, for prescription can only attach on a supposed bona fide possession.
But the fact is, that the principle has been broken in upon.
Here it is necessary to distinguish two sorts of property.-1. Land carries no mark on it to distinguish it as ecclesiastical, as tithes do, which are a charge on land ; therefore, though it had been made inalienable, it ought perhaps to be subject to limitation. It might bona fide be held.
But first it was not originally inalienable ; no, not by the canon law, until the restraining act of the 11th of Elizabeth. But the great revolution of the dissolution of monasteries by the 31st H. VIII. c. 13, has so mixed and confounded ecclesiastical with lay property, that a man may by every rule of good faith be possessed of it.
The statute of Queen Elizabeth, ann. 1, chap. 1, gave away the bishop's lands.
So far as to lands.
As to tithes, they are not things in their own nature subject to be barred by prescription upon the general principle. But tithes and church lands, by the statutes of Henry VIII. and the 11th Eliz. have become objects in commercio ; for by coming to the crown they became grantable in that way to the subject, and a great part of the church lands passed through the crown to the people.
By passing to the king, tithes became property to a mixed party; by passing from the king, they became absolutely lay property ; the partition-wall was broken down, and tithes and church possession became no longer synonymous terms. No man, therefore, might become a fair purchaser of tithes, and of exemption from tithes.
By the statute of Elizabeth, the lands took the same course, (I will not inquire by what justice, good policy, and decency) but they passed into lay hands, became the object of purchases for valuable consideration, and of marriage settlement.
Now, if tithes might come to a layman, land in the hands of a layman might be also tithe free. So that there was an object, which a layman might become seized of equitably and bona fide ; there was something, on which a prescription might attach, the end of which
is to secure the natural well-meaning ignorance of men, and to secure property by the best of all principles, continuance.
I have, therefore, shown that a layman may be equitably seized of church lands.-2. Of tithes-3. Of exemption from tithes ;
you will not contend that there should be no prescription. Will you say that the alienations made before the 11th of Elizabeth shall not stand good?
I do not mean anything against the church, her dignities, her honours, ber privileges, or her possessions. I should wish even to enlarge them all ; not that the Church of England is incompetently endowed. This is to take nothing from her but the power of making herself odious. If she be secure herself, she can have no objection to the security of others. For I hope she is secure from lay-bigotry and anti-priestcraft, for certainly such things there are. I heartily wish to see the church secure in such possessions as will not only enable her ministers to preach the Gospel with ease, but of such a kind as will enable them to preach it with its full effect--so that the pastor shall not have the inauspicious appearance of a tax-gatherer ; -such a maintenance as is compatible with the civil prosperity and improvement of their country.
SPEECH ON A BILL FOR THE RELIEF OF PROTESTANT
I ASSURE yor, Sir, that the honourable gentleman, who spoke last but one, need not be in the least fear that I should make a war of particles
upon his opinion, whether the Church of England should, would, or ought to be alarmed. I am very clear that this honse has no one reason in the world to think she is alarmed by the bill brought before you. It is something extraordinary that the only symptom of alarm in the Church of England should appear in the petition of some dissenters; with whom, I believe, very few in this house are yet acquainted; and of whom you know no more than that you are assured by the honourable gentleman they are not Mahometans. Of the church we know they are not, by the name they assume. They are then dissenters. The first symptom of an alarm comes from some dissenters assembled round the lines of Chatham, these lines become the security of the Church of England! The honourable gentleman, in speaking of the lines of Chatham, tells us, that they serve not only
for the security of the wooden walls of England, but for the defence of the Church of England. I suspect the wooden walls of England secure the lines of Chatham, rather than the lines of Chatham secure the wooden walls of England.
Sir, the Church of England, if only defended by this miserable petition upon your table, must, I am afraid, upon the principles of true fortification, be soon destroyed. But fortunately her walls, bul. warks, and bastions, are constructed of other material than of stubble and straw, are built up with the strong and staple matter of the gospel of liberty, and founded on a true, constitutional, legal esta+ blishment. But, Sir, she has other securities ; she has the security of her own doctrines, she has the security of the piety, the sanctity, of her own professors, their learning is a bulwark to defend her, she has the security of the two Universities, not shaken in any single battlement, in any single pinnacle.
But the honourable gentlemen has mentioned, indeed, principles which astonish me rather more than ever. The honourable gentleman thinks that the dissenters enjoy a large share of liberty under a connivance; and he thinks that the establishing toleration by law is an attack upon Christianity.
The first of these is a contradiction in terms. Liberty under a connivance! Connivance is a relaxation from slavery, not a definition of liberty. What is connivance, but a state under which all slaves live? If I was to describe slavery, I would say with those, who hate it, it is living under will, not under law; if as it is stated by its advocates, I would say, that like earthquakes, like thu er, or other wars the elements make upon mankind, it happens rarely, it occasionally comes now and then upon people, who upon ordinary occasions enjoy the same legal government of liberty. Take it under the description of those who would soften those features, the state of slavery and connivance is the same thing. If the liberty enjoyed be a liberty not of toleration, but of a connivance, the only question is, whether establishing such by law is an attack upon Christianity. Toleration an attack upon Christianity! What then, are we come to this pass, to suppose that nothing can support Christianity, but the principles of persecution ? Is that, then, the idea of establishment? Is it then the idea of Christianity itself
, that it ought to have establishments, that it ought to have laws against dissenters, but the breach of which laws is to be connived at ? What a picture of toleration, what a picture of laws, of establishments, what a picture of religious and civil liberty! I am persuaded the honourable gentleman does not see it in this light.
But these very
terms become the strongest reasons for my support of the bill, for I am persuaded that toleration, so far from being an attack upon Christianity, becomes the best and surest support that possibly can be given to it. The Christian religion itself arose without establishment, it arose even without toleration, and whilst its own principles were not tolerated, it conquered all the powers of darkness, it conquered all the powers of the world. The moment it began to depart from these principles, it converted the establishment into tyranny, it subverted its foundations from that very hour. Zealous as I am for the principle of an establishment, so just an abhorrence do I conceive against whatever may shake it, I know nothing but the supposed necessity of persecution, that can make an establishment disgusting. I would have toleration a part of establishment, as a principle favourable to Christianity, and as a part of Christianity.
All seem agreed that the law, as it stands, inflicting penalties on all religious teachers and on schoolmasters, who do not sign the 59 Articles of Religion, ought not to be executed. We are all agreed that the law is not good, for that, I presume, is undoubtedly the idea of a law that ought not to be executed. The question, therefore, is, whether in a well constituted commonwealth, which we desire ours to be thought, and, I trust, intend that it should be, whether in such a commonwealth it is wise to retain those laws, which it is not proper to execute. A penal law, not ordinarily put in execution, seems to me to be a very absurd and a very dangerous thing. For if its principle be right, if the object of its prohibitions and penalties be a real evil, then you do in effect permit that very evil, which not only the reason of the thing, but your very law, declares ought not to be permitted ; and thus it reflects exceedingly on the wisdom, and consequently derogates not a little from the authority of a legislature, who can at once forbid and suffer, and in the same breath promulgate penalty and indemnity to the same persons, and for the very same actions. But if the object of the law be no moral or political evil, then you ought not to hold even a terror to those whom you ought certainly not to punish—for if it is not right to hurt, it is neither right nor wise to menace. Such laws, therefore, as they, must be defective either in justice or wisdom, or both, so they cannot exist without a considerable degree of danger. Take them which way you will, they are pressed with ugly alternatives.
1st. All penal laws are either upon popular prosecution, or on the part of the crown. Now, if they may be roused from their sleep, whenever a minister thinks proper, as instruments of oppression, then they put vast bodies of men into a state of slavery and court de