Progress of the Nation page 3
There were various attempts during this period to limit the powers of the crown, some of which were easily overridden by the standing, and often well-paid, majorities of ministers. In the reign of queen Anne, a new act of settlement was made conferring the succession, in default of issue by the queen, on the electress Sophia of Hanover and her posterity. In this act, taught by the evils which had arisen in Dutch William's reign from these causes, it was provided, that whoever wore the crown should not be at liberty to leave the country without consent of parliament, and, moreover, that this country should not be obliged to go to war to defend any other country which the king or queen might possess. But the clause respecting the king going abroad, was immediately repealed on the accession of George I., and though the country was not actually obliged to go to war to defend Hanover, the obsequious parliament rushed into the most ruinous wars on that account.
By this act of settlement it was also sought to limit the power of the crown by making all paid servants of the crown, from the highest minister to the lowest deputy, pensioner, door-keeper, or messenger, incapable of sitting in parliament; but by an act of queen Anne, of the year 1705, this sweeping clause was repealed, and any member of the commons appointed to an office under the crown, was compelled to vacate, but was immediately capable of re-election.
The same act of settlement established the judges in their office for life, thus rendering them independent of the crown, and only to be removed upon the address of both houses of parliament. Till then, judges had been dismissible at the pleasure of the monarch, and the consequences at times, but especially in the reign of the Stuarts, had been most deplorable. Independent and incorruptible judges had been dismissed because they would not do the arbitrary pleasure of the monarch, and men of pliant minds, and others of coarse and savage character, like Jeffreys, had been set on the bench, and every man and every constitutional right placed at their mercy. This was a noble step in the path of justice and popular liberty.
An act of the year 1715 was far from being so creditable to parliament. This was the act of 1 George I., which abolished triennial parliaments, and substituted septennial in their stead. The Triennial Act had been passed in 1693, in the reign of William and Mary; but, in the second year of George I., the whigs, who had had the honour of passing the Triennial Act, now committed murder upon it. The first rebellion had just been crushed, and the new Hanoverian king and his whig minister, fearful of allowing the least chance of the return of Jacobite members to parliament, resolved to extend the term. In the following year the then parliament would have terminated; therefore, such men as the dukes of Devonshire and Argyll, lords Dorset, Carteret, and Cowper, such commoners as Stanhope and Craggs, who had been the stanchest promoters or supporters of triennial parliaments, were seen shamelessly undoing their own work, or condemning what, till then, they had professed to admire.
Amongst the laws passed in this period the following deserve particular mention. In 1695 an act was passed to regulate trials for treason and misprision of treason, which gave to the accused advantages which they never possessed before. Persons charged with treason were to have a copy of the indictment, five days before the trial, on paying for it. No person was to be tried for high treason except there were two witnesses against him, nor was one witness for one treason, and another for another treason, to be deemed two witnesses. The indictment must be laid within three years of the offence; no evidence was to be admitted that was not in the indictment; and the accused was to be furnished, two days at least before the trial, with the list of the panel of jurors who was to try him, and he was to have the same power to compel the attendance of those for hire, as the crown had to compel the attendance of those against him.
A statute of the 7th of Anne extended these privileges. The indictment was to be delivered to the accused not five, but ten days before the trial, in the presence of two or more witnesses; and to the list of jurors, their names, professions, and places of abode, were to be appended, to facilitate their summons. Since that time lawyers have exerted their arts and their chicanery to elude the provisions of these statutes;
to drag in, contrary to these acts, evidence not in the indictments, and to give a constructive interpretation of treason; but these are the faults of the legal profession, instigated by bad governments, and not of the statutes themselves.
By statute 5 Anne, c. 6, a great amelioration of the law relating to benefit of clergy took place. The privilege of benefit of clergy first extended only to clergymen, who were exempt from the jurisdiction of the civil tribunals, had been extended to all who could read, which in early ages was considered a proof of learning. But a layman could only enjoy this privilege once, and, to show that he had enjoyed it, he was burnt in the hand. By this statute of queen Anne, the benefit was granted in any case where it was a legal right, whether the person could read or not, but it was at the option of the judge, besides the burning in the hand, to add committal to the house of correction for a specified time. By other statutes of George I., burning in the hand was commuted at the option of the judge for transportation to America for seven years. Benefit of clergy has since been wholly repealed by statutes 7 and 8 George IV. These statutes mark strikingly the progress of a more humane tone in society.
In our narrative of the general transactions of this period we have recorded the enactment of the property qualification for a scat in the commons; one for the prevention of clandestine marriages, and for the freedom of the persons of ambassadors, owing to the Russian ambassador having been arrested for debt. There were also various enactments to prevent treating and bribing at elections; for the selecting of jurymen, and better conduct of trials; the regulation of fees to jurymen, &c. But the most important of all these was statute 4 George II., which ordered that all proceedings in courts of justice, and in the courts of exchequer in Scotland, should no longer be in Latin, but in plain English. In short, notwithstanding the gross and wasteful wars of this period, and the low moral tone of most of the cabinets, when we sum up the constitutional events of this epoch, they display a substantial advance in constitutional liberty. The. revolution of 1688; the limitations of the crown by the acts of settlement; the extension of privilege of parliament; the union with Scotland, thus invigorating by unity the popular force; the achieved independence of the judges; the amelioration of barbarous practices in the courts of justice; and the reformation of various laws, are steps in the progress of national freedom and civilisation, such as few other periods of our history can parallel.
Religion and the Church
The revolution of 1688, which overthrew absolutism in the state, overthrew it also in the church. The political principles of William of Orange, and the whigs who brought him in, were not more opposed to the absolutism of the Stuarts than the ecclesiastical principles of the new king and queen, and the prelates which they introduced into the church, were to the high-churchism of Laud, Sancroft, Atterbury, and their section of the establishment. As the reformation had been a victory over popery, the revolution was a victory over both popery and its congener, high-churchism; and as the Jacobites continued - till they were finally crushed at Culloden - a violent warfare against the new dynasty in the state, so the ecclesiastical Jacobites, the high-churchmen, or tories in black, continued as violent a warfare against the monarch as spurious, and against all concessions to the dissenters as a renunciation of the absolute principles and ascendancy of orthodoxy.
When parliament, on the accession of William and Mary, presented the oath of allegiance to the lords and commons, eight of the bishops, including Sancroft, archbishop of Canterbury, refused it; and of these, five were of the number of the seven who had refused to sign James II.'s declaration of indulgence, and thus gave the immediate occasion to the outbreak ending in the revolution. Amongst those who took the oath, however, was Lamplugh, archbishop of York. This man was bishop of Exeter, and, on the landing of William, he fled to London, where, for his zeal, he was immediately created archbishop of York; thereupon he did homage to James at Whitehall, and, two days afterwards, joined the lords spiritual and temporal at Guildhall, to invite William to accept the administration of the government! The rest of the bishops complied on more or less honourable principles; but four hundred of the inferior clergy followed the example of the bishops, and refused the oath to the new sovereigns. Thus a fresh faction was produced in the establishment, that of the nonjurors, who were, after much delay and patience, finally excluded from their livings. Besides these avowed nonjurors, there remained, however, in the church a large class of clergymen of all ranks, who were equally averse to the new dynasty, and the new principles of church administration, but who took the oaths to save their livings; and these half-concealed enemies became by far the most troublesome, as we shall see.
As the existing law could not touch the non-juring bishops so long as they absented themselves from parliament, where the oath had to be put to them, a new act was passed, providing that all who did not take the new oaths before the 1st of August, 1689, should be suspended six months, and at the end of that time, in case of non-compliance, should be ejected from their sees. Still the act was not rigorously complied with; they were indulged with a trial for a year longer, when, continuing obstinate, they were, on the 1st of it February, 1691, excluded from their sees. Two of the eight had escaped this sentence by dying in the interim - namely, the bishops of Worcester and Chichester. The remaining six who were expelled were Sancroft, the primate, Ken of Bath and Wells, Turner of Ely, Frampton of Gloucester, Lloyd of Norwich, and White of Peterborough. In the room of these were appointed prelates of whig principles, the celebrated Dr. Tillotson being made primate. Lamplugh of York also died in 1691, and Sharpe, one of the most eloquent preachers of the time, was put in his place. Other vacancies had recently or did soon fall out; so that, within three years of his accession, William had put in sixteen new bishops, and the whole body was thus favourable to his succession, and, more or less, to the new views of church administration.
Having obtained a favourable episcopal bench, king William now endeavoured to introduce measures of the utmost wisdom and importance - measures of the truest liberality and the profoundest policy - namely, an act of toleration of dissent, and an act of comprehension, by which was intended to allow presbyterian ministers to occupy livings in the church without denying the validity of their ordination, and also to do away with various things in the ritual of the church which drove great numbers from its community. By the Act of Toleration - under the name of "An act for exempting their majesties' protestant subjects dissenting from the church of England from the penalties of certain laws" - dissenters were exempt from all penalties for not attending church and for attending their own chapel provided that they took the new oaths of allegiance and supremacy, and subscribed to the declaration against transubstantiation, and also that their chapels were registered, and their services conducted without the doors being locked or barred. As the quakers would take no oaths, they were allowed to subscribe a declaration of fidelity to the government, and a profession of their Christian belief.
But the Comprehension Bill was not so fortunate. The bigots in the church, who had not dared to oppose the extension of some freedom to the dissenters, so that the catholics and socinians were not included in this case, and who, accordingly, were excluded from the benefit of the Toleration Act, became furious at the proposal to liberalise the rites and canons of the church. They already beheld, with extreme indignation, the elevation of such men as Tillotson, Burnet, Sharpe, Patrick, More, Cumberland, and Fowler to the episcopal bench. Sixteen such men raised to that bench within three years, men esteemed amongst the most wise, learned, and exemplary who ever bore that dignity, and some of them the ablest preachers of their time, was a sight which made the Laud and Saner of tit es gnash their teeth with rage. These men, preaching diligently in their dioceses, were ridiculed by them as "preaching bishops;" an extraordinary cause for censure in prelates of the church of England. But now ten of these preaching bishops, with twenty dignified clergymen, were appointed as a commission to make such alterations in the liturgy and canons, and such plans for the reformation of the ecclesiastical courts as, in their opinion, best suited the exigencies of the times, and were necessary to remove the abuses, and render more efficient the services of the church. The list of these commissioners comprised such men as Tillotson, Stillingfleet, Sharpe, Kidder, Hall, Tenison, Fowler, &c. They met in the Jerusalem Chamber, and began their labours preparatory to this great comprehensive bill. "They commenced," says Dr. Nichols, in his "Defence of the Church of England," "with reviewing the liturgy, and first they examined the calendar, in which, in the room of apocryphal lessons, they ordered certain chapters of canonical scripture to be read. Athanasius' Creed, because of the damnatory clauses, was left to the minister's choice to use it, or change it for the Apostles' Creed. New collects were drawn up, more agreeable to the epistles and gospels, for the whole course of the year; and these with that eloquence and brightness of expression, and such a heat and flame of devotion, that nothing could more affect and excite the hearts of the hearers, and raise up their minds towards God. They were first drawn up by Dr. Patrick; Dr. Burnet added to them yet further force and spirit; Dr. Stillingfleet afterwards examined them with great judgment, and carefully weighing every word in them; and Dr. Tillotson had the last hand, giving them some masterly strokes of his great and flowing eloquence. Dr. Kidder, who was well versed in the oriental tongues, made a new version of the Psalms, more agreeable to the original. Dr. Tenison made a collection of the words and expressions through the liturgy, which had been excepted against, and proposed others in their room that were clear and plain, and less liable to exception. Other things also were proposed that were left to be determined by the convocation: as first, that the cross in baptism might be used or omitted at the choice of the parents; second, that a nonconforming minister going over to the church, should not be ordained according to the common form, but rather conditionally, much in the same manner as the baptising of infants is ordered in the church, if there be not evidence of their being baptised before, with the addition of the episcopal benediction, as was customary in the ancient church, where clerks were received who had been ordained by heretics, of which archbishop Bramhall had given a precedent, when he received some Scotch presbyters into the church in Ireland."
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