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Chapter XII, of Cassells Illustrated History of England, Volume 7 page 2


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The duke of Wellington had some difficulty in producing due subordination among the members of his government at the outset. At Liverpool, Mr. Huskisson, in addressing his constituents, by way of apology for serving under a tory chief, said that in taking office he had obtained guarantees for the future liberal course of the government. The duke resented this assertion, and in the house of lords, on the 11th of February, with some warmth, contradicted the statement, and declared that pledges had neither been asked nor given, and that if they had been asked, they would have been indignantly refused. Mr. Huskisson explained, in the commons, that by guarantees he had meant only that the past conduct and character of his colleagues furnished pledges for the future course of the ministry. Another cause of misunderstanding arose, on the 19th of the same month, with reference to the disfranchisement of East Retford. A bill had been brought in for that purpose. A portion of the cabinet were for the enlargement of the constituency, by taking in the neighbouring hundred of Brassetlaw; but the constituency had obtained permission to be heard by counsel before the lords, and they produced such an impression that the duke of Wellington hesitated about the propriety of the measure. Another party were for transferring the members to Birmingham. The course Mr. Huskisson is represented to have taken on this question seems so tortuous that it is not easy to account for it. The duke of Wellington and Mr. Peel were understood to have advocated in the cabinet the disfranchisement of East Retford, and the transference of its members to Birmingham. Mr. Huskisson, conceiving that he was in honour bound to adhere to an arrangement that Mr. Canning had made, voted for throwing open the franchise, and carried his point. They produced their bill accordingly, and were met, as in the kindred case of Penryn, with a counter-proposal for transferring the members to Birmingham. Against this Mr. Huskisson argued, as tending to weaken too much and too suddenly the agricultural interest. The second reading was proposed on the 19th of May, and an animated debate ensued, in which the chief speakers on the ministerial side were Mr. Peel and Mr. Huskisson. Nobody appeared to suspect that Mr. Huskisson did not intend to support with his vote the measure which as a speaker he had recommended. " Such, however, proved to be the fact. A division took place, and Mr. Huskisson and lord Palmerston, very much to the astonishment of all parties, went into the lobby against the ministerial proposal." At two o'clock that night Mr. Huskisson wrote a letter to the duke, which his grace received at ten in the morning, in which he said, " I owe it to you, as the head of the administration, and to Mr. Peel, as leader of the house of commons, to lose no time in affording you an opportunity of placing my office in other hands." The duke very naturally took this as a resignation, but Mr. Huskisson denied that it was so meant. An irritating correspondence ensued, and Mr. Huskisson left the cabinet, as he affirmed, against his will. He must have had substantial grounds for retiring, for all the followers of Mr. Canning went with him - namely, lord Dudley from the foreign office, lord Palmerston from the war office, and Mr. C. Grant from the board of control. They were succeeded by lord Aberdeen as foreign secretary, Mr. Vesey Fitzgerald at the board of control, and Sir Henry Hardinge as secretary at war. Such was the constitution of the government, with all its liberalism thus expurgated, which repealed the Test and Corporation Acts, and carried catholic emancipation. The king was particularly anxious to have a strong government. He was still firm in his resistance to catholic emancipation. The very mention of the subject by his ministers produced a degree of excitement and irritation which made their intercourse with him occasionally unpleasant. The duke of Wellington seemed, of all men, the least likely to give way on the subject. In the debate on the Test and Corporation Acts, he said, " There is no person in this house whose feelings and sentiments, after long consideration, are more decided than mine are with respect to the Roman catholic claims; and I must say that, until I see a great change in that question, I must oppose it." Mr. Gleig considers that we have here the nearest approach to mental reservation which can any where be found "throughout the duke's voluminous sayings and doings." Whatever thoughts may have been passing in his mind, whatever may have been his secret misgivings or purposes, the fact remains that the duke's declaration had the effect which it was probably intended to have. "It satisfied the house of lords that from him, at least, there was nothing to be dreaded in the shape of concession to the Roman catholics." On the 28th of February lord John Russell proposed and carried a resolution that the house of commons should go into committee to inquire into the operation of the Test and Corporation Acts, with a view to their repeal. From the very foundation of the established church at the Reformation, the most stringent measures were adopted to put down nonconformity, to render the church and state identical in their constituent elements, and to preserve the uniformity and secure the perpetuity of the faith which had been established. The dissenters, however, maintained what, considering the nature of the human mind, and the laws which regulate opinion, was to be expected - that the Act of Uniformity had utterly failed to accomplish its object. They observed that at first the reformed church was Calvinistic in its articles, its clergy, and its preaching; that it then became Arminian and overcharged with ceremony under Laud; that it was latitudinarian in the days of William and Anne; that in more modern times it has been divided into "high church, "and "low church," and "broad church; " that subscription did not prevent the greatest variety and even the most positive contrariety of doctrine and religious opinion, referring, for illustration, to the rise and progress of the "evangelical" and the "Anglican" parties. They further contended that the act had failed in one of its main objects - namely, in keeping all protestants within the pale of the church, as, so far as actual membership or communicants were concerned, the adherents to the establishment were now in a minority. In vain, then, were 2,000 clergymen ejected from their parishes, followed by 60,000 earnest protestants, who, by fines, imprisonment, or voluntary exile, suffered on account of their nonconformity. This persecution had an effect the opposite of what had been anticipated. If, as Hume remarked, every martyrdom in the Marian persecution was worth to Protestantism and liberty a hundred sermons against popery, so every act of persecution against the nonconformists was of value to the religious life of the nation. In consequence of the development of that life, the Toleration Act became a necessity; and within twenty years after the passing of that act there were upwards of a thousand nonconforming congregations in the land, and there now exist outside of the communion of the national church a large body of worshippers independent of, but not necessarily hostile to that church, and constituting an important part of the forces and agencies by which Christian civilisation is advanced at home and abroad.

It was shown in an article in a magazine connected with the congregational body, that in 1812 the number of ministers and congregations in the three denominations - presbyterians, independents, and Baptists - was 1,583; in 1827 it was 2,212; and in 1829 it had risen to 2,435. There were in addition to these the various bodies of Methodists and unitarians. The dissenting congregations of every protestant denomination in England at the time of the repeal of the Test and Corporation Acts amounted to 6,422. The total number of churches and chapels in connection with the establishment at the same time was 9,983. Comparing the missionary agencies then employed by churchmen and dissenters, we find it stated that, while the former raised for home and foreign missions the sum of £67,528, the latter contributed the sum of £90,100. Thus the dissenters subscribed for the diffusion of Christianity in the world at home and abroad, beyond the bounds of their own congregations, £22,672 more than the established church, though they had to educate and maintain their own ministers, and to build their own places of worship by voluntary contributions.

The committee of the deputies of the protestant dissenters, in their report of proceedings for the year 1828, state that the spirit of opposition to the claims of the dissenters throughout the United Kingdom, whether among the clergy or the laity, had been nearly extinct. After one division in the commons, which may be supposed to have been intended by ministers rather to ascertain the feeling of the house than to excite a dormant animosity, all further opposition was there forborne, and assurances were given that every effort would be made to secure the concurrent» of the house of lords. The duke of Wellington, with the other cabinet ministers, the two primates of the realm, with a large majority of the attending bishops, gave the measure their efficient support. A considerable proportion spoke in its favour, and those dissenters who witnessed the debates raised by their remaining adversaries could scarcely regret an opposition which elicited the well-merited praise of many distinguished members of their own communion, and the avowal of many principles in unison with their own on the great points of religious profession and religious liberty, and generally tending to mutual forbearance and harmony among those who hold the essentials of the common faith of Christians. Such happy accompaniments to the progress and issue of the measure could not but greatly enhance the value of the concession. The dissenters alleged they did not seek a triumph over enemies, but an admission to common advantages as fellow-subjects and fellow-Christians.

The protestant society for the protection of religious liberty, which had been labouring in the good cause for nearly twenty years, referred to the triumph that had been achieved at its eighteenth annual meeting. The committee, in its report, after insisting on the necessity of making the distinction between "the rights of God" and " the rights of Caesar," observe: " In proportion as religion is unencumbered and unbound by the policy, protection, and interference of the civil power, it will revive, expand, and diffuse its influence, and reform and bless the earth. Much, therefore, have they rejoiced at the recent measures which the British legislature have adopted; and while they would not undervalue the advantage that has resulted from the constant labours of the society in this great cause, nor the effects of the wide diffusion of education and knowledge, nor the power of opinion, nor the long and mighty labours of the illustrious friends of freedom who are hence departed, or who yet survive, they specially ascribe to a benignant Providence results which even enthusiasm scarce dared to hope could be so speedily and peacefully obtained. Vast, and, as they trust, blessed is the change! "

Sanguine though the dissenters had been respecting the growth of the principles of civil and religious liberty, of which the seeds had been sown in tears by the early puritan confessors, they did not anticipate that the harvest was at hand, and that, in a few short months after the appeal was made, they should have to record the triumphant discussion, the devout thanksgiving, and the festive celebration of their entire success. As the claims of the dissenters were not embarrassed by any question of divided allegiance or party politics, many members of parliament who had not supported the relief of the Roman catholics found themselves at liberty to advocate the cause of the protestant nonconformists; while almost all who had supported the greater measure of emancipation felt themselves bound by consistency to vote for the abolition of the sacramental test. Yet the victory was not achieved without a struggle. Lord John Russell said: - " The government took a clear, open, and decided part against us. They summoned their followers from every part of the empire. Nay, they issued a sort of 'hatti-sheriff ' for the purpose; they called upon every one within their influence who possessed the faith of a true mussulman to follow them in opposing the measure. But, notwithstanding their opposition in the debate, their arguments were found so weak, and in the division their numbers were found so deficient, that nothing could be more decided than our triumph."

Lord John Russell, who introduced the measure, lord Althorp, Mr. Smith of Norwich, and Mr. Ferguson pleaded the cause of the dissenters with unanswerable arguments. They showed that the church was not now Sn danger; that there was no existing party bent on subverting the constitution; that in the cases where the tests were not exacted during the last half century there was no instance of a dissenter holding office who had abused his trust; that though the test act had been practically in abeyance during all that time, the church had suffered no harm. Why, then, preserve an offensive and discreditable act upon the statute book? Why keep up invidious distinctions, when there was no pretence of necessity for retaining them? Why, without the shadow of proof, presume disaffection against any class of the community? Even the members of the established church of Scotland might be debarred from serving their sovereign by those tests and penalties unless they renounced their religion. A whole nation was thus proscribed, upon the idle pretext that it was necessary to defend the church of another nation. It was asked, Did the church of England aspire, like the mussulmans of Turkey, to be exclusively charged with the defence of the empire? If so, let the presbyterians and dissenters withdraw, and it will be seen what sort of defence it will have. Take from the field of Waterloo the Scottish regiments; take away, too, the sons of Ireland: what then would have been the chance of victory? If they sought the aid of Scotch and Irish soldiers in the hour of peril, why deny them equal rights and privileges in times of peace? Besides, the church could derive no real strength from exclusion and coercion, which only generated ill-will and a rankling feeling of injustice. The established church of Scotland had been safe without any test and corporation acts. They had been abolished in Ireland half a century ago, without any evil accruing to the church in that country. It was contrary to the spirit of the age to keep up irritating yet inefficient and impracticable restrictions, which, were a disgrace to the statute book.

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