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The Year 1869

The Year 1869-Difficulty of Disestablishing the Irish Church - Opening of Parliament - The Queen's Speech - Mr. Gladstone's Speech on introducing the Bill for Disestablishment: its Provisions relating to Persons and to Property - Private Endowments - Churches and Glebe-houses made over to the Church Body - Con version of the Church Property into Money - Disposal of the Surplus - Arrangements for the Extinction of the Regium Donum and of the Maynooth Grant - Conclusion of Mr. Glad stone's Speech - Mr. Disraeli, Sir Roundell Palmer, and others oppose the Bill - The Second Beading is carried - Bill passed in the Commons - Lord Redesdale's Question about the Coronation Oath: Earl Granville's Reply - Debates on the Bill in the House of Lords - Speech of the Bishop of Peterborough - Important Amendments carried in Committee - Bill passed in the House of Lords - Mr. Gladstone moves to disagree with most of the Lords' Amendments - The House of Commons accedes to the Proposal - The House of Lords adheres to its Amendments - Danger of a Collision between the Houses - Conference between Lord Cairns and Earl Granville - A Compromise effected - The Bill passes into Law - Predictions respecting its results not verified by the event.
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The condition of the empire at the beginning of 1869 was externally far from unsatisfactory. The successful and complete accomplishment of the objects for which the Abyssinian expedition had been undertaken, was considered, even in foreign countries, to reflect credit on our military administration; the state of Ireland was so much improved, that the renewal of the Act suspending the Habeas Corpus in that country was deemed no longer necessary; above all, trade and finance were beginning to show signs of substantial recovery from the effects of the collapse of 1866, and to hold forth the promise of a new and vigorous expansion. With regard to the new Minis try which the deliberate preference of a large majority of the constituencies had just installed in power, confidence in Mr. Gladstone, and in his power to deal adequately with the great question of the day, was widely felt and freely expressed. Yet the difficulty of carrying a just and adequate measure of disestablishment, which should care fully unravel the thousand threads that in the course of three centuries had variously linked the ecclesiastical with the civil establishment of Ireland - a measure which should satisfy the just claims of individuals, and wisely dispose of the portion of the exappropriated property not required for the purposes of compensation - was felt to be so great, that few expected it to be overcome in the pre sent session. A succession of contests - a slow and painful adjustment - the attainment of a practical equilibrium after many trials, spread over two or three years, - such seemed to be the prospect before the country. That the result was different, and that this great work of demolition was accomplished in a single session, was due (whatever view we may take of the righteousness or otherwise of the question itself) to the conscientious thoroughness with which Mr. Gladstone laboured at the preparation of the necessary measure, and to his genius for the perfecting of details.

The formal business involved in the opening of a new Parliament had been dispatched, as we explained at the end of Chapter XXVII., in the month of December, 1868. On the 16th February, 1869, the real session began. On this unique occasion, the like of which had not occurred since the assembling of the first Parliament elected after the passing of the Reform Bill of 1832, it might have been expected that the Queen would be present and de liver the Royal Speech; that duty, however, was, as on so many previous occasions, discharged by the Lord Chancellor. Mr. Gladstone subsequently explained that it had been Her Majesty's earnest wish to meet her Parliament, but that her health, impaired by the severe nervous headaches to which Her Majesty was subject, was found unequal to the effort; should, however, the House agree to the Address, Her Majesty was desirous of coming to London, and receiving it in person from both Houses of Parliament. This proposal was warmly received on both sides of the House; but the serious illness of the youngest son of Her Majesty, Prince Leopold, occurring just about this time, prevented the execution of the design.

In the Royal Speech, after allusion had been made to the settlement of the rupture between Greece and Turkey lately effected in the Conference at Paris, and to some insignificant disturbances which had broken out in New Zealand, the great legislative project of the year was thus vaguely shadowed forth: - " The ecclesiastical arrangements of Ireland will be brought under your consideration at a very early date, and the legislation which will be necessary in order to their final adjustment will make the largest demands upon the wisdom of Parliament." By a wise and politic development )f the principles that " the King can do no wrong," and that his ministers are responsible for his acts, we have seen of late years an in creasing tendency to eliminate from the speeches with which the Sovereign opens Parliament announcements as to future measures of so positive a character as to challenge the Opposition to impugn or move amendments to them In this way all semblance of a collision between the- Sovereign and Parliament is avoided, and the constitutional machine works all the easier. Thanks to this moderation, the Address was agreed to in both Houses without difficulty, Lord Cairns observing that he could not go into the subject of the Irish Church without more light than was afforded by the " rather fortuitous collocation of nouns and adjectives in which the Speech alluded to it." In the Commons, Mr. Gladstone, the new Premier, lost no time in giving notice that, on the 1st March, he should move that the Acts relating to the Irish Church Establishment and the grant to Maynooth College, and also the Resolutions of the House of Commons in 1868, be read; and that the House should then resolve itself into a committee to consider of the said Acts and Resolutions.

The appointed day arrived, and Mr. Gladstone, after causing the Clerk to read the titles of the Acts and the Commons' Resolutions of 1868, proceeded, in a speech of three hours' duration, to unfold to a crowded and expectant House the particulars of the scheme by which he proposed to redeem the pledge of disestablishing the Church of Ireland which he had induced the House to take in the preceding year. So perfect a mastery of all the details of a very complicated measure, joined to so rare a gift for marshalling and harmonising his matter^ was perhaps never before found in an English statesman. There were facts to be told, explanatory narratives to be given, reasons to be unfolded, objections to be met, changes to be proposed, and arrangements necessitated by those changes to be precisely defined, as to times, places, and persons; and all these various requirements were to be satisfied in a single speech, and in such a manner that the thread of the exposition should never be broken, nor the interest of the hearer suffered to flag. All this was accomplished by Mr. Gladstone in this memorable speech.

Certain dates were first of all named, by keeping which in memory it became more easy to grasp the general bearing of the scheme. On the 1st January, 1871 (this, how ever, was a date which the speaker did not regard as Unalterable), the disestablishment of the Irish Church was to take legal effect. At that date the union between the Churches of England and Ireland would be dissolved, all ecclesiastical corporations would be abolished, the ecclesiastical courts would be closed, and the ecclesiastical laws would no longer be binding as laws, although they would still be understood to exist as part of the terms of a voluntary contract subsisting between clergy and laity, till they were altered by the governing body of the disestablished Church., Secondly, from the date of the passing of the Act, the Irish Ecclesiastical Commission would ease and determine, and would be replaced by a temporary Commission, appointed for ten years, in which the property of the Irish Church would immediately vest. Thirdly, after a date which it was impossible exactly to define, but which would give time for the complete execution of all those complicated arrangements to which the satisfaction of vested interests under the Act would lead, the residue of the funds of the disendowed Church would be available for employment in such manners and on such objects as would be specified in a subsequent portion of his statement.

From this point, since we cannot follow Mr. Gladstone into the extended exposition of every portion of his plan with which he favoured the House, we propose to de scribe the contents of the bill on a different principle, and to consider the leading features of the scheme - (1) in its application to persons; (2) in its application to property.

The persons to whom the provisions of the new measure were to be primarily applied, who from the official clergy of a State Church were to be converted into the ministers of a voluntary association, were these following - two archbishops, ten bishops, and about 2,380 parochial clergy and curates. Before considering and guarding the rights of these persons, it was necessary to provide for the case of those who should, by nomination or election, be added to their number, in the interval between the passing of the Act and the date fixed for the legal disestablishment of the Church. It was provided that during this transition period the patronage exercised in favour of such persons should confer no freehold, and create for them no vested rights of any kind. In the case of episcopal vacancies, the Crown would still appoint, but only at the prayer of the bishops of the province in which the vacancy occurred for the consecration of an individual to be named by them. These interim appointments would carry with them no vested interest, and no rights of peerage. With regard to the existing prelates and clergy, the former, as has been already stated, would lose their right to seats in the House of Lords from the date of the legal disestablishment. Before the 1st January, 1871, the clergy and laity of the Church were invited to meet together and re-organise the institution on a voluntary basis, appointing at the same time a " governing body," through which it might communicate with the Government of the day by the intervention of the Ecclesiastical Com mission nominated in the Act. The Irish Convocation had not met, Mr. Gladstone said, for a period of fully a century and a half, if not of two centuries; and not only were there great technical difficulties in the way of its revival, but there also existed a special statute called the Convention Act, certain clauses of which rendered it doubtful whether the Convocation could be legally convoked at all. One of the earliest enactments in the bill was, accordingly, the repeal of the Convention Act, so far as it affected the Irish Church, and the removal of all disabilities of whatever kind which might hinder the clergy and laity from meeting in synod and re-organising the Church as a voluntary society. The Government would take no power for the Crown to interfere in the election of the governing body, but would merely require that it should be truly representative, as resulting from the joint action of bishops, clergy, and laity. The governing body so appointed would be recognised by the Government, and it would become incorporated under the present Act.

When the 1st January, 1871. had arrived, the date fixed for disestablishment, the provisions of the Act for satisfying the vested interests, not only of the Protestant clergy, but also of the students and professors of Maynooth, and of the ministers of the Presbyterian Church, would begin to take effect. What is a vested interest? Mr. Gladstone defined it thus, after stating that the " expectation of pro motion " could not possibly be comprehended in the definition: - " The vested interest of the incumbent [whether of a see or a benefice] is this - it is a title to receive a certain net income from the property of the Church, in consideration of the discharge of certain duties to which he is bound as the equivalent he gives for that income, he is bound as the equivalent he gives for that income, and subject to the laws by which he and the religious body to which he belongs are bound." In the possession of such net income, subject only to deductions for the curates whom he might have permanently employed, every incumbent was secured by the Act for the term of his natural life, so long as he continued to discharge the equivalent duties. He might, however, if he chose, commute his right to receive his net income annually from the State for a capital sum to be calculated at a rate of interest of three and a half per cent. This commutation could only be made upon the application of the incumbent, and the sum of money would then be paid to the Church body, " subject to the legal trust of discharging the obligation or covenant which we had ourselves to discharge to the incumbent - namely, to give him the annuity in full so long as he discharged the duties." This commutation would be voluntary; but as it would be greatly to the interest of the State to relieve itself as quickly as possible from the task of maintaining relations of payment with the individual clergy men, the scale on which it was computed would be a liberal one; and Mr. Gladstone hoped that it would be very largely resorted to. The various incidents of the freehold tenure on which the existing incumbents now held their benefices or lands would be allowed to subsist during their lifetimes, with two exceptions. The Tithe Rent-charge (which, for various important reasons, it was desirable to have the power of dealing with immediately after disestablishment) would, from the date of the passing of the Act, vest in the new Commissioners without any intervening life-interest, the faith of Parliament being, of course, pledged to the payment of the whole proceeds which the clergymen could derive from it. The other exception related to ruined churches, the freehold of which might be in the incumbent; in these cases it would be taken from him and vested in the Irish Board of Works, with an allocation of funds necessary to preserve the churches from desecration or further injury. The vested interest of all incumbents, whether bishops or presbyters, was thus provided for. With regard to curates, Mr. Gladstone distinguished between those who were permanently, and those who were temporarily employed. The Act left it to the Commissioners to determine in each case whether a curate applying for compensation had really been in permanent employment, stipulating only that, in order to be entitled to that character, he should have been employed on the 1st January, 1869, and that lie should continue to be so employed on the 1st January, 1871; or that, if he had ceased to be so employed, the cessation should be due to some cause other than his own free choice or misconduct. Such curates were to be held entitled to receive their stipends for life or to commute them, exactly on the same principles as the Act applied to incumbents. Curates of the transitory class were to be compensated by simple gratuities, on the principle recognised in the Civil Service Superannuation Acts.

We now proceed to the consideration of the manner in which the Act proposed to deal with the property of the Irish Church. The annual value of that property, roughly stated, came to about 670,000, and was derived from the following sources of income: -

Income of Ecclesiastical Commissioners - 93,950
Revenues of Episcopal Sees - 85,879
Tithe Rent-charge - 404,660
Glebe and Chapter lands let to Tenants - 80,812
Other sources - 5,199
Total - 670,500

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Pictures for The Year 1869

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