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priesthood will to a great extent be formed the character of the nobility and gentry of the next generation. Of the higher clergy some have in their gift numerous and valuable benefices; others have the privilege of appointing judges who decide grave questions affecting the liberty, the property, the reputation of Their Majesty's subjects. And is an order thus favoured by the state to give no guarantee to the state? On what principle can it be contended that it is unnecessary to ask from an Archbishop of Canterbury or from a Bishop of Durham that promise of fidelity to the government which all allow that it is necessary to demand from every layman who serves the Crown in the humblest office? Every exciseman, every collector of the customs, who refuses to swear, is to be deprived of his bread. Forthesehumble martyrs of passive obedience and hereditary right nobody has a word to say. Yet an ecclesiastical magnate who refuses to swear is to be suffered to retain emoluments, patronage, power, equal to those of a great minister of state. It is said that it is superfluous to impose the oaths on a clergyman, because he may be punished if he breaks the laws. Why is not the same argument urged in favour of the layman? And why. if the clergyman really means to observe the laws, does he scruple to take the oaths? The law commands him to designate William and Mary as King and Queen, to do this in the most sacred place, to do this in the administration of the most solemn of all the rites of religion. The law commands him to pray that the illustrious pair may be defended by a special providence, that they may be victorioiis over every enemy, and that their Parliament may by divine guidance be led to take such a course as may promote their safety, honour, and welfare. Can we believe that his conscience will suffer him to do all this, and yet will not suffer him to promise that he will be a faithful subject to them?
To the proposition that the nonjuring clergy should be left to the mercy of the King, the Whigs, with some justice, replied that no scheme could be devised
more unjust to His Majesty. The matter, they said, is one of public concern, one in which every Englishman who is unwilling to be the slave of France and of Rome has a deep interest. In such a case it would be unworthy of the Estates of the Realm to shrink from the responsibility of providing for the common safety, to try to obtain for themselves the praise of tenderness and liberality, and to leave to the Sovereign the odious task of proscription. A law requiring all public functionaries, civil, military, ecclesiastical, without distinction of persons, to take the oaths is at least equal. It excludes all suspicion of partiality, of personal malignity, of secret spying and talebearing. But, if an arbitrary discretion is left to the Government, if one nonjuring priest is suffered to keep a lucrative benefice while another is turned with his wife and children into the street, every ejection will be considered as an act of cruelty, and will be imputed as a crime to the sovereign and his ministers.*
Thus the Parliament had to decide, at the same moment, what quantity of relief should be granted to the consciences of nonconformists and what quantity of pressure should be applied to the consciences of the clergy of the Established Church. The King conceived a hope that it might be in his power to effect a compromise agreeable to all parties. He flattered himself that the Tories might be induced to make some concession to the dissenters, on condition that the Whigs would be lenient to the. Jacobites. He determined to try what his personal intervention would effect. It chanced that, a few hours after the Lords had read the Comprehension Bill a second time and the Bill touching the Oaths a first time, he had occasion to go down to Parliament for the purpose of giving his assent to a law. From the throne he addressed both Houses, and expressed an earnest wish that they would consent to modify the existing laws in such a manner that all Protestants might be admitted to public
* As to this controversy, see Burnet, ii. 7, 8, 9. ; Grey's Debates, April 19. and 22. 1689; Commons' Journals of April 20. and 22.; Lords' Journals, April 21.
employment.* It was well understood that he was willing, if the legislature would comply with his request, to let clergymen who were already beneficed continue to hold their benefices without swearing allegiance to him. His conduct on this occasion deserves undoubtedly the praise of disinterestedness. It is honourable to him that he attempted to purchase liberty of conscience for his subjects by giving up a safeguard of his own crown. But it must be acknowledged that he showed less wisdom than virtue. The only Englishman in his Privy Council whom he had consulted, if Burnet was correctly informed, was Richard Hampden ;f and Richard Hampden, though a highly respectable man, was so far from being able to answer for the Whig party that he could not answer even for his own son John, whose temper, naturally vindictive, had been exasperated into ferocity by the stings of remorse and shame. The King soon found that there was in the hatred of the, two great factions an energy which was wanting to their love. The Whigs, though they were almost unanimous in thinking that the Sacramental Test ought to be abolished, were by no means unanimous in thinking that moment well chosen for the abolition; and even those Whigs who were most desirous to see the nonconformists relieved without delay from civil disabilities were fully determined not to forego the opportunity of humbling and punishing the class to whose instrumentality chiefly was to be ascribed that tremendous reflux of public feeling which had followed the dissolution of the Oxford Parliament. To put the Janes, the Souths, the Sherlocks into such a situation that they must either starve, or recant, publicly, and with the Gospel at their lips, all the ostentatious professions of many years, was a revenge too delicious to be relinquished. The Tory, on the other hand, sincerely respected and pitied those clergymen who felt scruples about the oaths. But the Test was, in his view, essential to the safety of the established
» Lords' Journals, March 16. 1689.
religion, and must not be surrendered for the purpose of saving any man however eminent from any hardship however serious. It would be a sad day doubtless for the Church when the episcopal bench, the chapter houses of cathedrals, the halls of colleges, would miss some men renowned for piety and learning. But it would be a still sadder day for the Church when an Independent should bear the white staff or a Baptist sit on the woolsack. Each party tried to serve those for whom it was interested: but neither party would consent to grant favourable terms to its enemies. The result was that the nonconformists remained excluded from office in the State, and the nonjurors were ejected from office in the Church. In the House of Commons, no member thought it expedient to propose the repeal of the Test Act. But leave was given to bring in a bill repealing the Corporation Act, which had been passed by the Cavalier Parliament soon after the Restoration, and which contained a clause requiring all municipal magistrates to receive the sacrament according to the forms of the Church of England. When this bill was about to be committed, it was moved by the Tories that the committee should be instructed to make no alteration in the law touching the sacrament. Those Whigs who were zealous for the Comprehension must have been placed by this motion in an embarrassing position. To vote for the instruction would have been inconsistent with their principles. To vote against it would have been to break with Nottingham. A middle course was found. The adjournment of the debate was moved and carried by a hundred and sixteen votes to a hundred and fourteen; and the subject was not revived.* In the House of Lords a motion was made for the abolition of the sacramental test,
* Bumet says (ii. 8.) that the proposidoii to abolish the sacramental test was rejected by a great majority in both Houses. Bat his memory deceived him; for the only division on the subject in the House of Commons w* that mentioned in the text. It is remarkable that Gwyn and Rowe, who were tellers for the majority, were two of the strongest Whip in the House.
but was rejected by a large majority. Many of those who thought the motion right in principle thought it illtimed. A protest was entered; but it was signed only by a few peers of no great authority. It is a remarkable fact that two great chiefs of the Whig party, who were in general very attentive to their parliamentary duty, Devonshire and Shrewsbury, absented themselves on this occasion. *
The debate on the Test in the Upper House was speedily followed by a debate on the last clause of the Comprehension Bill. By that clause it was provided that thirty Bishops and priests should be commissioned to revise the liturgy and canons, and to suggest amendments. On this subject the Whig peers were almost all of one mind. They mustered strong, and spoke warmly. Why, they asked, were none but members of the sacerdotal order to be entrusted with this duty? Were the laity no part of the Church of England? When the Commission should have made its report, laymen would have to decide on the recommendations contained in that report. Not a line of the Book of Common Prayer could be altered but by the authority of King, Lords, and Commons. The King was a layman. Five sixths of the Lords were laymen. All the members of the House of Commons were laymen. Was it not absurd to say that laymen were incompetent to examine into a matter which it was acknowledged that laymen must in the last resort determine? And could any thing he more opposite to the whole spirit of Protestantism than the notion that a certain preternatural power of judging in spiritual cases was vouchsafed to a particular caste, and to that caste alone; that such men as Selden, as Hale, as Boyle, were less competent w give an opinion on a collect or a creed than the youngest and silliest chaplain who, in a remote manor house, passed his life in drinking ale and playing at shovel-board? What God had instituted no earthly power, ky or clerical, could alter: and of things instituted by human beings a * Lords' Journal!, March 21.1689.
layman was surely as competent as a clergyman to judge. That the Anglican liturgy and canons were of purely human institution the Parliament acknowledged by referring them to a Commission for revision and correction. How could it then be maintained that in such a Commission the laity, so vast a majority of the population, the laity, whose edification was the main end of all ecclesiastical regulations, and whose innocent tastes ought to be carefully consulted in the framing of the public services of religion, ought not to have a single representative? Precedent was directly opposed to this odious distinction. Repeatedly, since the light of reformation had dawned on England, Commissioners had been empowered by law to revise the canons; and on every one of those occasions some of the Commissioners had been laymen. In the present case the proposed arrangement was peculiarly objectionable. For the object of issuing the commission was the conciliating of dissenters; and it was therefore most desirable that the Commissioners should be men in whose fairness and moderation dissenters could confide. Would thirty such men bo easily found in the higher ranks of the clerical profession? The duty of the legislature was to arbitrate between two contending parties, the Nonconformist divines and the Anglican divines, and it would be the grossest injustice to commit to one of those parties the office of umpire.
On these grounds the Whigs proposed an amendment to the effect that laymen should be joined with clergymen in the Commission. The contest was sharp. Burnet, who had just taken his seat among the peers, and who seems to have been bent on winning at almost any price the good will of his brethren, argued with all his constitutional warmth for the clause as it stood. The numbers on the division proved to be exactly equal. The consequence was that, according to the rules of the House, the amendment was lost. *
At length the Comprehension Bill
» Lords' Journals, April 5. 1689; Burnet, ii. 10.
was sent down to the Commons. There it would easily have been carried by two to one. if it had been supported by all the friends of religious liberty. But on this subject the High Churchmen could count on the support of a large body of Low Churchmen. Those members who wished well to Nottingham's plan saw that they were outnumbered, and, despairing of a victory, began to meditate a retreat. Just at this time a suggestion was thrown out which united all suffrages. The ancient usage was that a Convocation should be summoned together with a Parliament; and it might well be argued that, if ever the advice of a Convocation could be needed, it must be when changes in the ritual and discipline of the Church were under consideration. But, in consequence of the irregular manner in which the Estates of the Realm had been brought together during the vacancy of the throne, there was no Convocation. It was proposed that the House should advise the King to take measures for supplying this defect, and that the fate of the Comprehension Bill should not be decided till the clergy had had an opportunity of declarir g their opinion through the ancient and legitimate organ.
This proposition was received with general acclamation. The Tories were well pleased to see such honour done to the priesthood. Those Whigs who were against the Comprehension Bill were well pleased to see it laid aside, certainly for a year, probably for ever. Those Whigs who were for the Comprehension Bill were well pleased to escape without a defeat. Some of them indeed were not without hopes that mild and liberal counsels might prevail in the ecclesiastical senate. An address requesting William to summon the Convocation was voted without a division: the concurrence of the Lords was asked: the Lords concurred: the address was carried up to the throne by both Houses: the King promised that he would, at a convenient season, do what his Parliament desired; and Nottingham's bill was not again mentioned.
Many writers, imperfectly acquainted with the history of that age, have in
ferred from these proceedings that the House of Commons was an assembly of High Churchmen: but nothing is more certain than that two thirds of the members were either Low Churchmen or not Churchmen at all. A very few days before this time an occurrence had taken place unimportant in itself, but highly significant as an indication of the temper of the majority. It had been suggested that the House ought, in conformity with ancient usage, to adjourn over the Easter holidays. The Puritans and Latitudinarians objected: there was a sharp debate: the High Churchmen did not venture to divide: and, to the great scandal of many grave persons, the Speaker took the chair at nine o'clock on Easter Monday; and there was a long and busy sitting.*
This however was by no means the strongest proof which the Commons gave that they were far indeed from feeling extreme reverence or tenderness for the Anglican hierarchy. The bill for settling the oaths had just come down from the Lords framed in a manner favourable to the clergy. All lay functionaries were required to swear fealty to the King and Queen on pain of expulsion from office. But it was provided that every divine who already held a benefice might continue to hold it without swearing, unless the Government should see reason to call on him specially for an assurance of his loyalty. Burnet had, partly, no doubt, from the goodnature and generosity which belonged to his character, and partly from a desire to conciliate his brethren, supported this arrangement in the Upper
* Commons' Journals, March 28. April 1. 1689; Paris Gazette, April 23. Part of the passage in the Paris Gazette is worth quoting. "II y eut, ce jour la (March 28), une gnmde contestation dans la Chambre Basse, sur la proposition qui fut faite de remettre les stances apres les fetes de Basques observers toujours par l'Eglise Anglicane. Les Protestans conformistes furent de cet avis: et les PresbytGriens emporterent a la plurality des voix que les seances recommenceroient le Lundy, seconde teste de Pasques." The Low Churchmen are frequently designated as Presbyterians by the French and Dutch writers of that age. There were not twenty Presbyterians, properly so called, in the Housa of Commons. See A Smith and Cutler's plain Dialogue about Whig and Tory, 1690.
House with great energy. But in the Lower House the feeling against the Jacobite priests was irresistibly strong. On the very day on which that House voted, without a division, the address requesting the King to summon the Convocation, a clause was proposed and carried which required every person who held any ecclesiastical or academical preferment to take the oaths by the first of August 1689, on pain of suspension. Six months, to be reckoned from that day, were allowed to the nonjuror for reconsideration. If, on the first of February 1690, he still continued obstinate, he was to be finally deprived.
The bill, thus amended, was sent back to the Lords. The Lords adhered to their original resolution. Conference after conference was held. Compromise after compromise was suggested. From the imperfect reports which have come down to us it appears that every argument in favour of lenity was forcibly urged by Burnet. But the Commons were firm: time pressed: the unsettled state of the law caused inconvenience in every department of the public service; and the peers very reluctantly gave way. They at the same time added a clause, empowering the King to bestow pecuniary allowances out of the forfeited benefices on a few nonjuring clergymen. The number of clergymen thus favoured was not to exceed twelve. The allowance was not to exceed one third of the income forfeited. Some zealous Whigs were unwilling to grant even this indulgence: but the Commons were content with the victory which they had won, and justly thought that it would be ungracious to refuse so slight a concession.*
These debates were interrupted, The bin during a short time, by the soibrwttHng lemnities and festivities of the nutionr°" Coronation. When the day °""1' fixed for that great ceremony drew near, the House of Commons resolved itself into a committee for the purpose of settling the form of words
* Accounts of what passed at the Conferences will be found in the Journals of the nouses, and deserve to be read.
in which our Sovereigns were thenceforward to enter into covenant with the nation. All parties were agreed as to the propriety of requiring the King to swear that, in temporal matters, he would govern according to law, and would execute justice in mercy. But about the terms of the oath which related to the spiritual institutions of the realm there was much debate. Should the chief magistrate promise simply to maintain the Protestant religion established by law, or should he promise to maintain that religion as it should be hereafter established by law? The majority preferred the former phrase. The latter phrase was preferred by those Whigs who were for a Comprehension. But it was admitted that the two phrases really meant the same thing, and that the oath, however it might be worded, would bind the Sovereign in his executive capacity only. This was indeed evident from the very nature, of the transaction. Any compact may be annulled by the free consent of the party who alone is entitled to claim the performance. It was never doubted by the most rigid casuist that a debtor, who has bound himself under the most awful imprecations to pay a debt, may lawfully withhold payment if the creditor is willing to cancel the obligation. And it is equally clear that no assurance, exacted from a King by the Estates of his kingdom, can bind him to refuse compliance with what may at a future time be the wish of those Estates.
A bill was drawn up m conformity with the resolutions of the Committee, and was rapidly passed through every stage. After the third reading, a foolish man stood up to propose a rider, declaring that the oath was not meant to restrain the Sovereign from consenting to any change in the ceremonial of the Church, provided always that episcopacy and a written form of prayer were retained. The gross absurdity of this motion was exposed by several eminent members. Such a clause, they justly remarked, would bind the King under pretence of setting him free.. The coronation oath, they said, was never intended to trammel him in his legis