Page images
PDF
EPUB

the experience of ages, that a mild and conciliating disposition is not best adapted to advance, in favor of the Established Church, those interests which have never been promoted by an intolerant and persecuting spirit ; as a sufficient cure for the fatuity, I will only recommend a perusal of the Preface to Thuanus's History.* Possessed but of so much information as it supplies, if we limit our attention to the present view of the subject, it offers a plea, not of resistance, but of concession, to the R. Catholic claims; as best coinciding with the interests of the Established.Church, and the spirit of the coronation obligations.

From early and hereditary prejudice, however, some are disposed to reclaim against the removal of the ancient fences, thrown by our ancestors, a

* Let me, however, add the testimony of this admirable person, in his own words; as founded on a long and accurate observation of the practical effects, with which coercive measures are really attended in operating religious couversions ; Thuan. Hist. Præf. p. ii. “Nam experientia satis edocti sumus, ferrum, fiammas, exilia, proscriptiones, irritasse potius quam sanasse morbum menti inhærentem ; ad quem proinde curandum, non iis, quæ in corpus penetrant, sed doctrina et sedula institutione quæ in animum leniter instillata descendit, opus esse : alia quippe omnia pro arbitrio civilis magistratus atque adeo principis sanciuntur ; sola, relligio non imperatur, sed ex præcepta veritatis opinione, accedente divini numinis gratia, bene præparatis mentibus infunditur. Ad eam cruciatus nihil valent'; quin obfirmant potius animos quam frangunt aut persuadent. Quod de sua illa sapientia tam magnifice prædicavere Stoici, hoc nos multo justius de relligione dixerimus....... An putamus minores iis animos fuisse, qui centum abhinc annis ob relligionis causa diversis suppliciis perierunt, aut porro futuros, si in iis perseveretur? Audire est operæ pretium quid unus ex iis dixerit feceritque, cum igni cremandus ad palum alligaretur, &c. ...... Itaque non cruciatibus repressus ardor res novas in religionis causa molientium, sed potius obdurati animi ad majora patienda et audenda., ... Id jam quadraginta totos annos in Gallia, paulo minus in Belgio cernimus."

round the Constitution in Church and State, and fixed by them, as perpetual bulwarks of its security. On this ground the author “ of the State of the Question "delivered to his late Majesty appears to have taken his stand, in the hostility which he manifests to any concession. With this view, his selection appears to have been made of those Acts which constitute the main protection of the Constitution ; and which, he insinuates, would be virtually repealed, by any measure that could be framed, for admitting the Romanists to a voice in the deliberations of Parliament. He accordingly selects the Act requiring from members, the Declaration against Popery,* that comprising the Bill of Rights f that determining the Coronation Oath, I and that regulating the Union between England and Scotland. These he seems to have regarded as essential and fundamental Acts of the Constitution; and as of immutable uncompromising obligation, involving in their repeal a breach of the original compact which binds the Estates of the realm.

I proceed, therefore, to bring the validity of these objections to the test, in taking the sense of the Chief Justice upon them, as given under his hand to his late Majesty. In reply to the notion of immutable obligation, formed by “the Rt. Rev. Prelate,” whose ideas of the Statute-Book seem to have been derived from what he read in his Bible, respecting “ the laws of the Medes and Persians, which never alter,Lord Kenyon observes ;

“It is a general maxim that the Supreme Power (King Lords and Commons) of a state cannot limit itself.

Either House of Parliament may, if they think proper, pass a bill up to the extent of the most unreasonable

* 36 Car. II. c. 2.
1 W. & M. c. 6.

+ 1 W. & M. st. 2. c. 2
§ 5 Ann. c. 8.

[graphic]

requisition, that can be made ;.. .... there is no Statute Law to prevent their entertaining and passing such Bill, to abolish the Supremacy and the whole of the government and discipline of the Church of England, as now by law established.”

Let me here, however enter into a short explanation. The Supreme Power, without doubt, as constituted of free, unlimited agents, possess a political competence to pass whatever act they may please : but as social, and I trust religious agents, they exist under a moral incompetency to give such an act a legal effect. The distinction, which I insist on, extends to all ranks in the social state, and is admitted, by the Chief Justice to apply to the legislature, in a clause of the foregoing passage, which I have designedly omitted to transcribe. To offer a familiar illustration of my meaning:-1, for example, in my own household possess a competency to put every member of it to death, if not by the dagger, at least by poison; but obstacles amounting to a moral impossibility, restrain me from perpetrating a crime so atrocious. The destinction is implied in the exception made by Lord Kenyon, when he premises; and provided sound policy, and a sense of the duty they owe to the established religion, do not operate on their minds, so as to prevent their doing what is improper, there is no statute law to prevent their entertaining and passing such Bill.” I maintain, therefore, that the legislature, however unlimited its political competency, is morally incompetent to vote away any part of the rights and privileges of the Established Church. For in all its acts, it is wholly incompetent without the concurrence of the King; and he is not morally competent to violate his oath, which binds him to “maintain them to the utmost of his power.” But no obligation, na

tural or social, political or moral, precludes their, conceding the R. Catholic claims; on the contrary they jointly and severally urge their being conditionally conceded. Though the obligation is not admitted, the power is implied in the sentence of

Lord Kenyon, as denying that the supreme autho• rity knows any limits. .

The Chief Justice, in proceeding to “the State of the Question,” first lights on the Act passed in the reign of K. Charles II. “ for disabling Papists to sit in Parliament.” To form an adequate idea of the appositeness of this statute to the existing state of affairs, it is necessary to premise, under what circumstances it was enacted, At that conjuncture the commons having “resolved, that there was a hellish plot to assassinate the King and subvert the established religion and government:” The presumptive heir to the throne was nocoriously bigoted to the Romish persuasion, and the Queen absolutely implicated in this conspiracy: The whole force and intrigue of the Jesuits, * who were then in

* In this conspiracy not only De Oliva, the general of the order, and De Corduba, the provincial of Castile, engaged; but Whitbread, the provincial of England, who with Harcourt, rector in London, Fenwick, procurator, Gaven and Turner, fellows of the order, were executed, June 13th. 1679. Priests, and Jesuits, to the number of 1800, in England, were implicated in it. To form some idea of the immense power of this confederacy, which Voltaire happily designates the Pope's bodyguard, it may be observed, that, from the statement of P. Ribadineira, it appears, they possessed, in 1608, 29 Provinces, and 2 vice-provinces, extending to all parts of Europe, Asia and America, “ from China to Peru :"containing 21 professed houses, 293 colleges, 69 residentiary houses, 33 probationary houses. and 10581 fellows. So that Aquaviva, their general boasted that he could muster more soldiers than any prince in Christendom. And at the time of the interdict of Venice, they pledged themselves to Pope Paul V. to bring him a reinforcement of 40000 men; if he wonld enroll among the martyrs, every one who fell in his holy cause..

the height of their power, were engaged in carrying into effect, this last desperate effort to re-establish the Papal authority in these realms.

“The state of the question with which I have been honoured supposes that the requisition now made is a direct violation of the statute of 30 Car. II, st.2.

“ It certainly is inconsistent with that law; and if it shall be yielded to, will, in effect, repeal it, though that law, when it was made, was looked upon by the legislature as necessary for the more effectually preserving the King's person and Government, by disabling Papists from sitting in either House of Parliament. How far that law still continues a fence for the Church as by law established, must be judged of by those who are to act on the proposed repeal, if such a measure should be brought forward. Those who think it is an important and necessary part of the defence of the Established Church, may also think that the Coronation Oath was meant to provide against the King's consenting to the repeal ; for though an act for repealing the statute of Charles II. would not in itself break in upon the Established Church, yet it would facilitate steps which might afterwards follow for that purpose, as by this means Papists might constitute a majority of each House of Parliament.”

If these observations be intended to convey an objection to the concession of the Roman Catholic claims, I should be happy to learn, where its force may be discovered. After some doubts expressed on the subject of danger, the learned judge plainly declares, that "an Act for repealing the statute would not in itself break in upon the Established Church.” In admitting, however, that “it would facilitate steps, which might afterwards follow, for that purpose," let us mark the condition on which this contingency hangs;—"as by this mean, Papists might constitute a majority of each House of Parliament.” As the Chief Justice was a plain and serious

« PreviousContinue »