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The History of England from the Accession of James II
By Thomas Babington MacAulay
Chapter 3 Part 3


Meanwhile the two Secretaries of State were constantly labouring to draw their master in diametrically opposite directions. Every scheme, every person, recommended by one of them was reprobated by the other. Nottingham was never weary of repeating that the old Roundhead party, the party which had taken the life of Charles the First and had plotted against the life of Charles the Second, was in principle republican, and that the Tories were the only true friends of monarchy. Shrewsbury replied that the Tories might be friends of monarchy, but that they regarded James as their monarch. Nottingham was always bringing to the closet intelligence of the wild daydreams in which a few old eaters of calf's head, the remains of the once formidable party of Bradshaw and Ireton, still indulged at taverns in the city. Shrewsbury produced ferocious lampoons which the Jacobites dropped every day in the coffeehouses. "Every Whig," said the Tory Secretary, "is an enemy of your Majesty's prerogative." "Every Tory," said the Whig Secretary, "is an enemy of your Majesty's title."

At the treasury there was a complication of jealousies and quarrels. Both the First Commissioner, Mordaunt, and the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Delamere, were zealous Whigs but, though they held the same political creed, their tempers differed widely. Mordaunt was volatile, dissipated, and generous. The wits of that time laughed at the way in which he flew about from Hampton Court to the Royal Exchange, and from the Royal Exchange back to Hampton Court. How he found time for dress, politics, lovemaking and balladmaking was a wonder. Delamere was gloomy and acrimonious, austere in his private morals, and punctual in his devotions, but greedy of ignoble gain. The two principal ministers of finance, therefore, became enemies, and agreed only in hating their colleague Godolphin. What business had he at Whitehall in these days of Protestant ascendency, he who had sate at the same board with Papists, he who had never scrupled to attend Mary of Modena to the idolatrous worship of the Mass? The most provoking circumstance was that Godolphin, though  is name stood only third in the commission, was really first Lord. For in financial knowledge and in habits of business Mordaunt and Delamere were mere children when compared with him; and this William soon discovered.

Similar feuds raged at the other great boards and through all the subordinate ranks of public functionaries. In every customhouse, in every arsenal, were a Shrewsbury and a Nottingham, a Delamere and a Godolphin. The Whigs complained that there was no department in which creatures of the fallen tyranny were not to be found. It was idle to allege that these men were versed in the details of business, that they were the depositaries of official traditions, and that the friends of liberty, having been, during many years, excluded from public employment, must necessarily be incompetent to take on themselves at once the whole management of affairs. Experience doubtless had its value: but surely the first of all the qualifications of a servant was fidelity; and no Tory could be a really faithful servant of the new government. If King William were wise, he would rather trust novices zealous for his interest and honour than veterans who might indeed possess ability and knowledge, but who would use that ability and that knowledge to effect his ruin.

The Tories, on the other hand, complained that their share of power bore no proportion to their number and their weight in the country, and that every where old and useful public servants were, for the crime of being friends to monarchy and to the Church, turned out of their posts to make way for Rye House plotters and haunters of conventicles. These upstarts, adepts in the art of factious agitation, but ignorant of all that belonged to their new calling, would be just beginning to learn their business when they had undone the nation by their blunders. To be a rebel and a schismatic was surely not all that ought to be required of a man in high employment. What would become of the finances, what of the marine, if Whigs who could not understand the plainest balance sheet were to manage the revenue, and Whigs who had never walked over a dockyard to fit out the fleet.

The truth is that the charges which the two parties brought against each other were, to a great extent, well founded, but that the blame which both threw on William was unjust. Official experience was to be found almost exclusively among the Tories, hearty attachment to the new settlement almost exclusively among the Whigs. It was not the fault of the King that the knowledge and the zeal, which, combined, make a valuable servant of the state must at that time be had separately or not at all. If he employed men of one party, there was great risk of mistakes. If he employed men of the other party, there was great risk of treachery. If he employed men of both parties, there was still some risk of mistakes; there was still some risk of treachery; and to these risks was added the certainty of dissension. He might join Whigs and Tories; but it was beyond his power to mix them. In the same office, at the same desk, they were still enemies, and agreed only in murmuring at the Prince who tried to mediate between them. It was inevitable that, in such circumstances, the administration, fiscal, military, naval, should be feeble and unsteady; that nothing should be done in quite the right way or at quite the right time; that the distractions from which scarcely any public office was exempt should produce disasters, and that every disaster should increase the distractions from which it had sprung.

There was indeed one department of which the business was well conducted; and that was the department of Foreign Affairs. There William directed every thing, and, on important occasions, neither asked the advice nor employed the agency of any English politician. One invaluable assistant he had, Anthony Heinsius, who, a few weeks after the Revolution had been accomplished, became Pensionary of Holland. Heinsius had entered public life as a member of that party which was jealous of the power of the House of Orange, and desirous to be on friendly terms with France. But he had been sent in 1681 on a diplomatic mission to Versailles; and a short residence there had produced a complete change in his views. On a near acquaintance, he was alarmed by the power and provoked by the insolence of that Court of which, while he contemplated it only at a distance, he had formed a favourable opinion. He found that his country was despised. He saw his religion persecuted. His official character did not save him from some personal affronts which, to the latest day of his long career, he never forgot. He went home a devoted adherent of William and a mortal enemy of Lewis.

The office of Pensionary, always important, was peculiarly important when the Stadtholder was absent from the Hague. Had the politics of Heinsius been still what they once were, all the great designs of William might have been frustrated. But happily there was between these two eminent men a perfect friendship which, till death dissolved it, appears never to have been interrupted for one moment by suspicion or ill humour. On all large questions of European policy they cordially agreed. They corresponded assiduously and most unreservedly. For though William was slow to give his confidence, yet, when he gave it, he gave it entire. The correspondence is still extant, and is most honourable to both. The King's letters would alone suffice to prove that he was one of the greatest statesmen whom Europe has produced. While he lived, the Pensionary was content to be the most obedient, the most trusty, and the most discreet of servants. But, after the death of the master, the servant proved himself capable of supplying with eminent ability the master's place, and was renowned throughout Europe as one of the great Triumvirate which humbled the pride of Lewis the Fourteenth. The foreign policy of England, directed immediately by William in close concert with Heinsius, was, at this time, eminently skilful and successful. But in every other part of the administration the evils arising from the mutual animosity of factions were but too plainly discernible. Nor was this all. To the evils arising from the mutual animosity of factions were added other evils arising from the mutual animosity of sects.

The year 1689 is a not less important epoch in the ecclesiastical than in the civil history of England. In that year was granted the first legal indulgence to Dissenters. In that year was made the last serious attempt to bring the Presbyterians within the pale of the Church of England. From that year dates a new schism, made, in defiance of ancient precedents, by men who had always professed to regard schism with peculiar abhorrence, and ancient precedents with peculiar veneration. In that year began the long struggle between two great parties of conformists. Those parties indeed had, under various forms, existed within the Anglican communion ever since the Reformation; but till after the Revolution they did not appear marshalled in regular and permanent order of battle against each other, and were therefore not known by established names. Some time after the accession of William they began to be called the High Church party and the Low Church party; and, long before the end of his reign, these appellations were in common use.

In the summer of 1688 the breaches which had long divided the great body of English Protestants had seemed to be almost closed. Disputes about Bishops and Synods, written prayers and extemporaneous prayers, white gowns and black gowns, sprinkling and dipping, kneeling and sitting, had been for a short space intermitted. The serried array which was then drawn up against Popery measured the whole of the vast interval which separated Sancroft from Bunyan. Prelates recently conspicuous as persecutors now declared themselves friends of religious liberty, and exhorted their clergy to live in a constant interchange of hospitality and of kind offices with the separatists.

Separatists, on the other hand, who had recently considered mitres and lawn sleeves as the livery of Antichrist, were putting candles in windows and throwing faggots on bonfires in honour of the prelates. These feelings continued to grow till they attained their greatest height on the memorable day on which the common oppressor finally quitted Whitehall, and on which an innumerable multitude, tricked out in orange ribands, welcomed the common deliverer to Saint James's. When the clergy of London came, headed by Compton, to express their gratitude to him by whose instrumentality God had wrought salvation for the Church and the State, the procession was swollen by some eminent nonconformist divines. It was delightful to many good men to learn that pious and learned Presbyterian ministers had walked in the train of a Bishop, had been greeted by him with fraternal kindness, and had been announced by him in the presence chamber as his dear and respected friends, separated from him indeed by some differences of opinion on minor points, but united to him by Christian charity and by common zeal for the essentials of the reformed faith. There had never before been such a day in England; and there has never since been such a day.

The tide of feeling was already on the turn; and the ebb was even more rapid than the flow had been. In a very few hours the High Churchman began to feel tenderness for the enemy whose tyranny was now no longer feared, and dislike of the allies whose services were now no longer needed. It was easy to gratify both feelings by imputing to the dissenters the misgovernment of the exiled King. His Majesty-such was now the language of too many Anglican divines- would have been an excellent sovereign had he not been too confiding, too forgiving. He had put his trust in a class of men who hated his office, his family, his person, with implacable hatred. He had ruined himself in the vain attempt to conciliate them. He had relieved them, in defiance of law and of the unanimous sense of the old royalist party, from the pressure of the penal code; had allowed them to worship God publicly after their own mean and tasteless fashion; had admitted them to the bench of justice and to the Privy Council; had gratified them with fur robes, gold chains, salaries, and pensions. In return for his liberality, these people, once so uncouth in demeanour, once so savage in opposition even to legitimate authority, had become the most abject of flatterers. They had continued to applaud and encourage him when the most devoted friends of his family had retired in shame and sorrow from his palace. Who had more foully sold the religion and liberty of his country than Titus? Who had been more zealous for the dispensing power than Alsop? Who had urged on the persecution of the seven Bishops more fiercely than Lobb? What chaplain impatient for a deanery had ever, even when preaching in the royal presence on the thirtieth of January or the twenty-ninth of May, uttered adulation more gross than might easily be found in those addresses by which dissenting congregations had testified their gratitude for the illegal Declaration  of Indulgence? Was it strange that a prince who had never studied law books should have believed that he was only exercising his rightful prerogative, when he was thus encouraged by a faction which had always ostentatiously professed hatred of arbitrary power? Misled by such guidance, he had gone further and further in the wrong path: he had at length estranged from him hearts which would once have poured forth their best blood in his defence: he had left himself no supporters except his old foes; and, when the day of peril came, he had found that the feeling of his old foes towards him was still what it had been when they had attempted to rob him of his inheritance, and when they had plotted against his life. Every man of sense had long known that the sectaries bore no love to monarchy. It had now been found that they bore as little love to freedom. To trust them with power would be an error not less fatal to the nation than to the throne. If, in order to redeem pledges somewhat rashly given, it should be thought necessary to grant them relief, every concession ought to be accompanied by limitations and precautions. Above all, no man who was an enemy to the ecclesiastical constitution of the realm ought to be permitted to bear any part in the civil government.

Between the nonconformists and the rigid conformists stood the Low Church party. That party contained, as it still contains, two very different elements, a Puritan element and a Latitudinarian element. On almost every question, however, relating either to ecclesiastical polity or to the ceremonial of public worship, the Puritan Low Churchman and the Latitudinarian Low Churchman were perfectly agreed. They saw in the existing polity and in the existing ceremonial no defect, no blemish, which could make it their duty to become dissenters. Nevertheless they held that both the polity and the ceremonial were means and not ends, and that the essential spirit of Christianity might exist without episcopal orders and without a Book of Common Prayer. They had, while James was on the throne, been mainly instrumental in forming the great Protestant coalition against Popery and tyranny; and they continued in 1689 to hold the same conciliatory language which they had held in 1688. They gently blamed the scruples of the nonconformists. It was undoubtedly a great weakness to imagine that there could be any sin in wearing a white robe, in tracing a cross, in kneeling at the rails of an altar. But the highest authority had given the plainest directions as to the manner in which such weakness was to be treated. The weak brother was not to be judged: he was not to be despised: believers who had stronger minds were commanded to soothe him by large compliances, and carefully to remove out of his path every stumbling block which could cause him to offend. An apostle had declared that, though he had himself no misgivings about the use of animal food or of wine, he would eat herbs and drink water rather than give scandal to the feeblest of his flock. What would he have thought of ecclesiastical rulers who, for the sake of a vestment, a gesture, a posture, had not only torn the Church asunder, but had filled all the gaols of England with men of orthodox faith and saintly life? The reflections thrown by the High Churchmen on the recent conduct of the dissenting body the Low Churchmen pronounced to be grossly unjust. The wonder was, not that a few nonconformists should have accepted with thanks an indulgence which, illegal as it was, had opened the doors of their prisons and given security to their hearths, but that the nonconformists generally should have been true to the cause of a constitution from the benefits of which they had been long excluded. It was most unfair to impute to a great party the faults of a few individuals. Even among the Bishops of the Established Church James had found tools and sycophants. The conduct of Cartwright and Parker had been much more inexcusable than that of Alsop and Lobb. Yet those who held the dissenters answerable for the errors of Alsop and Lobb would doubtless think it most unreasonable to hold the Church answerable for the far deeper guilt of Cartwright and Parker.

The Low Church clergymen were a minority, and not a large minority, of their profession: but their weight was much more than proportioned to their numbers: for they mustered strong in the capital: they had great influence there; and the average of intellect and knowledge was higher among them than among their order generally. We should probably overrate their numerical strength, if we were to estimate them at a tenth part of the priesthood. Yet it will scarcely be denied that there were among them as many men of distinguished eloquence and learning as could be found in the other nine tenths. Among the laity who conformed to the established religion the parties were not unevenly balanced. Indeed the line which separated them deviated very little from the line which separated the Whigs and the Tories. In the House of Commons, which had been elected when the Whigs were triumphant, the Low Church party greatly preponderated. In the Lords there was an almost exact equipoise; and very slight circumstances sufficed to turn the scale.

The head of the Low Church party was the King. He had been bred a Presbyterian: he was, from rational conviction, a Latitudinarian; and personal ambition, as well as higher motives, prompted him to act as mediator among Protestant sects. He was bent on effecting three great reforms in the laws touching ecclesiastical matters. His first object was to obtain for dissenters permission to celebrate their worship in freedom and security. His second object was to make such changes in the Anglican ritual and polity as, without offending those to whom that ritual and polity were dear, might conciliate the moderate nonconformists. His third object was to throw open civil offices to Protestants without distinction of sect. All his three objects were good; but the first only was at that time attainable. He came too late for the second, and too early for the third.

A few days after his accession, he took a step which indicated, in a manner not to be mistaken, his sentiments touching ecclesiastical polity and public worship. He found only one see unprovided with a Bishop. Seth Ward, who had during many years had charge of the diocese of Salisbury, and who had been honourably distinguished as one of the founders of the Royal Society, having long survived his faculties, died while the country was agitated by the elections for the Convention, without knowing that great events, of which not the least important had passed under his own roof, had saved his Church and his country from ruin. The choice of a successor was no light matter. That choice would inevitably be considered by the country as a prognostic of the highest import. The King too might well be perplexed by the number of divines whose erudition, eloquence, courage, and uprightness had been conspicuously displayed during the contentions of the last three years. The preference was given to Burnet. His claims were doubtless great. Yet William might have had a more tranquil reign if he had postponed for a time the well earned promotion of his chaplain, and had bestowed the first great spiritual preferment, which, after the Revolution, fell to the disposal of the Crown, on some eminent theologian, attached to the new settlement, yet not generally hated by the clergy.

Unhappily the name of Burnet was odious to the great majority of the Anglican priesthood. Though, as respected doctrine, he by no means belonged to the extreme section of the Latitudinarian party, he was popularly regarded as the personification of the Latitudinarian spirit. This distinction he owed to the prominent place which he held in literature and politics, to the readiness of his tongue and of his pert, and above all to the frankness and boldness of his nature, frankness which could keep no secret, and boldness which flinched from no danger. He had formed but a low estimate of the character of his clerical brethren considered as a body; and, with his usual indiscretion, he frequently suffered his opinion to escape him. They hated him in return with a hatred which has descended to their successors, and which, after the lapse of a century and a half, does not appear to languish.

As soon as the King's decision was known, the question was every where asked, What will the Archbishop do? Sancroft had absented himself from the Convention: he had refused to sit in the Privy Council: he had ceased to confirm, to ordain, and to institute; and he was seldom seen out of the walls of his palace at Lambeth. He, on all occasions, professed to think himself still bound by his old oath of allegiance. Burnet he regarded as a scandal to the priesthood, a Presbyterian in a surplice. The prelate who should lay hands on that unworthy head would commit more than one great sin. He would, in a sacred place, and before a great congregation of the faithful, at once acknowledge an usurper as a King, and confer on a schismatic the character of a Bishop. During some time Sancroft positively declared that he would not obey the precept of William. Lloyd of Saint Asaph, who was the common friend of the Archbishop and of the Bishop elect, intreated and expostulated in vain. Nottingham, who, of all the laymen connected with the new government, stood best with the clergy, tried his influence, but to no better purpose. The Jacobites said every where that they were sure of the good old Primate; that he had the spirit of a martyr; that he was determined to brave, in the cause of the Monarchy and of the Church, the utmost rigour of those laws with which the obsequious parliaments of the sixteenth century had fenced the Royal Supremacy. He did in truth hold out long. But at the last moment his heart failed him, and he looked round him for some mode of escape. Fortunately, as childish scruples often disturbed his conscience, childish expedients often quieted it. A more childish expedient than that to which he now resorted is not to be found in all the tones of the casuists. He would not himself bear a part in the service. He would not publicly pray for the Prince and Princess as King and Queen. He would not call for their mandate, order it to be read, and then proceed to obey it. But he issued a commission empowering any three of his suffragans to commit, in his name, and as his delegates, the sins which he did not choose to commit in person. The reproaches of all parties soon made him ashamed of himself. He then tried to suppress the evidence of his fault by means more discreditable than the fault itself. He abstracted from among the public records of which he was the guardian the instrument by which he had authorised his brethren to act for him, and was with difficulty induced to give it up.

Burnet however had, under the authority of this instrument, been consecrated. When he next waited on Mary, she reminded him of the conversations which they had held at the Hague about the high duties and grave responsibility of Bishops. "I hope," she said, "that you will put your notions in practice." Her hope was not disappointed. Whatever may be thought of Burnet's opinions touching civil and ecclesiastical polity, or of the temper and judgment which he showed in defending those opinions, the utmost malevolence of faction could not venture to deny that he tended his flock with a zeal, diligence, and disinterestedness worthy of the purest ages of the Church. His jurisdiction extended over Wiltshire and Berkshire. These counties he divided into districts which he sedulously visited. About two months of every summer he passed in preaching, catechizing, and confirming daily from church to church. When he died there was no corner of his diocese in which the people had not had seven or eight opportunities of receiving his instructions and of asking his advice. The worst weather, the worst roads, did not prevent him from discharging these duties. On one occasion, when the floods were out, he exposed his life to imminent risk rather than disappoint a rural congregation which was in expectation of a discourse from the Bishop. The poverty of the inferior clergy was a constant cause of uneasiness to his kind and generous heart. He was indefatigable and at length successful in his attempts to obtain for them from the Crown that grant which is known by the name of Queen Anne's Bounty. He was especially careful, when he travelled through his diocese, to lay no burden on them. Instead of requiring them to entertain him, he entertained them. He always fixed his headquarters at a market town, kept a table there, and, by his decent hospitality and munificent charities, tried to conciliate those who were prejudiced against his doctrines. When he bestowed a poor benefice, and he had many such to bestow, his practice was to add out of his own purse twenty pounds a year to the income. Ten promising young men, to each of whom he allowed thirty pounds a year, studied divinity under his own eye in the close of Salisbury. He had several children but he did not think himself justified in hoarding for them. Their mother had brought him a good fortune. With that fortune, he always said, they must be content: He would not, for their sakes, be guilty of the crime of raising an estate out of revenues sacred to piety and charity. Such merits as these will, in the judgment of wise and candid men, appear fully to atone for every offence which can be justly imputed to him.

When he took his seat in the House of Lords, he found that assembly busied in ecclesiastical legislation. A statesman who was well known to be devoted to the Church had undertaken to plead the cause of the Dissenters. No subject in the realm occupied so important and commanding a position with reference to religious parties as Nottingham. To the influence derived from rank, from wealth, and from office, he added the higher influence which belongs to knowledge, to eloquence, and to integrity. The orthodoxy of his creed, the regularity of his devotions, and the purity of his morals gave a peculiar weight to his opinions on questions in which the interests of Christianity were concerned. Of all the ministers of the new Sovereigns, he had the largest share of the confidence of the clergy. Shrewsbury was certainly a Whig, and probably a freethinker: he had lost one religion; and it did not very clearly appear that he had found another. Halifax had been during many years accused of scepticism, deism, atheism. Danby's attachment to episcopacy and the liturgy was rather political than religious. But Nottingham was such a son as the Church was proud to own. Propositions, therefore, which, if made by his colleagues, would infallibly produce a violent panic among the clergy, might, if made by him, find a favourable reception even in universities and chapter houses. The friends of religious liberty were with good reason desirous to obtain his cooperation; and, up to a certain point, he was not unwilling to cooperate with them. He was decidedly for a toleration. He was even for what   was then called a comprehension: that is to say, he was desirous to make some alterations in the Anglican discipline and ritual for the purpose of removing the scruples of the moderate Presbyterians. But he was not prepared to give up the Test Act. The only fault which he found with that Act was that it was not sufficiently stringent, and that it left loopholes through which schismatics sometimes crept into civil employments. In truth it was because he was not disposed to part with the Test that he was willing to consent to some changes in the Liturgy. He conceived that, if the entrance of the Church were but a very little widened, great numbers who had hitherto lingered near the threshold would press in. Those who still remained without would then not be sufficiently numerous or powerful to extort any further concession, and would be glad to compound for a bare toleration.

The opinion of the Low Churchmen concerning the Test Act differed widely from his. But many of them thought that it was of the highest importance to have his support on the great questions of Toleration and Comprehension. From the scattered fragments of information which have come down to us, it appears that a compromise was made. It is quite certain that Nottingham undertook to bring in a Toleration Bill and a Comprehension Bill, and to use his best endeavours to carry both bills through the House of Lords. It is highly probable that, in return for this great service, some of the leading Whigs consented to let the Test Act remain for the present unaltered.

There was no difficulty in framing either the Toleration Bill or the Comprehension Bill. The situation of the dissenters had been much discussed nine or ten years before, when the kingdom was distracted by the fear of a Popish plot, and when there was among Protestants a general disposition to unite against the common enemy. The government had then been willing to make large concessions to the Whig party, on condition that the crown should be suffered to descend according to the regular course. A draught of a law authorising the public worship of the nonconformists, and a draught of a law making some alterations in the public worship of the Established Church, had been prepared, and would probably have been passed by both Houses without difficulty, had not Shaftesbury and his coadjutors refused to listen to any terms, and, by grasping at what was beyond their reach, missed advantages which might easily have been secured. In the framing of these draughts, Nottingham, then an active member of the House of Commons, had borne a considerable part. He now brought them forth from the obscurity in which they had remained since the dissolution of the Oxford Parliament, and laid them, with some slight alterations, on the table of the Lords.

The Toleration Bill passed both Houses with little debate. This celebrated statute, long considered as the Great Charter of religious liberty, has since been extensively modified, and is hardly known to the present generation except by name. The name, however, is still pronounced with respect by many who will perhaps learn with surprise and disappointment the real nature of the law which they have been accustomed to hold in honour. Several statutes which had been passed between the accession of Queen Elizabeth and the Revolution required all people under severe penalties to attend the services of the Church of England, and to abstain from attending conventicles. The Toleration Act did not repeal any of these statutes, but merely provided that they should not be construed to extend to any person who should testify his loyalty by taking the Oaths of Allegiance and Supremacy, and his Protestantism by subscribing the Declaration against Transubstantiation.

The relief thus granted was common between the dissenting laity and the dissenting clergy. But the dissenting clergy had some peculiar grievances. The Act of Uniformity had laid a mulct of a hundred pounds on every person who, not having received Episcopal ordination, should presume to administer the Eucharist. The Five Mile Act had driven many pious and learned ministers from their houses and their friends, to live among rustics in obscure villages of which the name was not to be seen on the map. The Conventicle Act had imposed heavy fines on divines who should preach in any meeting of separatists; and, in direct opposition to the humane spirit of our common law, the Courts were enjoined to construe this Act largely and beneficially for the suppressing of dissent and for the encouraging of informers. These severe statutes were not repealed, but were, with many conditions and precautions, relaxed. It was provided that every dissenting minister should, before he exercised his function, profess under his hand his belief in the articles of the Church of England, with a few exceptions. The propositions to which he was not required to assent were these; that the Church has power to regulate ceremonies; that the doctrines set forth in the Book of Homilies are sound; and that there is nothing superstitious and idolatrous in the ordination service. If he declared himself a Baptist, he was also excused from affirming that the baptism of infants is a laudable practice. But, unless his conscience suffered him to subscribe thirty-four of the thirty-nine articles, and the greater part of two other articles, he could not preach without incurring all the punishments which the Cavaliers, in the day of their power and their vengeance, had devised for the tormenting and ruining of schismatical teachers.

The situation of the Quaker differed from that of other dissenters, and differed for the worse. The Presbyterian, the Independent, and the Baptist had no scruple about the Oath of Supremacy. But the Quaker refused to take it, not because he objected to the proposition that foreign sovereigns and prelates have no jurisdiction in England, but because his conscience would not suffer him to swear to any proposition whatever. He was therefore exposed to the severity of part of that penal code which, long before Quakerism existed, had been enacted against Roman Catholics by the Parliaments of Elizabeth. Soon after the Restoration, a severe law, distinct from the general law which applied to all conventicles, had been passed against meetings of Quakers. The Toleration Act permitted the members of this harmless sect to hold their assemblies in peace, on condition of signing three documents, a declaration against Transubstantiation, a promise of fidelity to the government, and a confession of Christian belief. The objections which the Quaker had to the Athanasian phraseology had brought on him the imputation of Socinianism; and the strong language in which he sometimes asserted that he derived his knowledge of spiritual things directly from above had raised a suspicion that he thought lightly of the authority of Scripture. He was therefore required to profess his faith in the divinity of the Son and of the Holy Ghost, and in the inspiration of the Old and New Testaments. Such were the terms on which the Protestant dissenters of England were, for the first time, permitted by law to worship God according to their own conscience. They were very properly forbidden to assemble with barred doors, but were protected against hostile intrusion by a clause which made it penal to enter a meeting house for the purpose of molesting the congregation.

As if the numerous limitations and precautions which have been mentioned were insufficient, it was emphatically declared that the legislature did not intend to grant the smallest indulgence to any Papist, or to any person who denied the doctrine of the Trinity as that doctrine is set forth in the formularies of the Church of England.

Of all the Acts that have ever been passed by Parliament, the Toleration Act is perhaps that which most strikingly illustrates the peculiar vices and the peculiar excellences of English legislation. The science of Politics bears in one respect a close analogy to the science of Mechanics. The mathematician can easily demonstrate that a certain power, applied by means of a certain lever or of a certain system of pulleys, will suffice to raise a certain weight. But his demonstration proceeds on the supposition  that the machinery is such as no load will bend or break. If the engineer, who has to lift a great mass of real granite by the instrumentality of real timber and real hemp, should absolutely rely on the propositions which he finds in treatises on Dynamics, and should make no allowance for the imperfection of his materials, his whole apparatus of beams, wheels, and ropes would soon come down in ruin, and, with all his geometrical skill, he would be found a far inferior builder to those painted barbarians who, though they never heard of the parallelogram of forces, managed to pile up Stonehenge. What the engineer is to the mathematician, the active statesman is to the contemplative statesman. It is indeed most important that legislators and administrators should be versed in the philosophy of government, as it is most important that the architect, who has to fix an obelisk on its pedestal, or to hang a tubular bridge over an estuary, should be versed in the philosophy of equilibrium and motion. But, as he who has actually to build must bear in mind many things never noticed by D'Alembert and Euler, so must he who has actually to govern be perpetually guided by considerations to which no allusion can be found in the writings of Adam Smith or Jeremy Bentham. The perfect lawgiver is a just temper between the mere man of theory, who can see nothing but general principles, and the mere man of business, who can see nothing but particular circumstances. Of lawgivers in whom the speculative element has prevailed to the exclusion of the practical, the world has during the last eighty years been singularly fruitful. To their wisdom Europe and America have owed scores of abortive constitutions, scores of constitutions which have lived just long enough to make a miserable noise, and have then gone off in convulsions. But in the English legislature the practical element has always predominated, and not seldom unduly predominated, over the speculative. To think nothing of symmetry and much of convenience; never to remove an anomaly merely because it is an anomaly; never to innovate except when some grievance is felt; never to innovate except so far as to get rid of the grievance; never to lay down any proposition of wider extent than the particular case for which it is necessary to provide; these are the rules which have, from the age of John to the age of Victoria, generally guided the deliberations of our two hundred and fifty Parliaments. Our national distaste for whatever is abstract in political science amounts undoubtedly to a fault. But it is, perhaps, a fault on the right side. That we have been far too slow to improve our laws must be admitted. But, though in other countries there may have occasionally been more rapid progress, it would not be easy to name any other country in which there has been so little retrogression.

The Toleration Act approaches very near to the idea of a great English law. To a jurist, versed in the theory of legislation, but not intimately acquainted with the temper of the sects and parties into which the nation was divided at the time of the Revolution, that Act would seem to be a mere chaos of absurdities and contradictions. It will not bear to be tried by sound general principles. Nay, it will not bear to be tried by any principle, sound or unsound. The sound principle undoubtedly is, that mere theological error ought not to be punished by the civil magistrate. This principle the Toleration Act not only does not recognise, but positively disclaims. Not a single one of the cruel laws enacted against nonconformists by the Tudors or the Stuarts is repealed. Persecution continues to be the general rule. Toleration is the exception. Nor is this all. The freedom which is given to conscience is given in the most capricious manner. A Quaker, by making a declaration of faith in general terms, obtains the full benefit of the Act without signing one of the thirty-nine Articles. An Independent minister, who is perfectly willing to make the declaration required from the Quaker, but who has doubts about six or seven of the Articles, remains still subject to the penal laws. Howe is liable to punishment if he preaches before he has solemnly declared his assent to the Anglican doctrine touching the Eucharist. Penn, who altogether rejects the Eucharist, is at perfect liberty to preach without making any declaration whatever on the subject.

These are some of the obvious faults which must strike every person who examines the Toleration Act by that standard of just reason which is the same in all countries and in all ages. But these very faults may perhaps appear to be merits, when we take into consideration the passions and prejudices of those for whom the Toleration Act was framed. This law, abounding with contradictions which every smatterer in political philosophy can detect, did what a law framed by the utmost skill of the greatest masters of political philosophy might have failed to do. That the provisions which have been recapitulated are cumbrous, puerile, inconsistent with each other, inconsistent with the true theory of religious liberty, must be acknowledged. All that can be aid in their defence is this; that they removed a vast mass of evil without shocking a vast mass of prejudice; that they put an end, at once and for ever, without one division in either House of Parliament, without one riot in the streets, with scarcely one audible murmur even from the classes most deeply tainted with bigotry, to a persecution which had raged during four generations, which had broken innumerable hearts, which had made innumerable firesides desolate, which had filled the prisons with men of whom the world was not worthy, which had driven thousands of those honest, diligent and godfearing yeomen and artisans, who are the true strength of a nation, to seek a refuge beyond the ocean among the wigwams of red Indians and the lairs of panthers. Such a defence, however weak it may appear to some shallow speculators, will probably be thought complete by statesmen. The English, in 1689, were by no means disposed to admit the doctrine that religious error ought to be left unpunished. That doctrine was just then more unpopular than it had ever been. For it had, only a few months before, been hypocritically put forward as a pretext for persecuting the Established Church, for trampling on the fundamental laws of the realm, for confiscating freeholds, for treating as a crime the modest exercise of the right of petition. If a bill had then been drawn up granting entire freedom of conscience to all Protestants, it may be confidently affirmed that Nottingham would never have introduced such a bill; that all the bishops, Burnet included, would have voted against it; that it would have been denounced, Sunday after Sunday, from ten thousand pulpits, as an insult to God and to all Christian men, and as a license to the worst heretics and blasphemers; that it would have been condemned almost as vehemently by Bates and Baxter as by Ken and Sherlock; that it would have been burned by the mob in half the market places of England; that it would never have become the law of the land, and that it would have made the very name of toleration odious during many years to the majority of the people. And yet, if such a bill had been passed, what would it have effected beyond what was effected by the Toleration Act?

It is true that the Toleration Act recognised persecution as the rule, and granted liberty of conscience only as the exception. But it is equally true that the rule remained in force only against a few hundreds of Protestant dissenters, and that the benefit of the exceptions extended to hundreds of thousands. It is true that it was in theory absurd to make Howe sign thirty-four or thirty-five of the Anglican articles before he could preach, and to let Penn preach without signing one of those articles. But it is equally true that, under this arrangement, both Howe and Penn got as entire liberty to preach as they could have had under the most philosophical code that Beccaria or Jefferson could have framed.

The progress of the bill was easy. Only one amendment of grave importance was proposed. Some zealous churchmen in the Commons suggested that it might be desirable to grant the toleration only for a term of seven years, and thus to bind over the nonconformists to good behaviour. But this suggestion was so unfavourably received that those who made it did not venture to divide the House.

The King gave his consent with hearty satisfaction: the bill became law; and the Puritan divines thronged to the Quarter Sessions of every county to swear and sign. Many of them probably professed their assent to the Articles with some tacit reservations. But the tender conscience of Baxter would not suffer him to qualify, till he had put on record an explanation of the sense in which he understood every proposition which seemed to him to admit of misconstruction. The instrument delivered by him to the Court before which he took the oaths is still extant, and contains two passages of peculiar interest. He declared that his approbation of the Athanasian Creed was confined to that part which was properly a Creed, and that he did not mean to express any assent to the damnatory clauses. He also declared that he did not, by signing the article which anathematizes all who maintain that there is any other salvation than through Christ, mean to condemn those who entertain a hope that sincere and virtuous unbelievers may be admitted to partake in the benefits of Redemption. Many of the dissenting clergy of London expressed their concurrence in these charitable sentiments.


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