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The History of England from the Accession of James II
By Thomas Babington MacAulay
Chapter 3 Part 4


The history of the Comprehension Bill presents a remarkable contrast to the history of the Toleration Bill. The two bills had a common origin, and, to a great extent, a common object. They were framed at the same time, and laid aside at the same time: they sank together into oblivion; and they were, after the lapse of several years, again brought together before the world. Both were laid by the same peer on the table of the Upper House; and both were referred to the same select committee. But it soon began to appear that they would have widely different fates. The Comprehension Bill was indeed a neater specimen of legislative workmanship than the Toleration Bill, but was not, like the Toleration Bill, adapted to the wants, the feelings, and the prejudices of the existing generation. Accordingly, while the Toleration Bill found support in all quarters, the Comprehension Bill was attacked from all quarters, and was at last coldly and languidly defended even by those who had introduced it. About the same time at which the Toleration bill became law with the general concurrence of public men, the Comprehension Bill was, with a concurrence not less general, suffered to drop. The Toleration Bill still ranks among those great statutes which are epochs in our constitutional history. The Comprehension Bill is forgotten. No collector of antiquities has thought it worth preserving. A single copy, the same which Nottingham presented to the peers, is still among our parliamentary records, but has been seen by only two or three persons now living. It is a fortunate circumstance that, in this copy, almost the whole history of the Bill can be read. In spite of cancellations and interlineations, the original words can easily be distinguished from those which were inserted in the committee or on the report.

The first clause, as it stood when the bill was introduced, dispensed all the ministers of the Established Church from the necessity of subscribing the Thirty-nine Articles. For the Articles was substituted a Declaration which ran thus; "I do approve of the doctrine and worship and government of the Church of England by law established, as containing all things necessary to salvation; and I promise, in the exercise of my ministry, to preach and practice according thereunto." Another clause granted similar indulgence to the members of the two universities. Then it was provided that any minister who had been ordained after the Presbyterian fashion might, without reordination, acquire all the privileges of a priest of the Established Church. He must, however, be admitted to his new functions by the imposition of the hands of a bishop, who was to pronounce the following form of words; "Take thou authority to preach the word of God, and administer the sacraments, and to perform all other ministerial offices in the Church of England." The person thus admitted was to be capable of holding any rectory or vicarage in the kingdom. Then followed clauses providing that a clergyman might, except in a few churches of peculiar dignity, wear the surplice or not as he thought fit, that the sign of the cross might be omitted in baptism, that children might be christened, if such were the wish of their parents, without godfathers or godmothers, and that persons who had a scruple about receiving the Eucharist kneeling might receive it sitting. The concluding clause was drawn in the form of a petition. It was proposed that the two Houses should request the King and Queen to issue a commission empowering thirty divines of the Established Church to revise the liturgy, the canons, and the constitution of the ecclesiastical courts, and to recommend such alterations as might on inquiry appear to be desirable.

The bill went smoothly through the first stages. Compton, who, since Sancroft had shut himself up at Lambeth, was virtually Primate, supported Nottingham with ardour. In the committee, however, it appeared that there was a strong body of churchmen, who were determined not to give up a single word or form; to whom it seemed that the prayers were no prayers without the surplice, the babe no Christian if not marked with the cross, the bread and wine no memorials of redemption or vehicles of grace if not received on bended knee. Why, these persons asked, was the docile and affectionate son of the Church to be disgusted by seeing the irreverent practices of a conventicle introduced into her majestic choirs? Why should his feelings, his prejudices, if prejudices they were, be less considered than the whims of schismatics? If, as Burnet and men like Burnet were never weary of repeating, indulgence was due to a weak brother, was it less due to the brother whose weakness consisted in the excess of his love for an ancient, a decent, a beautiful ritual, associated in his imagination from childhood with all that is most sublime and endearing, than to him whose morose and litigious mind was always devising frivolous objections to innocent and salutary usages?

But, in truth, the scrupulosity of the Puritan was not that sort of scrupulosity which the Apostle had commanded believers to respect. It sprang, not from morbid tenderness of conscience, but from censoriousness and spiritual pride; and none who had studied the New Testament could have failed to observe that, while we are charged carefully to avoid whatever may give scandal to the feeble, we are taught by divine precept and example to make no concession to the supercilious and uncharitable Pharisee. Was every thing which was not of the essence of religion to be given up as soon as it became unpleasing to a knot of zealots whose heads had been turned by conceit and the love of novelty? Painted glass, music, holidays, fast days, were not of the essence of religion. Were the windows of King's College Chapel to be broken at the demand of one set of fanatics? Was the organ of Exeter to be silenced to please another? Were all the village bells to be mute because Tribulation Wholesome and Deacon Ananias thought them profane? Was Christmas no longer to be a day of rejoicing?

Was Passion week no longer to be a season of humiliation? These changes, it is true, were not yet proposed. Put if,--so the High Churchmen reasoned,--we once admit that what is harmless and edifying is to be given up because it offends some narrow understandings and some gloomy tempers, where are we to stop? And is it not probable that, by thus attempting to heal one schism, we may cause another? All those things which the Puritans regard as the blemishes of the Church are by a large part of the population reckoned among her attractions. May she not, in ceasing to give scandal to a few sour precisians, cease also to influence the hearts of many who now delight in her ordinances? Is it not to be apprehended that, for every proselyte whom she allures from the meeting house, ten of her old disciples may turn away from her maimed rites and dismantled temples, and that these new separatists may either form themselves into a sect far more formidable than the sect which we are now seeking to conciliate, or may, in the violence of their disgust at a cold and ignoble worship, be tempted to join in the solemn and gorgeous idolatry of Rome?

It is remarkable that those who held this language were by no means disposed to contend for the doctrinal Articles of the Church. The truth is that, from the time of James the First, that great party which has been peculiarly zealous for the Anglican polity and the Anglican ritual has always leaned strongly towards Arminianism, and has therefore never been much attached to a confession of faith framed by reformers who, on questions of metaphysical divinity, generally agreed with Calvin. One of the characteristic marks of that party is the disposition which it has always shown to appeal, on points of dogmatic theology, rather to the Liturgy, which was derived from Rome, than to the Articles and Homilies, which were derived from Geneva. The Calvinistic members of the Church, on the other hand, have always maintained that her deliberate judgment on such points is much more likely to be found in an Article or a Homily than in an ejaculation of penitence or a hymn of thanksgiving. It does not appear that, in the debates on the Comprehension Bill, a single High Churchman raised his voice against the clause which relieved the clergy from the necessity of subscribing the Articles, and of declaring the doctrine contained in the Homilies to be sound. Nay, the Declaration which, in the original draught, was substituted for the Articles, was much softened down on the report. As the clause finally stood, the ministers of the Church were required to declare, not that they approved of her constitution, but merely that they submitted to it. Had the bill become law, the only people in the kingdom who would have been under the necessity of signing the Articles would have been the dissenting preachers.

The easy manner in which the zealous friends of the Church gave up her confession of faith presents a striking contrast to the spirit with which they struggled for her polity and her ritual. The clause which admitted Presbyterian ministers to hold benefices without episcopal ordination was rejected. The clause which permitted scrupulous persons to communicate sitting very narrowly escaped the same fate. In the Committee it was struck out, and, on the report, was with great difficulty restored. The majority of peers in the House was against the proposed indulgence, and the scale was but just turned by the proxies. But by this time it began to appear that the bill which the High Churchmen were so keenly assailing was menaced by dangers from a very different quarter. The same considerations which had induced Nottingham to support a comprehension made comprehension an object of dread and aversion to a large body of dissenters. The truth is that the time for such a scheme had gone by. If, a hundred years earlier, when the division in the Protestant body was recent, Elizabeth had been so wise as to abstain from requiring the observance of a few forms which a large part of her subjects considered as Popish, she might perhaps have averted those fearful calamities which, forty years after her death, afflicted the Church. But the general tendency of schism is to widen. Had Leo the Tenth, when the exactions and impostures of the Pardoners first roused the indignation of Saxony, corrected those evil practices with a vigorous hand, it is not improbable that Luther would have died in the bosom of the Church of Rome.

But the opportunity was suffered to escape; and, when, a few years later, the Vatican would gladly have purchased peace by yielding the original subject of quarrel, the original subject of quarrel was almost forgotten. The inquiring spirit which had been roused by a single abuse had discovered or imagined a thousand: controversies engendered controversies: every attempt that was made to accommodate one dispute ended by producing another; and at length a General Council, which, during the earlier stages of the distemper, had been supposed to be an infallible remedy, made the case utterly hopeless. In this respect, as in many others, the history of Puritanism in England bears a close analogy to the history of Protestantism in Europe. The Parliament of 1689 could no more put an end to nonconformity by tolerating a garb or a posture than the Doctors of Trent could have reconciled the Teutonic nations to the Papacy by regulating the sale of indulgences. In the sixteenth century Quakerism was unknown; and there was not in the whole realm a single congregation of Independents or Baptists. At the time of the Revolution, the Independents, Baptists, and Quakers were a majority of the dissenting body; and these sects could not be gained over on any terms which the lowest of Low Churchmen would have been willing to offer. The Independent held that a national Church, governed by any central authority whatever, Pope, Patriarch, King, Bishop, or Synod, was an unscriptural institution, and that every congregation of believers was, under Christ, a sovereign society.

The Baptist was even more irreclaimable than the Independent, and the Quaker even more irreclaimable than the Baptist. Concessions, therefore, which would once have extinguished nonconformity would not now satisfy even one half of the nonconformists; and it was the obvious interest of every nonconformist whom no concession would satisfy that none of his brethren should be satisfied. The more liberal the terms of comprehension, the greater was the alarm of every separatist who knew that he could, in no case, be comprehended. There was but slender hope that the dissenters, unbroken and acting as one man, would be able to obtain from the  legislature full admission to civil privileges; and all hope of obtaining such admission must be relinquished if Nottingham should, by the help of some wellmeaning but shortsighted friends of religious liberty, be enabled to accomplish his design. If his bill passed, there would doubtless be a considerable defection from the dissenting body; and every defection must be severely felt by a class already outnumbered, depressed, and struggling against powerful enemies. Every proselyte too must be reckoned twice over, as a loss to the party which was even now too weak, and as a gain to the party which was even now too strong. The Church was but too well able to hold her own against all the sects in the kingdom; and, if those sects were to be thinned by a large desertion, and the Church strengthened by a large reinforcement, it was plain that all chance of obtaining any relaxation of the Test Act would be at an end; and it was but too probable that the Toleration Act might not long remain unrepealed.

Even those Presbyterian ministers whose scruples the Comprehension Bill was expressly intended to remove were by no means unanimous in wishing it to pass. The ablest and most eloquent preachers among them had, since the Declaration of Indulgence had appeared, been very agreeably settled in the capital and in other large towns, and were now about to enjoy, under the sure guarantee of an Act of Parliament, that toleration which, under the Declaration of Indulgence, had been illicit and precarious. The situation of these men was such as the great majority of the divines of the Established Church might well envy. Few indeed of the parochial clergy were so abundantly supplied with comforts as the favourite orator of a great assembly of nonconformists in the City. The voluntary contributions of his wealthy hearers, Aldermen and Deputies, West India merchants and Turkey merchants, Wardens of the Company of Fishmongers and Wardens of the Company of Goldsmiths,   enabled him to become a landowner or a mortgagee. The best broadcloth from Blackwell Hall, and the best poultry from Leadenhall Market, were frequently left at his door. His influence over his flock was immense. Scarcely any member of a congregation of separatists entered into a partnership, married a daughter, put a son out as apprentice, or gave his vote at an election, without consulting his spiritual guide. On all political and literary questions the minister was the oracle of his own circle. It was popularly remarked, during many years, that an eminent dissenting minister had only to make his son an attorney or a physician; that the attorney was sure to have clients, and the physician to have patients. While a waiting woman was generally considered as a help meet for a chaplain in holy orders of the Established Church, the widows and daughters of opulent citizens were supposed to belong in a peculiar manner to nonconformist pastors. One of the great Presbyterian Rabbies, therefore, might well doubt whether, in a worldly view, he should be benefited by a comprehension. He might indeed hold a rectory or a vicarage, when he could get one. But in the meantime he would be destitute: his meeting house would be closed: his congregation would be  dispersed among the parish churches: if a benefice were bestowed on him, it would probably be a very slender compensation for the income which he had lost. Nor could he hope to have, as a minister of the Anglican Church, the authority and dignity which he had hitherto enjoyed. He would always, by a large portion of the members of that Church, be regarded as a deserter. He might therefore, on the whole, very naturally wish to be left where he was.

There was consequently a division in the Whig party. One section of that party was for relieving the dissenters from the Test Act, and giving up the Comprehension Bill. Another section was for pushing forward the Comprehension Bill, and postponing to a more convenient time the consideration of the Test Act. The effect of this division among the friends of religious liberty was that the High Churchmen, though a minority in the House of Commons, and not a majority in the House of Lords, were able to oppose with success both the reforms which they dreaded. The Comprehension Bill was not passed; and the Test Act was not repealed. Just at the moment when the question of the Test and the question of the Comprehension became complicated together in a manner which might well perplex an enlightened and honest politician, both questions became complicated with a third question of grave importance.

The ancient oaths of allegiance and supremacy contained some expressions which had always been disliked by the Whigs, and other expressions which Tories, honestly attached to the new settlement, thought inapplicable to princes who had not the hereditary right. The Convention had therefore, while the throne was still vacant, framed those oaths of allegiance and supremacy by which we still testify our loyalty to our Sovereign. By the Act which turned the Convention into a Parliament, the members of both Houses were required to take the new oaths. As to other persons in public trust, it was hard to say how the law stood. One form of words was enjoined by statutes, regularly passed, and not yet regularly abrogated. A different form was enjoined by the Declaration of Right, an instrument which was indeed revolutionary and irregular, but which might well be thought equal in authority to any statute. The practice was in as much confusion as the law. It was therefore felt to be necessary that the legislature should, without delay, pass an Act abolishing the old oaths, and determining when and by whom the new oaths should be taken.

The bill which settled this important question originated in the Upper House. As to most of the provisions there was little room for dispute. It was unanimously agreed that no person should, at any future time, be admitted to any office, civil, military, ecclesiastical, or academical, without taking the oaths to William and Mary. It was also unanimously agreed that every person who already held any civil or military office should be ejected from it, unless he took the oaths on or before the first of August 1689. But the strongest passions of both parties were excited by the question whether persons who already possessed ecclesiastical or academical offices should be required to swear fealty to the King and Queen on pain of deprivation. None could say what might be the effect of a law enjoining all the members of a great, a powerful, a sacred profession to make, under the most solemn sanction of religion, a declaration which might be plausibly represented as a formal recantation of all that they had been writing and preaching during many years. The Primate and some of the most eminent Bishops had already absented themselves from Parliament, and would doubtless relinquish their palaces and revenues, rather than acknowledge the new Sovereigns. The example of these great prelates might perhaps be followed by a multitude of divines of humbler rank, by hundreds of canons, prebendaries, and fellows of colleges, by thousands of parish priests. To such an event no Tory, however clear his own conviction that he might lawfully swear allegiance to the King who was in possession, could look forward without the most painful emotions of compassion for the sufferers and of anxiety for the Church.

There were some persons who went so far as to deny that the Parliament was competent to pass a law requiring a Bishop to swear on pain of deprivation. No earthly power, they said, could break the tie which bound the successor of the apostles to his diocese. What God had joined no man could sunder. Dings and senates might scrawl words on parchment or impress figures on wax; but those words and figures could no more change the course of the spiritual than the course of the physical world. As the Author of the universe had appointed a certain order, according to which it was His pleasure to send winter and summer, seedtime and harvest, so He had appointed a certain order, according to which He communicated His grace to His Catholic Church; and the latter order was, like the former, independent of the powers and principalities of the world. A legislature might alter the flames of the months, might call June December, and December June; but, in spite of the legislature, the snow would fall when the sun was in Capricorn, and the flowers would bloom when he was in Cancer.

And so the legislature might enact that Ferguson or Muggleton should live in the palace at Lambeth, should sit on the throne of Augustin, should be called Your Grace, and should walk in processions before the Premier Duke; but, in spite of the legislature, Sancroft would, while Sancroft lived, be the only true  Archbishop of Canterbury; and the person who should presume to usurp the archiepiscopal functions would be a schismatic. This doctrine was proved by reasons drawn from the budding of Aaron's rod, and from a certain plate which Saint James the Less, according to a legend of the fourth century, used to wear on his forehead. A Greek manuscript, relating to the deprivation of bishops, was discovered, about this time, in the Bodleian Library, and became the subject of a furious controversy. One party held that God had wonderfully brought this precious volume to light, for the guidance of His Church at a most critical moment. The other party wondered that any importance could be attached to the nonsense of a nameless scribbler of the thirteenth century. Much was written about the deprivations of Chrysostom and Photius, of Nicolaus Mysticus and Cosmas Atticus. But the case of Abiathar, whom Solomon put out of the sacerdotal office for treason, was discussed with peculiar eagerness. No small quantity of learning and ingenuity was expended in the attempt to prove that Abiathar, though he wore the ephod and answered by Urim, was not really High Priest, that he ministered only when his superior Zadoc was incapacitated by sickness or by some ceremonial pollution, and that therefore the act of Solomon was not a precedent which would warrant King William in deposing a real Bishop.

But such reasoning as this, though backed by copious citations from the Misna and Maimonides, was not generally satisfactory even to zealous churchmen. For it admitted of one answer, short, but perfectly intelligible to a plain man who knew nothing about Greek fathers or Levitical genealogies. There might be some doubt whether King Solomon had ejected a high priest; but there could be no doubt at all that Queen Elizabeth had ejected the Bishops of more than half the sees in England. It was notorious that fourteen prelates had, without any proceeding in any spiritual court, been deprived by Act of Parliament for refusing to acknowledge her supremacy. Had that deprivation been null? Had Bonner continued to be, to the end of his life, the only true Bishop of London? Had his successor been an usurper? Had Parker and Jewel been schismatics? Had the Convocation of 1562, that Convocation which had finally settled the doctrine of the Church of England, been itself out of the pale of the Church of Christ?

Nothing could be more ludicrous than the distress of those controversialists who had to invent a plea for Elizabeth which should not be also a plea for William. Some zealots, indeed, gave up the vain attempt to distingush between two cases which every man of common sense perceived to be undistinguishable, and frankly owned that the deprivations of 1559 could not be justified. But no person, it was said, ought to be troubled in mind on that account; for, though the Church of England might once have been schismatical, she had become Catholic when the Bishops deprived by Elizabeth had ceased to live.91 The Tories, however, were not generally disposed to admit that the religious society to which they were fondly attached had originated in an unlawful breach of unity. They therefore took ground lower and more tenable. They argued the question as a question of humanity and of expediency. They spoke much of the debt of gratitude which the nation owed to the priesthood; of the courage and fidelity with which the order, from the primate down to the youngest deacon, had recently defended the civil and ecclesiastical constitution of the realm; of the memorable Sunday when, in all the hundred churches of the capital, scarcely one slave could be found to read the Declaration of Indulgence; of the Black Friday when, amidst the blessings and the loud weeping of a mighty population, the barge of the seven prelates passed through the watergate of the Tower. The firmness with which the clergy had lately, in defiance of menace and of seduction, done what they conscientiously believed to be right, had saved the liberty and religion of England. Was no indulgence to be granted to them if they now refused to do what they conscientiously apprehended to be wrong? And where, it was said, is the danger of treating them with tenderness? Nobody is so absurd as to propose that they shall be permitted to plot against the Government, or to stir up the multitude to insurrection. They are amenable to the law, like other men. If they are guilty of treason, let them be hanged. If they are guilty of sedition, let them be fined and imprisoned. If they omit, in their public ministrations, to pray for King William, for Queen Mary, and for the Parliament assembled under those most religious sovereigns, let the penal clauses of the Act of Uniformity be put in force. If this be not enough, let his Majesty be empowered to tender the oaths to any clergyman; and, if the oaths so tendered are refused, let deprivation follow. In this way any nonjuring bishop or rector who may be suspected, though he cannot be legally convicted, of intriguing, of writing, of talking, against the present settlement, may be at once removed from his office. But why insist on ejecting a pious and laborious minister of religion, who never lifts a finger or utters a word against the government, and who, as often as he performs morning and evening service, prays from his heart for a blessing on the rulers set over him by Providence, but who will not take an oath which seems to him to imply a right in the people to depose a sovereign? Surely we do all that is necessary if we leave men of this sort to the mercy of the very prince to whom they refuse to swear fidelity. If he is willing to bear with their scrupulosity, if he considers them, notwithstanding their  prejudices, as innocent and useful members of society, who else can be entitled to complain?

The Whigs were vehement on the other side. They scrutinised, with ingenuity sharpened by hatred, the claims of the clergy to the public gratitude, and sometimes went so far as altogether to deny that the order had in the preceding year deserved well of the nation. It was true that bishops and priests had stood up against the tyranny of the late King: but it was equally true that, but for the obstinacy with which they had opposed the Exclusion Bill, he never would have been King, and that, but for their adulation and their doctrine of passive obedience, he would never have ventured to be guilty of such tyranny. Their chief business, during a quarter of a century, had been to teach the people to cringe and the prince to domineer. They were guilty of the blood of Russell, of Sidney, of every brave and honest Englishman who had been put to death for attempting to save the realm from Popery and despotism. Never had they breathed a whisper against arbitrary power till arbitrary power began to menace their own property and dignity. Then, no doubt, forgetting all their old commonplaces about submitting to Nero, they had made haste to save themselves. Grant,--such was the cry of these eager disputants,--grant that, in saving themselves, they saved the constitution. Are we therefore to forget that they had previously endangered it? And are we to reward them by now permitting them to destroy it? Here is a class of men closely connected with the state. A large part of the produce of the soil has been assigned to them for their maintenance. Their chiefs have seats in the legislature, wide domains, stately palaces. By this privileged body the great mass of the population is lectured every week from the chair of authority. To this privileged body has been committed the supreme direction of liberal education. Oxford and Cambridge, Westminster, Winchester, and Eton, are under priestly government. By the 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 Majesties' 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. For these humble 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 victorious 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 shying 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 dissenters, 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 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;94 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 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.


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