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The Long Glen
Chapter XVI - In the Shadow of the Disruption

THE minister went away to his new northern parish in autumn, when the gloom of a great national calamity was already darkening the sky of Scotland.

The popular rulers of the kirk, asserting the ecclesiastical supremacy, which they subsequently styled "The Crown Rights of the Redeemer," had by the Veto Act committed a Papal encroachment on the' State, and the State, represented by the Court of Session and the House of Lords» had not only repelled that invasion, but had also vigorously retaliated and threatened—inferentially at least—to reduce the self-governed and popularly-constituted Kirk of Scotland to the same political servitude as the Crown controlled, patronage-trading, and aristocratically-constituted Church of England.

In the course of the struggle mutual railings and recriminations so increased the heat of men's minds that even the most reasonable people became, on the disputed ecclesiastical subject, mad partisans of the one side or of the other. Through the speeches of leaders, through formal acts and proceedings, and through inflammatory manifestoes and pamphlets issued by authority, the Kirk claimed, in virtue of divine commission, the right of setting itself above the law ; and this was the same claim which Pope Hilde-brand established many centuries before, and which Protestants supposed the Reformation had knocked on the head. The ingenuity and researches of lawyers and judges on the other hand furnished the guardians of State pretensions and the friends of civil rights with decisions, precedents, and theories, which, fully applied, would leave the Kirk without any real self-government or spiritual liberty at all.

Everybody was partly wrong, and yet everybody was partly right. As nobody would listen to reason, and each side went in for all or nothing, settlement by sensible compromise soon became impossible; and the Devil triumphed in the double guise of champion of religious and civil rights.

The rulers of the Kirk were indefensibly wrong, inasmuch as they tried to practically cancel an Act of Parliament regarding civil and patrimonial rights by an Act of Assembly. Had they applied to Parliament for the abolition of the Act of Queen Anne restoring patronage, they would have been right in policy, and acting legally within their proper spheres. Although neither Whig nor Tory statesmen paid the smallest attention to the fact, yet fact it was that Robertson-Melville feudalism could not be long preserved in the Kirk after the corresponding feudalism in things civil and political had been abolished by the Reform Bill of 1832.

The judges, alarmed at the logical, although, perhaps, not practically inevitable consequences of the Papal supremacy claim of the Kirk, and prejudicially enraged by the revilings with which they were at first unjustly assailed, strained the law rather violently by interpretations more ingenious than sound, and by the use of English and foreign maxims and precedents, which were not fairly applicable. They also revenged themselves on their unscrupulous assailants by interlarding their judicial speeches with deliberate insults and elaborate provocations.

The Moderate minority in the Assembly showed themselves to be men possessing more common sense than the hot-headed majority when they opposed the adoption of the Veto Act on the ground of its being an illegal usurpation. But all the good the Moderates could do was ruined by their incapacity to adapt their policy to the actualities of the case. Throughout the years of struggle, and long afterwards, they clung fatuously to the system which prevailed when congregations had no rights nor choice, and when their will and wishes could, with perfect impunity, be trampled on by masked Jacobite patrons, and by riding committees commissioned to supersede recalcitrant Presbyteries, and to settle presentees with the high hand.

The Scotch laity never really wished to assert the supremacy of the Kirk over the State, nor were they misled by the sounding phrases in which hot-headed ministers wrapt up Papal claims. But, out of every thousand of the laity, 990 at least hated patronage, and heartily wished to get rid of it by any fair means. Many of the Non-Intrusion ministers, on the other hand, dreaded popular election, and desired to preserve patronage in a modified form, and in a form, too, which would transfer influence from the patrons to themselves as long as they managed to appear to be the people's guides, counsellors, and friends. The people were very far from foreseeing that the anti-patronage struggle would produce disruption, and that thereafter Scotland would politically be given up bound hand and foot to infidel-making Radicalism, checked by the extreme Puritanism of the "Men of the North."

Lord Melbourne was too complacently ignorant of Scotch history and Scotch feelings, as well as too ignobly fond of putting off the settlement of troublesome questions, to introduce spontaneously a bill for abolishing patronage in Scotland, and giving just compensation to patrons. He was, moreover, keenly alive to the danger of alarming and alienating English patrons and ecclesiastical dabblers in Simoniacal transactions. And, indeed, " the Christ's crown and covenant" wreckers of the Scottish Kirk, with the help of insulting enemies in ermine, had so thoroughly committed themselves to the extreme principles of old Pope Hilde-brand, that long before the ease-and-pleasure-loving Premier understood what the row was at all about, extrication by legal means was nearly impossible, seeing the battle-cry on both sides was "all or nothing." It was not for either popular election of ministers or co-ordinate jurisdiction that the clerical Non-Intrusionists were striving. To all intents and purposes, they went in for dominant irresponsible authority and Protestant infallibility the moment their usurpation was checked by legal decisions. They consequently rushed on from one Papal position to another, making settlement as impossible as they possibly could, and eagerly invoking God's help while diligently doing the Opponent's work.

When Sir Robert Peel succeeded Lord Melbourne, the Tories obtained a good opportunity for "dishing" the Kirk Ultramontanes, and detaching the majority of the laity from the Whig connection. To the last moment such a Patronage Abolition Bill as that which Lord Beaconfield's Government passed thirty-one years later would have more than satisfied the laity, and reduced the Disruption to a few clerical firebrands and a small secession of urban people, who mixed up prayer and praise with platforming and political anathema. Sir Robert Peel was too preoccupied with financial, Irish, and Corn-Law questions to make an intelligent study for himself of the Scotch turmoil, so puzzling to all Englishmen, and with which Lord Melbourne had not chosen to meddle, although most of the representatives of Scotland were of his part}', and possessed his ear. Sir Robert's Scotch official advisers were not in a fit frame of mind to give good advice ; for their mouths were full of revilings, and their eyes blinded with the dust of battle. His English supporters, alarmed at the outrageous form which Spiritual Independence had assumed in the Veto Act usurpation, and subsequent disobedience to the law, were much more inclined to adopt a repressive penal policy than one of conciliation and material concession.

If anyone ventured to predict in 1842, that, thirty-two years later, a Conservative Government would confess and expiate the blundering and missing of a great opportunity by Sir Robert Peel, who can doubt that the unlucky prophet would, by the Tories, be classed among traitors, and by the Whigs among liars and rogues?

Altogether unsurpassable and inimitable is the irony of history, of which there was a beautifully dramatic exhibition in 1874, when the Conservatives all of a sudden became enthusiastic patronage-abolitionists, and Free •Churchmen felt so aggrieved at this politic Conservative move that they began to curse at large, and to clamour loudly for immediate Disestablishment, just because at long last the people of Scotland were to have complete power and freedom to elect, by congregational voting, the ministers of the National Church!

In November, 1842, the . Non-Intrusion Ministers, who sat as members of the last Assembly, were, by the few who pulled the strings and made the puppets dance, summoned to a solemn convocation in Edinburgh. The avowed purpose of this convocation was to threaten the Government with wholesale secession—in short, with the destruction of the Kirk—unless the State capitulated unconditionally, and the whole claim of spiritual supremacy was conceded. But the wire-pullers, who gained popularity. power, and undeserved repute from the agitation, and who personally would rather gain than lose by secession, had another object in view, which was not to be proclaimed from the house-tops ; and this object, forsooth ! was to get the weaker brethren to compromise their freedom of ultimate decision irretrievably. Although couched in rather seemly and ambiguous terms, the ultimatum to the Government in reality demanded the legalisation of the Veto Act usurpation, and the reversal of a long series of judicial decisions, involving multifarious civil rights and personal consequences. By unscrupulous tactics, including something like actual imprisonment in the Convocation Church, and treacherous assurances to the country ministers that the Government must yield to the ultimatum, the weak-kneed brethren were driven to subscribe their names to the high-pressure menaces on which the leaders had set their hearts, and to which many quiet, loyal men who, unfortunately, went to the clerical gathering in hope of better things, and who were foredoomed to heavy sacrifices in case the Government refused to be frightened into complete surrender, assented with heavy hearts, but simple trust in the goodness of the cause and the protecting help of God.

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