« AnteriorContinuar »
preserving the constitution of Great Britain undisturbed, and the dignity and lustre of the crown unimpaired, his Royal Highness the Prince of Wales be appointed, during the present indisposition of His Majesty, and no longer, in the name of the King, and in his stead, to exercise and administer, according to the laws and constitution of Great Britain, the regal power and government, under the style and title of Regent of the Kingdom, and to use, execute, and perform, all prerogatives, authorities, and acts of government which might have been lawfully used, executed, and performed by the Regent and Council of Regency, constituted and appointed by an act of the 5th of His present Majesty cap. 27.” The committee divided on Mr. Powys' amendment, which was rejected,
Noes.......... 227 the original resolution then passed. Another division took place on the second resolution,
For it .............. 216
Against it........ 159 All the other resolutions, except that respecting the King's household, were then severally put and carried.
March 2. 1790.
Mr. Fox, in pursuance of the notice he had given, this day brought forward his motion for the repeal of the Test and Corporation acts,-, •concluding a long and eloquent speech with moving, “ That the House will immediately resolve itself into a Committee of the whole House, to consider of so much of former acts as requires persons, before their admission into any office, civil or military, or any place of trust under the Crown, to receive the sacrament of the Lord's supper, according to the rites of the Church of England.”
Mr. Pitt, in rising, declared, that he was anxious to deliver his sentiments at that early period of the debate, in reply to the right honourable gentleman *, on the present important question under discussion. He had, he said, stated his objections, on former occasions, to the motion; he should still continue to pur. sue the same, line of conduct, with this difference only, that he was but the more strengthened and confirmed in his former
* Mr. Fox.
opinions upon the subject, and should therefore now restate them with greater force and confidence.
He considered both himself and the House under great obligation, however, to the right honourable gentleman, for his clear and candid statement of the precise object of the dissenters in their present application ; he had completely unravelled the mystery in which their views had been enveloped ; and, in a plain, open, and manly manner, had exhibited the full extent to which his motion was intended to be carried. Had it ever been possible for him to be at a loss on the subject, his doubts must now forsake him. The important question at issue was simply and plainly this: Whether the House ought or ought not to relinquish at once those acts which had been adopted by the wisdom of our ancestors to serve as a bulwark to the church, whose constitution was so intimately connected with that of the state, that the safety of the one was always liable to be affected by any danger which might threaten the other? He, for one, was clearly convinced that we ought not to relinquish those great and fundamental principles upon which the prosperity of the state so much depended.
The right honourable gentleman's sentiments on the general principles of dissension and toleration coincided with his own ; yet, he must take leave to differ from him in his definition of toleration, which he had carried to an extent which, in his opinion, it would not bear. Toleration could, by no means, be considered as an equality; for it only consisted in a free exercise of religious tenets, and in the enjoyment of the protection of the laws. The dissenters had a right to enjoy their liberty and property ; to entertain their own speculative opinions, and to educate their offspring in such religious principles as they approve. But the indispensable pecessity of a certain permanent church establishment, for the good of the state, required that toleration should not be extended to an equality ; for that would inevitably endanger such an establishment. Upon the supposition that every class of dissenters, agreeably to the extent of the right honourable gentleman's principles, were admitted to a full and complete equality
of participation, those would be admitted, who might conscientiously think it their duty to subvert the establishment; for not only Roman catholics, but also papists who acknowledge the supremacy of a foreign ecclesiastical prince, were not to be excluded until the commission of some overt act against the constitution. If this were once to be done, there would be an end for ever put to the wise policy of prevention, and a dangerous door would be opened to the absolute ruin of the constitution. He was ready to admit, that no citizen of a free state ought to be subject to any punishment for his speculative opinions; nor should even the publication of them, with moderation and decency, fall under the cognisance of the civil power : but he contended that the interest of individuals claiming pecuniary rewards, or lucrative employments, was very different from this, and that the public safety required, in his opinion, such a species of security for an establishment, as the test laws prescribed. Our very constitution had been saved by virtue of their sanction : had it not been for such bul. warks of defence, the family of Stuart might have been now in possession of the throne, and the right honourable gentleman had never had the opportunity of delivering those opinions in that House which they had that day heard. Although all cognisance of opinion might not be a warrantable ground for crimination, until the commission of some overt acts, yet he should ever contend, that an inquiry and test of a man's opinion, as the means of judging of his religious and constitutional principles, was highly expedient.
It had been exposed as extremely absurd that a test of religious tenets should be imposed upon persons about to occupy the meanést civil offices, while there was no inquiry, into the religious opinions even of the members of the legisla. ture. The fact was otherwise. In the path of abjuration, a religious test was imposed on the constitutional tenets of the legislative body. The oath against transubstantiation was purely religious, and the oath of allegiance was a civil and political test of loyalty and civil obedience. But to have no test of
any kind was contrary to the genius and spirit of monarchy; much more, then, must the obligation of test laws be necessary to a government like ours, where the monarchy is limited. The executive power should be allowed undoubtedly the exercise of a right of discrimination into the fitness of individuals to occupy stations of trust, for which that branch of the government was always responsible. The benefit of the general community required the establishment of public offices ; and, as a distinction in their distribution was highly conducive to the same important service, the idea of right to civil offices, then, was highly absurd and ridiculous: there could be no foundation for such extraordinary claim, unless it were agreed that the offices in question were created more for the advantage of those who occupied them, than as a trust for the benefit of the public; and that their salaries were to be defrayed upon the principle of a lottery, rather than out of the public treasury. While our constitution, however, had invested the executive power with the appointment of offices, the legislature had made a wise application of a limited monarchy, by restricting the supreme magistrate in the disposal of these offices.
Suppose the case of a republic, the government of which was the purest democracy, the officers of state elective out of the general body, where the most perfect equality existed. Now, imagine any form of religion, or superstitious ceremony, to be entertained and professed by a small part of the people, whose tendency might be to destroy the democratic equality, and, consequently, the constitution itself : would not the majority, with a view to the preservation of this constitution, be warranted in the exclusion of such an obnoxious party from the right either of electing, or being elected, to fill offices of trust in the state 2 Most undoubtedly. It should then be recollected, that the test laws under discussion were enacted with a direct view to the defence and preservation of our excellent constitution. They were to be regarded as a species of jealousy of the monarch, which had never been considered as unconstitutional. They had a direct tendency to check the influence of the royal prerogative,
which was a circumstance never very unpopular in a free state; and he hesitated not to say, if any distrust were to be entertained of either of the three branches of the constitution, it ought to be of the executive power. The test laws, by abridging the prerogatives of the crown, in preventing the sovereign from employing persons in offices of trust, who could not give a certain pledge or security of their attachment to the government, guarded against all danger or abuse from this branch of the legislature. The persons excluded by the test laws from civil offices lay under no kind of stigma, in his opinion, more than those who were necessarily kept out of that House, or from voting at an election, in consequence of their disqualification by statute from their elective rights. It was a common policy which obtained in private life, for no 'man to admit another to the management of his affairs, whose principles he did not approve; the same policy should prevail in states. The exclusion of the dissenters, therefore, from civil offices, from a disapprobation of their political sentiments, could be no usurpation in the government.
The merits or demerits of individuals ought, most undoubtedly, to have no weight or influence in the discussion of the present question. Yet the conduct of the dissenters seemed to him liable to just reprehension ; for when they were reprobating the test laws, they were loud in their complaints, and were appealing to the legislature for redress of their grievances ; even at that moment, they discovered intentions of forming associations throughout the whole country, for the sole purpose of putting the members of that House to a test; of whose fitness and competency to discharge their parliamentary duty they were to judge from their votes upon this single question. They had, indeed, explained themselves, that it was far from being their intention to put a test to any one ; but even in their explanation. a test was evidently implied. For in their resolutions, under the signature of Mr. Jefferies, it was expressly declared, that the dissenters meant to favour such members with their support, who should prove themselves friends to civil and religious liberty.