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pedence, since their liberty of conscience and their power of executimg their functions depend entirely on his will. I would have no man derive his means of continuing any function, or his being restrained from it, but from the laws only; they should be his only superior and sovereign lords.
2nd. They pat statesmen and magistrates into an habit of playing fast and loose with the laws, straining or relaxing them as may best snit their political purposes ; and in that light tend to corrupt the executive power through all its offices.
3rd. If they are taken upon popular actions, their operation in that light also is exceedingly evil. They become the instruments of private malice, private avaric e, and not of public regulation, they nourish the worst of men to the prejudice of the best, punishing tender consciences, and rewarding informers.
Shall we, as the honourable gentleman tells us we may with perfect security, trust to the manners of the age ? I am well pleased with the general manners of the times, but the desultory execution of penal laws, the thing I condemu, does not depend on the manners of the times. I would however have the laws tuned in unison with the manners--very dissonant are a gentle country and cruel laws; very dissonant, that your reason is furious, but your passions moderate, and that you are always equitable except in your courts of justice.
I will beg leave to state to the house one argument, which has been much relied upon--that the dissenters are not unanimous upon this business, that many persons are alarmed, that it will create a disunion
the dissenters. When any dissenters, or any body of people come here with a petition, it is not the number of the people, but the reasonableness of the request, that should weigh with the house. A body of dissenters come to this house, and say, tolerate us—we desire neither the parochial advantage of tithes, nor dignities, nor the stalls of your cathedrals. No! let the venerable orders of the hierarchy exist with all their advantages. And shall I tell them, I reject your just and reasonable petition, not because it shakes the church, but because there are others, while you lie grovelling upon the earth, that will kick and bite you ? Judge which of these descriptions of men comes with a fair request--that, which says, Sir, I desire liberty for my own, because I trespass on no man's conscience-or the other, which says, I desire that these men should not be suffered to act according to their consciences, though I am tolerated to act according to mine. But I sign a body of articles, which is my title to toleration, I sign no more, because more are against my conscience. But I desire that you
will not tolerate these men, because they will not go so far as I, though I desire to be tolerated, who will not go as far as you. No, imprison them, if they come, within five miles of a corporate town, because they do not believe what I do in point of doctrines.
Shall I not say to these men, arrangez vous canaille ? You who are not the predominant power, will not give to others the relaxation under which you are yourself suffered to live. I have as high an opinion of the doctrines of the church as you. I receive them implicitly, or I put my own explanation on them, or take that which seems to me to come best recommended by authority. There are those of the dissenters, who think more rigidly of the doctrine of the articles relative to predestination than others do. They sign the article relative to it ex animo and literally. Others allow a latitude of constrution. These two parties are in the church, as well as among dissenters ; yet in the church we live quietly under the same roof. I do not see why, as long as Prov gives us no further light into this great mystery, we should not leave things as the Divine Wisdom has left them. But suppose all these things to me to be clear (which Providence however seems to have left obscure), yet whilst dissenters claim a toleration in things which, seeming clear to me, are obscure to them, without entering into the merit of the articles, with what face can these men say, Tolerate us, but do not tolerate them ? Toleration is good for all, or it is good for none.
The discussion this day is not between establishment on the one hand, and toleration on the other, but between those who, being tolerated themselves, refuse toleration to others. That power should be puffed up with pride, that authority should degenerate into rigour, if not laudable, is but too natural. But this proceeding of theirs is much beyond the usual allowance to human weakness; it not only is shocking to our reason, but it provokes our indignation. Quid domini facient, audent cum talia fures ? It is not the proud prelate thundering in his commission court, but a pack of manumitted slaves with the lash of the beadle flagrant on their backs, and their legs still galled with their fetters, that would drive their brethren into that prisonbouse from whence they have just been permitted to escape. If, instead of puzzling themselves in the depth of the Divine counsels, they would turn to the mild morality of the Gospel, they would read their own condemnation, “O thou wicked servant, I forgave thee all that debt because thou desirest me: shouldst thou not also have compassion on thy fellow servant, even as I had pity on thee ?”
In my opinion, Sir, a magistrate, whenever he goes to put any restraint upon religious freedom, can only do it upon this ground, that
the person dissenting does not dissent from the scruples of ill-informed conscience, but from a party ground of dissension, in order to raise a faction in the state. We give, with regard to rites and ceremonies, an indulgence to tender consciences. But if dissent is at all punished in any country, if at all it can be punished upon any pretence, it is apon a presumption, not that a man is supposed to differ conscientiously from the establishment, but that he resists truth for the sake of faction ; that he abets diversity of opinions in religion to distract the state, and to destroy the peace of his country. This is the only plausible, for there is no true ground of persecution. As the laws stand, therefore, let us see how we have thought fit to act.
If there is any one thing within the competency of a magistrate with regard to religion, it is this, that he has a right to direct the exterior ceremonies of religion ; that whilst interior religion is within the jurisdiction of God alone, the external part, bodily action, is within the province of the chief governor. Hooker, and all the great lights of the church, have constantly argued this to be a part within the province of the civil magistrate ; but look at the act of toleration of William and Mary, there you will see the civil magistrate has not only dispensed with those things, which are more particularly within his province, and those things, which faction might be supposed to take up for the sake of making visible and external divisions, and raising a standard of revolt, but has also from sound politic considerations relaxed on those points, which are confessedly without his province.
The honourable gentleman, speaking of the heathens, certainly could not mean to recommend anything that is derived from that impure source.
But he has praised the tolerating spirit of the heathens. Well ! but the honourable gentleman will recollect that heathens, that polytheists, must permit a number of divinities. It is the very essence of their constitution. But was it ever heard that polytheism tolerated a dissent from a polytheistic establishment ? the belief of one God only? Never ! never! Sir, they constantly carried on persecution against that doctrine. I will not give heathens the glory of a doctrine, which I consider the best part of Christianity. The honourable gentleman must recollect the Roman law, that was clearly against the introduction of any foreign rités in matters of religion. You have it at large in Livy, how they persecuted in the first
introduction the rites of Bacchus : and even before Christ, to say nothing of their subsequent persecutions, they persecuted the Druids and others. Heathenism, therefore, as in other respects erroneous, was erroneous in point of persecution. I do not say, every
heathen, who persecuted, was therefore an impious man: I only say he was mistaken, as such a man is now. But, says the honourable gentleman, they did not persecute Epicureans. No, the Epicureans had no quarrel with their religious establishment, nor desired any religion for themselves. It would have been very extraordinary, if irreligious heathens had desired either a religious establishment or toleration. But, says the honourable gentleman, the Epicureans entered as others, into the temples. They did so; they defied all subscription ; they defied all sorts of conformity; there was no subscription to which they were not ready to set their hands, no ceremonies they refused to practise ; they made it a principle of their irreligion outwardly to conform to any religion. These atheists eluded all that you could do; so will all freethinkers for ever. Then you suffer, or the weakness of your law has suffered, those great dangerous animals to escape potice, whilst you have nets than entapgle the poor fluttering silken wings of a tender conscience.
The honourable gentleman insists much upon this circumstance of objection, namely, the division amongst the dissenters. Why, Sir, the dissenters, by the nature of the term, are open to have a division among themselves. They are dissenters, because they differ from the Church of England ; not that they agree among themselves. There are Presbyterians, there are Independents, some that do not agree to infant-baptism, others that do not agree to the baptism of adults, or any baptism. All these are, however, tolerated under the acts of king William, and subsequent acts; and their diversity of sentiments with one another did not, and could not, furnish an argument against their toleration, when their difference with ourselves furnished none.
But, says the honourable gentleman, if you suffer them to go on, they will shake the fundamental principles of Christianity. Let it be considered that this argument goes as strongly against connivance, which you allow, as against toleration, which you reject. The gentleman sets out with a principle of perfect liberty, or, as he describes it, connivance. But for fear of dangerous opinions you leave it in your power to vex a man, who has not held any one dangerous opinion whatsoever. If one man is a professed atheist, another man the best Christian, but dissents from two of the 39 articles, I may let escape the athtist, because I know him to be an atheist, because I am, perhaps, so inclined myself, and because I may connive where I think proper ; but the conscientious dissenter, on account of his attachment to that general religion, which perhaps I hate, I shall take care to punish, because I may punish when I think
fore, connivance being an engine of private malice or private favour, not of good government; an engine which totally fails of suppress-. ing atheism, but oppresses conscience; I say that principle becomes not serviceable, but dangerous to Christianity; that it is not toleration, but contrary to it, even contrary to peace; that the penal system, to which it belongs, is a dangerous principle in the economy either of religion or government.
The honourable gentleman, (and in him I comprehend all those who oppose the bill), bestowed in support of his side of the question as much argument as it could bear, and much more of learning and decoration than it deserved. He thinks connivance consistent, but legal toleration inconsistent, with the interests of Christianity. Perhaps I would go as far as that honourable gentleman, if I thought toleration inconsistent with those interests. God forbid! I may be mistaken, but I take toleration to be a part of religion. I do not know which I would sacrifice; I would keep them both; it is not necessary
I should sacrifice either. I do not like the idea of tolerating the doctrines of Epicurus; but nothing in the world propagates them so much as the oppression of the poor, of the honest, and candid disciples of the religion we profess in common, I mean revealed religion; nothing sooner makes them take a short cut out of the bondage of sectarian vexation into open and direct infidelity, than tormenting men for every difference. My opinion is, that in establishing the Christian religion wherever you find it, curiosity or research is its best security; and in this way a man is a great deal better justified in saying, tolerate all kinds of consciences, than in imitating the heathens, whom the honourable gentleman quotes, in tolerating those who have none. I am not over fond of calling for the secular arm upon
these misguided, or misguiding, men; but if ever it ought to be raised, it ought surely to be raised against these very men, not against others, whose liberty of religion you make a pretext for proceedings, which drive them into the bondage of impiety. What figure do I make in saying, I do not attack the works of these atheistical writers, but I will keep a rod hanging over the conscientious man, their bitterest enemy, because these atheists may take advantage of the liberty of their foes to introduce irreligion ? The best book that ever, perhaps, has been written against these people, is that in which the author has collected in a body the whole of the infidel code, and has brought the writers into one body to cut them all off together. This was done by a dissenter, who never did subscribe the 39 articles—Dr. Leland. But if, after all, this danger is to be apprehended, if you are really fearful that Christianity will