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al Honour, Humanity, Justice, Religion, have been of late so much committed. I hear of some crotchets that some of your great ones in the East have been holding, in opposition to the great lights of their party-on points of which the attention of Europe is roused, and on which all Europe will soon be at
But on this point, I trust there is no difference of opinion, and no difference of feeling. I hope they will come forward, and that the General Assembly in particular, as it lately lifted up its voice in defence of rights that may be called its own, so it will, on this occasion, “ Cry aloud and spare not,” in defence of the rights of those oppressed ones that have no voice wherewith to cry for themselves.”
In reference to the allusion to the General Assembly, it is proper to state, that that venerable Court was among the first that moved by petition on this great question. The Church of Scotland, generally speaking, took a lively interest in the abolition of the trade in slaves. It is surely matter of deep regret that the kindred question of slavery itself should have occupied so slight a portion of the time and attention of ministers and members of the Established Church. Dr. Macgill, throughout his whole life, never lost sight of the rights of the slave; but he was seconded by a merely fractional part of his clerical brethren.
Dr. Macgill was in political sentiment a Conservative Whig. I have a very distinct recollection of a friendly political debate, or conversational dialogue rather, betwixt him and the late Dr. Gibb, who was then minister of St. Andrew's Church, and afterwards appointed to the Hebrew Chair in the University. It occurred at a social Meeting of the Clerical Literary Society, of which these two respectable men were at that time honorary members. More than twenty years have elapsed since the occasion to which I refer, but my impressions of it are very vivid, and I paid more than ordinary attention to what passed, from a very natural curiosity to know the specific differences betwixt an evangelical and a moderate minister on the subject of State politics. The former class of clergymen in our church have always been claimed by the Whigs as their natural allies; while the latter were avowedly the adherents of the Tories, and shared exclusively in all the favours that were conferred by the reigning government of the day. Popular ministers were always treated not only as wild men in the Church, but also as democrats in the State ; and neither the talents of Sir Henry Moncrieff, nor the singularly eminent pulpit gifts of Dr. Balfour, nor the classical and Christian bearing of Dr. Macgill, could screen them from the foul and malignant charge. Even Dr. Somerville of Jedburgh, and Dr. Charters of Wilton, though moderate men in Church politics, never received any
favourable notice from the dominant party of the day, because they were known to hold liberal sentiments in politics. I felt a natural curiosity then to hear how Dr. Macgill and Dr. Gibb would discuss a political question. The subject was, the nature of the Revolution Settlement of 1688. Dr. Gibb, as holding Tory sentiments, denied that the revolution settlement involved in any way, the question of a compact betwixt the prince and his subjects, or the right of the people by their representatives or otherwise to elect their civil rulers, or to change the mode of succession to the throne. He held the doctrine of hereditary transmission of the crown, and something like the divine right of kings. Dr. Macgill maintained the directly opposite of this. He held that there was an implied compact betwixt the king and the people involving mutual responsibilities; and that the mixed government of Great Britain, with its advantages, would be of no worth at all did it not possess an inherent and indefeasible power to rectify itself when any of its elements went out of place, or when the balance of power had gone wrong. He appealed to the settlement of the crown of Scotland on William and Mary in 1688, as an example of the inherent right of the representatives of the people to declare on good evidence that the crown was “forfeited,” and then to make offer of it to another. Dr. Gibb was somewhat nonplussed at this case, but tried to evade it by arguing that the instance was new; that James had actually “gone mad,” by his Popery and arbitrary power; and that necessity compelled the Scottish Convention to act as they did. This explanation was deemed unsatisfactory by most of those who were listening to the
debate; and we were all convinced that the Whig principle, of the people as the source of all political power, and of the compact betwixt prince and subjects as implying mutual duties, was the only sound basis of the British constitution. Indeed, even the decision which was pronounced by the Parliament of England on the flight of King James, seemed to imply all this ; for the terms in which it is expres. sed clearly prove the right of the representatives of the people to pronounce a sentence on the conduct of a tyrannical ruler. James, indeed, when he made his ignominious flight by the window of Greenwich Hospital, then a royal palace, might be said in a certain sense to have “ abdicated” the throne, and of this the English took advantage. But it was all a farce. James did not intend to "abdicate" the throne of his ancestors. He held it by what he considered a legitimate and proper title. He fled because he could not help himself. His sovereign will was in abeyance. Readily would he have returned from his ignominious flight had he received the slightest invitation to do so; and had the adherents of the di. vine right of kings been truly in earnest in asserting their principles, they were in duty bound either to have given him another trial, or at all events to have declared that the alteration of the succession was merely a temporary expedient. But the truth is, parties were very equally balanced; and a legal fiction secured in England that peaceful settlement of the crown, which in Scotland was the immediate result of the united voice of a highminded and indignant people.
It is a singular fact, that the effects of the restoration on Scotland and on England were diametrically opposite to each other. It was during the reign of Charles II. that many of the most liberal statutes for securing the civil and religious rights of the people were passed. This was effected, indeed, by means of a bold and high-spirited opposition that grew up during the later years of the long-continued Parliament of the restoration ; * but it may be traced also to the important fact that up to this period the statutes in favour of public liberty in England had been very few. It was otherwise in Scotland, where a variety of most val. uable statutes had been passed from 1633 to 1660, partly by means of the covenanting interest, and partly by the enlightened administration of Cromwell. All these were swept away by the act rescissory; and by various positive acts, the prerogative of the crown was extended to a degree that never had been known or claimed by any of His Majesty's ancestors. By the act of supremacy, the king's power, with respect to matters of religion,
* It is very common to look to the “revolution period” for the best specimens of genuine whiggism. It is true that such men as Somers, and Halifax, and a few more, well deserve admiration and esteem, but the duplicity and tergiversation of so many of the leaders of that day cannot but fill the impartial mind with disgust. A purer principle and a nobler patriotism are to be found among the opposition members of the second Parliament of Charles II., to whom, though few in number, and by no means raised above all selfish aims, posterity stands indebted for arresting the career of arbitrary power, and rousing that spirit of jealousy which, after many struggles, and many defeats, saved the liberties of England.