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keeping, as our souls are now. Thus in France, the emetic was once forbidden as a medicine, and the potatoe as an article of food. Government is just as infallible too, when it fixes systems in physics. Galileo was sent to the inquisition for affirming that the earth was a sphere'; the Government had declared it to be as flat as a trencher, and Galileo was obliged to abjure his error. This error at length prevailed, the earth became a globe, and Descartes declared it was whirled round its axis by a vortex. The Government was wise enough to see that this was no question of civil jurisdiction, or we should all have been involved by authority in vortices. The vortices have been exploded, and the Newtonian principle of gravitation is now more firmly established on the basis of Reason, than it would be, if the Government were to step in, and make it an article of necessary faith. Reason and Experiment have been indulged, and Error has fled before them. It is Error alone which needs the support of Government. Truth can stand by itself. .
- Subject opinion to coercion, and whom will you make your Inquisitors ? Fallible Men: men governed by bad passions, by private as well as public reasons. And why subject it to coercion ? To produce uniformity. But is uniformity desirable? No more than of face or stature. Introduce the bed of Procrustes then; and as there is danger that the large men may beat the small,
make us all of a size, by lopping the former and stretching the latter. ,
“Difference of opinion is advantageous in Religion. The several sects perform the office of a “ censor morum” over each other. Is uniformity attainable? Millions of innocent men, women, and children, since the introduction of Christianity, have been burnt, tortured, fined, and imprisoned ; and yet we have not advanced one inch towards uniformity. What has been the effect of coercion ? To make one half the world fools, and the other half hypocrites; to support roguery and error all over the earth. ..“ Let us reflect that it is inhabited by a thousand millions of people; that these profess probably a thousand different systems of religion ; that ours is but one of that thousand ; that if there be but one right, and ours that one, we should wish to see the 999 wandering sects gathered into the fold of truth. But against such a majority, we cannot effect this by force. Reason and persuasion are the only practicable instruments. To make way for these, free inquiry must be indulged ; and how can we wish others to indulge it, when we refuse it ourselves ?”*
In consequence of this paper the Virginians altered their law. “We are well aware.” says the Toleration Act, “ that Almighty God has made
the mind of man free ;--that all attempts to influence it by temporal punishments or burdens, or by civil incapacities, tend only to beget habits of hypocrisy and meanness ;--that the impious presumption of legislators and rulers, civil as well as ccclesiastical, who being themselves but fallible men have assumed dominion over the faith of others, setting up their own opinions as the only true and infallible, and as such endeavouring to impose them on others, hath established and maintained false religions over the greatest part of the earth and through all time ;-that to compel a man to furnish contributions of money for the propagation of opinions he disbelieves, is sinful and tyrannical ;-that our civil rights have no dependance on our religious opinions, more than our opinions on physics, or geometry ;-—and that therefore the proscribing any citizen, as unworthy the public confidence, by laying upon him an incapacity of being called to offices of trust and emolument, unless he profess, or renounce, this or that religious opinion, is depriving him injuriously of those privileges and advantages to which in common with his fellow citizens he has a natural
After enacting the most complete religious freedom, the act concludes with this admirable observation :-“ And though we well know that this assembly, elected by the people for the ordinary purposes of legislation only, has no power to restrain the acts of succeeding assemblies, constituted with powers equal to our own; and that therefore to declare this act irrevocable, would be of no effect in law; yet we are free to declare, and do declare, that the Rights hereby asserted, are the natural Rights of Mankind, and that if any act shall be hereafter passed to repeal the present, or to narrow its operation, such act will be an infringement of Natural Right.” *
Maryland was the last to adopt Religious Equality; but this State, yielding to public opinion, has now abolished the acts, that placed under certain civil incapacities a race of men, who have for ages been much persecuted and calumniated. The Jews, instead of being respected for the firmness, with which, even under the most horrible persecutions, they have adhered to the faith of their forefathers, have been oppressed, and almost placed out of the pale of the law, in nearly every country of Europe. I recollect when at school at Eton, asking an old Jew who sold oranges, why he had never embraced Christianity; and his reply made a great impression on me, and induced me to look upon the Jews with much more respect than before. “I despise," said he, “ any man who quits the faith of his fathers, merely because it is abused by the ignorant and bigoted."
The United States have been the first to throw
* From the Virginian act for the freedom of religious wore ship, passed in 1786.
off the prejudices entertained against this unhappy people, and to admit them to all the Rights enjoyed by their fellow-citizens. Thus Mr. M. Noah of New York, a gentleman of great abilities, was a year or two ago elected high sheriff of that city, in spite of the opposition of some fanatics, who opposed him from his being a Jew. I am surprised that all who profess the Hebrew faith do not emigrate to the United States, as they would there not only be free from civil incapacities, (particularly as regards landed property,) but would even find themselves eligible to the highest offices in the Republic.
Every sect, of which there are probably as many in the United States as there are in Great Britain, supports its own ministers, and regulates its own ecclesiastical concerns. The Episcopalians and the Catholics have Bishops, and are, I believe, the only sects that support such dignitaries. When any set of men professing a particular creed are in want of a church, they build one by subscription, and give the profits, arising from the pews or seats, to the clergyman they may appoint. - These profits, in addition to a certain fixed salary, form the income of the clergyman, who in general finds this sufficient to live upon, and often enough to support him even in affluence.
The two sects that are the most enlightened and liberal are the Episcopalians and the Unitarians, and both are in consequence gaining ground. The