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STATE OF RELIGIOUS LIBERTY.
In the first period of this history, religious liberty was seen obtaining an establishment in England, under the enlightened patronage of king William ; but afterwards trembling for her very existence, in the latter end of queen Anne's reign. A more delightful scene was presented by the second period ; religious liberty advancing with uniform steps, and taking under her protection not only the original dissenters, but both the tribes of methodists, though some of them were almost unwilling to claim her aid. In the third and last period, to which we now pro. ceed, the prospect is more varied, but it is on the whole pleasing: by the superintending care of divine Providence, the way has been safe ; and religious liberty has maintained her ground, and asserted her rights.
In the eventful reign of George the third, the dissenters have not retained that high degree of favour with the court which they had enjoyed ever since the accession of the house of Hanover. They had before been treated with the highest confidence, as cordial and unshaken friends ; but they now began to be viewed by many members of the administrations with jealousy and suspicion, if not with aversion and disgust. To this unfavourable change various causes successively contributed, which with
their influence on the public mind it will be necesary to detail.
Time, which often produces what reason and argu. ment could not effect, had made a considerable alteration in the clergy of the establishment. From the era of the accession, the majority of them were disaffected to the house of Hanover, and cherished in their bosoms the exiled family of Stewart as the legitimate claimants of the British throne. But seeing no prospect of their restoration, they began to despair of success in the attainment of their wishes; and a new generation rising up to the priesta hood, of similar political principles, but less strongly attached to the particular object of loyalty, about the beginning of this reign they forsook the Stewarts, and became most passionately enamoured of George the third, and the existing government. So great an accession of strength was of high importance: they were therefore received with open arms, and shared liberally in the favour of the court, and in the dignities and emoluments of the church.
Into this new state of favour they brought with them all their former principles. Like their predecessors, they entertained the most exalted ideas of the powers and prerogatives of kings, and an aversion to all who were without the pale of the establishment, whom they designated by the title of schismatics and fanatics. These sentiments, to which the moderate dignitaries of the two former reigns were strangers, began to echo from the pulpits, and were insinuated into the ears of the court. That a doctrine so palatable should be received with pleasure, and its advocates cherished as faithful and amiable friends, is exceedingly natural. How
few are there who possess power but wish for more? at least they love the ghostly prophets who bring them tidings from heaven that it is their right, and denounce a curse on those who would contract its limits. Insinuations were also thrown out by these new favourites against the dissenters as a dangerous body, disaffected both to church and state, republican in their principles, enemies to kings and thrones, and determined foes to the established clergy and bishops, the great and firm pillars of monarchy. As this doctrine was blended with the former, it was more readily listened to ; and as the dissenters were no longer needed for support, they sunk into disesteem, and then became suspected of evil designs against the existing order of things. The part which the generality of dissenters took in some important political questions that divided the inhabitants of England during this reign, seemed to sanction these opinions, and to prove the accusations just.
The first remarkable event which took place, was the American revolution. To particular notice in this history it lays claim from the connection which the dissenters had with the ministers and people of that country, and the interest they felt in the. unhappy contest; its influence on the cause of religious liberty throughout the civilized world; and the many jinportant lessons which by placing the citizens of America in a state respecting religion unknown before, it has taught and is still teaching mankind.
The dispute with America was the first political event, since the accession of the house of Hanover, which discovered a difference of opinion between the dissenters and the government. Like most: family
quarrels it was injurious to both parties, and peculiarly unfortunate in its issue. Colonies are in general placed in a very unfavourable situation. The primary object of their existence and prosperity is to promote the benefit of the parent state ; and where interests clash, theirs must always be sacrificed to its claims. While they are weak and inconsiderable, and, besides, stand in need of patronage and defence, these disadvantages may be overlooked; but as they advance in population and opulence, the grievance will be more sensibly felt, and without great moderation in the mother country, a separation with violence will be the final result.
The hardships of the first settlers in all the parts of America had been great, but of those in the North dreadful beyond expression; and it was by their own energies that they surmounted the numerous difficul. ties which frequently threatened them with destruction. But time, fortitude, and patience securing to them a firm footing in the country, their progress in population and in improvements became rapid beyond example; and being cherished by the fostering care of Great Britain, which found her interest in the patronage and prosperity of her colonies, at the conclusion of the war of 1757 they amounted to more than three millions, who were living in a greater degree of comparative abundance and comfort than any other of the subjects in the empire. That war was terminated in 1763, and, according to the sentiments of the men of the world, in a manner very glorious to the British arms; but having involved the country in the natural effects of this glory, a considerable increase of the national debt, for which it was found difficult to provide, the
ministers turned their eyes to America, and wished to impose on that country a part of the burden. In 1765 the apple of discord was thrown down by the British parliament, when the stamp act was passed, to subject the Americans to direct contributions for the benefit of the empire.
No sooner were these proceedings known on the other side of the Atlantic, than the affection and confidence which had hitherto reigned there, gave place to jealousy and distrust. The Americans were a.. high spirited people; their ideas of political liberty bordered more on the republican than the monarchial form. They lived too in a degree of practical freedom from restraint, and of uncontrouled managernent of their internal affairs, which was scarcely known in Europe, and which tended to fill them with more exalted thoughts of their own personal consequence. Having no nobility among them to decorate society they grew up without the sentiments of veneration for the order which were, at that time, universally felt in Europe: nor were the few who were sent to them in the form of governors the best calculated to inspire it. Feeling nothing analogous to the influence of these restraints which the various lines of subordination create among us, and conceiving themselves equal to any of the sons of Adam, their high spirits were not to be terrified with threatenings, nor soothed with flatteries, nor overawed by the pomp and ornaments of official dignity ; so that when their wishes were opposed, they were the most difficult to be governed of perhaps any people on the face of the earth. Indeed, unless the measures pursued were agreeable to themselves, and appeared conducive to their welfare, no dependence could be placed on their subjection and attachment.