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candidate at the general election, and advising his elergy not to vote for another, who had lately received the thanks of the dissenters. Mr. Fox spoke in animated terms of the merit of certain eminent characters among the dissenting clergy; but at the same time declared his disapprobation of their introducing political topics into the pulpit. Doctor Price, in his sermon on the anniversary of the English revolution, had delivered many noble sentiments, worthy of an enlightened philosopher, who was unconfined by local attachments, and gloried in the freedom of the whole human race ; but though he approved of his general principles, he considered his arguments as unfit for the pulpit. The clergy in their sermons ought no more to handle political topics, than that house ought to discuss subjects of morality and religion.
DECLARED himself averse to the motion. He had formerly delivered his sentiments upon this subject, and at the present moment he felt himself more strengthened and confirmed in his former opinions. The important question at issue, he said, plainly was, whether the house ought 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 must always be affected by any danger that threatened the other. To toleration the dissenters were undoubtedly entitled. They had a right to enjoy their liberty and their property, to entertain their
own speculative opinions, and to educate their offspring in such religious opinions as themselves approved. But the indispensable necessity of a permanent church establishment for the good of the state, required that toleration should not be extended to equality. If it were, there would be an end for ever to the wise policy of prevention, and a door would be opened to the absolute ruin of the constitution. It must be ad. mitted, that all cognizance of opinion might not be a warrantable ground for criminal accusation ; but it did not therefore follow, that an enquiry and test of a man's opinion, as the means of judging of his religious and constitutional principles, was not highly expedient. Our very liberties had been saved by virtue of this sanction. Had it not been for the bulwark of the test law, the Stuart family might now have been in possesion of the throne, and the mover of the present question never have had the opportunity of delivering those opinions, which they had that day heard.
Mr. Pitt considered it as an unquestionable principle, that public offices were established for the benefit of the community, and that the community was served by maintaining some distinction in their distribution. The idea therefore of a right to civil offices, was absurd and ridiculous. Suppose the case of a republic, the government of which was a perfect democracy, and the officers of state elective out of the general body. Imagine any form of religion or superstitious ceremony to be professed by a small part of the people, the tendency of which was to overthrow the democratic equality, and consequently, the constitution itself. Would not the majority 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? But similar to this was the very object, for 'which our test laws were enacted. They were to be I garded as a species of jealousy of the monarch, which had never been considered as unconstitutional : they had
a direct tendency to check the exercise of the royal prerogative, which was a circumstance never very unpopular in a free state: and he hesitated not to admit, that, if a distrust were to be entertained of any of the three branches of the constitution, it ought to be of the executive pow.
He had no idea of such levelling principles, as those which warranted to all citizens an equality of rights
, as if the whole revenue under the controul of government were to be equally distributed among the public, from whom it was received. It was said, the Americans had no test laws. But the American constitution resembled ours neither in church nor state; and he sincerely wish. ed it resembled it more than it did, in affording equal security for the liberty and happiness of the subject
. The essence of policy consisted in a watchful care for the general good. Where, therefore the interest and rights of individuals came in competition with those of the public, policy claimed precedence even over justice
. Neither the merits nor demerits of individuals ought undoubtedly to have any influence in the discussion of the present question. Yet the conduct of the dissenters seemed to him liable to just reprehension ; who, at the very moment they were reprobating the test law, discovered an intention of forming associations through the whole country, for the sole purpose of imposing a test upon the members of that house, and judging of their fitness to discharge their parliamentary duty, from their votes upon this single question. Without intending to throw any stigma upon the dissenters, he did not hesitate a moment in supposing it extremely probable, that they might exercise the power they demanded, for the subversion of the present establishment. Their conduct could not be reprehensible in acting upon the principles they professed ; and, regarding as they did the established church as sinful and idolatrous, conscience and consistency seemed to require that they should exercise every legal means for its destruction.
On the Same.
OBSERVED, that, at two preceding periods when the question had been agitated, he had absented himself from the house, not having brought his mind to any de. cision upon the subject. He was now however, from information lately received, ready to say, that he could not give his vote in favour of the present motion. Mr. Fox had begun his speech with laying down the principles of toleration and persecution. All persecution, civil or religious, was odious ; but care ought to be taken, that men did not, under colour of an abstract principle, put the change upon their own minds. Abstract principles he had never been able to bear ; he detested them when a boy, and he liked them no better now that he had silver hairs. He must have a principle embodied in some manner or other, and the conduct inferred from it ascertained, before he could pretend to judge of its propriety and advantage. But of all abstract principles, those of natural right, upon which the dissenters rested as their strong hold, were the most idle and most dangerous. They superseded society, and snapped asunder, all those bonds, which had for ages constituted the happiness of mankind. Abstract principles of natural right had been long since given up, for the sake of what was much better, society ; which substituted in their room the dictates of wisdom and justice. It annihilated all our natural rights, and drew to its mass the parts of which they were composed; it took in, as its instruments, all the virtue of the virtuous, and all the wisdom of the wise ; it gave life, security and action to every faculty of the soul, and secured the possession of every comfort,
which those proud and boastful rights impotently held out, but could not bestow. It gave alms to the indigent, defence to the weak, instruction to the ignorant, employment to the industrious, consolation to the despairing, support to the helpless, nurture to the aged, faith to the doubtful, and charity to the whole human race. It dif. fused its beneficent exertions, from acts of tenderness to the infant when it first cried in the cradle, to acts of comfort and preparation to the dying man on the way to the tomb.
That he might not be charged with calumniating a body of men, whose interests he had formerly espoused, Mr. Burke said, he would produce such facts as with him amounted to a satisfactory proof, that the fears he entertained of the church's danger were not of that kind of terror which originated in mere cowardice or unmanly weakness ; but the reasonable conviction of a man, alive to the preservation of that for which he was most deeply interested. Mr. Burke quoted certain passages from the political catechism of Mr. Robert Robinson, the sermon of Dr. Price, and the polemical writings of Dr. Priestley, and read a letter of a dissenting minister in Lancashire, descriptive of the violent proceedings of an assembly of dissenters, from which he had thought it necessary to withdraw himself.
From these testimonies Mr. Burke inferred, that the leading preachers among the dissenters were avowed enemies to the church of England, and that they made no scruple to acknowledge their intentions. He observed, that nothing could have been to all appearances more secure than the hierarchy of France at a very short period since ; and he adjured the house of commons to suffer the fatal incidents which had attended that church, plundered and demolished in so disgraceful a manner, to awaken their zeal for the preservation of our present happy and excellent establishment. Mr. Burke confessed, that, had the question been brought forward ten years ago, he should have voted for the repeal ; but circumstances convinced