Page images
PDF
EPUB

ravaging one another; the exchequer shut up; the heir-presumptive of the crown an open Papist; and an army encamped near London under Popish officers ready to be transported into Holland to complete their ruin. When the dissenters, at such a time, laid aside their resentments against their persecutors, and renounced their own liberty for the safety of the Protestant religion, and the liberties of their country; all sober men began to think, it was high time to put a mark of distinction between them and the Roman Catholics.

But the king was of another mind; yet being in want of money, he was easily persuaded by his mistresses to give up his indulgence, contrary to the advice of the cabal, who told him, if he would make a bold stand for his prerogative, all would be well. But he came to the house March 8, and having pressed the commons to dispatch the money-bill, he added, " If there be any scruple yet remaining with you, touching the suspension of the penal laws, I bere faithfully promise you, that what has been done in that particular shall not for the future be drawn into example and consequence; and as I daily expect from you a bill for

my supply, so I assure you I shall as willingly receive and pass any other you shall offer me, that may tend to the giving you satisfaction in all your just grievances." Accordingly lie called for the declaration, and broke the seal with his own hands, by which means all the licences for meeting-houses were called in. Our historians* observe, that this proceeding of the king made a surprising alteration in lord Shaftesbury, who had been the soul of the cabal, and the master-builder of the scheme for making the king absolute; but that when his majesty was so unsteady as to desert him in the project of an indulgence after he had promised to stand by him, he concluded the king was not to be trusted, and appeared afterward at the head of the country party.

The Nonconformists were now in some hopes of a legal toleration by parliament, for the commons resolved, nemine contradicente, that a bill be brought in for the ease of his majesty's Protestant subjects, who are dissenters in matters of religion from the church of England. The substance of the bill was,

"1. That ease be given to his majesty's Protestant subjects dissenting in matters of religion, who shall subscribe the articles of the doctrine of the church of England, and shall take the oaths of allegiance and supremacy t. 2. That the said Protestant subjects be eased from all pains and penalties for not coming to church. 3. That the clause in the late act of uniformity, for declaring the assent and consent, be taken away by this bill. 4. That the said Protestant subjects be eased from all pains and penalties, for meeting together for performance of any religious exercises. 5. That every teacher shall give notice of the place where he intends to hold such his meetings to the quarter-sessions, where in open court lie shall first make such subscription, and take such oaths as aforesaid, and receive from thence a certificate thereof, where all such proceedings shall remain upon record. 6. That any such teacher may exercise as aforesaid, until the next respective quarter-sessions, and no longer, in case he shall not first take the oaths, and make such subscription before two of the neighbouring justices of the peace, and shall first give them notice of the place of his intended meeting, and take a certificate thereof under the said justices' hands, a duplicate whereof they are to return into the next

* Echard, p. 891. Burnet, vol. 2. p. 75.

† Echard, p. 889.

quarter-sessions. 7. The doors and passages of all houses and places where the said dissenters do meet shall be always open and free during the time of such exercise. 8. If any dissenter refuses to take the churchwardens' oaths, he shall then find another fit person, who is not a dissenter, to execute that office, and shall pay binn for it.” But though all agreed in bringing in a bill

, there was neither time nor unanimity enough in the house this sessions to agree upon particulars; for according to bishop Burnet, it went no farther than a second reading. Mr.

Echard says, it was dropped in the house of lords on account of • soine amendments, till the parliament was prorogued; but Mr. Coke says, more truly, that it was because the dead weight of bishops joined with the king and the caballing party against it*.

While this was depending the commons addressed the king against Papists and Jesuits, expressing their great concern to see such persons admitted into employments and places of great trust and profit, and especially into military commands, and therefore pray, that the laws against them may be put in execution. Upon which a proclamation was issued, though to very little purpose, enjoining all Popish priests and Jesuits to depart the realm, and the laws to be put in execution against all Popish recusants.

But his majesty making no mention of removing them from places of profit and trust, the commons, knowing where their strength lay, suspended their money-bill, and ordered a bill to be brought in, to confine all places of profit and trust to those only who are of the communion of the church of England: this is cominonly called the test act, and was levelled against the duke of York and the present ministry, who were chiefly of his persuasion. When it was brought into the house, the court opposed it with all their might, and endeavoured to divide the church-party, by proposing, that some regard might be had to Protestant dissenters, hoping by this means to clog the bill, and throw it out of the house; upon which alderman Love, a dissenter, and representative for the city, stood up again and said, he hoped the clause in favour of Protestant dissenters would occasion no intemperate heats; and moved, that since it was likely to prove so considerable a barrier against Popery, the bill might pass without any alteration, and that nothing might interpose till it was finished; and

* Detect. p. 490.

concerns.

then (says the alderman), we [dissenters] will try if the parliament will not distinguish us from Popish recusants, by some marks of their favour; but we are willing to lie under the severity of the laws for a time, rather than clog a more necessary work with our

These being the sentiments of the leading dissenters both in the house and without doors, the bill passed the commons with little opposition; but when it came to be debated in the house of peers, in the king's presence, March 15, the whole court was against it, except the earl of Bristol ; and maintained that it was his majesty's prerogative to employ whom he pleased in his service. Some were for having the king stand his ground against the parliament. The duke of Buckingham and lord Berkley* proposed bringing the army to town, and taking out of both houses the members who made opposition. Lauderdale offered to bring an army from Scotland; and lord Clifford told the king, that the people now saw through his designs, and therefore he must resolve to make himself master at once, or be for ever subject to much jealousy and contempt. But the earl of Shaftesbury, having changed sides, pressed the king to give the parliament full content, and then they would undertake to procure him the supply be wanted. This suited the king's easy temper, who, not being willing to risk a second civil war, went into these measures, and out of mere necessity for money, gave up the Papists, in hopes that he might afterward recover what in the present extremity he was forced to resign. This effectually broke the cabal, and put the Roman Catholics upon pursuing other measures to introduce their religion, which was the making way for a Popish successor of more resolute principles; and from hence we may date the beginning of the Popish plot, which did not break out till 1678, as appears by Mr. Coleman's letters. The bill received the royal assent March 25, together with the money-bill of 1,200,0001., and then the parliament was prorogued to October 20, after a short session of seven weeks.

The test act is entitled, An act to prevent dangers which happen from Popish recusants. It requires, that all persons bearing any office of trust or profit shall take the oaths of supremacy and allegiance in public and open court, and shall also receive the sacrament of the Lord's supper, according to the usage of the church of England, in some parish church, on some Lord's day, immediately after divine service and sermon, and deliver a certificate of having so received the sacrament, under the hands of the respective ministers and churchwardens, proved by two credible witnesses upon oath, and upon record in court. And that all persons taking the said oaths of supremacy and allegiance shall likewise make and subscribe this following declaration: '1, A. B., do declare, that I believe there is no transubstantiation in the sacrament of the Lord's supper, or in

Burnet, vol. 2. p. 75, 76.

the elements of bread and wine, at or after the consecration thereof by any person whatsoever.' The penalty of breaking through this act, is a disability of suing in any court of law or equity, being guardian of any child, executor or administrator to any person, or of taking any legacy, or deed of gift, or of bearing any public office: besides a fine of five hundred pounds."

Mr. Echard observes well, that this act was principally, if not solely, levelled at the Roman Catholics, as appears from the title; and this is farther evident from the disposition of the house of commons at this time, to ease the Protestant dissenters of some of their burdens. If the dissenters had fallen in with the courtmeasures, they might have prevented the bill's passing. But they left their own liberties in a state of uncertainty, to secure those of the nation. However, though the intention was good, the act itself is, in my opinion, very unjustifiable, because it founds dominion in grace. A man cannot be an exciseman, a customhouse officer, a lieutenant in the army or navy, no not so much as a tide-waiter, without putting on the most distinguishing badge of Christianity, according to the usage of the church of England. Is not this a strong temptation to profanation and hypocrisy? Does it not pervert one of the most solemn institutions of religion, to purposes for which it was never intended? And is it not easy to find securities of a civil nature, sufficient for the preservation both of church and state ? When the act took place, the duke of York lord high-admiral of England, lord Clifford lord high-treasurer, and a great many other Popish officers, resigned their preferments; but not one Protestant dissenter, there not being one such in the administration : however, as the church party shewed a noble zeal for their religion, bishop Burnet observes, that the dissenters got great reputation by their silent deportment; though the king and the court-bishops resolved to stick in their skirts *.

This being the last penal law made against the Nonconformists in this reign, it may not be improper to put them all together, that the reader may have a full view of their distressed circumstances : for besides the penal laws of queen Elizabeth, which were confirmed by this parliament; one of which was no less than banishment; and another a mulct on every one for not coming to church;

There were in force,

1st. An act for well governing and regulating corporations, 13 Car. II. c. 1. Whereby all who bear office in any city, corporation, town, or borough, are required to take the oaths and subscribe the declaration therein mentioned, and to receive the sacrament of the Lord's supper according to the rites of the church of England. This effectually turned the dissenters out of the government of all corporationis.

* Vol. 2. p. 80.

2d. The act of uniformity, 14. Car. II. c. 4. Whereby all parsons, vicars, and ministers, who enjoyed any preferment in the church, were obliged to declare their unfeigned assent and consent to every thing contained in the Book of Common Prayer, &c. or be ipso facto deprived: and all schoolmasters and tutors are prohibited from teaching youth without licence from the archbishop or bishop, under pain of three montlıs’ imprisonment.

3d. An act' to prevent and suppress seditious conventicles, 16 Car. II. c. 4. Whereby it is declared unlawful to be present at any meeting for religious worship, except according to the usage of the church of England, where five besides the family should be assembled; in which case the first and second offences are made subject to a certain fine, or three months' imprisonment, on conviction before a justice of the peace on the oath of a single witness; and the third offence, on conviction at the sessions, or before the justices of assize, is punishable by transportation for seven years.

4th. An act for restraining Nonconformists from inhabiting in corporations, 17 Car. II. c. 2. Whereby all dissenting ministers, who would not take an oath therein specified against the lawfulness of taking up arms against the king on any pretence whatsoever, and that they would never attempt any alteration of government in church and state; are banished five miles from all corporation towns, and subject to a fine of 401. in case they should preach in any conventicle.

5th. Another act to prevent and suppress seditious conventicles, 22 Car. II. c. 5. Whereby any persons who teach in such conventicles, are subject to a penalty of 201. for the first, and 401. for every subsequent offence; and any person who permits such a conventicle to be held in their house, is liable to a fine of 201.; and justices of peace are empowered to break open doors where they are informed such conventicles are held, and take the offenders into custody.

6th. An act for preventing dangers which may happen from Popish recusants, commonly called the test act, whereby (as afore-mentioned) every person is incapacitated from holding a place of trust under the government, without taking the sacrament according to the rites of the church of England.

By the rigorous execution of these laws, the Nonconformist ministers were separated from their congregations, from their maintenance, from their houses and families, and their people reduced to distress and misery, or obliged to worship God in a manner contrary to the dictates of their consciences, on a penalty of heavy fines, or of being shut up in a prison among thieves and robbers. Great numbers retired to the plantations; but Dr. Owen, who was shipping off his effects for New England, was forbid to leave the kingdom by express orders from king Charles himself. If there had been treason or rebellion in the

« PreviousContinue »