« ZurückWeiter »
mittee in order to draw the articles of impeachment before they had resolved to impeach, they would set their committee an idle, and, possibly in the end, a fruitless task; for, having ultimately to look at the question in a new light, and to decide upon the impressions of all the criticisms and sentiments of different gentlemen, the great question would prove very much weakened, and would be decided upon under circumstances much more unfavourable to it than at present. Perhaps there might be precedents for the mode of proceeding recommended by the right honourable gentleman. Indeed, so many were on the journals, and those so various and contradictory, that there was scarcely any mode of proceeding, however absurd and however unconstitutional, for which a precedent might not be quoted; but he much doubted whether any precedent would bear out the proposition just made. He had examined a great variety, and the nearest which he could find was that of Lord Danby, but it did not exactly meet the present case. Mr. Fox recited at large the particulars of the case of Lord Danby's impeachment; and after stating them circumstantially, pointed out the different modes of proceeding which had prevailed afterwards, as well as those, in times more modern, mentioning the impeachments of Lord Bolingbroke, Lord Orford, &c. &c. and afterwards Lord Oxford and Sir Robert Walpole, coming at length to the case of Lord Macclesfield, where the whole had originated in a message from the crown, upon examining the papers laid on the table, by which the House had immediately resolved to impeach, and had sent a message to the Lords to that effect. After enlarging upon these particulars, Mr. Fox returned to his former argument, and observed, that the mode which he had taken the liberty to recommend, he was convinced was the shortest, the best, the most likely to secure the end, and that which he could not conceive any gentleman, who meant to act fairly and sincerely in this business, or any other of the same kind which might occur in future, and who did not mean some fallacy, or by some trick to abandon it, could object to. In saying this, he begged not to be understood as designing to insinuate that any such fallacy was intended in the present instance, much less that the right honourable gentleman was not himself as sincerely desirous of sending the matter to the House of Lords as he was. He had not the smallest doubt but that he was equally serious on the occasion; but he wished to guard against establishing a precedent which might by bad men be abused in future times. He could not, therefore, but express his surprise that the right honourable gentleman should wish to pursue a different mode, and the more especially as he saw no reason why the amendments at which he hinted need be at all supposed an argument against the general question. Excepting only in the charge against contracts, had the right honourable gentleman made any distinction so strong as to prevent his generally voting with the resolution moved upon each of the charges carried. If, therefore, he had not objected, notwithstanding the various distinctions and differences which he had taken upon several of the charges, to vote that most of them contained matter of impeachment, why could he not consent to impeach, and in framing the specific articles, take the sense of the committee upon each of his wished-for amendments ? Mr. Fox added, that if he appeared to deliver his sentiments with some emotion upon the present occasion, he could declare that it was a natural warmth rather arising from his consciousness of the importance of the business, and his sense of the deep degree in which the honour, the dignity, and the character of the House and of the nation, were involved, than from any spark of passion or intemperance of feeling. He had merely delivered his individual sentiments, independent of party or connection. They might possibly not be supported; but as he really thought he could not, without betraying the cause, countenance any other mode of proceeding, so he could not lend himself to its support; and if a ques·tion were put on the mode proposed by the right honourable gentleman, he should be obliged to vote against it.
The report was ordered to be taken into further consideration on the following day; when the resolutions of the committee were agreed to, and Mr. Burke moved that they should be referred to a committee to prepare articles of impeachment upon the same, and that the committee consist of the following persons : Mr. Burke, Mr. Fox, Mr. Sheridan, Sir James Erskine, Mr. Thomas Pelham, Mr. Windham, Mr. Francis, Mr. St. John, Mr. Anstruther, Mr. Adam, Mr. M. A. Taylor, Mr. Welbore Ellis, Mr. Frederick Montague, Sir Grey Cooper, Sir Gilbert Eliot, Mr. Dudley Long, Lord Maitland, Mr. North, General Burgoyne, and Mr. Grey.
MR. BEAUFOY'S MOTION FOR THE REPEAL OF THE TEST
AND CORPORATION Acts.
March 28. D URING this session a subject was introduced into the House
of Commons, which became repeatedly the object of its consideration in succeeding sessions; this was a proposition for the
repeal of the corporation and test acts, as far as related to the protestant dissenters, who flattered themselves that their recent support of the minister of the crown would induce him to lend a favourable ear to their application. Delegates were appointed to arrange and conduct their plans, who did not directly petition parliament, but first published and dispersed the following paper, which they called “ The Case of the Protestant Dissenters, with Reference to the Test and Corporation Acts :
“ In the year 1672, the 25th of the reign of King Charles II. an act was passed, entitled, "An act for preventing dangers which may happen from popish recusants:' by which it is enacted, “That all and every person or persons, that shall be admitted, entered, placed, or taken into, any office or offices, civil or military, or shall receive any pay, salary, fee, or wages, by reason of any patent or grant of his majesty, or shall have command or place of trust from or under his majesty, his heirs or successors, or by his or their authority, or by authority derived from him or them, within this realm of England, dominion of Wales, or town of Berwick-uponTweed , or in his majesty's navy, or in the several islands of Jersey and Guernsey, or that shall be admitted into any service or employment in his majesty's household or family, shall receive the sacrament of the Lord's Supper, according to the usage of the church of England, within three months after his or their admittance in, or receiving their said authority and employment, in some public church, upon some Lord's day, commonly called Sunday, immediately after divine service.
< The circumstances of the time, when this bill passed, were very remarkable. Papists were indulged in their religion, and many of them were employed in the great offices of state. The king himself was suspected of popery, and the Duke of York, his presumptive heir, had openly declared himself of that religion. This bill was introduced in direct opposition to the court; the penal laws having been suspended, contrary to acts of parliament, by the royal proclamation, chiefly in favour of papists, at the very time when a war was begun to destroy the only protestant state by which England could expect to be supported in the defence of her religion and liberties. On these accounts, the minds of all zealous protestants were in the utmost fear and consternation; and, accordingly, the design of the act was, as the preamble declares, “to quiet the minds of his majesty's good subjects, by preventing dangers which might happen from popish recusants.'
" The protestant dissenters apprehend, therefore, that this act, as the title sets forth, was made wholly against papists, and not to prevent any danger which could happen to the nation or church from the dissenters. Indeed, so far were the protestant nonconformists from being aimed at in this act, that, in their zeal to rescue the nation from the dangers which were at that time apprehended from popish recusants, they contributed to the passing of the bill ; willingly subjecting themselves to the disabilities created by it rather than obstruct what was deemed so necessary to the common welfare. Alderman Love, a member of the House of Commons, and a known dissenter, publicly desired, that nothing with relation to them might intervene to stop the security which the nation and protestant religion might derive from the test act, and declared that in this he was seconded by the greater part of the nonconformists. This conduct was so acceptable to parliament, that, in the very session in which the test act passed, and while that act was depending, a bill was brought into the House of Commons, entitled, “A bill for the ease of protestant dissenters.'
This bill, having passed through the different stages of that House, was carried up to the House of Lords, where likewise it passed, with some amendments. These amendments having given occasion to a conference between the two Houses, King Charles II., from an apprehension that the measure would prove injurious to the popish interest, on the 29th of March, 1673, adjourned the parliament to the 20th of October following. In the next session, an attempt was made, in the House of Commons, to discriminate the dissenters from the papists, with regard to their qualifications for public offices, by bringing in a bill for a general test, to distinguish protestants from papists; which bill, having been read a second time, and referred to a committee, was laid aside without being reported.
« The late reverend and learned Dr. Burnet, Bishop of Salisbury, in a speech in the House of Lords, in the year 1703, took particular notice of the conduct of the dissenters, with regard to the test-act; and justly concluded, that, as the act was obtained in some measure by their concurrence, it would be hard to turn it against them.
“ Though King William III., of glorious memory, had refused, when Prince of Orange, to give his approbation to the repeal of the test-act and other penal laws against papists, knowing that the measure was countenanced by King James II. with the sole view of introducing Roman catholics into public offices, and that it would have been at that time dangerous to the protestant religion and the liberties of the people; yet, when he was raised to the throne of these kingdoms, and no danger could be justly apprehended, he told his first parliament, in one of his speeches, that he hoped they would leave room for the admission of all protestants who were willing and able to serve him; and that such a conjunction in his service would tend to the better uniting them among themselves, and strengthening them against their common adversaries.' Accordingly, when the bill was brought in for abrogating the oaths of allegiance, &c. to King James II. a clause was ordered to be added for taking away the necessity of receiving the sacrament as a qualification for civil offices. This clause the House of Lords rejected, contrary to the sentiments of many noble peers, the stedfast friends of their country, and distinguished promoters of the revolution; who declared, in their protest, That a greater caution ought not to be required, from such as are admitted into offices, than from the members of the two Houses of parliament, who are not obliged to receive the sacrament to enable them to sit in either House.'
“ The test-act is not the only statute by which the civil rights of the dissenters are abridged. In the year 1661, the 13th of Charles II., the year after the Restoration, an act was passed, entitled, “ An act for the well-governing and regulating of corporations ;' by which it is provided, " That no person or persons, shall for ever hereafter be placed, elected, or chosen in, or to, any corporation-offices, that shall not have, within one year before such election or choice, taken the sacrament of the Lord's Supper according to the rites of the church of England.' This act, which was passed in a period of great heat and violence, was probably designed against some of the protestant dissenters: · For,' as a noble lord * expresses himself, 'in those times, when a spirit of intolerance prevailed, and severe measures were pursued, the dissenters were reputed and treated as persons ill-affected and dangerous to government. But both Houses of parliament in a short time entertained different sentiments of them; and, before the end of that reign, discovered an inclination to relieve them from the disabilities created both by the corporation and test-acts.
“ On the 24th of December, in the year 1680, a bill was ordered into the House of Commons, for repealing the corporation-act. On the 6th of January following, this bill was read a second time, and referred to a committee. While this bill was depending in the House of Commons, a bill came down from the Lords, entitled, “An act for distinguishing protestant dissenters from popish recusants. It doth not appear that there was any division on either of these bills, but they were defeated by the sudden prorogation of the parliament on the 10th of January. The Commons, being apprized of the king's intention, had only time to pass some votes on the state of the nation, one of which is in these words ; ' That it is the opinion of this House, that the prosecution of protestant dissenters, upon the penal laws, is, at this time, grievous to the subject, a weakening of the protestant interest, an encouragement to popery, and dangerous to the peace of the kingdom.'
“ Such public testimonies, in parliament, in favour of the protestant dissenters, they cannot but consider as affording a full evidence of their zeal and concern for the protestant religion and the liberties of these kingdoms, and of their being hearty and sincere friends to the public peace, both in church and state. They therefore humbly hope for the repeal of the said acts for the following reasons :
1. « Every man, as it is now universally acknowledged, has an undoubted right to judge for himself in matters of religion; nor ought his exercise of this right to be branded with a mark of infamy.
2. «« The holy sacrament of the Lord's supper, being a matter purely of a religious nature, and being appointed by our blessed Saviour only for the remembrance of his death, ought not to be applied to the secular ends of civil societies.
3. “ As dissenters are universally acknowledged to be wellaffected to his majesty and the established government, and are ready to take the oaths required by law, and to give the fullest proof of their loyalty, they think it hard that their scruple to re
* See Lord Mansfield's speech in the House of Lords, February 4, 1767. New Parl. Hist. vol. xvi. p. 316.