« ZurückWeiter »
A. 1674-tries to stem the torrent of religious persecution
by a letter to Bowls--and to two other Justices and to the King-writes for the same purpose " A Treatise of Oaths”-also “ England's present Interest considered"-contents of this work—also “ The continued Cry of the oppressed for Justice”-short extracts from the latter-also a Letter to the Senate of Embdenpublishes 66 Naked Truth needs no Shift”_ Ives's sover Request proved false”-and “ Libels no Proofs" --Letter to G. Fox on the subject of his release.
The declaration of indulgence to tender consciences in matters of religion, which was stated to have been granted by Charles the Second in 1671, had, for the short time it was in force, secured both the Quakers and other Dissenters from persecution ; but in the year 1674, to which I now come, an occurrence took place, which became the means of removing it. The Parliament, though upon the whole friendly to religious toleration, considered this declaration of indulgence by the King as an undue extension of his prerogative, and therefore called it in as illegal. This measure was wilfully misinterpreted by those in office, who were bi
gots, gots, as implying a wish on the part of Parliament that all privileges to Dissenters should be withdrawn; and therefore, to gratify their own barbarous prejudices, they availed themselves of this opportunity to consider the Conventicle Act as in force, and to renew their old practices. These cruel and wicked proceedings roused again the spirit of William Penn, and kept him employed, as we shall see, for nearly the remainder of the year.
Justice Bowls having led the way in Wiltshire by the persecution of Thomas Please, he was the first to attract the notice of William Penn; but the latter, not aware that this example would be so soon and so extensively followed, addressed to him only a short letter on the occasion.'
The next breaking out of intolerancy was in Middlesex, where two justices of the peace summoned several Quakers before them, who had been charged with having met together in religious worship contrary, to law. William Penn, on being made acquainted with the fact, addressed a moderate and respectful letter to them, in which he appealed to their own good sense on this
subject. Among the many excellent passages contained in it, I shall'select the following : “ Next, let it be weighed,” says he, " that we came not to our liberties and proper. ties by the Protestant religion. Their date rises higher. Why then should a nonconformity to it, purely conscientious, deprive us of them ? This or that sort of religion was not specified in the ancient civil government”-and further on he observes thus : “ The nature of body and soul, of earth and heaven, of this world and that to come, differs. There can be no reason, then, to persecute any man in this world about any thing that belongs to the next. Who art thou, says the Holy Scripture in this case, that judgest another man's servant ? He must stand or fall to his master, the great God. Let tares and wheat grow together till the harvest. To call for fire from heaven was no part of Christ's religion. Indeed he reproved the zeal of some of his disciples. His sword is spiritual, like his kingdom. Be pleased to remember, that faith is the gift of God, and what is not of faith is sin. We must either be hypocrites in doing what we believe in our consciences we ought not to do, or in forbearing what we are fully persuaded we ought to do. Either give us better faith, or leave us with such as we have; for it seems unreasonable in you to disturb us for that which we have, and yet be unable to give us any other."
But, alas, the evil began seriously to spread! The same spirit of persecution appeared in Somersetshire. Humsheer, the town clerk of Bridgwater, and William Bull and Colonel Stawell, two justices of the peace for that county, were conspicuous for their severity there. Several Quakers were fined on suspicion only. Fines were levied upon others without warrants, and this to the breaking of locks and bolts. Goods were seized and taken, which were of twice the value of the fines; and, where the former were not of equal value with the latter, the parties were sent to gaol. These proceedings becoming known to William Penn, he thought it time to interfere more seriously; and therefore, hoping to set aside these practices by a summary proceeding, he addressed a letter immediately on the subject to the
This letter appears to have been of no
avail (nor indeed could the King help himself); for persecution still continued, and it not only spread to other counties, but it was carried on by a revival of that unjust procedure, by which William Penn himself had been sent to Newgate by Sir John Robinson, as mentioned in a preceding chapter; that is, when magistrates could not convict Quakers of the charges brought against them, they offered them the oath of allegiance; knowing that, if they obeyed their own scruples, they could not take it, and that, if they refused, they might be sent to prison. This being the case, and innocent men being thus tortured legally, William Penn was of opinion, that the country at large ought to know what the Quakers had to say for their conduct, when put to the test, on such occasions. Accordingly he published “A Treatise of Oaths,” in which, first, he gave to the world all those reasons, both argumentative and scriptural, upon which they grounded their refusal to swear before the civil magistrate; hoping that these, when known, would at any rate shield them from the charge of disaffection, and, by so doing, that possibly they might put an end to the