« ZurückWeiter »
oppressive process in question. He then endeavoured to enforce these reasons by a learned appeal to the opinion and practice of the ancients, as it related to the Heathen world; by a reference to the testimony of the most famous Jewish writers; and by quotations from the sayings and writings of Christians of all ages, taking in those of fathers, confessors, martyrs, and others eminent both among the laity and the church.
But this work, however it might have softened some, had not the least influence (such was the religious fury of the times) where it was most to be desired. Bigots, who had power, still continued to abuse it. Persons were thrown into gaol, so that parents and their children were separated. Cattle were driven away. The widow's cow was not even spared. Barns full of corn were seized, which was thrashed out and sold. Household-goods were distrained, so that even a stool was not left in some cases to sit on, and the very milk boiling on the fire for the family thrown to the dogs in order to obtain the skillet as a prize. These enormities sometimes took place on suspicion only that persons had preached to or
attended a conventicle ; and to such length were they carried, that even some of those who went only to visit and sit by their sick relations, were adjudged to be a company met to pray in defiance of the law. In this trying situation William Penn attempted again to stem the torrent by a work of a new kind. He indulged a hope, that, if he could not affect some men's minds by one kind of argument, he might by another. In addition therefore to his moral and religious Treatise upon Oaths, he published a political one under the following title: “ England's present Interest considered with Honour to the Prince and Safety to the People, in Answer to this one Question, What is most fit, easy, and safe at this Juncture of Affairs to be done for quieting Differences, allaying the Heat of contrary Interests, and making them subservient to the Interest of the Government, and consistent with the Prosperity of the Kingdom? submitted to the Consideration of our Superiors,”.
Of this admirable work I cannot but notice the contents. He began it by a short preface. In this he showed the heated and divided state in which the kingdom then
was on account of religious differences. He maintained that what had been done by the Government to produce uniformity had failed; and that it had been productive not only of no good, but of much misery. He explained the nature of this misery by specific instances. He then stated the question as I have just given it in the title of the book, and answered it by asserting, that the thing most fit, safe, and easy to be done, would be a determination by the Government, first, upon an inviolable and impartial maintenance of English rights ; secondly, upon conducting itself so as to act upon a balance, as nearly as it could, towards the several religious interests; and, thirdly, upon a sincere promotion of general and practical religion.
Having finished this, the preface, he came to the body of the work, in which he considered the three parts or divisions of the answer as now given. In handling the first, or the determination by Government upon an inviolable and impartial maintenance of English rights, he explained what he meant by the latter. Englishmen, he said, had birth-rights. The first of these consisted of an ownership and undisturbed possession, so
that what they had was rightly their own and nobody's else, and such possession and ownership related both to title and security of estate, and liberty of person from the violence of arbitrary power. This was the situation of our ancestors in ancient British times. They who governed afterwards, the Saxons, made no alteration in this law, but confirmed it. The Normans, who came next, did the same. William, at his coronation, made a solemn covenant to maintain the good, approved, and ancient laws of the kingdom, and to inhibit all spoil and unjust judgement. The same covenant was adopted by his successors, and confirmed by Magna Charta. The second birth-right of Englishmen consisted in
the voting of every law that was made, where· by that ownership in liberty and property might
be maintained. This also was the case, as he proved by quotations from laws and an appeal to history, in British, Saxon, and Norman times.---The third birth-right of Englishmen consisted in having an influence upon and a great share in the judicatory power, so that they were not to be condemned but by the votes of freemen. This practice, he said, though not perhaps British, obtained very VOL. I.
early in Saxon times. It was among the laws of Ethelred, that in every hundred there should be a court, where twelve ancient free men, together with the lord of the hundred, should be sworn that they would not condemn the innocent or acquit the guilty. The same law continued to be the law of the land under different kings, till it was violated by John ; when Magna Charta restored it. Magna Charta, however, he maintained, was not the nativity, but the restorer of ancient English privileges. It was no grant of new rights, but only a restorer of the old. He then explained the Great Charter of England, and endeavoured to show by an appeal to reason, law, lawyers, and facts themselves, that the people of England could not be justly disseized of any of these fundamentals without their own consent collectively; nor could their representatives, whatever else they might do, constitutionally alter them. If, however, any alteration should be made in these great fundamentals of the constitution, the reason should be thé inconvenience or evil of continuing them. No other reason could be pleaded in excuse; but no such justification had been attempted. No