Abbildungen der Seite

thing then, he maintained, could be more unjust than to sacrifice the liberty and property of any man for religion, where he was not found breaking any law which related to natural or civil things. Religion under any modification or church government was no part of the old English constitution. “Honette vivere, alterum non ladere, jus suum cuique tribuere,” that is, To live honestly, to do no injury to another, and to give every man his due, was enough to entitle every native to English privileges. It was thir, and not his religion, which gave him the great claim to the protection of the Government under which he lived. Near three hundred years before Austin set his foot on English ground the inhabitants had a good constitution. This came not in with him. Neither did it come in with Luther; nor was it to go out with Calvin. We were a free people by the creation of God, by the redemption of Christ, and by the careful provision of our never to be forgotten, honourable ancestors; so that our claim to these English privileges, rising higher than Protestantism, could never justly be invalidated on account of nonconformity to any tenet or fashion it might prescribe. This would be to lose by

L 2 the

the Reformation, which was effected only, that we might enjoy property with conscience. But if these ancient fundamental laws, so agreeable to nature, so suited to the dispositions of our nation, so often defended with blood and treasure, so carefully and frequently ratified by our ancestors, should not be to our great state-pilots as stars or compass for them to steer the vessel of the kingdom by, or as limits to their legislation, no man could tell how long he would be secure of his coat, enjoy his house, have bread for his children, or liberty to work for it, or life to eat it. He then argued the folly, the inconsistency, the evil tendency of acting in such cases by any other rules than those of the people's rights, and brought examples from history to show how a contrary conduct had operated to the downfall of many states.

With respect to the second part of the answer, that is, a determination by the Government of conducting itself so as to act upon a balance, as nearly as it could, towards the several religious interests, he proved, first, that our Saviour prohibited all force in producing an uniformity of religious


opinion. — He contended, secondly, that, if any one party should use force for such a purpose, it ought to have the preponderance in numbers, wisdom, wealth, sober life, industry, and resolution on its own side. But this was then not the case with the Church. If, however, the Church of England had then by the favour of the Government a greater share of authority than any other in the land, he maintained not only that the said Government ought not to favour one class of religious Dissenters more than another-but that it ought to preserve a due balance by treating all alike, and by freely giving, not a Comprehension, but Toleration to all. This latter sentiment he supported by eight arguments chiefly of a prudential nature, and drawn partly from general principles and partly from the political state of the kingdom, of which I have only room for the following. “It is not,” says he, “ the interest of Governours to blow coals in their own country, especially when it is to consume their own people, and it may be themselves too.” Again : “ Such conduct not only makes them enemies, but there is no such excitement to revenge as a


raped conscience. Whether the ground of a man's religious dissent be rational or not, severity is unjustifiable with him; for it is a maxim with sufferers, that, whoever is in the wrong, the persecutor cannot be in the right. Men not conscious to themselves of evil, and hardly treated, not only resent it unkindly, but are bold to shew it.” Again : “ Suppose the prince by his severity should conquer any into compliance, he could upon no prudent ground assure himself of their fidelity, that is, of the fidelity of those whom he taught to be treacherous to their own convictions."- Having detailed his eight arguments, he anticipated three objections which might be made to them, and then gave to each of these a distinct consideration and reply.

With respect to the third part of the answer, that is, a determination by the Government upon a sincere promotion of general and practical religion, I shall only observe, that, however excellent his sentiments were on that subject, it is unnecessary to repeat them, because the advantage of such a determination if put in practice must be obvious.


Notwithstanding this excellent work, persecution still followed those who dared to dissent practically from the Established Church, but particularly the Quakers ; and continuing to rage with unabated fury, he resolved to make one other effort in behalf of his suffering brethren. Finding that an appeal to reason, and to the law and constitution of the country, had failed with those to whom he had lately addressed himself, he determined to try to make an impression upon their feelings. He wrote therefore a small book, which he called “ The continued Cry of the oppressed for Justice, being a farther Account of the late unjust and cruel Proceedings of unreasonable Men against the Persons and Estates of many of the People called Quakers, only for their peaceable Meetings to worship God: presented to the serious Consideration of the King and both Houses of Parliament.” He began this book with an appropriate address to the three branches of the Constitution, after which he satisfied himself with relating in a plain and simple manner several of the atrocities which had taken place in different parts of the kingdom, hoping that the bare recital of them would


« ZurückWeiter »