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COMMUTING THE TITHES,
HAVING lately read your remarks concerning the commutation of tithes, in the British Review, for November 1816, No. 16; and having for some years interested myself respecting the present unequal, unjust, and oppressive tithe-in-kind-system; I must confess it gives me pleasure to find that you entertain a hope, that a commutation may be brought about by the joint efforts of the clergy and the people, which I am convinced of myself, could we all view the matter on a broad, open, and generous principle; and throw away every mean, narrow, and interested motive, which obstructs the accomplishment of so desirable an object. There are, I believe, many clergymen of the same opinion with yourself on this head, (though they do not avow it,) who see that an alteration is indispensably necessary for the benefit of religion; and I must add, for the benefit of agriculture, also.-Respecting the latter, I must beg leave to differ with you in some, if not in many points; likewise on "the rectitude of tithes," which you seem to uphold in some parts, though not in others; but consider, Sir, was the tithe-system founded upon perfect rectitude, and truth, no alteration would be wanting. They are foundation stones, which cannot be removed by human power. To provide for the established church and clergy of England liberally, is a most glorious act, and which act will never be repented of, (for it needs no repentance) provided justice regulates the deed, by regulating the sums for each claimant fairly, and by regulating the collection so equally, that, it may press lightly upon every one of property, and heavily upon no one.
Where then will be the man, who can step forward and say, "I am oppressed, and so grievously as hardly to be borne? No sooner do I by the sweat of my brow, and by the united exertions of my whole family, and small capital, produce an abundant crop, (at least a good crop) which would, with other crops, help to keep that family from poverty and distress, than the tenth of my waving harvest is instantly torn away, and that repeated every year, to the grief of myself and sons, who have worked hard to bring this harvest to perfection. Yet I behold the rich man, who fares sumptuously every day, and who lives hard by, paying not anything to the church and clergy. And why? because he is not a farmer. I, as a farmer, will cheerfully pay my part, or rather more, to uphold that venerable structure, to maintain that reverend body of men, the clergy; and in so doing, I consider myself fulfilling the wishes of my Maker, by supporting that holy and pure religion, which is taught in that church, by that respectable body of men. As a body of men, I say they are respectable. It is the system that is wrong, and not the clergy; the system drives a good man to do wrong, and sometimes makes what he calls his demand of right, appear most grossly wrong. Both church and clergy must be liberally upheld, or England herself will be a heap of ruin. Therefore, it is the duty of every man, to lend a helping hand and heart, to make the building so secure, as no time shall injure it; its ministers so good, as no enemy can assail them with effect."
You begin your Pamphlet, Sir, by saying: "The question respecting the commutation of tithes varies in its importance according to the aspect in which the national religion presents itself to the mind of the inquirer." I allow it does, some people thinking but lightly of religion, and the evil effects the tithe-system has upon it: while others, thinking of religion seriously, know too well the dire effects created by the present vexatious manner of collecting the dues of the church, and look forward to an alteration as a matter of the utmost importance, both as to church and state: both as to the improvement of religion and agriculture. You acknowledge, and justly too, that "with those who deem religion to be altogether priestcraft, or who, for whatever reason, profess an absolute indifference on the subject, we do not propose to discuss the question." It would be altogether useless, as the first class must have in a great degree, "their understandings darkened," and the other class being so luke-warm on the subject, our time and trouble would be thrown away. You then proceed, "Nor should we think it expedient to press into the consideration of the subject before us, any inquiry concerning the utility of religious establishments; or concerning the foundation on which the right of the clergy to their tithes may
properly be said to stand, if it were not that we perceive that many of those who are opposers of the tithe-system reason without sufficient data; which may happen in many cases from ignorance of the bearings of the several propositions of reform which they have espoused, and in some from a deficiency of feeling for tried and ancient institutions." I quote this sentence because it dwells on "the right of the clergy to their tithes." In answer to which I quote the following from Burn's Ecclesiastical Laws, Vol. 3rd. "On tithes." 1. Origin of tithes in England.
"What was paid to the church for several of the first ages after Christ, was all brought to them by way of offerings; and these were made either at the altar, or at the collections, or else occasionally." "Prideaux on Tithes, 139."
"Afterwards, about the year 794, Offa King of Mercia (the most potent of all the Saxon Kings of his time in this island) made a law, whereby he gave unto the church the tithes of all his kingdom; which, the historians tell us, was done to expiate for the death of Ethelbert King of the east Angles, whom in the year preceding, he had caused basely to be murdered, Id. 165. But that tithes were before paid in England by way of offerings, according to the ancient usage and decrees of the church, appears from the canons of Egbert, Archbishop of York, about the year 750; and from an epistle of Boniface, Archbishop of Mentz, which he wrote to Cuthbert, Archbishop of Canterbury, about the same time; and from the seventeenth canon of the general council held for the whole kingdom of Chalchuth, in the year 787. But this law of Offa was that, which first gave the church a civil right in them in this land by way of property and inheritance, and enabled the clergy to gather and recover them as their legal due, by the coercion of the civil power. Id. 167. Yet this establishment of Offa reached no farther than to the kingdom of Mercia, over which Offa reigned; until Ethelwulph, about sixty years after, enlarged it for the whole realm of England. Id. 167.
So much for the origin and "foundation" of tithes : their origin was bad, and their "foundation" a slippery one, besmeared with human gore; and though, to please the clergy, other princes have consented to them, it cannot justify the right. The longer they are sanctioned, the longer is injustice sanctioned also. Shall a prince have power to give away the tenth part of every Englishman's yearly produce to the clergy, to expiate for the death of any one he may basely choose to murder? to murder? Will such a base law do away so base a deed? In my humble opinion, it was making it worse, for it was adding robbery to murder. In the following words, Sir, I most cordially agree with you, and am always happy when I can consistently do so "Unless
the value of our establishment, and the sources of its permanence and security, are full before the eyes of him who enters upon the subject of the commutation of tithes, unless his preference of any substitute grounds itself upon the probability of its tendency to promote the interests of our national religion, unless the life of that which he searches and probes is the object of his unaffected solicitude, we would accept neither his council nor assistance.” My opinion is, that unless we keep in view the support of religion, church, and clergy, we shall do harm instead of good, by making any alteration in the tithe laws; but a compensation is justice every way, and appears to me a better word than commutation. Our established church, religion, and ministry must be liberally supported, or England herself must fall, which, God forbid. All must be united then in brotherly love, in aid of their support. You say, "the question is complicated with many considerations, all more or less of importance; but for above them all in rank and esteem, stand the venerable claims of that established part of our constitution-the church of England." Most surely she is the chief consideration, for on her hang all our hopes; she brought us up in infancy, shall we forsake her now, that we are older? We cannot do without her, though we think we can we still are weakly creatures. We want the tender precepts of a mother to guide us right; though in our own eyes we seem quite wise enough. The church is our common parent, and therefore merits our highest consideration; but, if she can be maintained in equal splendor and in greater justice, by a compensation in lieu of tithes in kind, surely no harm could arise from such a change; but on the contrary much good would ensue, as all litigation between the clergy and the people would be done away. Religion then would have full scope, and so would agriculture. I will allow, that " the prosperity of agriculture is just as inferior to the interests of religion as the body to the soul, or as the life that now is to that which is to come; but it is the bounden duty of us all to take care of both, to the utmost of our power; for one helps the other, and so doth industrious agriculture and pure religion assist each other. Do we not have doctors of divinity, to invigorate the soul, and make it bear up against the sorrows and misfortunes of this dreary world? And, do we not also have doctors of physic to strengthen the body when weak, and make it endure the labor of the day through heat or cold, sunshine or tempest? Are we to neglect the one, because the other is so much superior? Are we to neglect the duties on earth, because that heaven is promised to us? No; for it is on those earthly duties being strictly fulfilled, we have the promises of heaven. Then shall we neglect to improve agricul ture, which makes this earth worth having, because religion, VOL. XII. NO. XXIV. 21