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AS a member of that body, which cannot feel indifferent to the fate of the question respecting the Test Laws, now pending in Parliament, and which assuredly involves the peace and permanency of the Establishment, permit me to address to you a few observations on the subject of your speech in the House in favour of the repeal of those laws.
In the present age, when a considerable portion of the population is hostile to the interests of the Church, and when an unfortunate difference in sentiment prevails, even among its professed friends, as to the means of its support, it appears to be the duty of all who value civil and religious order, to be on their guard against the reiterated attempts at innovation in those laws framed for the security of the privileges, and the defence of the liberties of the Establishment. I repeat its liberties, since in all questions which relate to the ecclesiastical immunities of this country,
it seems to be forgotten, that the members of the Church have an equal title to demand the preservation of the liberties which were purchased by their ancestors, and an equal claim to sue at the doors of Parliament for the concession of that indulgence which you and others so strenuously plead for the Dissenters and the Liberalists.
My Lord, I cannot do you the injustice to suppose, that you can meditate serious injury to the Church from the measure which you are so anxious to introduce. But, with deference, I would suggest, that the first duty of a legislator is watchfulness, “ ne quid detrimenti respublica capiat;" the next, impartiality—that the interests of one part of the community be not advanced at the expence of the institutions of another, nor any radical change introduced in the permanent establishments of the state. The Test Laws are the frame-work of a system that appears
to have subsisted for a considerable period of our history, obviously intended as a defence and bulwark to the Church Establishment of this country; therefore urgent reasons must be assigned for their removal, and not
merely a plea founded on the caprice of the Theorist, or the representation of the Reformer.
Though the principle of the Test system may, at first view, appear repugnant to our abstract notions of justice, yet on the ground of civil expediency, it must be recognised and acknowledged. Civil society justifies the imposition of restraints, which would not be tolerated in an unsocial and uncivilized state. The Test Laws are a part of that system of restraint necessarily imposed upon some branches of the community for the welfare of the whole. And though penal statutes, with a view of exterminating dissent, or of strengthening the established religion, are clearly as inexpedient as they are unjust; yet a Test Law which restricts the possession of power to those only who can give a pledge of their fidelity to the constituted Religion, is certainly as politic as it is just. The existing laws have been moulded into their present shape by the exigencies of the times and the events of our history, and are therefore of too serious a complication “ to be put backward and forward,” as the great Northern Novelist wittily observed, “ like a child's first watch,
merely for experiment sake.”
The question for their repeal has often been agitated within the walls of Parliament, but always with the same success. Mr. Peel stated that many of our ministers and statesmen, from Sir Robert Walpole to Mr. Fox, have been favourable to their repeal; yet a bill for that purpose has never been carried. And now, I would ask my Lord, before I proceed, will it be presumed that the King can dispense with the solemn engagement of the Coronation Oath, and give the Royal Assent to the repeal of these Laws? With the terms of that Oath you are well acquainted, which not only constrain the Sovereign to “maintain the Protestant Religion as established by law," but to “preserve to the Clergy of this realm all such rights and privileges as by law do or shall appertain to them.” The reasonable inference from the concluding part of the Oath appears to be this; the exclusion of Dissenters and Roman Catholics from offices of trust and power in the state, is one of the rights which by law appertains to the Clergy of this realm, for the defence of their order. Even the partial repeal of the Test system would have
the tendency to admit the Dissenters into these offices. Therefore the Royal Assent to the repeal would be a contravention of the solemn compact between the Sovereign and his church.* Sir W. Blackstone describes the present Laws
very strong terms; he designates them the “ two bulwarks of the Church of England." I believe that this was contradicted in the late discussion in the House; but I shall take the liberty to state his opinion in his own words. " In order the better to secure the Established Church against perils from non-conformists of all denominations, Infidels, Jews, Turks, Heretics, Papists, and Sectaries, there are two bulwarks erected called the Corporation and Test Acts.” In another part of his works they are denominated the security “both of our civil and religious liberties.” Such is the opinion of
* But by the Act of Union between England and Scotland, the engagement is even more precise. It is this : “ To preserve inviolably the settlements of the Church of England, its doctrines, worship, discipline and government, as by law established.” The same is repeated in the Act of Union between England and Ireland. It
well be remarked, that the repeal or alteration of one statute, involves the permanency and disturbs the unity of the whole system.