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LORD HOLLAND'S REVISED SPEECH, IN THE HOUSE OF
LORDS, ON THE SECOND READING OF THE BILL FOR THE REPEAL OF THE CORPORATION AND TEST 'ACTS.
Thursday, April 17. LORD HOLLAND moved the Order of the Day for the second reading of the Bill for repealing the Corporation and Test Acts, and it was read accordingly.
On the motion also of his Lordship, the Clerk at the Table read the titles and preambles of the Corporation and Test Acts, as well as the title and preamble of the Annual Indemnity Bill; and that clause in the latter which has reference to the Sacrament of the Lord's Supper. After this,
Lord HOLLAND rose, and spoke to the following efa fect:
I have now, my Lords, to propose the second reading of that Bill which, as I observed when it went through its first stage, is anxiously expected by large, loyal, and respectable classes of the community; a Bill solicited by numerous petitions to both Houses of Parliament, amounting, exclusive of those laid upon the table this day, to not less than eight hundred and sixty-one ; a Bill which has been brought up from the Commons of the United Kingdom, and recommended to your adoption in the shape in which it now 'stands by a vote of that branch of the Legislature, nearly unanimous.
Your Lordships well know, that if you give this measure a second reading you sanction its principle; in other words, you thereby express your conviction that it is just, expedient, or necessary, and perhaps all, to abrogate the Sacramental Test as a qualification for civil and temporal office, and to substitute for it a plain and simple declaration, that the powers conferred by such office shall not be employed to weaken, injure, or disturb, the church established by law. Such is the principle of the Bill, and
although this measure, or measures of this nature, were, during the last century, frequently proposed in another place, and even more frequently agitated and discussed in pamphlets, public meetings, and, I believe I may add, pulpitsį yet the principle was never distinctly brought under the consideration of this House of Parliament since the period when our great deliverer, William III., recommended the adoption of the very measure now proposed in some memorable words, * to which I shall probably have occa, siop to advert in the course of these proceedings. It is indeed well known, that another illustrious prince, George I., at the period of his accession, was, as well as his ministers, anxious to introduce some measure of this description, and a clause for the purpose was actually proposed to be inserted in "A Bill for strengthening the Protestant Suce cession." The Bill passed into a law; the clause was proposed by Earl Stanhope, then Secretary of State.
That clause would, I believe, have accomplished the object, but in a way at once so indirect and unusual, not to say ludicrous, that it can excite no wonder that it was rejected by your Lordships ancestors.
With that exception, no such proposal has been made to this House since the period of the Revolution, and I think it a fortunate and auspicious circumstance, that, up to the time at which I am speaking, no opinion directly hostile to the measure I recommend, bas ever been expressed by a British House of Lords. Here, then, is a Bill, which, after haviog glided smoothly through all those perilous passes which proved so fatal to its predecessors, has safely arrived at this
« Region mild of calm and serene air," where, until this day, not a breath of adverse wind has blown upon it,
semperque innubilus æther
• “I am, with all the expedition I can, filling up the vacancies that are in offices and places of trust by this Revolution, I know you are sensible there is a necessity of some law to settle the Oaths to be taken by all persons to be admitted to such places. I recommend it to your care to make a speedy provision for it; and, as I doubt not but you will sufficiently provide against Papists, so I hope you will leave room for the admission of all Protestants that are willing and able to serve. “ Parliamentary History," Vol. V. p. 184. + Comus.
My Lords, I hail the omen; I consider it auspicious, both as to place and as to season--as to place, for the reason I have stated ; as to season, because there is no cloud in the political horizon, no factions in the state, no schism, no controversy in the church, to intercept or molest its progress; all this is auspicious indeed of success, and not of success only, but of benefits likely to result from that success, when it shall fortunately be obtained: Happy indeed will it be for this House, creditable to this parliament, and glorious to the reign in which we live, if future historians shall haye to record, that an Act of Mercy, which alike broke asunder the chains of the Crown, and the fetters of the people, was as obviously and undeniably the result of deliberate wisdom and dispassionate justice, as the laws imposing those chains and fetters had been obvia ously and undeniably the offspring of precipitation, fear, suspicion, and alarm.
I am well aware that an important duty devolves upon the individual who proposes for adoption a measure with such an object; that in order to give to it its due character of deliberation and solemnity, he is called upon to state at full length, and with all possible clearness, the nature, history, and operation of the laws he proposes to repeal I proceed to that undertaking, not altogether calm and confident, but yet, I trust, undismayed ; though I cannot but reflect upon the intricacy of the subject, and the diffi. culties that surround the origin of these statutes, passed in one of the most interesting, but complicated, periods of our history. When I recollect that the state of the law is involved in many technicalities and perplexities, I fear I have been rash (though I can assure your Lordships, not unsolicited by others) in stepping forward to engage in a task much above my powers, and, in some respects, inconsistent with pursuits so entirely unprofessional as mine. Your Lordships, therefore, must forgive me if, froin anxiety to be clear, I should unfortunately deviate into prolixitybut enough of this. Instead of detaining you with idle apologies and excuses about myself, producing the very evil I deprecate, I will now proceed to call your Lordships' attention to the statutes themselves. It was with that view I moved that the Corporation and Test Acts should be read, and requested the gentleman in attendance to lay several others on the table, which, though not touched by the Bill
now under consideration, are necessary, or at least useful, in illustrating the state and operation of the law. I did so in the hope that, should I fail in correctly explaining myself, your Lordships might collect my meaning by a ready reference to the Acts; and that, should I be mistaken or incorrect in my views of them, your Lordships should have every opportunity of rectifying my mistakes.
The Sacramental Test rests upon two statutes of the reign of Charles II., commonly known by the names of the Corporation Act and the Test Act, which resemble each other in two particulars; they both require that a person elected or appointed to office should receive the Sacrament of the Lord's Supper according to the rites of the Church of England, and they were both passed in the reign of Charles II. In every other respect, they form a contrast, not a parallel. It is scarcely possible to point out two statutes passed at any period of our bistory more dissimilar or even opposite in their origin and intentions. The Corporation Act, as it is called, was introduced into the other House without being accompanied by any Test of the sort. It was brought in, with other designs, for the purpose of expelling immediately from the then existing corporations, persons who before that date had taken an active and an offensive part in the recent troubles, and were obnoxious to the goverument then lately restored. It was a temporary, I may say a party, measure, struck out at the heat of the moment, to gratify, animate, and strengthen, the triumphant-begotten in the ley-day of zeal and loyalty, and partaking somewhat both of servility to the Crown, and of violence to those who were the objects of its resentment; a resentment which was, perhaps, naturally to be expected and even excused at such a period. In its object, tendency, and provisions, it was at first merely temporary. As it is, great part of it has expired, and all the rest of it has been repealed except * this very Sacramental Test we are now considering. I believe, however, it will be the shortest, and certainly the clearest, way for me to state what were the provisions of the Corporation Act which have expired or have been repealed. Its object
* His Lordship should have included in this exception the Oaths of Allegiance and Supremacy, which are still required by 13 Charles II,
being to expel from corporations Presbyterians and others then in actual possession, one declaration and one oath were for that purpose devised : the first to disclaim the “ Solemn League and Covenant," the other to express abhorrence of the doctrine, that it is lawful to take up arins under the King's authority against his person. The penalty annexed to the omission of signing this declaration, or taking this oath, was very unlike that of the Test Act. It was merely a loss of the office, nothing else. In the third place, a commission was appointed to administer the oath to the then members of all the corporations in England, and to expel such as would not take the oath prescribed ; it was imperative upon them to do so, but they had, moreover, the power of expelling such as did comply with the Act, and take the oath and declaration
in short, they were, in fact, empowered to expel whom they chose, and they were no doubt expected, if not instructed, to expel all whom they thought adverse to the court. This commission was only to last two years, and in this shape the Bill was originally framed. It was brought up to this House; a proposition was here made to make the commission permanent; that proposition was resisted by the Commons, but though fivally rejected, a compromise seems to have been resorted to, and in the course of it the Sacra. mental Test for the first time introduced. But here we must define what the nature of that provision and what the Sacramental Test actually was.
Your Lordships may be surprised to hear, that, although the clause obliging every member of a corporation to take the Sacrament according to the rites and usages practised in the Church of England, sounds like the clause in the subsequeut law called the Test Act, yet it neither meant at the time, nor could mean at the time, any such thing. In the first place, two years were to elapse before the clause was to have any effect, and we must first ask, for the understanding of the words, what was the state of the country and of the Church at the time of the enactment. Why! the benefices, the livings of the Church, were three to one, aye, perhaps four out of five, in hands of the Presbyterians. No act of uniformity had passed, so that to say, according to the “ rites and usages of the Church of England as now practised," was in truth to say nothing, for it'was a matter of question between two parties how they should then be practised. Nay, more, strong hopes