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An Examination








"An Appeal to the Protestant Dissenters of Great Britain, to unite with their Catholic Brethren, for the Removal of the Disqualifications by which they are oppressed."



VOL. II. Pam. No. III.




THE advocates of religious liberty have abundant reason to exult at the progress which their cause has made in the session that is just concluded. If, indeed, their loftiest expectations were, in one instance, disappointed, at the very moment that the glorious object seemed within their grasp, they have been richly consoled in the general spirit elicited-in the temper maintained-in the talents displayed-in the prejudice removed-in all those signs which evince the enlarging capacities and improving morals of the Christian world. But in other cases, the victory has been more decisive. The measure, by which our own religion was tolerated in a country where all others are sanctioned, was carried by large majorities, of parties the most opposite; and, finally, a Bill to annul the cruel but obsolete statutes, which threaten the Unitarians with penalties worthy of the Inquisition, has passed both houses of Parliament without a hand or a whisper being raised to oppose it. The ministry muttered no cabalistic words about disaffection-the judges expressed no trembling anxiety for the immutability of the laws of our ancestors-not an antijacobin clamored against innovation-not a bishop declaimed against heresy. The church, either from conviction or drowsiness, nodded assent; and all seemed to be anxious only to let the obnoxious statutes pass quietly into oblivion. The conquest appeared thus to be won without a battle; when the friends of the righteous measure beheld an

enemy, arising from a quarter the most unexpected. With unspeakable astonishment, they saw themselves engaged with the ardent friend of the liberty of the press, and of the mind, the great apostle of political reform-and the strenuous opponent of bigotry and corruption. It is to an examination of the objections of this chivalrous antagonist, that I have now to invite the attention of my readers, requesting them constantly to refer to those Numbers of his Register, on which my observations are founded.

Before I proceed, however, to examine the arguments by which Mr. Cobbett has opposed the repeal of these obsolete and ignominious enactments, it will be necessary to state what they really are. The Blasphemy act, after denouncing the sentiments at which its thunders are levelled, as detestable crimes, proceeds to declare, that if any person, educated in the Christian religion, and professing the same, shall by printing, teaching, or advised speaking, deny any one of the persons of the holy Trinity to be God, (or shall maintain that there are more Gods than one) he shall for the first offence be rendered incapable of holding any office or place of trust, and for the second SHALL BE RENDERED INCAPABLE OF BRINGING ANY ACTION, BEING GUARDIAN, EXECUTOR, LEGATEE, OR PURCHASER OF LANDS, AND SHALL SUFFER THREE YEARS' IMPRISONMENT WITHOUT BAIL;→ and by the 17th ch. of the famed Act of Toleration he is excepted from all its advantages, unless within a certain time he publicly recants his errors. See 4 Bla. Com. pp. 44-49. Thus were these unfortunate sectarians not only excluded from the partial toleration which was extended to their Christian brethren-they were not only marked as objects of contempt and derision--not only separated from the numerous and contending parties of the Christian world, by an insuperable barrier,—but placed in daily peril of lauguishing in the dungeons which ancient tyranny had erected for our high-minded ancestors, and becoming, like them, outcasts of society, deprived of the dearest rights of men and citizens, and with no earthly blessing left them to cheer their forlorn existence. In these enlightened days, when intolerance itself is compelled to assume a gentler aspect, no one is hardy enough to put these.

19 and 10 William and Mary, ch. 19.

orthodox enactments into execution. They still, however, remain, to the disgrace of our statute book and our religionstill hang suspended over the heads of those who must transgress them every time they address their conscientious and fervent homage to the Father of Mercies. Forming a complete anomaly in our system of legislation, they appear to the eye of a philosopher as a kind of antique curiosity; to be surveyed with a feeling similar to that with which we view a Gothic arch-the gloomy and awful remnant of some abode of wretchedness and superstition; standing singly intire and unimpaired, amidst the crumbling ruins, which the lapse of ages has reduced to decay, and which darkens the imagination with the austere grandeur of the original fabric.

To the removal of these dreadful penalties, Mr. Cobbett has offered several objections, which are well deserving of our attentive consideration, whether we consider the talents of the objector; his tried attachment to political freedom; his sufferings in the cause of free discussion; his general openness to conviction; or the novelty of the arguments themselves. He thinks, then, if I rightly understand his reasonings, that the Unitarians are not entitled to the relief which has been demanded for them, because they are not Christians; and therefore to allow them to propagate their sentiments, and to refuse the same permission to the Deist, would be partiality to the former, and oppression to the latter; that the cause of religious liberty will suffer by satisfying a particular class of claimants; that the ministry will obtain an accession of power by their indulgence; and that dissenters in general are intolerant and unfriendly to the very liberty they are earnestly demanding.

In support of the first of these positions, it is argued that the dissenters in question do not believe the Scriptures to be the word of God, as they deny particular parts of them, which are supposed to contain the doctrines of the incarnation, and others to which they refuse their assent. In the first place, I deny the premises on which the position is founded. Many of those who are included in the sweeping and terrible denunciations of the Blasphemy act and the Athanasian creed, believe the whole of the Bible to be the word of God; they most devoutly receive its account of the miraculous conception; and contend most strenuously for the authenticity of the disputed narratives. It may, say they, be perfectly true,

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