« ՆախորդըՇարունակել »
continually boast in this House that you are the owners of the great bulk of the landed property of the country? Are you not the depositaries of political power, and do you not tell us that when a Dissenter becomes rich he always walks away from the chapel into your church ? If this be so, am I appealing in vain to you, or reasoning in vain with you, when I try to encourage you to believe that if there were no Church-rates the members of your church and your congregations would be greatly improved, and that, as has taken place in the parish in which I live, your churches would be better supported by your own voluntary and liberal contributions than they can ever be by the penny per pound issuing from the pockets of men who do not attend your church, and who are rendered ten times more hostile to it by the very effort to make them contribute to its support?'
Mr. Bright went on to express his belief that Churchrates must before long be abolished. He also referred to the voluntary exertions of the Dissenters, and asked, “Throughout England and Wales what would be the condition of your population, your religious establishments, your education, if it were not for the liberality of those sects of whom the right hon. and learned gentleman thinks fit to speak in disparaging terms ?' He did not disguise from the House that he agreed with the views of Mr. Miall and the Liberation Society as to the disestablishment of the Church ; but he believed, with them, that after that had taken place the Church would be as great, as powerful, and as respected as it ever was at any period of its history. Mr. Bright then reminded the House that in Ireland the vestry-cess, the Churchrate of that country, had been abolished,—and what had been the effect upon the Protestant Church of Ireland ? In all human probability that Church would have been absolutely uprooted but for the large measures of reform applied to it; and the Church of England without Church-rates would be as great and as useful as now. Examples in Wales and in Scotland showed the impulse that might be given to voluntary efforts. Property in Scotland had not gone with the Free Church; yet what a vast result had been produced by religious zeal, fervour, and munificence!
The hon. member said he should slander the Church of England if he were to pretend that it would not be as liberal as any other religious body, while its congregations would be as united as those of Dissenters, and its action would be greatly strengthened. Mr. Bright thus closed his telling speech :
This question has now come to a crisis ; and I ask the House to consider whether it would not be to the advantage of the Church, of morality, religion, and the public peace, that it should now be set at rest once and for ever. The right hon, and learned gentleman-it is one of the faults of a high classical education-following the example of the right hon. gentleman who delighted us all with a brilliant but most illogical speech last night, affrighted us with an account of what took place under the democracies of Greece, and asks us to follow the example of those who were believers in the paganism of ancient Rome. He says, Did not the Roman emperors, consuls, and people go in procession after the vile gods and goddesses which they worshipped ? It is true they did, and I hope the right hon. and learned gentleman regrets by this time that he asked us to follow an example of that kind. Rome has perished, and the religion which it professed has perished with it. The Christian religion is wholly different, and if there be one thing written more legibly than another in every page of that Book on which you profess that your Church is founded, it is that men should be just one to another, kind and brotherly one to another, and should not ask of each other to do that which they are not willing themselves to do. I say that this law of Church-rates is a law which violates, and violates most obviously and outrageously, every law of justice and of mercy which is written in that Book, and it is because I believe it does so that I am certain that it never can be of advantage to your Church, if your Church be a true Church ; and, believing that, and feeling how much the interests and sympathies and wishes of millions of our countrymen are in favour of the abolition of this impost, I ask you to do what I am now ready to do—to give a cordial support to the third reading of this bill of my hon. friend.'
The third reading of the bill was carried by 235 votes to 226, and the measure passed. When it went up to the House of Lords, however, it was rejected by a majority of 97.
The subject of Church-rates being still left an open question, much controversy ensued in the country, and in the following session of 1861 the friends of abolition again endeavoured to procure a satisfactory settlement of the matter. Sir John Trelawny reintroduced his bill, and on the motion for the second reading a long discussion took place. Sir W. Heathcote moved the rejection of the bill; but Mr. Gladstone, while unable to support the measure for abolition, admitted that on both sides there was a growing persuasion that it would be for the credit of the Legislature that this question should be settled. He suggested that the Legislature should begin by converting the power of the majority of the parish into a right, firmly maintaining the right of the parish to tax itself, giving to those parishes where the ancient Church-rate had lapsed the power of raising a voluntary rate.
Mr. Bright again spoke at length on behalf of the bill. He observed that as Mr. Gladstone proposed virtually to abolish Church-rates, he ought to begin by voting for the bill. He denied that the evils which
Mr. Gladstone supposed likely to happen, if this bill passed, would happen ; but if so, what a deadness would it argue in the population towards the Established Church ? He appealed to hon. gentlemen opposite on the question of the amount involved in these rates. He believed that £250,000 was the whole matter, and of that it might be fairly assumed £100,000 probably—though he would take any figure they liked—was paid by those whom they were now prepared to exempt. Therefore the whole question probably for the great Church of England was only this-a matter of £150,000 a year. What did the Dissenters object to ? asked Mr. Bright. They felt that this was a struggle for supremacy, a supremacy asserted on the part of a great establishment which was as much political as religious. The hon. member then proceeded to denounce the practice of the sale of livings in the Church, quoting examples of this practice-examples which he acknowledged would be very amusing if they were not very shocking; and he asked whether such things could be pointed out in the Nonconformist churches of England and Wales.
Coming next to the great differences of opinion existing in the Church of England, Mr. Bright glanced in particular at the recently published Essays and Reviews, and affirmed that for a variety of reasons the Dissenters were indisposed to acknowledge the Church of England to be supreme over them. That Church was a divided Church, and he asked whether it was worth while to take the proposition of the
Chancellor of the Exchequer, or any other proposition based upon ignorance of the state of feeling among the Nonconformist population of England. Having shown what the Dissenters had accomplished by voluntary effort, Mr. Bright said, “You must not misunderstand the character of the Nonconformists. They come down from the Puritans of an earlier period, who, I believe, have gained for England all that there is of freedom in the English constitution. That is the opinion of Hume, the historian, and I think it must be the opinion of every one who carefully reads history. The lamp which these Puritans first lit has been kept burning by the Nonconformists of a later day. Those Puritans took their rise from the hour when the religious organization of England was first dissevered from the Church of Rome. The principles they held have never died out, but have continually spread, and have found greater and greater acceptance with all classes of the people. I assure the House in all sincerity-and I believe in my conscience that I only speak the literal truth-that any attempt to settle this question by leaving any shred of Church-rate unrepealed will be a failure, and that the Nonconformists themselves will never abandon this question until a complete victory is won.'
Mr. Disraeli opposed the Bill, but Lord John Russell declared that the sooner Church-rates were abolished the better would it be for the Church, and the stronger would be its foundations. The amend