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THE CHRISTIAN EXAMINER.

NO. XL.

NEW SERIES-NO. X.

SEPTEMBER, 1830.

ART. I. Difficulties in Parishes. For the Christian Ex

aminer.

In accounting for the order, intelligence and sobriety generally observable among the people of New England, practical men always mention among other causes, and as second only to the institution of free schools, the institution of regular and compact parishes. These have provided effectually for the free, easy, and independent support of religious worship, which, under some form or other, is believed to be absolutely indispensable to the well-being of a state. The patriot, therefore, as well as the Christian, should look with alarm on the reckless spirit with which the harmony and integrity of our parishes have, of late years, been sacrificed to mistaken notions of economy, to local disputes and misunderstandings, and still more frequently to personal or party triumph. Fully to understand this subject, it will be necessary to begin by glancing at the history of these institutions, and particularly in Massachusetts.

As New England was settled with religious, rather than with commercial or even political views, we are not surprised to find that the earliest attention was paid to the moral and religious wants of the people. The Plymouth Pilgrims formed themselves into a religious community, and provided themselves with a minister, before embarking for this country. When Endicot and his company fixed themselves at Salem, one of the first houses which they reared in the wilderness was for social VOL. IX.-N. S. VOL. IV. NO. I.

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worship; and almost immediately on the arrival of a minister, they took measures for his ordination and support. Afterwards, when another company of colonists came, under Governor Winthrop, their first Court of Assistants, as it was called, was held in Charlestown, at which the first thing propounded was, how their ministers should be maintained. Towns and villages were planted from time to time in other places, and in every case, as soon as a sufficient number of persons were collected for the purpose, means were provided for social worship, and public instruction in morals and religion. This they did, as they said, that so the name of the Lord our God being known in our dwellings, and exalted in our gates, he may still delight in us, to continue his favorable presence with us, and our unparalleled enjoyments, both temporal and spiritual, which, through the rich mercy of God in Christ, hitherto we have enjoyed; and not be provoked through our profane slightings and despising thereof, to bereave us and our posterities of such choice mercies. The expense, thus incurred, was defrayed at first by a voluntary contribution, and this continued to be the practice in Boston ; but, in the country towns, it was soon found necessary to make it a public charge, and assess and collect it like the other taxes; and a law was passed for this purpose as early as 1654. So determined was the government, that no town should be without the benefit of religious institutions, that, by another law, in 1692, the Court of Sessions in every county was authorised, in case any town neglected to provide themselves with a minister, to put one over them, fix his salary, and levy it as a tax on the inhabitants.

For a long time the right of electing and dismissing the minister was in the hands of the church members exclusively; and it was expressly declared by statute, October 1668, that the minister thus elected was minister, not to the church only, but to the whole population of the place, all of whom were required to attend on his ministry, and contribute to his support. In the beginning there was no peculiar hardship or injustice in this practice, as the first planters were, almost without exception, communicants. The law required, therefore, little more than this ;—that the same persons

support a minister as inhabitants of the town, whom they had previously called to that office as members of the church. Besides, until 1665 none but church members were freemen, or citizens, and having no voice in the choice of civil officers, or in the affairs of the town,

should

they could hardly expect it in the choice of a minister, or in the affairs of the parish. Citizenship, however, was now extended to freeholders who were not communicants, and, meanwhile, a second and third generation were growing up with different habits and feelings; the consequence of which was, that, toward the close of the century, the communicants, instead of comprising all the legal voters in the parish, comprised but a part, and, in some places, but a minority. Under this change of circumstances, it was regarded as manifestly inconsistent and oppressive, that a whole parish should be compelled to support a minister, whom a majority of them, perhaps, had had no voice in electing, nay, when to a majority of them he was, perhaps, personally odious. Hence arose what has been termed the Parish Controversy, which was carried on for several years with considerable heat and violence on both sides. In 1692 the parishes triumphed; for, in this year, a law was passed declaring, that every minister, being a person of good conversation, able, learned, and orthodox, that shall be chosen by the major part of the inhabitants in any town, at a town meeting duly warned for that purpose, (notice thereof being given to the inhabitants fifteen days before the time of such meeting), shall be minister of such town, and the whole town shall be obliged to pay towards his settlement and maintenance, each man his several proportion. The next General Court repealed this law, it is true, because of its inapplicability, as the statute recites, in divers towns, wherein there are more churches than one, and inconveniences attending the same not so well before seen.' But, after having repealed the existing law, for the reasons stated, they go on to pass another, securing to the parish the right of a concurrent vote. The church, as a church, must still lead in the election, by giving the candidate a

but this act had no force, until the parish, as a parish, had voted to concur. It was further ordained, in 1695, that if a parish should refuse, in any case, to concur with the church in the election of a minister, the church might convoke an ecclesiastical council, and the approbation of this council, regularly called and conducted, would make the election legal and valid. This strange provision grew, perhaps, out of the feverishness of the times, or out of some temporary reaction in favor of the churches, or, more probably still, out of a fear, that parishes, from an unwillingness to incur the expense, might, in some cases, persist in exercising their veto, to prevent the set

call;

tlement of any minister.

minister. At any rate, the intrinsic odiousness of the law, or the circumstance that it was never intended but to be held up in terrorem, appears to have made it a dead letter from the beginning ; for we do not find that it was ever enforced, or appealed to, in a single instance.

Such was the law at the adoption of the present Constitution of the State, in 1780, which, as is well known, by the third article of the Bill of Rights, guaranties to every parish or religious society, as they are exclusively responsible for the support of the minister, the exclusive right of electing him. Respect for an ancient usage, it is true, has, until lately, induced parishes almost universally to concede to the church the privilege of leading in the choice of a minister, and voting as a separate body. The church, however, in law, has no such right, and can claim it only as a matter of courtesy; for the parish is competent to call and settle a minister, not only without the consent of the church, but against the declared wishes and solemn remonstrance of every member of it. Communicants, of course, are not excluded from voting in the choice of a minister, for they have a right to vote, and do vote, as members of the parish; but the Constitution bars their right of voting twice on the same question, first in one capacity, and then in another. By enlarging the powers of parishes, however, it was not in the contemplation of government to release them, directly or indirectly, from the obligation to support religious institutions. Long afterwards, by a law still unrepealed, every corporate town, parish, precinct, district, and other body politic or religious society,' is required to be constantly provided with a public Protestant teacher of piety, religion, and morality;' and, in case any town, parish, or religious society neglects to make such provision for three months in six, it is liable to a fine of from thirty to sixty dollars, and to a fine of from sixty to one hundred dollars for every repetition of the offence.

When the Constitution was adopted, most of the parishes in the Commonwealth consisted exclusively of persons living within certain territorial limits. But the rise and spread of various sects soon led to the rapid multiplication of Poll Parishes; by which are meant parishes composed of persons living in different parts of the same town, or of neighbouring towns, who voluntarily unite for the support of religious worship, without respect to territorial limits of any kind, and sometimes even without much respect to vicinage.

Nine tenths of the parishes in the State are now virtually of this description, though in every town or precinct the first or oldest parish is understood to include all those who live within the limits of the town or precinct, and have not formally connected themselves with any other religious society. The laws, down to the commencement of the present century, threw many obstacles in the way of those who wished to leave the parish in which they were educated, and attach themselves to another, and made it necessary for them to obtain a formal license to do it from the General Court. Since that time it seems to have been the policy of the Legislature gradually to remove these obstacles, probably from the influence of sectaries in that body, or because such a change was thought to be required by justice or liberality, or as a party expedient. Accordingly, by a law passed in January 1800, and still more clearly and decisively by the Religious Freedom Act, as it is called, of 1811, it was ordained, that any citizen, merely on filing a certificate with the parish clerk, might leave one society and join another, on the ground that he was of a different religious sect or denomination. The same things are provided for still more effectually in the statute of 1823—the present law, which enacts that any person may at will, and merely on filing a certificate of the fact with the parish clerk, separate from one religious society, and connect himself with another, either of the same, or of a different sect, persuasion, or name. It even protects the property residents, by declaring that no person shall be liable to pay any tax for the support of public worship, or other parochial charges, to any parish, precinct, or religious society other than that of which he is a member.' The Legislature also relinquishes all control over the multiplication of new parishes or religious societies, by making it competent for any ten or more legal voters, without an act of incorporation, to form themselves into such a society, merely by complying with certain legal forms in calling the first meeting.

We are next to notice, historically, some of the principal attempts, which have been made since the first settlement of the State, to disturb and break up regular parishes, and those especially of the Congregational order.

Most writers have been lavish in abuse of our forefathers, for their severe and intolerant measures against sectaries. It is but fair, however, in condemning the persecutors, to make allowance for the provocations which they received. The zeal

of non

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