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British History - Evolution in the Church - Parliament, Church and Dissenters - Scottish Kirk Disruption - Ireland, 1830 - 47 : famine and emigration - America and the Oregon settlement.

( Originally Published 1922 )



THE original Oxford movement, as might be expected from the place and time of its birth, was scholastic and religious. In so far as it had any connection with the social and political sides of life, the connection is to be found in the hostile reaction of the minds of Keble and Newman against the liberal and utilitarian spirit of the early 'thirties, and the Whig proposals to secularise part of the property of the Irish Church. Nurtured in an Oxford then very remote from modern and secular influences, they conceived a new basis for religious and ecclesiastical conservatism in England. And the Anglo-Catholic movement, which they began, was allied, both in theory and practice, with a social and political conservatism which it has since very largely lost. The distance travelled by Mr. Glad-stone's mind in the course of a lifetime, though exceptional, is symptomatic.

In 1845 the conversion of Newman to Rome destroyed his influence as the dominant force in the University. As if a spell had been snapped, Oxford swung round to more secular interests and more liberal thought, so far as was consistent with Churchmanship, which was still a condition of residence at the University. What had been the Oxford movement, went out into the world and became a pan-Anglican movement. It began to penetrate the general body of the clergy.

It had not, like the contemporary Free Church movement in Scotland, a hold on large masses of laity. It was not Cuddesdon but Exeter Hall that could raise the winds of popular agitation. Mid-Victorian lay religion, a very powerful and guiding force in all classes, was distinctively Protestant. The great Evangelicals, from the time of Wilberforce onwards, were laymen, Shaftesbury, the Buxtons and many of the famous Anglo-Indian soldiers and civilians. But Evangelicalism had failed to breed great clerics, and was more interested in the religious life of the individual than in the Church.

The Anglo-Catholic movement, on the other hand, found new motives and standards for the clergy as such. They became more distinctively professional. They ceased to hunt, to shoot, to sit on the magistrates' bench, and to behave, as they had for the last hundred years, as a rather more learned branch of the squirearchy. They no longer left ' enthusiasm ' to Methodists.

With this new impulse the Church, from the 'forties onwards, began to make good the ground she had lost. She no longer regarded the Colonies and the industrial slums as outside her sphere because they had not been provided for by the parochial system of the seventeenth century. And as the clergy came in contact with this neglected outer world, it naturally did not appear to successive generations of High Churchmen exactly as the distant prospect of it from Oriel windows had looked at the time of the first Reform Bill.

But the process of change was gradual. In the 'thirties and 'forties the Church clergy of all sections regarded the Chartists with horror, and the Tractarians denounced all those who taught the people ' to rail against their rulers and superiors.' In the 'fifties a new movement of democratic sympathy was introduced into the Church by the Broad Churchmen, Frederick Denison Maurice and Charles Kingsley, whose ' Christian Socialism,' though it was rather what we should now call ` Christian Radicalism,' proclaimed the doctrine that Christianity was futile unless applied to economic and social relations. But for some time to come, the average clergyman, particularly in the rural parishes, can hardly be said to have had popular sympathies. In the 'seventies Joseph Arch found the rural clergy with some exceptions actively hostile to his movement for better agricultural wages. The penetration of the Church by the Anglo-Catholic movement, and the change of attitude of many adherents of that movement to society and politics, were both very gradual. But they began when Peel and Wellington were consuls.

The renewed activity of the national Church was one of the most important phenomena of the nineteenth century. The way for it had been prepared by the action of Parliament, which in '836 had caused ecclesiastical revenues to be redistributed. Church revival was difficult so long as many of the bishops and other dignitaries enjoyed extravagant incomes and moved in an atmosphere of plurality, nepotism and worldly self-interest. A bishopric was often regarded as an opportunity not only to serve Church and State, but to provide handsomely for family and clients. The unpopularity of the Church at the end of the old Tory regime was partly due to the political action of the Bishops in the House of Lords, and of the clergy on the magisterial bench ; partly to the grievances of Dissenters ; partly to the constant annoyance of farmers at paying tithes in kind; but very largely to the unequal distribution of Church revenues, abusive in fact and exaggerated in common fame. The impression left on the vulgar mind by the Church at the time of the first Reform Bill, was that prelates and pluralists drank port and hunted the fox, while poor curates worked and starved.

Like Parliament, Municipalities, Universities, endowed schools, and all other official establishments, the Church in the eighteenth century had come to be regarded too much as a lottery for the benefit of a few lucky individuals, and too little as an institution endowed for a great public purpose. At length a new age had come with new standards. The hour had struck not only for parliamentary and municipal, but for ecclesiastical and academic reform. Parliament, having succeeded in reforming itself, set about reforming the other institutions of the country.

Sir Robert Peel had in all things taken to heart the lesson of the Reform Bill. Loyal Churchman as he was, he saw that the Church must be helped by Parliament to set her house in order. It was no longer enough for her to cling to privilege. During his brief tenure of office in the winter of 1834-5, which he employed so usefully to adumbrate the Conservative policy of the future,' he appointed an Ecclesiastical Commission to inquire into Church revenues. His design was carried through by his Whig successors, with his constant support, and with the aid of the leading bishops, but in face of the opposition of Churchmen of the older school.

Under these conditions the Whig government, between 1836 and 1840, passed a series of Church reforms. A Tithe-commutation Bill put an end to the quarrel that had been renewed in the English village every year since the Conquest and beyond, over the parson's tithe-pigs and sheaves. Tithes were commuted for a rent-charge made on all land, payable to the tithe-owners, whether clerical or laity. This was regarded as a convenience by all the parties concerned. It was not strictly speaking a subject of sectarian or political controversy, but it relieved the Church of a heavy load of unpopularity due to a system calculated to cause friction and dispute.

Another Act put an end to the worst abuses of plurality and non-residence. And, above all, a great internal redistribution of wealth relieved the Church of much odium, and equipped her for work in many districts hitherto neglected. The bishops, some of whom had their excessive incomes cut down, became stipendiaries instead of great landlords. A permanent Ecclesiastical Commission was established to administer revenues.

The work of the Ecclesiastical Commission was followed up by that of the Charity Commission, reconstituted with fresh powers by the Whig government in 1853, to deal with non-ecclesiastical Trusts. Endowed education and charity were in a state of corruption as bad as anything to be found in the Church. Brougham had long ago begun the exposure of the facts, as chairman of the original Charity Commission of 1818. The grammar-schools were at length shaken out of the torpor of a century, and endowments left for education or charity were no longer permitted to be consumed as sinecures.1

Although the Church, with the help of her wiser friends and leaders, had been reformed by Act of Parliament in the matter of the distribution of her revenues, she maintained her privileges and monopolies almost intact between the first and second Reform Bills. It was largely for this reason that the ` dissidence of Dissent ' was so marked a feature of the period. The Dissenters, who believed that they were almost as numerous as the Churchmen, and felt themselves to be daily growing in importance and power, were galled by the badges of inferiority which the spirit of Church ascendancy still insisted that they should wear.

Their exclusion from Oxford and Cambridge tended to bar out their ablest men from the higher professional and political life of the age. This had the effect of supplying the Dissenting bodies with men of a very high type as preachers and leaders, able men embittered by a sense of ill-usage and ostracism. It is only since Oxford and Cambridge have been thrown open to all creeds, that men who would formerly have been the leaders of a militant Nonconformity have been absorbed in the general stream of national life. This change has contributed with other causes to the diminution of the Dissenting bodies both in self-consciousness and power.

The other chief grievance of the Dissenters, which affected a much greater number of persons, was the right of a majority of parishioners to levy a rate on all for the maintenance and repair of the Church fabric. At the beginning of the century this ancient usage had scarcely been felt as a grievance, but with the increase of the Nonconformists in numbers and importance, it was resented as an injustice and a badge of inferiority. But even after the first Reform Bill they had not the political power to overcome the resistance of the House of Lords. In the middle years of the century the ill-feeling engendered by local contests over the Church-rate rendered it hard for Churchmen and Dissenters to live at peace. In some 1500 parishes where the Dissenters could secure a majority of votes in the vestry, the rate was refused altogether, and after long disputes in the law-courts such refusal was held valid in law. But in parishes where the recusants were in a minority, they had to pay, and the goods of the more obstinate ' passive resisters ' were sold up.

In some of these Church-rate contests in northern industrial districts in the early days of Victoria, political and religious enthusiasm were strangely blended, thousands of votes were polled on each side, amid scenes recalling the ardours and humours of the Eatanswill election. Rival bands paraded with music and party favours, liquor flowed, intimidation and bribery were general, and on some occasions the military were called out to keep the peace, as though in the streets of Belfast.

The Whig statesmen were not Dissenters, though they relied on the Dissenting vote. But they were for the most part not enthusiastic Churchmen, and some, like Russell and Palmerston, had inherited or acquired a decidedly secular point of view. They failed to legislate for the Dissenters as such, but they relieved the laity from ecclesiastical jurisdiction in testamentary and divorce cases, which had come down un- 1857 broken from the Middle Ages. In the face of strong opposition from Gladstone, divorce was made obtainable in Court by persons of moderate means, instead of being confined, as formerly, to people rich enough to pay for a private Act of Parliament.

The disruption of the Scottish Church was more closely connected with political history than was the Oxford movement. It was directly caused by the views on the relation of Church and State entertained by Sir Robert Peel and the British Parliament. But its ulterior causes and inner meaning lie far back in the depths of Scottish history and Scottish character.

It has been already pointed out that in the complete absence of popular institutions, prior to 1832, in a country so well educated and so democratic in spirit as Scotland, the Kirk had furnished the sole organ for the collective life of the people. It has also been pointed out that in the middle of the eighteenth century the Moderate or Latitudinarian party in the Kirk had established its position as against the Evangelicals who upheld the narrower and fiercer tradition of the Covenanters.1 In the age of David Hume, Adam Smith and Principal Robertson, the Moderates successfully protected the philosophers for whom the Scotland of the ' age of enlightenment ' was justly famous. It was a victory of toleration of the first importance to Scotland and to mankind.

The victory of intellectual freedom had been won in part by the law of ` patronage,' which enabled patrons to intrude Moderate ministers into the manses, against the will of the more fanatical democracy of the parish.2 As a result of the ' intrusion controversy,' small secessions from the Kirk had taken place, and the seceders had split up again into Burghers and anti-Burghers, Auld Lichts and New Lichts. But the secessions were not yet large enough to be dignified by the term Disruption.

In Scotland as in England, Erastianism had been used to fight fanaticism. And in Scotland as in England, the victorious Latitudinarian party, safe in possession of the loaves and fishes, lost its vigour and virtue before the eighteenth century closed. Like the contemporary English Church, the Kirk failed to take up the fresh opportunities and duties of the changing age. While their evangelising spirit languished, the Moderates lost even their own peculiar virtue of tolerance, and under the influence of anti-Jacobinisrn became bigoted as well as official.

With the new century, the Evangelical party in the Kirk revived, but without the old fanaticism. The philosophers had done work that could not be undone, and with Walter Scott as the national mouthpiece it was impossible for the narrow spirit of earlier ages to return with the revival of their zeal. The Evangelical party found in Dr. Thomas Chalmers a religious leader with all Knox's singleness of heart, some of his power, but none of his harsher spirit.' In the ensuing conflict between official Moderatism and the Evangelical party, ' patronage ' was as formerly employed to intrude Moderates on unwilling parishes. Chalmers, though a strong Conservative in politics and believing in the principle of establishment, held that freedom of religion in Scotland meant the freedom of the parish democracy to choose its pastor, and in this cause he was ready in the last resort to sacrifice the establishment itself as of less importance.

For ten years after the Reform Bill Scotland was convulsed by the ' non-intrusion ' controversy. Having just acquired political and municipal self-government, new in the history of their country, many Scots were more than ever determined to reassert what they believed to be their ancient national rights of self-government in religion. Various attempts at settlement were made, like the Veto Act which, while permitting appointments by patronage, left the people a veto on a minister whom they disliked. But the House of Lords in its judicial capacity ruled out all these compromises, and reasserted patronage and intrusion as the fundamental law of the land.

The Kirk Assembly, of which a majority was now Evangelical, had no alternative but to have recourse to Parliament for fresh legislation. Their demands were pitched very high, and seemed to Sir Robert Peel and to many Conservatives both in Scotland and England inconsistent with the principle of Church Establishment and the rights of the State. Modification of the existing law was refused. Then Chalmers proclaimed the Disruption. A third of the Scottish clergy followed him into the wilderness, giving up their manses, stipends and prospects in life as their fathers had done before them in Stuart times. It was a great moral act and had a heightening effect on the life of Scotland, even among those who did not agree as to its necessity. The Free Church was established in parish after parish in a zealous rivalry of evangelisation with the Established Kirk.

In 1874 the Establishment itself obtained from Parliament the abolition of patronage, the original ground of the Disruption. In 1900 the various bodies outside the Establishment were amalgamated in the United Free Church of Scotland. And the reunion of Established and Free seems now (1922) to be at hand.

Catholic Emancipation and the coming of the Whigs to power had put O'Connell into a position to drive bargains for Ireland at Westminster. Until the English and Irish Reform Bills had passed, he had the wisdom to support Grey's Ministry even when it prosecuted him. Grey would not meet his advances, and Edward Stanley as Irish Secretary seemed to have a personal quarrel with the Irish people, until he was removed to the Colonial Office in 1833. Althorp and Russell felt differently, and might have done something towards the conciliation of Ireland if they had been allowed to work heartily with O'Connell. But many of their own colleagues and supporters disagreed, and the House of Lords stood right across the path of conciliation.

Meanwhile the rent and tithe wars were raging in Ireland. In Queen's County alone sixty murders were committed in one year, and agrarian terrorism dominated the whole province of Leinster. It was a detestable spirit, but it was not unprovoked. For the British Army was being used to protect whole-sale evictions by landlords ' clearing ' estates which they had never improved, and to distrain for tithe on behalf of an ' alien Church,'largely composed of absentees and sinecurists. Twenty-two Protestant bishops drew L150,000 a year, and the rest of the Church L600,000 more, very largely from the Catholic peasants. In face of these conditions the Whig Cabinet was torn asunder between the policies of coercion and concession. The position was further complicated by the religious views of Graham and Stanley as to the sacredness of ecclesiastical property. They left the Cabinet and the party that issue, when ' Johnnie Russell upset the coach ' by an incautiously liberal pronouncement. Grey's retirement followed in a few months, after a Cabinet crisis about coercion.

From 1835 to 1840 the reprieved Whig Government under Melbourne was dependent on O'Connell's parliamentary support. They paid him in liberal administration, and as much liberal legislation as the House of Lords would swallow. The Under-Secretary, Thomas Drummond, governed Ireland justly, holding the balance between Orange and Catholic, discouraging informers, and introducing Catholics into the police force, which he thoroughly reformed. But the good he could do in administration was hampered by the repeated refusal of the Lords to pass remedial laws. With difficulty he kept the bloody tithe war within bounds, until in 1838 the Whigs at length prevailed on Parliament to commute the direct payment of tithes for a fixed rent charge. So too, after many attempts at Irish Municipal Reform, the Ministry at length induced the Lords to accept the shadow of such a measure. O'Connell was chosen Mayor of Dublin and Catholics began to appear on other local bodies. These concessions could not, at that date, go far to reconcile the races, as they might have done thirty years before. Something like Gladstone's Church and Land Legislation of 186881 was wanted in the 'thirties. But England was always a generation too late.

With the return to power of Peel and the Conservatives, from whom O'Connell had nothing to hope, he threw himself in good earnest into the agitation for Repeal of the Union, or, as we should now term it, Home Rule. This policy united against him all classes and parties in Great Britain. But he worked Catholic Ireland up to the same pitch of enthusiasm and unanimity for Repeal as formerly for Emancipation. Unfortunately he had not considered beforehand how the affair was to end. He was resolved, as always, to have no bloodshed, and this time Peel would not give way before mere agitation as in 1828. Peel called O'Connell's bluff. When Government forbade the monster meeting at Clontarf, to which all Ireland was looking forward as the long-expected crisis of the whole movement, O'Connell ordered submission. He was obeyed, but he lost in a day the confidence of his people.

The political influence of the Liberator had for some years been rivalled and now began to be outstripped by the more irreconcilable teaching of ` Young Ireland,' led by Gavan Duffy. It was the spirit of nationalism, based on literature and history, like the contemporary racial movements of the Continent. It was in these respects the forerunner of the Gaelic League and Sinn Fein in our own day. But the appeal to physical force attempted in 1848 by Smith O'Brien and Meagher, lacked the fierce efficacy of the agrarian terrorism of previous years, met with no popular response, and was suppressed with ludicrous ease by a few policemen.

The years of the famine were indeed no time to prepare rebellions among people who had only the strength to hold out their hands for food. For two consecutive seasons the potato crop failed, and in 1846 and 1847 the common task was to save eight millions of Irish alive. The peasants, abandoning their useless labour in the fields, squatted on the roadside, trying to break stones for relief work, and actually dying of hunger. Many of the resident landlords behaved well, but some of the absentee class continued in the midst of this frightful visitation to push forward the wholesale eviction of their starving tenants. The British Government bestirred itself, not only repealing the Corn Laws but carrying on food distribution, at first indeed under foolish restrictions, but later with increased efficiency. The people began to flee for their lives to the United States, seventeen out of every hundred dying on the voyage. As one of the emigrant ships was leaving Dublin harbour, it met the vessel that was carrying back O'Connell's body to burial in Ireland. A bitter cry arose, as the exiles bade farewell to the land they loved, and to the man who had been its only hope.

Over half a million died of famine and pestilence. And the steady toll of emigration to America, which now first became a habit of the race, reduced the population of Ireland from eight millions in 1841 to six and a half in 1851, and to less than four and a half in 190 1. It is certain that without a considerable reduction in numbers there could never have been the improvement in Irish prosperity with which the century closed. Eight millions could only subsist on the verge of starvation. But the manner of their going was fatal. Between 1849 and 1856 as many as 50,000 families were evicted from their homes. They were not so much helped to emigrate as thrust forth from Ireland. The economic exodus, though it was to a large extent necessary, took place under political and social conditions which made the descendants of those who landed in America hereditary enemies of Great Britain.

In Peel's day the difficulties between the old country and the United States were still those of two branches of the same race and civilisation, kept apart by historical, political and social differences that were beginning to be less acute as England grew more democratic, and as increased trade and more rapid communication began to dispel mutual ignorance. A steady stream of British working-class immigrants had set in to the United States, forming a fresh link between the two nations and confirming the transatlantic belief that the people in Britain ' were a very decent body, shamefully oppressed by a haughty group of Peers and clergy,' though less shamefully now than in former years. In spite of Castlereagh's great services to the cause of peace on the Canadian border, the old Tory view of America had as a rule been contemptuous, whereas the modern Whig was patronising and the Radical friendly except about slavery. In spite of Martin Chuzzlewit, Dickens drew the ties closer, by revealing to Americans the existence of ' plain people ' in England of a kind they could appreciate.

Peel's Ministry held power during the great crisis that settled whether the Pacific Coast should be divided up without a war between Britain and America. Several other causes of dispute were first cleared away. Aberdeen, almost immediately after taking over the Foreign Office, negotiated the Webster-Ashburton Treaty, which settled by compromise the long disputed north-east boundary between Maine and Canada. He then began, with less wisdom, to interfere in Texas and California, rebellious provinces of Mexico, with a view to preventing their annexation by the United States. That he attempted to promote slavery-abolition in Texas made him the more suspect in the eyes of the Southern slave-holding Democrats, then beginning to ,dominate American politics. They were also irritated by the activity of our fleet in suppressing the slave-trade, and accused us to their Northern brethren of using anti-slave-trade sentiment as a stalking-horse for en-forcing against American shipping our right-of-search claims, of ancient and unpopular memory.

On the top of these distinctively Southern questions, arose the issue of the future of the north Pacific Coast, then known as the Oregon question.' 1 The settlement of that problem could no longer be postponed, as the pioneers of both nations were coming into contact on the disputed ground. Here American claims had nothing to do with slavery, but they were excessive. The war-cry of the victorious Democratic party at the election of Polk to the Presidency in 1844, was ' Fifty-four forty or fight,' meaning that they would at all costs annex the whole Pacific Coast up to the border of Russian Alaska at the latitude of 54 40". This would cut off Canada from the Western sea.

Between 1815 and 1847 the population of the United States had grown from eight to seventeen millions, but the vast immigration of non-English races was only just beginning. America's claims on Texas, California and the north Pacific Coast were beyond her momentary needs and power of expansion, but not beyond her requirements in the near future. In the ' roaring 'forties,' her aggressive democratic idealism, when it registered such vast territorial claims in advance, was inspired by a wise prophetic instinct. But Canada, too, had a destiny, and for that reason, if our claim on the southern part of Oregon was inadmissible, so was that of the United States on the northern part, Vancouver Island and the future British Columbia.

Peel was one of the most wisely pacific Ministers that England ever had. He understood that the social and economic situation in Great Britain and Ireland could not stand the strain of a war with our chief customer and the source of our cotton supply. He was no fratricide, and was appalled at the prospect of war with America. Nevertheless, he was prepared to fight rather than yield the whole Pacific Coast. Fortunately, the American people did not really wish for war with us. And perhaps, if the truth were known, the Polk administration, when once the election was won, was not so very anxious to fight in order to add more ' free ' States to the Union, and so increase the strength of the anti-slavery party.

England refrained from further interference about Texas and California, which the United States annexed after the Mexican war. And at the very moment of his fall, Peel crowned his immense services to his countrymen and to the world by bringing into port not only the Repeal of the Corn Laws, but the Oregon Treaty, that settled the western frontier between the British territories and the United States. The boundary line following the forty-ninth degree of latitude, which Castlereagh's treaty had carried up to the Rockies, was continued to the coast. The compromise of 1846 can be seen on the map today, securing to Canada and to America respectively a just development on the Pacific, and securing to both nations the peace that has never been broken along four thousand miles of unguarded frontier.

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