« VorigeDoorgaan »
lay members to form the deputation of the Three Denominations, and created a deputation of their own. In no existing association, therefore, of ministers or laymen, would these two classes of Presbyterians be represented, and their interests, in reference to this grant, be watched over and protected. And it is a matter of certainty that, in the present position and temper of the denominations, no Presbyterian minister holding Unitarian sentiments would, in such an election, be chosen. In short, no associated body of Dissenters, lay or clerical, could be found or constituted, from whom an impartial and equitable choice, embracing equal numbers of each of the three great divisions, could be secured.
But the objections to the continuance of the trust by self-election are more specious than valid. If care be taken in the first instance to appoint men of high character and sober judgment, it may be assumed that in the choice of successors to fill vacancies they would be careful to admit none to be their associates in whose ability and fidelity they had not full and just confidence.
It has been alleged that the distributors of the Parliamentary grant are, by their self-election, rendered an irresponsible body. But what responsibility can attach to any trust which is not here secured? The very appointment by the Government of a minister to act for them in the appropriation of the money, implies, on his part, accountability, and he must be conscious that, in accepting the appointment, he may at any time be required to give satisfaction as to his fidelity in the discharge of its duties. The case of his associates is precisely the same. Though not chosen by the Government, their names are known, and their position and participation in the trust are recognized by them, so that in sharing the labours, they share also the responsibility, of the nominee of the Crown.
This view of the position of the trustees is in accordance with the proceedings in Parliament. The House of Commons has, on more than one occasion, assumed the responsibility of the distributors, and has ordered returns to be made both of their names and of the mode in which they apportion the money. In obedience to these orders, such returns have been rendered, and have been printed among the Parliamentary papers. In this ordinary sense of responsibility, the trustees must then be regarded by the Government and by Parliament as responsible agents. But they consider themselves bound by a higher responsibility than this—their personal character and honour. When they are invested with this trust, those for whom they act, whether they be the Government or Parliament or the Public, have a right to look for some guarantee of their fidelity. And what guarantee can they offer more obligatory and binding than their position in society, their reputation among their contemporaries, and the consciousness of their accountability to a higher tribunal? If this guarantee be not sufficient, all others must be vain and worthless.
If we recur to the origin of this charity, the bounty of George the First, we find, from the account of Dr. Calamy, that, in the first appointment of trustees, no other guarantee was required. Nine ministers were selected, sustaining at the time the highest character in their several denominations, and to their discretion and honour the whole affair was unreservedly committed. One fact alone may assure us of the judgment with which the selection was made. A few years before, VOL. IV.
Dr. Daniel Williams had appointed by will, from among his personal friends, thirteen of the ministers deemed by him most worthy to act as trustees of the charities he was then founding, and in the number of these trustees were eight of those ministers afterwards chosen to be almoners of the Royal bounty, the ninth being an eminent Independent minister greatly esteemed in his denomination.
It might be imagined, from the manner in which the subject was introduced into the late discussions, that the plan of the self-election of trustees was something very unusual and objectionable. But what is the fact? _One of the most important of the existing charitable trusts among the Protestant Dissenters in the metropolis, was established on this very plan. The founder appointed by his will the trustees to whom he meant the first administration of the charity to be committed, and he provided that afterwards, when any of them died, or from any cause vacated their office, the survivors should, in perpetuity, elect their successors. He looked to the character of his trustees as the best security for their fidelity, and he was not deceived; for no trust was, I believe, ever more faithfully executed. Nor is this the only trust of the kind within my knowledge; there exist several others which prove, with equal force, that trustees so appointed consider themselves to be as fully responsible for their fidelity, as the duties of their office can require. If, then, in the case of such private charities, the requisite degree of responsibility be obtained under a system of self-election, why may not sufficient responsibility be secured on the same system in the Parliamentary Grant trust, the more especially when it is considered that the conduct of the trustees is liable to the annual review and scrutiny of the House of Commons ?
It remains to notice one other matter personal to myself. In a weekly periodical (the Inquirer), my Sketch of the History and Vin. dication of the Distributors of the Parliamentary Grant, has, during the present agitation, been brought under review for the purpose of controverting its statements. The writer assumes, erroneously, that he is the first to examine the historical arguments of that tract. Several years ago, two leading periodicals in the interest of the adversaries of the grant (the Congregational Magazine and the Eclectic Review), took up the subject, and, in articles of considerable ability, subjected my historical statements to a severe and searching scrutiny. The pamphlet has been before the public about fourteen years; and notwithstanding the hostile criticisms to which, in these and other publications, it has been exposed, I have seen no valid reason to retract any thing that I have written, or to offer publicly one word in justification of any of its facts or conclusions.
On the present occasion, after a careful perusal of all that my reviewer has said, I should probably have maintained the same silence, in the consciousness that my position has not been in the least shaken, had he not introduced into the discussion what he deems a new witness, to whose testimony he would have his readers attach great importance, and whose claim to credit it may be well to investigate. I must, however, first advert to a charge of unfairness preferred by my reviewer. He complains that, while professing to bring forward for discussion all that had been urged against the grant by the writer in the London Magazine, I omitted parts which were important in their bearing on the controversy in opposition to my riews; and he supplies the omission by the citation of a few passages. When writing my pamphlet, it was my anxious endeavour to adduce and to meet, as far as I could, every allegation of that writer which appeared to my judgment of the least weight, and I omitted none willingly which I thought entitled to a moment's consideration. Nor is my opinion changed by the passages now brought forward. When it is complained that one great objection to the grant and its distributors relates to the secrecy with which it is alleged all things relating to it were transacted, I could attach little value to the random statements of a writer who professed not only to know in what manner the Minister of the Crown proceeded in the appointment of the trustees, and to be able to give their names, but also to relate the minute particulars of the private conversations which took place on the occasions. Not to add, that with reference to the allegation that the Marquis of Rockingham, on his elevation to power, had summarily displaced Dr. Chandler and installed his successor as chief distributor, I hold in my hands a contemporary official document which proves its inaccuracy. The Marquis of Rockingham came into power in 1765. Dr. Chandler held his appointment for nearly a year afterwards, till March, 1766, when he was disabled by age and infirmity from discharging its duties; he died in May of that year, after a long and painful illness; and Dr. Stennett received his appointment as his successor a few weeks previously, when Dr. Chandler was on his deathbed.
My reviewer further alleges, that I represented the statements in the London Magazine as the first attempt to attack the grant through the press, though there were pamphlets previously existing in which the grant was assailed. Of some of these he gives the titles, and selects one for particular notice, as furnishing strong evidence against me. The title of this tract is, “ A Narrative of the Proceedings of the Protestant Dissenters of the Three Denominations relating to the Repeals of the Corporation and Test Acts, from the year 1731 to the present Time. London, 1734.”
I must admit that my statement was incorrect. Though I prosecuted a very diligent search for written statements against the grant, I failed to discover any beyond those I have mentioned. My attention to the tract which is here named was first directed by one of the reviewers of my pamphlet to whom I have already referred. It was by him paraded at great length as, in his opinion, corroborating the views of the writer in the London Magazine. From the importance thus attached to the authority of this tract, I examined it with care, with the intention of writing an answer to the reviewer's remarks. But I soon relinquished my purpose ; for I discovered that, though the author was free in his imputations and censures in reference to the grant and its distributors, he furnished no single proof of any fact to justify the stigma he endeavoured to fix upon them. Such was my judgment at that time, and the re-perusal of it has not in the least altered my opinion. For my justification I will examine a few of its statements.
The pamphlet bears the date of 1732, and purports, as its title evinces, to record the proceedings of the Dissenters at that period relative to an application to Parliament for the repeal of the Corporation and Test Acts. In the course of his “narrative," the author takes occasion to impute to the distributors of the Royal bounty that they did all in their power to defeat the movements that were then made with that object. He relates that in 1731 there was a general feeling among the Dissenters that the repeal should be forth with applied for. The General Body of London Ministers of the Three Denominations, then the only organized body of Dissenters, were solicited to make the first more. ment. When the subject was brought before them, they resolved on consideration that the matter was one more particularly affecting the laity, and recommended that it should be committed to their management. Acting on this suggestion, a numerous meeting of lay gentlemen was held, on the 19th November, 1732, at the Silver-Street Chapel. They appointed a committee of twenty-one, Mr. Holden being chosen Chairman ;-instructed them to consider “when and in what manner to apply for the Repeal," and to report to a similar general meeting to be held at the same place on the 29th of the month. The committee, having conferred with the Government, reported accordingly," that if an application were made, it was not likely to be attended with success." The meeting refused to receive this report, and the committee resigned. After some discussion they were, however, re-appointed, with a small addition to their number, were directed to re-consider the subject, and report to a meeting composed of two lay deputies from each of the Dissenting congregations of the Three Denominations in and about London, to assemble at Salters’-Hall Chapel on the 25th December following. At this meeting the Committee accordingly made their report in the same words as before. The report was received, and the meeting adjourned.
Towards the end of 1733, lay deputies were again chosen by the same congregations, to whom it was proposed “ to commit the civil affairs relating to Protestant Dissenters." The committee first named, deeming their functions to be still continued, summoned these deputies to meet them at Salters' Hall on the 6th of March. But some of the deputies, not recognizing their authority, summoned a meeting at Pinners' Hall, where they declared themselves to be the delegated body, chose their Chairman (Captain Winter), and appointed an executive committee. The old committee and the other deputies assembled, as proposed, at Salters' Hall, and after some discussion resolved that the conduct of the dissidents “tended to weaken the interests of the Dissenters," and afterwards adjourned. Some time subsequently a reconciliation took place, the two parties united, and the deputation at large chose a committee composed of members taken from each division, to act for them in civil matters.*
The chief part of the pamphlet is taken up with the history of these disputes of committee and the lay deputies. The author takes part with the dissidents of Pinners' Hall, charges the committee with betraying their trust out of deference to men in power, and opposing the application to Parliament for the repeal of the Corporation and Test Acts, when it was their duty to have prosecuted it forth with and at all hazards. It is in this connection that he assails the distributors of the Royal bounty, and implicates them in his censures of the committee.
* Some account of this often-named Committee and its proceedings will be found in my “Sketch," Note A, pp. 86, &c.
My reviewer quotes one passage in which the author denounces their conduct; but as this passage is introduced near the end of the tract, as a kind of corollary from his assumed demonstrations in the preceding pages, I shall here substitute for examination another, in an earlier part, in which his charges are more formally enunciated.
“After this committee was chosen,” (he writes, page 12,) " those Dissenting ministers who, being the elder men, have the greatest power in distributing the Fund money, and who, with such as they please to associate with themselves, are the sole distributors of those other large sums which, at first being made public, were generally looked on as the price of our liberty, gave all their influence to the majority of this committee, and distributed their money, and propagated such sentiments in clubs, families, private conversations and correspondences, as might best subserve the views of the majority of the committee.”
Here, then, your readers have before them the specific offences charged against the distributors of the Royal bounty, as the evidence of their subserviency to the Court, and their dishonesty in the administration of their trust. It cannot require many words to relieve them from such imputations.
The writer admits, by his own account, that some of the persons whom he would criminate were ministers of high name and character in their denominations. They were the “elder men,” having the “greatest power in distributing THE FUND,”-one of the great Dissenting charities, that is, established for the support of the Dissenting cause in the provinces. They were, from their station and character, the least likely of all men to combine to subserve the views or the interests of a party by the violation of their integrity.
But these men, with their associates in the Royal Bounty trust, did, according to our author, give all their influence to subserve the views of the majority of the committee :
First, “ by propagating such sentiments in clubs, families,” &c., as they thought adapted to this object.
But if they thought the views of the committee were just, and their conduct proper and honourable, in declining to press the application for the Repeal at that juncture, they might very innocently and very honourably do all they could, by the dissemination of their opinion, to support them. There was nothing in the object nor in the stated means to affect their character. But they did not, it seems, confine themselves to such measures; for,
Secondly, our author states, “ They distributed their money" so as to subserve their views.
So grave an accusation, imputing to a body of Dissenting ministers of the highest respectability a gross abuse of a pecuniary trust, for a corrupt political object to give it the least claim to belief, should have been accompanied by at least some evidence to attest its truth. As it is, it rests entirely on the allegation of the writer, of whose name and claims to credit we know nothing. It cannot, therefore, admit a moment's consideration.
But, in the absence of all direct evidence in its support, it may be asked whether there be any thing in the circumstances of the case to attach to it a particle of verisimilitude. The rank and station of the committee and its constituents, the principal lay Dissenters of the