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Taken from Norman Gash, The Age of Peel (London, Edward Arnold, 1973), with the kind permission of Professor Gash. Copyright of this document, of course, remains with him.
When the Conservative ministry took office in 1841, the new Home Secretary, Sir James Graham, began to prepare a scheme for the better education of children in industrial areas. Since 1839 it seemed essential to win the approval of the Church for any state plan of education and in negotiations during 1842 Graham made several modifications to meet Anglican views. The scheme presented to Parliament in 1843 as part of a larger factory bill provided for the compulsory education of children in factories with a schoolmaster appointed on the nomination of the diocesan bishop and a school-board on which there would be a practical majority of Anglicans. There was strong and widespread Dissenting agitation against the scheme in which the Methodists (who had supported the Church in 1839) now joined. Various concessions by Graham failed to allay the excitement. Many Churchmen themselves began to feel lukewarm about the measure and no solid support for it was forthcoming from Anglican quarters. Despite support from prominent men on both sides of the House, Graham in the end withdrew the bill as unworkable even if passed in view of the hostility it would encounter. Lord Ashley was one of many who believed that much of the resistance to the scheme was due to the unpopularity of the Oxford Tractarian Movement led by Pusey and Newman which was widely thought to be leading the Church towards a form of Roman Catholicism.
In consequence of the persevering and general opposition of the Dissenting Body to the proposed measure of the Government for providing combined scriptural education for the children employed in factories, and the little prospect that they would, even if the Bill were carried, unite in giving effect to it, your Majesty's servants thought it better to withdraw the measure than make an attempt to carry it, which, as success depended upon general concord and goodwill, must be ultimately unavailing, and the progress of which must infallibly embitter religious animosity and strife.
You might have carried your Bill through the House by unwilling voters and small majorities, but you could not have carried it into practical operation. Your difficulties would have been less from the fierceness and determination of the Dissenters and Wesleyans than from the utter coldness and apathy of the Church, both lay and ecclesiastical. Not a hundred men would have been found to introduce and support the system.
We must ascribe much - very much - of this resistance to the fears of the people caused and stimulated by the perilous pranks of Dr Pusey and his disciplines. A vast body of Churchmen actuated by these alarms rejoiced in the opposition.
The clergy are not to be blamed for their backwardness. The Church has never made so great concessions: they went to the very verge of what a man of principle could vote for, but she made them in the hope of conciliation. We cannot be surprised that she should be reluctant to force a measure on the country which would not pacify their opponents, and was distasteful to themselves.
Let this last trial be taken as a sufficient proof that 'united education' is an impossibility. It ought never again to be attempted. The Dissenters and the Church have each laid down their limits which they will not pass; and there is no power than can either force, persuade, or delude them.
Your Government has nothing to regret, except the loss of a healing measure. You would have much to regret had you not propounded it. But you have endeavoured to remove a great evil, and in so doing have thrown the responsibility, before God and man, on the shoulders and consciences of others.
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