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An Indignant Dissenter

Baptist Magazine (3 ser.), xxv-597-600 (December 1833)

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.

In March 1833 the Deputies of the Three Denominations, otherwise known as the Protestant Dissenting Deputies (a London Committee which looked after the national interests of Presbyterians, Congregationalists and Baptists), set up a United Committee 'to consider the grievances under which Dissenters now labour, with a view to their Redress'. In May the United Committee (consisting of the Committee of Deputies, delegates from the Body of Ministers, the Protestant Society and others) drew up a list of six specific grievances on which they wished the government to take action. But a deputation to the Prime Minister failed to secure satisfaction and it was clear that pressure would have to be exerted if results were to be obtained. There was the further fear that the royal commission set up in 1832 to enquire into ecclesiastical revenues might result in legislation to reform the Church, leaving the question of Dissenting grievances on one side. The Congregationalist George Hadfield, writer of the following letter, was an author and politician, later MP for Sheffield 1852-74. He had edited reports for the Charity Commission in 1829, stood unsuccessfully as liberal candidate for Bradford in 1835 and took part in the formation of the Anti-Corn Law League.


It is a matter of the deepest regret and surprise that no steps are taking by the Dissenters in England, at this critical juncture, to assert their principles and claim their just rights, when it is generally understood that his Majesty's ministers, or at least the majority of them, will concede nothing to us which they can possibly avoid; and that they intend to bring forward, next session, their plan of church reform, the tendency of which will be decidedly unfavourable to our interests, and will consolidate the political power and influence of one dominant sect.…

If, then, we owed Earl Grey and his colleagues any debt of gratitude, for doing us an act of justice before they took office, in getting the Test Laws repealed, we have now paid it; and it is time to look to our own interests, in which are involved the best interests of the country.

We are required to submit to the domination of a corrupt state church; to be governed by bishops; to see £3,5000,000 at the least (but more likely £5,00,000) annually expended in the maintenance of a clergy, of whom a vast majority do not preach the gospel; to see the cure of souls bought and sold in open market; to have the Universities closed against us, and all the iniquities of those degraded places continued; to be taxed, tithed, and rated to the support of a system which we abjure; to be compelled to submit to objectionable rites and ceremonies at marriage, baptism, and burial; – in one word, to be left out of the social compact, and degraded.…

We have hitherto demanded too little; and, consequently, we have been refused everything worth caring about. The bill for relieving places of worship from the poor rates, which was the fruit of the labours of the last session of Parliament, is no boon to us. It applies to churches in the establishment more than to ourselves, and I doubt much whether it will save the Dissenters £50 a year. I fear we have even misled the Government itself by asking for trifles, when we ought to have been contending for great principles. What signifies a small church-rate, when we should be contending against a corrupt state church? What is the trifling amount of pocrrates levied upon a very few of our chapels, in comparison of millions of pounds annually expended on a secular and donninant clergy? - and all this is done in a country burdened with a debt which grinds all! The real points at issue between the Government and us are very few, and may soon be stated. They are chiefly as follow, viz: –

1st. A total disconnexion between church and state, leaving the details consequent thereupon to be dealt with by Parliament.
2nd.The repeal of the Act of Charles II., which enables bishops to sit in the House of Lords.
3rd. The repeal of all laws which grant compulsory powers to raise money for the support of any church whatever.
4th. The reformation of the Universities, the repeal of all religious tests, and a grant of equal rights in them.
5th. A reformation of the laws relating to marriage and registration with equal rights in places of public burial.

No Government whatever could long resist any of these just and reasonable requirements, if perseveringly demanded; and it is well known that several members of the present administration would gladly and promptly grant all of them.… Our political power is far more justly estimated by our opponents than by ourselves, and few of the members of Parliament would venture to be indifferent or opposed to our wishes. Lord Durham knows us well, and his advice is particularly applicable to us: 'The power rests with yourselves, now, to instruct your representatives as to the measures which you, the respectability and intelligence of the country, have set your hearts on, and they will inevitably be carried.'

I am, Sir,
Your very obedient servant,
George Hadfield

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