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disseminate such works and to support such a moral education as would enable the people to combat those principles. He entirely denied the truth of the argument which the Honourable Member had drawn from the employment of missionaries abroad. Those individuals never proceeded to insult the prejudices of the natives of other countries by any gross and indecent reflections. They adduced nothing but fair and sober argument to effect their purpose. The Honourable Member said that there was no drawing a precise line in arguments on this subject. His answer was, that it was not intended to draw a precise line. Let truth go to its fullest and fairest extent, but let ribaldry and indecency be avoided. Did Christianity ever insult the country where it was attempted to be planted? No: it was distinguished by decorum, respect, and obedience to the powers that be. Even the government of the Emperor Nero, one of the most cruel tyrants that ever lived, was not abused by the Christians. With respect to those who had voluntarily taken upon them to prosecute publications of this nature, he must observe that there were many wrongs by which society in general suffered, but which were likewise so offensive to individuals, that they hesitated not to visit them with the penalties of the law. There were also, it should be observed, certain other crimes, more injurious to society than even robbery or murder, but which, as they did not affect the particular interests of private individuals, they did not stand forward to punish. Therefore the formation of societies for the purpose of visiting such crimes with severity, was a praiseworthy
It had been stated over and over again by the judges, that persons who associated together to carry the law into execution, where offences of this kind, which were mischievous to society, were perpetrated, were acting in a perfectly legal manner. The introduction of obscene pictures and improper books into schools had been effectually checked by that means. When individuals combined together for this purpose, and were only actuated by public principles, and where the over-zealous disposition of some was tempered by the moderation and prudence of others, it could not be doubted that great good was likely to be the result.
Mr. RICARDO said that he had heard with pleasure a great part of the speech of his honourable friend who had just sat down, and the remainder certainly with some concern. The greater part of that speech was in support of the opinion which he (Mr. Ricardo) held in common with his honourable friend who had
introduced the motion-namely, that no man had a right to dictate his own opinions upon abstract opinions to another, upon peril of punishment for a refusal to adopt them (hear, from Mr. Wilberforce); and his honourable friend had further admitted, that so long as the controversy upon such topics were conducted with decency, it ought not to be prevented by force of law. Now, he lamented that when his honourable friend had thought proper to quote the sentiments of Dr. Paley, he had not given them more at length, for he would, in the writings of that eminent individual, find a more large and liberal spirit of toleration, than he was disposed to admit practically in other parts of his speech.
Mr. WILBERFORCE.-" Dr. Paley distinctly excepts to the treatment of such subjects with levity and ribaldry."
Mr. RICARDO resumed-that, certainly, was Dr. Paley's only exception; and he, as well as the other chief ornaments of the church, for instance, Dr. Tillotson and Dr. Porteus, had asserted in the largest sense, the right of unfettered opinion. If the validity of such opinions were admitted, who could advocate the operation of the law of this country in such matters? Who could sustain those impolitic and unjust prosecutions? What was the prosecution of Carlile for republishing the Age of Reason? That was not a work written in a style of levity and ribaldry, but a serious argument upon the truths of the Christian religion. Look again at the impending prosecution for eighteen weeks of the same man for Mr. Hone's Parodies, which was not abandoned until Hone had himself secured an acquittal on the charge. But, said his honourable friend (Mr. Wilberforce), in justification of these public prosecutions, there were some offences which did not directly affect private interest although they injured the community, and which might go unpunished, were it not for general associations which took cognizance of such matters; and he talked of obscene writings in illustration of his opinion. Was there really any comparison between such writings and those upon speculative points of religion, which were the only topics to which this motion applied? (Hear, hear.) They were all agreed that obscene writings ought to be punished; and why?-because they were obviously pernicious to the moral interests of society, and constituted a general and disgusting species of offence. (Hear, hear.) But not so abstract religious subjects, upon which it was quite impossible to obtain universal assent. No man had a right to say to another, "My
opinion upon religion is right, and yours is not only wrong when you differ from me, but I am entitled to punish you for that difference." Such an arrogant assumption of will was intolerable, and was an outrage upon the benignant influence of religion. (Hear, hear.) They might talk of ribaldry aud levity, but there was nothing more intolerable than the proposition which he had just stated, and which was nothing less than the power contended for by the advocates of these prosecutions for mere opinions upon points of faith. (Hear, hear.) Then, as he had said on a former occasion, what an absurd and immoral mode did the law provide for estimating the credit of a man's faith before his testimony was legally admissible! When the question was put to a witness, "Do you believe in a future state?" If he were a conscientious man, entertaining seriously such an opinion, his answer must be in the negative, and the law said he should not be heard; but if he were an immoral man, and disregarded truth, and said, "I do believe in a future state," although in his conscience he disbelieved in it, then his evidence was admissible, and his hypocrisy and falsehood secured him credibility. Now there would be some sense in the law if it declined tempting the hypocrisy of the individual, or his fear of the world's hostility or prejudice, and let in other evidence to establish, from previous knowledge of the individual, whether or not he ought not to be admitted as a witness; but as it stood, it was absurd and ridiculous; and when he (Mr. Ricardo) was charged upon this ground with a desire to do away with the sanctity of an oath, his reply was, "I do not desire to diminish the sacredness of the obligation; but I do desire to get rid of the hypocrisy by which that oath might be evaded." (Hear, hear.) But then, again, was it possible for a man not to believe in a future state, and yet be strictly moral, and impressed with the necessity of upholding credibility in the common obligations of society? For his part he firmly believed in the possibility of a man's being very honest for all the social purposes and essential obligations of the community in which he lived, and still not assenting to the belief of a future state. He fully admitted that religion was a powerful obligation, but he denied it to be the only obligation-it was, in fact, one which was superadded to the general force of moral impressions-it were a libel upon human nature to say otherwise. (Hear:) Tillotson was of that opinion in the following quotation from his works :-"As for most of those restraints which Christianity lays upon us, they are so much
both for our private and public advantage, that, setting aside all considerations of religion, and of the rewards and punishments of another life, they are really good for us; and if God had not laid them upon us, we ought in reason, in order to our temporal benefit and advantage, to have laid them upon ourselves. If there were no religion, I know men would not have such strong and forcible obligations to these duties; but yet, I say, though there were no religion, it were good for men, in order to temporal ends, to their health, and quiet, and reputation, and safety, and, in a word, to the private and public prosperity of mankind, that men should be temperate, and chaste, and just, and peaceable and charitable, and kind and obliging to one another, rather than the contrary. So that religion does not create those restraints arbitrarily, but requires those things of us, which our reason, and a regard to our advantage, which the necessity and conveniency of the things themselves, without any consideration of religion, would in most cases urge us to." He read this passage for the purpose of shewing, and from great authorities in the church, that the obligation of religion was not alone considered as the influential test of moral truth, and that a man might be very sceptical upon doctrinal points, and yet very positive in the controul of moral impressions distinct from religious faith: for instance, there was Mr. Owen, a great benefactor to society, and yet a man not believing (judging from some opinions of his) in a future state. Would any man, with the demonstrating experience of the contrary before his eyes, say that Mr. Owen was less susceptible of moral feeling because he was incredulous upon matters of religion? Would any man, pretending to honour or candour, say that Mr. Owen, after a life spent in improving the condition of others, had a mind less pure, a heart less sincere, or a less conviction of the restraint and controul of moral rectitude, than if he were more imbued with the precepts of religious obligation? (Hear.) Why, then, was such a man (for so by the law he was) to be excluded from the pale of legal credibility? Why was he, if he promulgated his opinions, to be liable to spend his days immured in a prison? With respect to the exception provided according to his honourable friend (Mr. Wilberforce), for treating such subjects with levity and ribaldry, he (Mr. Ricardo) must confess, that he thought it a very singular reservation : for what was it, but to say-“ You may discuss, if you please, in the most solemn, most serious, and therefore most
influential manner, any topic of religion you please; but the moment you discuss it with levity or ribaldry, that is, in such a manner as to be sure to offend the common sense of mankind, and therefore deprive you of really acquiring any serious proselytes, then the law takes cognizance of your conduct, and makes your imbecility penal." (Hear.) Was not this a glaring inconsistency? The law allowed the greater evil, the serious and substantial principle of discussion; and it denounced the lesser, which, after admitting the first, it ought to have tolerated; and yet his honourable friend (Mr. Wilberforce) had by his argument justified and supported so singular a course. There was one passage of this petition which was very forcible, and to which he called the attention of his honourable friend, it was this :-"The reviler of Christianity appears to your petitioners to be the least formidable of its enemies; because his scoffs can rarely fail of arousing against him public opinion, than which nothing more is wanted to defeat his end. Between freedom of discussion and absolute persecution there is no assignable medium." When this subject was last before the House, unless his memory deceived him, he had heard singular opinious propounded by gentlemen who took a different view of this subject from himself: he thought that he had heard it avowed, that the religion which ought to be established in a state, was not that which the majority said they believed, but that whose doctrines were true. He had heard an observation like that fall from a very respectable quarter. It was very dith cult to argue with any body entertaining such an opinion, for where was the test by which such an argument could be tried? (Hear.) There was not in polemics, as in astronomy, one unerring criterion to which the common credence of mankind bowed-it was not like the rising sun, or any of the other phenomena of nature, which were bound by indissoluble and indisputable laws; but, on the contrary, a subject open to conflict ing opinions. Who, then, was to decide upon the truth-who was authorized to say, "My opinion is right, yours is wrong?" If this were impossible, how was the test to be decided? (Hear.) How, for instance, in such a country as Ireland (and to that he alluded in his observation) try the question of the truth of what ought to be the religion of the state, against the opinions of the majority of the people? (Hear.) How would, upon that test, the stability of the Protertant religion in Ireland be secured? Or if it was secured there, merely because the minority thought it
the true religion, the same reason, and the same duty, would authorize the extension of the principle to India; and why not supplant Mahometanism to establish the doctrines of the Reformation? Into this wide field did the gentlemen enter who embarked in such fanciful notions. He begged to be understood as having argued this question from beginning to end as the friend of free discussion; he knew the delicacy of the subject, and was anxious to guard himself against being supposed to entertain opinions obnoxious to the bulk of mankind: he repeated that he only contended for the general right of selfopinion, and for the unfettered liberty of discussion, and hoped that while doing so, he should not have, as his honourable friend (Mr. Hume) had last night, certain opinions fixed upon him which he did not entertain, and which it was quite unnecessary for him to countenance, in supporting the line of argument which the subject suggested to him, and which his reason approved. (Hear.)
Mr. HORACE TWISS contended that the Honourable Members who supported this petition were erroneous, when they supposed that that law was severe and arbitrary against which they protested; on the contrary, he was prepared to shew that the law originated in the best time of the constitution, and was that which the great Lord Somers had suggested to that constitutional Sovereign, King William. The honourable and learned gentleman then quoted the address of the House of Commons to that Monarch, in the year 1697, and his Majesty's answer, which, in obedience to the desire of the House, recommended the adoption of additional measures for the suppression of profane and immoral writings, and for putting down publications which had a tendency to subvert or disparage the Christian religion. He then proceeded to argue, that it was a mistake to say that the law was levelled at mere opinions, while on the contrary it was directed against overt acts, which attacked the public peace and security by striking at the roots of the existence of civil society. (Hear, hear.) There was a wide distinction between matters of belief in politics and in religion: in the latter the belief was the substance, and could not safely be dispensed with. He begged to be understood as agreeing with those who thought that hasty prosecutions on such topics were impolitic, and tended to aggravate the evil; but did it follow that he was prepared to abolish the exercise of a prudent discretion in selecting objects for such prosecutions, and that he was at once to exonerate from all legal responsibility, every sort
of assailant upon the Christian religion? for to that intent did the Honourable Member's motion apply. (Hear.) It was singular that the Honourable Gentlemen who supported the present motion for affording such a latitude of opinion and action to the disbelievers of all religion, should be the very men who, on a late occasion, when the rights and opinions of six millions of fellow-christians, not unbelievers, were under consideration, felt themselves justified in withdrawing from the House, and thereby exposing to a defeat, which their presence might have averted, that principle of the exercise of conscientious opinion without controul, for which they had this night evinced so uncompromising an attachment. (Hear.) He was not surprised to hear from the Honourable Member (Mr. Ricardo) who was the advocate of free trade, such free opinions upon topics of religion (a laugh)—he was properly enough an advocate for free trade, because it was a bounty on production, and for the same reason he (Mr. Twiss) was not an advocate for such sentiments as this petition asserted. (Hear.)
Mr. W. SMITH was afraid that this was not a topic well calculated to secure that grave attention in a debate which it so essentially required. He could assure the House, that no man felt more disgust than he did at the publications for which Carlile had been prosecuted; but at the same time he thought that liberty of conscience without the liberty of divulging one's opinions, was a poor and imperfect privilege. The only question raised this night, was simply this whether all manner of treating religious subjects should be allowed in controversy. He had long thought upon this subject, and the result of his reflections was the painful conviction, that it were better to leave such matters to the general opinion of society. He then argued the impossibility of establishing a safe test of opinion for the penal guidance of society. What in England they thought moral and just, might not be equally so considered in India. The Brahmin who, from motives of religion, sanctioned the burning of Hindoo widows, might, if left to his decision, consign to the same flames the Englishman who complained against so cruel and irreligious a practice.
Mr. THOMAS WILSON trusted that the House would shew by its vote of that night that its opinion was not in unison with those which had been expressed by the Honourable Member who spoke last. He thought that the minds of the lower orders were poisoned by the blasphemous publications which had been spread abroad. The lower orders would eagerly
imbibe the poison, but would not seek the antidote.
Mr. MONEY opposed the motion. Since Parliament and other societies had done all in its power to disseminate the blessings of education, care ought to be taken that it was not abused. His principal object in rising was to do justice to an individual who had been alluded to during the debate-he meant Mr. Owen. 'The Honourable Member for Portarlington had said that Mr. Owen disbelieved in a future state. Since that assertion had been made, he (Mr. Money) had communicated with Mr. Owen, and he had great reason to believe that the Honourable Member for Portarlington had mistaken the opinions of Mr. Owen. He begged the Honourable Member to state in what part of Mr. Owen's works he found that opinion promulgated which he had attributed to Mr. Owen.
Mr. RICARDO said the last act he would commit would be to misrepresent the opinions of any individuals. He had gathered Mr. Owen's opinions from the works which he had published. After reading the speeches which Mr. Owen had delivered in Ireland, and other places, he had come to the conclusion, that he (Mr. Owen) did not believe in a future state of rewards and punishments. It was one of the doctrines of Mr. Owen, that a man could not form his own character, but that it was formed by the circumstances which surrounded himthat when a man committed an act which the world called vice, it ought to be considered his misfortune merely, and should not be visited with punishment. He (Mr. Ricardo) certainly had imagined that Mr. Owen would extend the same principle to a future state. It would, however, give him great concern to find, that he had inadvertently misrepresented Mr. Owen's opinions.
Mr. PEEL complained, that an Honourable Member ou the other side had assumed that the House was prepared to go a very considerable way in accordance with the views of the Honourable Member for Aberdeen. He, for one, was not prepared to advance one step along with the Honourable Member. (Hear, hear.) He objected to his motion altogether. He disliked the form in which the Honourable Member had brought the question before the House. The practice of proposing resolutions declaratory of the opinion of the House had, he was sorry to see, become very prevalent of late. If the Honourable Member considered the law which subjected individuals to punishment, improper or unnecessary, why did he not move for its repeal? (Hear, hear.) In the resolution which the Honourable Member had
proposed, he first declared that free discussion had been attended with more benefit than injury, and then said that it was inexpedient to subject individuals to punishment on account of the expression of their opinions on religious matters. If the first part of the resolution was true, the second was quite unnecessary. If there had been, as the Honourable Member assumed in his resolution, free discussion, what more did he desire? To be consistent with himself, the Honourable Member should have framed the resolution in a prospective sense, and said, that more benefit would arise, &c. With respect to the petition, he must say that he had never read any thing more absurd or sophisticated. It commenced by stating, that the petitioners had a strong sense of the benefits which resulted from a belief in the Christian religion, and afterwards expressed a wish that the laws might be repealed which prevented individuals from attacking and endeavouring to destroy that religion. He (Mr. Peel) was satisfied with the law as it stood, and would not consent to change it. He could conceive that cases might occur in which it would be impolitic to put the law in force. That was a matter of discretion. But if it could be shewn that in a dozen cases the discretion had been abused, it would not determine him to put aside the law altogether. He would not consent to allow men, who, from sordid motives,
HOUSE OF LORDS.
The Marquis of LANSDOWN presented a petition, signed by upwards of 2,000 persons, amongst whom were 200 ministers of various religious persuasions, against prosecuting persons for writings supposed to be hostile to the Christian religion. His Lordship, on presenting the petition, said, that although he could not go the length to which the petitioners went, that there ought to be no statute against such publications, and no punishment under that statute, yet he was free to declare that there was no subject on which legislation could be exercised, in which it was more likely for harm to be done by misdirected zeal, whose efforts frequently tended to produce the very effects which it was the object of the law to check.
The petition was then read, and ordered to lie on the table.
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