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HOUSE OF COMMONS, WEDNESDAY,…

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HOUSE OF COMMONS, WEDNESDAY, AUGUST 23. THE REGIUM DONUM. 1 Oa the vote for miscellaneous charges formerly on the civi list, £ €,639, Mr. Lushingtoa rose to object to the first item in the vote,- £ 1,695 for Protestant Dissenting ministers in England. The honourab'e gentleman spoke to the following effect:—I should not have troubled the Committee with the motion of which I have given notice, had I not been impelled to adopt that course by the i urgent representations of several numerous and influential bodies of Dissenters, who feel themselves deeply aggrieved and humili- ated by the annual-imposition -of'this grant. Before, however proceedingfurtLer, I will take the liberty of reminding the Commit- tee of the nature and object of this grant. This grant, usually called the Keg mm, Donuiti, was originally bestowed by George I. on certain poor Dissenting Ministers or their widows, as a matter of chanty, out of the revenues of the Crown, and when those re- sources we.re transferred to the; State under the existing arrange- ment of the Civi) List, the Regium Donum became a charge on the Consolidated Fund, and has, from that time, been provided for by an annual vote in the miscellaneous estimates. The amount of the grant is £ 1,695, payable through the hands of nine trustees, of whom the treasurer is one, in equal proportions, to poor mi- nisters of the three denominations of Dissenters,-Presbyterian Independent, and Baptist* By the latest accounts, the recipients were about 300 in number,, the sui-n awardeci to each averaging five pounds. Now, the great bulk of. these Dissenters, especially t ie Independents and Baptists, object to this grant, as subversive of the Voluntary Principle which they reverence, as degrading to their character for consistency, and offensive to their views of moral and religious obligation. These objections have frequently been imbodied in Petitions to this House, renouncing the grant as uncalled for, impolitic, and unjust; and petitions to the above effect have been presented this session from the Committee of Deputies of the several congregations of Protestant Dissenters of the three rlenominations,-Presbyterian, Independent, and Baptist, in and within twelve miles of London, appointed to protect their civil rights; the Board of Congregational Ministers, residing in and about the cities of London and Westminster; the general body of Protestant Dissenting ministers of the three denominations, re- siding in the same locality from the Baptist Board, representing above a thousand churches, and other numerous and influential bodies. These petitions convey the remonstrances of between 4, )03 and 5,000 ministers and their congregations, far exceeding a million of persons. So great, indeed, is their repugnance to this oppressive act of State benevolence, that many of these Dissenters have expressed their willingness, if the Government Will abandon the grant, to make up the amount by voluntary con- tribution. All that the immense majority of the Dissenters ask, is to be relieved from the burden and disgrace of receiving the eleemosynary benefactions of the State, either for charitable or religious purposes, in the person of some of their ministers, simply because they are needy. No doubt, at first sight, these assertions appear utterly a't varlancewith the evidence produced before the Committee on these estimates. But who was the witness on N)- ',lose sole testimony the Committee and the Government have y formed their resolution to recommend the continuance of this grant to its present number of recipients? Why, Dr. Rees, the treasurer of the fund, who has the principle patronage of its distribution He has affirmed that the acceptance of the grant is agreeable to the generality of the "denominations." Now, c ..I though I beiievs Dr. Rees to be a most respectable gentleman, yet I deny his affirmations on the part of the vast majority of the Dissenters and pronounce his evidence to be rash, fallacious, and unfounded on fact. The Committee may judge from the follow- ing passages. Dr. Rees is asked "7533. Chairman Generally speaking, I understand from your evidence you consider that this distribution gives satisfaction?—I am sure the withholding of it would be considerecl a very great calamity. I have reason to know that from very painful repre- sentations which are continually coming into my hands. 7-339. From your experience, you conceive the applications are no numerous as to show there is no indisposition on the part of the Dissenting clergy to receive it ?—Quite so; I have received repeated applications on the subject, expressive of the fears of the parties that it might be withdrawn. 7540. Is that lately?—It has been of late years; there has been no discussion very lately to occasion such communications." The p titions to which I have referred contradict these prepos- terous assertions point blank, and in a paper widely circulated by the Dissenters, which I hold in my hand, it is notorious that the great bodies of Dissenters of the three denominations pro- tested eleven time., between the years 1837 and 1847 in public and solemn assemblage, against this degrading benevolence. Yet Dr. Rees, acc-oidir g to his evidence, unscrupulously declares there has been no dimen sion very lately regarding the indisposition on the part of the Dissenting clergy to receive the grant. But it remains to be explained why the Committee took only one witness noto- riously and personally interested in the continuance of the grant, aid did not summon a single witness likely to belie his testimony, and prove that to the bulk or the Congregational Dissenters this grant is hateful and obnoxious. And yet it is unscrupulously averred that it gives great satisfaction, not to the recipients alone, nor to their congregations only, but to the Denominations to which th(-r belozi, -Now,-ivho are the men oil whom this contumely is affixed, whose honour and respectability are tainted by this an- nual infliction ? Why men who have built 4,G&1 places of worship in England and Wales, the ministers of which they maintain by voluntary stipends,—who possess and support fifteen theological colleges, — who contribute most generously to the encouragement of missions and to the diffusion of education. Who are among the foremost in every good work,—who are most, rarely, even the humblest among them, presented before the judgment-seat as criminals,—who have the privilege of approaching Royalty with their Addresses,—and to whose ancestors we are mainly indebted for that full measure of liberty which it is our happiness to enjoy. It is on behalf of these most meritorious members of the commu- nity that I implore her Majesty's Government and the Commit- tee to relinquish this oppressive practice of annually tempting certain needy though respectable persons to accept a paltry dona- tive, to the. debasement of their social condition, by the virtual in- fraction of their implied engagements, by the compromise of their princip'es, and at the sacrifice of their conscientious convictions. So much in humble and iraperfeet advocacy of the wishes of the Dissenters. But I very much question the right of her Majes- ty's Mi' isters to throw away even this small sum of the public money on these hesitating recipients, whose poverty, not their Will, incites them to accept it, especially too, when the grant can, in all '.robability, as intimated in the paper which I have quoted, be provided for by annual association. For all these reasons I now prove, that this vote for the payment of the Regium Donum be disallowed. Sir, (his is not a party question. It is not a dis- pute between Whig and Tory. It is not a controversy between Churchmen and Nonconformists. The simple case is, whether Parliament will continue to brand the universal body of Dissenters of the three denominations with the mark and stigma of niendi- cancy, by inducing a small number cf their ministers to palter < with their consciences by annually accepting this miserable dole. The honourable gentleman concluded by moving as an amendment, that the charge of £ 1,695 for Protestant Dissenting ministers in England be. struck out of this vote, reducing it to £ 4,974. Colonel Thompson thought, that as the Dissenters protested against this grant as an oppressive act of benevolence forced v.uon them, and at the same time complained of an oppressive -demand made upon them for Church-rates, the one had better be trucked against the other—(a laugh)—and both given up. Lord J. Itusscll vtouHièmhd the committee that this was a grant to a number of Protestant Dissenting ministers. and that though hon. members came down, and said that they thought it degrading, and were very reluctant to receive it, and had rather not reseive it, those hon. members were not themselves -'tbe-persons who received it—(hear, hear)—they gave it up on V°ha'lf of others— (a laugh)—and apparently without authority, was sum which had been granted since the reign of "George I., as a matter of charity to poor Dissenting ministers; .and, until,a few days ago, he believed this assistance was grate- ii'uliy received.by the whole body. Dr. Rees was examined before the committee which had been sitting, and w?.s Psi Ara thefe sums much sought f,i- lIe answered, "Very ,nitlc11; we have a great many more applications than we are able to moetT" Tliat di I not look like that extreme reluctance, or. even hesitation, with which this grant had been said to be .talven. If the parties receiving this sum did not wish to receive ;if their congregations made it up by their contributions, the Treasury would find that it was not required; but instead of that, here were applicants urgently asking for it. It was .divided among, various ministers of the three denominations, And J)r..Itsesi stated that there had been in the course of three y,irs 1 !■><> grants to Presbyterian ministers, 443 to Independent,, and jipl jo so that all the three denominations had .-taken" the grant, the share3 varying because their number varied.' reason why this opposition was made, was _ex- piaincd'irt- a'subsequent part of Dr. llees's evidence. "Very respectable, and indeed eminent men among the Dissenters un- dertock the distribution of the grant—Dr. Rees, Dr. l'ye Smith, Mr. John Clayton three mCll could not be named more entitled to respect for their learning and acquirements, and for their character, for piety and intelligence, and they entertained Ho such objection to "this grant. But Hther gentlemen, for Yrboai he (Lord J. Husse.1 ) aid a great .r .ipect likewise, had- set up what they "called, an Anti-State-Church Association, their object being that the Slate should not make or authorise any grants or endowments by which religion might be at all supported; and a gentleman whom he very much respected, Dr. Cox, seceded from the body who distributed this grant, on this ground, thinking it inconsistent with the assertion of the general principle, that all Church Establishments should be destroyed, and no public money granted for the support of re- ligion. That seemed to him (Lord J. Russell) a very insufficient ground for refusing what, as a matter of charity, appeared to be very at ceptable to those who received it; and, indeed, he thought it was not the proper way of raising so great a ques- tion. If Church Establishments were objected to, or even Church-rates, the question could be brought forward by itself; but a paltry grant of this kind was not the proper occasion for raising it (hear, hear), Mr. W. J. Fox apprehended that themlyreason why the grant had not ceased in consequence of no application being made to the Treasury for it, was that the distribution of it was not in the least under the control of the body, some of whose ministers received it. One gentleman, Dr. Ilees, was selected by the Treasury, and he nominated others, who formed with him a board utterly irresponsible to any body, clerical or lay, connected with the Dissenting interest; they had no auditors but themselves;' they were men of unquestionable character, but they were in a minority in their communities. Each of the three denominations concerned had offered to contribute the money its ministers received from the grant, but the answer of the trustees had been, "If you will raise a sum, the interest of which will pay this grant permanently, we will then consent to cease to apply to the Treasury for it." That had been thought unfair and unrea- sonable. The- Dissenters had offered again and again to raise the amount. (Lord J. Russell: Foi one year, you mean.") It would be raised annually: they were never backward in their benevolent subscriptions (hear, hear). Mr. Kershaw assured the noble lord that the protest against this grant was much older than the Anti-State Church Associa- tion. If the Committee would refuse the vote, he (Mr. Kershaw) would personally engage that the sum should be sup-plied by vo- luntary contributions, and these poor ministers should receive the same amount as if the grant had been voted as usual (hear). Mr. G. Thompson, in opposing :he grant,.remarked that it in- capacitated the ministers who received it from advocating w.th a clean conscience their own principles, the sacred principles of Nonconformity. Mr. Bright was well convinced that this amendment was in accordance with the sentiments of the-great body of Dissenters. Dr. Rees, in his evidence, spoke of dissent aaan "evil, a pretty Dissenter, truly Lord J. Russell said, that, if the Dissenters would give security that they would furnish the sum required yearly, the vote should not appear in the estimates again. The Committee then divided, and the numbers were,- For the amendment Against it • •• —32

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