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CHAPTER III: In what Manner the Political System was Affected by the State of Religious Opinions. - John Millar, An Historical View of the English Government 
An Historical View of the English Government, From the Settlement of the Saxons in Britain to the Revolution in 1688, in four volumes, edited by Mark Salber Philips and Dale R. Smith, introduction by Mark Salber Philips (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 2006).
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In what Manner the Political System was Affected by the State of Religious Opinions.
In those European countries which embraced the doctrines of the reformation, religious disputes continued for some time to agitate the minds of men; and the different sects which became prevalent, or obtained consideration, were allied with different parties in the state. The latter, in such cases, derived a prodigious advantage from the former, being supported by that zeal which religion is wont to inspire, and by that animosity which is often the bitter fruit of religious contention.
With those who endeavoured to pull down the fabric of superstition and ecclesiastical tyranny, erected in the dark ages, it was one of the first objects to withdraw that exorbitant power which the Roman pontiff, as the head of the western church, had found the means of usurping. It required but little reflection to<127> discover the inconvenience and absurdity of a foreign prince being permitted to obtain the superintendence and government of religion, in a country whose interest was not only different, but frequently opposite to that of his own dominions; that he should be allowed to interfere in the distribution of justice, as well as in the disposal of the most lucrative offices; and that he should exercise these privileges without limitation or controul, and by virtue of an authority paramount and superior to that of the civil magistrate. In England, the private controversy in which Henry the Eighth was engaged with the court of Rome, led him to view this point in a strong light; and the delivery of himself and his kingdom from the dominion of the holy see, together with the gratification of his avarice, by acquiring possession of the monastic revenues, may be regarded as the sole purpose for which he prosecuted the reformation. So great was the authority possessed by this monarch, and so much afraid was either religious party of pushing him to extremities, that the new system came, in a great measure, to be modelled by his direction; and, upon this account, it retained a<128> greater affinity to the ancient establishment than could otherwise have been expected. The papal supremacy was not extinguished, but only transferred to the king; and in other respects, the hierarchy suffered no material variation.
This plan of church government, which Henry had laboured with all his might to establish, was far from being disagreeable to the temper of Elizabeth; and though not perfectly suitable to the inclination of all that part of her subjects who favoured the reformation, yet, being patronised by the sovereign, and having obtained the sanction of two preceding reigns, it was considered as the system most likely to prevail over the ancient establishment, and was therefore admitted without opposition by every denomination of protestants.
Two great religious parties, at this time, divided the whole nation; the Protestants and the Roman Catholics: the former, who, by undaunted resolution and fortitude, and with various success encountering severe trials and bloody persecutions, had at length obtained a decided superiority. The latter, who, though defeated, were not broken; and who, though<129> they had quitted the open field, were still powerful in number, connections, and resources, and were only lying in wait for the first favourable opportunity to retrieve their fortune. These two parties were animated by mutual hatred and resentments. The oppression to which the Protestants had been subjected, and the barbarities which at the instigation of the church, they had suffered from the secular arm, were still fresh in their memory; while they dreaded the machinations of a party, with whose unrelenting dispositions they were well acquainted, and whose activity and power, seconded by the papal influence and authority over a great part of Europe, were still very formidable. The Roman Catholics, on the other hand, could not easily forget the mortifying degradation which they had suffered; the complete overthrow of their faith and worship; the loss of their splendid and lucrative establishment; the insolence and contempt of heretics, irritated by former bad usage; and the hardships which they had reason to expect from adversaries, now triumphant, and supported by the civil magistrate.<130>
After the accession of the house of Stuart, when the terror of popery began to subside, the subordinate distinctions among Protestants were brought more into notice, and their chief differences of opinion gave rise to different sects. According as the terms of the established religion had been limited and circumscribed by the influence of the crown, the sectaries became numerous and powerful. The tide of religious faith and worship, being turned from its natural course, and forced into an artificial channel, was the more likely to overflow its banks, and to find a passage in various collateral streams and currents.
The presbyterians, who had gained the ascendancy in Scotland, were in England, about this period, the most numerous body of sectaries. Their system appears to have arisen from a natural progression of the same views and opinions by which the religious reformation had been originally suggested. They proposed to correct the abuses of the Roman Catholic church, and to guard against the undue influence and domination of the clergy, by the abolition of ecclesiastical dignities, by establishing a perfect parity among churchmen,<131> by restricting them to very moderate livings, and by rejecting that pomp and pageantry of worship which is manifestly calculated to promote superstition, and to create in the people a blind veneration for their spiritual directors.
While the presbyterians disapproved of the ancient hierarchy, there arose another great sect, who considered all ecclesiastical establishments as incompatible with religious freedom. To this description of religionists, the interference of government in favour of any one sect, by maintaining its clergy at the public expence, appeared a kind of persecution of every other, and an encroachment upon the rights of private judgment. As every man employs and pays his own physician or lawyer, it seemed to them equally proper and expedient that every one should be left to choose his own religious instructor, and to bestow upon him such a reward for his labour as might be settled by an agreement between them. In this manner the clergy, it was thought, instead of acquiring an undue influence over the people, would become dependent upon them; and, like men in other professions, prompted to exertion by a regard to their own interest, would commonly be successful in pro-<132>portion to their abilities and good behaviour. The different modes of faith, as well as the forms of public worship, would thus be placed upon an equal and liberal footing; and the community at large being freed, in matters of religion, from the bias either of interest or of authority, would be encouraged to follow the dictates of reason and conscience. The political advantages of such a regulation were supposed to be not less conspicuous. By the simple expedient of leaving the people at liberty to conduct their own religious concerns, the charge of levying taxes, or providing any permanent fund for the support of the national religion, together with the hardship of obliging any part of the inhabitants to pay for maintaining the clergy of a different communion; not to mention the loss that must be sustained, in that case, if the established pastors are deserted by their flock, and remain an useless load upon the public; all these inconveniences would be entirely avoided.
Such was the general system of the independents; 1 which, by a natural progress of reasoning, seems to have grown up from that of the presbyterians, as the latter was an obvious<133> extension of the doctrines embraced by those primitive reformers who continued the hierarchy. The Christian religion had been reduced into a monopoly, under the authority of a governor,2 with extensive territories and numerous forts commanded by regular officers to defend the trade and prevent interlopers. For correcting the evils which had arisen from such an oppressive establishment, the first remedy went no farther than to cashier the governor, to dismiss a number of useless and expensive servants, and to cut off a multitude of pernicious exclusive privileges. To demolish the forts, to disband their opulent and powerful commanding officers, and to strip the corporation of its overgrown territorial possessions, appeared, upon further experience and reflection, an additional improvement. To dissolve the company altogether, and to lay the trade entirely open, was at length suggested as the most effectual means for promoting laudable industry, for discouraging unfair practices, and for communicating an equal benefit to a whole people.
These four religious parties, the Roman Catholic, the Church of England, the Presby-<134>terian, the Independent, which comprehended nearly the whole nation, were led to embrace different political systems, and became allied to different parties in the State. The two first, in a political view, exhibited characters diametrically opposite to those of the two last; and though differing in some respects from each other, their leading features were similar.
The Roman catholic religion may be regarded as a deep-laid system of superstition, which took a firmer hold of the human mind than any other that has appeared in the world.3 It was founded upon a more complicated and national theology than the rude systems of a former period; and gave rise to a multiplicity of interesting opinions and tenets, which exercised and frequently perplexed the pious believer, so as to lay him under the necessity of resorting to the aid of a religious instructor for the regulation and direction of his faith. It represented the Deity as an omnipotent, but an austere and vindictive being, capable of anger and resentment against those who transgress his laws, and intending this world, not for the present comfort and satisfaction of his<135> creatures, but as a place of preparation for a future state of eternal happiness or misery. As all men must be conscious of great weakness and frailty, of not only deviating from the standard of perfect virtue, but of being frequently stained with numberless vices, and even atrocious crimes, which excites self-condemnation and remorse, they could not fail, upon conceiving themselves in the all-seeing eye of this impartial and severe Judge, to be covered with shame and confusion, and overwhelmed with consternation and terror. Under the impression of these feelings, it was natural that they should endeavour to procure consolation from the intercourse of some ghostly father whom they should call upon to supplicate the offended Deity in their behalf, and whose advice and direction they should eagerly solicit in attempting to atone for their transgressions, by submitting to voluntary penances or mortifications, and by every expression or demonstration of humility and abasement, of sorrow and repentance. These dispositions and circumstances of the people had produced a clergy, opulent and powerful beyond example, who had laboured to promote and regulate<136> that superstition which was the original foundation of their authority; and who, in their advancement to riches and dominion, had, like the officers of a regular army, fallen into a subordination of power and rank. The doctrines and the practical conduct inculcated by this clergy, were such as might contribute most effectually to their own aggrandizement. The people were taught to believe in mysteries which their pastors alone pretended to explain, to approach and worship the Supreme Being by superstitious rites and ceremonies, in which the clergy presided, to discover to their spiritual instructor all their secret thoughts and actions, and, upon submitting to the discipline prescribed by the church in such cases, to receive from him absolution and pardon for their sins. In a word, the clergy were understood to have in their possession the keys of heaven; in consequence of which, the treasures of the earth, and the hearts of mankind, were laid open to them.
In the exercise and extension of their power, they were supported, not only by their ecclesiastical leader, the Roman pontiff, but also by their temporal sovereign, who, though on some oc-<137>casions he might quarrel with them for their encroachments upon his prerogative, had commonly an interest to promote their influence over the people; as they, on the other hand, from his having a great share in the disposal of their livings, were induced to employ that influence in promoting and maintaining his authority. Thus, between the great power of the crown and that of the church, both of which were the offspring of ignorance and prejudice, there arose a sort of family compact, which being consolidated by length of time and by mutual habits, proved no less advantageous to either party than it was inimical to the interest of the whole community.
Of all the systems of religion established at the time of the reformation, the church of England approached the nearest to that Roman catholick stock upon which it was engrafted. It rejected, indeed, many absurd opinions adopted by the church of Rome, and, from the greater diffusion of knowledge, it acquired a more limited influence over the minds of the people. But so far as its authority extended, its character and tendency were the same. Though its features were a little softened, it<138> presented the same aspect of superstition, the same pomp and parade of worship, the same dignitaries invested with jurisdiction and authority, the same opulence and splendour in the higher clergy, which tended to procure them consideration and respect, the same train of subordination in the ranks and orders of churchmen, which united them in one compact body, and enabled them, in promoting their common interest, to act with unanimity and vigour.
The constitution of the church of England had even a stronger tendency than that of Rome to render its clergy devoted to the interest of the crown. They were more uniformly dependent upon the sovereign; who, by the annihilation of the papal supremacy, became, without a rival, the acknowledged head of the church, and obtained the entire disposal of the higher ecclesiastical dignities.
The presbyterian and independent systems were of a different spirit and complexion. The adherents of the former, in correcting the errors and abuses of the church of Rome, had acquired a degree of ardour and enthusiasm, which led them, in their acts of pub-<139>lic worship, to reject with indignation all forms and ceremonious observances, and to consider their approaches to the Deity, by prayer and supplication, as a mere sentimental intercourse, calculated to demonstrate and improve those feelings of the heart which were due to their Creator. They regarded the functions of a clergyman, therefore, as of no further importance than to preserve good order in the public exercise of religious worship, to inspect the behaviour of the people under his care, and to instruct them in the great duties of morality and religion. It was consistent with this moderate and rational estimation of the clerical character, that the clergy should be moderately provided in livings, that they should not be exalted one above another by any scale of dignities or jurisdiction, and that their authority, upon the whole, should be inconsiderable. By their activity, indeed, and by their attention to the duties of their profession, they were capable of gaining great influence and respect; but in order to do this, it was necessary that they should recommend themselves to the people rather than cultivate the patronage of men in power. They<140> could, therefore, be of little service to the sovereign in supporting his prerogative, and, of consequence, had little to expect from his favour. On the contrary, as their interest and habits connected them with the populace, they entered with alacrity into the popular feelings and views, beheld with jealousy and apprehension the lofty pretensions of the crown, and sounded throughout the kingdom the alarm of regal usurpation.
As the system of the independents proceeded a step further than that of the presbyterians, by declaring against all ecclesiastical establishments, and rendering the provision of every religious instructor perfectly precarious, their clergy becoming still more dependent upon their employers, were proportionably more interested in courting popular favour, and in struggling for the extension of popular privileges.
The presbyterians, as they approved of a permanent clergy, appointed and paid by the public, and possessed of a certain jurisdiction, so, in their political system, they had no aversion to a hereditary monarch, invested with permanent civil powers, and superintending all the<141> ordinary branches of executive government. But the independents, who held that the appointment of the clergy should be left to the discretion of those who thought proper to employ them, were led, in consistency with this doctrine, to maintain that every civil officer, whether supreme or subordinate, should likewise be elected by the community. The presbyterians, therefore, were the friends of limited monarchy. The independents preferred a democratical constitution. The connection, however, between these religious and civil plans of government, though sufficiently obvious, was not acknowledged, nor perhaps discovered all at once; but was gradually developed and brought to light, during the course of the long contest between the king and the commons. For some time after the establishment of the reformation, the Roman catholics continued to be the object of hatred and resentment to all denominations of protestants; but their disposition to support the prerogative did not escape the two first princes of the house of Stuart, who secretly favoured their interest, as much as they hated the presbyterians and independents. Upon pretence of lenity to tender<142> consciences, these two princes assumed the power of dispensing with the penal statutes against non-conformists; 4 but the real purpose of those dispensations was apparent to all, and the nation felt equal alarm and indignation from considering those exertions of the prerogative as no less direct and palpable violations of the constitution, than they were decided marks of predilection for a party, the apprehension of whose return into power still continued to fill the nation with terror.
Of the two succeeding monarchs, Charles the Second,5 it is now known, was a concealed, as his brother, James the Second,6 was an avowed and bigoted Roman Catholic. The constant favour shewn by the four princes of the house of Stuart to the people of this persuasion, could not fail to procure for them returns of gratitude and affection, and to render them zealous defenders of the prerogative; as, on the other hand, the dislike which those princes invariably manifested to the presbyterians and independents, contributed to strengthen the political bias acquired by those dissenters, and to confirm the original principles by which they were attached to the popular cause.<143>
But although the different religious parties in England were thus disposed to embrace those opposite political systems, their natural dispositions, in this respect, were sometimes warped and counteracted by peculiar circumstances. For some time after the accession of the house of Stuart, the terror of the restoration of popery, which had been inspired into every description of protestants, produced an extreme jealousy of the king, on account of his marked and uniform partiality to the Roman catholics; and united the church of England with the dissenters in opposing the designs of the crown. This was visible through the whole reign of James the First, and a considerable part of the reign of Charles the First, during which the nation, exclusive of the Roman catholics, and a few interested courtiers, acted with wonderful unanimity in restraining the encroachments of the prerogative.
To form a proper notion of the effects arising from this union, we must consider the state of religious differences in those times. How inconsistent soever it may seem with the genuine principles of religious reformation, the primitive reformers, of every denomination,<144> were no less destitute than the Roman catholics, of that liberality of sentiment which teaches men to indulge their neighbours in the same freedom of opinion which they claim to themselves. They were, all of them, so highly impregnated with a spirit of bigotry and fanaticism as to regard any remarkable deviation from their own tenets in the light of a damnable error, which ought, by every possible means, to be corrected or suppressed; and for the attainment of this object, they were easily excited to brave every danger, and to submit to any inconvenience or hardship. Their interference, therefore, was always formidable to the civil power, and became frequently the chief cause of revolutions in government. At a subsequent period, the harshness and asperity attending the first exuberant growth of religious differences, have been gradually mellowed and softened in their progress to maturity; and the prejudices contracted in the dawn of philosophy, have been dissipated by the fuller light of science and literature, and by that cool and dispassionate inquiry which is the natural fruit of leisure, tranquillity and affluence. It may, perhaps, be considered as the strongest proof of<145> those intellectual improvements which mankind have attained in the present age, that we have beheld the most astonishing political changes, to which religion has in no respect contributed, and which have been regarded by the ministers of the altar in no other light but that of pecuniary interest.
In the latter part of the reign of Charles the First, the disputes between the king and the commons began to assume a different aspect. The apprehensions which were so long entertained of the Romish religion, had then, in a good measure, subsided; and the public attention was engrossed by the arbitrary measures of the crown, which produced a very general opinion, that certain precautions were necessary for guarding against the future encroachments of the prerogative. Here the church of England appeared to follow her natural propensity, and her clergy almost universally deserted the popular standard. The presbyterians and the independents, on the other hand, stood forward as the supporters of the national privileges; and while they became powerful auxiliaries to the<146> cause of liberty, they derived a great accession of strength and reputation from the general tide of political opinions.
Of those two sects, the presbyterians were, for some time, the most powerful, and by their exertions, in conformity to their views of government, many regulations, calculated for securing a limited monarchy, were successively introduced. But the progress of the contest, by holding the minds of men in continual agitation, contributed to push the people to greater extremities, both in religion and politics; in religion, by overthrowing all religious establishments; and in politics, by the entire abolition of regal authority. Such was the aim of the independents, who at length became the ruling party, but who, falling under the direction of an extraordinary genius, utterly devoid of all principle, were made, in his hands, an instrument for the destruction of the monarchy, for the purpose of introducing an odious species of despotism. Had Cromwell7 possessed less enterprize and abilities, the crown would have been preserved: had his<147> ambition been better directed, England, which under his authority assumed the name of a commonwealth, might have, in reality, obtained a popular government.
The restoration of Charles the Second,8 gave rise to new religious combinations. The church of England, having now recovered her former establishment, could not fail to entertain a violent jealousy of those dissenters by whom her power had been overturned; and she was led, of course, to co-operate with the Roman catholics, in promoting the arbitrary designs of the monarch. The cry of church and king, and the alarm, that the church was in danger, were now sounded throughout the nation, and were employed on every critical emergency, to discredit all endeavours for securing the rights of the people.
The barefaced attempt of the infatuated James the Second, to re-establish the Roman catholic religion in England, tended once more to break down these arrangements, and to produce a concert, between the leading men in the church and the protestant dissenters, for the purpose of<148> resisting the unconstitutional measures of the king. As this concert, however, had arisen from the immediate fear of popery, it remained no longer than while that fear was kept alive; and accordingly the revolution in 1688 was hardly completed, before these loyal ecclesiastics began to disclaim the part they had acted, and returned with fresh ardour to their congenial doctrines of passive obedience and non-resistance.<149>
[1. ]A term first used in the 1640s, and employed in two different senses—religious and political—to describe groups that overlapped but were not identical. Millar goes on to explain the differences between the Presbyterians and the Independents.
[2. ]In this extraordinary passage, Millar implicitly compares the Christian church to the East India Company, the reform of which had been a major political issue, especially during the impeachment trial of its governor, Warren Hastings (1732–1818), which commenced in 1788.
[3. ]Millar’s description of Catholicism as a “deep-laid system of superstition” might be compared to Hume’s discussion of the typology of religious behavior in volume 1 of the first edition of his History, in which he speaks of the Reformation as a contest between “two species of religion, the superstitious and the fanatical.” See History of Great Britain (Edinburgh, 1754), 8. Hume was sharply criticized by Daniel McQueen (d. 1777) in his Letters on Hume’s History of Great Britain (1756), and the passage was excised from later editions.
[4. ]Dissenting Protestant sects that did not conform to the Church of England.
[5. ]On Charles II, see chapter 6, p. 609.
[6. ]James II (r. 1685–89).
[7. ]On Cromwell, see p. 575, note 39.
[8. ]The restoration of the monarchy occurred in 1660.