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9.: THE DEBATE ON THE PETITION OF MARY ANN CARLILE MORNING CHRONICLE, 9 MAY, 1823, P. 3 - John Stuart Mill, The Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, Volume XXII - Newspaper Writings December 1822 - July 1831 Part I 
The Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, Volume XXII - Newspaper Writings December 1822 - July 1831 Part I, ed. Ann P. Robson and John M. Robson, Introduction by Ann P. Robson and John M. Robson (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1986).
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THE DEBATE ON THE PETITION OF MARY ANN CARLILE
Mill’s article is associated by him in the Autobiography with his letters on Free Discussion (Nos. 5-7): “a paper which I wrote soon after [them] on the same subject, à propos of a debate in the House of Commons, was inserted as a leading article” (CW, Vol. I, p. 91). The occasion was the debate, initiated by Joseph Hume (1777-1855), Radical M.P. and lifelong friend of James Mill, in speeches of 26 Mar., presenting the Petition of Mary Ann Carlile for Release from Imprisonment (PD, n.s., Vol. 8, cols. 709-16), and of 8 May, presenting the Petition of Richard Carlile Complaining of the Seizure of His Property (ibid., Vol. 9, cols. 114-15). Richard Carlile complained that, as a result of the seizure of his goods, he was unable to pay his fine and was subject to perpetual imprisonment. Mary Ann Carlile (b. 1794), his sister, on the instigation of the Society for the Suppression of Vice, had been sentenced to one year’s imprisonment and a fine of £500 for selling, in her brother’s shop, a pamphlet, An Appendix to the Theological Works of Thomas Paine. Mill’s first leading article, unheaded and anonymous as they are in all such journals, is described in his bibliography as “Observations on the debate concerning the petition of Mary Ann Carlile, which appeared as a leading article in the Chronicle of [9th May] 1823”
(MacMinn, p. 2).
we are not of the number of those who have no praise but for the times that are past. We think, on the contrary, the present time, on the whole, better than any former time. There are, for instance, unquestionably a much greater number of intelligent and enlightened men in this country now than it has ever contained at any former period. But while we willingly admit the general superiority of the age, we are not blind to its defects. There is, in particular, one feature belonging to it which we cannot contemplate with satisfaction. We allude to the mental cowardice which prevents men from giving expression to their conviction, and the insincerity which leads them to express what they do not think. A certain assembly has fully its share of this want of singleness of heart and pusillanimity. No man who knows any thing of the world can listen for any length of time to the language used in the assembly in question, without perceiving that the fear of offending in this quarter, and the desire to please in that, rather than conscientious conviction, too often actuates the speakers. There are certainly some distinguished exceptions, who scorn to sacrifice on the altar of timidity or machiavelism, and of these we think Mr. Hume unquestionably one. The unshrinking firmness with which he grapples with the subjects that come before him, without turning to the right hand or the left, has indeed not been lost, either on the country or on the House. We doubt, for instance, whether another Member of any standing in the House could have been found to present and enforce the Petition from Mary Ann Carlile which he brought forward some weeks ago, though the grounds on which he supported that Petition were such as to make a strong impression on the House, and a still stronger on the country. But taking counsel only from his own conscience, being actuated by a sincere desire to rescue that religion of which we deem him a sincere believer and friend, from the odium which false or less judicious friends were throwing on it, and listening to the counsel of the most eminent advocates of Christianity, the most illustrious ornaments of the Church of England, when its higher places were not deemed the almost exclusive portion of the Nobility, he hesitated not to raise his voice in favour of equal law and free discussion, which were wounded in the case of this individual. The result proved, that it was a mere phantom, at which others had taken fright, and the advocates of persecution and of partiality were found unequal to a contest which only exposed them to ridicule.
Last night he presented a Petition from Richard Carlile, an individual whom an injudicious activity has of late brought so much into notice. Alluding to the prejudices against this man, he stated as the result of his inquiries respecting him, that “he was one of the best moral characters in England,” that “his religious opinion might differ from that of some other persons, but that that did not affect his moral character; and he would dare any one to contradict him, when he said that as a husband, as a father, as head of a family, and as a neighbour, Mr. Carlile might challenge calumny itself.”1 This was cheered by the Ministerial Benches, not probably because they who cheered knew whether Carlile was a moral or immoral man, but because they thought Mr. Hume had got on ticklish ground, by allowing the probability of a notorious infidel being moral. But we are not to hold religion in less esteem, when we find that faith does not uniformly produce good works, any more than we are to deem it unnecessary to the support of morality, because we find occasionally moral individuals without a due sense of religion. “An unbeliever [says Bishop Sanderson], awed sometimes by the law of natural conscience, may manifest much simplicity and integrity of heart; and the true child of God, swayed sometimes with the law of sinful concupiscence, may bewray much foul hypocrisie and infidelity.”2 It is only injuring the cause of religion to attribute more either to it, or to the absence of it, than is consistent with the truth; and the most respectable Christian writers, though they justly observe that religion and honesty are most frequently found together, are ready at the same time to allow that they are sometimes found separate. We never for instance heard it questioned that Mr. Owen of New Lanark is a very moral man.3 On the other hand, we have doubts whether M. de Chateaubriand was a much more honest man when he brought water from the River Jordan for the baptism of the King of Rome, or is so even now, than when “shocked at the abuse of some of the Institutions of Christianity and at the vices of some of its professors, he suffered himself to be misled by sophistry and gave way to declamation.”4
It is curious to see what very different notions have prevailed on this subject within a comparatively short period. Addison thought Catholicism worse than infidelity, because the former was incompatible with morality, while the latter was not.5 Bishop Sanderson seemed to think the Atheists, whom he supposed to be more numerous than either Papists or Sectaries, principally dangerous from the possibility of their joining the Catholics.
Neither, [says he,] will the supposed (and I fear truly supposed) greater number of Atheists, than either Papists or Sectaries, be any hinderance to the Papists for finally prevailing. Because it is not for the interest of the Atheist and his religion (pardon the boldness of the catachresis) to engage either for or against any side farther than a jeer, but to let them fight it out, keep himself quiet till they have done, and then clap in with him that getteth the day. He that is of no religion can make a shift to be of any rather than suffer. And the Atheist, though he be in truth and in heart neither Protestant nor Papist, nor any thing else; yet can he be in face and outward comportment either Protestant or Papist, or any thing else (Jew or Turk, if need be) as will best serve his present turn.6
If Catholicism were incompatible with morality, we should be rather in an awkward plight in the present day, for notwithstanding the aid which infidelity has received of late by the publicity given to it at the expence of the Constitutional Association,7 we suspect (so much has Atheism gone down since the worthy Bishop’s time), that the Atheists are now less numerous than even the Priests of the Catholics, leaving out of the account the flocks. We say nothing of the number of the other sectaries, as this is a much sorer point than that of the number of Atheists, from which we believe no Church Establishment will ever be in much danger.
The question of last night, however, was not so much free discussion itself, as the injustice which had been committed under a sentence levelled against it. On the subject of the severity which had been displayed, Mr. Lennard forcibly observed “that the supporters of the Six Acts, having failed in their efforts to procure the punishment of perpetual banishment, as was contemplated, had still continued through the agency of the Judges to supply that deficiency by sentences which amounted to perpetual imprisonment.”8 Mr. Denman, indeed, offered an apology for the Judges that “had they been aware of the inability of Mr. Carlile to pay the fine at the time judgment was passed, he was sure they never would have passed it.”9 But this apology does not, at all events, apply to the case of Mary Ann Carlile, with respect to whose means to pay the fine imposed on her there never could be the smallest doubt.
Religion disclaims those who would advance her cause by the mean expedients to which Mr. Hume alluded last night. Let good ends be promoted by fair and upright means. The equal administration of law is due to the Infidel as well as to the Christian. Give not to the Infidel any advantage from your disgracing a good cause by disreputable means. In the words of Bishop Warburton, “Can any but an enthusiast believe that he may use guile to promote the glory of God—the wisdom from above is without partiality and without hypocrisy. Partiality consists in dispensing an unequal measure in our transactions with others: hypocrisy in attempting to cover that unequal measure by prevarication and false pretences.”10 And in the words of a man less learned, perhaps, but not less upright than Bishop Warburton, we mean the worthy John Wesley, “no man living is authorised to break or dispensed with in breaking any law of morality.”11
The discussions have done, and will do, good, and we trust Mr. Hume will return to the subject. The Courts of Law must profit by them. “Shame, albeit the daughter of sinne, becomes sometimes the mother of conversion; and when all good motions else seem mere strangers, this one is admitted as a profitable, though unwelcome guest.”12
[1 ]Hume, speech of 8 May, 1823, col. 114.
[2 ]Robert Sanderson (1587-1663), Bishop of Lincoln, “The Sixth Sermon ad Populum” (1627), in Fourteen Sermons Heretofore Preached (London: Seile, 1657), p. 342.
[3 ]Robert Owen (1771-1858), an acquaintance of James Mill’s, socialist and free-thinker, whose experiments in improving the environment and providing incentives for his employees at his mills in New Lanark were increasingly favourably publicized.
[4 ]The source of the quotation has not been identified. François René, vicomte de Chateaubriand (1768-1848), writer and statesman, in 1811 provided baptismal water for the christening of François Charles Joseph Bonaparte (Napoleon II), King of Rome (1811-32). As Minister of Foreign Affairs, Chateaubriand had recently been under attack in the English press for his defence of the French intervention in Spain. See The Times, 28 Feb., pp. 2-3, and 16 Apr., p. 4; and Morning Chronicle, 1 Mar., p. 3 (where there is reference to the episode of the Jordan water), and 5 May, p. 3.
[5 ]Joseph Addison (1672-1719), essayist and poet; see The Spectator, No. 459 (16 Aug., 1712), pp. 1-2.
[6 ]Sanderson, Fourteen Sermons, Preface, pp. xxxviii-xxxix.
[7 ]The Constitutional Association for Opposing the Progress of Disloyal and Seditious Principles, founded in January 1821, was supported by many aristocrats, including Henry Pelham Clinton, Duke of Newcastle; Sir John Sewell was its President. Operating virtually as a secret society, it instituted proceedings for libel (against Hone and Carlile, for instance); itself accused of illegality, it dissolved before the end of 1821.
[8 ]Thomas Barrett Lennard (1788-1865), M.P. for Ipswich, Speech on the Petition of Richard Carlile (8 May, 1823), PD, n.s., Vol. 9, col. 116. The “Six Acts” are 60 George III & 1 George IV, cc. 1, 2, 4, 6, 8, and 9 (1819).
[9 ]Thomas Denman (1779-1854), M.P. for Nottingham (later Lord Chief Justice), Speech on the Petition of Richard Carlile, PD, n.s., Vol. 9, col. 116.
[10 ]Adapted from William Warburton, The Doctrine of Grace (1762), in Works, 12 vols. (London: Cadell and Davies, 1811), Vol. VIII, pp. 382, 383.
[11 ]John Wesley (1703-91), founder of Methodism, A Letter to the Right Reverend the Lord Bishop of Gloucester (London: n.p., 1763), p. 38.
[12 ]This quotation has not been located.