Online Library of Liberty

A collection of scholarly works about individual liberty and free markets. A project of Liberty Fund, Inc.

Advanced Search

Thomas Gordon warns about the dangers of a politicised Religion which tries to rule this world (1720)

On January 27, 1720 Thomas Gordon set forth the principles which lay behind his new magazine The Independent Whig. One of these was to show the dangers of a Church which exercised political power and violence instead of persuasion and other voluntary means to achieve its goals. Gordon believed that the people were not a horse which could be saddled and ridden by power-hungry religious zealots:

I shall shew what a shameful Hand they (the sword wielding clergy) have always had in bringing and keeping Mankind under Tyranny and Bondage to such Princes as would divide the Spoil with them. In such Case, it was a Point of Conscience, and a religious Duty, for Subjects to be miserable Slaves; and Damnation but to strive to be happy. … The chief Intent of this Paper is to let all the World know it, that they may be upon their Guard against the like Mischiefs. It is certain, that the Demands of the High Clergy, upon the Laity, are as great, if not greater than they were at that Time. As Father Paul says of England, The Horse is bridled and saddled, and the old Rider is just getting upon his Back.

… the infinite Evils brought upon Mankind, from Age to Age, by the Pride and Imposture of corrupt Ecclesiastics. I shall shew what a Babel they have built upon the Foundation of Christ and his Apostles, who were made to father Doctrines which they never taught; and to countenance Power which they always disclaimed. I shall shew by what Arts and Intrigues they came, from being Alms-men of the People, to be Masters of Mankind; and how, by pretending to dispose of the Other World, they actually usurped and ruled This.

I shall shew, that notwithstanding Christianity was first propagated by Miracles and Mildness only, and the Teachers of it had no Power but to persuade; making it withal appear, in the whole Course of their Lives and Preaching, that they sought no manner of personal Advantage, or any manner of Jurisdiction over their Hearers and Converts; yet they who, without their Inspiration and Manners, called themselves their Successors, did by virtue of their Names lay insolent Claim to Dominion, and carried all Things before them, by the Dint of Terror and Excommunication.

I shall shew, that though the Clergy, like other Militia, were raised and paid for protecting Mankind from their Spiritual Enemy, yet they soon made use of the Sword put into their Hands against their Masters, and set up for themselves. I shall shew, that notwithstanding the whole End of their Institution was to make Men wiser and better, yet where-ever They prevailed, Debauchery and Ignorance also prevailed; and the constant Lesson they taught, was blind Belief, and blind Obedience, of both which they made themselves the Objects. So that Superstition was an inseparable Creature of their Power, and the perpetual Issue of it; and tainted Morals, and darkened Minds, were the great Props of their Dominion. A good Understanding, and an inquisitive Spirit, led directly to Heresy; a pious Life was of ill Example, and a Reproach to the Clergy; and if any one gave Offence this way, it was but calling him Heretic, and delivering him over to Satan: The Man was then undone, and the Clergy safe.

I shall shew how they soon banished the meek Spirit of the Christian Religion, and, growing to as great Variance with Mercy, as they were with Reason, perverted Religion into Rage, and Zeal into Cruelty. They made the peaceable Doctrine of Jesus a Doctrine of Blood, and excommunicated and damned by that Name, by which alone Men could be saved. It is true they damned one another as much as they did the rest of the World; for, agreeing in nothing but the great Principle of Interest, though they rode upon the Necks of their People, yet they never could be at Peace, nor Ease, among themselves, so long as each Individual was not in the highest Place. And therefore, because every one of them could not be above all the rest, they were eternally quarrelling, and giving one another to the Devil. …

I shall shew what a shameful Hand they have always had in bringing and keeping Mankind under Tyranny and Bondage to such Princes as would divide the Spoil with them. In such Case, it was a Point of Conscience, and a religious Duty, for Subjects to be miserable Slaves; and Damnation but to strive to be happy. But if the Prince happened to be a Lover of Mankind, and endeavoured to protect his People in their Civil and Sacred Rights; then were they the constant Incendiaries of every popular and wicked Faction. They preached nothing but Sedition and Blood, till they had worked up their blind and stupid Votaries to Rebellions and Assassinations. To such Conduct is owing a great Part of their Power and Wealth.

I think no one, who is the least conversant with Ecclesiastical History, will deny that this was the Condition of Christianity before the Reformation. The chief Intent of this Paper is to let all the World know it, that they may be upon their Guard against the like Mischiefs. It is certain, that the Demands of the High Clergy, upon the Laity, are as great, if not greater than they were at that Time. As Father Paul says of England, The Horse is bridled and saddled, and the old Rider is just getting upon his Back.

About this Quotation:

This quote is one of several in our collection which uses the metaphor of the people as a “horse” which has been saddled and bridled so that some privileged member of the political elite can “ride” them for their convenience and profit. The colorful story seems to originate in a defiant speech made by Colonel Richard Rumbold (1622–1685) who had been a soldier in Cromwell’s army during the English Revolution. After the restoration of the Stuart monarchy he became involved in plots to assassinate King Charles II and his brother James for which he was tried and executed. Before the hanging, drawing, and quartering took place he defied his captors with a rousing speech in which he said “This is a deluded Generation, veil’d with Ignorance, that though Popery and Slavery be riding in upon them, do not perceive it; though I am sure that there was no Man born marked by God above another; for none comes into this World with a Saddle on his Back, neither any Booted and Spurr’d to Ride him.” It was a sentiment which appealed to the Commonwealthman Thomas Gordon in 1720, the pro-French Revolution English minister Vicesimus Knox in 1793, and Thomas Jefferson on the eve of his death in 1826. One can also find many examples of drawings from late 18th century France which depict the Lords and Clergy riding on the back of the Peasants like so many two-legged horses.

More Quotations