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

Thomas Gordon

Found in The Independent Whig, vol. 1 (7th ed. 1743)

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.

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.