The Age of George III

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An Anglican View of the repeal of the Test and Corporation Acts

Christian Observer, xxviii.206-7 (March 1828)

Taken from Norman Gash, The Age of Peel (London, Edward Arnold, 1973), with the kind permission of Professor Gash. Copyright of this document, of course, remains with him.

Lord John Russell moved his resolutions in favour of a repeal of the Test and Corporation Acts on 26 February 1828 and carried a motion for going into committee against ministerial opposition by 237 to 193. While a bill founded on Russell's proposals received its first and second readings, Peel held conferences with the two archbishops and other members of the episcopal bench. A form of oath binding the taker not to injure or subvert the Established Church was agreed on as a substitute for the sacramental test and on 18 March when the House of Commons went into committee on the bill, Peel secured the insertion of this declaration to be obligatory for holders of offices in corporations and at the discretion of the Crown for holders of civil offices. The following extract from a leading Evangelical journal summarises the reactions of liberal Anglicans both to the bill and the government's policy of conditional acceptance.

Lord John Russell has brought forward a bill for the repeal of the Corporation and Test Acts; the former of which requires that every member of a corporation, and the latter all persons admitted to any office civil or military, or receiving wages by grant from the crown, or being servants in the royal household, shall within six months, file a certificate of having received the holy communion according to the rites of the Church of England, under the penalty of losing the office, and being disabled to sue in any court, or to be an executor, guardian, or legatee, and forfeiting five hundred pounds at the instance of any informer. The penal effects of these acts have been long set aside by the annual indemnity bill; but the acts themselves remained unrepealed, vexatious though impotent, irritating the Dissenter without benefiting the Church; and, worse than this, a parochial clergyman is legally bound, under an exposure to heavy damages, to administer the sacred ordinance of the Lord's Supper to the most profligate man in his parish, who may choose to demand it at his hands, as 'a pick-lock to a place'. Multitudes of religious persons, who differ widely as to their views on the general question whether a test is necessary or is likely to be efficient, perfectly concur in opinion as to the gross impropriety of the particular test in question. It appears to have been at first the intention of the government to oppose Lord J. Russell's motion; but the sense of the house of commons, and, as was considered, of the country at large, having been strongly expressed in favour of it, Mr Peel has consented to the repeal of the acts, upon condition that Dissenters, on taking office (those offices at least which may be thought to require it), shall declare that they will not use the power or influence derived from that office for the injury or subversion of the Established Church. In this form the bill has the support of government, and may probably pass the house of lords. We do not, however, think that the Established Church will practically secure any thing by such a vague declaration; but it will, at least, not be in a worse condition than under the indemnity act, by which neither test nor declaration was required; and it is certainly far better to have any other guarantee, if guarantee is necessary, than that worst guarantee – the profanation of the most solemn rite of our holy religion.

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