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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.
Though industrial disorder between 1837 and 1843 convinced Peel and Graham of the need for further education especially in the industrial areas, it was clear after the failure of Graham's factory plan that any scheme for national education would break down on the hostility between Church and Dissent. Similarly, though Peel when he became prime minister in 1841 was urged by Anglicans to obtain a parliamentary grant for the building and endowment of more parish churches (Church Extension), he was convinced that the time had passed when the legislature could ask the general taxpayer to contribute to the strengthening of one particular denomination. All he did was to pass in 1843 an act authorising the Ecclesiastial Commissioners to set up new parishes and provide stipends from existing church revenues. On the other hand many Dissenters, after the events of 1839 and 1843, feared that any further state control would mean either an extension of the influenceof the Established Church or a purely secular form of education. Three years later the proposals of the Whig government in 1846 for changes in the administration of educational grants, involving an increase in state inspection and more professional training for teachers, led to a breach between the Whigs and their traditional Dissentmig supporters at the general election of 1847. Edward Baines jun., the editor of the Leeds Mercury, was one of the chief spokesmen of the purely Voluntary school who opposed all state intervention in the field of education.
I own to you that I am afraid of an inquiry by a Commission into the want of moral and religious instruction in the manufacturing districts which have been recently disturbed. I have no doubt that a frightful case might be clearly established of brutal ignorance and heathenish irreligion, and that it is the paramount duty of the Government to apply a progressive remedy to an evil of such magnitude and danger. But if you issue a Commission, you will excite to the utmost the hopes and fears of rival factions. The truth will be shown in a light probably somewhat exaggerated, and the Government which exposes to view so great a national deformity ought to be prepared with an adequate remedy.
When we have proved the want of education, the need of pastoral care, the insufficiency of church room, what hope is there that we can agree in Parliament on a scheme of national instruction, or obtain funds for the building and endowment of new churches, on a scale commensurate with the necessity which we shall have established? The religious differences which divide the three portions of the United Kingdom preclude the hope that any large drain on the public revenue for the purpose of extending the exclusive doctrine and discipline of the Church of England would be permitted.
By judicious measures we may gradually propagate the saving knowledge of Christian truth; we may diffuse the blessings of a scriptural education; we may render the property of the Church more available for sacred uses, and less subservient to temporal interests. All this may be done gently, almost silently, and from time to time public aid may be obtained. But if we appoint a Commission of Inquiry, if reports of striking effect be produced, and if, relying on these reports, we attempt any large measure, general alarm will be excited, a spirit of resistance will be generated, failure will ensue, and the good which might otherwise be effected will be rendered impossible. Let me beg of you to consider this view of the subject before we decide on an inquiry.
The adjourned Meeting of the Thirteenth Annual Assembly of the Congregational Union of England and Wales, was held at Leeds, on the 10th, 11th, 12th, and 13th days of October, 1843.
[3 October: debate on general education]
On the whole, we must admit two important facts, neither of them satisfactory to us as a religious denomination: viz. first, that there is a great deficiency, both in the quantity and quality of general education; and second, that dissenters have not done their share in supplying this great want. The practical questions that are suggested by these facts are, first, How is the admitted want of general education to be supplied? and second, What is our peculiar duty in regard to it? On the first point, the answer returned by a host of eminent statesmen and writers, by the example of other countries, and even by popular opinion in our own, amounting altogether to a mass of authority which it is really fearful of confronting, is, that it is the duty of government to supply the defect. I will, if the meeting will indulge me, state with all brevity, the result of the best consideration I have been able to give to the subject. I am compelled, then, to declare my opinion, that it is not the province of a government to educate the people; and that the admission of the principle that that is its province, would lead to practical consequences fatal to civil and religious liberty. The subject is too wide to be discussed at length, but I would respectfully suggest a few considerations in support of the view which I have taken. They are these: first, that the proper province of government is to make and administer laws, to protect person and property, and to conduct the external relations of a country; but that it is not its province to train the mind and morals of the people, any more than it is to supply them with food, or to govern their families. Second, that if we grant it to be the province of government to educate the people, we must on the same principle grant that government ought to provide for the religious instruction of the people, - which admits the whole principle of state establishments of religion; and also to provide for the future supply of their intellectual wants, - which involves a censorship of the press. Third, that if it be the province of government to educate the people, it must be at once its right and its duty to do all that is requisite for that end, which involves a direct or indirect control over all the machinery of education, over the systems of tuition, over the teachers, over the school books, over the raising and administering of the funds, over the parents and the children, and the employers of labour. It involves both compulsion and prohibition, and the enforcing of both by the only instrument which the civil power can wield, namely, fines and penalties. Fourth, that therefore the consistent carrying out of the principle, that it is the province of government to educate the people, would reduce the people of this country to a state of pupilage as complete as that of the people of Prussia, or even of China; it would annihilate freedom of education, freedom of the press, freedom of conscience, and freedom of industry. Fifth, that it would interpose the most serious obstacles in the way of improvements in education, as is shown by the history of the endowed schools. Sixth, that it would put into the hands of government an enormous amount of patronage, which would assurely be used for party and corrupt purposes, and which would endanger public liberty. There are those who would shrink from the idea of entrusting the education of the whole people to government, who yet think it right for government to provide for the education of the poor. But if the principle be once admitted, that it is the province of the government to educate any portion of the people, I do not see how we could stop short till it had the entire work in its own hands.
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