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 Chapter Six

THE REFORMED PARLIAMENT

(Notes are given at the end. Links to the notes from the text are given in groups of five, 1 - 6 - 11 etc)

 

THE 1832 ELECTION AND THE EMERGENCE OF PARTY POLITICS

Prior to the 1830s, radical politics in Belfast had been centred round the two issues of Catholic Emancipation and parliamentary reform, both of which had been achieved by the time of the 1832 election. Although the same names appear in informal requisitions and public meetings held in support of political objects, there was no clearly defined party system and, under the unreformed electoral system, Belfast radicals could not hope for parliamentary representation. They had, however, acquired a social prominence through their participation in a network of cultural, charitable and administrative agencies which they had largely created themselves. This social prominence masked their lack of organic connections with society outside Belfast and, indeed, with the rapidly growing population of Belfast itself. It was possible to see the Belfast Academical Institution as an attempt to form such connections through control over the education of the Presbyterian clergy.

A 'Belfast Reform Society' was formed in January 1831, with a programme of triennial parliaments; assimilation of Irish and English laws; abolition of tithes; appropriation of church property to national purposes; election of grand juries by ballot; fairly selected juries to administer the law; cuts in the civil and military establishment; abolition of sinecures and unmerited pensions; reduction of taxes on the necessities of the labouring classes; abolition of newspaper tax; rendering the laws 'simple, accessible and cheap'; phasing out colonial slavery; and the abolition of all monopolies, especially the East India Company. No conservative equivalent was formed until the ambiguous 'Belfast Society' of December 1832, though the conservatives did have the beginnings of a national organisation in the Dublin based 'Conservative Society of Ireland'. (1)

The Reform Society sponsored two candidates for the election in December , 1832, Robert James Tennent, Dr Tennent's son, and William Sharman Crawford. The principle of party discipline was by no means established, however, and Crawford declined either to be bound by the Society's programme or to urge his supporters to vote for Tennent. Opposing them were Lord Arthur Chichester and James Emerson Tennent. James Emerson had been a close friend of Robert James and they had gone together to Greece to support the cause of Greek independence. He had adopted the surname 'Tennent' as a condition for becoming the heir of William Tennent, after marrying his only legitimate child, Letitia, without her father's consent. Emerson and Chichester won and Slater agrees with the view expressed at the time by Crawford that the Reform Society's candidates were defeated at the time through Robert James Tennent's refusal to declare his views on Repeal (he said that if the question arose, he would consult with his constituents and resign if he differed from them). (2)

The problem which has plagued radical politics in Ulster was already beginning to be felt. The radicals wanted to develop a politics based on secular material interests without reference to religious differences. But a distinct Catholic politics was emerging on the basis of a demand - repeal - which was unacceptable to Protestant opinion (including the radicals themselves). To secure Catholic support for a non-sectarian political programme, an ambivalence over the question which was of prime concern to Catholics appeared to be necessary. At times when this political disagreement between Catholics and Protestants - the national question in all its forms - was at the centre of politics, such an ambivalence could not be maintained; but the fact of having been ambivalent led to distrust on both sides. The radical candidates in the 1832 election barely secured two hundred votes from Protestants (out of an electorate - Protestant and Roman Catholic - of around 1,600). Crawford emerged in 1833 as a supporter of some limited form of devolved government for Ireland. He never again stood for Belfast. (3)

The election, however, had not yet clarified a distinction between 'liberal' and 'conservative'. Emerson Tennent had been a member of the Belfast Reform Society, and was known to have held anti-monarchist views in the 1820s. He had been persuaded to stand by James MacNeight, editor of the Belfast News Letter, who later emerged as an opponent of Cooke's views on the need to support the Church of Ireland. While Robert James Tennent had stood on a full programme, refusing only to declare himself on the subject of repeal, Emerson Tennent refused to declare himself on any topic other than repeal. The 'Belfast Society' was formed by his supporters in the course of the election, but it initially had no political programme other than 'to unite all men of moderate views but of sound constitutional principle in one common band of union, who will co-operate on all public occasions with a view to procure a just and fair representation of the inhabitants, in all municipal departments, and to prevent the few judging for the many in this town.' Rev John Edgar, a Seceder who had been active in promoting the New Reformation Society but who nonetheless supported the radicals, wrote to Robert James Tennent as the results were being announced, ascribing his defeat to 'the high personal feeling against the old firm, Barnet, Grimshaw and co'; and Emerson Tennent gave as one of the reasons for following MacNeight's advice and standing that Robert James Tennent had been chosen as the Reform Society's candidate in preference to himself by a committee rather than by a public meeting. The Belfast Society could thus be said to have been formed in opposition to the embryonic party system which the Reform Society represented. MacNeight and Maurice Cross, both members of the Belfast Society who subsequently joined the radicals, later complained that it had originally been politically neutral, but had subsequently become a distinctly conservative grouping. The occasion for this seems to have been a controversy over the Brown Street School in Belfast, and its connection with the National Education System recently introduced by the Reformed Parliament. (4)

 

THE NATIONAL EDUCATION SYSTEM

Although the Kildare Place Society was strongly opposed to the National Education System (it ultimately folded into the Church of Ireland's Church Education Society) the new system can to some extent be seen as a continuation of the Society's work - the attempt to overcome the potency of religious and cultural divisions through English speaking and non-sectarian schools. The Society had attempted to involve Catholics in its management, but this co-operation had broken down over the Society's insistence on the free use of the Bible as a textbook. The Brown Street School, which had been in receipt of a grant from the Kildare Place Society, was a case in point, and William Crolly, the parish priest of Belfast, had withdrawn Roman Catholic pupils from it in the early 1820s. (5)

The Catholic Church's opposition to openly proselytising Societies (principally the Association for Discountenancing Vice, the London Hibernian Society, and the 'Irish Society') and to the Kildare Place Society, was greatly strengthened by the Catholic Association. The Irish Education Inquiry of 1825 was largely a response to the generally felt need for education in Ireland and to Catholic opposition to the Protestant education which was available. The National Education System was an attempt to secure the assistance of the Roman Catholic Church in a uniform system of education with inbuilt guarantees against proselytism. It thus came into straightforward conflict with the hope of the proselytising societies that education would be the means of - as they saw it - freeing Irish Catholics from the control of the Roman Catholic Church. Since the withdrawal of Catholic support, the Kildare Place Society had been moving closer to the position of the proselytising societies.

Cooke had outlined his views on primary education to the Commissioners of the Irish Education Inquiry in 1825. They were based largely on his own background. He approved of mixed education and thought that the masters should teach pupils the letter of the Bible and of the catechisms of their own denominations, leaving their own clergymen to teach the spirit. He had himself been taught his catechism by a Roman Catholic teacher and had not been harmed by the experience, nor by his having picked up snatches of the Church of Ireland and Roman Catholic catechisms. If it was necessary to secure Catholic participation in a new education system, he would be prepared to abandon the use of catechisms in schools, though he thought this would make the job of ministers much more difficult: 'I would find it very difficult to give a person of moderate capacity any consecutive view of religion for want of having an outline in the memory such as the catechism provides'. But he thought the scriptures would continue to be necessary. On the whole: 'I think it would do a great deal of evil to educate them separately; education is a common and neutral good, and there they may and should meet to rub away prejudices and asperities." (6)

The National Education System was started in 1831 with a grant of £30,000 on the proposal of E.G. Stanley, who had initially been a strong supporter of the Kildare Place Society and reluctant 'to throw the whole education of Catholics, supported by the State, into the hands of the priesthood.' Grants to other educational bodies - the Kildare Place Society and the proselytising agencies -were withdrawn. It was administered by a Board of Commissioners on which the major denominations were represented: Archbishop Murray of Dublin for the Roman Catholics; Archbishop Whately of Dublin for the Church of Ireland; Robert Holmes for the Synod of Munster; and James Carlile for the Synod of Ulster. Whately and Carlile, however, were quite unrepresentative. The Church of Ireland and the Synod of Ulster went into immediate and vociferous opposition. A substantial opposition also developed, though more slowly, from within the Roman Catholic Church, led at first by Archbishop McHale, who was appointed to Tuam in 1834 partly on the strength of his opposition to the national system, and who soon after refused to allow the schools in his province to receive grants from the Board. (7)

The main objections raised from within the Synod of Ulster were the restriction on the use of the Bible and the requirement that managers should make the school's facilities available to the Catholic priest in the area as of right, and should exclude Catholic children from scripture lessons rather than simply excusing them if they did not wish to attend. They also objected to what Cooke called 'the anti-Presbyterian prelacy conferred on Mr Carlile' through his membership of the Board, and to the influence Unitarians (through the Synod of Munster) and Roman Catholics could exercise over Presbyterian schools. (8)

Carlile shared the Synod's concern that if the Bible could only be taught on a voluntary basis outside school hours, many children simply would not attend lessons, and therefore would not have any scripture education at all. He therefore proposed the use of 'scripture extracts' which would require the approval of the whole Board and which would not be based exclusively on either the Authorised or the Douai translations. Murray had proposed a similar idea to the Education Inquiry in 1825. The Board approved it, giving Carlile responsibility for compiling the book to be used. (9)

In January 1832, a poorly attended special meeting of the Synod condemned the system, with only Carlile defending it. Carlile in February wrote to Rev W. Innes in Edinburgh to say: 'If you deduct political opposition to the present ministry, Orange antipathy to Roman Catholics and High Church jealousy both of Dissenters and Roman Catholics, I am fully persuaded you would withdraw five sixths, more probably nine tenths, of the hostility to us.' Cooke, who was leading the Synod's attack from the pages of the Orthodox Presbyterian, replied to the charge by saying that of the two hundred and sixteen ministers in the Synod, sixteen were ('entre nous') Arians, who would support the system. One Calvinist, Rev William Mulligan of Strabane, was anxious to secure the Chair of Mathematics in the Belfast Institution (he got it) and would be anxious to please its Arian management. Besides which, he was 'radical , and opposed to all establishments.' That was the extent of the Synod's support. As for the remainder:

'Of these two hundred (bating one) there is not a man that feels any special antipathy to the present ministry - most of them - I believe every man of them - are reformers. Some not to the extent of the ministry - but all reformers.'

As for Orangeism 'there is not an Orangeman in the body.' The Seceders, so far as he could gather, were opposed. The Covenanters were solidly opposed. But the Arians were 'all friendly to anything the government pleases.' In fact, there was some support for the system among the Seceders which led in May and June to a quarrel with Cooke, who complained that 'some of their leading members are literal radicals and in proportion as they see the Synod of Ulster assume the form of an establishment, they are moved to become our antipodes in everything which they can oppose themselves.' Against the charge that the opposition to the system was political, he said that its supporters were 'mere Politicians - Radicals - Levellers - and every form of Infidels.' (10)

The principle of state aid for educational purposes given to religious bodies other than the Established Church had already been conceded in Ireland through the money given to the Kildare Place Society in 1816 and to the Lord Lieutenant's Fund (which was allowed to provide funds to Roman Catholic managers) in 1819. The same principle was applied in England in 1833, when £20,000 was divided between the National Society for the Promotion of the Education of the Poor in the Principles of the Established Church, and the largely dissenting British and Foreign Schools Society. In both cases however the money was being given to distinctly religious bodies which had responsibility for administering the schools. Under the Irish system, the state itself was taking on the responsibility for determining the constitution of schools it supported and doing so with the express aim of ensuring that that education was secular, or at least that only a minimalist religion could be taught. It was thus usurping what was generally recognised at the time as the function of the churches and threatening the establishment principle. The quarrel between the Church of England, fighting for the principle that it should be responsible for any education provided by the state, and dissenters, opposed to any favouritism being shown towards the Anglicans, prevented the introduction of any similar system in England before 1870. (11)

While the Synod was not formally opposed to the establishment principle, it did not itself happen to be the establishment. Its opposition was therefore not as strong as that of the Church of Ireland which felt that its status as an established church was under attack. Basically, the Synod argued for the right of schools themselves to determine their own laws. If the Commissioners approved the laws made by the schools, the grant could be given conditional only on the managers keeping to them. The principles the Synod wished to see observed in schools under its ministers were: that the Bible (or scripture extracts other than those made by Carlile) could be freely used as a textbook; that lessons on the catechism could be given in school hours and that while children should be free not to attend such lessons, they should not be excluded from them if they wished to remain; and that 'the ministers and people of this church' should be able to apply for aid 'without the necessary concurrence of the ministers or members of any other church.' In wanting freedom to catechise in school hours, they were actually going beyond the conditions of the Kildare Place Society. (12)

This demand was introduced by a Committee appointed at the special meeting in January 1832. There were widespread criticisms of the Committee in the 1833 Synod when it was found that its chairman, John Brown of Aghadowey, had failed to keep members who might have been prepared to compromise informed of its meetings. Freedom to catechise was introduced into its programme without the sanction of the Synod. Nonetheless the Committee, managed, albeit with difficulty, to retain the Synod's confidence. (13)

The June 1832 Synod ratified the opposition of the special meeting in January and in May 1833, Cooke and a deputation from the Synod submitted the proposals outlined above to the government. Carlile agreed to support them in the Synod of July 1833 and in August, the government - apparently, at least - accepted them. Cooke was one of the subscribers to the Brown Street School and he proposed that it be transferred to the Board. The agreement, however, appears to have been based on a misunderstanding. The Synod thought that managers were now free to run schools according to rules they had framed themselves, requiring only the approval of the Board. The Commissioners however, continued to insist on the implementation of their rules, issuing query sheets to check that this was being done. These included the appointment as ex officio visitors of clergy of other denominations which had children in the school. (14)

Cooke therefore opposed the Brown Street School transfer at a meeting in September which was, according to the Belfast Commercial Chronicle, packed out by 'obscure persons of strong political feeling.' A new committee to manage the school was elected at a separate meeting in which John Scott Porter of the Presbytery of Antrim and the minister of an Independent congregation in Donegall Street confusingly called James Carlile were dismissed. From this point on, I shall have to refer to the Presbyterian James Carlile and the Independent James Carlile, where there is danger of confusion. The Independent James Carlile wrote to R.J. Tennent in December, 1833 to say of the incident that:

'"The political religionists" are ashamed of their victory.... It has literally bound with disgrace the "Belfast Society" and made some of its friends to blush. In fact it was well nigh scattered to the winds by this affair... I am equally anxious to prove that there is no necessary because no natural connection between orthodoxy in religion and illiberality in politics. Religion has suffered much in Belfast from the illiberality of many of its defenders, and I can truly say that a desire to rescue it from such an unhallowed profanation had dictated in some manner the course I have taken and intend to adhere to in public life.' (15)

He complained about an 'unnatural union' between 'two parties whose unprincipled coalition has secured a short lived triumph.' The two parties appear to be the orthodox Presbyterians opposed to the national system, and the Anglicans. The Ulster Times was subsequently - in 1837 - to claim that Cooke was 'the man who had himself been mainly instrumental in cementing the hallowed and truly Conservative coalition', and though the notorious Hillsborough meeting of 1834 was the most dramatic indication of what was meant by this, the Brown Street incident, in which Cooke was closely involved, was a crucial event in the Belfast Society's conversion into the 'Belfast Conservative Society'. (16)

There was considerable opposition to Cooke 's views on the National Education System, especially in the 1834 Synod, when the debate turned on the question of whether or not the government had actually granted the Synod's demands. John Barnet of Moneymore - son of the Belfast liberal, John Barnet, and a strong supporter of Cooke's in the Arian controversy - proposed a motion that the Synod could now recommend ministers and members of their congregations to apply to the Board for aid. Robert Stewart proposed an amendment to the effect that the situation was unchanged. The Presbyterian James Carlile argued that the Board was merely looking for a guarantee that general education would take place on consecutive hours so that Roman Catholics would not feel that they were being tricked into Bible lessons sandwiched between non-religious lessons. The Board's schools, with their scripture extracts approved by the hierarchy, were a means by which Catholic children could voluntarily gain a taste for the Bible they could not acquire anywhere else. Cooke had objected that a note in the scripture extracts identified the woman whose seed would bruise the head of the serpent (Gen.3.15) with Mary. Carlile replied that the schools of the proselytising 'Irish Society' used Gallagher's Sermons , which contained a graphic description of the assumption of the Virgin Mary, as a textbook. There was a need for tact in introducing Roman Catholics to the Bible. (17)

Carlile was supported by William Molyneaux of Larne who, in 1835, helped Cooke in providing a substitute when the Synod withdrew its students from Dr Ferrie's Moral Philosophy classes. Carlile had said that the true distinction recognised in the Gospels was between a Christian and a non-Christian, not a denominational one, and Molyneaux said he 'was willing to merge the name of the sectarian into that of the Christian.' It was necessary in dealing with Roman Catholics to 'insinuate the Bible by degrees' and the National System was a means by which this could be done.

James Seaton Reid, who was enjoying considerable popularity in the Synod after the publication of the first volume of his History of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland, pointed out that the Synod had no educational system of its own: 'they had never come out of the mass of the people to establish schools for themselves.' Stewart's amendments, he argued, presupposed a fully Protestant society, while the Board's system was adapted to a mixed population.

The System's supporters included those most interested in proselytism, including Robert Winning of Ervey, who had just made an appeal to the Synod in favour of the Irish Society (he himself was able to preach in Irish) and Alexander Patterson of Ballymena, who had supported the London Hibernian Society, but thought the National System an improvement (he had proposed a motion in 1833 condemning Carlile for his membership of the Board). Hanna was also a supporter. Cooke's opposition can be seen as a renunciation of an evangelical perspective - a concentration on the internal discipline of Presbyterianism in opposition to Catholicism, as against Carlile's feeling of responsibility towards Irish society as a whole. It can thus be seen as a continuation of their disagreement during the Arian dispute when Carlile had emphasised the importance of a free-wheeling evangelisation as against excessive concern with the internal discipline of a particular denomination. It was clear that Cooke's views had changed since his 1825 Evidence and in September 1836 he told the Brown Street School committee that he thought he had been wrong in 1825 to support mixed education and that zeal against popery was a necessary sign of a Christian. (18)

Stewart's amendment opposing the System passed the Synod, but only through the votes of elders. Sixty-two ministers supported the System as against fifty-six in favour of the amendment. Twenty-four elders as against twelve swung the vote. The Synod's view was thus far from clearcut. In 1833, they had voted to support the efforts of the Synod's Committee to change the System, but had left ministers free to join it or not as they chose. Now they had voted against any new connections being formed but had left ministers free to continue existing connections. Molyneaux and John Dill of Carnmoney had said that they would disregard the resolution of the Synod if it went against them since the Synod had no jurisdiction in such matters.

As Seaton Reid had pointed out, the fact that the Synod were counterposing a non-existent Presbyterian education system to the actually existing national one was clearly anomalous and in December a special meeting was held on a requisition from the Presbyteries of Magherafelt, Ballymena, Connor and Belfast to discuss the introduction of a Presbyterian scheme. Ministers were given no prior details of the scheme, which was introduced by Robert Stewart for immediate ratification. Control over the administration of the schools (including the choice of books and hours devoted to different branches of study) was vested in parents, in consultation with the Sessions of the congregations to which the schools were attached. The choice of teachers was vested in a Committee of Synod subject to the Synod's approval. There were to be visitations by ministers and elders and yearly examinations of students by a Committee of Presbytery. Overall authority was vested in the Directors of the Synod's missions. All Presbyterians were recommended - but not required - to connect their schools with the Synod's system. There was no opposition in principle from the National System's supporters. Carlile himself had said that a purely Presbyterian system would be desirable and that the function of the National System was simply to provide education for those who could not otherwise afford it. John Barnet, however, felt that people were unlikely to be prepared to pay for the new system, while John Brown of Aghadowey (who had been in the forefront of opposition to the National System) wanted the proposals to be more widely discussed before they were adopted. Hanna and George Hay of Londonderry (a protege of Black and his successor as agent for Regium Donum) were also in favour of delay, but Cooke, supported by Seaton Reid, was anxious to open subscriptions as quickly as possible, to present the Church with a fait accompli. (19)

The scheme was approved, but does not appear to have aroused much enthusiasm. Hamilton Dobbin of Lurgan said in September 1836 that Presbyterians were keen on the Synod's system but not prepared to pay for it, while John Brown (whose opposition to both the national and Presbyterian systems suggests that he was no great enthusiast for education of any sort) said that most congregations thought it was visionary. Cooke proposed writing to those who hadn't contributed, raising funds in Scotland and taking measures against those ministers who still had schools under the Board. He complained that every tenth minister in the Synod had a school under the Board. (20)

 

VOLUNTARYISM (1)

The Independent James Carlile's December 1833 letter to R.J. Tennent goes on to say:

'I am happy to find that your views of church government seem so fully to coincide with mine. Episcopacy and Presbyterianism too admit of incorporation with the state and I confess that the impracticability of incorporating Independency with the state appears to me strong internal evidence of the accordance of the system both with the principles and precedents of the primitive age. I rejoice much to see the high toned decision of the English dissenters. In Scotland too the dissenters (are?) all life and energy - but in Ireland we are dead... just because of the golden bribe called Regium Donum. I have been looking for an antagonist re this subject in one or two articles signed 'Presbyter' but as yet I have found none. I intend soon to appear as an advocate of the voluntary principle in the pages of the Patriot. That good principle is spreading here.' (21)

Tennent has put a query in the margin against Carlile's statement that they agreed on principles of church government. In 1835 he claimed to be an Anglican but earlier, in 1833, he had been in correspondence with R,J. Bryce, minister of the York Street Church attached to James Bryce's 'Primitive Secession', about the possibility of Bryce baptising his child. The York Street congregation had been founded by Dr Tennent (apparently with John Barnet, though by 1825 Barnet told the Education Commissioners that he belonged to the main Secession Synod). When R.J. Tennent left his father's house, he told R.J. Bryce that he didn't wish to be a regular member of his congregation. Bryce explained in 1833 that his church did not require anything more than a simple statement of belief in Christ, but that it should so far as possible exclude non-believers, who could only be judged on the basis of conduct and profession, it being impossible to prove the heart as some Methodists and Independents attempted to do:

'The Church of England, and her two pensioned daughters in this country, the Synod of Ulster and the Secession Synod churches, have run into the opposite extremes as the natural result of their adulterous connection with the world, and admit everyone, clean and unclean without almost any enquiry.... The Covenanters have all this, but they err by excess; for they add a great many more historico-political terms of communion to the simple, scriptural "one thing needful".' (22)

R.J. Tennent, in reply, claimed to be a more extreme variety of Independent, insisting that, though he agreed with Bryce on doctrinal matters, he did not recognise the right of any church to exercise discipline over its members. It is reasonable to assume that this was largely a means of keeping himself aloof from the tangle of ecclesiastical affairs in which the politics of the time were - distressingly from his point of view - becoming involved. (23)

Bryce wrote to Tennent in January 1834, enthusiastic about the voluntary principle:

'By the by, did it ever strike (you) how powerful a proof of the divine origin of the Bible is its perfect consistency with sciences which were unknown at the time it was written; the coincidence of precepts which it founds on other principles with the dictates of political economy is a striking instance of this.' (24)

We have already seen that the term 'orthodoxy' covered a wide range of differing views on the rights of the church with regard to society at large, the two extremes of which could be characterised by the covenanting position that the church should include the whole nation, which had already (in 1647) entered into a formal covenant with God, and the Independent position that the Church should consist only of those who could give evidence of having experienced regeneration. The Scottish Secession, while prepared even before the 'new light' controversy, to modify the terms of the covenant, had originally maintained the covenanting ideal of the church co-terminous with the state, and of itself as a valid part of the established Church of Scotland, even if it had seceded in protest against the corruptions of the main body. Mathieson argues that this perspective was abandoned with the union of Burghers and Antiburghers in 1820, when adherence to the covenant ceased to be a necessary term of communion. He says that most ministers would have agreed to one of the original terms proposed for the amalgamation which aimed at 'a general union of the various denominations of dissenters throughout Britain.' (25)

The Scottish Seceders were thus prepared to identify with 'dissent' at a time when the Church of Scotland was apparently reforming itself and the 'evangelical' party was coming to the fore. Seceders had already been involved in a large amount of missionary work in concert with English and Scottish congregationalists both at home and abroad, and they had together taken the lead in the attack on Unitarianism (Wardlaw and Brown, who attacked Yates in 1816, were respectively an Independent - from a Seceding background - and a Seceder). But through the 1820s the Church of Scotland was applying itself to foreign missions and to church extensions in Scotland, a development principally associated with Thomas Chalmers. Far from bringing about a rapprochement with the dissenters, this led to a more dramatic estrangement. The supporters of the established church attributed this to jealousy on the part of the dissenters - that the Church of Scotland, with the greater means at its disposal, was at last fulfilling obligations which had previously been left to the dissenters who were therefore now non-functional. The dissenters argued that the extension was a merely formal affair, that to promote church membership as a civic duty conflicted with the need for regeneration, and that the state was a body that was necessarily secular and foreign to the church. (26)

This last argument assumed special force after Catholic Emancipation. The British state had always been foreign to the Church of Scotland since it upheld prelatical establishments in England and Wales, and in Ireland. This had been a principal argument for the separation of the Secession and Relief Churches, and for the refusal of the Covenanters to join the Church of Scotland. With the repeal of the Test and Corporation Acts and with Catholic Emancipation, the government was formally pluralist and the ideal of a Church co-terminous with the society was no longer tenable. The continued connection with the state could be nothing other than a hindrance to the work of the church, since the two polities had radically different and even opposed purposes.

The Voluntary movement in Scotland can therefore be seen as a curious amalgam of reaction against and enthusiasm for the radical ferment which characterised the turn of the decade. Bulloch and Drummond describe Andrew Marshall, whose sermon against establishments in 1829 marked the beginning of the movement, as 'otherwise one of the most conservative Seceders' and they suggest that there had been more opposition among Seceding ministers to Catholic Emancipation than among ministers of the Church of Scotland (though Mathieson, in the passage they refer to as their authority, says the reverse). Marshall had argued that on the establishment principle the Roman Catholics now admitted into government had every right to press for the establishment of the Roman Catholic Church and the argument was to be frequently repeated when the issue was debated in Ulster. (27)

The urgency of the implications of Catholic Emancipation for the establishment principle was felt most pressingly in Ireland, where Emancipation was followed almost immediately by the 'tithe war'. The Emancipation campaign had raised high hopes in the Catholic population which the measure itself could hardly be expected to satisfy. We have seen Cooke telling the House of Lords Committee that Emancipation was popularly thought to mean redistribution of land. Magee, the Church of Ireland Archbishop of Dublin, complained to the Committee on the State of Ireland that 'there has been an eagerness of exertion connected with objects, as I believe, beyond those which are professed to be sought. The real aim of the agitation was to establish the Catholic religion as the religion of the country." (28)

O'Connell had attempted, after Emancipation had been achieved, to give it greater substance by using the machinery he had created to agitate for Repeal of the Act of Union, and therefore the establishment of a Roman Catholic government. But tithes were a much more immediate burden and symbol of subjection to a foreign church, and he seems to have been unable to harness the spontaneously developing tithe agitation to the broader political question of Repeal (though his attempts to do so resulted in his imprisonment early in 1831). There was a widespread refusal through the South of Ireland to pay tithes, accompanied by an intensification of agrarian terrorism. The Church of Ireland - obviously unpopular, and forced to resort to draconian measures to collect the dues to which its position as a state church entitled it - was the weakest point of any argument in favour of the establishment; and it was an obvious target for any government elected on a broad mandate of reforming abuses in church and state.

The bill to reform the Church of Ireland was introduced by the new government as one of its first measures in February 1833, and it became law in August as the Irish Church Temporalities Act. It barely touched the question of tithes and was a rationalisation of the structure of the Church, involving a redistribution rather than a reduction in endowments; but the suppression of ten sees, including two archbishoprics, revealed the vulnerability of an Erastian Church subject to the control of a pluralist Parliament. In England, it produced Keble's sermon on National Apostasy, and the beginnings of the Tractarian attempt to define the nature of the Church's authority. Among the English dissenters, it seemed to suggest for the first time that disestablishment could be a political possibility. (29)

The secularisation of the state was already part of the Benthamite radical programme, and O'Connell announced himself in favour of disestablishment in his reply to the King's speech in February. During the debates, he and Joseph Hume were - unsuccessfully - anxious to establish the principle that the State had the right to apply church endowments to secular purposes. In the wake of the act, the English dissenters, by now familiar with Scottish voluntaryist literature, took up the separation of Church and State as a general principle underpinning their renewed agitation for the redress of practical grievances. Resolutions in favour of disestablishment were passed at meetings in December 1833 and January 1834 in Leeds, Nottingham, throughout the Midlands, Lancashire and Glasgow. The United Committee, which had been formed to fight the Test and Corporation Acts, declared in favour of the separation of church and state in response to the Leeds meeting's call for a convention on dissenting grievances. The Protestant Dissenting Deputies in London condemned the Regium Donum given to English dissenters (a much smaller grant than the Irish one, performing the role of a Widow's Fund). (30)

It was to this activity that Carlile was referring when he talked about the 'high-toned decision of the English dissenters.' Carlile had only recently arrived in Belfast (from Newry) in 1830. Like his Presbyterian namesake, he had been involved with the Irish Evangelical Society, and was acutely aware of the Roman Catholic nature of Irish society outside Ulster, and believed that Protestants had to atone for past misdeeds if evangelical work was to have any hope of success. As an evangelical Independent he believed that religion was a matter of regeneration, not of simple membership of a church, however correct its doctrine. We have already seen that this religion of experience as opposed to doctrine had made little headway in Ulster. (31)

Both the Synod of Ulster and the Secession Synod were in any case in receipt of what he called 'the golden bribe' and we have already seen that the Irish Secession had not clarified its attitude to the covenanting ideal (there had been no equivalent to the old light/new light conflict in Scotland). In Magherahamlet Secession congregation, for example, the questions to elders in 1831 included a commitment to the perpetual obligation of covenants, but the covenants are not mentioned in a similar set of questions to elders in John Edgar's church in Fitzroy Avenue, Belfast. While Cooke had detected a drift towards voluntaryism on the part of Seceders in 1832, the Synod of Lothian and Tweed-dale, discussing in May 1834 the repeal of the Church of Scotland's 1799 Act to re-enter communion with the Synod of Ulster, were told that 'the Seceders there (Ulster - PB) had no connexion with those in this country, and that they were all staunch supporters of the Established Church.' A letter to the Orthodox Presbyterian from 'A Seceding Minister' in March 1834, proposing a union of the Synods, gave as one of its arguments, that 'in the present time, when there is so much noise respecting civil and religious politics, it is of considerable importance that as far as our connexion with government is concerned, both are agreed in their politico-ecclesiastical tenets.' (32)

I should also mention that Mathieson attributes the popularity of Scottish voluntaryism in part to a drive, especially in Edinburgh, to collect the 'Annuity Tax' set aside for part payment of ministers' stipends, and Halevy attributes the popularity of English voluntaryism to a similar drive on the part of Anglican clergymen to collect tithes before a date fixed by the government on which the obligation to full payment was to lapse. There was no equivalent event in Ulster. (33)

Carlile skirmished with the Orthodox Presbyterian on the rights and wrongs of the Independent as opposed to the Presbyterian mode of church government and on compulsory assessment for the support of religion. In January, 1835, he started a voluntaryist journal, the Christian Liberator. And in March 1836, a 'Belfast Voluntary Church Society' was formed. (34)

 

COOKE AT HILLSBOROUGH AND THE 1835 SYNOD

In 1834, James Emerson Tennent replied on behalf of the government to a major speech by O'Connell calling for Repeal. He declared that in Ireland the middle ground between outright support for O'Connell and support for the Protestant ascendancy was fast becoming untenable. Stanley - architect of the National Education System - agreed with him and said that there could only be two parties in Belfast - the Roman Catholic party and the Protestant party. The Northern Whig, which was trying to find just such a middle ground between support for a radical programme of reform and opposition to Repeal, was faced, from September 1833, with a rival in the shape of the Northern Herald, which supported devolved government along the lines now advocated by William Sharman Crawford, who was moving closer to O'Connell. The difference in attitude between the two papers can be seen in the Whig's description of Parliament as 'the United Reformed Parliament', while the Herald called it 'the Imperial Parliament'. Straightforward support for the government became more difficult as divisions in the government became more obvious under pressure from O'Connell and the radicals for yet further reform of the Church of Ireland. (35)

In May 1834, Lord John Russell declared in support of O'Connell's attack on church endowments in opposition to Stanley. Four members of the cabinet, including Stanley, resigned when the issue was brought forward for debate. The process by which 'moderate reformers' such as Cooke and Emerson Tennent were moving into alliance with Peel was beginning.

It was O'Connell's strength in Parliament that gave strength to the radicals. But the interests of O'Connell and the radicals were different. The radicals supported the attack on the Church of Ireland as a means of establishing the principle that church endowments were derived from secular society and could be reclaimed. The most ambitious of them envisaged the complete secularisation of the state. In this, they had sporadic support from English dissent. The full voluntaryist programme, though argued in terms of the best interests of religion, required the secularisation of the state. Even the more moderate programme for the redress of 'practical grievances' tended towards this aim since the practical grievances included having to pay for the Established Church. O'Connell, on the other hand, was primarily interested in establishing the principle that in a country whose population was mainly Catholic, the Catholic interest should predominate. This did not require the formal establishment of the Roman Catholic Church. O'Connell was an early advocate of the 'liberal ultramontane' ideal advocated in France after the July Revolution by Lacordaire, Lammenais and Dupanloup - a free church in a free state. In France and in Spain, the Church/State relationship had harmed the Church. The State had imposed conditions on it and used it as an instrument of policy with the result that the Church had shared in the State's unpopularity. But if his policy did not require the establishment of the Roman Catholic Church, it clearly did require the disestablishment of the Church of Ireland. (36)

The attack on the Church of Ireland could not be seen from an Irish point of view simply as a secularisation of the state or as an advance for the dissenting interest. It was an advance in the Roman Catholic interest which, in the context of the agitation for Repeal, could only be seen as an advance toward Roman Catholic ascendancy. Whether O'Connell thought that in such circumstances the Church would act as a 'voluntary' organisation in a secular state, or whether he envisaged the free church exercising power over the state through the consciences of its legislators, may be open to question. The former was certainly his public position in England and MacDonagh sees him as a co-heir with Wolfe Tone to the Enlightenment. O'Tuathaigh also gives him an impeccable secular radical intellectual pedigree. Bowen attributes sincerity to his statement in 1845 that 'I would rather die upon the scaffold, and I say it with all the solemnity of truth, than consent to a Catholic ascendancy in Ireland' but later quotes a letter to Cullen in 1842 which says:

'If the union were repealed and the exclusive system abolished, the great mass of the Protestant community would with little delay melt into the overwhelming majority of the nation. Protestantism would not survive Repeal ten years.' (37)

Whatever O'Connell's personal views, radical secularist and voluntaryist ideas had to cope with the argument that the real beneficiary of their agitations in Ireland would be the Roman Catholic Church.

This was the background to Cooke's appearance at the Hillsborough demonstration of October 1834 in support of the Church of Ireland. O'Connell had called for an all-out tithe strike when tithes fell due in November. Lord John Russell had proposed that, prior to November, Parliament should hold a special session for the further reform of the Church of Ireland. By an Act of February 1834, the government, which had now taken on responsibility for tithe collection, had agreed to pay tithes not received between 1831 and 1832 out of its own revenue. Russell proposed that this money should be paid out of the endowments of the church and, further, that all benefices serving parishes in which less than one tenth of the population were members of the Church of Ireland, should be suppressed. If this was put through, the Church would clearly lose even the small appearance it had of being a 'national' church, and Ireland would lose the slight appearance it retained of being a 'Protestant' country. (38)

The idea of a mass demonstration of Protestant feeling in Ireland had been widely canvassed since a meeting of the Conservative Society of Ireland in August. Clearly it would have to take place in Ulster, where Protestantism was strongest. Belfast had been suggested as a possible site, but there was a fear of antagonising Presbyterians, and thus revealing a division in Protestant opinion. Finally, Hillsborough was agreed, with Lord Downshire, who had consistently supported Catholic Emancipation, as host. (39)

Cooke's presence has been seen as a logical outcome to his campaign against Arianism and as the final surrender of Presbyterianism to Anglican ascendancy. A.T.Q. Stewart describes a smooth process of Presbyterians and Anglicans coming together, and concludes that 'It only remained for Cooke to proclaim the banns of marriage between them at the Hillsborough meeting of 1834.' Cooke himself, however, was nervous about attending, and it was only on October 25th that he wrote to Roden to accept the invitation, saying:

'were my public acts not to influence the private success of my ministry, I could easier come to a conclusion. But you are well aware that any decided line of procedure must offend some, several, perhaps many whom I should wish to please for the Gospel's sake. (40)

He went on to say that the Synod was 'knee deep in a negotiation with H.M. Government as to an increase of endowment to the lower class congregations' and that his presence in a Conservative assembly would therefore arouse all their dissatisfaction, obloquy and opposition.' He could not support the form of a prelatical church government, but he could 'stand up in defence of all the property of the Episcopal Church.'

Cooke was not the only Presbyterian minister present. The Guardian mentions nine others (three of them Seceders) including James McCullough, who had supported Black against the Belfast Institution (and who had recently retired, being succeeded in First, Newtownards by his son, Julius, who was also present). Cooke's argument - often to be repeated - was that there was an alliance against 'the Word of God' and that Protestants had to unite to resist it. The attack on the property of the episcopal church was only a first step towards dismantling the whole Protestant interest: 'if the Protestant aristocracy be put down, Protestant plebeianism would soon be put down also.' The episcopal church was 'another column of our noble Protestant army who, though differently officered and differently dressed, yet wield the same weapons of truth, and serve under the same banners.' There was no serious discrepancy between the theology of the Thirty Nine Articles and that of the Westminster Confession. (41)

In 1825, he had disclaimed any interest in politics, but he was advancing fast towards the position he held in 1837 that political and religious interests could not be separated - that a religious commitment required a political commitment, the core of which was the maintenance of Protestant as opposed to Catholic power through support for the landed interest and the Established Church.

Cooke's confidently asserted view that the Synod was committed to the establishment principle was open to question. The Westminster Confession had been re-adopted as a standard in 1832, on a motion from John Brown of Aghadowey. But this had been regarded as a further preservative against Arianism and exceptions continued to be allowed until August 1836, when unqualified subscription was required. Before the Synod met in June 1834, the Northern Whig, which claimed to be alone in the view that 'political justice is never done when civil governments either establish or endow particular sects' was worried that certain leaders planned to bring forward the establishment principle and commit the Synod to it, without raising the question of endowments paid for by taxation. In the event, the Synod was, as we have seen, dominated by the question of the National Education System, and the establishment issue was not raised. More surprisingly, perhaps, it wasn't raised in the Synod of 1835 in opposition to Cooke's Hillsborough speech. Alexander Patterson of Ballymena, whom we have seen as a supporter of the National System, attacked Cooke in a letter to the Belfast News Letter in November. A pamphlet was published by 'John Knox Jr' (whom Holmes identifies as Rev D.G. Brown of Newtownhamilton) called The First and Second Blast of the Trumpet against the Monstrous Union of Presbytery and Prelacy. But it was Cooke's support for the prelatical establishment - not his support for the establishment principle itself - that was the object of the attack. (42)

The 1835 Synod was dominated by an appeal from Rev Alexander Patterson against a censure imposed on him by his Presbytery (Ballymena) owing to his vote in favour of the National System. The attack on him had been led by Rev George McClelland of Ahoghill, who had resorted to melodramatic methods - putting up placards against the system, organising processions with bands, and even occupying Patterson's own pulpit to denounce him. He had been supported in this by William McKay of Portglenone. Similar complaints against McCleIland's activities came from Grange (Robert Rusk), Tubbermore (William Brown), Cullybackey (Hugh Hamilton) and Londonderry (George Hay and William McClure - who was, at the time, Moderator). The affair was highly embarrassing to Cooke, who wanted to separate the disciplinary question from the question of the National System itself -and was therefore accused of backpedalling by both McClelland and John Brown. The System's supporters (Carlile, Hanna and Hay) agreed with him on separating the issues. Clearly neither side felt confident in the results of a show of strength, which might have produced either a reversal of the 1834 decision, or stronger measures against ministers still connected with the Board. (43)

Despite an attempt on Cooke's part to prevent the debate, Patterson's appeal was upheld (by a majority of 96) and McClelland was dis-annexed from Ahoghill and put under the care of the Presbytery of Connor by a unanimous vote (Cooke explained that he had disbelieved newspaper accounts of McClelland's activities until forced to accept the evidence of ministers in the Synod). Though this certainly represented a moral victory for Cooke's opponents, Patterson and D.G.Brown (who supported Patterson in the discussion), the issues raised by Cooke's appearance at Hillsborough were not discussed. 'Protestant union' remained a political option which had neither been formally endorsed nor condemned. The Synod was, however, moving towards unqualified subscription to the Westminster Confession, and therefore to endorsement of the establishment principle. James Seaton Reid, who was in negotiation with the Church of Scotland on the possibility of reopening communion between the two churches, read a minute of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, approving the Report of a Committee it had appointed to look into the question, which recommended communion. A decision was, however, deferred to 1836, and a condition for restored communion was unqualified subscription to the Westminster Confession. An adjourned meeting of the Synod at Cookstown agreed that no exceptions were to be allowed when subscribing to the Confession 'whereas it is most desirable in itself and indispensable to the renewal and maintenance of ecclesiastical communion with other Presbyterian Churches to adhere to an unqualified subscription to the Westminster Confession of Faith.' This decision formed the basis of a resolution by the General Assembly in 1836, reopening communion. (44)

 

VOLUNTARYISM (2)

The question, however, was not closed until the 1835 decision had been confirmed by the 1836 Synod; and the dispute over unqualified subscription coincided with the attempt to establish a distinct and coherent voluntary movement in Belfast. In December 1835, the voluntary cause received a remarkable boost from an apparently unlikely source, when the Eastern Presbytery of the Reformed Presbyterian Synod published a Causes of Fasting and Thanksgiving or Signs of the Times, written by Rev John Paul of Loughmorne, author of the Refutation of Arianism. The Causes of Fasting were the iniquities of the established church and of the endowments given to Presbyterians, to both of which he attributed the strength of popery in Ireland. The Causes of Thanksgiving were the progress of Reformation principles in Scotland and Ireland, changes of attitude among Irish Roman Catholics, and virtually the whole programme of the Reformed Parliament. (45)

The principal barrier to the Reformation in Ireland, Paul argued, was tithes and Regium Donum:

'to force money out of their (Roman Catholics' - PB) pockets to pay all these exactions, and all this in order to promote principles which they believe to be damnable; and then, after all, to attempt to proselytise them to the Protestant faith, is one of the most absurd farces ever enacted upon the face of the earth.... (Consequently) we find that while popery is coming down in Spain and Portugal, it is spreading in Ireland.'

The King should be a nursing father to the church, but when he showers gifts on his favourite children and starves the others, he shows bad feeling, contempt and jealousy. Tory hatred of papists was due to fear: 'they have injured them and guilt begets fear.' The Church of Ireland, through its connection with the state, had no authority of its own. While crying out against popery and infidelity, it was, in the Reformed Parliament, at the mercy of papists and infidels: 'Bishops and Archbishops can be made or unmade by papists and infidels e.g. ten mitres blown away by one puff of the British parliament.'

Presbyterianism too had been converted by the bounty into an instrument of state policy. The Seceders received less bounty than the Synod of Ulster because 'everyone knows that it requires less force to put into motion a small body than a large one'; 'Seceders in Scotland are attacking the Presbyterian establishment, whilst in Ireland they are not attacking the Episcopal establishment.... Now, what is the reason? Can any satisfactory reason be assigned but this - in Ireland the Seceders receive a Regium Donum, in Scotland none?'

The bounty kept Arianism alive: 'Many Arian congregations are mere skeletons and could not support a minister at all, were it not for the aid of Regium Donum' - though he also says that 'Unitarian ministers in general are favourable to civil and religious liberty.' The principle of endowments entailed the endowment of rival religious systems - presbytery in Scotland, prelacy in England and popery in the colonies (the Roman Catholic Church in Canada was in receipt of government money).

He went on to argue that the Reformed Synod was itself in need of reform:

'The Reformed Churches reviewed their creeds frequently; some of them every year; they altered their creeds; they amended their creeds. Their presbyteries met monthly and held public discussions. Do we follow their example? Do we not rather act on the principle that the reformers of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries did everything and of course left nothing for us to do?'

His argument was put into the context of a millennarian expectation:

'The first reformation was a glorious reformation - the second far excelled it, but a third is approaching more glorious than both. The former reformations may be compared to the light of the moon; the approaching reformation to the light of the sun.... We thus compare them, because they are so compared in the sacred volume.'

He pointed to the spread of evangelical principles in the Churches of England and Ireland and in the Synod of Ulster, where 'the progress, indeed, has been so rapid, that if we did not see it with our own eyes, we could scarcely believe it.' The Scottish Secession's opposition to patronage had influenced the Church of Scotland in taking a stand against it (referring to the resolutions of the General Assembly of 1834 that congregations should have a veto over the appointment of ministers). Popery and prelacy were destroying each other. Popery was under attack in Spain and Portugal, while prelacy was under attack through the suppression of bishoprics in Ireland. Irish Catholics were now ashamed of their persecuting principles:

'The position in which they stand, fighting the battles of civil and religious liberty, is certainly well calculated to eradicate persecuting principles and to inoculate them with principles of liberality and charity. We cannot but admire both the wisdom and goodness of God in putting them into such a position at the very time that he is putting the sacred oracles into their hands and that these holy scriptures are making rapid progress among them.'

He approved of the reform of Parliament: 'Prior to these changes, the House of Representatives was a complete misnomer. We had no representatives or only a mock representation.' The Reformed Parliament had abolished slavery, abolished church rates and church cess, introduced reform of municipal corporations, ended the monopoly of the East India Company, and promoted peace. With a memory going back prior to 1815, he attacked the Tories for supporting war 'for the purpose of crushing the liberties of our friends and brethren on the continent of America; and for the purpose of supporting the tottering cause of tyranny and despotism on the Continent of Europe.'

The fact that deists and infidels had helped to achieve these reforms did not invalidate them: 'Will you tell your maker that if he had employed Covenanters, Seceders or orthodox Presbyterians you would have thanked him; but because he has employed infidels and papists, you feel yourselves under no obligation?'

This was an extraordinary document to come from the most rigorously orthodox of Presbyterian bodies - a church which could not acknowledge the legitimacy of the government because it did not recognise the perpetual obligation of the Solemn League and Covenant. But Paul had previously indicated his opposition to the identification of church and state which seems to be the basis of the Covenanting Church. In his Creeds and Confessions Defended of 1819 he had argued that the Act, Declaration and Testimony of 1762 - the constitution of the Reformed Presbyterian church - when it attacked the toleration of error, was in fact attacking the pretence that such toleration implied of power vested in the state over religious matters. The scripture references in the Act 'were quoted to prove that no man or magistrate has a right to assume the character of judge in matters of religion - that he has no right to license men to publish and propagate whatever doctrines he may think proper and to prohibit by law the publication of others.' Either the views he licensed were true, or they were not. If he licensed error, he would sin; if he licensed the truth, he would be presumptuous: 'What would be thought of the President of the United States if, coming over to Ireland, he were to issue proclamations tolerating us to obey the laws of our country?' (46)

In his Speech of Rev Henry Montgomery Reviewed of 1827, Paul held that 'Every society of Christians is, or ought to be, a voluntary association' and he advanced the argument which he was to use through the 1830s that the Old Testament represented the childhood of man, when the rule of law was enforced by pains and penalties, but the New Testament dispensation was the adulthood of man when he was free to make mistakes without any physical punishment on earth (though also without escaping the consequences of those mistakes after his earthly death). (47)

In 1831, a virulent controversy began in the Reformed Presbyterian Synod between Paul and Rev Thomas Holmes Houston. Houston was a young minister who had started as a member of the Eastern Presbytery, but had been transferred with his congregation - Knockbracken - to the Northern Presbytery after a quarrel with Paul, apparently over the appointment of Rev John Alexander - subsequently a close ally of Paul's - to the congregation in Linen Hall Street, Belfast. The rejected candidate, James Dick, was subsequently an ally of Houston's. (48)

In January 1830, the Synod issued a Causes of Fasting, which lamented 'the admission of Roman Catholics to places of power and trust in the British Empire.... We have reason to mourn that Britain, instead of discovering her subjection to the Mediator by appointing able, upright and pious men to places of power and trust, has openly disclaimed his mediatorial supremacy by admitting to her most influential offices the intriguing and idolatrous vassals of the Roman pontiff.' In July of the same year, a new committee of the Synod issued a Causes of Thanksgiving, prepared by Paul, which celebrated, together with the spread of evangelical ideas, the advance of civil and religious liberty. Houston was later to complain, in The Covenanter's Narrative and Plea that Paul and his supporters prevented the emission of future Causes between 1830 and 1835 because of the 'full and faithful exposure of the evils of Roman Catholic Emancipation which was made in the Synod's Causes of Fasting for 1830....' (in fact, Causes were issued in 1831 and 1832). At the end of 1830, Houston founded a journal called The Covenanter, quarrelling with Paul when a meeting he called to form a management committee turned out to be almost exclusively made up of Eastern Presbytery members. (49)

The Covenanter, when Houston took full control of it, asserted the right of the civil magistrate to punish heresy. Houston took the view that all authority derived from God and that the Christian magistrate was a minister of God but could only be recognised as such through the possession of 'scriptural qualifications' of piety, integrity, justice and zeal for the honour and good of the people. Without those qualifications, his authority was invalid and consequently the authority of the present government was invalid. The magistrate should be chosen by the people, but only in accordance with God's law. He was keeper of both tables of the law: the two commandments relating to duties towards God, and the eight to duties among men. He therefore had the right to suppress heresy - 'not heresy in the mind, but heresy or idolatry publickly avowed, propagated and obstinately persevered in':

'The most excellent parts of the British constitution are those which provide for the promotion of religion and the suppression of such flagrant offences as are directly committed against God's honour and truth. Till a recent period, the Romish idolatry throughout the British Empire was regarded as calling for civil penalties; even yet there are some offices in the state from which the profession of it is excluded. Deism openly avowed and propagated is, in the eye of the British law, illegal.' (50)

Tithes were objectionable because they were unfair to farmers (taking only agricultural not manufacturing produce), supported prelacy and were unequally distributed between poor hardworking clerics and 'haughty, idle lordlings'; but the principle of applying one tenth of all wealth to the support of religion was nonetheless a good one.

These ideas did not interfere with liberty of conscience since 'God is lord of the conscience. It has no rights which are contrary to his law' nor would they lead to persecution, since persecution is oppression for righteousness' sake... it cannot consist therefore in restraining and punishing men for gross violations of the law of Heaven.'

Paul argued in reply that secular authority could not be dependent on piety, since there was no way of assessing piety. Houston was contradicting the Westminster Confession, which asserted that 'Infidelity or difference in religion does not make void the magistrate's just and legal authority'. He said that when Houston argued that the magistrate should use all his power to further the glory of God, he was insisting that he be a perfected saint. (51)

Houston's tithe system (one tenth of all wealth) was infinitely more burdensome than the Church of Ireland's:

'The inhabitants of this country have long groaned under the present tithe system. They have borne the load until they can bear it no longer. They are determined to throw it off. Mr Houston himself is willing that the present tithe system should be abolished. But why? That he may substitute another vastly more grinding'.'

Prelates did not receive the full tithe. Houston wanted to take the tenth and add to it a tenth of all manufactures. He was providing the Church of Ireland with the argument that 'dissenters wish to overthrow our tithe system for no other purpose than to establish their own.'

All Houston's arguments for the punishment of heresy derived from Old Testament punishments for idolatry, which provided for the death penalty. Houston had no authority for departing from the death penalty if he maintained that the Old Testament dispensation was still fully valid. His basic error was to confuse the two dispensations. Insofar as Houston could cite Reformation sources in defence of his arguments 'the truth is that our Reformers, notwithstanding their immense progress in reformation, still retained some dregs of popery, both with regard to the magistrate's power and the censures of the church.' The Standards of the Church were not final authorities. To say that they were scriptural because they had been compiled by eminent divines was 'unphilosophical, anti-Protestant and unscriptural. It does not proceed upon the Baconian, or inductive, mode of reasoning - the present approved mode of philosophising - the only effectual mode of investigating truth.'

The dispute was suppressed by the 1833 Synod, which forbade Paul and Houston to write against each other, though their quarrel smouldered through the Synods of 1834 and 1835 in which the question arose of the attitude to be adopted towards the Reformed Presbytery of America. This had split between those who felt that the American constitution could be recognised as a 'moral ordinance of God' and those who opposed it on the grounds that it didn't recognise the sovereignty of Christ, it authorised slavery, and gave 'support to the enemies of the Redeemer and admits to its honours and emoluments Jews, Mahometans, Deists and Atheists.' Paul supported the 'new light' faction which wanted to recognise the constitution. (52)

In December 1835, Paul, together with Revs John Alexander and William Henry of the Eastern Presbytery, attended a 'soiree' in Belfast to discuss opposition to endowments. Robert Workman, an elder in Cooke's May Street congregation, was chairman, and Paul, Henry and Alexander spoke, together with the Independent James Carlile, the veteran reformer Dr Tennent, and James Simms, now editor of the Northern Whig. A committee was formed to supervise the Christian Liberator, which began to appear on a regular, monthly basis. The Liberator claimed that 'to the influence of this pamphlet (the Eastern Presbytery's Causes - PB) do we owe the large and influential committee under whose auspices this periodical now appears.' Paul, Alexander and Henry were later to disclaim any connection with the paper, but the Whig attributed an article on tithes in January 1836 to Paul; there were letters from him in February and June 1836, and the March 1837 issue contained an article by him on 'the Blinding Influence of Regium Donum. (53)

In March 1836 the Voluntaryists held a public meeting in Belfast, inviting John Ritchie of the Scottish Secession to speak to them. A letter of support was sent from Dr Heugh of Glasgow in which he said that the mere exaction of money would not have committed him to a political position, but that, in Ireland, the exactions were being made by force:

'In the whole history of ecclesiastical iniquity, Ireland stands first among the foremost. That a great people should be legally plundered, in opposition to their belief, their inclinations and their interests, to support the worship of a handful of rich aliens; and that priests and politicians should proclaim, up to this hour, that legal spoliation is necessary to the interests of Protestantism and Christianity in the country; is something so monstrous, as that, were it not a fact, we should deem the man absurd who should insert it, as a fiction, in some Utopian romance.' (54)

The Eastern Presbytery was represented by John Alexander of the Linen Hall Street congregation, Belfast. Dr Tennent was in the chair and Rev Hugh Mclntyre of Loan-Ends represented Bryce's Primitive Secession. But the meeting was dominated by a debate between Cooke, supporting the establishment principle, and Ritchie. Alexander was unable, as a covenanter, to attack the establishment principle as such. He claimed to the 1836 Reformed Presbyterian Synod that he had attended the meeting as a protest against endowments, not knowing that Ritchie would be there: 'so far from compromising any principle, his statements on the subject in question were attacked by the leader of the Voluntaries in no measured terms, and Dr Cooke, instead of opposing, had expressed approbation of his statements as they respected establishments.' (55)

The first speaker was Rev McIlwaine from Ohio in America, who argued that the voluntary system had been successful in America and that ministers were well supported. He was followed by Alexander, who said that he could not attack the abstract principles of establishments, but went on to compare the existing establishment to the compound image in Daniel, comparing the gold to the kingly power and the iron to Regium Donum. Nonetheless, the state had conferred rights on the established churches and if those rights were to be withdrawn, it should be done gradually and with compensation. Hugh Mclntyre argued that 'every man is in duty bound to support that form of religion of which he approves.' The establishment principle could only be justified if all sects were endowed, and so long as any denomination received government support, the endowment to Maynooth was unassailable. An established church was tied to a secular state whose commitment to its interests was unreliable. He described the Secession and General Synods as 'a mere pensioned hack' while the ministers of the Established Church in Ireland had to 'keep their powder dry' against their supposed parishioners.

Ritchie argued that Ireland had been badly governed for three hundred years, until the Melbourne administration, which was 'the best and most popular government that ever ruled its destinies.' The Church of Scotland was stained with many abuses, yet it was petitioning for extension and using underhand measures to secure signatures to its petitions. Chalmers wanted to carve Edinburgh up into a system of parallelograms with ministers unable to move from one parallelogram into another. There could be no objection to co-operating with infidels, papists and radicals in promoting the work of voluntaryism. Many motives may move a committee to light a town with gas, but this did not mean that the end was undesirable. Radicalism and agitation were necessary. He ridiculed Alexander's support for establishments in the abstract, saying that he had only ever come across establishments in the concrete.

Cooke argued that the abuses to which Ritchie pointed did not affect the principle of the matter. Ritchie's illustrations of abuses in the Church of Scotland were 'as if I should attempt to write the history of the Ulster gentry and draw the materials from the annals of Castle Rackrent - an individual picture all too true to the original, but as a general description of the landlords of Down, Antrim etc at once a fictitious and a libelous caricature.' 'Establishments are stained with abuses, therefore they are not of God's appointment: but Dr R. and Dr C. are likewise stained with many sins, therefore they are not the creation of God.'

Ritchie supported agitation and radicalism: 'Now who does not know that agitation is just a discreet name for Daniel O'Connell, and that radicalism is but another word for the destruction of the House of Lords?' The end result of the radical attack on establishments would be a tyranny in which 'the whole shall be trodden by the iron heel of another Oliver Cromwell, canting in the name of "civil and religious liberty' when he is forging the chains of despotism to shackle and enslave his country.'

Dr Tennent had argued that 'no man should be called on to pay for the religious instruction of another against the light of his own conscience,' but he himself was a supporter of the National Education System through which Protestants were forced to pay for Roman Catholic instruction. The Voluntaries were not active in the agitation against Maynooth. Against McIlwaine, he argued that some of the voluntary supporters in America were slaveholders. He regretted: 'that deification of self and supercilious contempt of other governments with which America's children often dance round the cap of liberty and chant the hymn of independence while the chains of their slaves rattle like the castanets of a figurante, and the deep voiced groans of their captives respond, in melancholy accompaniment, to the shrill voiced treble of the public joy.'

If the reference was unfair, it was no more so than Ritchie's using the massacre at Rathcormac to illustrate the wrongs of the establishment. Against Alexander and Mclntyre, he argued that it could never be just on the part either of the government or of individuals to endow error. And against Mclntyre in particular, he cited the Primitive Secession itself (though not by name) as evidence of the failure of the voluntary system in Ireland: 'They see, moreover, how little Voluntaryism has done for Ireland - and how it scarcely can hold together a few rickety congregations - and how it depends, for building its chapels, and sometimes for its ministerial salaries, on the labours or generosity of the very men and churches whose principles it denounces, and whose possessions it would alienate.'

Cooke resumed his marathon speech the following evening, quoting from journals about the problems churches were facing in America, and quoting from Houston's The Covenanter an article by Ebenezer Ritchie defending the establishment principle. He argued that the opposition to the Church of Ireland had been inspired by the favouritism shown by the government to O'Connell. He was opposed to any domination by the state over the church, and particularly to the suppression of the convocations of the Churches of England and Ireland, which were now 'bottled up like a preserved commodity in the pocket of the Prime Minister.' But the Synod of Ulster and the Church of Scotland were free churches both engaged in vigorously reforming themselves. They could not be said to be inhibited in any way by the state connection. A recognition of Christian doctrine by the state was necessary if the Sabbath was to be observed. It was a great wrong that sailors and bakers were forced to work on a Sunday, but this could only be rectified if the state recognised the Christian principle of Sabbath observance. If the state was not Christian, it could not enforce oaths, prevent blasphemy, enforce monogamy, or prevent divorce. The principle that the state should reward secular services was allowed; why should it not be allowed to pay for religious services? In advancing the last point, Cooke pursued an analogy between himself as Wellington and Ritchie as Napoleon. Although he was not prepared to discuss the merits of different forms of church organisation, he ended by praising the Church of Ireland:

'Prelacy, I admit, has not changed; but its notorious prelates have; the system of church government remains unchanged; but the character, piety, zeal and efficiency of the clergy have risen, and are rising, every hour. This gives room for mutual "forbearance" on points of government and discipline, and gives a stimulus to "brotherly kindness'' in matters of truth and godliness.'

The published account of the debate was compiled from notes taken for the Tory Ulster Times and was of course heavily biased in Cooke's favour. Its accuracy was challenged, for example by Alexander and McIlwaine, by 'A student of the Royal Belfast Academical Institution' in the Christian Liberator and by Ritchie, who published a Reply to Rev Dr Cooke in 1837. But even without Cooke's intervention, the Belfast voluntary movement had little prospect for success. Scottish and English voluntaryism had a secure denominational base in the Secession and in Congregationalism, which could point to considerable success in missionary work. The only ministers who supported the Belfast association were members of churches not in receipt of government money - the Independent James Carlile, the 'Primitive Secessionists', Bryce and Mclntyre, and the Reformed Presbyterian Paul and Alexander. The Reformed Presbyterians could support the attack on existing establishments, but not the attack on the establishment principle. Their efforts in any case were diverted to the struggle within the Reformed Synod on the magistrate's power to suppress heresy - a much earlier stage along the road the Scottish Secession had travelled towards principled voluntaryism. (56)

The Eastern Presbytery's Causes was strongly attacked at the Reformed Synod in 1836, and Houston's congregation, Knockbracken, presented a memorial condemning it. One of the Knockbracken commissioners, Ephraim Chancellor, complained that 'Ministers associated with the known enemies of the Covenanted work of Reformation, that God would bring down, though they were told he would reform them. So great was the defection that Dr Cooke had to come forward in defence of the covenanted Reformation' (Cooke seems to have made a point of playing on the disputes in the Reformed Synod by representing himself as a 'Son of the Covenant'). Rev James Dick proposed a motion that 'we cannot make common cause with any of the political parties of the day, or with such as deny and oppose the principle of a national establishment of the religion of Jesus Christ.' Paul replied that he was merely opposing the right of the civil magistrate to persecute heretics. He proposed a counter motion to the effect that 'We believe that prelacy, so far from being a bulwark between us and popery, is in reality a principal supporter of popery in Ireland. In no country in the world do Roman Catholics cling to their religion with so much tenacity, and tithes we believe to be one principle cause.' (57)

In the debate, he attacked Houston for advocating death for heretics and increased tithes:

'By putting forward this preposterous sentiment, Mr Houston was doing everything in his power to support prelacy in Ireland, and he (Mr P) was not one of those who thought prelacy essential to the keeping down of popery. The two systems were knocking their heads against each other and he hoped they would soon knock out each other's brains. The language practically held out to Roman Catholics was that the burden of tithes for the Established Church, and of Regium Donum for the Synod of Ulster, the Secession Synod, the Remonstrant Synod, the Presbytery of Antrim and the Southern Association, should be laid upon their shoulders, besides additional assessments for church building, and if they did not quietly submit to the impost, they must be shot, or sent across the Boyne water... the consequence is that their conversion is rendered hopeless and, under this treatment, they must remain Roman Catholics to the end of the world....'

Tithes and Regium Donum were abuses to which Reformed Presbyterians had always been opposed. The time was now ripe to get rid of them and writing in defence of the abstract principle of church establishments merely strengthened the actually existing prelatical establishment. Houston argued in reply that the Causes had opposed tithes and Regium Donum on political, not covenanting, grounds. It had not attacked the Erastianism of the Established Church; it had approved the present government, which, according to the Knockbracken memorial, was 'in several respects worse than many of its predecessors' and it had failed to attack the persecution of Protestants in the South of Ireland. In his Narrative and Plea, Houston later argued that the Causes had greatly exaggerated the evil influence of tithes and Regium Donum, making them the sole causes of Irish poverty, without any mention of popery. It was absurd to say that the Catholics fighting against tithes were fighting for civil and religious liberty:

'With as much reason might the Indian savage with his tomahawk and scalping knife, slaying or torturing his victim with savage delight, or the Thugs in India, who make murder their trade, be said to be fighting the battles of civil and religious liberty.' (58)

There was no evidence that Catholics were renouncing persecuting principles. No such change in the nature of the Mother of Harlots was described in Revelation.

Dick's motion was passed by the Synod and Paul's rejected. Thereafter, Paul's efforts were devoted to trying to alter the Synod's terms of communion in line with changes that had already been made by the Scottish Synod - particularly in the Fourth term of communion which dealt with the obligation to renew the national covenants, including the Auchensaugh Renovation of 1712, with its insistence on the need to suppress heresy. This was a topic that had been under discussion for some time. In 1819, the Irish Synod had written to the Scottish Synod about the propriety of retaining the Renovation as a term of communion. In 1820, they had resolved that it should be retained, but accompanied by an explanation. In 1821, the Scottish Synod had removed any mention of it, replacing it with a clause acknowledging in general terms 'the duty of a minority adhering to these views, when the nation has cast them off, and under the impression of solemn covenant obligations, following their worthy ancestors in endeavouring faithfully to maintain and diffuse the principles of the Reformation.' Paul and Alexander themselves had been asked to prepare a summary of their views on the Renovation but failed to do so, and in 1828, the job was given to Rev John Stewart of Rathfriland (who wrote in The Covenanter in favour of the death penalty for heresy) while Paul was asked to outline principles for a revision of the Act, Declaration and Testimony. Paul later claimed that he had 'declined the honour. My principal reason was my knowledge of your (Houston's - PB) intolerant and persecuting principles. I dreaded a collision of sentiment and therefore judged it better to write no synopsis at all than run the risk of dividing our church.' (59)

After a complicated series of disputes, during which Paul and Houston were still bound by the 1833 resolution not to write against each other in public, Paul left the church in 1840, taking the Eastern Presbytery with him. His subsequent writings were mainly devoted to the dispute with Houston.

James Godkin, an Independent minister writing in the Northern Whig under the pseudonym Q.E.D., described Paul as 'a David, sweating in Goliath's unwieldy armour' - the armour being the standards of the Reformed Presbyterian Church. Although his Review of Rev Thomas Houston's 'Christian Magistrate' of 1833, and the Causes had endorsed the principle of revising the standards, and although he had argued that the work of the Reformation was incomplete, the actual changes proposed in 1837-40 were relatively minor. They were opposed because it was clear that the Eastern Presbytery wanted to involve the church in liberal politics at a time when many church members shared Cooke's fear that the country was being plunged into an agitation which could only result in a Catholic ascendancy. (60)

Houston, like Cooke, stood on the rights of 'truth' as against 'error': 'What is it connected with religion that the popular idea of persecution does not by native consequence confound? It confounds the churches of Christ and Antichrist; it obliterates a main distinctive feature of Christ's genuine and Rome's pretended martyrs, it identifies the persecutor with the persecuted, and reconciles righteousness with unrighteousness - Christ and Belial.' (61)

But the rights he was defending were not any existing and enforceable rights but the theoretical rights of the Reformed Presbyterian Church, and the consequence of his victory was to keep the church out of any active involvement in politics. He could not join Cooke in an outright defence of the prelatical establishment, any more than Paul could openly propagate a fullblooded voluntaryism. Paul's attempt to convert the 'Reformed church' into the 'Reforming church' was an attempt to involve it in mainstream political debate by abandoning its commitment to an unrealisable ideal (the covenanted state). This was by no means a secular ambition. His political optimism was apparently based on a millennarian expectation that the attacks on endowments represented the attack of the ten horns (the kingdoms of the world which supported Christian churches) on the Whore in Revelation 18.17. preparatory to the millennium. In his last work - A Solemn Protest, written in 1847, he wrote that Catholics were contending for ascendancy, and that 'The struggle for the golden cups (a reference to the golden cup held by the Harlot riding on the beast. Paul identified it with the state endowment - PB) has already commenced. The conflict will be tremendous. The empire is in danger of being torn to pieces. (62)

R.J. Bryce shared these expectations. Also in 1847, he wrote to R.J. Tennent to say that he intended to follow the Covenanters' example in not registering to vote. He had voted in the period of political enthusiasm which was shared by 'many of the strictest Covenanters' but had since gone on to study prophecy and to feel that citizenship in the world was not compatible with allegiance to the King of Kings. He thought that the millennium was imminent and it was the duty of Christians to separate themselves from the world. The time scale both Paul and Bryce seem to have been working on is interestingly similar to that of Thomas Ledlie Birch and William Stavely from the United Irish period who proposed 1848 and 1850 (or 1866) respectively as the period of the final overthrow of the Beast. Fleming's Discourse on the Rise and Fall of Antichrist had predicted an attack on the power of Antichrist in France in the 1790s and had been reprinted in that period. It predicted a direct assault on the papal power in Italy in 1848 and was reprinted in 1847 and 1849. (63)

Bryce was already disillusioned with party politics in 1837 when he wrote to R.J. Tennent to say 'you cannot expect us (himself and his brother James - PB) to have much sympathy with the latter (the Reform Association - PB) if you remember that like other parties they obey their leaders and that of those leaders, seven eighths are ready to cut our throats.' James Carlile was also disenchanted with the Belfast reformers and wrote to Tennent just before the 1837 election to say that he would support them 'though I have no great confidence in the Reform Party in this town, having received neither sympathy nor encouragement from them.' The Christian Liberator appeared irregularly in 1837 and the last issue appeared in November. Carlile resigned his congregation and left Belfast in 1839 after a split had taken place apparently over his involvement in politics (the Orthodox Presbyterian had referred to dissatisfaction on this score as early as 1834). Godkin seems to have left at much the same time, while Dr Tennent died in 1837. (64)

In October 1836 Robert Workman was dismissed as elder in Cooke's May Street church after Cooke had produced resolutions published by the Belfast Voluntary Church Association which, the session resolved, contained 'a gross, scandalous, false and malicious libel on the character of Dr Cooke'. Workman had chaired the meeting at which the resolutions (referring to Cooke's behaviour over the public meeting in March) were passed and his name was fixed to them, though he claimed to the session that 'he had wished the resolutions to be differently worded, and that his name as an elder should not be published in connexion with the statement.' He resigned from the congregation and appears in 1838 as an elder in John Edgar's Secession congregation in Alfred Street (Fitzroy), Belfast. The incident complicated the already tangled financial affairs of the May Street congregation, since Workman's father, John Workman, was one of the original lessees of the May Street site. (65)

 

UNQUALIFIED SUBSCRIPTION

In July 1836, the Church of Scotland, on the basis of the General Synod's provisional adoption of unqualified subscription in August 1835, approved the report of its Committee recommending ministerial communion. The ratification of unqualified subscription had, however, been postponed on a motion from Stewart when the 1836 Synod met in Omagh, until after the Church of Scotland's debate had taken place. Stewart probably felt that the General Assembly's decision would be adversely affected by the opposition to the Westminster Confession which still existed in the Synod, especially on the question of the magistrate's power to suppress heresy. This had become public in 1836 through a pamphlet published by 'a member of the General Synod of Ulster' called The Dens Theology Humbug. The member of the General Synod of Ulster was James MacNeight, editor of the Belfast News Letter, whom we have already seen as a sponsor of James Emerson Tennent in the 1832 election and a founder member of the 'Belfast Society', who had gone over to the Reformers at least partly over the Brown Street School affair. (66)

The pamphlet was an attack on Cooke's appearance at a Tory evangelical meeting in Exeter Hall in June 1835 to protest against the fall of Peel's shortlived administration at a time when the major issue in Westminster politics was appropriation of the Church of Ireland's property. Cooke was in London at the time trying to raise money for the May Street church. It was clearly important to the Tory case to be able to argue that the Roman Catholic church was still a persecuting church at a time when such sincere liberals as Doyle, Crolly and Murray were its official spokesmen. In 1835, a Church of Ireland clergyman, Robert James McGhee, got hold of a copy of the Theologia ad Usum Seminariorum by Pierre Dens, which, he claimed, was in use in Maynooth and which contained the view that 'heretics and apostates generally' could be 'compelled by corporal punishment to return to the Catholic faith and the unity of the church.' McGhee revealed Dens' Theology at the Exeter Hall meeting, and Cooke and Mortimer O'Sullivan, an ex-Catholic whom Bowen describes as 'the most important of the Protestant controversialists of the pre-famine period, and the most intelligent and interesting of them' subsequently toured Scotland to publicise it as evidence of the threat a Catholic ascendancy posed to Irish Protestants. (67)

MacNeight argued that the Dens' Theology meetings were 'specially intended by the actors behind the scenes, to get up an artificial alarm amongst the rabble, in order that municipal corruptions in Ireland may be perpetuated - that a sinecure establishment may be continued at the cost of the millions who derive from it no other benefit than oppression and insult....' (68)

Like Paul, he argued that Roman Catholics, who might be expected from the submissive character required by their creed to be Tories, were fighting in Ireland for religious and civil liberty, and that 'the man who has established for himself the right of independent thinking in politics, cannot be permanently a slave in religion.' If a commitment to persecuting principles in Dens' Theology, which was not an accepted standard of the Roman Catholic Church, was to be used against Roman Catholics, what could be said of the standards of the Church of Scotland? The First Book of Discipline of 1560 called for death for profaners of the Protestant sacraments, the Larger Catechism condemned the toleration of false religion, and the Westminster Confession itself gave the civil magistrate power to suppress heresy. At the same time, the Church of Ireland, in whose interest the Dens' Theology issue had been raised, did not recognise the validity of Presbyterian ordinations (though it recognised Roman Catholic ordinations). Daniel Bagot, recently the champion of orthodoxy against the Unitarian John Scott Porter, refused to preach in a Presbyterian church in Glasgow because 'it had not undergone the mummery of consecration', while Bishop Mant of Down and Connor had said that Presbyterians were destitute of the means of grace.

MacNeight refers to the dispute between Paul and Houston:

'Mr Houston's Christian Magistrate, his defence of that publication in reply to Mr Paul, and especially the pages of his periodical, The Covenanter, ought to be consulted by the 'Protestant Associators' before they bring forward Dens as a purely Popish anomaly in the nineteenth century.'

Houston subsequently said that MacNeight 'is generally suspected to be a certain intimate associate of Dr Paul' and accused Paul of promoting his pamphlets. (69)

Unqualified subscription was passed in August 1836 by the votes of ninety-five ministers, thirty-one elders in favour and twenty ministers, eight elders opposed. Most of the debate took place in 'interloquitor' - closed to the public - to the chagrin of the Northern Whig and 'numerous carriages filled with ladies.' According to MacNeight, Cooke insisted on an interloquitor so that the public could not hear heresies spoken by ministers against the Westminster Confession, but the interloquitor was in fact proposed by Carlile's assistant in Dublin, W.B. Kirkpatrick, who was in favour of allowing explanations, and seconded by John Dill of Carnmoney, who supported the National Education System. The opponents of unqualified subscription tended to be supporters of the National Education System. They included the more missionary minded Southern ministers - Carlile, Kirkpatrick, Winning, and the recently ordained John Dill of Clonmel. Carlile put his case in a pamphlet called Uses and Abuses of Creeds and Confessions in which he maintained the commitment to a more inclusive definition of the church which had been the basis of his opposition to subscription during the Arian controversy and of his support for the National Education scheme. Although he agreed with the doctrines of the Confession and had himself already subscribed it, it could not be a condition of membership of the church since everyone who was baptised was a member of the church. The Synod was adopting a crouching attitude towards the Church of Scotland, and sacrificing its own distinctive tradition in so doing. Winning shared his concern that in adopting unqualified subscription the Synod was raising a wall against other faithful churches (he joined the Church of Ireland in 1842). (70)

The issue of the civil magistrate's power was raised by Richard Dill Jr (the youngest of the three Richard Dills in the Synod at the time), who had moved from Tandragee to Ussher's Quay, Dublin in 1835, and who had opposed Cooke on the National Education System. Edward Marcus Dill, who had been ordained to Coagh, Co Tyrone in 1835 (and who later moved to Cork and became an agent for the Home Mission) thought that unqualified subscription couldn't guarantee the unity of the church, since issues such as the power of the civil magistrate could never be agreed. Most forcefully, the magistrate's power was attacked by James Gibson, an elder, who used MacNeight's argument that the Confession sanctioned persecution and its compilers had practised it. Gibson had already come into conflict with Cooke when he represented the Belfast Academical Institution in the dispute over Dr Ferrie's moral philosophy classes. (71)

Against Gibson, John Barnet of Moneymore and James Seaton Reid (both of whom had supported the National Education System) argued that the Confession did indeed sanction the power of the civil magistrate to suppress heresy, but that there were times in which such power was necessary and he was not obliged to use it on all occasions. MacNeight described this as a Jesuitical 'mental reservation.' (72)

After the vote had been taken, MacNeight published an attack on it -Persecution Sanctioned by the Westminster Confession - arguing that the Synod was now committed to the very principles Cooke was condemning in Dens Theology: 'Our Presbyterian name has hitherto been looked upon as synonymous with all that is liberal in politics and tolerant in religion, and we neither can nor will endure to be made a laughing stock to papists on the one hand, or to Arians and Socinians on the other." (73)

He was supported by Rev John Dill in a pamphlet on The Power of the Civil Magistrate in the Church which argued that the view that the Westminster Confession did not give the magistrate unduly coercive powers was based on a disregard for the scripture references the Confession gave and which explained the nature of the penalties he was allowed to employ. He complained that:

'We are now going forth on a missionary enterprise to our Roman Catholic countrymen and if ever we were called to address them in the language of conciliation it is now.' (74)

The debate on unqualified subscription uncovered a reasonably clearcut division between those who saw the church as a walled enclosure, and those who saw it as a missionary body which could provide an evangelical leavening in a predominately Roman Catholic population. The former perspective was strongest in Ulster, the latter in the South of Ireland. Cooke drew out of the former view the need for Protestant Union and opposition to a government which was weakening Protestant (albeit Anglican) power and consequently strengthening Roman Catholic power. It was, however, equally possible to argue that the Church as a walled enclosure needed to defend itself against the Church of Ireland. The missionary perspective suggested the need to dissociate Presbyterianism from a Protestant power which was experienced by Roman Catholics as an enemy. In March 1836, Kirkpatrick wrote to the Orthodox Presbyterian to argue that Presbyterians had an advantage in missionary work in that they were not identifiable as the Protestant enemy in the tithe war. A dissociation from the Church of Ireland and a preparedness to compromise to facilitate friendly relations with Catholics seemed to them to be necessary for successful evangelical work. (75)

The Belfast liberals, MacNeight and Gibson may not have been so interested in missionary endeavour as such but their opposition to tithes and their support for a government anxious - under pressure from O'Connell - to give substance to Emancipation by putting more power into Catholic hands, complemented the arguments of the missionaries. The liberal candidates for Belfast in the 1832 and 1835 elections had either been vague in their religious views (R.J. Tennent) or Unitarian (John McCance, who won the election early in 1835 but died in August, when the Conservative, George Dunbar, won the seat against Tennent: William Sharman Crawford had been an Anglican when he stood in 1832, but subsequently became a Unitarian). In the election of August 1837, James Gibson won the seat, together with Lord Belfast, for the Reform Association, and laid great emphasis during the campaign on his orthodoxy. His success produced a panic in Cooke, who preached a sermon soon after on the Sins of the Times in which he appealed against evangelical protestant involvement in liberal politics:

'Do they not see, and will they not proclaim, that Popery at this moment - if Heaven in mercy restrains her not - holds within her grasp, and wields in her hand, the interests and destinies of this great Protestant empire?'

And at the end of the month he held an open meeting in May Street, together with the defeated Conservative candidate, Emerson Tennent and the anti-Catholic polemicist, Hugh McNeile of Liverpool. The vicar of Belfast, Rev A.C. Macartney, was in the chair. (76)

But the liberalism against which Cooke was protesting was the liberalism of the Belfast News Letter, not the full blooded voluntaryism of the Whig. Godkin and the Independent Carlile were typical of radical dissent in England and Scotland. They were oddities in Belfast. Gibson and MacNeight were not attacking Regium Donum, nor were they attacking the establishment principle. Gibson's programme of a fairer distribution of church revenues to benefit the poorer clergy was not unlike proposals put forward by Emerson Tennent during the 1834 election (his success was shortlived since the Conservatives managed to have his candidature annulled by showing that he did not fulfil the required property qualification). (77)

The opposition to the National Education System, and the introduction of unqualified subscription were certainly successes for Cooke. But the crucial vote on national education in 1834 had only barely gone in his favour and Cooke himself had had to join in the Synod's condemnation in 1835 of McClelland's attempts to enforce it. Unqualified subscription can be seen as a success for a Presbyterian exclusiveness which was as inimical to Protestant Union as it was to the accommodating attitude towards Catholics required by the missionary perspective.

At the turn of the decade, a group of young Presbyterian ministers writing under the pseudonym TEKEL, published a series of pamphlets defending the Presbyterian system of church government against prelacy; and when the non-intrusion controversy in Scotland reached its height, together with a dispute over the legality of mixed marriages solemnised by a Presbyterian minister, and Peel's recognition of Unitarian property rights in the Dissenters' Chapels Act, a strong movement developed for distinct Presbyterian politics, led by, among others, John Brown of Aghadowey, John Barnet of Moneymore, and Clarke Houston of Macosquin, all of whom had been in favour of unqualified subscription. The Banner of Ulster began publication as a vehicle for the new Presbyterian self consciousness in Belfast, and MacNeight became editor of the Londonderry Standard, its equivalent west of the Bann. It is a joke among Presbyterian historians that, though Cooke proclaimed the banns of sacred marriage between the Presbyterian Church and the Church of Ireland at Hillsborough in 1834, the marriage was never consummated.

 

Notes

 


CHAPTER SIX: THE REFORMED PARLIAMENT

(1) This account of Belfast politics is based largely on G. Slater: Belfast Politics, 1832-1868, uncompleted Ph.D. thesis (NUU). Back

(2) Relations between James Emerson and the Tennent family in D1748/C/3/31/1-15 (for journey to Greece) and D1748/A/332/1-27 and D1748/A/327/1-17 (for marriage to Letitia).

(3) Crawford's career in B.A.Kennedy: Sharmon Crawford, 1780-1862, unpubl D.Litt thesis (QUB) 1953.

(4) Slater: Belfast Politics; John Edgar to R.J.Tennent, 20/12/1832 in D1748/C/180/27; evidence of James MacNeight (McKnight) and Maurice Cross in Minutes of Evidence Taken before the Select Committee Appointed to Inquire into the Progress and Operation of the New Plan of Education in Ireland, PP 1837 viii, esp. pp. 1170-1172 and 1355-1356.

(5) D.H. Akenson: Education Experiment, pp.143-144; Holmes: Cooke, p.351.

(6) PP 1825 xii, pp.811-812. Back

(7) Akenson: Education Experiment. For subsequent Roman Catholic opposition, see also E.R. Norman: The Catholic Churh in the Age of Rebellion, London 1965.

(8) See e.g. Porter: Cooke, pp. 202-222; Henry Cooke to Dr John Lee, 24/3/1832 and 4/5/1832 in Lee MSS, PRONI MIC 349.

(9) James Carlile to W. Innes, 24/2/1832 in MIC 349. For Murray's approval of scripture extracts see Akenson: Education Experiment, pp. 95-96; for Board's adoption, see ibid, pp. 244-246.

(1O) Carlile to Innes and Cooke to Lee as in fns (8) and (9).

(11) Akenson: Education Experiment, pp.80-87; for rivalry between dissenters and Anglicans see e.g. Manning: Protestant Deputies, pp. 337-338. Back

(12) Speech of John Whiteside in report of 1834 Synod, NW 30/6/1834.

(13) Debate on conduct of Committee in NW 4/7/1833.

(14) Debate on government's new proposals in 1834 Synod, NW 3/7/1834; account of Brown Street School dispute in Holmes: Cooke, pp.351-356.

(15) Belfast Commercial Chronicle, 18/9/1833, quoted in Holmes: Cooke, p.353; James Carlile to R.J. Tennent, 20/12/1833, D1748/C/94/2.

(16) Speech of Henry Cooke ... at the Conservative Dinner, Belfast 1837, pp.[?] Back

(17) This account of the debate from NW 3/7/1834.

(18) Cooke's remarks to Brown Steeet committee in NW 1/9/1836, quoted in Holmes: Cooke, p.387.

(19) Account of special meeting in NW 18/12/1834 and 22/12/1834.

(20) NW 15/9/1836.

(21) See fn (15) above. Back

(22} Tennent's claim to be Anglican in Stater: Belfast Potitics; for origins of York Street Church see Benn MSS, D3113/7/61, where, however, Barnet is called 'Basnett'; Bryce's account of his principles, R.J. Bryce to R.J. Tennent, 7/6/1833, D1748/C/76/42.

(23) Copy letter, Tennent to Bryce, 7/6/1833 in D1748/ C/76/40 and 42.

(24) Bryce to Tennent, 25/1/1834, D 1748/C/76/56.

(25) W.L, Mathieson: The Church and Reform in Scotland, Glasgow 1916, p.279.

(26) For Church of Scotland view see David K. and Charles J. Guthrie (ed): Autobiography of Thomas Guthrie, D.D. and Memoir, London 1877, pp.133-134; and for voluntary view, Ralph Wardlaw: National Church Establishments Examined, London 1839, pp. 269-272 and 310-314. Back

(27) Drummond and Bullock: Scottish Church, pp.220-221; Mathieson: Church and Reform, p. 282.

(28) Cooke in PP 1825 ix, p.214; Magee in PP 1825 viii, p. 795.

(29) Halevy: History, 1830-1841, pp.134 and 142-143.

(30) Manning: Dissenting Deputies, pp. 227 -228.

(31) Carlile to Tennent as in fn (15) above. Carlile's career in Archibald: Donegall St Church, p. 13. Back

(32) Magherahamlet Session Book in PRONI D2487/1 and Stewart: Seceders, p. 372; Fitzroy Avenue (later Alfred Street) Session Book, PRONI MIC 1P/4; Cooke on Seceders in Cooke to Lee 4/5/1832 as in fn (8) above; letter in OP (April 1834), p.252.

(33) Mathieson: Church and Reform, p.281; Halevy: History, 1830-1841, p.152.

(34) See e.g. OP LIV (March 1834), pp. 214-232.

(35) Stater: Belfast Politics; first edition of Northern Herald, 28/9/1833.

(36) The connection between O'Connell and the French liberal ultramontanes is suggested in W.E.H.Lecky: Leaders of Public Opinion in Ireland Vol II, London 1912, pp.232-233. Back

(37) Oliver MacDonagh: Ireland, the Union and its Aftermath, London 1977, p.151; G. O Tuathaigh: Ireland before the Famine, 1798-1848, Dublin 1972, pp.53-54; Bowen: Protestant Crusade, pp.131 and 263.

(38) Russell's proposals in Halevy: History 1830-1841, pp.173 and 177-178

(39) Discussion of background to Hillsborough meeting in Slater: Belfast Politics.

(40) A.T.Q. Stewart: Presbyterian Radicalism, p. 194; Henry Cooke to Lord Roden, 25/10/1834 in Roden MSS, PRONI MIC 147/7.

(41) Account of meeting in UG 31/9/1834 and in Porter: Cooke, pp. 273-274. Back

(42) NW 12/6/1834; Patterson's letter in BNL 28/11/1834; attribution of D.G. Brown's pamphlet in Holmes: Cooke, p. 379 (fn).

(43) Account of 1835 Synod in NW 6/7/1835 and 9/7/18.

(44) Discussion on communion with the Church of Scotland in NW 6/7/1835; see also Robert Allen: James Seaton Reid, Belfast 1951, pp.91-95.

(45) Eastern Presbytery (John Paul): Causes of Fasting and Thanksgiving or Signs of the Times, Belfast 1835, Quotations in the following account from pp.7, 9, 5, 16, 18-19, 19, 16, 25, 25-26, 28, 31, 35, 38.

(46) Paul: Works, pp. 385-388. Back

(47) Ibid, pp.401 and 415-417.

(48) Reformed Presbyterian Synod in Ireland: Abstract of Minutes of the Reformed Presbyterian Synod in Ireland, 1831, p. 13; RPS1: Abstracts, 1826-1829; Minute Book of the First RP Congregation, Belfast, 1825-1840, refs throughout entries, 1825-1829; Matthew Meek: Letter to the Rev Thomas Houston, Ballymena 1832, p.12.

(49) RPSI: Causes of a Fast, Belfast 1830, p.8; Causes of Thanksgiving, Belfast 1830; Houston: Narrative and Plea, p.35; for establishment of The Covenanter, see e.g. ibid, pp.3-6.

(50) Thomas Houston: The Christian Magistrate, Belfast 1832. Quotations in this discussion from pp.60, 61 (fn), 46, and 94.

(51) John Paul: A Review of Rev Thomas Houston's 'The Christian Magistrate', Belfast 1833. Quotations from pp 11, 16, 18-19, 124, and 127. Back

(52) RPSI: Abstract of Minutes of the RPSI, 1833; Houston: Narrative and Plea, pp. 11-22; John Paul: Persecution Indefensible, Part 1, Belfast 1842, p.21; for American dispute see RPSI: Abstract of Minutes of the RPSI, 1835, pp.8-12; Hutchinson: RP Church, pp.408-409; Houston: Narrative and Plea, pp.25-29.

(53) NW 17/12/1835 for soirée; The Christian Liberator Vol II (Jan 1836), p.23 for claim; Report of the Proceedmgs of the RPS, Belfast 1836, p. 20 for denial; NW 11/1/1836; CL Vol II, pp.8-14 (Jan), 38-40 (Feb), and 133-140 (June) 1836, and Vol III (March 1837), pp.43-52 for Paul's involvement.

(54) [William McComb]: The Voluntaries in Belfast, Belfast 1837. Quotations used in discussion from pp.6, 8-9, 10, 11, 16, 26, 17-18, 22, 25, 38, 59.

(55) 1836 Report, p.22.

(56) Alexander and Mcllwaine in NW 21/4/1836 and 5/5/1836; RBAI student in CL Vol II (July 1836), pp. 152-159; Ritchie in John Ritchie: A Reply to Rev Dr H. Cooke, Edinburgh 1837. Back

(57) 1836 Report. Quotations from pp.14, 17-18, 27, 13; text of motions from RPSI: Abstract of Minutes of the RPSI 1836, pp.15-16.

(58) Houston: Narrotrve and Plea, p.42.

(59) Debate on changes in terms of communion in RPSI Minutes, 1811-1825, pp.59 (1819), 73-74 (1820); RPS1: Abstract of Minutes of the RPSI, 1826, p. 11 and 1828, p. 8.

(60) Godkin in NW 29/7/1837 and CL Vol III (Sept 1837), pp. 166-171.

(61) Thomas Houston: The Reviewer Reviewed, Belfast 1833, p.22. Back

(62) Paul on the Reformed and Reforming churches in report of 1837 Synod in The Covenanter, Vol IV no xxii (July 1837), p. 207; Paul: A Solemn Protest against that Infamous System of Tyranny, Belfast 1868, pp.4-5.

(63) Bryce to Tennent, 5/1/1847, D 1748/C/76/75; for Birch and Stavely see ch.1 above; for Fleming on 1848 see Rise and Fall, p.54.

(64) Bryce to Tennent, 11/11/1837, D1748/C/76/70; Carlile to Tennent, 28/7/1837, D 1748/C/94/10. Carlile's departure in Archibald: Century, pp. 17-18; Godkin's name ceases to appear in Belfast Directories, 1839; Dr Tennent's funeral in NW 24/1/1837 and obituary in CL Vol III (March 1837), pp. 66-72.

(65) May Street Session Book no I (10/10/1036), PRONI MIC 1P/3 reel 3; Fitzroy Avenue Session Book (27/8/ 1838), MIC 1P/14; financial difficulties in John Williamson: May Street Presbyterian Church Centenary, Belfast 1929, pp.35-37.

(66) Church of Scotland decision in Allen: J.S. Reid, pp. 94-95 and NW 25/7/1836; 1836 Synod in NW 4/7/ 1836; A Member of the Synod of Ulster (James MacNeight): A Letter to Those Ministers and Members of the Church of Scotland who have Lent Themselves to the Dens Theology Humbug, Edinburgh 1836. Back

(67) For Cooke's visit to London see Holmes: Cooke, p. 386; for McGhee and Dens' Theology see Bowen: Protestant Crusade, pp.114-116 and for O'Sullivan see ibid, p.117.

(68) (MacNeight): Dens Theology Humbug, quotations from pp.v, 10, 34, 36.

(69) Houston: Narrative and Plea, p. 35.

(70) Account of debate in NW 15/8/1836 and in A Member of the Synod of Ulster (MacNeight): Persecution Sanctioned by the Westminster Confession, Belfast 1836, p. 5; John Dill's support for the education system in NW 17/9/1836; Winning joining Church of Ireland in Fasti.

(71) Richard Dill's support for National Education System in NW 8/12/1834; Gibson's defence of Ferrie in NW 13/7/1835, cited in Holmes: Cooke, p.392. Back

(72) Persecution Sanctioned, p,16.

(73) Ibid, p.viii.

(74) Rev John Dill: The Power of the Civil Magistrate in the Church, Belfast 1837, p.40.

(75) Kirkpatrick's letter in OP (March 1836), pp,200-208, quoted in Rodgers: Presbyterian Missionary Activity, p.99.

(76) Account of Belfast elections from Slater: Belfast Politics; Crawford's conversion to Unitarianism in Sharman Crawford MSS, PRONI D856/G/8A-10 and 15; Henry Cooke: Sins of the Times, Belfast 1837, p.38; account of May Street meeting in Holmes: Cooke, p. 419 and Porter: Cooke, pp.280-282. Back

(77) Slater: Belfast Politics.