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marriages. “Is it to be endured,” he says, “that the mummies of old and forgotten laws are to be dug up and unswathed for the annoyance of dissenters ? ” And yet a few hours later, this eloquent orator is himself hard at work in digging up and unswathing another set of mummies for the annoyance of another set of dissenters. I should like to know how he and such as he would look if we Churchmen were to assume the same tone towards them which they think it becoming to assume towards the Unitarian body; if we were to say, “ You and those whom you would oppress are alike out of our pale. If they are heretics in your opinion, you are schismatics in ours. Since you insist on the letter of the law against them, we will insist on the letter of the law against you. You object to ex post facto statutes; and you shall have none. You think it reasonable that men should, in spite of a prescription of eighty or ninety years, be turned out of a chapel built with their own money, and a cemetery where their own kindred lie, because the original title was not strictly legal. We think it equally reasonable that those contracts which you have imagined to be marriages, but which are now adjudged not to be legal marriages, should be treated as nullities.” I wish from my soul that some of these orthodox dissenters would recollect that the doctrine which they defend with so much zeal against the Unitarians is not the whole sum and substance of Christianity, and that there is a text about doing unto others as you would that they should do unto you.
To any intelligent man who has no object except to do justice, the Trinitarian dissenter and the Unitarian dissenter who are now asking us for relief will appear to have exactly the same right to it. There is, however, I must own, one distinction between the two cases. The Trinitarian dissenters are a strong body, and especially strong among the electors of towns. They are of great weight in the State. Some of us may probably, by voting to-night against their wishes, endanger our seats in this House. The Unitarians, on the other hand, are few in number. Their creed is unpopular. Their friendship is likely to injure a public man vore than their enmity. If therefore there be among us any person of a nature at once tyrannical and cowardly, any person who delights in persecution, but is restrained by fear from persecuting powerful sects, now is his time. He never can have a better opportunity of gratifying his malevolence without risk of retribution. But, for my part, I long ago espoused the cause of religious liberty, not because that cause was popular, but because it was just; and I am not disposed to abandon the principles to which I have been true through my whole life in deference to a passing clamour. The day may come, and may come soon, when those who are now loudest in raising that clamour may again be, as they have formerly been, suppliants for justice. When that day comes I will try to prevent others from oppressing them, as I now try to prevent them from oppressing others. In the meantime I shall contend against their intolerance with the same spirit with which I may hereafter have to contend for their rights.
The HorsE OF COMMONS ON THE 26TH OF FEBRUARY, 1845.
On the 26th of February, 1845, on the question that the order of
the day for going into Committee of Ways and Means should be read, Lord John Russell moved the following amendment:
“That it is the opinion of this House that the plan proposed by Her Majesty's Government, in reference to the Sugar Duties, professes to keep up a distinction between foreign free labour sugar and foreign slave labour sugar, which is impracticable and illusory; and, without adequate benefit to the consumer, tends so greatly to impair the revenue as to render the removal of the Income and Property Tax at the end of three years extremely uncertain and improbable.”
The amendment was rejected by 236 votes to 142. In the debate the following Speech was made.
Sir, if the question now at issue were merely a financial or a commercial question, I should be unwilling to offer myself to your notice: for I am well aware that there are, both on your right and on your left hand, many gentlemen far more deeply versed in financial and commercial science than myself; and I should think that I discharged my duty better by listening to them than by assuming the office of a teacher. But, Sir, the question on which we are at issue with Her Majesty's Ministers is neither a financial nor a commercial question. I do not understand it to be disputed that, if we were to pronounce our decision with reference merely to fiscal and mercantile considerations, we should at once adopt the plan recommended by my noble friend. Indeed the right honorable gentleman, the late President of the Board of Trade *, has distinctly admitted this. He says that the Ministers of the
* Mr. Gladstone.
Crown call upon us to sacrifice great pecuniary advantages and great commercial facilities, for the purpose of maintaining a moral principle. Neither in any former debate nor in the debate of this night has any person ventured to deny that, both as respects the public purse and as respects the interests of trade, the course recommended by my noble friend is preferable to the course recoinmended by the Government.
The objections to my noble friend's amendment, then, are purely moral objections. We lie, it seems, under a moral obligation to make a distinction between the produce of free labour and the produce of slave labour. Now I should be very unwilling to incur the imputation of being indifferent to moral obligations. I do, however, think that it is in my power to show strong reasons for believing that the moral obligation pleaded by the Ministers has no existence. If there be no such moral obligation, then, as it is conceded on the other side that all fiscal and commercial arguments are on the side of my noble friend, it follows that we ought to adopt his amendment.
The right honorable gentleman, the late President of the Board of Trade, has said that the Government does not pretend to act with perfect consistency as to this distinction between free labour and slave labour. It was, indeed, necessary that he should say this; for the policy of the Government is obviously most inconsistent. Perfect consistency, I admit, we are not to expect in human affairs. But, surely, there is a decent consistency which ought to be observed ; and of this the right honorable gentleman himself seems to be sensible ; for he asks how, if we admit sugar grown by Brazilian slaves, we can with decency continue to stop Brazilian vessels engaged in the slave trade. This argument, whatever be its value, proceeds on the very correct supposition that the test of sincerity in individuals, in parties, and in governments, is consistency. The right honorable gentleman feels, as we must all feel, that it is impossible to give credit for good faith to a man who on one occasion pleads a scruple of conscience as an excuse for not doing a certain thing, and who on other occasions, where there is no essential difference of circumstances, does that very thing without any scruple at all. I do not wish to use such a word as hypocrisy, or to impute that odious vice to any gentleman on either side of the House. But whoever declares one moment that he feels himself bound by a certain moral rule, and the next moment, in a case strictly similar, acts in direct defiance of that rule, must submit to have, if not his honesty, yet at least his power of discriminating right from wrong very gravely questioned.
Now, Sir, I deny the existence of the moral obligation pleaded by the Government. I deny that we are under any moral obligation to turn our fiscal code into a penal code, for the purpose of correcting vices in the institutions of independent states. I say that, if you suppose such a moral obligation to be in force, the supposition leads to consequences from which every one of us would recoil, to consequences which would throw the whole commercial and political system of the world into confusion. I say that, if such a moral obligation exists, our financial legislation is one mass of injustice and inhumanity. And I say more especially that, if such a moral obligation exists, the right honorable Baronet's Budget is one mass of injustice and inhumanity.
Observe, I am not disputing the paramount authority of moral obligation. I am not setting up pecuniary considerations against moral considerations. I know that it would be not only a wicked but a short-sighted policy, to aim at making a nation like this great and prosperous by violating the laws of justice. To those laws, enjoin what they may, I am prepared to submit. But I will not palter with them; I will not cite them to-day in order to serve one turn, and quibble them away to-morrow in order to serve another. I will not have two standards of right; one to be applied when I wish to protect a favourite interest at the public cost; and another to be applied when I wish to replenish the Exchequer, and to give an impulse to trade. I will not have two weights or two measures. I will not blow hot and cold, play fast and loose, strain at a gnat and swallow a camel. Can the Government say as much ? Are gentlemen opposite prepared to act in conformity with their own principle? They need not look long for opportunities. The Statute Book swarins with enactments directly opposed to the rule which they profess to respect. I will take a single instance from our existing laws, and propound it to the gentlemen opposite as a test, if I must not say of their sincerity, yet of their power of moral discrimination. Take the article of tobacco. Not only do you admit the tobacco of the United States, which is grown by slaves; not only do you admit the tobacco of Cuba which is grown by slaves, and by slaves, as you tell us, recently imported from Africa; but you actually interdict the free labourer of the United Kingdom from growing tobacco. You have long had in your Statute Book laws prohibiting the cultiva