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The Retreat from the Position of 1846.
sanctioning any assistance rendered by the State to education, we must stand by our Nonconformity and accept the consequences. We have no choice. It can never be right, it can never be expedient under any circumstances, to violate our principles. Whatever apparent advantages Nonconformists might gain from sanctioning a popular movement at the cost of their convictions would be only apparent; whatever benefits such an act of infidelity might enable us to confer upon the nation, we have no right to confer them. If the alternative were submitted to us of surrendering our Nonconformist principles, or of permitting all the children in the country to be driven into day-schools where they would be taught à faith hostile to the essential principles of Protestantism and Evangelical Christianity, we could not hesitate for a moment as to which alternative to choose. Whatever comes of it, we must be true to our own consciences. We must walk in the light which God has given us.
Equally objectionable is the plea that the voluntaries have been overborne by the pressure of public opinion, that it is useless to fight a battle which can end only in disastrous defeat, that the inexorable logic of facts' compels us to abandon the true faith. We have only to say in reply to all this, that if we have a clear and definite principle to stand by, it matters nothing to us though the whole nation is against us. We must refuse to 'go
with the multitude to do evil. As to fighting a losing battle, we ought to have learned from the sufferings and heroism and victories of our fathers, that whatever the odds may be on the other side, those who struggle for the right are sure to win at last; and if it is certain that we ourselves must die before the victory is won, we ought to have learnt how to die with courage undaunted, faith uncrushed, and with our face to the foe. What is meant by the inexorable logic of facts' in this connection, we cannot quite understand. Whatever logic' there may be in the temporary triumph of evil, seemed to be terribly against the martyrs under the Diocletian persecution, but they stood firm spite of the facts; it pressed hard upon Ridley and Latimer, and all the confessors of the Reformation; it was terribly severe against our own ancestors who suffered imprisonment, exile, and death, rather than be false to their ecclesiastical convictions; it was unanswerable, in its own order, against the decision of the illustrious Two Thousand of 1662, who were driven not only from their pleasant parsonages, but from their pulpits, because they refused to profess a consent to documents from which their heart and judgment revolted. But we honour all these men for refusing to listen to * inexorable logic' of this kind, and for their resolute contempt of all the penalties which they incurred by their fidelity.
It is quite true that voluntary schools have been almost everywhere crushed by their rivals; that the cost of their maintenance has often been an almost intolerable pressure on the resources of our churches; that, as a rule, they have been less efficient than the schools which have been stimulated and developed by the grants and the inspection of the Committee of Privy Council; but, what then ? If we cannot receive the grants and submit to the inspection without violating our principles and this is what was urged in 1846 and 1847 by many of the leaders of the voluntaries—if it is only at the cost of abandoning the grounds on which we rest our protest against the subjugation of the Church of Christ to political governments, that we can permit the appropriation of public funds to the support of popular schools—and this has been reiterated with all the energy of profound conviction during the last twenty years--the 'inexorable' fact that our schools are being extinguished, and that public opinion is against us, affords us no relief; we are bound, inexorably’ bound, to refuse to swerve a hair's breadth from the line of action which Conscience has determined.
No doubt the practical aspects of the question have been greatly changed during the last quarter of a century, and many arguments and fears that appeared reasonable in 1846 have been shown by experience to have been futile. Those who still believe that, on the whole, it would be most expedient to trust the education of the people to voluntary zeal, may reasonably and honourably acknowledge that, since the country has definitely decided against them, it has become their duty to accept the decision and make the best of it. Those who thought that voluntary schools were likely to be more effective than schools connected with a government department, may confess that facts have compelled them to change their opinion. Those who feared that inspectors would interfere with the religious freedom of the churches whose schools received assistance, may concede that the experience of twenty years has shown that their apprehensions were unnecessary.
Those who recognised, in the proposals of the Government to supplement voluntary benevolence by national grants, the essential spirit of Communism, and the germ of a thousand social delusions, may admit that the characteristic Individualism of the English race has proved too strong to be at all affected by the pernicious principle which excited their alarms, and that perhaps our social condition is likely to suffer greater injury from the actual ignorance of vast
The Retreat from the Position of 1846.
masses of the people, than from any slight infringement of wbat they feel to be the noblest theory of the functions of Government. Those who believed, twenty years ago, that voluntaryism would soon cover the country with efficient schools, and that public money was not necessary, may now maintain that voluntaryism has not a fair chance side by side with a Government scheme, and that, therefore, voluntaryism must be abandoned. But if the abstract principle which constituted the strength and inspired the enthusiasm of the voluntary agitation was sound, the principle that the State cannot, from the nature of the case, touch the secular education of the people without touching their religious faith, and that the same reasons which oblige us to exclude State-aid and State-inspection from the Church, oblige us to exclude both from the school, that principle is as sound to-day as it ever was. No force of adverse public opinion can refute it. It is invulnerable to the logic of * facts.'
We earnestly trust that, in the discussions which are likely to last for at least two or three years to come, care will be taken to avoid the impression which we fear has been produced by the speeches of some recent converts from voluntaryism. Let the line be clearly and sharply drawn between arguments against State interference, which may be legitimately surrendered in the presence of altered circumstances, and principles the authority of which no change of circumstances can affect. The only plea on which a Nonconformist, who occupied an extreme position in 1846, can justify his acceptance of the present Minutes, however modified, or indeed of any scheme of Government education, is plainly this : that the principle of Nonconformity has no real application to the question whether or no Government should aid popular schools. If this is not made perfectly plain, the retreat from the false policy of 1846 may be more ruinous to Nonconformity than the policy itself. It was bad enough to identify in the public mind the theory that the State has no right to touch the Church, with the theory that the State has no right to assist the School ; it will be still more mischievous if Nonconformists abandon their protest against State education, without making it distinctly understood that they now perceive that there is no necessary connection between voluntaryism in education and voluntaryism in religion.
We do not intend to maintain that the able and excellent men who led the opposition to the Minutes of Council in 1846 and 1847 had no reason for regarding the action of the Government with distrust; but we believe that the identification of our protest against Church Establishments with the theory that the State had no right to assist popular education was theoretically false and practically mischievous. It was a departure from the previous faith of Nonconformists. Just now, it may be worth while to recall the history of this controversy.
The first parliamentary grant in aid of education was made in 1833, and it was administered by two Lords of the Treasury; the whole amount--£20,000—was divided between the National Society and the British and Foreign School Society. The grant was made for six successive years, and, so far as we know, without any protest from the Nonconformists of those days. In 1839, Lord Melbourne's Government proposed to increase the grant to £30,000, in order to provide funds for the establishment of a normal school for teachers, in which the Bible should be read every day, but in which all special religious instruction should be given by various ministers of religion at separate times. At the same time her Majesty, by the advice of the Government, entrusted the administration of future parliamentary grants for educational purposes to a Committee of the Privy Council.
Most of our readers remember how, in 1846, the Nonconformists denounced the Committee of Privy Council as an unconstitutional body, and maintained that its action was all directed to increase the influence of the Established Church; and no doubt there are very many persons who believe that it is to the Established Church that we owe the origination of the educational system, which, with all its faults and deficiencies, has been productive of such immense advantage to the nation. This, however, is a mistake. The weapons-nearly all of them -which were used with so much energy, though with so little effect, by Nonconformists in 1846, were the very weapons which had been used with equal energy and with almost as little success by the clergy themselves seven years before. In 1839, Lord Derby, then Lord Stanley, who led the opposition to the Government measure in the House of Commons, declared that the vast majority of the laity of the • Church of England, and almost the incalculable majority of
the clergy of that church, as well as of the prelates, with • hardly an exception-if, indeed, there be one-have expressed, one and all, not their confidence, but their entire and absolute dissent from the principles embodied in the formation of the • Committee.' Mr. Disraeli, in 1839, anticipating our own leaders in 1846, maintained that 'to diminish the duties of the
citizen is to imperil the rights of the subject;' that those who insisted on State education sanctioned the theory of a paternal government;' and that the result of this theory
The Tories and the Clergy the Original Voluntaries. 405
might be seen in the East, in the stagnation of China, and in the West, in the stagnation of Austria—the China of Europe. Sound old Tories, like Sir Robert Harry Inglis and Mr. Thomas Dyke Acland, appealing to the statistics which Mr. Baines afterwards worked with so much vigour, declared that the progress of popular education during the present century had been so satisfactory, that new measures were altogether umnecessary; Lord Stanley's great speech was interpreted by Lord Morpeth, who followed him, as going to the extent of sepa' rating and dividing
the executive government of 'the country, the responsible ministers of the Crown, from all care, all superintendence, all control, over the general
education of the people :'-a very fair summary of hundreds of speeches which, seven years later, were delivered to audiences of Nonconformists amidst enthusiastic and tumultuous applause. Every epithet of invective and denunciation flung at the Committee of Privy Council in 1846 by our own popular leaders may be found in the speeches of the Conservatives of 1839. Lord Stanley, in his vehement way, declared that the Committee was 'irresponsible, unrepressed, and unfettered
by Parliament;' he objected to its 'irresponsible authority, • the despotic and unfettered control of the Committee of • Privy Council ;' its power, he said, could be exercised • with impunity.' Lord Shaftesbury, then Lord Ashley, declared that the Committee was hostile to the constitution of the country,' hostile to the Established Church,' hostile ' to revealed religion itself.' Education (he maintained) was necessarily and divinely connected with religion, and the Government, in establishing their Committee, were setting divine law at defiance. What God hath joined together,' he exclaimed, ‘let no man put asunder. Lord Francis Egerton thought it was “an insult, or slight, put upon the Church ;' that not any of its leading members, or any of its most • distinguished ministers,' could have a seat upon the Committee. The hostility to the Normal College on the part of the clergy and Conservatives throughout the country was so fierce, that Lord John Russell announced to the House, before the great fight in Parliament began, that the Government proposed to abandon that part of their scheme; and Lord Stanley's motion, praying her Majesty to revoke the Order appointing the Educational Committee of the Privy Council, was lost by only five votes, in a House of five hundred and fifty-five. In the House of Lords, under the lead of the Archbishop of Canterbury, the bishops and the Conservative peers opposed the Government plan with equal energy and resoluteness. There