Plea For Freedom
In 1837 an election was looming, and the Church of
Scotland having been grievously let down by the Whigs (Liberals) over the
Church Extention Scheme, the Tories saw their chance to use Chalmers'
considerable influence to assist their cause. Accordingly, a Mr. Campbell of
Monzie asked Dr. Chalmers to write to him on the subject which seemed likely to
assist - and as can be seen from the letter below, and the reaction -
succeeded! Trouble was, poor old Thomas got a lot of flak, but being Thomas he
hit back as can be seen from the second letter.
Why have I included this exchange? Because it is so relevant to today, when pressure groups all over the world are screaming blue-murder if anyone dares to express an opinion contrary to theirs. Community leaders in Bradford (England) stated after the recent riots that they were partly due to people seeing abuse of law, property, respect by minorities, but dared not complain because of the effect on their lives aferwards - and the abuse they would be subjected to.
MEMOIRS OF DR. CHALMERS.
The majority (in Parliament) of 300, which the Whig ministry possessed in 1831, had in 1837,dwindled down to 26. With a majority so reduced, and which every year was diminishing, it was evident that the days of the Whig Government were numbered. Amid the struggle which preceded its dissolution, the Church of Scotland was drawn into the strife. In the treatment given to her, a weapon was furnished to the Conservatives too effective to lie unused; and, however desirous Dr. Chalmers and other ecclesiastical leaders might be to avoid everything which could give a political aspect to any of their ecclesiastical movements, it was not possible for them, either as citizens or as Churchmen, to stand neutral between two parties - one of which declared itself to be so friendly, the other of which proved itself to be so indifferent, to the Church's most reasonable demands. In the general politics of the period, Dr. Chalmers took no public part. There was one question, however, and that perhaps the leading one of the day, in which his interest was too lively not to find some vent. Having been asked by Mr. Campbell of Monzie to communicate to him in writing his opinion upon this topic, he did it in the following letter : -
"BURNTISLAND, July 22d, 1836.
" DEAR SIR, - On the subject of our recent conversation, I would beg leave to add that I have always regarded the appropriation of any part of the revenues of the Irish Church to other than strictly ecclesiastical objects, as a very gross violation of the principle of a religious establishment. And I farther think, that the actual appropriation carried in the house of Commons, militates in the strongest manner against all the principles of Protestantism. I have ever reprobated the grant to Maynooth College; and (a fortiori) I must deplore, should it ever be the adopted policy of our Government, the alienation, in however small a proportion, of the endowments of the Protestant hierarchy of Ireland, to the support of any Popish seminary whatever; and more especially to the support of schools which will only admit the Scriptures in a changed or mutilated form into their course of education. The question, my dear Sir, is altogether a vital one, insomuch that if any, whether in or out of Parliament, shall support the appropriation clause, I doubt whether they have a sincere, and most certainly they have not an enlightened attachment to the interests of the Protestant faith. -
Ever believe me, my dear Sir, yours most truly,
"Alexander Campbell, Esq., of Monzie."
"P.S. - If the Government shall carry into effect their proposed act of violence against the Episcopal Protestant Establishment of Ireland, I should certainly feel that the Presbyterian Establishment of Scotland is not safe in their hands."
This letter was avowedly asked and used to serve an electioneering purpose. Mr. Campbell's opponent had previously, with a like object, made a like request of Dr. Chalmers, whose only part in the matter was that when asked for his opinion he frankly stated it. It so happened, however, that the letter above quoted told against the liberal interest in the canvass, and a violent outcry was raised against the writer for improper and unclerical interference in political affairs.* It was one of the few instances in which Dr. Chalmers offered any public defence of his conduct. From a communication addressed by him to the "Edinburgh Courant," we extract a single paragraph.
"BURNTISLAND, 23d August 1836.
"It is interesting to observe the sort of family likeness which obtains among the numerous disciples of the mock patriotism of our day, who all profess to worship at the shrine of liberty, yet with whom it is a mortal offence that one should dare to have an opinion of his own, if it thwart any object of theirs, and an offence still more unpardonable that he should dare to give it utterance. The 'London Courier' has been pleased to denominate the part I have taken as an extraordinary interference with the politics of Argyleshire; and it is not many weeks ago since a vacant professorship, that had been previously much canvassed for, was disposed of by the magistrates and council of Edinburgh. In common with others I happened to be consulted on the occasion, and wrote one or two letters to my own special acquaintances; I was called on to write several more, either in compliance with the wishes, or in return to the communications which I received from various members of that honourable body. On the day of election, when my opinion happened to be quoted at the city board, the effusion of a Councillor R., as reported in the public prints, was, that 'we have had enough of Dr. Chalmers's interference.' I would have been spared this piece of coarse impertinence had I chosen to be so ungentlemanly or uncivil to Bailie Macfarlan and others, as to take no notice of their communications. Nevertheless I shall continue to act as heretofore; and neither the insolence of an unmannerly town-councillor, nor the ferocity and falsehood of all the liberal newspapers, shall deter me from the privilege and the duty of a freeborn citizen, which, in its very humblest form, is to speak when he is spoken to, and write when he is written to.
* We pronounce such conduct of the reverend doctor to be outrageously disgraceful."_Caledonian Mercury, August 15. " Any thing more characteristic of an officious, vain, self-conceited, factious, meddling spirit, has rarely appeared in the annals of party contests," - Scotsman, August 17.
Memoirs Volume 4, page 24-27
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