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and in this and the following year he announced to both parties that the Scottish people should “pronounce upon this matter in a manner which is intelligible and distinct,” without waiting till it should be the main issue at an election of the imperial Parliament, but by using the ordinary “organs with which the constitution provides them.”
In 1881 the public discussion thus invited began in Scotland, and it generally turned on the question whether we could build effectually upon the twofold basis announced by Mr. Gladstone exactly thirty years before, — “first, the principle of civil equality before the law; and secondly, the general desire in each man for his own religious freedom.” In 1885 the representative Liberal associations resolved, by enormous majorities, that “the time is now come for making Disestablishment a plank in the platform of Scottish Liberalism.” In October, 1887, Mr. Gladstone stated with respect to disestablishment both in Scotland and in Wales, that in his judgment the questions were “ripe for decision.” In 1888 the resolution, “ that the Church of Scotland ought to be disestablished and disendowed,” was supported in Parliament by a majority of Scottish representatives, as well as by English sympathizers like Mr. Chamberlain. In June, 1889, Mr. Gladstone promised his voice and vote at the next discussion; and on May 2, 1890, he gave them both in favor of the proposal. In doing so he pointed out that it was supported not merely by a majority — now a large majority- of the representatives of Scotland, but that of the fourteen Scottish by-elections held since 1886, no less than eleven sent up men pledged to advance on this line. He added :
"I do not believe there ever was a country where the question of disestablishment is so simple as in Scotland, or where it could be introduced so entirely without shock or serious trouble. ... It is a country in which the voluntary system is more perfectly organized than in any other country, except, perhaps, America.”
And finally, when addressing his Midlothian constituents on October 25, 1890, the eloquent octogenarian, when dealing with that question of establishment which severs “ the three large religious communions in whose possession mainly Scotland is,” added :
“I do say it would be enormously for the honor of Scotland, enormously for the benefit of Presbyterian religion, enormously for the benefit of Protestantism, enormously for the advantage of a far wider cause, — the cause of religious belief at large, which is now so subtly assailed, - it would be a grand result in the view of all these noble objects, if these three Presbyterian churches of Scotland could be made one.”
It appears, therefore, that the various political currents which have mingled and surged in this channel since 1843, but which have really had their source as far back at least as the Reformation of John Knox, are now converging in Scotland; and that the crisis has been recognized and affirmed in the usual constitutional way by the representatives of Scotland, and by the famous British statesman who, since 1880, has chosen to be one of them.
The result is, that some of us have had the inquiry hurled at our heads from the other side of the Atlantic, What is going to happen? Our friends in America do not doubt that what is going to happen in Scotland will claim, and will deserve, the eager attention of Scotchmen, – or of those Scotchmen who cherish the expensive possession of a conscience. But that might very well be, without American students of history counting it worth while to inquire into the matter at all. What they want to know is, whether the events about to happen here will interest men three thousand miles away, — men who, in order to be interested, require either a big principle on the one hand, or a broadly painted canvas on the other?
Now there are two ways — distinct and indeed contrasted — in which the new Scottish question appeals to the whole world, and emphatically to the rather cosmopolitan world of America. It is, in the first place, going to turn absolutely on the point of principle. Many other things, historical and ecclesiastical, will pour into the political stream, and, as we shall presently see, will enrich and color it. But it is already clear that the decision of Scotland on the practical point so long before it will turn on the general question of religous equality before the law. It will turn, that is, on its acceptance of the principle which modern Europe has already accepted, historically and chronologically, from the hands of America. Lafayette was fresh from the newborn States in which the churches had already been set free, when he gained from France the declaration that all citizens are free and equal before the law, and this was followed by a provision for le libre exercice des cultes. Napoleon, the great reactionist, even when he salaried Catholic and Protestant churches, refused to call the former the Church of the State. Louis XVIII. did so in his charter, but in 1830 France struck out the words, and ever since, amid all revolutions, has adhered to the constitutional principle that “all Frenchmen have equal freedom in the profession of their religion, and each receives for his culte the same protection.” The same state protection means the same pecuniary
protection, in countries where the state salaries religions; and accordingly France pays Jewish and Mohammedan teachers as well as Catholic and Protestant. But it means in any case and in all cases that no one church shall have state preference, pecuniary or otherwise, over that of other citizens. And in this sense not France only, but Europe generally, has adopted it into its constitutional law. By 1850 Holland, Belgium, Switzerland, Prussia, Germany, and Austria had guaranteed to each citizen the enjoyment of civil rights “independent of the religious confession,” and since the independence of Hungary has been acknowledged, it too has joined the others in giving every church or “religious society recognized by the law” the same rights and the same position. From the borders of barbaric Russia to the seaboard of the Pacific the general principle of religious equality before the law has received homage — Britain alone hesitating to adopt it. And it need not be added that during the same century every one of the great colonies of Britain, which has received or has assumed the right of self-government, has laid the principle of religious equality at the base of its future empire. It may well be questioned whether the concurrent endowment of churches, and not a few other adıninistrative regulations on the Continent, are the wisest way of carrying out that general principle. But the principle itself is not only fundamental to our modern civilization, but it has on the whole been accepted as such ; and the present question in Scotland is whether it shall be accepted there also.
Now in Scotland the question of justice is the one wbich has all along had power with the electorate and on political platforms. Other things have influenced the ecclesiastical bodies and their members, and especially the nobler bribes of church freedom and church union. In 1874 the ignoring of the outside Presbyterians when Parliament was approached on the matter of patronage was, as Lord Hartington put it, a “ long step” to that disestablishment which would enable the state to treat alike those without and within. In Parliament, indeed, and in the speeches of Mr. Gladstone especially, the question of justice to the outside Presbyterian bodies as such has always had great prominence. But in Scotland itself, and with the electorate by whom the cause had ultimately to be decided, this matter fell into the background, and the equal rights of all citizens took the foremost place. It did so when the people were addressed even by churchmen. In the years 1881 and 1882 the honors of argument were carried off by two Edinburgh men, Principal Cairns and Principal Rainy, the former a United Presbyterian and theoretical voluntary, the latter a practical voluntary and a Free Churchman. But both worked heartily together, and worked by a persistent appeal to those arguments of natural justice and fairness which make the renewed injustice of establishment impossible. From this time I have always dated the clearing of the public conscience. Some organs of opinion which had seemed ready to turn from liberalism and religious equality altogether, now made up their mind, and while continuing to oppose disestablishment, confessed that it must sooner or later come, and that it is the only just solution. But the mass of the people went farther, and with them the conviction that this alone is just was sufficient, practically and politically. This was very clear in the meetings held during those years by the local liberal associations. On every platform the simple suggestion that if Catholics or Unitarians should be in a majority, their establishing their religion would be felt by Presbyterians to be unjust, and that Presbyterians should do to others in this matter as they would have others do to them, was found to be enough. At first there was a little hesitation in adopting the phrase “religious equality,” good Scotch people apparently suspecting they might be held to affirm that all religions were equally true or equally valuable. But when the phrase came to be recognized as a political one, and to mean the equal rights of all religions before the law, it came also to be accepted even by that very part of the population which attached the utmost value to religion and to its exercise. On the political platform it swept the field, and even at the “Church Defense” meetings, which were held during successive months of 1890, it was the rarest thing possible to hear the suggestion that the state is entitled to favor one religion above another. The establishment of the modern general principle was greatly favored, too, by the nature of the opposition made to it. In the earlier days of the movement, when the Free Church, recently disestablished, had not reconciled itself to permanent voluntaryism, no offers or bribes were held out to it to return. But in these later years, when that body, like the others, was becoming filled with the conviction of the sheer injustice of attempting to establish one creed at the expense of others, this deep conviction was met with the constant offer — an offer unauthorized and perhaps elusory, but urgent and persistent — of a share in the emoluments. The proposal was inappropriate — all the more that it was often most persistently pressed by those who frankly confessed that the acceptance of it would be unjust to
outsiders, and that nothing but universal independence of the state equal on the part of all the churches could put Scotland on the threshold of the future. But it was inappropriate also as addressed to the Free Church. Most historical observers have beld with Lord Macaulay that in the split of 1843 Chalmers and the Free Church really represented the old Church of Scotland, and at all events the subjection of that old church to the state in church matters, then for the first time laid down as law, changed the conditions of establishment for the future. For the Free Church to take emoluments thereafter would be to take a bribe in exchange for freedom. But it also changed its relation to the past. That subjection, the courts laid it down, had been the condition of establishment from the beginning, though always protested against. It followed that on Free Church principles the Cameronians and seceders of the past were in the right in remaining outside, and that they must be held to have an equal and an earlier claim to the emoluments of wbich the church of Chalmers and of Knox had been finally despoiled in 1843. But when the circle of freedom is so far widened, it inevitably suggests making it wider still. If establishment in Scotland was from the beginning a blunder, even on the side of church freedom, it was so, much more unequivocally, on the side of toleration and religious equality. And on this last, the feeling in Scotland within all the Free churches, and among the laity of the Established Church, as well as in the electorate as a whole, has grown so as to absorb the older historical and ecclesiastical views. It is indeed their natural goal and terminus, for it is the only means by which they can now be harmonized with the least regard to justice. The consummation before Scotland is the same as that attained by America in 1791, by France in 1830, and in 1867 even by Austria. But in Scotland the common result will have a peculiar value ; for it will be enriched by a long national past of deliberate experiment and conscious struggle.
The cultivated American who visits Scotland within the next few years will thus find himself in the midst of the last act of this great drama. If he is thoughtful as well as cultivated, he may find it a great relief as well as a great attraction. The role of men — and women — condemned to scramble over the picturesque places of Europe without being able to open their eyes to the march of modern history pressing on around us is often a wearisome one. Many a victim of Murray and of Baedeker would be glad to exchange them for the unaccomplished history of the pres