accompanied by the appearance of an unprecedented number of vernacular publications, by the founding of new periodicals, and by the formation of societies. This literature was generally anticlerical in tone and tended to move towards an advocacy of equal rights for all. By the i790s, religious diversity as a positive value began to prevail as the public status of religion gradually moved away from the traditional, confessional basis of control to an emphasis on an inward-looking, personal religion, which became viewed as sufficient to maintain social order and preserve the moral basis of society.18
In Hanoverian England, practical efforts to extend toleration underthe Whig ascendancy engaged the best efforts of the three denominations, the Quakers, and the Jews in separate movements. From 1732 to 1740, the Dissenting Deputies co-ordinated the first extended agitation for repeal of the Test and Corporation Acts. The repeal movement created a vigorous, probing literature onboth sides of the debate, extensively canvassing the issues of civil and religious liberty and bringing them before the public. The controversy over the Quaker's Tithe Bill overlapped with the first agitation for repeal and carried public debate on the nature and threat of Dissent into the early 1740s. The efforts of both the Deputies and the Quakers, however, were unsuccessful. The bill to naturalize the some 8,000 Jews residing in England, most of whom were foreign born and none of whom possessed the right to hold land, proved unusually divisive. The bill actually passed both houses of parliament in May 1753, but under extreme Tory opposition it was repealed the following December. In this debate, both secular humanitarian arguments for an expanded toleration for the Jews and arguments based on Christian theology were advanced.19
In the context of the American Revolution, opponents of established religion typically connected their criticism of the established church with radical Dissent in politics and disapproval of the government's policies abroad. In the Stamp Act crisis and the debate over American bishops there was a discernible quickening of the pace for expanded religious toleration at home. For example, Joseph Priestley's An essay on the first principles of government (1768) had more to do with religious liberty than with political reform. Adopting the language of both Calamy and Hoadly, Priestley argued that atheists should be freed from penal laws, while he questioned the need for religious establishments. Growth of theological liberalism in Arian and Unitarian directions prompted fresh opposition to the requirement to subscribe to the Thirty-nine Articles. Nonconformist Andrew Kippis observed that the Test Act deprived Dissenters of the enjoyment of certain civil honours and preferments, but the penal laws against non-Trinitarians deprived them of the common rights of human nature and of Christianity, and this harsher reality undoubtedly
Was this article helpful?