A drawing of Parliament in 19th Century

Christians outside the Anglican church won a great victory in Parliament in 1828, when the Test and Corporation Acts (see below) were finally repealed. HofCCommenting on this auspicious event, the dissenting historian James Bennett, writing in 1839, described the lobbying methods which he believed contributed to the successful outcome.

The problem was this. Before 1828, anyone who took up a civil or military office in Britain had by law first to receive communion in the Church of England. Mayors and town councillors, as well as government ministers and officials, were thus barred from taking up their post unless and until they had received the Lord’s Supper from an Anglican minister. This was objectionable on two fronts. Firstly, it meant that dissenters, who had separated from the Church of England on principle, were either prevented entirely from holding public office or were forced to compromise their principles by taking communion at least once in a church to which they had conscientious objection. Secondly, the law turned the Lord’s Supper, a highly spiritual occasion, into a mere political tool: communion became a necessary qualification for civic office. The repeal of the legislation in question was therefore lobbyinhgmet with great thanksgiving on the part of dissenters and many others.

Although the law had ceased to have any significant effect, its very existence was understandably resented by dissenters. In his account of the process leading up to the repeal, Bennett praises the manner in which the dissenters lobbied. These are his main points.[1]

  • Dissenters of all parties agreed on the course of action being pursued.
  • The proposals were well thought through.
  • The case was argued using moderate, not intemperate, language.
  • The dissenters made great efforts to ensure that those representing them in Parliament were properly informed.
  • Those who put their case in Parliament argued it in such a way as to persuade many others who had been ill-informed on the subject, as well as some even who had been hostile.
  • Dissenters were willing to compromise in order to gain the main point they were after.
  • There was a tendency in the public mind in favour of the repeal of these laws, due in part to the energy with which dissenters had generally been seeking to spread knowledge and religion.
  • These are good principles to bear in mind today, when we are arguing our case in any non-religious setting.

 

Robert Strivens
Principal

[1] James Bennett, The History of the Dissenters, During the Last Thirty Years, (from 1808 to 1838) (London: Hamilton, Adams & Co., 1839), pp. 80–81.

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