S. Austin Allibone, comp. Prose Quotations from Socrates to Macaulay. 1880.
I love to see a man zealous in a good matter, and especially when his zeal shows itself for advancing morality and promoting the happiness of mankind. But when I find the instruments he works with are racks and gibbets, gallies and dungeons: when he imprisons mens persons, confiscates their estates, ruins their families, and burns the body to save the soul, I cannot stick to pronounce of such a one that (whatever he may think of his faith and religion) his faith is vain and his religion unprofitable.
In that disputable point of persecuting men for conscience sake, besides the embittering their minds with hatred, indignation, and all the vehemence of resentment, and ensnaring them to profess what they do not believe, we cut them off from the pleasures and advantages of society, afflict their bodies, distress their fortunes, hurt their reputations, ruin their families, make their lives painful, or put an end to them. Sure when I see such dreadful consequences rising from a principle, I would be as fully convinced of the truth of it, as of a mathematical demonstration, before I would venture to act upon it, or make it a part of my religion.
Such an intention is pretended by all men,who all not only insist that their religion has the sanction of Heaven, but is likewise, and for that reason, the best and most convenient to human society. All religious persecution, Mr. Bayle well observes, is grounded upon a miserable petitio principii. You are wrong, I am right; you must come over to me, or you must suffer. Let me add, that the great inlet by which a colour for oppression has entered into the world is by one mans pretending to determine concerning the happiness of another, and by claiming a right to use what means he thinks proper in order to bring him to a sense of it. It is the ordinary and trite sophism of oppression.
If he be beforehand satisfied that your opinion is better than his, he will voluntarily come over to you, and without compulsion, and then your law would be unnecessary; but if he is not so convinced, he must know that it is his duty in this point to sacrifice his interest here to his opinion of his eternal happiness, else he could have in reality no religion at all. In the former case, therefore, as your law would be unnecessary, in the latter it would be persecuting: that is, it would put your penalty and his idea of duty in the opposite scales; which is, or I know not what is, the precise idea of persecution.
An uniform principle, which is interwoven in my nature, and which has hitherto regulated, and I hope will continue to regulate, my conduct,I mean an utter abhorrence of all kinds of public injustice and oppression; the worst species of which are those which, being converted into maxims of state, and blending themselves with law and jurisprudence, corrupt the very fountains of all equity, and subvert all the purposes of government.
This kind of persecutors without zeal, without charity, know well enough that religion, to pass by all questions of the truth or falsehood of any of its particular systems (a matter I abandon to the theologians on all sides), is a source of great comfort to us mortals, in this our short but tedious journey throughout the world. They know that, to enjoy this consolation, men must believe their religion upon some principle or other, whether of education, habit, theory, or authority. When men are driven from any of those principles on which they have received religion, without embracing with the same assurance and cordiality some other system, a dreadful void is left in their minds, and a terrible shock is given to their morals. They lose their guide, their comfort, their hope.
Edmund Burke: Letter to Richard Burke on Prot. Ascend. in Ireland, 1793.
It is an inherent and inseparable inconvenience in persecution that it knows not where to stop. It only aims at first to crush the obnoxious sect; it then punishes the supposed crime of obstinacy, till at length the original magnitude of the error is little thought of in the solicitude to maintain the rights of authority.
If such arguments are to pass current, it will be easy to prove that there never was such a thing as religious persecution since the creation. For there never was a religious persecution in which some odious crime was not, justly or unjustly, said to be obviously deducible from the doctrines of the persecuted party. We might say that the Cæsars did not persecute the Christians; that they only punished men who were charged, rightly or wrongly, with burning Rome, and with committing the foulest abominations in secret assemblies; and that the refusal to throw frankincense on the altar of Jupiter was not the crime, but only evidence of the crime. We might say that the massacre of St. Bartholomew was intended to extirpate, not a religious sect, but a political party. For, beyond all doubt, the proceedings of the Huguenots, from the conspiracy of Amboise to the battle of Moncontour, had given much more trouble to the French monarchy than the Catholics have ever given to the English monarchy since the Reformation; and that too with much less excuse.
The true distinction is perfectly obvious. To punish a man because we infer from the nature of some doctrine which he holds, or from the conduct of other persons who hold the same doctrines with him, that he will commit a crime, is persecution, and is, in every case, foolish and wicked.
When Elizabeth put Ballard and Babington to death, she was not persecuting. Nor should we have accused her government of persecution for passing any law, however severe, against overt acts for sedition. But to argue that, because a man is a Catholic, he must think it right to murder a heretical sovereign, and that because he thinks it right he will attempt to do it, and then to found on this conclusion a law for punishing him as if he had done it, is plain persecution.
If, indeed, all men reasoned in the same manner on the same data, and always did what they thought it their duty to do, this mode of dispensing punishment might be extremely judicious. But as people who agree about premises often disagree about conclusions, and as no man in the world acts up to his own standard of right, there are two enormous gaps in the logic by which alone penalties for opinions can be defended. The doctrine of reprobation, in the judgment of many very able men, follows by syllogistic necessity from the doctrine of election. Others conceive that the Antinomian heresy directly follows from the doctrine of reprobation; and it is very generally thought that licentiousness and cruelty of the worst description are likely to be the fruits, as they often have been the fruits, of Antinomian opinions. This chain of reasoning, we think, is as perfect in all its parts as that which makes out a Papist to be necessarily a traitor. Yet it would be rather a strong measure to hang all the Calvinists, on the ground that, if they were spared, they would infallibly commit all the atrocities of Matthias and Knipperdoling. For, reason the matter as we may, experience shows us that a man may believe in election without believing in reprobation, that he may believe in reprobation without being an Antinomian, and that he may be an Antinomian without being a bad citizen. Man, in short, is so inconsistent a creature that it is impossible to reason from his belief to his conduct, or from one part of his belief to another.
Lord Thomas Babington Macaulay: Hallam, Constit. History, Sept. 1828.
It is altogether impossible to reason from the opinions which a man professes to his feelings and his actions; and in fact no person is ever such a fool as to reason thus, except when he wants a pretext for persecuting his neighbours. A Christian is commanded, under the strongest sanctions, to be just in all his dealings. Yet to how many of the twenty-four millions of professing Christians in these islands would any man in his senses lend a thousand pounds without security? A man who should act, for one day, on the supposition that all the people about him were influenced by the religion which they professed, would find himself ruined before night; and no man ever does act on that supposition in any of the ordinary concerns of life, in borrowing, in lending, in buying, or in selling. But when any of our fellow-creatures are to be oppressed, the case is different. Then we represent those motives which we know to be so feeble for good as omnipotent for evil. Then we lay to the charge of our victims all the vices and follies to which their doctrines, however remotely, seem to tend. We forget that the same weakness, the same laxity, the same disposition to prefer the present to the future, which make men worse than a good religion, make them better than a bad one.
It was in this way that our ancestors reasoned, and that some people in our time still reason, about the Catholics. A Papist believes himself bound to obey the Pope. The Pope has issued a bull deposing Queen Elizabeth. Therefore every Papist will treat her grace as an usurper. Therefore every Papist is a traitor. Therefore every Papist ought to be hanged, drawn, and quartered. To this logic we owe some of the most hateful laws that ever disgraced our history.
Lord Thomas Babington Macaulay: Civil Disabilities of the Jews, Jan. 1831.
It seems to us, also, to be the height of absurdity to employ civil disabilities for the propagation of an opinion, and then to shrink from employing other punishments for the same purpose. For nothing can be clearer than that, if you punish at all, you ought to punish enough. The pain caused by punishment is pure unmixed evil, and never ought to be inflicted except for the sake of some good. It is mere foolish cruelty to provide penalties which torment the criminal without preventing the crime. Now, it is possible, by sanguinary persecution unrelentingly inflicted, to suppress opinions. In this way the Albigenses were put down. In this way the Lollards were put down. In this way the fair promise of the Reformation was blighted in Italy and Spain. But we may safely defy Mr. Gladstone to point out a single instance in which the system which he recommends has succeeded.
Lord Thomas Babington Macaulay: Gladstone on Church and State, April, 1839.
The question whether insults offered to a religion ought to be visited with punishment does not appear to us at all to depend on the question whether that religion be true or false. The religion may be false, but the pain which such insults give to the professors of that religion is real. It is often, as the most superficial observation may convince us, as real a pain and as acute a pain as is caused by almost any offence against the person, against property or against character. Nor is there any compensating good whatsoever to be set off against this pain. Discussion, indeed, tends to elicit truth. But insults have no such tendency. They can be employed just as easily against the purest faith as against the most monstrous superstition. It is easier to argue against falsehood than against truth. But it is as easy to pull down or defile the temples of truth as those of falsehood. It is as easy to molest with ribaldry and clamour men assembled for purposes of pious and rational worship, as men engaged in the most absurd ceremonies. Such insults when directed against erroneous opinions seldom have any other effect than to fix those opinions deeper, and to give a character of peculiar ferocity to theological dissension. Instead of eliciting truth, they only inflame fanaticism.
Lord Thomas Babington Macaulay: Notes on the Indian Penal Code, Macaulays Works, Complete, 1866, 8 vols. 8vo, vii. 479.
What bloodshed and confusion have been occasioned from the reign of Henry IV., when the first penal statutes were enacted, down to the revolution in this kingdom, by laws made to force conscience! There is nothing certainly more unreasonable, more inconsistent with the rights of human nature, more contrary to the spirit and precepts of the Christian religion, more iniquitous and unjust, more impolitic, than persecution. It is against natural religion, revealed religion, and sound policy. Sad experience and a large mind taught that great man the President De Thou this doctrine. Let any man read the many admirable things which, though a papist, he hath dared to advance on this subject, in the dedication of his History to Henry IV. of France (which I never read without rapture), and he will be fully convinced not only how cruel, but how impolitic, it is to prosecute for religious opinions.
Chief-Justice Mansfield: Lord Campbells Chief Justices, ii. 513: Life of Lord Mansfield.
Of all the monstrous passions and opinions which have crept into the world there is none so wonderful as that those who profess the common name of Christians should pursue each with rancour and hatred for differences in their way of following the example of their Saviour. It seems so natural that all who pursue the steps of any leader should form themselves after his manners, that it is impossible to account for effects so different from what we might expect from those who profess themselves followers of the highest pattern of meekness and charity, but by ascribing such effects to the ambition and corruption of those who are so audacious, with souls full of fury, to serve at the altars of the God of Peace.