Protestant Dissenters

Justin McCarthy
Chapter VII | Start of Chapter

The Irish Catholics were thus the means of bringing fresh troubles on their rulers in England. The new clause, as it was framed, did not merely visit with punishment those who professed the Roman Catholic faith, but decreed penalties against all who professed any faith not recognised by the State in England. There was a large and growing body of Protestant Dissenters in Ulster, and the new clause proposed to enact that no one in Ireland should be allowed to hold any public office, or sit on a bench of magistrates, who had not qualified himself by receiving the Sacrament according to the ritual of the English State Church. This new clause was a complete extension to Ireland of the Test Act, which had up to that time only prevailed in England, probably because no religious disqualification for Ireland had seemed necessary beyond the penal code which applied to the followers of the Church of Rome. It has been contended gravely by some historians that the introduction of this new clause by the English Parliament proved that the majority there had more enlightened views with regard to liberty of conscience than those held by the Parliament of Ireland. The theory was that Queen Anne and her advisers were displeased with the Irish Parliament for endeavouring to set up new religious disqualifications, and thought -it would be well to let the majority of that Parliament see what trouble could be brought upon them by pushing their own principles a little farther, and thus making enemies for them among the whole body of Protestant Dissenters. According to this theory, the Queen's advisers regarded the Protestant Dissenters as very troublesome and intolerant persons, and believed that it would teach them a good lesson to extend the principle of intolerance to their religious brethren in Ireland, who had hitherto not felt its oppression. But if this were the purpose of Queen Anne's advisers, it did not prove very successful in its application. Many of the Irish Protestant Dissenters did indeed raise their voices strongly against this new clause, but their voices were drowned in the general chorus of approval. The desire to add as much as possible to the laws for the repression of the Catholic Faith in Ireland, and of any faith which had not the authority of the State Church, was too strong for the claims of the Ulster Dissenters to receive serious consideration. The Bill was passed into law, and by thus creating a just discontent among the Irish Protestant Dissenters, it prepared new troubles for the Crown and Government of England.