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the momentary pleasure which we receive from drinking it once or twice a day in our tea, than to encourage the numberless cruelties that are continually exercised in order to procure it us! A celebrated French moralist said, that, when he considered the wars which we foment in Africa to get negroes, the great number who of course perish in these wars; the multitude of those wretches who die in their passage, by disease, bad air, and bad provisions; and, lastly, how many perish by the cruel treatment they meet with in a state of slavery; when he saw a bit of sugar, he could not help imagining it to be covered with spots of human blood. But, had he added to these considerations the wars which we carry on against one another, to take and retake the islands that produce this commodity, he would not have seen the sugar simply spotted with blood, he would have beheld it entirely tinged with it. These wars make the maritime powers of Europe, and the inhabitants of Paris and London pay much dearer for their sugar than those of Vienna, though they are almost three hundred leagues distant from the sea. A pound of sugar, indeed, costs the former not only the price which they give for it, but also what they pay in taxes, necessary to support the fleets and armies, which serve to defend and protect the countries that produce it.
TOLERATION IN OLD ENGLAND AND NEW ENGLAND.
Sie, I understand from the public papers, that in the debates on the bill for relieving the Dissenters in the point of subscription to the church articles, sundry reflections were thrown out against that people, importing, “ that they themselves are of a persecuting, intollerant spirit; for that, when ther had the superiority, they persecuted the church, and still persecute it in America, where they compel its members to pay taxes for maintaining the Presbyterian or Independent worship, and, at the same time, refuse them a toleration in the full exercise of their religion by the administrations of a bishop.”
If we look back into history for the character of the present sects in Christianity, we shall find few that hare not in their turns been persecutors, and complainers of persecution. The primitive Christians thought persecution extremely wrong in the Pagans, but practised it on one another. The first Protestants of the church of England blamed persecution in the Romish church, but practised it against the Puritans. These found it wrong in the bishops, but fell into the same practice themselves, both here and in New England. To account for this we should remember, that the doctrine of toleration was not then known, or had not prevailed in the world. Persecution was, therefore, not so much
* This piece was first printed in The London Packet, June 30, 1772, and seems to relate to topics of public interest at that time. – EDITOR. [The spirited writer of the Two Letters to the Prelates, republished it in an appendix to that pamphlet, without, however, naming Dr. Franklin as the author, but expressing it to be the production of “ a gentleman highly respected in the literary world.” — B. V.]
the fault of the sect as of the times. It was not in those days deemed wrong in itself. The general opinion was only, that those who are in error ought not to persecute the truth; but the possessors of truth were in the right to persecute error, in order to destroy it. Thus every sect, believing itself possessed of all truth, and that every tenet differing from theirs was error, conceived, that, when the power was in their hands, persecution was a duty required of them by that God, whom they supposed to be offended with heresy. By degrees more moderate and more modest sentiments have taken place in the Christian world; and among Protestants, particularly, all disclaim persecution, none vindicate it, and but few practise it. We should then cease to reproach each other with what was done by our ancestors, but judge of the present character of sects or churches by their present conduct only.
Now, to determine on the justice of this charge against the present Dissenters, particularly those in America, let us consider the following facts. They went from England to establish a new country for themselves, at their own expense, where they might enjoy the free exercise of religion in their own way. When they had purchased the territory of the natives, they granted the lands out in townships, requiring for it neither purchase-money nor quit-rent, but this condition only to be complied with, that the freeholders should for ever support a gospel minister, (meaning probably one of the governing sects, and a free-school, within the township. Thus what is commonly called Presbyterianism became the established religion of that country. All went on well in this way while the same religious opinions were general, the support of minister and school being raised by a proportionate tax on the VOL. II.
lands. But, in process of time some becoming Quakers,* some Baptists, and, of late years, some returning to the church of England (through the laudable endeavours, and a proper application t of their funds, by the Society for Propagating the Gospel), objections were made to the payment of a tax appropriated to the support of a church they disapproved and had forsaken.
The civil magistrates, however, continued for a time to collect and apply the tax according to the original laws, which remained in force; and they did it more freely, as thinking it just and equitable, that the holders of lands should pay what was contracted to be paid when they were granted, as the only consideration for the grant, and what had been considered by all subsequent purchasers as a perpetual incumbrance on the estate, bought therefore at a proportionably cheaper rate; a payment which it was thought no honest man ought to avoid, under the pretence of his having changed his religious persuasion. And this, I suppose, is one of the best grounds of demanding tithes of Dissenters now in England. But the practice being
* No person appeared in New England, who professed the opinion of the Quakers, until 1656; that is, about thirty-six years after the first settling of the colony; when Mary Fisher and Ann Austin came from Barbadoes; and, soon after, nine others arrived in the ship Speedwell from London. They were successful in their preaching; and the provincial government, wishing to keep the colony free from them, attempted to send away such as they discovered, and prevent the arrival of others. Securities, fines, banishment, imprisonment, and corporal punishments were instituted for this purpose; but with so little effect, that at last “ a law was made for punishing with death, all such as should return into the jurisdiction after banishment. A few were hanged.” See History of the British Dominions, 4to. 1773, pp. 118, 120. — B. V.
† They were to spread the Gospel, and maintain a learned and orthodox clergy, where ministers were wanted or ill provided ; administering God's word and sacraments, and preventing atheism, infidelity, popery, and idolatry.- B. V.
clamored against by the Episcopalians as persecution, the legislature of the province of Massachusetts Bay, near thirty years since, passed an act for their relief, requiring indeed the tax to be paid as usual, but directing that the several sums levied from members of the Church of England, should be paid over to the minister of that church, with whom such members usually attended divine worship, which minister had power given him to receive, and on occasion to recover the same by law.
It seems that the legislature considered the end of the tax was to secure and improve the morals of the people, and promote their happiness, by supporting among them the public worship of God, and the preaching of the Gospel; that where particular people fancied a particular mode, that mode might probably, therefore, be of most use to those people; and that, if the good was done, it was not so material in what mode or by whom it was done. The consideration that their brethren, the Dissenters in England, were still compelled to pay tithes to the clergy of the church, had not weight enough with the legislature to prevent this moderate act, which still continues in full force; and I hope no uncharitable conduct of the church towards the Dissenters will ever provoke them to
With regard to a bishop, I know not upon what grounds the Dissenters, either here or in America, are charged with refusing the benefit of such an officer to the church in that country. Here they seem to have naturally no concern in the affair. There they have no power to prevent it, if government should think fit to send one. They would probably dislike, indeed, to see an order of men established among them, from whose persecutions their fathers fled into