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He advised Pearson that he had supported a motion in the Commons to include the Queen by name in the Church’s liturgy. Not to do so would risk alienating the ‘more religious and sober of the middling and lower classes of this country’ from the Church of England, and add fuel to the radical fires of the not-so-respectable. Wilberforce’s comments suggest that he saw the monarchy as a unifying cultural symbol and as an Anglican Evangelical he believed the alliance of Crown and Church preserved social order and peace. His letter to Pearson communicated his ‘deep conviction of the inestimable benefits which we owe to the monarchical branch of our constitution’.303 Wilberforce’s reference to ‘the monarchical branch’ indicates a belief in a limited monarchy, and hence a Whig view of the ‘balanced constitution’ with authority shared between King, Lords, and Commons. As an Evangelical, however, Wilberforce and his Clapham colleagues attempted to remain independent of any one political allegiance. Wilberforce was critical of the development of party spirit or the ‘system of party’ in Parliamentary politics.304 His first duty was to God, secondly to the nation, and only finally to political alliances (though he was personally loathe to go against his friends, Prime Minister William Pitt included). Clapham Evangelicals used less constitutional language than Whig members of Parliament.305 Yet they still employed this language. Thomas Fowell Buxton’s motion for the ‘gradual’ abolition of slavery in 1823 was framed: ‘the state of slavery is repugnant to the principles of the British 302 Ibid, p 11.

303 Wilberforce and Wilberforce, eds, The Correspondence of William Wilberforce, pp 442-445.

304 Wilberforce and Wilberforce, eds, The Correspondence of William Wilberforce, p 444.

305 See A D Kriegel, ‘A Convergence of Ethics: Saints and Whigs in British Antislavery’, Journal of British Studies, vol 26, no 4, 1987, pp 423-450.

102 Constitution and of the Christian religion’.306 Ideas of interlinked spiritual and civil liberty permeate this wording.307 The Whig lawyer, Henry Brougham, who had famously defended Queen Caroline at her trial for

adultery, argued for abolition of slavery in 1830 in these terms:

There is a law above all the enactments of human codes – the same throughout the world, the same in all times... it is the law written by the finger of God on the heart of man; and by that law, unchangeable and eternal, while men despise fraud, and loathe rapine, and abhor blood, they shall reject with indignation the wild and guilty fantasy that man can hold property in man. In vain you appeal to treaties, to covenants between nations. The convenants of the Almighty, whether the old covenant or the new, denounce such unholy pretensions.’308 With these Biblical appeals and analogies the Evangelical abolitionists would no doubt have concurred. The conception of human laws and human lawmakers, whether parliaments, kings, or oligarchies, being subject to fundamental law (or God’s law) are ideas echoed in Coke’s, Burke’s and Hone’s descriptions of Magna Charta. And if Magna Charta represented the freedom of Englishmen from political and religious slavery, there was no better constitutional analogy for the liberation of slaves than that charter and the charters that followed it. Thus, as Burke had argued for an Indian Magna Charta, the Whig Samuel Romilly argued that abolition would be a ‘Magna Carta for Africa’.309 306 McGilchrist, J, The Life and Career of Henry, Lord Brougham, With Extracts From His Speeches, and Notices of His Contemporaries (London: Cassell, Petter, and Galpin, 1868), (http://books.google.com/books, 12 August 2009), p 129.

307 For which, see the discussion in chapter two.

308 McGilchrist, J, The Life and Career of Henry, Lord Brougham, p 136.

309 A D Kriegel, ‘A Convergence of Ethics: Saints and Whigs in British Antislavery’, Journal of British Studies, vol 26, no 4, 1987, p 447.


A Protestant Constitution or an Anglican Constitution?

Magna Charta, and the British Constitution, was understood by all ranks of British society as a common religious, national and legal inheritance: it defined itself against the threat of ‘popery’ or European Roman Catholicism. It identified Britons as freedom-loving people who were, at the same time, loyal to monarchy. Moreover it protected their persons and property.310 Within this broad consensus, understandings of the Constitution and Magna Charta were anything but homogenous.311 The Anglican establishment, by the later eighteenth century, understood the 1689 Glorious Revolution as establishing the sovereignty of Parliament.312 English Dissenters had a different understanding of 1689. Dissenter Rev Richard Price, in his famous ‘Discourse on the Love of Our Country’ (1789), defined the three principles of the Revolution as: ‘first, the right to liberty of conscience in religious matters; secondly, the right to resist power when abused; and thirdly, the right to choose our own governors, to cashier [dismiss] them for misconduct, and to frame a government for ourselves’.313 These principles were in opposition to ‘the odious doctrines of passive obedience, non resistance, and the divine right of kings’.314 The doctrines of non-resistance and passive obedience meant that those who disagreed with the law should passively accept its penalties.

Despite these different views, the force of Magna Charta expressed itself even in establishment explanations of the Constitution. William Blackstone wrote of the absolute authority of the English Parliament, yet wrote as if Parliament could not meddle with the rights and liberties of Englishmen. He called Magna Charta ‘the great charter of liberties’. He appeared to endorse the prevalent view that it ‘contained very few new grants [of rights]’. He even appeared to endorse Sir Edward Coke’s view that it ‘was for the most part declaratory of the principal grounds of the fundamental laws of England’.315 He defined the three primary rights as ‘the right of personal 310 See L Colley, Britons for the famous thesis of a unifying British Protestantism defined against a Catholic France.

311 See T Claydon, and I McBride, eds, Protestantism and National Identity: Britain and Ireland, c. 1650–c. 1850 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998) for the divisions within a broad British Protestant identity.

312 Clarke, The Language of Liberty 1660-1832, p 83.

313 R Price, A Discourse on the Love of Our Country, Delivered on Nov 4, 1789 (London: T Cadell, 1790), (http://books.google.com/books, 8 August 2009), p 34.

314 Ibid, p 35.

315 Blackstone, Commentaries, vol 1, pp 127-128.

104 security, the right of personal liberty, and the right of private property’.316 Blackstone stated that the English Constitution was unlike ‘modern’ European constitutions, which ‘vest an arbitrary and despotic power… in the prince’. English laws (including the Charter) preserved English political and civil liberties. The ‘spirit of liberty’ was ‘deeply implanted in our constitution, and rooted even in our very soil’.317 Henry Williams and Magna Charta Williams’ theology and politics In English debates concerning the authority of government and the subject’s rights Magna Charta played a conspicuous role. These tensions within the British Constitution are important for appreciating Williams and Busby’s references to te Tiriti and He Wakaputanga. British commentators in post-1840 New Zealand, including missionaries, often spoke in the language of obedience to the Crown or rebellion against it. At the same time, Williams and others enlisted Magna Charta in their appeals for Māori interests and the honour of the Crown under the Treaty.

Before examining the New Zealand context, some further British context is necessary to appreciate Williams’ (and Busby’s) worldview.

Edmund Burke’s defence of Church and State in his Reflexions on the Revolution in France (1790) also included an assertion of Magna Charta’s importance:

From Magna Charta to the Declaration of Rights it has been the uniform policy of our constitution to claim and assert our liberties as an entailed inheritance derived to us from our forefathers, and to be transmitted to our posterity.318 316 Ibid, p 129. Anne Pallister notes that ‘these are the three legal rights which seventeenth-century politicians and writers constantly claimed as fundamental’. She also equates them with John Locke’s ‘life, liberty and estate’, see Pallister, Magna Carta, p 58 (n 2).

317 Blackstone, Commentaries, vol 1, p 127.

318 Cited in Pallister, Magna Carta, p 82.

105 Burke thus defended the English constitution as an inheritance bequeathed by the ancestors: a taonga tuku iho. This conservative strategy allowed liberty to coexist with law and traditional authority. In the face of this conservative English reaction to the French Revolution, Henry Williams’ father was one who felt the necessity of supporting the traditional order. Henry

Williams’ uncle John Marsh recorded in his December 1792 diary:

There being at this time a great spirit of Republicanism & Levelling prevalent all over the Kingdom, kept up by the corresponding Society & their Emissaries, there were great apprehensions of Riots & Tumults in London, on which account the Tower was fortified & the Guard at the Bank doubled etc. Ships were also put in commission & the Militia in the Eastern Counties order’d to be embodied, on which account Friends to good Order & Government also now met in several places, to form associations for supporting the Constitution, a meeting of which kind was on this day (the 10h.) held at the Town Hall, Chichester, where some Resolutions against Sedition etc. were drawn up & signed.

There being also a Meeting of the same kind about this time held at Portsmouth, Mr [Thomas] Williams [Henry’s father], who had been rather imprudent in uttering his democratic Sentiments, & fearing he had gone too far & might be reckon’d a mark’d man, put himself in as conspicuous a part of the Hall as he co’d & warmly supported the Resolutions, joining in the cry of God save the King etc. with great vociferation, as he inform’d us the next day, when he came over to spend a day or two with us.319 Thomas William’s democratic sentiments as a Dissenter probably concerned repeal of the Test and Corporation Acts. These Acts excluded those Dissenters and Catholics who did not subscribe to Church of England articles of faith from election to Parliament and local municipalities, access to Oxford and Cambridge, and other civil restrictions (not repealed until 1828-29).

Chapter two referred to Henry Williams’ upbringing in a culture of English Nonconformism. His grandfather, Rev Thomas Williams, was a Congregationalist minister with Calvinist theological training, while his father continued to attend the Congregational Chapel at Gosport and then a Dissenting chapel at Nottingham (after the family moved there in 1794). His father, having business and church connections with other Dissenters was admitted as a burgess or voter in the 319 John Marsh, Journal, cited in N T H Williams, ‘The Williams Family in the 18th and 19th Centuries’, 2003, p 22.

106 Corporation of Nottingham and was involved generally in Nottingham’s Dissenting politics and municipal affairs. His mother’s father, Wright Coldham, was a Sheriff of Nottingham in 1798 and 1807, and Mayor in 1809, while his mother’s uncle, George Coldham, was the Town Clerk from 1792 to 1815 and a prominent solicitor. The Nottingham scene of the early 1800s was particularly engaging intellectually and politically, with notables such as the Reverend George Walker of the Presbyterian Chapel, a friend of Dissenters Richard Price and Joseph Priestly and known to Adam Smith.320 The implications of this Dissenting background, with its theological leanings towards the Puritans or Calvinists of Cromwell’s England, places Williams in a tradition of religious and political thought with two closely related streams. The first was an appeal to ‘the rights and liberties of Englishmen’, declared in and secured by the common law, principally by Magna Carta and the Bill of Rights 1689. The second was a particular Calvinist theology, according to which all human authority was appointed by God and was subject to his law.321 These two streams converged in many cases. Rev David Bogue’s History of Dissenters is a case in point. A Calvinist in theology and minister of the Gosport Chapel (1777-1825), he discussed in his History the ‘principles of liberty’ which English Dissenters held dear.322 Gregory Marquis writes that ‘England’s first great revolution, the Reformation, was viewed in Protestant thinking as an essential stage between the Magna Charta and the Glorious Revolution’; and that, by the midnineteenth century, ‘the link between Calvinist Protestantism and the spread of liberty…was deeply engrained in Protestant culture’.323 The Calvinist and English liberties streams of thought illuminate the meaning of Henry Williams’ own appeal to the Treaty as a ‘Magna Charta’ for Māori. Another feature of Williams’ Congregational heritage was an emphasis on local church autonomy or independence from other churches or church hierarchies. The congregation itself governed the church, rather than governance by elders (Presbyterianism) or bishops (Anglicanism) – hence the name of ‘Congregational’ given to these churches.

320 N T H Williams, ‘The Williams Family in the 18th and 19th Centuries’, 2003.

321 J C D Clark, The Language of Liberty 1660-1832, pp 94-98; and M R Watts, The Dissenters, vol 2: The Expansion of Evangelical Nonconformity (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1995), pp 347-350.

322 See discussion at n 225.

323 G Marquis, ‘In Defence of Liberty’, pp 78-79. Marquis’ context is the ‘maritime colonies’ of New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, and Prince Edward Island, but the same could be said of Evangelical Anglicans and Dissenters in the colonies generally (and in Britain).

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