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THE TOLERATION ACT AND THE COMPRE
WILLIAM SUMMONS A CONVENTION—HE RECEIVES A NONCONFORMIST
DEPUTATION_STANDS FOR COMPREHENSION AND TOLERATION-
OON after William arrived in London he summoned the
peers to meet him at St. James's on December 21, 1688. He also summoned all gentlemen who had sat in any of the Parliaments of Charles II., the Lord Mayor and Aldermen of London, and a deputation from the Common Council, to meet him on the 26th. The two assemblies agreed in requesting him to undertake at once the responsibilities and duties of the executive government, and to issue writs for a “ Convention" of the Estates of the Realm for the settlement of the affairs of the kingdom.
On January 2 (1688-9) about ninety Nonconformist ministers introduced by the Earl of Devonshire, Lord Wharton, and Lord Wiltshire, waited on William, and assured him "of their grateful sense of his hazardous and heroical expedition which the favour of Heaven had made so surprisingly prosperous.” John Howe, who spoke in their name, said that,
They esteemed it no common felicity that the worthy patriots of the nobility and gentry of this kingdom had unanimously concurred with his highness' design. . . . They promised their
1 Mackintosh, 556, 568--569.
utmost endeavours in their several stations, to promote the excellent and most desirable ends for which his highness had declared. They added their continued fervent prayers to the Almighty, for the preservation of his highness' person, and the success of his future endeavours for the defence and propagation of the Protestant interest throughout the Christian world; that they should all most willingly have chosen that time for the season of paying their duty to his highness, when the lord-bishop and the clergy of London attended his highness for the same purpose (which some of them did, and which his lordship was pleased condescendingly to make mention of to his highness), had their notice of that intended application been so early as to make their more general attendance possible at that time. Therefore, though they did now appear in a distinct company, it was not on a distinct account, but on that only which was common to them, and to all Protestants.” ?
William in a gracious reply told them that his great purpose was to “defend and support” the Protestant religion, and to “ give it strength and reputation throughout the world, sufficient to preserve it from the insults and oppressions of its most implacable enemies "; that he would aim to do this first of all in these kingdoms of England, Scotland, and Ireland ; and that he would “ use his utmost endeavours so to settle and cement all different persuasions of Protestants in such a bond of love and community, as may contribute to the lasting security and engagement of spirituals and temporals to all sincere professors of that holy religion.” 3
These brief sentences contain William's religious policy. He was the irreconcilable enemy of Romanism everywhere. His chief reason for accepting the English crown was the hope that he might be able to use the power of England to check the policy of the French King, and so to check the growing political strength of Catholicism on the continent of Europe. He wished to make the English Church sufficiently comprehensive to include the great body of the English Nonconformists. If there were any true Protestants who might feel compelled to remain out of the national Establishment after the terms of conformity were relaxed, he wished them to enjoy complete toleration.
2 Calamy, Memoirs of Howe, 142–144. Compton, the Bishop of London, with a considerable number of the clergy and a few Nonconformist ministers, had presented their congratulations to William on December 21, three days after his entrance into London. Mackintosh, 554.
3 Gazette, Jan. 5, 1688–9.
The “ Convention ” met on January 22, and, after long debates, resolved on February 12 that “William and Mary, Prince and Princess of Orange, be and be declared King and Queen of England, France and Ireland.” 4 During his life, “the sole and full exercise of the royal power ” was to be vested in William ; it was to pass to Mary, if she survived him. With the offer of the crown, the Convention made a “Declaration of Rights,” in which, among other articles defining the constitutional liberties of the kingdom, there are several suggested by the late religious troubles. It is declared
“That the pretended Power of suspending of Laws (or the execution of laws] by Regal Authority, without Consent of Parliament, is illegal ; that the pretended Power of dispensing with Laws, or the Execution of Laws, by Regal Authority, as it hath been assumed and exercised of late, is illegal ; that the Commission for erecting the late Court of Commissioners for ecclesiastical Causes, and all other Commissions and Courts of like Nature, are illegal and pernicious; . . . [and] that the Subjects, which are Protestants, may have Arms for their Defence, suitable to their conditions, as allowed by law.” 5
On February 13 the two Houses went to Whitehall, and Lord Halifax, as Speaker of the House of Lords, made the offer of the crown to William and Mary. The Clerk of the Lords read the Declaration of Rights. William accepted the offer in his own name and Mary's ; and the same day the new King and Queen were proclaimed.
To remove all doubts concerning the legality of the proceedings of the Convention, an Act was passed declaring it to be to all intents a legal Parliament; and the Act required the members of both Houses to take the usual oaths to the new Sovereign. The form of the Oath of Allegiance occasioned
• The crown of Scotland was offered to William and Mary by the Scottish estates a few weeks later.
5 C. J. (Feb. 12, 1688-9), X. 28–29. L. J., xiv. 125-126. 6 Mackintosh, 627-628.
I W. and M., cap. I.