The Toleration Act of 1689
Toleration Act of
I. Religious Tolerance 1660-1689
The importance of the Toleration Act at the time of its inception can be summed up in the words of A.V. Dicey in that, it “gave from the moment it was enacted substantial religious freedom to the vast majority of English people.” Dicey’s quote may be a bit of an overstatement from religious Dissenters’ points of view, but the Act certainly did mark a change in the legal position of Nonconformists. In order to fully understand the impact of the Toleration Act, it is important to understand the Restoration penal laws that affected Nonconformist Dissenters. The first of these laws was the Corporation Act of 1661. This law prohibited anyone from holding a corporate office if he hadn’t taken the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper in accordance with the rites of the Church of England. Thus, the social status and economic mobility of Nonconformists were significantly curtailed prior to the Glorious Revolution and the Toleration Act. In the same year Parliament passed laws inflicting extra penalties on Quakers as well.
In the next
year, Parliament passed the Act of Uniformity which had the effect of driving
the Presbyterians out of the Church of England and into the ranks of the
Nonconformists. The Act made it illegal
to assent to anything outside of the Book of Common Prayer. This made Nonconformity equal to heresy and
superstition but did not carry the same political consequences as the
Corporation Act. The Uniformity Act also affected dissenting
education and had the impact of excluding Nonconformists from
Less important acts were the Conventicle Acts of 1664 and 1670 which prohibited meetings of five or more Nonconformists upon penalty of fine or imprisonment. Charles II however tried to restore some measures of religious freedom in 1672 with his Royal Declaration of Indulgence. This was an early attempt at religious freedom on the part of the restored king. In Charles’s declaration, he specified that no man should be disquieted over religious differences which did not disturb the kingdom. This declaration was in keeping with Charles statements upon ascending the throne to allow dissenters freedom if they conducted themselves peaceably. Charles II’s declaration seemed to open the door for religious freedom, but Parliament suspected that Charles’s declaration, which purported to grant freedom to all Protestants, hid his true Catholic sympathies. Thus, in 1673 Parliament compelled Charles II to withdraw his declaration and implemented the Test Act. The Test Act essentially made it illegal for persons to hold public office without first “receiving the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper according to the usage of the Church of England” upon penalty of being incapacitated for their posts. Although the impact of the Test Act was intended to fall squarely on Catholics, it equally affected Protestant Dissenters and stymied any political and religious gains dissenters hoped they would receive. Thus, religious freedom was no more guaranteed to those outside of the Church of England than it had ever been. The Test Act of 1673 was the last real legislative burden placed on dissenters until years after the Toleration Act of 1689. However, it was abundantly clear that nonconformity to the Church of England had religious, political, social, and economic consequences.
The Accession of James II, The Glorious Revolution and The Act of Tolerance
The accession to the throne of James II, who was an open Catholic, led to fears of Catholic pre-eminence especially after it was found that James II had fathered a son. Thus, the prevailing view that Mary, James II Protestant daughter, would return the monarchy to Protestantism was put into question. Conformists to the Church of England were further alarmed by James II Royal Declaration of Indulgence in 1687. James prorogued Parliament and made his commitment toward religious toleration into law. The Declaration of Indulgence disposed with all religious tests and granted a toleration that convinced many that James desired to divide and conquer the Protestant sects so that Catholics might more easily come to power. The fear among nonconformists that James was using them as counterpoints to Catholic toleration precluded much gratitude for the Declaration. So matters stood when the Glorious Revolution brought William III to the throne. William had already made it clear that he was for toleration and tests before he assumed the crown so the way was cleared for some form of religious toleration. In fact William came to be regarded as the major statesmen most closely tied to the cause and advancement of religious freedom during his time.
Toleration Act of 1689
even the most rigid of Tory statesmen were prepared to oppose the crown with
respect to toleration for Catholics. In
order to prevent Catholic Tolerance the Tories had to “outbid” the Crown by
offering a more limited but durable form of toleration to Protestants only. Daniel Finch, the most rigid of Tory
statesmen, introduced two bills in Convention Parliament to achieve this end. The first of these bills was the
Comprehension bill and the second was the bill of Toleration. The Comprehension bill died early on, but the
bill of Toleration passed with little difficulty though some Churchmen only
grudgingly accepted it. To be sure members of the High-Church party
would have liked to make the concessions of the proposed law only temporary.
However the bill of Toleration received royal assent on
The Act of
Toleration left the Church of England virtually unchanged. All of its rights and endowments and
privileges remained in tact, but its jurisdiction became somewhat limited so
that the Church was no longer coextensive with the nation. In fact, the passage of the Toleration Act
provided only the second time since the Reformation that there had been any
statutory limitation put on the exclusive control exercised by the Established
Church over worship in
new freedom of religion given to the Protestant Dissenters, they still were not
exempt from paying tithes or any other parochial duties to the Church or
Minister. Furthermore, the Act didn’t repeal any of the
statutes of uniformity or conformity that were passed under the Tudors or
Stuarts against Dissent, whether the dissenter was Protestant or Catholic. However William’s influence curbed the
effects of the Toleration Act’s exclusion of Catholics somewhat. William and his Dutch advisors always
intended that the Toleration Act of 1689 should apply to Catholics as well as
Dissenters for social and political reasons despite what Parliament might have
wanted. Thus, “King William’s Toleration’ was
somewhat distinct from the actual letter of the Toleration Act. Using his legal powers as king, William
stabilized non-Anglican religious life in
For the Dissenters who were expressly included, the Act did provide exemptions from penalties to those who took oaths of supremacy and allegiance and also submitted to thirty-six and half of the 39 Articles of Religion. Dissenters also had to make a declaration against transubstantiation (a doctrine of the Roman Catholic Church). The Articles that they were exempt from were Articles 34, 35, 36, and part of 20 which were ritualistic rather than doctrinal tenants of the Episcopal Church. Baptists were also exempted from the 27th Article which stated that baptism in the church was the preferable method. For their part, the Quakers were not required to subscribe to the articles at all but simply had to make a declaration of faith in the Holy Trinity and Divine Inspiration of the Scriptures. Upon these conditions, Dissenting ministers were authorized for the first time in history to preach and administer the sacraments in public (though only with open doors). Protection was given to their acts of worship and any interruption of such worship was made a punishable offense.
There are critics of the Toleration Act who say that Protestant historians overstated the impact of the Act. Those critics say that the act fell short of actually granting religious freedoms, and by its terms may be more correctly called an Act of Intolerance against Unitarians and Roman Catholics. By this view, the Act disclaimed the principle of religious freedom and belittled those it benefited by referring to Dissenter ministers as “persons in pretended holy orders or pretending to holy orders.” However, this view doesn’t take the situation in historical context and looks at it with a modern eye. Practically speaking, the Toleration Act of 1689 was as all encompassing as it could be at that time in Protestant England.
fact that the Act didn’t allow absolute freedom of religion in the strictest
sense, the Toleration Act of 1689 was an important step towards total religious
freedom. To theorists like McCauley, the
Act was “a chaos of contradictions and absurdities”; but it was as McCauley
himself said a beneficial step forward. The Toleration Act dealt with the actual
of the Toleration Act of 1689 recognizes the Act as a blessing despite its
shortcomings because it was the only measure of religious liberty that men of
the time wanted or could handle. It put
a stop to persecution in cases that would have mandated persecution in the
past. Religious persecution had cost
In a sense,
the Act of Toleration represented the greater ideal of the Glorious
Revolution. The Glorious Revolution
brought with it a new idea of limited power in entities that traditionally
exercised tremendous power. The king and
queen signed a Bill of Rights that limited monarchical power much like the Act
of Tolerance reduced the role of the Church of England to allow individual
freedoms that had been previously outlawed. Both brought advancement in liberty and
civilization as a whole and laid the foundation of philosophy that shaped the
The Toleration Act, 1689
An Act for Exempting their Majesties Protestant Subjects, Dissenting from the Church of England, from the Penalties of certain laws.
I] Forasmuch as some ease to scrupulous consciences in the exercise of religion may be an effectual means to unite their majesties' protestant subjects in interest and affection,
II. Be it enacted, by the king's and queen's most excellent majesties, by and with the advice and consent of the lords spiritual and temporal, and the commons, in this present parliament assembled, and by the authority of the same, that neither the statute made in the three and twentieth year of the reign of the late queen Elizabeth, entitled, an Act to retain the queen's majesty's subjects in their due obedience; nor the statute made in the twenty-ninth year of the said queen, entitled, an Act for the more speedy and due execution of certain branches of the statute made in the three-and-twentieth year of the queen's majesty's reign viz., the aforesaid act; nor that branch or clause of a statute made in the first year of the reign of the said queen, entitled, an Act for the Uniformity of Common Prayer and Service in the Church, and Administration of the Sacraments; whereby all persons, having no lawful or reasonable excuse to be absent, are required to resort to their parish church or chapel, or some usual place where the common prayer shall be used, upon pain of punishment by the censures of the church, and also upon pain that every person so offending shall forfeit for every such offence twelve pence; nor the statute made in the third year of the reign of the late king James the first, entitled, an Act for the better Discovering and Repressing Popish Recusants; nor that other statute made in the same year, entitled, an Act to prevent and avoid Dangers which may grow by Popish Recusants; nor any other law or statute of this realm, made against papists or popish recusants, except the statute made in the five-and-twentieth year of king Charles II, entitled, an Act for preventing Dangers which may happen from Popish Recusants; and except also the statute made in the thirteenth year of the said king Charles II, entitled, an Act for the more effectual preserving the King's Person and Government by disabling Papists from sitting in either House of Parliament; shall be construed to extend to any person or persons dissenting from the church of England, that shall take the oaths mentioned in a statute made this present parliament, entitled, an Act for removing and preventing all Questions and Disputes concerning the assembling and sitting of this present parliament; and shall make and subscribe the declaration mentioned in a statute made in the thirtieth year of the reign of king Charles II, entitled, an Act to prevent Papists from sitting in either House of Parliament: which oaths and declaration the justices of peace at the general sessions of the peace to be held for the county or place where such person shall live, are hereby required to tender and administer to such persons as shall offer themselves to take, make, and subscribe the same, and thereof to keep a register: and likewise none of the persons aforesaid shall give or pay, as any fee or reward, to any officer or officers belonging to the court aforesaid, above the sum of sixpence, nor that more than once for his or their entry of his taking the said oaths, and making and subscribing the said declaration; nor above the further sum of sixpence for any certificate of the same to be made out and signed by the officer or officers of the said court.
III. And be it further enacted by the authority aforesaid, that all and every person and persons already convicted or prosecuted in order to conviction of recusancy, by judgment, information, action of debt, or otherwise, grounded upon the aforesaid statutes, or any of them, that shall take the said oaths mentioned in the said statute made this present parliament, and make and subscribe the declaration aforesaid, in the Court of Exchequer, or assizes, or general or quarter sessions to be held for the county where such person lives, and to be thence respectively certified into the Exchequer, shall be thenceforth exempted and discharged from all the penalties, seizures, forfeitures, judgments, and executions, incurred by force of any the aforesaid statutes, without any composition, fee, or further charge whatsoever.
IV. And be it further enacted by the authority aforesaid, that all and every person and persons that shall, as aforesaid, take the said oaths, and make and subscribe the declaration aforesaid, shall not be liable to any pains, penalties, or forfeitures, mentioned in an act made in the five and thirtieth year of the reign of the late queen Elizabeth, entitled, an Act to retain the Queen's Majesty's Subjects in their due Obedience; nor in an act made in the two and twentieth year of the reign of the late king Charles II, entitled, an Act to prevent and suppress Seditious Conventicles; nor shall any of the said persons be prosecuted in any ecclesiastical court, for or by reason of their non-conforming to the church of England.
V. Provided always, and be it enacted by the authority aforesaid, that if any assembly of persons dissenting from the church of England shall be had in any place for religious worship with the doors locked, barred, or bolted during any time of such meeting together, all and every person or persons, that shall come to and be at such meeting, shall not receive any benefit from this law, but be liable to all the pains and penalties of all the aforesaid laws recited in this act, for such their meeting, notwithstanding his taking the oaths, and his making and subscribing the declaration aforesaid.
VI. Provided always, that nothing herein contained shall be construed to exempt any of the persons aforesaid from paying of tithes or other parochial duties, or any other duties to the church or minister, nor from any prosecution in any ecclesiastical court, or elsewhere, for the same.
VII. And be it further enacted by the authority aforesaid, that if any person dissenting from the church of England, as aforesaid, shall hereafter be chosen or otherwise appointed to bear the office of high constable, or petit constable, churchwarden, overseer of the poor, or any other parochial or ward office, and such person shall scruple to take upon him any of the said offices in regard of the oaths, or any other matter or thing required by the law to be taken or done in respect of such office, every such person shall and may execute such office or employment by a sufficient deputy, by him to be provided, that shall comply with the laws on this behalf. Provided always, the said deputy be allowed and approved by such person or persons, in such manner as such officer or officers respectively should by law have been allowed and approved.
VIII. And be it further enacted by the authority aforesaid, that no person dissenting from the church of England in holy orders, or pretended holy orders, or pretending to holy orders, nor any preacher or teacher of any congregation of dissenting protestants, that shall make and subscribe the declaration aforesaid, and take the said oaths at the general or quarter sessions of the peace to be held for the county, town, parts, or division where such person lives, which court is hereby empowered to administer the same, and shall also declare his approbation of and subscribe the articles of religion mentioned in the statute made in the thirteenth year of the reign of the late queen Elizabeth, except the thirty-fourth, thirty-fifth, and thirty-sixth, and these words of the twentieth article, viz., `the Church hath power to decree Rites or Ceremonies, and authority in Controversies of Faith, and yet' shall be liable to any of the pains or penalties mentioned in an act made in the seventeenth year of the reign of king Charles II, entitled, an Act for restraining Non-conformists from inhabiting in Corporations; nor the penalties mentioned in the aforesaid act made in the two-and-twentieth year of his said late majesty's reign, for or by reason of such persons preaching at any meeting for the exercise of religion; nor to the penalty of one hundred pounds mentioned in an act made in the thirteenth and fourteenth of king Charles II, entitled, an Act for the Uniformity of Public Prayers, and Administration of Sacraments, and other Rites and Ceremonies: and for establishing the Form of Taking, Ordaining, and Consecrating of Bishops, Priests, and Deacons in the Church of England, for officiating in any congregation for the exercise of religion permitted and allowed by this act.
IX. Provided always, that the making and subscribing the said declaration, and the taking the said oaths, and making the declaration of approbation and subscription to the said articles, in manner as aforesaid, by every respective person or persons herein before mentioned, at such general or quarter sessions of the peace, as aforesaid, shall be then and there entered of record in the said court, for which sixpence shall be paid to the clerk of the peace, and no more: provided that such person shall not at any time preach in any place, but with the doors not locked, barred, or bolted, as aforesaid.
X. And whereas some dissenting protestants scruple the baptising of infants, be it enacted by the authority aforesaid, that every person in pretended holy orders, or pretending to holy orders, or preacher, or teacher, that shall subscribe the aforesaid articles of religion, except before excepted, and also except part of the seven-and-twentieth article touching infant baptism, and shall take the said oaths, and make and subscribe the declaration aforesaid, in manner aforesaid, every such person shall enjoy all the privileges, benefits, and advantages, which any other dissenting minister, as aforesaid, might have or enjoy by virtue of this act.
XI. And be it further enacted by the authority aforesaid, that every teacher or preacher in holy orders, or pretended holy orders, that is a minister, preacher, or teacher of a congregation, that shall take the oaths herein required, and make and subscribe the declaration aforesaid, and also subscribe such of the aforesaid articles of the church of England, as are required by this act in manner aforesaid, shall be thenceforth exempted from serving upon any jury, or from being chosen or appointed to bear the office of churchwarden, overseer of the poor, or any other parochial or ward office, or other office in any hundred of any shire, city, town, parish, division, or wapentake.
XII. And be it further enacted by the authority aforesaid, that every justice of the peace may at any time hereafter require any person, that goes to any meeting for exercise of religion, to make and subscribe the declaration aforesaid, and also to take the said oaths or declaration of fidelity hereinafter mentioned, in case such person scruples the taking of an oath, and upon refusal thereof, such justice of the peace is hereby required to commit such person to prison without bail or mainprize, and to certify the name of such person to the next general or quarter sessions of the peace to be held for that county, city, town, part, or division where such person then resides, and if such person so committed shall upon a second tender at the general or quarter sessions refuse to make and subscribe the declaration aforesaid, such person refusing shall be then and there recorded, and he shall be taken thenceforth to all intents and purposes for a popish recusant convict, and suffer accordingly, and incur all the penalties and forfeitures of all the aforesaid laws.
XIII. And whereas there are certain other persons, dissenters from the church of England, who scruple the taking of any oath, be it enacted by the authority aforesaid, that every such person shall make and subscribe the aforesaid declaration, and also this declaration of fidelity following, viz.:
I, A.B.,do sincerely promise and solemnly declare before God and the world, that I will be true and faithful to king William and queen Mary; and I do solemnly profess and declare, that I do from my heart abhor, detest, and renounce, as impious and heretical, that damnable doctrine and position, that princes excommunicated or deprived by the pope, or any authority of the see of Rome, may be deposed or murdered by their subjects, or any other whatsoever. And I do declare, that no foreign prince, person, prelate, state, or potentate hath, or ought to have, any power, jurisdiction, superiority, pre-eminence, or authority ecclesiastical or spiritual within this realm.
And shall subscribe a profession of their Christian belief in these words
I, A. B., profess faith in God the Father, and in Jesus Christ, his Eternal Son, the true God, and in the Holy Spirit, one God, blessed for evermore; and do acknowledge the Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testament to be given by divine inspiration.
Which declarations and subscription shall be made and entered of record at the general quarter sessions of the peace for the county, city, or place where every such person shall then reside. And every such person that shall make and subscribe the two declarations and profession aforesaid, being thereunto required, shall be exempted from all the pains and penalties of all and every the aforementioned statutes made against popish recusants, or protestant nonconformists, and also from the penalties of an act made in the fifth year of the reign of the late queen Elizabeth, entitled, an Act for the Assurance of the Queen's Royal Power over all Estates and Subjects within her Dominions, for or by reason of such persons not taking or refusing to take the oath mentioned in the said act; and also from the penalties of an act made in the thirteenth and fourteenth years of the reign of king Charles the Second, entitled, an Act for preventing Mischiefs thay may arise by certain persons called Quakers refusing to take lawful oaths; and enjoy all other the benefits, privileges, and advantages, under the like limitations, provisos, and conditions, which any other dissenter should or ought to enjoy by virtue of this act.
XIV. Provided always, and be it enacted, by the authority aforesaid, that in case any person shall refuse to take the said oaths, when tendered to them, which every justice of the peace is hereby empowered to do, such person shall not be admitted to make and subscribe the two Declarations aforesaid, though required thereunto either before any justice of the peace, or at the general or quarter sessions before or after any conviction of popish recusants, as aforesaid, unless such person can, within thirty one days after such tender of the Declarations to him, produce two sufficient protestant witnesses, to testify upon oath that they believe him to be a protestant dissenter; or a certificate under the hands of four protestants, who are conformable to the church of England, or have taken the oaths and subscribed the Declaration above mentioned, and shall also produce a certificate, under the hands and seals of six, or more, sufficient men of the congregation to which he belongs, owning him for one of them.
XV. Provided also, and be it enacted, by the authority aforesaid, that until such certificate, under the hands of six of his congregation, as aforesaid, be produced, and two protestant witnesses come to attest his being a protestant dissenter, or a certificate under the hands of four protestants, as aforesaid, be produced, the justice of the peace shall, and hereby is required to take a recognizance with two sureties in the penal sum of fifty pounds, to be levied of his goods and chattels, lands and tenements, to the use of the king's and queen's majesties, their heirs and successors, for his producing the same; and if he cannot give such security, to commit him to prison, there to remain until he has produced such certificates, or two witnesses, as aforesaid.
XVI. Provided always, and it is the true intent and meaning of this act, that all the laws made and provided for the frequenting of divine service on the Lord's day, commonly called Sunday, shall be still in force, and executed against all persons that offend against the said laws, except such persons come to some congregation or assembly of religious worship, allowed or permitted by this act.
XVII. Provided always, and be it further enacted by the authority aforesaid, that neither this act, nor any clause, article or thing herein contained, shall extend, or be construed to extend, to give any ease, benefit, or advantage to any papist or popish recusant whatsoever, or any person that shall deny, in his preaching or writing, the doctrine of the blessed trinity, as it is declared in the aforesaid articles of religion.
XVIII. Provided always, and be it enacted, by the authority aforesaid, that if any person or persons, at any time or times after the tenth day of June, do and shall willingly and of purpose, maliciously or contemptuously come into any cathedral or parish church, chapel, or other congregation permitted by this act, and disquiet or disturb the same, or misuse any preacher or teacher, such person or persons, upon proof thereof before any justice of peace, by two or more sufficient witnesses, shall find two sureties, to be bound by recognizance in the penal sum of fifty pounds, and in default of such sureties, shall be committed to prison, there to remain till the next general or quarter sessions; and upon conviction of the said offence, at the said general or quarter sessions, shall suffer the pain and penalty of twenty pounds, to the use of the king's and queen's majesties, their heirs and successors.
XIX. Provided always, that no congregation or assembly for religious worship shall be permitted or allowed by this act, until the place of such meeting shall be certified to the bishop of the diocese, or to the archdeacon of that archdeaconry, or to the justices of the peace at the general or quarter sessions of the peace for the county, city, or place in which such meeting shall be held, and registered in the said bishop's or archdeacon's court respectively, or recorded at the said general or quarter sessions; the register, or clerk of the peace whereof respectively, is hereby required to register the same, and to give certificate thereof to such person as shall demand the same, for which there shall be no greater fee nor reward taken, than the sum of sixpence.
[Original does not have numbered paragraphs. Original is in Statutes of the Realm, and there is a photographic reproduction of the 1689 printed text in an appendix to Grell, Israel and Tyacke, From Persecution to Toleration (1991)]
Charles, "Worcester House
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Ed. David Douglas.
Dicey, A.V. Lectures on The Relation Between Law and
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Lecky, W.E.H. History
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---. “The Legal Position of English Protestant
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“Toleration Act, 1689.” Jacobite Heritage. 24 Nov. 2007 <http://www.jacobite.ca/documents/1689toleration.htm>.
Trevor-Roper, Hugh. “Toleration and
Religion After 1688.” From Persecution to Toleration. ed. Ole Peter Grell, Jonathan I. Israel,
F. Mullett, Toleration and Persecution in
Dicey, Lectures on The Relation Between Law and Public Opinion in
 Charles F. Mullett, The Legal Position of English Protestant Dissenters 1660-1689, The Virginia Law Review, Vol. XXII (Mar. 1936); pp 500.
 Id at 501. In addition to following the Book of Common Prayer, all persons in Holy Orders, universities, and schoolmasters had to declare that it was unlawful under any circumstances to take up arms against the King, that they would conform to the Liturgy of the Church of England, and that the Solemn League and Covenant was an unlawful Oath, upon penalty of Deprivation.
F. Mullett, Toleration and Persecution in
Charles, “Declaration to all His loving Subjects…concerning Ecclesiastical
 See supra note 9
 See supra note 9 at pp 36.
 Hugh Trevor-Roper, “Toleration and Religion After 1688,” From Persecution to Toleration. ed. Ole Peter Grell, Jonathan I. Israel, Nicholas Tyacke. Oxfor: Clarendon Press, 1991. pp 389-408
 Id at 391
 Unfortunately, the Parliamentary debates of the period are mostly lost. Reporters were not allowed. What little of the debate that has been preserved shows that it was brief and desultory and only discussed mere details.
note 15 supra
 John Spurr, “The Church of England, Comprehension and the Toleration Act of 1689,” The English Historical Review, Vol. 104, No 413. (Oct., 1989), pp. 927-946.
 History of England From the Accession of James II, Ch. XI., Vol. II., 46I sqq.
 Constitutional History of
Jonathan I. Israel, “William III and Toleration.” From Persecution to Tolerance. ed. Ole Peter Grell, Jonathan I.
Israel, Nicholas Tyacke.
 Id at 153. The
Toleration Act, 1689, http://www.jacobite.ca/documents/1689toleration.htm (last
 See supra note 21 at 154.
 Id at 155.
 See supra note 19
Schaff, The Progress of Religious Freedom: As shown in the
History of Toleration Acts. Ch V. 51-79.
 See supra note 19
 See supra note 19
 See supra note 32
 The Constitutional History of
 History of the Rise and Influence of the Spirit of Rationalism in Europe, London, seventh ed., 1875, Vol II., 83, 84.
 See supra note 25