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From the Speech on the Irish Established Church (1868)

By John Bright (1811–1889)

I AM one of those who do not believe that the Established Church of Ireland—of which I am not a member—would go to absolute ruin, in the manner of which many of its friends are now so fearful. There was a paper sent to me this morning, called ‘An Address from the Protestants of Ireland to their Protestant Brethren of Great Britain.’ It is dated “5, Dawson Street,” and is signed by “John Trant Hamilton, T. A. Lefroy, and R. W. Gamble.” The paper is written in a fair and mild, and I would even say,—for persons who have these opinions,—in a kindly and just spirit. But they have been alarmed, and I would wish, if I can, to offer them consolation. They say they have no interest in protecting any abuses of the Established Church, but they protest against their being now deprived of the Church of their fathers. Now, I am quite of opinion that it would be a most monstrous thing to deprive the Protestants of the Church of their fathers; and there is no man in the world who would more strenuously resist even any step in that direction than I would, unless it were Mr. Gladstone, the author of the famous resolutions. The next sentence goes on to say, “We ask for no ascendancy.” Having read that sentence, I think that we must come to the conclusion that these gentlemen are in a better frame of mind than we thought them to be in. I can understand easily that these gentlemen are very sorry and doubtful as to the depths into which they are to be plunged; but I disagree with them in this—that I think there would still be a Protestant Church in Ireland when all is done that Parliament has proposed to do. The only difference will be, that it will not then be an establishment—that it will have no special favor or grant from the State—that it will stand in relation to the State just as your Church does, and just as the churches of the majority of the people of Great Britain at this moment stand. There will then be no Protestant bishops from Ireland to sit in the House of Lords; but he must be the most enthusiastic Protestant and Churchman who believes that there can be any advantage to his Church and to Protestantism generally in Ireland from such a phenomenon.