Torchbearer of Freedom: The Influence of Richard Price on Eighteenth Century Thought

By Carl B. Cone | Go to book overview

CHAPTER III CLERGYMAN AND MORALIST

UPON graduating from Coward's Academy, Richard Price was ready to begin his work in the dissenting ministry. For the first time he had to face up to the embarrassments and contradictions, and also the responsibilities, that complicated the life of the Dissenter. The Toleration Act of 1689 allowed Dissenters, but not Roman Catholics or Unitarians, to worship and teach without fear of imprisonment, provided they observed certain formal requirements that were not especially heavy. The Dissenter could inherit property and engage in any business he cared, subject to the exclusions prejudice might raise against him. He could not enter Oxford nor take a degree from Cambridge; municipal and crown offices, and therefore political preferment, could not be his. Admitting these confusions, the legal and social position of the Dissenter was much better than it had been in the days when Price's grandfather chose the dissenting way of life. Although he still met with discrimination and humiliation, the Dissenter of Price's day walked with increasing boldness upon the stage of English life.

Yet persecution had left its marks; it explains in part the Dissenter type. Of whatever denomination, the Dissenter insisted upon the right of private judgment in religious matters. He denied justification under the laws of God for the establishment of any church by man-made statutes. Such individualism inevitably resulted in the fragmentation of English Dissent. In other respects, the Dissenter generally was characterized as an earnest, hardworking, rational, intellectual, and public-spirited person.

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