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 transcended the rightful prerogative of his throne. The power which he exercised had been used by his predecessors for far less worthy purposes, and with the approbation of many of the very men who now opposed him. His ostensible object, expressed in language which even those who condemn his policy cannot but admire, was a laudable and noble one. ‘We trust,’ said he, ‘that it will not be vain that we have resolved to use our utmost endeavors to establish liberty of conscience on such just and equal foundations as will render it unalterable, and secure to all people the free exercise of their religion, by which future ages may reap the benefit of what is so undoubtedly the general good of the whole kingdom.’ Whatever may have been the motive of this declaration,—even admitting the suspicions of his enemies to have been true, that he advocated universal toleration as the only means of restoring Roman Catholics to all the rights and privileges of which the penal laws deprived them, —it would seem that there could have been no very serious objection on the part of real friends of religious toleration to the taking of him at his word and placing Englishmen of every sect on an equality before the law. The Catholics were in a very small minority, scarcely at that time as numerous as the Quakers and Anabaptists. The army, the navy, and nine tenths of the people of England were Protestants. Real danger, therefore, from a simple act of justice towards their Catholic fellow-citizens, the people of England had no ground for apprehending. But the great truth, which is even now but imperfectly recognized throughout Christendom,
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