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REV. JAMES ROBERTSON'S
(MINISTER OF ELLON)
OBSERVATIONS UPON THE VETO ACT.
MINISTER OF TRINITY COLLEGE PARISH.
LEGAL AND SCRIPTURAL BRANCHES OF THE ARGUMENT.
JOHN JOHNSTONE, HUNTER SQUARE.
INTRODUCTORY OBSERVATIONS-DISCUSSION OF LEGAL ARGUMENT IR
RELEVANT TO THE PRESENT STATE OF THE CONTROVERSY -CHURCH
“ OBSERVATIONs on the Veto Act, by the Rev. James Robertson, minister of Ellon,”-is, with the exception of the Dean of Faculty's Letter to the Lord Chancellor, the most voluminous, and without any exception, the most respectable, production that has yet appeared in opposition to those principles which the Church of Scotland is at present maintaining, and to the course of conduct which she has felt it to be her duty to pursue. Mr. Robertson's work is highly creditable to his talent and diligence, and contaius a very acute and elaborate discussion of the various points to which he has adverted. It is free from that most offensive quality by which the Dean's pamphlet is so pre-eminently characterised, viz. the imputation of bad motives to opponents. The chief point in which Mr. Robertson exhibits a share of the common infirmities which controversy usually brings out, is his frequent boasting of the demonstrative character of the facts and arguments he adduces. He is certainly a very clear-headed man, and yet he is (p. 65) obliged to “ own that he does not understand the constitution of that man's mind, who, in the face of evidence so clear and conclusive, entertains” a different view of the matter from himself.
But while we willingly bear testimony to the superiority in many respects of Mr. Robertson's “ Observations” over any other pamphlet on the same side of the question, still we must say, that we have been greatly disappointed by the perusal of it. The substance of this pamphlet was delivered as a speech in the Synod of Aberdeen in October 1839, in moving an overture to the Assembly to rescind the Veto Act; and though advertised at that time for immediate publication, it did not
appear till March 1840.
In these circumstances, we expected to find that it would contain a full discussion of this great controversy in its present state, and with reference to the leading aspects which it has now assumed; whereas it contains scarcely any thing that might not have been spoken or written before the meeting of last General Assembly. If we were to judge from the general scope and train of Mr. Robertson's argument, we would at once conclude that he had never heard of the proceedings of last Assembly, that he did not know of the resolution which that venerable body had formed, in adopting Dr. Chalmers's motion, to yield submission to the decision of the civil courts, in so far as it affected the temporalities of the benefice of Auchterarder, but to disregard it in so far as it implied an order to proceed with the trials and settlement of the presentee; and was ignorant of the great principles of Scriptural and constitutional duty on which that resolution has been defended.
The scheme or plan of Mr. Robertson's “ Observations” seems to have been conceived before last General Assembly met, and he appears to have gone on filling it up with great elaboration for a period of about ten months, carefully excluding from his view the solemn decision of the supreme judicatory of the Church on the then question of present duty, and shutting his eyes and his ears to all that has since been pubJished for the purpose of proving that last General Assembly took a right view of the Churcb's duty, and rendered unto Cæsar what was Cæsar's, and unto God what was God's. If Dr. Cook and his party had resolved to propose as their motion in last Assembly, the transmission of an overture to Presbyteries for rescinding the Veto Act, a motion which would have been far less discreditable than that which they did propose; if Mr. Robertson had been selected to introduce the subject, and had done so in entire ignorance of the nature of the motion which was to be made by Dr. Chalmers, and of the grounds on which it was to be supported; then the general train of argument contained in his pamphlet might have been relevant and suitable enough ; but to put it forth as a Speech in the Synod of Aberdeen in October 1839, and to publish it to the world in a pamphlet in March 1840, while it has no reference to those great principles, on the ground of which it has been established that last General As. senibly acted right in refusing to rescind, either virtually or formally, the Veto Act, is a course of procedure, the reason of which we cannot well coniprehend.
Mr. Robertson occupies about a hundred closely printed pages, or more than one third of his pamphlet, with an elaborate proof, that
the Veto Act is on the part of the Church, regard being had to the acts of Parliament regulating her establishment, ultra vires." And, under this head, he just goes over the legal argument which had been so fully discussed in the civil courts, and finally decided on by the House of Lords. Having proved, to his own satisfaction, that the Veto Act is illegal and ultra vires, he assumes, that it ought to be rescinded, without once adverting to those grounds on which it has been maintained, that even if it were illegal and ultra vires by statute that is no sufficient reason why the Church should rescind it, Last General Assembly had the decision of the supreme civil tribunal, substantially
pronouncing the Veto Act illegal and ultra vires, under its consideration. It acknowledged that the Church was bound to regard this decision as establishing, that the Veto Act was illegal and ultra vires, so far as concerned those bearings and consequences of the act, which caine lawfully and constitutionally under the cognizance of the civil tribunals; and in this sense, and to this extent, Mr. Robertson's proof, that the Veto Act is ultra vires, was a work of supererogation. To this extent the General Assembly submitted to the decision of the House of Lords, acknowledging that it had been validly settled by the competent tribunal, that the Church, by refusing to intrude Mr. Young upon the reclaiming parish of Auchterarder, had forfeited the temporalities of the benefice, to which she accordingly renounced all claim. The Assembly virtually declared that this was all which the decision of the House of Lords, pronouncing the Veto Act illegal, made it her duty to do, and that that decision was no sufficient reason for rescinding her law. Mr. Robertson knows that this was the ground taken up by last Assembly,-he cannot but be aware, that much that is at least plausible has been published in support of it; and yet he comes forward in October 1839, to propose an overture to next Assembly to rescind the Veto Act, resting it mainly upon an elaborate proof, that that act is illegal and ultra vires, without once adverting to those principles on which the preceding Assembly had deliberately determined, that a decision on that point, and to that effect, by the supreme civil tribunal of the country, did not afford any sufficient ground for rescinding the law.
Perhaps Mr. Robertson imagined, and this is really the only theory that occurs to us as affording a plausible explanation of his dwelling so long upon the mere legal argument, that last General Assembly refused to throw aside the Veto Act, because they were not fully persuaded in their own minds, either by the authority or the arguments of the judges, that it was ultra vires; but that if he could only persuade the Church that it was ultra vires, they would then, as a matter of course, see it to be their duty to repeal it. Probably it was with some such hope as this that Mr. Robertson has laboured so much at the legal argument; but the hope is utterly groundless.
It is probably true, that the majority of last Assembly were not persuaded that the Veto Act was ultra vires under the statutes. They had been accustomed to regard the speeches delivered by Lords Moncreiff and Jeffrey in the Court of Session in the case of Auchterarder, as un. answerable ; and they saw that neither Lord Brougham nor the Lord Chancellor in the House of Lords attempted to answer them. Lord Brougham's authority, of course, carries no weight whatever upon any subject; and his speech, in pronouncing judgment, was so full of reckless blundering, and of bold inisrepresentation, that it only confirmed the Church in the conviction she had previously entertained. No member of the General Assembly entertained the slightest doubt of the integrity and impartiality of the Lord Chancellor, but they were not convinced by his arguments. Perhaps they thought they saw that he had not formed a correct idea of the nature and extent of the right of patronage as established by law in Scotland, and that in this way he had failed in giving due weight to these provisions in our Scotch statutes, on which the powers of the Church,