1842 February 3

NT

P1030467

Presbyterian marriages.

 

The decision that is being responded to in the article beneath occurred when Thomas Jackson – the focus of my research - was merely eight months old, and the second child of a so-called irregular marriage – that is, a marriage between a Presbyterian mother and an Episcopalian father. Significantly, one of the witnesses to their marriage at 1st Ballybay Presbyterian Church was his uncle, Rev. Daniel Gunn Brown, the same Presbyterian Minister who moved the first motion mentioned beneath.

 

According to James Seaton Reid’s History of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland another layer of the outrage over this, as far as the Presbyterian congregations were concerned, was that the Protestant Primate of Armagh[1] had contributed largely towards the expenses of the legal litigation, and that his influence was employed to prevent the adoption of such measures of legislative redress as Presbyterians desiderated.[2]

 

It took until 1844 to get all the legalities sorted out, when finally: a bill was introduced into parliament, which proposed to secure a number of the privileges sought by Presbyterians. The Assembly of that year gave a qualified assent to its provisions, and the measure immediately afterwards became law. By this enactment all the disputed marriages became legalised, and a Presbyterian minister was authorised to join in wedlock an individual belonging to his own communion, and a member of the Established Church.[3]

 

It is surprising to people like myself – who are not scholars of the history of this time -what an uneven playing field still existed. According to Reid, the Established Church of Ireland still enjoyed, to a certain extent, a monopoly in the celebration of marriage. As he put it: A Presbyterian minister can legally celebrate a marriage only where at least one of the parties belongs to his own denomination. A minister of the Episcopal Church can perform the ceremony where both parties are Presbyterians or Romanists; and no minister, not connected with the establishment, can legally marry an Episcopalian and a Romanist. It thus happens that the amount of the Episcopal population cannot be at all estimated from the number of marriages celebrated in Ireland according to the rites of the Established Church[4].

 

 

AT a MEETING of the MEMBERS of three PRESBYTERIAN CONGREGATIONS in NEWTONHAMILTON on Friday, 28 January, 1842, for the purpose of taking into consideration the latest decision of the majority of the Irish judges, pronouncing invalid marriages, celebrated by ministers of the Presbyterian church, between Episcopalians and Presbyterians, and to adopt such measures as extraordinary and unexpected decision might seem to render it necessary;

ALEXANDER MCCOMB[5], Esq. in the chair, --

the following resolutions were unanimously adopted:

Moved by the REV. JOHN WEST[6], and seconded by the REV. ALEXANDER STRAIN[7],

1. “That we have heard, with astonishment and alarm, the decision of the majority of the Twelve Judges pronouncing invalid all marriages which have been performed by Presbyterian Clergyman, between Episcopalian and Presbyterian Protestants; inasmuch of such marriages had always previously been held valid in courts of law, and in many instances, severe penalties have been inflicted on persons who had violated the marriage contract, celebrated under such peculiar circumstances.”

Moved by the REV. DANIEL G. BROWN[8], and seconded by MR. ISAAC WRIGHT[9].

2. “That by this unexpected decision, not only are the feelings deeply woundedof more than one half of the Protestants of Ireland, but the rights of property, in innumerable cases, may be unsettled and overthrown: a consequence hurtful to the best interests of society, and affording many opportunities for base and heartless miscreants to violate, with impunity, solemn vows, and desert those whom, by the laws of God and man, they are bound to protect and cherish.”

Moved by MR. JAMES JENKINS[10], and seconded by MR. ADAM CLARK[11].

3. “That whilst we are unwilling to impugn the correctness of the late unhappy decision, we feel compelled, by sense of duty to ourselves and our country, to record her painful conviction, that the announcement of said opinion, before the meeting of Parliament, where alone our grievances can now be redressed, overturning, as it necessarily does, all former legal decisions respecting the validity of such marriages, affecting, also, the moral character and interest of so large and influential a class of her Majesty's subjects, and setting aside the opinion of certain of our most respectable and learned judges, not only seems to many to bear the aspect of unfriendliness to the Presbyterians Ireland, but also has already been productive of serious evils, disturbing the peace and have happiness of many families, not only in the Presbyterian but also in the Episcopalian church.”

Moved by the REV. WILLIAM MCALLISTER[12] and seconded by MR. JOHN HAZLETT[13].

4. “That we do now petition both Houses of Parliament on favour of a Bill which shall not only declare all former marriages celebrated by ordained and recognized Presbyterian clergyman, between Episcopalians and Presbyterians, valid; but which shall prospectively secure to the members of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland the unrestricted possession of their civil rights and religious privileges, which have from time to immemorial been enjoyed in the celebration of the sacred ordinance of marriage, between the members of their own and other Protestant communions, according to the ritual and forms of the Church of Scotland.”

Moved by MR. SAMUEL REED[14], and seconded by MR. WILLIAM AULLE[15]:

5. “That the aforementioned petitions be transmitted, respectively to the, to the Earl of Oxford and Lord Atchison, and that the Earl of Charlemont, Lord Lurgan, and Col. Verner, be requested to support the prayer of these petitions, in their respective places in Parliament.

ALEXANDER MCCOMB, chairman.

Mr. McComb having vacated the chair, and Mr. James Jenkins having been called thereto, it is moved and passed by acclimation -- that the thanks of the meeting are due to Mr. McComb, for his proper and dignified conduct in the chair.

JAMES JENKINS, chairman.

 

NOTE: This bill was subsequently debated in The British Parliament.

 

Hansard’s Parliamentary Debates, Vol LXV, London 1842: p1119-1122

Excerpts: ... he [Lord Chancellor] was informed that great inconvenience arose from the present state of the law; that men were deserting their wives in great numbers, and that an immediate remedy was necessary to check the evil. ... It assumed that those marriages were null and void, and that the parties so married (unless the marriages were confirmed by act of Parliament) had lived in a state of concubinage, and that their issue were bastards. ...  Amongst the witnesses examined before the committee, were Dr. Henry and Dr. Montgomery. The first said, that his own father, being dead, must be considered to have lived in a state of concubinage if this bill passed; and Dr. Montgomery added, that nothing could be more offensive to the whole body of the Presbyterians than such an enacting law. ... The bill before their Lordships could not but be hurtful to the feelings, and prejudicial to the interests, of the Irish Presbyterians. .... It had been decided by a majority of eight to two of the Irish judges, that the marriages were illegal, ...

Lord Campbell was afraid that no Presbyterian in Ireland knew what was now about to be done, and the enactment of this bill would come upon them like a clap of thunder. Report adopted. Bill to be committed. Their Lordships adjourned.

 

Hansard’s Parliamentary Debates, Vol LXV, London 1842. p1179:

It [the bill] merely declared the marriages which had already taken place valid....This bill was intended merely to cure an existing evil of great extent; as it appeared that many persons were breaking those marriages now. HOUSE OF COMMONS, Tuesday, August 9, 1842.

 

 

 



[1] Lord John George de la Poer Beresford (1773-1862. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lord_John_Beresford

[2] History of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland Vol III. James Seaton Reid. Belfast. 1867. p 487

[3] Ibid

[4] Ibid.

[5] Alexander McCOMBE. There was an earlier one Alexander McCOMB who was a Presbyterian Minister in Creggan. In this time frame, there is another who was a solicitor in Armagh.

[6] Rev. John WEST

[7] Rev. Alexander STRAIN

[8] Rev Daniel Gunn BROWN

[9] Mr. Isaac WRIGHT

[10] Mr. James JENKINS

[11] Mr. Adam CLARK

[12] Rev. William McALLISTER. Presbyterian Minister at Clarksbridge (1826-1850)

[13] Mr. John HAZLETT

[14] Mr. Samuel REED

[15] Mr. William AULLE