The Corporation Act of 1661 belongs to the general category of test acts, designed for the express purpose of restricting public offices to members of the Church of England. Though commonly spoken of as one of the "Penal Laws", and enumerated by Butler in his "Historical Account of the Laws against the Roman Catholics of England", it was not directly aimed against them, but against the Presbyterians. It was passed in December, 1661, the year after the Restoration, technically 13 Charles II. Parliament was at that time entirely reactionary. The Cavaliers were in power, and they aimed at nothing short of restoring England to its state before the time of the Commonwealth. It required all the prudence of the Earl of Clarendon, the chancellor, to restrain them. The Corporation Act represents the limit to which he was prepared to go in endeavouring to restrict the power of the Presbyterians. They were influentially represented in the government of cities and boroughs throughout the country, and this act was designed to dispossess them. It provided that no person could be legally elected to any office relating to the government of a city or corporation, unless he had within the previous twelve months received the sacrament of "the Lord's Supper" according to the rites of the Church of England. He was also commanded to take the Oaths of Allegiance and Supremacy, to swear belief in the Doctrine of Passive Obedience, and to renounce the Covenant. In default of these requisites the election was to be void. A somewhat similar act passed twelve years later, known as the Test Act, prescribed for all officers, civil and military, further stringent conditions, including a declaration against Transubstantiation. These two acts operated very prejudicially on Catholics, forming an important part of the general Penal Code which kept them out of public life. In later times the number, even of non-Catholics, who qualified for civil and military posts in accordance with their provisions was very small, and an "Act of Indemnity" used to be passed annually, to relieve those who had not done so from the penalties incurred. There was no expression in this act limiting its operation to the case of Protestants; yet on the only occasion when a Catholic ventured to ask for a share in the Indemnity, it was refused on the ground of the act not being applicable to him. (Butler, op. cit., 19.)
The Corporation Act remained nominally in force throughout the eighteenth century. It was eventually repealed in 1828, the year before Catholic Emancipation.
Transcribed by Douglas J. Potter
Dedicated to the Sacred Heart of Jesus Christ
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