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Debating Toleration in the Restoration

The restoration of Charles II should have brought general religious toleration to England. This is what the king promised on the eve of his accession. Parliament and political necessity, however, forced him to accept the dominance of a rigid Anglican state church and, with the Clarendon Code and the Test Acts, a rigorous program of religious exclusion, discriminating against Presbyterians, Congregationalists, Baptists, and Quakers. While many dissenting groups suffered, the Quakers endured the harshest persecution from the Anglican regime, whose members had suffered themselves under the Puritans. Experience of oppression, however, did not lead to empathy and the renunciation of intolerance. In fact, it seems to have reinforced the necessity of persecution.


Jeremy Taylor was a rare establishment advocate for freedom of conscience. Taylor's plea for toleration, even for Catholics, proved rather ineffective among former exiles of the established church.

Jeremy Taylor. Theologia eklektike. London, 1647

William Penn. The reasonableness of toleration, and the unreasonableness of penal laws and tests. London, 1687.

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