Of Different Complexions: Religious Diversity and National Identity in James II's Toleration Campaign
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CitationSowerby, Scott. Of different complexions: Religious diversity and national identity in James II's toleration campaign. English Historical Review 124, no. 506: 29-52.
AbstractThis article uncovers a remarkable speech given by James II in the city of Chester in August 1687. In this speech, which has not previously been discussed in print by any historian, the king made a startling analogy between colour-based prejudice and religious prejudice, saying "suppose...there should be a law made that all black men should be imprisoned, twould be unreasonable and we had as little reason to quarell [sic] with other men for being of different opinions as for being of different Complexions." The king used this speech to articulate a novel definition of English national identity. Under this new vision of Englishness, being a Protestant would no longer be considered a prerequisite of true citizenship; instead, anyone who was willing to tolerate the religion of others would be accepted as a true English citizen. The goal of this catholic king was to secure the election of a Parliament that would repeal the laws that penalized religious nonconformity. At Chester and elsewhere during his toleration campaign, James II adopted a rights-based rhetoric of citizenship that had not previously been used by any English monarch. It is likely that he borrowed much of this rhetoric from his friend William Penn, yet it is remarkable, given his reputation as an authoritarian, that he used it at all. This rhetoric gained a popular purchase among some of those who had been stigmatised by the laws that the king was seeking to overturn.
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