Church Rates; Legal Practice
Thomas became involved with issues of religious freedom. The same issue of the Quarterly Theological Review contains the Parliamentary Debates on a Bill intended to keep the Catholic "menace" under control. Perhaps the more everyday issue was that all citizens, Dissenters included, had to pay a tax for the upkeep of their local parish of the Church of England. A Dissenter had to contribute to the outgoings of his own Church as well. Committees for the abolition of the Church Rate were formed. The following resolution in January 1837 at Barnstaple, Cornwall, is perhaps typical:
Church Rates - A Public Meeting of the inhabitants of Barnstaple, was held last week, on the subject of Church Rates, when the following Resolution was carried unanimously: "That this meeting regarding all compulsory payments for the support of religion impolite and unscriptural, feel themselves called upon deliberately to protest against church rates - as oppressive to the conscientious dissenter, who supports his own minister and place of worship - degrading to the churchman, by implying an unwillingness to support the church he conscientiously approves; and in their influence on society - unfriendly to its peace and religious advancement." It was further determined to petition the House of Commons on the subject; and an Anti-Church Rate Society was formed.
The same publication reports a meeting of a Wesleyan Society. The Wesleys claimed to remain good Anglicans, but as with so many such movements, the existing church did not embrace their ideas for reform. Thomas was a joint foundation secretary of a committee formed to co-ordinate societies for religious freedom. His signature appears on a petition to the Home Secretary in 1838, objecting to the Churchwardens and Bishop disciplining a dissenter for refusing to pay the Church Rate. The arguments in the Petition were basically the same as above, with the further objection that the Churchwardens should not have exercised temporal jurisdiction. The committee's proceedings were reported in the Baptist Magazine of the time, and other publications. Church Rates were made voluntary in 1868. Those who did not pay lost their right to be involved in Parish affairs. Thomas may have actually become a Dissenter - he married a Congregational. With no Government registration of births, marriages and deaths before 1837, it was almost essential for these to be entered in the parish records of the Established Church. There was special provision for Quakers and Jews, but one Parish Register records that a newborn son of a Jew was being recorded there at the request of his father without baptism, to document his birth only. From 1753 until 1837, only marriages celebrated in the Church of England were valid.
About 1840, he changed direction and began to study Law. In 1846 he passed his law exams and was admitted to practice as a solicitor. In 1851 he was in offices in Chancery Lane, London. He seems to have done a fair bit of bankruptcy work. His son William became articled to him, as was a relative Francis, maybe his brother Francis, a banker, who according to an anecdote, fell on hard times in later life. (Francis' son, also Francis, was then too young.) He was appointed Returning Officer for the Parliamentary Borough of Finsbury, a position he held for 6 years.