Daniel Defoe's "The Shortest Way with Dissenters" 1 Favorite 



Jan 1 1702


London England

"The Shortest Way with the Dissenters;" Or, "Proposals for the Establishment of the Church" is a pamphlet by Daniel Defoe, first published in 1702. Defoe was prompted to write the pamphlet by the increased hostility towards Dissenters in the wake of the accession of Queen Anne to the throne.

Written in the voice of a High Anglican bigoted zealot, and mimicking high church sermons, the pamphlet argued that the best way of dealing with the dissenters was to banish them abroad and send their preachers to the hangman. The major section comprises a series of arguments for why the Dissenters should be treated favourably ("They are very numerous", "That this is a time of war"). The speaker denounces each in turn and offers several counter-arguments, each gradually escalating in their severity. A vision is given of what will happen to the Church of England if it is not defended against the Dissenters. The pamphlet ends with a rallying call to action against the Dissenters in defence of the church ("Now let us crucify the Thieves.") To go on tolerating them is like allowing a plague to continue without medical treatment. Defoe’s intention was to mock the High Anglican position by carrying it to extremes, but several eminent high churchmen, unwarily or perhaps with a sense of humor, gave it their endorsement.

The authorities were certainly not amused, nor were the dissenters. The identity of the person who took the text to the printer was quickly discovered, and from that the identity of the author, and a substantial reward was offered for his arrest. Defoe went into hiding and published "A Brief Explanation of a Late Pamphlet" to say that he had been misunderstood. In February the House of Commons had "The Shortest Way" burned by the common hangman. Betrayed for the reward, Defoe was caught in May in Spitalfields and confined in Newgate jail. He was released on bail in June and his trial for seditious libel began early the following month and was quickly over. Pleading guilty, as technically he was, and appealing for mercy on the ground that he had not meant to be taken seriously, he was sentenced to stand three times in the pillory, pay a stiff fine and remain in prison until he could provide sureties for his good behavior for seven years.

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Maybe it failed, but it sure did achieve longevity.


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The pamphlet generated a great deal of publicity, but to those on both sides of the issue, it was not clear whether it was satire or not. Modern scholars argue that it was a "failed satire," and Defoe spent much of his later life attempting to explain what he meant.