NONCONFORMISTS (from Owl-, not -1- con formist, from Lat. con(ormis, similar, from corn-, together + foram. form). A name given gen erally to those who In not conform to the religion of au established Chureh. The most fre quent use of the word. however, is in relation to those who at any period in English history Sine(' the Refo•aaution have refused to conform to the doctrines and praetiees of the of England; though even here, in ordinary usage, it designates oily Protestant dissenters. The unifi cation of the English Nonconformists. in spite of their varying beliefs, as one body over against the Established Church practically dates front the repressive measures enacted soon after the Restoration in the first llush of reaetionary zeal. The Act of Uniformity, requiring assent from all clergymen to everything contained in the Prayer Book, drove out in.arly 2000 of them, or about one-fifth of the whole number of clergy; these were the first to be formally known as Noncon formists. In the place of Puritanism, now ex tinct, came political noneonformity. which has since had its seat principally in the middle or lower-middle classes of England, and whose in cessant efforts have by this time succeeded in depriving the Church of England of most of its exclusive privileges. The Act of t•niformity was followed by the Corporation Act. which attacked the dissenters in one of their strongholds; the Conventicle Act, which prevented their gathering in any number; and the Five Nile Act, whose result was in many 'daces to deprive them of religious teaching, of their own sort.
The next epoch-making date is that of the Toleration Act of 1689, which, while it only relaxed and did not repeal the penal statutes, was at the time regarded as a great charter of religious liberty. Nonconformists acquired legal security for their chapels and funds. with some
thing approaching, a clerical status for their ministers. But its policy of grudging and par tial indulgence perpetuated the division of the nation into two more or less hostile bodies of Churchmen and Dissenters. Niggardly as it was, it recognized dissent, and shook the lielief that the State was bound to provide :ill its members with a religion and to fore it, if necessary, upon their acceptance.
The history of the nineteenth century. or at least the last two-thirds of it. is that of a per tinacious struggle for further recognition on the part of the Noneonformists, crowned with con siderable suecess—though the great object of political nonconformity, tlie disestaldishinent of the Church of England. seers further off than it was. In 1831; Di—enters were allowed to be married by their own niiiimistcr; and rites: the commutation of tithes (q.v.) into a rent-charge rendered their colleetion less odious; registra tion of births• 'lentos. and marriages was trans ferred from the Church to the State: and a charto• was given to the free University of Lon don, whirl imposed no religious tests. Perhaps the most important of the later gains of non conformity have been in the department of eduea tion—the great universities having been thrown open to its young men in 1871. aml a system of State schools rendering them independent of the Church for primary education. The Burials Act of isSO, allowing their ministers access to the churchyards for funerals, was another conces sion that had been londy demanded by them. Generally of an aggressive liberal type in polities, and still smarting under a sense of social in feriority, they form a compact holy of no small political power. See ESTABLISHMENTS, ECCLE SIASTICAL; LIBERTY, PLELP?IOUS.