Dictionary of National Biography, 1912 supplement/Hutton, George Clark

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HUTTON, GEORGE CLARK (1825-1908), presbyterian divine and advocate of disestablishment, born in Perth on 16 May 1825, was eldest of twelve children, of whom only three outlived childhood. George's surviving brother, James Scott Hutton (d. 1891), was principal of the Deaf and Dumb Institution, Halifax, Nova Scotia. His father, George Hutton, was a staunch supporter of secession principles. He taught a private school in Perth, took an active interest in the deaf and dumb, and invented a sign language. His mother, Ann Scott, came of a Cromarty family. Hutton, who received his early education from his father, was for a time a teacher, and at the age of fifteen had sole charge of a school near Perth. In Oct. 1843 he entered Edinburgh University, where he won prizes for Latin and Greek, the gold medal for moral philosophy under John Wilson ('Christopher North') [q. v.], and three prizes for rhetoric, one for a poem, 'Wallace in the Tower,' which his professor, William Edmondstoune Aytoun [q. v.], caused to be printed.

He entered the divinity hall of the Secession Church in July 1846, was licensed to preach by the presbytery of Edinburgh on 5 Jan. 1851, and on 9 Sept. of the same year was ordained and inducted minister of Canal Street United Presbyterian church. Paisley. There he remained for the rest of his life, celebrating his ministerial jubilee on 21 Oct. 1901.

Hutton was an able evangelical preacher and a capable exponent of traditional theology, but he was mainly known through life as the active advocate of the 'voluntary' movement in Scotland which condemned civil establishments of religion as unscriptural, unjust, and injurious. In 1858 he joined the Liberation Society, and from 1868 until death was a member of its executive. He was the chief spokesman of a branch of the society formed in Scotland in 1871, and in 1886 helped to form the disestablishment council for Scotland. From 1872 to 1890 he was the convener of a disestablishment committee of the synod of the United Presbyterian church. He spoke in support of disestablishment in tours through Scotland, and not merely urged his views in pamphlets and in the press, but from 1880, when Gladstone formed his second administration, he in letters and interviews entreated the prime minister, without avail, to give practical effect to his opinions. On his representations on behalf of his cause the Teinds (Scotland) bill in 1880 was dropped by the government. In 1883 Hutton mainly drafted an abortive bill for the disestablishment and disendowment of the Church of Scotland, which John Dick Peddie, M.P. for Kilmarnock burghs, introduced into the House of Commons. To Button's pertinacity may be partly attributed Gladstone's support of a motion for Scottish disestablishment in the House of Commons in 1890. When in January 1893 Gladstone's government announced a measure to prevent the creation of vested interests in the established churches of Wales and Scotland, Hutton wrote urging the substitution of a final measure for the suspensory bill. On 25 Aug. Gladstone gave a somewhat evasive reply to a deputation from the disestablishment council, who pressed the government to accept Sir Charles Cameron's Scottish disestablishment bill. With Gladstone's resignation in March 1894 legislative action was arrested. Gladstone's hesitating attitude to the Scottish disestablishment question disappointed Hutton, but friendly relations continued between them, and in May 1895 he was invited to Hawarden, and was cordially received.

Hutton also promoted temperance and educational legislation. In regard to education, he held strongly that a state system must be entirely secular. He strenuously opposed the provision in the education bill of 1872 for the continuance of 'use and wont' in regard to religious teaching. In 1873 he was elected a member of Paisley school board; he lost his seat in 1876, but served again from 1879 to 1882.

Hutton exerted a dominant influence on the affairs of the United Presbyterian church in the years preceding its union in 1900 with the Free church. He represented his church at the pan-presbyterian council at Philadelphia in 1880 and at Toronto in 1892. In 1884 he was moderator of synod, became convener of the synod's business committee in 1890, and principal of the theological hall of his church in 1892, succeeding Dr. John Cairns [q. v. Suppl. I], He was a qualified supporter of the first negotiations for the amalgamation of the Free and United Presbyterian churches (1863-1873), nor when the negotiations were resumed in 1896 and were brought to a successful issue in 1900, did he favour an early union. Union seemed to him to endanger the cause of disestablishment, but he finally accepted the assurance that in the united church there would be no attempt to limit the expression of his 'voluntary' opinions. Once the union was accomplished he became one of its most enthusiastic champions and was co-principal with George Cunninghame Monteath Douglas [q. v. Suppl. II] of the United Free Church College, Glasgow, until 1902. In 1906 ho was elected moderator of the general assembly of the United Free church in succession to Dr. Robert Rainy [q. v. Suppl. II]. True to the last to his 'voluntary' principles, he unflinchingly opposed the movement for a reunion of the established and United Free churches, and his final words in the general assembly of his church, on 27 May 1008, resisted a proposal of conference on the sabjeot from the established church. He died two days later, 29 May 1908, in his hotel at Edinburgh and was buried in Woodride cemetery. Paisley. Hutton married on 16 May 1853 Margaret Hill (d. 1893), by whom he had five children.

Hutton was a born controversialist—trenchant and argumentative, with an intense belief in the spiritual mission of the church and the need of freeing it of civil ties. His opinions made him unpopular with a large and influential section of his countrymen. In his later years there was little enthusiasm for his cause, even in his own church. Hutton was made hon. D.D. of William's College, Massachusetts, U.S.A., in 1875, and of Edinburgh in 1906. His portrait, painted on his ministerial jubilee in 1901 by Sir George Reid, P.R.S.A., hangs in the United Free Church Assembly Hall in Edinburgh.

Hutton's chief published writings are:

  1. 'The Nature of Divine Truth and the Fact of its Self-Evidence,' Paisley, 1853.
  2. 'The Rationale of Prayer,' Paisley, 1853.
  3. 'Law and Gospel: Discourses on Primary Themes,' Edinburgh, 1860.
  4. 'The Word and the Book,' Paisley, 1891.

[Life, by Alexander Oliver, 1910; Life and Letters of John Cairns, by Alexander R. MacEwen, 1895 (4th edit. 1898); Life of Principal Rainy by Patrick Carnegie Simpson, 2 vols. 1909; personal knowledge.]

W. F. G.