HC Deb 11 May 1808 vol 11 cc145-57
Mr. Barham

rose to make his promised motion respecting the appointment of Dr. Duigenan as a Privy Counsellor of Ireland. He began by disclaiming all personal motives towards the learned gent, with whom he had never happened to have the smallest intercourse in his life, and whom he was disposed to regard with respect, in every other view but what belonged to the subject of which he was about to complain. This, however, he considered as of so much importance, that under similar circumstances he should not be deterred from a similar course, by any degree of respect which he either did or could entertain for any man whatever. The motion was of the greatest importance, fur if it were received, it could not fail in a considerable degree to counteract the ill effects which a late measure (the reduction of the Maynooth establishment) must infallibly produce by irritating the minds of the catholics in Ireland. The matter in question was small in itself, but the effect would be great. Prompt to a sense of injury, and still more of affront, the Irish character was equally sensible to marks of kindness. The little importance of the thing in itself added to the value of the occasion, as it more completely distinguished the intention from the act, and the principle from the thing. If ministers seized this as a happy opportunity of telling the Irish catholics they did not regard them as enemies, and convincing them by this act of attention that they had no intention of wounding their feelings when a sense of duty required them to refuse their request, this motion would render a signal service to the state, the catholics of Ireland, and above all to the minister himself. Should this even not be the happy result, still the discussion would do good. He differed diametrically with those who deprecated Irish discussion in that house. It was important that such discussion should take place; that the catholics of Ireland should see that there were persons in parliament who entered into their feelings and espoused their cause; that the eyes of the catholics should be attracted to the parliament: for if ever, fancying themselves disregarded or forgot here, they should look another way, the danger would be much greater. He was therefore never alarmed by catholic petitions, and cared not extremely in what manner their dissatisfaction was expressed. But when their murmurs should become not loud but deep, when they should no longer think it worth their while to complain, danger would be near at hand; for there was no symptom so truly alarming, or which so surely announced the near approach of political dissolution, as the silence of a discontented people. Gentlemen might wonder at his; taking up this subject, who had no peculiar local knowledge, but such was not necessary on this occasion. All the premises he wanted were facts that were notorious, all the conclusions he should draw were applicable to every country in the world. It would not be denied that the Irish catholics were greatly discontented. It would not be denied that the church establishment in Ireland was anomalous; being forced on that nation after conquest, in opposition to the religion of the mass of its people; affording the singular spectacle of a clergy in many parts without duties to perform, and a people without the means of religious worship; pastors without a flock, and flocks without a pastor. It must be supposed either with the learned doctor, that the catholics were hostile to the state; or it must be supposed according to the better opinion enter- tained on his side of the house, that they were at least in great danger of being rendered so. He might venture to state that things were not mending; but that this great branch of the empire, which for some time past had been a source of weakness rather than of strength, was in some danger of becoming a fatal tool in the hands of our enemy; an enemy who aims at nothing less than our extinction, and is already at our gate. What, in such a deplorable state, was to be done, might be a matter of difficult inquiry, and require great local knowledge; not indeed because your course could be doubtful, but because your time was short. But it could require very little deliberation, to say that you ought not to hasten the crisis you dread by paltry provocation and petty insults: that you ought not to encourage those whose whole life has been occupied in irritating and insulting them: that you ought not by marks of distinction to sanction the language of those who declare them enemies, or to place in situations of power those whom they regard as such. There were some people who, viewing the unexampled success of the enemy, and how (fatally as it were) all those who had opposed him seemed but to work out his own purposes, were led to conclude that he was sent as a scourge to accomplish the total overthrow of the world. With such opinion, Mr. Barham said, he did not agree; but if any thing could lead one into so gloomy a train of thought, it was what was passing in our own bosom. He asked what would Buonaparte have desired, in order to accomplish the subjugation of Great Britain, but to divide it? What would he have desired in order to divide it? He would have said, let the government fall into the hands, not of bad or weak men, for of such the influence would be small and the power short, but of men who stood high in public opinion for their character and talents; but, he would have added, let them have some favourite prejudice which must, make a considerable body of the people regard them as enemies; and finally, that the jealousy may be irreconcileable and fatal, let the subject of it be religion. Unspeakable were the blessings which religion had showered on mankind; but dreadful were the evils which it had occasioned, when mixed with an alloy of human prejudice and passion. Religious zeal, when pure, did indeed exalt man above manhood, but when corrupt it produced actions of which human nature seemed hardly capable. It was dangerous to trust it too easily; for we saw how, with even a small degree of prejudice, it could lead even good and wise men into opinions and conduct wide from the usual benevolence of their hearts, and the usual intelligence of their understandings. Gentlemen boasted of their toleration. For toleration such as theirs little thanks were due. They could not now, were they so disposed, persecute with the rigour with which not catholics alone but protestants also had persecuted, in former ages; they could not now deny all exercise of their own religion to a whole people; but they were as intolerant as the age would allow them to be. They sought to keep this religion in a state of degradation, depression, and difficulty, and they encouraged those who represented its followers as enemies to the state. How different a course would the christian religion direct, as it came pure from its great author? That had not less zeal for truth than compassion for error; that required us not to think alike, but it commanded us to love one another; that sought union indeed, but how? It taught with gentleness, it persuaded with love. Would that approve the miserable expedient of endeavouring to bring over the catholics by what was called encouraging one religion and discouraging another; making, at most, proselytes of a few knaves? No; that would endeavour to bring over the religion itself, by affording its followers every means of improvement and instruction. No man would deny that an enlightened catholic of the present day was widely different from an ignorant catholic of the dark ages. Should we then have brought the catholics no nearer to the protestants, if for a dark, corrupt, and furious Catholicism, we could substitute the Catholicism of enlightened and educated men; not indeed free from religious error, but purified of much religious error, corrected of all false morality and nil tenets dangerous to civi lsociety? Purified and corrected, how? By its separation from power; power, with which if our own religion should form too close an alliance, it will soon be degraded and corrupted also. It was not necessary, in order to ascertain what was perfect toleration, either to search in books for definitions, or inquire into the etymology of the word. But let any man ask himself what he would consider as toleration in his own case. If he had fully and faithfully discharged his duties as a subject of the state, he would expect, that for matters which lay between God and his own conscience, he should not only not be punished, but also that he should not be deprived of any common benefit which his fellow-subjects enjoyed. He would ask more: he would expect that he should not be marked by any odious distinction, or exposed to the aversion and jealousy of his fellow-subjects. All this was included in the principle of toleration, such as the christian religion would teach, or a wise policy dictate; less than this might be submitted to, but less than this would never satisfy any man who felt all the rights, and was willing to discharge all the duties, of a good subject.—He believed that, his religions opinions might lead him as far from the tenets of the Romish faith as those of any man in the house; but he could not approve, the abhorrence of that religion, which was inculcated and boasted of as if it were a virtue. It could be no longer useful; it was no longer just. When this religion was abused by wicked and cruel men for the purpose of persecution, it was natural that such abhorrence should be created, and that it should descend to a few subsequent generations; but when it appeared that the will to persecute no longer existed, and, at any rate, the power was gone, why nourish sentiments that set one christian against another? On what ground could such abhorrence be justified? surely not on the tenets of their faith, a matter entirely between God and their own hearts. On their claim to exclusive salvation, which made some gentlemen so angry, had those a right to be angry who adopted the creed of St. Athanasius? These subjects might he very proper for a polemic divine, but I would be very ridiculous for a member of parliament, or a chancellor of Ireland. For his own part, however he might differ from their religious opinions, he could not easily be brought to abhor the religion which had been that of some of the wisest and best men; that of a Fenelon or a Pascal; the latter of whom he pronounced one of the brightest ornaments, and perhaps the ablest champion, that Christianity could boast. He had couched his motion so as to render it as little personal as possible; and he was not without hopes that it would be rendered unnecessary, for he was not without hopes that the learned gent, would rise in his place and say to the house, 'What I said respecting the Catholics is my sincere opinion, and I stated it to the house because I thought it my duty so to do; but as to this promotion, let me not receive it if it can cause the least discontent. I will accept no dignity that shall cost my country so dear; far be it from me to become 'right honourable' at the expence of Irish blood.' If this should be his happy course, all I can say (concluded Mr. Barham) is, that every good man in England or Ireland will regard him as more truly 'honourable' or 'right honourable' than he could be rendered by any mark of distinction which kings can either give or take away.—He concluded by moving, "That an humble Address be presented to his majesty, that he will be graciously pleased to give directions that there be laid before this house, Copies, or Extracts; of all correspondence that has passed between the lord lieutenant of Ireland and his majesty's secretary of state for the home department, touching the appointment of Patrick Duigenan, esq. LL.D. to be one of his majesty's most honourable Privy Council in Ireland."

The question being put, and the cry of the Noes greatly preponderating,

Mr. C. Wynne

rose. He had expected to hear some reason offered for an appointment likely to be attended with so much mischief. The necessity of the presence of the learned doctor for the dispatch of ecclesiastical business in the privy council, which was alledged the other night, was a mere empty excuse, for the privy council of Ireland exercised no ecclesiastical jurisdiction whatsoever. He looked upon this appointment as precisely similar in motive and effect to the appointment of Mr. Giffard. When the Catholics were not encouraged to hope for all the rights to which he and many others thought them entitled, at least care ought to be taken to avoid what would have the appearance of studiously irritating and insulting them.

Sir A. Wellesley

declared, that the learned gent, so frequently alluded to on this occasion, had not himself made any application whatever for the appointment which it had been thought fit to extend to him. The appointment had been recommended on the ground that the learned gent. filled the office of Judge of the Prerogative Court, the holders of which, with the exception of the learned doctor's immediate predecessor, had sat in the privy council. There was a great deal of ecclesiastical business relating to the union and disunion of benefices before the privy council. Glebe-houses had become matter of more extensive care, in consequence of an act brought in by a right hon. gent, (sir J. Newport) last year. The presence of the Judge of the Prerogative Court was essential to the dispatch of this business. The appointment being necessary, there was nothing in the character of the learned gent, to render it improper. The learned gent; might have allowed his zeal for the established church to carry him into language too warm, and perhaps indiscreet, but that was no reason why he should not be called to the service of government, where he was peculiarly fitted to do service. The learned gent. was not likely to be a general adviser of the lord lieutenant, or to be called upon for his advice. He was to be a privy counsellor for ecclesiastical affairs. Excessive zeal was often the cause of indiscreet language on both sides of the house, and every example that was cited ought to serve as a warning to both sides. His own opinion was, that without distinction of religion, every man ought to be called upon to do service to the state, where he was particularly qualified to do that service, and on that ground the learned gent, ought to be appointed of the privy council.

Sir J. Newport

said, he had little idea, when he directed the attention of the house to the state of the Irish Church, that he was by any means promoting such a curse to the country, as the promotion of the learned doctor. On what grounds did government seek to justify so extraordinary an appointment? Why, because the urgency of ecclesiastical business required the presence of a distinguished civilian. The house would be surprised to hear, that in England, where the ecclesiastical business was tenfold, the number of ecclesiastics who attended the privy council was much less than in Ireland! As a proof of this, he referred gentlemen to every proclamation issued from the Castle of Dublin, to which the names of two or three bishops were almost always attached. But why did he attempt, from any official reasons, to prove the little necessity there was for the advancement of a man to whom there was every moral and political objection? What! would it be wise or rational to promote a man who, all his life—he begged pardon, he believed only since his accession to a place under the Protestant Church,—had declared himself hostile to the great majority of the Irish people? He denied that it was usual to appoint the Judges of the Prerogative Court privy counsellors; and even if it was, he would make an exception here. He implored ministers to pause and see what they were about. He begged them to review the whole tenor of their intolerant administration. He begged them not daringly and deliberately to drive an oppressed but high-spirited people step by step into rebellion; to harrass them by every species of outrage and insult.

Mr. Beresford

maintained that whoever charged the Roman Catholics with being-bad subjects, libelled and belied them: but to call in question any appointment for language made use of in parliament, however indiscreet, was at once to interfere with the prerogative of the crown, and the first privilege of parliament, freedom of speech.

Mr. Tierney

would have wished much to have heard some of his majesty's ministers undertake to defend the present appointment. All that he knew of the learned doctor who was the object of it, was, that he understood him to be a man whose life had been occupied in religious contentions; and that all the sentiments which he bad delivered in that house, were given in such a manner, and carried to so extravagant a length, that he believed there was not a single member in the house who would venture to say that he concurred with him. The learned doctor had long held the office which he now held, and it was never before thought necessary to raise him to the rank of privy counsellor. What could be the motive, then, of such an appointment at the present time; or how could his majesty's ministers suppose, that in recommending such an appointment, they were cherishing that unity and harmony which it appeared to be his majesty's earnest desire to cultivate? He wished to hear some of his majesty's ministers state, for what merits the learned doctor had been recommended. The sort of defence of the appointment which the right hon. secretary for Ireland (sir A. Wellesley) had made, was any thing but complimentary to the learned doctor. He had stated, that his power of doing mischief would be very limited, and that he would only be called upon for his advice on ecclesiastical questions. But what security was there for the house and the country, that the learned doctor would abstain from any of the duties of a privy counsellor? As soon as he was appointed, he might think it his duty to offer his advice on all subjects, and there could be very little doubt of the tendency of his advice, if it were followed. The catholics of Ireland had no quarter to look to but that house, and he conceived that it was the duty of the house to address his majesty, praying him not to listen to little narrow-minded bigots, but to the general feeling of his people. A noble lord (Castlereagh) and a right hon. gent. (Mr. Canning) appeared this night in a situation peculiarly awkward. It was the boast of the right hon. gent, to be the representative of the opinions of Mr. Pitt. He would venture to say, that if Mr. Pitt were living, he would be ashamed of such an appointment as would raise the learned doctor to the rank of a privy counsellor, and that he would never have lent himself to that little contemptible system of irritating a people, which the present administration appeared to have adopted. It would be hard for them to prove, that the promotion of Dr. Duigenan was an object equal to the tranquillity of four millions of subjects. It would be hard for them to persuade the catholics of Ireland that they had nothing to fear from those prejudices which had dictated the writings and the speeches of the learned doctor. It appeared to him to be a pure, wanton, and gratuitous insult to the feelings of the catholics of Ireland. He thought it was impossible that there could be any justification for it, and that it was a symptom of a general system to be adopted against the rights and against the feelings of the catholics of Ireland.

Sir Robert Williams,

said that whatever might be his opinion on the general subject of what was called Catholic emancipation, he could by no means approve of the system which seemed now to be adopted, of heaping insult upon insult on the Catholics of Ireland. Upon the general question which was to come on, he might probably be of the same opinion which his constituents had expressed; but he was sure his constituents never could approve of such a wanton insult as this appeared to be to the Catholics of Ireland.

Colonel Montague Mathew

thought it an unpardonable insult to Ireland, and every one connected with Ireland, to the house of commons, and to the empire at large, that his majesty's ministers would not condescend to offer any explanation on this scandalous appointment, but sat silent relying on their majority.

Lord H. Petty

expressed his surprise, that his majesty's ministers should have thought this a proper time for promoting a man who was remarkable for nothing so much as his rooted hostility to a considerable proportion of the population of this empire. When the gentlemen on the other side of the house did not venture to say a word in favour of the man who was the object of their choice, it appeared to him that their silence, however prudent, must yet be considered as a guilty silence. If the appointment was agreeable to their opinion, they ought to defend it; and if it was not agreeable to their opinion, they should not have made it. Their silence might be in some respects pardoned, for there might be a factitious unanimity in silence; whereas, in speaking, some differences might have arisen.

Mr. Curwen

said, if the right hon. gent. (Mr. Canning) ever had any portion of the respect of the house or the public, he must or ought to have forfeited it by his present conduct. When the world saw that house debating in the manner they had done this night, it was impossible not to think that if the people had energy, the ministers had none. There was a secret influence in the cabinet of this country, which Mr. Pitt would have spurned at, and which any man who had been, as the right hon. gent, pretended to be, in his confidence, and emulated his conduct, must equally have despised.

Mr. W. Smith

assured the hon gentlemen on the opposite side of the house, that a great majority of those who were in the habit of regularly voting with ministers did not scruple to censure the measure of making doctor Duigenan a privy counsellor in the severest terms. Not only had ministers great power over themselves, but they seemed also to possess complete influence over those of their own party, in preventing them from saying a single word in defence of this most extraordinary proceeding. As for what had fallen from the right hon. secretary for Ireland, the reasons which he had given for this proceeding were not only wholly unsatisfactory, but he did not believe them to be the true reasons. But though he had no hope of extracting any explanation or defence of the act "from his majesty's confidential ministers, he assured them that if by persisting in their silence, they believed they would persuade the country, that this silence arose from any other cause than a total inability to vin- dicate their conduct to the house and the public, they were very much mistaken.

Mr. Windham,

seing that the right hon. gentlemen sat still completely spell-bound, professed to entertain very little hope of rousing them from the state of silence and stupor into which they had fallen. The feelings which this silence excited, were in the first instance those of indignation; but these had already subsided into compassion, and he was afraid that they would terminate in ridicule and laughter. Never, since the Speaker sat in the chair of the house, was there an example of such conduct in the official servants of the crown. If, however, they were insensible to what they owed, both to their public duty, and to their private characters, he implored them to have pity on those from whom on this evening they expected support, and to assign some reasons for the vote which they expected them to give. It must be implicit confidence indeed, which was given, when those who looked for it, would not even deign to ask it. What must be the religion, where a monkey is the god? Would nothing, he asked, operate upon the right hon. gent, opposite (Mr. Canning) who was such an advocate for boldness and openness of proceeding? or was the whole burthen of debate on that side of the house to be left to the gallant general (sir A. Wellesley) and the hon. gent, under the gallery (Mr. Beresford)? The former had stepped forward with much zeal and intrepidity; and in such a task, courage was certainly wanting, for never before, he firmly believed, had that gallant officer volunteered on such a forlorn hope. The amount of his defence was, that the appointment was not of material importance, and, as far as related to doctor Duigenan personally, no danger was to be apprehended from it, because he was to be tethered down in the council, and only to be let out on ecclesiastical questions. The other hon. gent, chose a different line of argument; he gave up both the cause and the doctor; contending that the proposer of the motion should be nonsuited, because it was not laid on proper grounds. He had not, however, condescended, to state any grounds for the vote of those who were expected to oppose it. The hungry sheep looked up, but they were not fed; they were not gratified with the boon of so much as a single argument. In opposition to the allegation of the gallant officer, Mr. Windham contended, that the appointment was of the utmost importance, when combined with the other acts of ministers, the tenure by which they held their offices, the promotion of Mr. Giffard, and the curtailed grant to the college of Maynooth, in the discussion of which, to use a vulgar phrase, 'the cat had been let out of the bag;' and, after much legal-grammatical discussion on the meaning of the word toleration, which was derived from tolero, to endure, had avowed their intention, not indeed of altogether starving the catholics, but of putting them upon short allowance of religious instruction. Never, he confessed, was there such an instance of infatuation as they had exhibited on that occasion, for though they found the thing ready done to their hands, nothing would satisfy them but undoing it. The present appointment was a symptom indicative of their intention to persevere in the same system, and might be considered as a red flag hung out to the Irish catholics.

Mr. Whitbread

thought it impossible to add to the arguments, or the provocation, which had been used to stimulate ministers to speak upon the present question. He could only now ask these right hon. gentlemen, in the language which had been put to a noble lord on another occasion; ' Will you yet sit still in dumb despair?' He asked whether they were like a jury, agreed among themselves, and if they were, to speak by their foreman. They seemed to be completely spell-bound, as had just been stated by his right hon. friend; but he perceived from their countenances that they were yet alive. He could easily read in the countenance of a right hon. gent. (Mr. Canning), who was fond of sometimes reading in his, that that right hon. gent, was fully as impatient of his silence as was the house, and that if he would speak his sentiments, it would be in reprobation of the appointment of doctor Duigenan to a seat in the privy council. It was easy to perceive that there was no sympathy, no union in the cabinet, and that ministers were united only for the purpose of creating disunion. He observed that many gentlemen who were very regular in their attendance were absent from the house this evening, and among these several zealous supporters of ministers; but of those who were present, he demanded if there was a single man who would rise up and approve of the appointment of doctor Duigenan to the office of privy counsellor. Reverting to the obstinate silence of ministers, Mr. Whitbread expressed an apprehension that the incantation would not be dissolved till one of the parties went forth into the lobby. But when they did regain their power of utterance, he expected that they would make ample amends for their present taciturnity, He had read somewhere, that when the crew of lord Anson's ship of discovery were in the cold latitude, their tongues seemed to be frost-bound, but that as soon as they came into more temperate regions, there was a clatter among them quite as remarkable as their former silence. In like manner, he had no doubt that the hon. gentlemen were now treasuring tip all the shot that was fired against them, with the intention of discharging it back against their assailants in a single volley on some early occasion. He concluded with strongly expressing his opinion, that the learned, doctor was the most unfit man who could possibly be chosen for a privy cousellor in Ireland.

Mr. Lockhart

rose, amidst a loud cry of! 'question! question!' He said, from the turn the debate had taken on the other side of the house he should wish for some little information. He was anxious to know how far they meant to carry their intolerance? Hitherto they had been debating how far the disabilities of the Catholics were to be taken off. The house was now discussing how far a learned gentleman, who had expressed an ardent opinion in favour of the Protestant religion, was unfit for a situation of trust and honour. Instead of removing the Catholic disabilities, the gentlemen opposite called upon the house to degrade a man for using strong language in favour of his religion If this was their religious toleration, he was afraid it might degenerate into religious apathy and indifference.

Mr. Barham

said, that he was aware that a member who brought forward a specific motion, was, by the rules of the house, entitled to reply, but as nothing in the shape of argument had been urged on the other side, he had his doubts whether he should avail himself of the courtesy granted upon such occasions. The hon. member then briefly adverted to some observations which fell from the other side; after which For Mr. Barham's Motion, 107; Against it, 179; Majority, 67.

the house divided: