§ Mr. Speaker
; in rising to propose to the House to go into a Committee on the actual State of Ireland, I am sensible that some apology is due from me, for attempting to bring before their consideration a subject of such magnitude and importance. It is, I believe; within the knowledge of many members of the House, that a notice was given of a similar motion in the name of a noble relation of mine, now unfortunately prevented from attending his parliamentary duty:—however anxious he might feel to discharge that duty (and no one, I am confident, is more sensible of the importance of the subject,) yet the House must be aware that occasions may occur, in which the strongest sense of parliamentary duty may be allowed to yield to the severe and melancholy pressure of domestic calamity. The task therefore that he has been obliged to relinquish, I have ventured to undertake.
I have a consolation in thinking that the actual State of Ireland will not require any minute and detailed description; it is written in characters too plain, distinct, and intelligible to be mistaken by the most careless, or misinterpreted by the most perverse: it needs not the aid of rhetoric, nor the embellishments of oratory; it comes home to the feelings and understandings of all men.
With regard to the motion that I shall have the honour of submitting to the House, though it comprehends the whole actual State of Ireland, I certainly wish to confine my view of it principally to the consideration of those disabilities of which the Catholics have long complained, and under which they still continue to labour. I should wish, as far as I am personally concerned, to abstain from entering into a discussion respecting the legality or illegality of the late proceedings of the Irish government, and the construction that in their discretion they have put on the Convention act. Not that I conceive that it is not within the competence of parliament to institute such an enquiry, but I should be reluctant in the course and train of judicial proceedings, to propose the adoption of any specific proposition, which might be supposed in any degree to affect or impair the ends of substantial justice. But with regard to the policy which dictated these measures, with regard to the policy which 495 dictates the continuance and extension of these proceedings, combined with the system of unqualified and undeviating opposition to the claims of the Catholics so uniformly maintained by the present ministers, I am justified in asserting that an increased degree of dissatisfaction and discontent, an increased feeling of disquiet and irritation, has been produced throughout the whole of the Catholic community; and it does not appear to be confined to the Catholics alone: in many parts of Ireland the Protestants hare come forward in support and vindication of their Catholic brethren. There can hardly indeed be a stronger proof of the urgency of the crisis, than that those whose interests have been represented as so adverse to those of the Catholics, should now find their interests and their security most promoted by advancing and supporting the claims of their fellow countrymen. Reflections of this nature, and a consideration of the state of discontent and dissatisfaction so widely and unequivocally felt by the whole body of Catholics, would naturally lead to the propriety of examining into the grievances complained of, and the duty indeed, consistently with the security of the country, of satisfactorily redressing them.
It is sufficient in this part of the subject to recall the attention of the House to the various discussions that have taken place upon former occasions, without en deavouring to repeat the arguments by which they were supported. It is not necessary to travel back to the council of Constance, or to the decrees promulgated in the fourth of Lateran. It is hardly necessary to go into a review of the earlier periods of English connection with Ireland, of the policy pursued by king William, nor even to dwell at any length upon the history of the two acts that were passed at the beginning of the last century, so emphatically called the two ferocious acts of queen Anne, which, however apparently justified by the necessity of the times, and the circumstance of a Catholic party being in league with a foreign Pretender, did nevertheless impose the badge of servitude and submission upon a prostrate and degraded population. Much indeed has been done since that period to ameliorate the condition of the Catholics, and I am not disposed to under-rate the value of that amelioration. Those obnoxious statutes have been repealed, and the consequence has been, 496 that Ireland has sprung forward with the vigour and elasticity of youth; but disabilities, though modified in extent, yet not contemptible in degree, still continue. The principle of exclusion is stilt maintained: that principle, which, when founded solely on differences in points of doctrine and in modes of faith, and no longer applied as a test to discriminate and detect opinions politically dangerous, can only be considered by dispassionate persons as affixing upon the whole body of the Catholics an unnecessary penalty, conveying an unmerited reproach, and wantonly inflicting a gratuitous disgrace.
The amount and nature of the several disabilities is sufficiently known to the House. It is indeed contended in limine, that the removal of these disqualifications would not materially interest or affect the great mass of Catholic population. It is contended, that the private soldier would feel no gratification or pride in seeing the officer whom he had followed to battle and to victory elevated to the highest rank in his profession; that the Irish peasantry would feel no satisfaction in seeing their peerage resuming their hereditary seats in the legislature of their country, or their gentry raised to the highest offices of the bar and of the state. Such positions are not only at variance with the declarations of the Catholics themselves, with the testimony of those best acquainted with their character and disposition, but utterly irreconcilable with the feelings of human nature itself.
The objections to concessions to the Catholics may be divided into two classes: the one containing those that apply to the whole principle of concession under any circumstances, and at any time; the other containing those not hostile to the principle, but censuring and criticising the time and mode of applying the remedy. The first is indeed of a formidable description: it is contended by those who oppose the principle, that the concession of capacity of power to the Catholics would materially endanger, if not subvert, the Protestant establishment in, church and state. The reasons indeed of this alarm, the grounds upon which it is founded, have never, in my opinion, been defined with that degree of accuracy as to carry even the semblance of conviction to an unprejudiced mind. That alarm must proceed upon the utter disregard 497 and complete disbelief of all the declarations that have been made by the Catholics, of the oaths they have taken, and are ready to take, of the tests by which they are willing and anxious to abide. But looking at the condition of the Catholics in the mixed ratio of their population and their property, counterbalanced as it is by the great authority and influence of the establishment, counterbalanced also as it is by the power and influence of the great body of the dissenters (not particularly interested in building a Catholic hierarchy upon the ruins of a Protestant establishment), is it not absurd and extravagant to suppose that the Catholics, if they had the inclination (which I deny), could have the power to subvert the Protestant establishment? If I could have entertained such a belief, I should be most culpable in proposing the present measure; I should have been culpable in the successive votes that I have given in favour of the Catholic petitions. I should also have been culpable in having given my support to the great measure of the Union under the decided expectation that it was the intention of the government of that day, upon the accomplishment of that work, to have proposed such measures of relief to the Catholics as would have effectually removed the causes of the present discontents. How these expectations were realized, it is needless now to enquire. How the expectations of the Catholics were realized, is a subject of graver import and of weightier consideration; but in this part of the subject it is only necessary to refer to a statement so convincingly made upon a former occasion by a right hon. friend of mine (Mr. Elliot), who at the time of the Union held an official situation in the Irish government. It is unnecessary to enter into discussions that have been frequently repeated; it might appear almost presumptuous to tread upon ground that, still bears the traces, still revives the recollection of that great man (Mr. Fox*,) now unfortunately no, more, who never displayed the power of his mind with more signal effect, than when he stood forth the champion and advocate of the civil and religious liberties of his countrymen. Nor will I venture upon topics illustrated and adorned by the genius and eloquence of a right hon. gentleman (Mr. Grattan), whom we have the good fortune* For Mr. Fox's Motion on the State of Ireland, see Vol. 4, p. 834*.498 to possess among us, and to whom, for these and for similar services, Ireland must ever look with feelings of esteem and gratitude.
There are objections of a more pliant and less robust texture, which do not apply to the principle of concession, but to the time and the mode of introducing the measure. With regard to those who are averse to the principle, I am afraid no time or circumstances can influence the severity of their opinions; but to those who have looked with an eye of indulgence on the claims of the Catholics, I should hope that the present moment would not appear to be unpropitious. I should trust that the object will not be seen as through a mist, and in a distant perspective; it will not now be suffered to elude their grasp and recede from their vision. I should hope that it might appear to them as if we were willing, by a sort of spontaneous movement, to advance one step in the road of conciliation; that we were desirous to atone in some measure for the long series of injustice and oppression, which disgraced and deformed the earlier periods of English rule in Ireland; and that even in later transactions we might be inclined to soften the bitterness of frustrated hope and protracted disappointment. We might be enabled to add a grace to concession, which in the estimation of a spirited, open-hearted, loyal, and affectionate people might materially enhance the value of the gift. But even in this view of the subject I am far from pressing the hasty, immediate, unconditional, and unqualified acquiescence in all the claims of the Catholics. We have, I trust, time to examine the subject maturely and deliberately; we have time to combine our concessions with all the securities not only essential to the maintenance of the doctrines of the Protestant church, but to the entire and inviolate preservation of all the varied gradation of its functions, all the authority of its institutions, all the dignity, splendour, and importance of its various establishments. But though we have time to enter into the enquiry, we have not time to procrastinate the period of beginning it.
In what situation are we placed? It is not sufficient that the most effective portion of Europe should be embattled against us; conducted also by a skill, and actuated by an energy, never before paralleled. It is not sufficient that we should be upon the point of adding the inhabitants of another 499 hemisphere to the list of our adversaries; but in addition to this, we must pursue a system most eminently calculated to encourage, cherish, and propagate discontent and dissatisfaction at home. What indeed has been the situation of the Catholics? Their very religion has been reviled; that form of religion held and reverenced by much the greater portion of the Christian world, has been converted into a term of reproach, into the watchword of a party: they have been assailed not only by the abuse and the invectives of the illiterate, but have been exposed to the mis-statements and misrepresentations of the great and the powerful; the opposition to their claims has been made the stepping-stone to ambition, the symbol of loyalty, and the road and avenue to patronage, preferment, and power. Their conduct has been regulated and moderate, they have listened to your reproaches with patience, they have never discontinued their effective aid and succour to the manning of your navies, and recruiting your armies; and have co-operated in the awful struggle in which you are engaged with undiminished resources and unexhausted zeal. But that they should not feel acutely and sensibly the treatment they have experienced, is to suppose them destitute of the common feelings of human nature.
And what is the present situation of the Catholics? According to the construction put by government upon the Convention Act, you are proceeding against nearly four-fifths of the population of Ireland, against a fourth of the population of the empire. And with what description of persons are you at issue? Not with those whom the ardour and inexperience of youth, perhaps the chagrin of disappointed ambition, may have led into ants of intemperance and violence; not persons of that description, but with those whom the whole body of the Catholic persuasion looks up to as among those who are the most eminent in rank, the most distinguished in talents, the most estimable in all the public and private relations of life. You proceed against them as if they were engaged in some dark and mysterious confederacy to unhinge the fabric of that constitution, into a full participation of whose blessings it has been the highest object of their ambition, the unceasing prayer of their petition, to be allowed to enter. If indeed yon suspect their loyalty, it is the duty of government 500 to institute proceedings calculated to meet the exigency of the case. If you foresee danger, you must take measures to avert it; but if it is only, the scheme, the mode, and machinery of delegation, against which you direct the strong arm of authority, it must be recollected that in the case of the Catholics such a system has not only been tolerated, but has been recognised by former governments, and that no evil effects have ever been stated to have resulted from such toleration and such recognition. Is it then expedient, is it wise, for such an object, and with such a view, to perplex, harrass, and disturb the whole of the Catholic community? Without then imputing any criminality of intention, or any illegality of proceeding, to the government of Ireland (and I am not disposed to advance so serious a charge without a firm conviction of the truth by which it is supported), I am, I think, justified in contending that the conduct of that government has produced a state of affairs in that country, which loudly and imperiously demands investigation and inquiry. The grounds of the motion which I have the honour of submitting to the House, are reducible within a narrow compass; they resolve themselves into the state of dissatisfaction and discontent arising from the operation of the disabilities still imposed upon the Catholics, and the system pursued by government with regard to their known decided and recorded opposition to the claims of that body. The remedy I propose is, to enter without delay into the great work of a sincere and cordial conciliation with the Catholics of Ireland. The motives which impel me, are the urgency and peril of the crisis, and the serious and unfeigned apprehension that delay may terminate not only to the prejudice, but eventually to the destruction, of the country. I beg leave to move, "That this House will resolve itself into a Committee of the whole House, to take into consideration the present State of Ireland."
The Marquis of Tavistock
merely rose for the purpose of seconding the motion, agreeing, as he did, with all that his noble friend had advanced in support of it.
§ Sir John Nicholl
, after a few introductory observations, and remarking that the motion, although, in words; it formed a very general proposition, yet appeared to have been limited by the noble lord who introduced it to the consideration of what is usually called the Catholic Question: 501 proceeded nearly to the following effect:
In order to arrive at a correct judgment upon the subject, it is proper to divest it of all terms and names which only tend to distort it; to separate it from general topics, with which it is very remotely connected; to mark out the true point for consideration, and to keep that point constantly in view; to ascertain where the presumption lies, and to which side the burden of proof belongs. It is not altogether unnecessary to guard ourselves on these particulars; for, in these discussions, we are in the habit of hearing much of excluding the Catholics from their 'natural rights,' of depriving them of their 'constitutional privileges,' of Catholic 'emancipation,' as if they were in a state of slavery; we hear declamations on the odiousness of 'persecution and intolerance,' and on the value of 'civil and religious liberty,' as if there were many conflicting opinions upon those subjects. In the present enlightened state of society there is hardly an educated and intelligent person who does not hold in detestation and abhorrence, any approach towards persecution and intolerance, who does not hold, in the highest estimation, the blessings of civil and religious liberty. Surely it is not necessary that a man should cease to be a christian, in order not to be a bigot? or should lay aside religious preference, and become equally indifferent to all religions, in order not to be intolerant. If those who, from a regard to toleration itself, and to civil liberty, are anxious to preserve the constitution, in church and state, as, at present, by law established, are yet to be charged with attempting to raise a cry of 'no Popery' and of 'the church being in danger,' when, in reality, an attempt is made artfully to raise a cry against them of bigotry, persecution, and intolerance, the artifice ought to be pointed out and guarded against. On the one hand, no person can seriously believe that those respectable members of the legislature, who think that further, concessions ought to be granted to the Catholics, have it in view to pull down the church of England and to introduce popery; on the other hand, this admission may fairly be claimed from their candour, that those who think the concessions ought not to be granted, have yet no disposition to persecution and intolerance. The true ground, upon which we ought fairly to meet, is this: can these concessions be made with safety to the constitution? if 502 they can, reason and justice appear to require that they should be granted; if they cannot, reason and justice, justice to the rest of the nation, to the Protestants of Ireland in particular, and even to the Catholics themselves, require that they should be withheld.
Perhaps the very term, concessions will be objected to. The Catholics, it will be said, do not come to ask concessions, but to demand their rights, their birthrights, their natural rights. In this country it is rather too late to enter into a discussion of the 'natural rights of man.' In constituted societies natural rights must necessarily be abridged for the promotion and security of social order. The constitution of this country has already defined what portion of those rights must be taken away; we must presume that as large a portion of our natural rights has been left to us, as is consistent with the order and happiness of civil society; if there has not, let it be fairly and openly avowed, that it is the constitution itself you propose to alter.
Instead of thus avowing the real proposition, other terms are resorted to it is their 'constitutional privileges, their share in the constitution' that the Catholics claim. The fallacy of this pretension exposes itself. Where are these privileges to be found but in the laws of the constitution? If the laws give these prileges, it is unnecessary to apply to parliament; they already have them. If the laws exclude them from these privileges; then, again, it is the constitution you propose to alter.
Terms, however, still less defined, are then resorted to. The 'principle and spirit' of the constitution, 'these would extend religious liberty as widely as possible.' Thank God! they would carry the blessings of toleration as far as can possibly be done with safety to the constitution itself. But it is still to be presumed, that the laws which have, at various times, been made for the improvement of the constitution, have been framed in its true 'spirit and principle' and with a due regard to 'religious liberty;' and yet, hitherto, it has not been thought safe by those law to concede to the Catholics what they now demand. What is the very leading principle and essential character of our constitutional laws, so far as they regard this subject? the security of the Protestant establishment. It was for the sake of securing the Protestant Church, 503 that the revolution, so fondly termed the 'glorious' revolution, was principally effected. It is for the security of that Church, that the sovereign must be a Protestant; that the royal consort must be a Protestant; that the ministers of the sovereign must be Protestant; that the parliament must be Protestant. It is for the security of that Church that the house of Brunswick sits upon the British throne; why, then, the constitutional principle of extending religious liberty has its boundary; it is limited by whatever is necessary to the security of the Protestant established Church.
Let it, at the same time, be recollected, that this constitutional anxiety for the safety of the Protestant church, is not founded in a bigotted hostility to popery, merely as a different mode of worship, and a different construction of divine revelation,—not founded merely in religious preference, and in a difference of tenets; but it is founded also in an anxiety for the very safety of civil and religious liberty—an anxiety growing out of experience.—Experience had proved that the Roman Catholic church had a strong tendency to arbitrary power and to intolerance;—experience had taught our ancestors at the revolution, (and its impressions should not be effaced from our recollection, nor from that of our latest posterity,) that popery, on the one hand, and puritanism, on the other, were not very congenial with civil and religious liberty. The church of England, standing between the two extremes, had been found favourable to both; and its altar was considered as the soundest basis on which to set up the palladium of our national freedom.
Seeing, then, that the constitution itself, particularly as settled, in this respect, at the revolution, and as it exists (with some subsequent improvements) at this day, has, hitherto, thought it necessary to exclude the Catholics from a certain portion of the government of the country; seeing, also, that the same exclusion existed in Ireland, while a separate kingdom and having a distinct legislature, and that it was not only continued upon the union between the two kingdoms, (whatever might be the expectations formed by the Catholics of any subsequent change) but that the preservation of the established church of England and Ireland has been expressly declared to be an essential and fundamental part, of the union;"—where lies the presumption?—It is not meant to be 504 asserted that the legislature may not make alterations and improvements in the constitution (so far, at least, as is consistent with good faith to the Protestants of Ireland, who are parties very importantly interested in this question, both in the preservation of their church and of their property); but ail that is, at present, attempted to be established, is the true ground upon which the consideration of the question commences, and from which it sets out. Surely it must be admitted that the presumption is in favour of the existing constitution, and the burden of proof lies upon the Catholic; he and his advocates must make out their reasons for altering the constitution.—Here is no new principle of exclusion to be set up—no established privileges to be taken away. The Catholic has no right to call upon his opponents to argue this as a question of exclusion and restriction, against which the presumption lies; that question has already been decided by the constitution;—he must establish his case for altering the constitution, and must shew that, what hitherto could not be done with safety and propriety, may now be effected with advantage and with security.
Not only does the proof lie upon the Catholics, but its clearness must be proportioned to the magnitude of what is asked, and the risk in granting it. At present, no specific proposition is brought forward; yet, on the other hand, no former demands are given up, nor are any counter concessions offered. Referring, therefore, to former claims, they ask, and they propose to accept, no less than 'full, complete, unqualified participation of political power.'
Now, if, upon examination, this shall appear not to be giving up a little on the part of the Protestant government in order to confer a great benefit on the whole Catholic body; but that, while it is conferring comparatively a small benefit upon Catholics in general, it may be risking every thing to the Protestant establishments, particularly to those of Ireland—in that case, the safety of the measure should be made out to be clear and manifest; its safety should be proved, not by specious reasonings and theoretical refinements, for against those are to be placed past experience, and the uniform decisions of our ancestors. The chance of partial benefit, will not justify the risk of universal calamity. Under the constitution, as it exists, the nation has enjoyed 505 the greatest blessings liaberty—toleration—wealth—tranquility—external greatness—and domestic happiness. Before we risk these enjoyments, by an important alteration in the constitution,—by admitting, into a full participation of the powers of the state, a description of persons whom the constitution (no matter for what cause, religious or other) has, hitherto, judged it necessary to exclude, it ought to be made clear, almost to moral demonstration, that the change can be safely made.
Let, then, the true question for consideration be constantly kept in sight It is not whether the Catholics are loyal; the great body of them are loyally attached to the constitution and to the empire, and would be more universally so, were they not led astray by wicked and designing persons, who, to answer purposes of their own, endeavour to excite the Catholics to turbulence. It is not, whether they shall have full toleration; they have it already. It is not whether they shall be protected in their persons and in their property; they are under the protection of the same laws as the rest of the king's subjects:—but whether they shall unconditionally share in every part of political power.
That some qualifications may be required for admission into the exercise of particular parts of political power will hardly be denied, since it is a principle that runs through almost every branch of our constitutional law. That religious opinion may be a proper qualification, should not be brought into discussion; otherwise it may be necessary to defend the propriety of requiring the sovereign himself to be Protestant;—but the true point to be discussed (from which ground the advocates of the Catholics should not be suffered to shift the question), is this, the necessity and safety of making the change, and which can only be established by some great change of circumstances.
What, then, is this great change?—Has the Roman Catholic religion changed its tendency and its great leading characters?—Invidious imputations against that religion, (which can only produce irritation, where mutual kindness is so desirable,) should be carefully avoided. Whether the principles of a dispensing and a deposing power, and of keeping faith with heretics, now or ever did exist, need not be discussed. How far the abuse of such a pretension might take place to mislead the low and ignorant, may be one question 506 but against the enlightened Catholic, against the higher orders of that persuasion, the imputation of such principles must be unfounded.
Particular tenets of the religion, such as transubstantiation, the worship of the. Virgin, and the like, are still less material in considering this question, which is to be, examined in a political, and not in a religious point of view.
But the political tendency of the religion to arbitrary power and intolerance, and its leading characters, namely, the dominion of the priesthood over the flock, and the authority of the pope over the priesthood; are these qualities changed?—and while they exist, can these claims be safely admitted?
What is this power of the pope? an authority of the most extensive kind, vested in a foreigner, not under the controul of the state; and that foreigner (whatever be the character of the individual who, at present, fills the station) must be, as long as Europe remains in its present condition, a mere instrument in the hands of France.
The influence of the priesthood over the flock, is also nearly without limit; it is not confined to religious instruction, but extends itself into all their civil, their social, and their domestic concerns. The tendency of such an influence, under such an authority, has shewn itself in all past times.
The existence of dangers from these circumstances has been so repeatedly admitted by the best friends of the Catholic cause, that it seems unnecessary to enter into a discussion of it. By the best friends of the Catholics are meant, not those who are endeavouring to mislead and inflame them for views of their own, but those respectable members of the two Houses of Parliament, who, at different times, have brought forward and supported their petitions. They have been sensible of these dangers, and have distinctly, and repeatedly admitted their existence. A short passage or two from the celebrated letter of a noble lord (Grenville) intitled to high respect, the Chancellor of the University of Oxford, will serve to prove the assertion. "With the just and salutary extension of civil rights to your body, must be combined, if tranquillity and union be our object, other extensive and, complicated arrangements—all due provision must be made for the inviolable maintenance of the religious and civil establishments of the united kingdom: such at 507 least has always been my own declared opinions."—"Among these measures I pointed out the proposal of vesting in the crown an effectual negative on the appointment of your bishops. That suggestion had previously been brought forward in the House of Commons to meet the just expectations, not of any bigotted or interested champions of intolerance, but of men of the purest intentions and most enlightened judgment—men willing to do all justice to the loyalty of your present bishops, but not unreasonably alarmed at any possibility by which functions of such extensive influence might hereafter be connected with a foreign interest hostile to the tranquillity of your country: a danger recently very much increased by the captivity and deposal of the head of your church, by the seizure of his dominions, and by the declared intention of that hostile government to assume, in future, the exclusive nomination of his successors."—"When I speak of the necessity of combining with the accomplishments of your wishes, provisions of just security to others, I am no less desirous of consulting every reasonable apprehension on your part. To the forms indeed of those securities I attach comparatively little importance."—The necessity, then, of securities, in some form or other, against foreign influence,—of complicated arrangements for domestic tranquillity,—of provisions for the inviolable maintenance of the civil and religious establishments of the united kingdom,—is here distinctly stated, not by a "bigotted champion of intolerance," but by the great leader of the Catholic advocates.—The same admission has been repeatedly made, by other eminent supporters of the Catholic cause.
Whether any such barriers and arrangements can be devised as shall afford sufficient security, cannot at present be examined; because none are now proposed—nor hitherto have any that appear satisfactory been any where stated. The negative to be vested in the crown on the appointment of bishops, has since been rejected and disavowed by the Catholics, notwithstanding "the acquiescence of their church in similar arrangements under other governments, and the express consent formerly given by the most considerable of their own bishops." The demand now seems to be made on their part, of unconditional concession, without any guard or security whatever; and, what is still more strange, these supporters of the Catholics, 508 from some unaccountable change in their opinions, appear ready to go that length in their concessions!!!—And what is it that is now demanded?—That which does not exist in any country, Catholic or Protestant; namely, that the government of the church shall be wholly independent of the state, while the members of that church, thus denying the authority of the state, shall yet fully participate in the exercise of all its political powers.
The want of these securities, (no proposition of any such being made, nor any plan of them suggested for consideration; on the contrary, the necessity of them being now apparently denied) might furnish sufficient grounds for rejecting the present motion at once. For, surely, in a matter of this importance and magnitude, parliament may reasonably expect some statement at least to be made of what is intended to be afterwards proposed, before it takes any one step towards giving its countenance and encouragement to the measure.
But the proposition should not be rejected upon partial considerations and formal objections, which may only serve to keep alive the continued agitation of a subject so desirable to be set at rest. It will be more frank and proper to consider briefly, the advantages which have been at different times suggested as likely to arise from these concessions, and the securities which have been hinted at as tending to prevent danger.
Among the advantages suggested, it is said that the empire will be consolidated and strengthened, and the Catholics be induced more freely to enter our fleets and armies;—that conciliation and satisfaction will be produced;—and, it is added that the concessions must ultimately be granted, because demanded by so large a body of subjects.
In regard to the consolidation of the empire, much doubt may be entertained whether that consequence is not visionary—nay, whether to admit the Catholics to a full participation of power, will not be sowing the seeds of disunion and contest in the government and in the empire. Discordant materials seldom coalesce and unite so as to produce strength. It may be asked, why should difference of religious opinions produce political discord? It is sufficient to answer, that it always has produced that effect—that it produces it at the present moment—and that until human nature is altered, and man, under 509 the lights of the new philosophy, shall I cease to be a religious animal, it will probably continue to produce the same effect, and to be made (as it has been termed) a stepping stone to ambition, and to the acquisition of political power.
It has, indeed, been asserted that this equality of political power will even tend to the security of the Protestant interests in Ireland!—but, as the reasonings upon which the assertion was made, have not been disclosed, it seems difficult to conjecture how the increased power of the Catholics is to strengthen the security of the Irish Protestants, in the enjoyment either of their altars or of their estates!!
The consolidation of the Empire (which is the proposed advantage now under examination) appears to have been much more effectually secured by the legislative union of the three kingdoms.—That union will be best cemented by the communication of commercial advantages, and of agricultural improvements; by the interchange of personal kindness, and a free intercourse between the people; by laying aside all local distinction, and considering the three kingdoms as one country; by ceasing to misrepresent the truth, and to impose upon the ignorant by holding out to the Irish that they are a neglected, degraded, and oppressed part of the nation. Notwithstanding these misrepresentations the great body is attached to the empire, and not disposed to separate from Great Britain, or to unite themselves to France; they promptly and gallantly enter our fleets and armies; nay, it is frequently asserted in this House, that they fight the battles of the country, even beyond their proportionate numbers. The exclusion, which, in truth, does not extend to above forty offices, to high commands in the navy and army, and to seats in the legislature, situations certainly of high value to the superior order of the Catholics, and, by refined reasoning, of some value even to the lower orders,—does not come sufficiently near to the latter to affect them very sensibly; and, probably, does not cause one man the less to enlist as a soldier, or to enter as a sailor. Let it, however, not be understood that any man ought unnecessarily to be excluded from situations that are open to his fellow subjects—but that is a question of political expediency. The constitution must balance, and, it is to be presumed, has weighed the advantages and disadvantages—and the disadvantages (so far as respects the strength 510 and consolidation of the empire) of excluding even the higher classes from the situations referred to, do not appear to possess that extreme importance which is attempted to be given to them.
The hardship upon the higher classes is certainly considerable, but stands justified, by the grounds of expediency upon which the constitution has founded the exclusion. In point of principle, however, the hardship is diminished by the Union: since the Catholics, who, while Ireland was a separate kingdom, formed four-fifths of the population of that country, and were yet excluded from its government, may now, with more appearance of justice, be excluded from sharing in the government of the united empire, of whose entire population they form only one-fifth part.
The next advantage held out, is "conciliation and satisfaction." That concession will conciliate and satisfy the Catholics is at least contrary to past experience; the fact being, that while restriction was most severe, the Catholics were most, quiet; and, ever since concessions have begun, they have been most dissatisfied; and their demands have progressively increased. The fact only is stated. That some inconvenience may have attended the taking off restrictions, furnishes no sufficient reason against the propriety of that measure—far otherwise—stil less, would it justify the reenacting of those restrictions. But when conciliation and satisfaction are held out as advantages which would follow from concession, past experience renders it probable that the expectation of those consequences may be disappointed.
Suppose that all the demands now made were conceded; would the measure stop here? would the Catholics be satisfied?—That is hardly possible; for other measures, some of smaller, some of greater importance, must follow; because they would stand upon the same principle—such as the repeal of all restrictions upon the English Catholics—the repeal of the corporation and test acts—the non-payment of tithes by the Irish Catholics to the Protestant establishment—a Catholic establishment in Ireland. After these, would the Protestant Church of Ireland be quite secure?—would the estates held by Protestants remain unassailed?—and are we quite sure that an attempt at Catholic ascendency would not be made even in this country?—Great privileges have been already granted to the Catholics; 511 not only the free and secure exercise of their religion, and equal protection to their persons and property; but a considerable share of political power has been conceded to them by the elective franchise. The elective franchise has given them an extensive influence over the Protestants themselves;—it has made the voice of the Catholics to be heard pretty distinctly in the legislature. There is no danger of their interests being overlooked and neglected.
But it is said that, "the concession must be made; it is demanded by four millions of subjects. In this demand they are determined to persevere year after year, till they obtain it from parliament;" nay, even menaces are insinuated—"insurrection and rebellion—the dissolution of the Union—and a total separation between tile two countries."
The firmness of the legislature in the discharge of its duty to the nation is not to be alarmed by such considerations. Menaces injure rather than assist the cause they are meant to promote. They will not extort concessions. Extorted concessions never yet produced conciliation; they only serve to degrade those from whom they are extorted. The very attitude of intimidation assumed by the Catholics in Ireland seems of itself a strong objection to the making of any concession at this time.
The Catholic body, it is true, are numerous, brave, high-spirited, firm, and attached to their religion; but their Protestant fellow subjects, also, are not deficient in these qualities, and in numbers are four to one. The legislature will not be readily prevailed upon to give up the Protestant ascendency. The kindness of the Protestants to their Catholic fellow subjects has no other boundary than what is necessary to the security of their own constitutional establishments in church and state; but they must have security. The very numbers of the Catholics increase the danger of admitting them to a full share of power. If they were few; the boon might be granted with greater safety. But their numbers, though in some respects strengthening their claims, yet also fortifies the ground of refusal, and that on the main point,—namely, security.
What then, is the security? Of special arrangements for domestic tranquillity, and barriers against foreign influence, we hear nothing—the only security is one which 512 the constitution already provides, namely a Protestant sovereign.
In the first place, the constitution has hitherto not thought that alone a sufficient security; but it has encircled the throne with Protestant ministers, and with a Protestant parliament. Stepping down however from that ground, yet looking prospectively to a future period, (for, in a matter of such extreme importance, we must not confine our view to the present moment) let us suppose a monarch secretly inclined to the Catholic religion, or one wholly indifferent to all religion, attached to Catholic favourites and Catholic ministers—that, in the House of Commons there-were a hundred Catholic members, besides the usual influence of the crown—that there were Catholics mixed in all parts of the state, in all the powers of the government, and in high military command—backed by four millions of population, under the influence of a Catholic priesthood; that priesthood under the authority of a foreign power,—and that power, in effect, France;—would there be no danger to your ecclesiastical establishments, or your civil liberties, or rather to both?—for they will stand or fall together! Even all the arrangements and barriers that could be formed might be swept away, and the nation be involved in the horrors of a civil and religious war. It might have no resource but in resistance and revolution: If such calamities are even possible, the risk should not be run; even the risk, even the possibility, even the apprehension, would be a calamity. The nation would not passively deliver up their Protestant Church to a Catholic court, nor their civil liberties to an arbitrary government.—Let us not mistake the silence of the nation at this present moment for insensibility to this subject; still less for acquiescence in these claims. If the table of the House is not covered with petitions, it is only because the people at large think, at present, that there is no chance of the claims being conceded; but if they saw any appearance of it, the voice of the nation would probably be heard in pretty loud accents. Though the mild and benign spirit of toleration, which has long characterized our constitution, and actuated our church, has most happily extinguished religious antipathies, yet it is erroneous to suppose that the nation is become indifferent to its Protestant altars. It is anxious for their perfect security, not only from religious preference, but because they are 513 satisfied that with the Protestant ascendancy are intimately interwoven the civil liberties of the people.
But, it may be asked, is the exclusion then necessarily to be perpetual? certainly not—a change of circumstances may render an extension of privileges secure. The most important change is from ignorance to knowledge, from turbulence to civil and social order. The danger, in a considerable degree, arises from the great mass: of the Catholics,—those in whom the physical force of the body resides,—being, through their ignorance, under the entire dominion of their priesthood. This physical force, under that influence, connected with foreign authority, and guided by the higher classes fully sharing in political power, might be applied to the most dangerous purposes; and, unless human nature itself is changed, the attempt of so applying it is probable. A participation of power between parties who materially differ upon some great principle, has never yet existed without each attempting to gain the ascendancy. This is no reflection on the Catholics. The love of power is universal. The Protestants equally possess it. They have the ascendency—they have it justly; not only by the laws of the constitution, but as being four-fifths of the population of the empire.—They use it mildly and moderately; they maintain full toleration; under their ascendancy, the greatest blessings have been enjoyed by the nation; it is their right, nay, it is their duty, not to risk the loss of that ascendancy.
But ameliorate the condition of the lower orders of the Catholics as much as possible—educate them—enlighten them—enable them to read, to examine, and to decide for themselves upon the great principles and precepts of religion;—teach them to estimate the true value of toleration, and the blessings of the British Constitution;—let them shew their change and their improvement by living in due submission and orderly obedience to the laws; then, and not till then, can further concessions be safely granted to them.
This appears to be the view, which parliament should take of the subject. It is highly desirable to come to a frank and open decision upon it; that being the most likely mode (produce quiet. Suspense only fosters discontent. The Catholics cannot but be assured that the legislature has felt the strongest disposition to give the most full and deliberate consideration 514 to their claims; they have been repeatedly entertained and discussed; every argument which ability and zeal could suggest, have been offered in support of them.
Perseverance, however, is threatened.—Can the Catholics suppose that, upon a subject so vitally important to the best interests of the nation, the legislature will be teazed into acquiescence by importunity? still less, that it will be overawed by menace? certainly not. It is only by a reference to the reason and conviction of parliament, that they have any prospect of success to their application. Satisfy parliament that the boon can be granted with perfect safety to the constitution, in church and state, and it will be granted nearly with unanimity, almost by acclamation.
But the proof lies upon the Catholics; and that proof must be clear. The nation will not be satisfied that their constitutional liberties should be risked upon speculative opinions, and abstract refinements. The stake is too important to be ventured on a mere calculation of chances. Let the concessions proposed be stated with precision—the barriers and arrangements, which are to accompany them, be accurately set forth, and carefully examined, so as to assure us of perfect security. If that course is not pursued, where are we to stop? where can we make our stand with safety, but at the point at which we are already arrived?—Without a change in the condition of the Catholics, and without ample securities, should the Protestant circle round the throne be drawn still closer, we may, as that circle is diminishing, be carried on, even with accelerated velocity, towards a vortex, which would engulph in its abyss, the Protestant throne, the religious establishments, and the civil liberties of the nation.
rose and said:
I have the misfortune, Sir, to be one of that description of persons which my noble friend (lord Morpeth), who opened the debate, has marked out for the peculiar disapprobation of the House, and of the country; one who, without being unfriendly to the claims of the Roman Catholics of Ireland, am yet not prepared fox immediate and unlimited concession to them; and who think the present not a favourable moment for entertaining the proposal of any concession at all.—I am, at the same time, decidedly hostile to the 515 principle, not obscurely intimated by my right hon. and learned friend who spoke last, of now shutting the door against further concession for ever;—a principle, which must in its necessary consequences lead to the re-enactment; at no distant day, of those penal statutes against the Catholics, which once disgraced our legislation.
Being thus, Sir, one of those unfortunate persons, who stand between the extremes of two opposite opinions, and who therefore cannot hope to satisfy the professors of either, I feel myself obliged to trespass for some short time on the attention of the House, while I declare my sentiments, fairly and explicitly, upon this most important subject, which the motion of my noble friend brings under our consideration.
I regret that such a motion has been brought forward. I regret it from an apprehension, which was excited in my mind by the notice given on the first day of the session, and which the speech of my right honourable and learned friend has certainly not been calculated to diminish,—that the discussion is not at this moment likely to be attended with any chance of practical benefit.
The question of the Roman Catholic claims, which alone gives importance to this night's debate, is so mixed up with other matter in the motion now proposed to us, that it is presented in the most unfavourable point of view. A question of transcendent and permanent national interest, is blended with a dispute about the construction of an act of parliament, and about the dispersion of an assembly of doubtful legality: and it is so contrived, by this mode of proceeding, that no man, however inclined, could give his vote in favour of entertaining the Catholic claims to-night, without at the same time passing a censure upon the conduct of the Irish government.
While I lament the introduction of this motion, however, I have been somewhat consoled by seeing it fall into the hands of my noble friend. My noble friend is not responsible for the policy of bringing it forward; and even those who are most at variance with him, must concur in applauding the ability and discretion with which he has discharged the task devolved upon him. Agreeing with my noble friend in many—perhaps in most points of his argument, but differing from him as to his conclusion, I shall state the points 516 in which we agree, with all the satisfaction that I derive from the co-incidence of my own opinion with that of a person whom I so much value; a I trust that I shall be able to state the grounds of my difference on the points in which we differ, with that temper and moderation of which he has set me the example.
My noble friend was so sensible of the disadvantage arising to that part of his subject, which he had most at heart, from its association with the transactions which occurred in Ireland in the course of last summer, that he was almost unwilling to acknowledge that those transactions had influenced him in any degree in bringing his motion forward. But as the motion is notoriously intended to embrace the conduct of the Irish government; as the affirming my noble friend's proposition in the sense in which it is offered for our adoption would be to pronounce the interference of the Irish government with the proceedings of the Catholic committee, an illegal interference; they who are not prepared for the declaration of such an opinion, must necessarily give the motion their decided negative.
I am willing to own that, individually, I should have entertained some doubts, â priori, whether the act of parliament, to which reference has been so often made, was intended by its framers to operate against such meetings as those of the Catholic Committee. But I must nevertheless fairly declare, that had I been in a responsible situation in the government of Ireland, and had I been advised by the law officers of the crown that such was, in their opinion, the unquestionable construction of the act, I should have felt that I was taking upon myself a most grievous and heavy responsibility, if, in defiance of such advice, I had determined to stand aloof;—to view with indifference proceedings which, if not legal, were certainly not to be countenanced or suffered;—to shut my eyes to the dangers which might possibly result from such an assembly in the metropolis of Ireland, assuming (if indeed it intended to assume) the form and character of a Convention.
Whether the information upon, which the Irish government acted was or Was not correct,—whether the advice which they received upon the law was sound advice,—are surely not questions to be indirectly decided by a vote of the House of Commons. A question as to the violation of a positive law, by these or by any other 517 transactions, would be so far from affording ground for a motion like the present, that it seems to me a sufficient answer to such a motion to show, that the matter to which it refers is in a state of judicial process. I cannot think that any thing has happened, from the beginning of the unfortunate differences between the government of Ireland and the Catholic Committee up to the present moment, which calls upon the House to set to Ireland the fearful example of an interference, on the part of the legislative authority, with the regular course of the legal tribunals.
It has been said that there are cases in which a government might act upon the bare letter of a law, yet with a purpose of vexation and oppression. Undoubtedly written law must, in the nature of things, be often lamentably deficient as a rule of moral or political conduct. But surely we are not to go into a committee to examine and scrutinize into the motives of government, so long as in their acts there is nothing legally blamble. The legality of their acts must be taken primâ facie as a presumption of the purity of their motives—at least until, by some facts or arguments such as I have not yet heard, a strong presumption has been raised the contrary way:—and the opinions of those legal authorities which the Irish government were bound to respect,—and in defiance of which they could not have acted without incurring a most severe responsibility,—must be taken as presumption of the legality of their conduct until those authorities are over-ruled by some higher decision.
Neither would the investigation of the motives of the government be the only business of such a Committee. There is another party, beside the government, namely, the Catholics themselves, whose conduct must necessarily be subjected to the same scrutiny. If the legal application of the Convention act would not be sufficient to acquit the government of tyrannical disposition, neither, by parity of reasoning, would the legality of the Convention itself (supposing even that established) be sufficient to acquit the Catholics of an imputed disposition to turbulence and mischief. If the government might be rightly advised in respect to the jaw and yet might act maliciously, in dispersing or preventing the Convention; the Catholics might, on the other hand, intend to turn even a lawful assembly to Improper purposes.
518 I impute not such motives to either party. I do not believe them of either. I believe that the Catholics thought themselves warranted in the mode of their meeting, and proposed to meet for purposes perfectly legitimate. I believe the government to have sincerely apprehended danger from such meetings; and, it is perfectly natural that, being advised that they had the power to prevent them, they should not only have felt themselves justified in using that power, but should have thought it unjustifiable not to use it. If this be the true state of the case, there is nothing for a Committee to inquire into. If otherwise, I know not by what means a Committee would be enabled to probe the hearts of men, and search out the motives of their conduct. The transactions of the last summer therefore appear to me, not only to afford no ground for my noble friend's motion; but, on the contrary, to make such a Committee as he has proposed unadvisable, even though it had been in other respects fit to go into a Committee on the other and larger ground on which my noble friend's motion is founded.
In approaching the discussion of this larger question, I am aware that I labour under great disadvantage. The feelings and passions of men are so warmly interested on the one side or the other, that to engage in the discussion without adopting in some measure the views and language of a partizan, is, I am perfectly sensible, to incur the risk of disappointing both parties and pleasing neither. But this disadvantage I am not afraid to encounter. If I know my own heart, I come to the present question uninfluenced by any selfish motives, by any objects either of power or popularity. I wish merely to do my duty. I seek not the triumph of either party, but I look to the tranquillity, the security, and the happiness of the whole.
Much has been said, in the various debates that have taken place on this subject, of promises made, or understandings entered into, at the time of the union. Promises, I know of none; nor do I believe, that any were made. An understanding there certainly was, not expressed by any act of the legislature, but fairly to be collected from the language of almost every man who spoke in favour of the Union in either House of Parliament;—that, whereas the separate resident legislature of Ireland, surrounded and agitated 519 by local passions and prejudices, was incompetent to discuss, impartially and dispassionately, the subject of the Catholic claims,—the imperial parliament, after the accomplishment of the Union, being removed from the influence of those local feelings, and from the sphere of those prejudices which obstructed a temperate discussion in Ireland, might safely and conveniently entertain the question, and might come to a rational and enlightened decision upon it.
That time arrived. The Union being accomplished, the question was open to discussion in the united parliament: when an obstacle arose, to the nature of which it would not be fitting to do more than allude; but of which I believe it may be said without hazard of contradiction, that, however it might impede for a time the consummation of their wishes, there is no virtuous and loyal Catholic who does not deeply deplore its removal.
Is it at this moment, when the expectations, well or ill founded, under which the Union was brought about, might be realized,—when the claims of the Catholics might at length, without impediment; be submitted to parliamentary consideration—is it at this moment that my right hon. and learned friend would break the word of promise to the hopes of the Catholics, and shut the door against their expectations for ever? I do not say that the claims of the Catholics can this day be granted. I do not say with my noble friend that this is the moment for taking them into consideration. I agree indeed with my noble friend as to the great and urgent importance of the subject; but I rather think my noble friend does not agree with me as to the magnitude of the difficulties that encompass it. But whatever doubt I may entertain as to the view which my noble friend has taken of the subject, however much I may be disposed to question whether he has considered it in all its details, and in all its bearings; I must own, that my right hon. and learned friend has done so much to simplify the question,—that if, of the two, I must agree with the one or the other, I could not refuse my noble friend the preference. If the only option were, whether we should go on at once to the extremest limit of concession, or should presently retrace our steps, retract former relaxations, and re-enact former disabilities; I could have no hesitation as to the alternative for which I should give my vote.
520 But in the view which I take of this great question, it is not quite so simple in its nature. It cannot, I think, be considered without reference to times and circumstances. It is not to be decided on abstract principles alone. Those principles must be modified in their application by a view of the actual state of Ireland;—of the relation in which Ireland now stands to the whole of the British empire;—and of the situation of that empire, as affected by the present circumstances of the world.
When I look to the present state of Ireland, with a great and growing population; a population growing, not in numbers only, but in wealth and intelligence; and aspiring, from what they have already tasted of freedom, to a more enlarged and equal enjoyment of privileges from which they are still excluded;—when I consider that to this situation, they have been gradually raised, from a condition wherein no class of people had ever before been placed by the laws of a Christian country, I cannot think it probable, that in this situation they should long contentedly continue. Neither can I think it wise, if it were practicable, to determine upon permanently shutting them out from the pale of the constitution.
It is admitted that since the period of their humiliation, the Catholics have disclaimed many of the tenets which were once imputed to them, and which formed the justification of that system of depression under which they were formerly holden. But my right hon. and learned friend takes what appears to me rather an unfair advantage of the good behaviour of the Catholics, and attributes it exclusively to the beneficial operation of the restrictive laws. He does not distinctly avow indeed the intention of restoring those laws; but such, as I have already said, is the course and tendency of his reasoning; and no man who follows the argument to its legitimate consequences, can doubt that this is in fact the implied doctrine of those who think with my right hon. and learned friend. The more the Catholic was restricted, says my right hon. and learned friend, the more quiet he became. This may possibly be true; but it is a truth, which, if we took it as the guide of our policy, might lead us a little too far. It seems somewhat a-kin to the old adage, that "dead men tell no tales:" for it must be granted, that the man in whom the best powers and faculties of life, civil freedom, and all the social passions, were extinguished, was likely to be quiet enough.
521 But does my right hon. and learned friend really think that such a system was politic? or that whatever it might have been, when justified, or supposed to be justified, by necessity, it would be politic to revive or to persevere in it now? Would he again place the Catholic in a situation in which he should not have the right of bequeathing his own property; of educating his own children; of exercising any of the rights—I will not say of a freeman, but of a manumitted slave? Would he thus undo the work of beneficence which has so honourably distinguished the present reign? For during the present reign it is, and during the latter half of it, that the Catholic has been raised from so abject a situation to his present comparatively improved, but imperfect enjoyment of civil privileges. Or does my right hon. and learned friend only think that these wise and salutary regulations, though abolished, ought not to be forgotten? that though we have partially, perhaps improvidently, removed the weight of the chain from the limbs of the Catholic, we ought to leave a link or two behind, to remind him that he was once in fetters?
But without defending, in all their disgusting detail, those numerous penalties and disabilities under which the Catholics formerly laboured, my right hon. and learned friend contents himself with asking, whether what was once so essentially necessary to the security of the state, and so conducive to its tranquillity, can now be safely cancelled as useless? For my own part, I answer that I cannot see, even in the circumstances of the past times, a sufficient apology for the past system. I cannot conceive any state of society in which such restrictions could be absolutely justified. I could not, in any state of things which my imagination can suggest, in a civilized country, among citizens of the same soil, approve of such means of producing tranquillity. I could not give my voice for the policy of propping up the state by dissociating half its subjects from the charities of human life; from the ties of kindred,—from the confidence of familiarity and friendship,—from all that endears society to man, and connects him through his family with his country. I think such a system must at all times have been as mischievous in politics as detestable in morality, however effectually it may have tranquillized the population which it proscribed.
Bat excuses, though not justifications, 522 might perhaps exist in a former state of things, which do not exist now. The system itself might be defended by arguments, which do not apply to the fragments of that system, broken down and scattered as it has been in these latter limes by the silent progress of events, and by the growing liberality of the legislature. The onus lies, says my right hon. and learned friend, on those who call for innovation, to show that there is ground for innovating, and that we can innovate with safety. The onus lies, it may be answered, on those who recommend the preserving, with such perverse partiality, the disjointed frame of a machine, according to their own confession no longer efficient for the purposes of coercion and consequent tranquillity. Would they preserve what they admit and regret to be mutilated, and inoperative, as matter of example, or of warning, to future ages? or as matter of pride and credit to the legislative contrivance of our ancestors? Are they anxious that posterity may be enabled to conjecture, from its remains, how formidable the force of the whole complicated instrument must have been when it existed in all its terrible perfection, and was worked with an unsparing hand?
My right hon. and learned friend and I differ in nothing so much as in this, that he views and has argued this question as if it were solely a religious question, whereas I feel it my duty to argue it in this House upon political grounds alone. My right hon. and learned friend has indeed declared (and seemed to take credit for the candour of the declaration) that he would not go into the doctrine of transubstantiation, or the adoration of saints, or other mysterious points of the Popish faith. But why did he not go into them? Because he in effect took them for granted; and argued from them without submitting to the inconvenience of proving them. I am sure I cannot undertake to follow my right hon. and learned friend, for the purpose of either confuting or confirming his construction of the objectionable tenets of the Romish church; nor does it appear to me necessary or useful to enter into that disquisition. It would be better suited to a convocation of divines, than to an assembly of legislators. When the legislature selected those points—transubstantiation, and the like—as tests, and as the foundations of their provisions against the admission of Papists into the state, it was surely not in the spirit of religious con- 523 troversy,—not as intending to dispute with priests and bishops upon the mysteries of their faith. It was not intended by those who originated the Catholic disqualifications, to decide on abstract points of theology. They took these articles of religious creed, as the signs of political opinion; as the distinguishing characteristics of a faction in the state, acting under a foreign influence, connected with a banished dynasty, and hostile to the government and the constitution of their country. They Were the marks by which the criminal was designated, not the crime for which he was punished.
In tracing the history of the penal laws, and of the long sufferings of Ireland, some gentlemen are fond of going back to remote and almost forgotten periods; to periods when Ireland was treated as a conquered country; and groaned under all those injuries and oppressions which grew not out of religious schism, but out of political and military subjugation. I do not think it necessary to go so far back either to recount the wrongs of Ireland, or to suggest the remedy for them. As reasonable would it be to refer to the Norman conquest for grievances applicable to this country, and to complain at this time of the tyranny of the curfew. But part of the way I must go back, to find the origin and object of the restrictions now under consideration:—I must go back as far as the Reformation.
Blessed as that great event was in its general consequences to mankind, and eminently so to this country, by purifying religion of the gross corruptions and abuses which had been engrafted upon it, and introducing among us that enlightened and rational system of religious worship which we now happily enjoy: yet, like all great and violent changes in the state of human affairs, it was not productive of unmixed good, but brought with it a portion of inevitable evil. It strengthened the religious principle; but it weakened throughout Europe for a time the principle of patriotism; in some cases superseding it, in others coming in conflict with it. The sects into which the nations of Europe were divided by this event, were influenced by the zeal of religious controversy, more than by the love of country. The attachment of Catholics and Protestants to their respective persuasions, was often too strong for those ties of duty and affection which bind men to their native clime. In Germany the reformed religion had to 524 struggle against Catholic supremacy. In this country, where the doctrines of the reformation early prevailed, the Catholics continued to feel a community of interest with the Catholics of other nations, outweighing that which connected them with their Protestant fellow-subjects, the children of the same soil. Under these circumstances, it might perhaps be necessary for the safety of the state, that the dominant sect should place the others under restrictions and disqualifications, which should exclude them from all share in the government, and from all influence, as well as power. But it would surely be idle to contend that a transitory dissension required, or could justify, a permanent and irremovable system of coercion. And it would be false in point of history, as well as in reasoning, to affirm that the religious struggles, which naturally grew out of such an event as the Reformation, must be considered as common to all times, and as arising out of causes inseparable from our nature.
It is true that in this country, and still more in Ireland, from circumstances peculiar to these kingdoms, religious dissensions raged unabated for a longer period than in many other parts of the world. But are there no instances in which difference of faith has been found compatible with strict political union? Within a few years, I believe within thirty years, after the first dawn of the Reformation, and while the rest of Europe was yet convulsed with the divisions arising out of it, the Cantons of Switzerland took the sage and generous resolution to bury all religious animosities, and to live together as Christians, without regard to difference of sect. In four of these Cantons, the reformed religion was adopted; in six, the Roman Catholic continued to prevail; in the remainder Protestants and Catholics were mixed in equal proportions: and in the Diets, in which the general affairs of the union were discussed, the two religions amicably concurred in the settlement of their common political interests. From about the middle of the 16th to the beginning of the 18th century, when there was a slight interruption to their harmony, (which interruption lasted, however, only for a period of six months), and from thence to the time when their independence was swallowed up in the all-devouring gulf of the French Revolution, did the Cantons of Switzerland continue to maintain, with this perfect religious independence, 525 a perfect and cordial political connection.
It may be objected that however this might have been the case with states of such trifling magnitude as the Swiss Cantons, there would be a difficulty in making the application of the same principle to greater states. But what if the same might be shown of another and a larger country? What if it had existed in France itself? Let not my right hon. and learned friend suppose that I am speaking of revolutionary France; or that I, at least, am one of those whom he has described as borrowing their opinions upon this subject from the new philosophy which gave birth to that tremendous and desolating revolution.—I flatter myself that I am known too well to my right hon. and learned friend, as I would fain presume I may be to this House, to be under the necessity of defending myself against such an imputation. I speak of France in her ancient, in her most glorious times; not only when she was a monarchy, but when reigned over by the monarch whose name is the most splendid in her history, and the most cherished in the affections of mankind. I speak of the edict of Nantes, issued by Henry 4. After sixty years of almost uninterrupted struggle between the two conflicting religions: a struggle of open and avowed war, stained with transactions the most disgraceful to human nature: transactions the memory of which was calculated to keep alive in the breasts of the Protestants a jealous suspicion of treachery, and an ardent desire of revenge; and in those of the Catholics an apprehension of merited and merciless retaliation: in this state of mens minds in France, differing happily from any thing that exists in Ireland, did Henry 4 think that he could not better provide, for the general tranquillity and safety of the state, than by extending equal political privileges to all religious descriptions of his subjects. Our squabble and difficulty here, is about the admission to a few political offices. Hear, Sir, what was the enactment of Henry 4, of France, upon that subject.
§ "ARTICLE XXVII
§ "The better to unite the affections of all our subjects, as it is our intent to do, and to prevent all complaints in time to come:
§ "We declare all those who profess or may here after the pretended re-fromed religion, capable of holding and 526 exercising all situations, dignities, offices, and public trusts whatsoever, royal and seignorial, or belonging to the cities or towns of our said kingdom, or to the countries, lands, and lordships in allegiance to us; notwithstanding any oaths to the contrary; and to be indifferently admitted and received into such places: And our courts of parliament and other judges shall content themselves with enquiring into the lives, morals, religion" and honest conversation of those who are or may be invested with offices, as well of one religion as another; without exacting any other oath, from them than that in the exercise of their charge, they will well and faithfully serve the king, and keep the ordinances such as they have been observed heretofore. And as to such of the said situations, trusts, and offices, as are in, our own gift, any vacancy arising therein shall be filled up, indifferently and without distinction, by any person capable of executing the same; as being a thing which tends to the uniting of all our subjects. It is our intention likewise, that those of the reformed religion may be admitted into all councils, deliberations, meetings, and functions, which belong to the situations above mentioned, without the possibility of their being, on account of their said religion, rejected or prevented from enjoying the same.*"
§ *"ARTICLE XXVII.
§ "Afin de reunir d'autant mieux les volontez de nos subjects, comme est notre intention, et oter toutes plaintes a l'avenir:
§ "Declarons tous ceux qui font ou feront profession de ladite religion pretendue reformée, capables de tenir et exercer tous estats, dignités, offices et charges publiques quelconques, royales, seigneuriales, ou des villes de notre dict Royaume, pays, terres et seigneuries de notre obeyssance; nonobstant tous sermens a ce contraires et d'estre indifferemment admis et receus en iceux; et se contenteront nos Cours de Parlemens, et autres juges d'informer et enquerir sur la vie, moeurs, religion, et honneste conversation de ceux qui sont ou seront pourveus d'offices, tant d'une religion que d' autre, sans prendre d'eux autre serment que de bien en fidelement servir le Roy en l'exercise de leurs charges, et garder les ordonnances comme il a esté observe de tout temps.—Avenant aussi, vacation des dicts estats, charges, et offices pour le regard de ceux qui seront en notre disposition, il y sera par nous pourveu in- 527 Such, then, was the opinion of one of the greatest monarchs that ever reigned over that or any other nation, in times when he had not barely to calculate upon possible disturbance and discontent, but to encounter open opposition. His opinion is thus practically shewn to have been, that even in such circumstances, the best course of proceeding was by conciliation. This was his notion of tranquillizing a country. Such an authority is surely not to be despised. And, however difficult it may have been found, in times of so much turbulence, to act fully up to the spirit of this benevolent edict, and to hold the balance of impartial toleration with a steady hand; yet no man who compares the period during which the edict of Nantes was in force, with that which succeeded its revocation by Louis 14, will venture to state that the system of toleration tended to cramp the energies, and blight the prosperity of that kingdom. If the reign of Louis 14 is always cited as the epoch during which the glory of the French monarchy was matured, if his court was at once the model and the terror of Europe,—it is from that period of his reign, when, under the influence of a mistress and a confessor, he repealed the edict of Nantes, and became the persecutor of his subjects, that we are to date the decline of that glory.
§ It is a singular fact, however, that, independently of the edict of Nantes, and even after its revocation, France was allowed to benefit by services, such as we consider as incompatible with the safety of the dominant religion. Sully was placed at the head of her councils; Turenne, Schomberg, and Saxe, were entrusted with the command of her armies.
§ What is it—is there any thing, which makes intolerance more natural, or more necessary to this country? Is it that a free state must necessarily be more rigorous in withholding political privileges on account of religious opinions, than a government purely monarchical? I have referred to
§ differemment et sans distinction de personne capable: comme chose qui regarde l'union de nos subjects. Entendons aussi que ceux de ladite religion pretendue reformée puissent estre admis et receus en tout conseil, deliberation, assemblées et fonctions, qui dependent des choses dessus dictes, sans que pour raison de ladite religion ils ne puissent estre rejectez ou empechez d'en jouïr."528
§ the history of other countries to show the unsoundness of the proposition, that difference of religious opinions is incompatible with political equality. Our own history will show, that, so far from a contrary system being absolutely natural and necessary to this country, so far from its either being indigenous to the soil; or growing out of the freedom of our constitution; our restrictions upon the Roman Catholic religion have generally originated in causes external to this country. I infer that in proportion as those causes cease to operate, the necessity of those restrictions, and consequently their justification, has become less strong.
§ From the period of the reformation, during the remainder of the 16th, and part of the following century, a considerable portion of the continent was agitated by wars and quarrels of religion. From the time when this country finally adopted the reformed religion, the British government lost no opportunity of expressing its sympathy with those professing the same creed in foreign states sometimes interfering in their favour by negociations, and sometimes assisting them by arms; and it was in its turn exposed to the machinations of foreign powers of the Catholic persuasion, and to the vengeance and intrigues of the Catholic church. In this state of things the government naturally entertained a strong and just jealousy of its own Catholic subjects; and accordingly we find every attack upon the crown of England, whether by the arms of a foreign Catholic power, or by the spiritual head of the Catholic church, followed by new and more rigorous restrictions upon the Catholics of these kingdoms. In Ireland especially, where the reformation did not make its way, where it must be confessed that little pains were taken to propagate it, in Ireland, which both from the predominance of the Catholic religion, and from its being the most vulnerable point of the British empire, was chiefly the scene of foreign intrigue, and the point of foreign attack, these restrictions were multiplied and enforced with peculiar severity.
§ From the reign of Elizabeth downwards even to the present reign, the statute-book exhibits a series of penal provisions, rendered necessary, or assumed to be so, for the purpose of keeping down Catholic disaffection; a disaffection of which the dread appears uniformly to have increased in proportion to external danger. The 529 war of Philip against Elizabeth, and that which followed the revolution in 1688, were alike the æra and the occasion of new penal restrictions upon Ireland. But is it not equally true, that the abatement of external danger has allowed a proportionate relaxation in the system of internal jealousy and restraint? Was it not reasonable that it should do so? And has not the fact been conformable to the reason of the thing.
§ In 1685, the period of the revocation of the edict of Nantes, the shores of this country were covered, with a multitude of fugitives from France, imploring asylum and protection: Fugitives of what description? Protestant clergy. Flying from what? A Popish persecution. When the spirit of Popish persecution was thus active abroad, we naturally increased our guards and securities against a similar spirit at home. In 1793 again our shores are covered with a banished clergy. Of what persuasion? Roman Catholic. Flying from what? An Atheistical persecution.—Were these events calculated to produce similar impressions? Or did they call for similar precautions? Undoubtedly they did not. And blind indeed must those persons be to the signs of the times, who would apply to cases so different the same reasoning; or act upon them by an undistinguishing and inflexible rule of conduct.
§ But, Sir, we did not so reason or so act. The year 1793; the period to which I have last referred, when the dissension of Catholic and Protestant appeared to be swallowed up in the wider difference between Christian and Anti-Christian:—that was the period chosen, and wisely chosen by the crown, for recommending to the legislature of Ireland, the relaxation of the penal laws against the Irish Catholics. The lesser danger disappeared before the greater: and the restraints which were no longer necessary, were properly considered as no longer just.
§ As much was done for the Irish Catholics at this period as perhaps could be done, while England and Ireland continued separate kingdoms. The question of admission into political office was wisely, if not of necessity, deferred till after the Union. The Union happily did away that argument from numbers, which (in my judgment) has been always as unwisely urged on one side of this question, as unfairly answered on the other. Most unwisely is it urged by the friends of the Catholics: for the boast of numbers sounds 530 too like an attempt at intimidation: but most unfairly is it held out on the other side, to intimidate us the other way; and to induce us to withhold even what it might be right to grant, because the claimants form a large proportion of our population.
§ The Union, however, puts an end to the danger of this argument, without destroying whatever be its legitimate force. The numbers of the Irish Catholics, merged in the whole population of the United Kingdom, have ceased to be formidable from their relative, without ceasing to be respectable from their positive amount.
§ Such being the advantage derived to this question from the Union, I confess I am astonished to find, that some among the Catholics call for a repeal of the Union; and that an hon. gentleman, a strenuous advocate of the Catholic cause, has given notice of a motion to that effect.—Repeal the Union! Restore the Heptarchy as soon!—The measure itself is simply impossible. But with such a question depending in the House, I doubt how far it is possible to entertain the consideration of the present subject to any useful purpose. For, suppose the hon. gentleman to succeed in procuring the repeal of the Union; not only might it become unsafe to concede the Catholic claims at all; but in this House we could not even discuss them with propriety. This House could not presume to determine on a subject which would then belong to separate Ireland alone.
§ Scarcely less unfair than the use of the argument derived from numbers, is that which is often made of the concessions heretofore granted to the Catholics by the legislature. It is affirmed, that those concessions have been extorted in times of trouble and danger: that advantage has been taken of the distresses of the crown, to bring forward claims at the moment when it had no means of resisting them. Nothing can be more untrue than this statement: which proceeds entirely on a confusion between the claims of Ireland, as against England, and those of the Catholics of Ireland; which are totally different things. I will not now enter into any inquiry, whether the concessions made to Ireland in 1782, were or were not wrung from the British government by the necessities and difficulties of the times. It is sufficient to remark, that those concessions were not concessions to the Catholics, but to the Protestant parliament 531 of Ireland; that in the boasted adjustment (as it was called) of 1782, not one Word was contained which ameliorated the situation of the Catholics, or in any degree affected their interests. So far is it from being true, that what has been granted to them has been granted to menace; that it has not, in point of fact, been granted even to supplication. Their petitions had been rejected by the Irish parliament; and the crown afterwards voluntarily came forward, and suggested to that parliament a spontaneous compliance with the prayers which it had previously refused. And to this is to be added, that in almost every statute which has passed to improve the situation of the Catholics, their uniformly peaceable and loyal conduct has been recited in the preamble, as occasioning and justifying the concession.
§ In looking at the nature and extent of the concessions which have thus been made to the Catholics, and at the state in which they were left at the Union, will any man contend, that the point at which those concessions have stopped can have been selected as that at which it was seriously intended they should remain? Is it not obvious upon the slightest consideration, that to have opened the elective franchise to the Catholics, and to preclude the exercise of it in favour of candidates of their own persuasion; that to have admitted them to the bar, and to exclude them from the bench, would, if considered as a permanent arrangement, he one of a most perverse and dangerous nature? But it would be perfectly intelligible that such concessions should be made by degrees; and that the consummation of them, and especially that the admission to seats in the House of Commons, should have been purposely postponed till after the Union of the two parliaments.
§ I protest, if I were to look upon the arrangement as permanent, I should doubt whether the seat in the House of Commons might not have been granted with less danger, than the right of voting for members, disjoined from the eligibility to serve. In the former case the conduct of the Catholic member would have been influenced and controuled by his Protestant constituents: but the irresponsible exercise of the elective franchise admits of no controul; and, powerful as the Catholics are, and growing daily more and more powerful by the growing extent of their property, how is it to be supposed that the Catholic constituents should not influence and controul 532 the conduct of their Protestant representative? It was natural to postpone the admission into parliament till the Union, lest there should be in time a preponderance, of Catholic members in the local parliament of Ireland: but as applied to the United parliament, I profess, I see no danger from the admission of Catholic members from Ireland, which does not arise in an equal, or in a more eminent degree from the power of returning members being vested in the Catholic population.
§ Look next to the situation of the Irish bar. In proportion as other walks of liberal profession are shut to the Catholics, must the numbers of them be greater who will naturally flock into the profession of the law. Comparing the amount of the Catholic with that of the Protestant population in Ireland, at no distant time a great proportion of the bar must be of the Catholic persuasion. There is no reason on which to presume, that the talents of the Catholic barristers will not be equal to those of their Protestant competitors; and it is in the very nature of things, that so long as the Catholic population are depressed below the level of their Protestant fellow-subjects, they should feel towards each other with the spirit of a sect, and preferably throw their business into the hands of those of their own persuasion.—I have the highest opinion of the profession of the law; a profession which has produced so many eminent men, ornaments and supports of the state; and which is generally characterized as much by liberality as by talents. But it is no disparagement of that honourable and able profession to say, that great talents are won to the support of the state by honourable expectations, and by the prospects of just reward. And if the bar of Ireland are to be illiberalized (if I may use that word to express my meaning,) and their views to be contracted and debased, by being, confined merely to the acquisition of money, to the exclusion of any object of honourable distinction—would not the character of the bar be materially altered? And ought we not seriously to consider what might be the danger to the state from a body of such ability and influence, if an impassable limit and barrier were to be put to the hopes and exertions of a generous ambition?
§ They who refer to the French revolution, and justly refer to it, as a lesson of dreadful warning, would do well to consider some 533 of the leading principles, and predisposing causes, I will not say from which it arose, but by which the mass of the French people were prepared for it. None of these causes was more prominent, or more universally acknowledged by all thinking men, than the existence of those fanciful and artificial barriers, by which an insuperable line of separation was drawn between the higher ranks of the community, and those whose wealth, or talents and services, might raise them to acquired eminence. This line was drawn with precision, and observed with rigour; but it was drawn only in the manners and prejudices of society. Here you have established it by statute; and established it against a profession, whose daily studies are conversant with the constitution of states, and with the general principles of human society,—whose daily practice is of a nature to kindle and keep alive the spirit of aspiring ambition,—whose habits and qualities fit them to be leaders of the people.
§ Look forward a few years to the period when the mass of the bar being Catholic; and the mass of the business in their hands, a briefless Protestant must nevertheless be selected to fill any vacancy on the bench. Every one knows what is the reciprocal influence of an enlightened bench, and an enlightened bar; the mutual check and controul of authority on the one side, and of opinion on the other. Conceive a state of things in which that check should cease to operate on one side, by the loss of that eminence which is the soul of all authority on the bench, conceive a Catholic bar pleading to Catholic juries, before judges who have been placed upon the bench, not for their wisdom bat for their faith, and imagine what consequences must follow!
§ I do not say that this Is now the case, I know it is otherwise; but I to tracing the inevitable operation in times to come, of principles to which the concessions already made to the Roman Catholics have given life and activity. I am contending against the proposition, that the remaining disabilities can be maintained for ever. I am contending that the principles of the question are principles of expediency and of time; hot fixed, not immutable, not eternal. I am contending that the condition of the Catholics, after what has been done for them, must be necessarily progressive: unless indeed you are prepared to go back instead of forward. And I ask, can you go back?534
§ All this may be very much to be lamented. It may be unlucky that we are brought into a situation in which we cannot stand still, and in which we can neither go on nor recede with safety. I am not of that opinion: but that opinion I am not now arguing; nor am I bound to argue it. I am only arguing that such is the state of things, however it may have become so; whether by negligence, or by impolicy, or by a just and provident design. A practical statesman will take things as he finds them; and will adapt his measures to what he finds, instead of lamenting over irretrievable errors, if errors they be, and wishing their consequences reversed and undone.
§ Look next at your army. War is not now, as it has been in former times, an occasional and transitory evil. It must be considered, in the present state of Europe, as a permanent habit, as the very element in which this country must breathe and have its being. You have admitted Catholic officers into your army; but you exclude them from the higher ranks of it. Your army swarms with Catholic soldiers. To the Irish militia you do not scruple to entrust a part of the defence of Great Britain itself. Protestant generals, in other countries, have commanded Catholic armies. Foreigners of whose religion we take little note, may command Protestant British soldiers here. But no native Catholic is to be permitted to hold a Command over his fellow subjects, of whatever religion they may be. Can this state of things, in such a state of the world, be permanent?
§ I have heard, indeed, one answer to all these arguments, which, as I observed, was hailed with acclamation by some gentlemen opposite to me. It is this; that the great objects of ambition, whether civil, political, or military, from which the Catholics are now excluded, could fall to the lot only of a few of the higher classes among them: and that it is mere pretence to suppose that the influence of their disappointment and discontent can affect the body of the people. O! profound ignorance of human nature! As if the objects of honourable ambition operated as incitements only to those who may be proved by a calculation of chances to have a reasonable hope of attaining them! As if the aspiration after things too high to be within the reach of probable achievement, were not the surest pledge of excellence, even in the discharge of inferior duties! As if the single lord chancellorship, which 535 it is so many thousand to one that any given individual does not reach, were not yet that which fills your bar, and throngs your inns of court with multitudes of men, capable of discharging its functions! As if the removal of this single prize, though you might show by irrefragable arithmetic that it did not in fact affect the prospects of one man out of ten thousand, would not yet be felt as touching and degrading the whole! As if, when some climbing spirit having nearly reached the topmost round of the ladder of ambition, was there met by a sentence of perpetual exclusion, the crowd of his fellow citizens, who bad watched and cheered his ascent, would not sympathize in his final ill success! As if they would not feel, however little pretension they might have themselves to rise to a similar eminence and to experience similar disappointment, that it was somewhat hard upon their children, and their children's children, that they too should continue to bear about with them in their native land, a brand of natural inferiority, an inheritable and indelible stain like that of cast or of colour, not incapacitating them, indeed, for the toil of honourable exertion, but precluding them for ever from distinction and reward!
§ But am I therefore prepared to concede every thing that is required, to concede it without delay, to concede it without condition or limitation? No such thing. The time when the brand of disqualification shall be removed; the period or the generation in which the stain of incapacity shall be considered as worn out or washed away, I am not now pretending to define. I do not say that this is the moment: but I do say that it is utterly inconceivable to me, that any man should talk of the present as a state of things which can endure for ever; that any man should think that we are now arrived at the point at which legislative wisdom can stop, and expect contented acquiescence; that any man should recommend a vote, which is to confirm this state of things, and to extinguish the hope of any future change, as the best mode of tranquillizing Ireland.
§ But then the dangers of any fresh concession! the dangers of a Catholic chancellor, or a Catholic general, influenced by the Pope, and the Pope in the power of Buonaparté! What could we look for in such a case, but the subversion of the constitution, and the conquest of the kingdom?
§ I confess I think that those who are 536 appalled by these terrors, do give a rein to their imagination, rather than consult their sober judgment. I think too, that under the influence of an imaginary fear, they overlook nearer and more substantial dangers.
§ There have been times, no doubt, when (as I have already had occasion to state) the tie of community of religion Was stronger than that of a common country; when the geographer might have distinguished the divisions of the map of Europe by two colours, one denoting the Catholic, and the other the reformed religion; and when the same distinction that described differences of faith would have implied, at the same time, the respective policy, connections, and alliances of the several states of Europe. But, thanks to Buonaparte for this incidental good arising from his various acts of usurpation and atrocity; he has exalted and called into action the feelings of patriotism, and taught them to supersede that fellowship which grew heretofore out of similarity of religious profession. The different nations of the civilized world may now, as heretofore, be characterized by only two descriptions—but these descriptions are no longer Catholic or Protestant, but French or not French.
§ If leagues have been formed in other times of Catholic powers, against the advancement of the Protestant cause and interests, while states which had embraced the tenets of the reformed religion, have combined on the other hand to reduce the pretensions of the ancient and corrupted ecclesiastical establishment; let us see how far the distinctions, founded upon religious differences, would apply to the existing state of the world. What is in this respect the conduct of Buonaparte, the sovereign of France, the successor of Charlemagne, the eldest son of the church? Is his a Catholic league? Is it only with Catholic sovereigns and Catholic states that he forms his connections, or to them alone that he extends the benefit of what he calls his protection? Look, I say, at the map of Europe: see Lutheran Saxony, knit to him in alliance: see Germany, whether reformed or Catholic, portioned out at his will: see Protestant Denmark waiting on his nod, and Protestant Sweden shrinking at his frown; see Calvinistic Holland swallowed up into his empire; Calvinistic Prussia trembling at his footstool; and 537 Uncatholic Russia struggling in his toils! Yet there are those who seem to think, that the power of the Pope is, after all, the formidable part of the great confederacy which Buonaparte has thus arrayed against us;—who, amidst a combination thus extensive, thus violent, and held together by principles with which religion (it might be thought) has very little to do, can see no real dangers, against which we have to guard, but in the debates respecting the concordat and the liberties of the Gallican Church;—there are those who apprehend that, weary of ordinary warfare, Buonaparte is about to substitute the thunders of the Vatican, for those of the mere mortal artillery, by which he has shaken and subjugated Europe;—that after exhausting all terrestrial means of attack, he, waits only for our consent to the Catholic petition, to resort to a spiritual assault; to call in the aid of bulls and indulgences, and the other machinery of ecclesiastical hostilities;—
§ Quicquid babent telorum armamentaria cœli!
§ There is, however, one remarkable circumstance in the present state of Europe, which might suggest to the most timid and awe-stricken observer of superstitious indications, a doubt at least, whether the principle of religious antipathy be indeed so busy in the world at this moment as he imagines: whether this league of almost all the Protestant states of Europe with France, be indeed directed to the express object of subverting the Protestant religion in this country, and imposing upon us a Catholic hierarchy, and a Catholic sovereign. In one corner of Europe, and in one alone, there exists' a spirit of resistance to France; and this—singularly enough, and as if for the express purpose of banishing all notion of religious difference from the quarrel—exists among nations the most bigoted to the Roman Catholic faith of all the nations of Europe, namely, among the inhabitants of the peninsula. They are precisely the people who most steadily, sincerely, and bravely have opposed themselves to Buonaparte's schemes of conquest and dominion; an opposition quite unintelligible, if this be really a religious war. What? shall it be in the kingdoms the most abjectly submitted to the Papal authority,—in the strong holds of the inquisition itself shall it be, that the standard of rebellion to the Pope, acting (as we are taught to apprehend) 538 through the instrumentality of Buonaparte, shall be raised, and raised with impunity?—And yet shall we be gravely told, that, in the name and authority of the Pope, Buonaparte will wrest Ireland from Great Britain?—If the Pope can conquer for Buonaparte, why does he not conquer the Peninsula for him? Why is Spain yet upheld by Protestant alliarce, and Portugal yet sheltered by heretical arms? A breath of the church, a [...]od of the tiara, should surely dissipate his unnatural, this anti-catholic combination.
§ Fortunately, Sir, in this instance we act more wisely than we reason. We do not distrust the disposition of the naions of the Peninsula to oppose a stout esistance to the French power, because that power is predominant over the Pope who is in his turn undeniably predominant over the spiritual concerns of those nations. Not but we know very well that the times have been, when that circumstance would have been of great importance and effect in the success of the war: but we know, that those tines are past—past for every country upon earth, it seems, except Ireland:—and, in the name of common sense, why not for Ireland too?
§ Well and wisely have we one, in uniting ourselves to the cause of those gallant and oppressed nations: wisely for our own interest as well as for our glory. The page which records our efforts in the peninsular war will be among the brightest in our history. Bit strange indeed, and perplexing will be the duty of the historian, who shall have to blend with those annals of courage and renown, a faithful relation of the fears which prevent us from entertaining the petitions of the Irish Catholics; who shall contrast the jealousy and suspicion with which we regard the populaton of Catholic Ireland, with the fearlessness with which we pour forth that population in the just cause of Catholic Slain.
§ It would really seem as if the mighty perils with which we are surrounded, had confused our sense of the real nature of our danger. Our danger is from a mighty deluge which threatens to over whelm us:—but we are crying "fre!" as two centuries ago. The convulsions of the earth have diverted into a new channel that stream which formed the line of demarkation between the different denominations of mankind:—but we stand 539 hesitating on the brink of the ancient channel, which is left dry; and fancy it still impassable.
§ But any farther concessions to the Catholics of Ireland, it is contended, will lead to the overthrow of the established church, and therewith to that of the civil constitution. In this part of the argument it must at least be admitted that the onus probandi lies with those who mate the assertion. By what means, through what process, is this extensive mischief to be effected?—Surely those who have so clear an apprehension of the danger, can in some degree define the mode in which it is to be brought upon us.
§ The bulk of the Catholics are ignorant and unenlightened, says my right hon. and earned friend, and are under the influence of a priesthood, who are subservientto the Pope—Well: but the power of an unenlightened and ignorant multitude consists in physical force. How will that he increased by the admission of some of those who would naturally be looked up to by the multitude as their leaders into the advantages of the civil constitution, into the offices of the state, into magistracies of the law, into seats in parliament, into commands in the army?—But the danger is said to be in these very admissions. Well: then, it must be a danger if a different sort—a danger not of force, but of reason—a danger that the Catholic minister will win over his colleagues, that the Catholic colonel will seduce his regiment, that the Catholic member will persuade this House to countenance and bring about this fundamental change if the constitution. Is it in this way that he mischief is to be effected?
§ My right hon. and learned Mend professes not a enter into the particular doctrines of the Roman Catholic Church, nor even to impute in these days, to persons of that persuasion, the wicked and pestilent tenes which our oath of abjuration disclaims. On what principle then are the fears of my right hon. and learned friend founded? for surely it was in reference to those tenets that the precautions against the admission of Catholics into the state were frimed.
§ It is most true that the Catholic Religion, where predominant, is itself of an intolerant character: but although that be so, it does not follow in theory, nor is it true in fact, that in states not Catholic, that under Protestant establishment—the Catholics 540 have been found intractable and turbulent subjects. But if such attempts should be made as my right hon. and learned friend apprehends, how are they to be met? By reason: and if that should prove insufficient, by force. It would be presumptuous in me to recall the attention of my right hon. and learned friend (skilled as he necessarily is in that branch of history far beyond any knowledge of it that it can have fallen to my lot to acquire) to the history of the primitive Christian Church, before it became civilly and politically established, before it attracted the protection, and mounted the throne of the Cæsars. Yet in looking at this question as a question of reason, it is not immaterial to observe, that the pretension to exercise, or to share the sovereign authority, is not one which the history of the Roman Catholic Church would authorize it to put forward as essential to its existence.—Reason, to be sure, avails little against force; but here force and reason would be on the same side. And, should the Catholics be wicked enough as well as mad enough to attempt the establishment of their religion as the religion of the state, the attempt must be met and defeated by the same means which would be used to suppress any other mode of rebellion. Let it not be forgotten, however, all this time, that the question is not whether we shall now begin to give to the Catholics any rights, influence, and power; we have given them the means of acquiring a great moral force in society; and the question now is, whether we can annihilate the force that we have bestowed? and if not, whether we should not do wisely to reconcile them to the legitimate use of that force by assimilating it to the civil constitution?
§ I confess, Sir, that though I despise not any fears which good men and wise men, like my right hon. and learned friend, profess to feel, I cannot contemplate the Church of England with all her piety and learning, with all her just influence, her honours and endowments, and yet apprehend that she wants strength to defend herself! This is not the time nor the place to inquire what are the real dangers to which the Church of England is exposed; but I think, that whatever they may be, they exist in very different causes, and in very different quarters from those against which we are now so loudly called upon to guard. Not but if any danger be apprehended to the Church of England, from whatever quarter, I for one, 541 —and this House—and this country,—will be ready to come forward "with the most strenuous exertions in her support; a support due to her from the love and veneration of all to whom she administers consolation and hope—due even from sectaries themselves, to a church which, nursed in persecution, herself learned mercy; a church which, purified and consecrated by the blood of martyrs, has learned to extend toleration to ail conscientious dissent; a church riveted in the affections of so large a portion of the community, and inseparably allied with the state, which she sanctifies and guarantees! Such a church may surely bid defiance to any dangers with which the change of the civil state of the Roman Catholics,—from what they now are to What they aim at being,—can possibly be supposed to threaten her.
§ But I repeat, the onus probandi lies on those who affirm the church to be in danger.—One point, and (so far as I recollect,) one only, has been distinctly specified by my right hon. and learned friend. The Catholics would seek to avoid the payment of tythes to the Established Church, or even to obtain them for themselves. Now I venture to flatter myself, that I can set my right hon. and learned friend's mind somewhat more at case upon this point. Presuming his alarm to be—not that the Catholics will try to get tythes or any other species of property by force; (in that case, as I have said, force must be met by force; and that case might arise just as well tomorrow as after the repeal of all the remaining disabilities)—presuming my right hon. and learned friend's alarm to be, that after admitting them into civil office, after taking off the bar and brand of religious incapacity, it will be difficult in point of argument, to insist upon their continuing to pay tythes to the Protestant Clergy—if this be (as I imagine) the nature of my right hon. and learned friend's difficulty, I really flatter myself that I can in a great measure relieve him from it. I turn once more to that splendid instrument of Catholic toleration to which I have before referred, the edict of Nantes; and close to the article which I before read, (admitting those of the reformed religion to all offices civil and political,) I find the following enactment with respect to the payment of tythes.
§ "ARTICLE XXV.
§ "We will and command, that all who 542 profess the pretended reformed religion, and ethers who have adhered to their party; of what estate, quality, or condition so ever, be held and constrained by all due and reasonable means, and under the penalties contained in the edicts already in force on this subject, to pay and discharge the usual tythes to the curates and other ecclesiastics, and to all such to whom they may properly belong, according to the usages and customs of the different provinces."*
§ I think the Catholics will have no reason to complain if the edict of Nantes be taken as the measure and mode of Protestant concession to them: and my right hon. and learned friend sees that, after that model, he has nothing to fear for the tythes of the Established Church.
§ Another point upon which my right hon. and learned friend has much insisted is, the want of the security to the crown, arising from the refusal by the Catholics of the proposed veto on the nomination of their bishops. Certainly, it may be matter of consideration, whether this would not be a reasonable and proper security; and if so, whether it might not yet be obtained. In Russia, much more than a negative on the nomination of the Catholic Bishops, by agreement (as I believe) with the Court of Rome, is exercised by the emperor, the nomination is actually made by him. The emperor appoints the bishop, and recommends him to the Pope for consecration and ecclesiastical institution, which are never refused. I know not what could be the pretext for withholding the same thing, if thought necessary and desirable here.
§ But I own it seems to me a great error to look at this question as if it were to be settled by a tedious and intricate negotiation between parliament and the Catholics, as between two hostile powers. That is, in my view, not the just notion of what ought to be an act of legislature. The
§ * "DIXMES ART XXV
§ "Voulons et ordonnons que tous ceux de ladite religion pretendue reformée et autres qui ont suivi leur parti, quelque estat, qualité ou condition qu'ils soient, soient tenus et contraints par toutes voyes deues et raisonnables et sous les peines contenues aux edicts sur ce faits, de payer et acquitter les dixmes aux curez et autres ecclesiastiques et à tous autres à qui elles appartiennent selon l'usage et coustume des lieux."543
§ executive government must necessarily arrange the details of the measure before it is recommended to the deliberation of parliament. It is, therefore, that I do not think it necessary or useful to enter here into any discussion, as to what might or might not be the proper securities under which any farther concession might be made. Such discussion could only tend to embarrass and render more difficult the task of the executive government, just as the previous suggestion and examination of the terms of a treaty of peace in this House, would embarrass the subsequent arrangement of the articles of that treaty out of doors.
§ I hardly know whether it be necessary to say a word upon the claim of right, as set up, or supposed to be set up, by some vehement and wrongheaded friends of the Catholics, a claim utterly untenable, and one which, like the question of the repeal of the Union, hardly admits of being made matter of argument. It is not at this time of day to be made matter of dispute whether there exists a paramount right and duty in the supreme power of a state to provide for its own conservation. The question is not whether it be competent to parliament to defend the constitution by excluding from political office any class or description of persons who could not be admitted without danger; the point in doubt is not whether parliament has the right to continue the disabilities, but whether or no, the causes in which they originated having ceased to operate, it might not be expedient to strengthen the constitution, by admitting four millions of men to a participation of its benefits, and to an interest in its security, rather than to continue an unnecessary guard against the shadows of past dangers. As to the mode and conditions of their admission, parliament is to judge. Let those conditions, be as carefully contrived as the wisdom of man, as the jealousy of establishment can desire. Whatever they shall be, let parliament annex them to the boon, and then let those to whom the boon is offered, be left to accept or reject it, accompanied by these conditions.
§ But I do not think that it is in a Committee of this House, such as is proposed to-night, that such a measure can most beneficially originate. The Catholics themselves do not appear to be of that opinion, for they have announced their intention of waiting till the expiration of the restrictions upon the Regent, and of then framing 544 and carrying up a petition to the throne. In this they appear to me to act judiciously. It is by a recommendation from the throne that they have received nearly all the benefits that have been conferred on them during the course of his Majesty's reign. In the delicate and complicated circumstances of a case involving so many interests and so many prejudices, and so much detail of consideration and arrangement, the executive government is alone adequate to prepare and introduce a measure calculated to answer the great object in view. A measure so prepared would be brought in the most convenient and expedient manner before this House; where it is obvious that questions requiring so much delicacy of management cannot be advantageousy discussed in all their detail. The retractation of the offered Veto is a sufficient proof of this proposition. The intention is avowed of petitioning the throne: how that petition may be received, no man is authorized to conjecture: yet there are not wanting grounds of hope to the Catholics, that it may be received favourably: in such circum stances the warmest friend of the measure might have allowed time for making the experiment, and have refrained from bringing the matter before parliament, either to intercept the coming grace of The throne, or to anticipate a disappointment, which I know not what right we have to presume.
§ No man can be ignorant of the prejudices existing in many classes of the community in this country against the concession of the Catholic claims. I can entertain no doubt that these prejudices will be gradually overcome by reflection and reasoning: because I have the strongest conviction that reason is on the side of the concession; and with time in this country reason always makes its way.
§ But nothing could tend more effectually to soften these prejudices than to see the question in the hands of the executive government, and as it is one which, in the present state of the world, cannot be put altogether aside, I do most earnestly hope that those to whom the conduct of the executive government may be committed, be their individual bias what it may, will feel it a duty to look at this question in all its detail and in all its bearings, but to look at it in all its magnitude also, and forthwith to set about the digesting such a plan as may bring it into a practical shape for equitable and final consideration.545
§ The obstacle which existed to such a consideration on the part of the government, and which I am not ashamed to say I respected, and would have continued to respect, so long as it existed in full force, and which I think the Catholics themselves ought to have respected, in gratitude for former benefits, in consideration of the age, the sufferings, and the virtues of the venerable and illustrious personage to whom I allude, and in deference to those conscientious scruples, which the Catholics, claiming for themselves full liberty of conscience, are the more eminently bound to respect in others,—that obstacle, I say, being now unhappily no longer in the way, the government (in whatever hands it may be settled) has, in my opinion, no longer any ground or any excuse for leaving this great question loose, to be agitated at the suggestion of whoever may think fit to make a motion upon it. They ought to take it into their own hands. It is, if ever there was one, a question of vital interest to the safety of the empire.
§ That this opportunity may be afforded to the executive government, I would say to the Catholics, "do not press your claims at the present moment;" and with the same view, I should have most earnestly wished that my noble friend's motion had not been this night brought forward. I know how little I am courting popularity by these declarations. I make no professions of exclusive partiality. I wish well to the Catholics, as a part of the population of the empire. I wish the question at rest, not in the way of victory, but of conciliation; not by a forcible constraint upon the honest prejudices of Protestants, but by the removal of them: and to that removal I confidently look, if the subject be brought fairly before the country, and if the conduct of the Catholics themselves be temperate, prudent, and conciliatory.
§ I not only do not concur in, but I really do not understand the doctrine which my right hon. and learned friend laid down at the conclusion of his speech, that the admission of the Catholics into the offices and situations from which they are now excluded, is absolutely forbidden by the constitution. How is this more true now, than it was true in the year 1793, that the constitution then forbade their admission into the privileges that were then conceded to them?
§ The constitution of this country is not, so far as I have been taught to understand it, a code written out fairly in one book, 546 and struck out at one heat like the revolutionary constitutions of modern France. The constitution, as established at our revolution, is what the constitution was, in principle, before that revolution, with such additional safeguards, and securities for the laws and liberties of the country, as the attacks which made that revolution necessary, and the dangers which followed it, suggested and prescribed. Our revolution was not the erection of a new frame and theory of government, but the vindication and renovation of ancient laws; the assertion of ancient franchises; the confirmation of ancient and undoubted privileges and liberties; established long ago, and established, many of them (be it remembered,) by the wisdom and patriotism of our Catholic ancestors.
§ Nor is it at all more true, that many of the most disgraceful exclusions, and most goading and penal provisions against the Catholics, were in fact the work of the revolution, or even contemporary with it. Reign after reign, from the revolution to the accession of his present Majesty, teemed with more and more severe enactments for keeping down the Catholics in Ireland. Of these enactments, many have been in the course, of his Majesty's beneficent reign repealed. How is it then, that what remains of them is fundamental to the constitution? Is it on account of the date of their enactment? Show that they are all of the date of the revolution. Or it is on account of the date at which their repeal is proposed?
§ This then is an objection which applies universally to the whole Catholic code, as it stood before the relaxation began, if it applies at all. And who is the man bold enough to say, that the Catholic code, as it stood fifty years ago, was an essential and fundamental part of the British constitution?
I cannot think, Sir, that the British constitution is of this close, narrow, and exclusive character. Much rather would I describe it as of a capacity to admit and embrace all those who, born in the British islands, prove themselves sensible and worthy of its blessings; as inviting all the sons of the soil, whether of Great Britain or Ireland, into the shelter of its protecting arms:
Pandentemque sinus, et tota veste vocantem Cæruleum in gremium.
§ This is the result to which I fondly look. Were the present motion calculated to hasten that result, it should have my hearty 547 concurrence. But thinking it, for the reasons which I have stated, much rather calculated to defer any such result, by mixing the great question to which it in part refers, with circumstances of temporary and I hope transient irritation, I must give my vote against it.
§ Sir J. Nicholl
, in explanation, disavowed any wish to re-enact the restrictions from which the Catholics had already been relieved. So far was he from entertaining any disposition of that nature, that, were such a proposition made, it would meet with his decided opposition. Nor had he, as represented by the right hon. gentleman, intimated any conviction that the exclusion of the Catholics should be perpetual; and he really thought that, in his original speech, he had sufficiently guarded himself from such a misconception.
, in explanation, admitted that the right hon. and learned gentleman had, with respect to the first subject, sufficiently guarded himself in words from the imputation of being favourable to the re-enactment of the restrictions on the Catholics; but his argument certainly tended the other way. He was happy, however, that the right hon. and learned gentleman had an opportunity afforded him of distinctly disclaiming any such disposition. With respect to the other point, he had certainly misconceived the right hon. and learned gentleman through the whole of his speech; for he had decidedly understood him to say, that in his opinion the time would never arrive for granting to the Catholics a participation in the rights of their fellow subjects.
said, he considered it necessary to offer an apology to the House for presuming to address them, after the brilliant and eloquent speech of the right hon. gentlemen who had just sat down. Indeed, he should not have ventured to address them that evening, if he had not been particularly called upon to do so, from the pointed manner in which that right hon. gentleman had thought proper to allude to him. And he thought on that account he was not altogether making an unreasonable request to the House, when he solicited a few moments attention from them. He was neither surprized at the speech of the right hon. gentleman, nor at his conclusion. It was not the first time he had heard that right hon. gentleman make a most brilliant display of talents, and conclude that display with a declaration of his intention of giving such a 548 miserably bad vote. He declared he knew no man more distinguished in that way than that right hon. gentleman; and in following him through his long speech, he really did not know whether he ought most to admire the brilliancy of his talents, or to lament the prostitution of them; for he could not but call the employment of great talents in a bad cause, prostitution,—the employment of those talents to produce bad and wicked impressions, (cries of Order). He confessed that one doctrine introduced by that right hon. gentleman was entirely new to him, and that was, that if any member chose to give notice of a motion on a question of great public importance, that that motion was not to be argued, but was at once to be pronounced upon. On that question, however, he was not afraid of meeting him, when it should come to be discussed. But with what propriety did the right hon. gentleman take upon him to be his lecturer upon this occasion? Was he, who composed a part of that administration who violated their promises to the people of Ireland, to stand up and abuse any gentleman who might presume to urge the violation of that solemn compact? Certainly it suited him, of all men, the least, to come forward and arraign any member for his presuming to state to the House that the solemn compact of the union bad been violated. So far from courting the approbation of the right hon. gentleman, in any measure he might think proper to bring before the House, he should really think he had not discharged his duty, if in any case it had met with his decided approbation. The right hon. gentleman seemed to have seen the claims of the Catholics in a new light that evening; for in all the debates on the Catholic question before, he had thought proper to preserve an inviolable silence. But so inconsistent was he, that while he made a most brilliant exertion, his vote went to negative his argument. The right hon. gentleman had thought proper to say, that he would give his negative to the present motion, because it went to condemn the Irish government. Admitting that that government had had law on their side, he would say, that they had taken the most effectual means of inflaming and disaffecting the Irish people. But he had heard from the first law authorities in this country, that the government had really acted quite contrary to the law. The system of sending delegates was the natural consequence 549 of what had been so often stated in parliament, namely, that those friends to the Catholics who brought forward their petition, did not speak the sense of the Catholic body. But from the late powerful and strong expressions of the sentiments of the Catholics, it would be found that they bad been speaking not the sentiments of a faction, but of the Irish people in general—the expression of united Catholic feeling. It appeared, however, that the government of Ireland were determined to stifle that expression of feeling. The right hon. gentleman had thought proper to allude to him, as representing in a peculiar manner the Catholics. He wished to inform him that he had never arrogated to himself any such distinction, and that he was the representative of as respectable a Protestant constituency as any in Ireland; but he wished him not to think that when he said this he was ashamed of representing the Catholics. He would tell him that it was his pride and his boast that he had the confidence of the Catholics. He would not at present enter into the particulars of the Catholic claims, however impressed he was with the justice of those claims, and that there could be no safety to the state till the Catholics received unqualified admission into the constitution. He differed from the right hon. gentleman with regard to his character of the Irish peasantry; for he contended that a more learned, enlightened, and liberal peasantry did not exist than those of that country, and this assertion of his with respect to them, proved only, that he, who claimed a connection with that country, was, like many others of his countrymen, but very ill-informed with the state of it. He would conclude by saying, that the ministry, by their infernal machinations, had been the means of causing the Prince on the throne to be generally reprobated, and of lowering him in the love of his subjects, and in so far might be said to have been guilty of the most diabolical machinations. He advised them to beware of continuing such measures as might inflame men to seek in desperation for a reparation of their injuries in revolution; for in the hour of revolution, every wise, honest, and conscientious man would tremble, and every wicked man rejoice. God forbid, however, that they should ever live to see such times!
thought there was little of conciliation either in the motion of the noble lord, or the speech of the hon. gentleman 550 who had just sat down. The motion embraced two objects; namely, to canvass the conduct of the Irish government, and the claims of the Catholics. The first of these he was of opinion could not be entertained without its being shewn that, some offence had been committed; and with regard to the second he agreed with the right hon. gentleman (Mr. Canning) that the preferable and most expedient mode of procedure would be, that which the Catholics had chalked out for themselves, a Petition to the crown. With regard to the vote this night, it was impossible to come to it without having reference to what had passed among the Catholics during the last six months. Before the House consented to grant their claims, they ought to see in what manner they were likely to exercise their power when acquired. Then what necessity could be shewn for a meeting to such an extent as the Catholics had projected? Was their Petition so new a subject as to require such numbers? Were their grievances so hidden in the earth, or the redress they sought so complicated, as to need such an assemblage of peers and peers' sons to make them out? But, said the hon. gentleman, they did this to shew that they spoke the general sense of the Catholic body. Did parliament ever doubt this? Certainly not. They doubted, to a certain degree, that the number of Catholic soldiers or sailors would be enhanced by the door being opened to a few peers; but they never could doubt that every Catholic would be ready to sign a Petition claiming political power to that body. Were the House, then, prepared to say, that the Irish government was wrong in resisting this act, and that the Catholics were right in resorting to these illegal means of enforcing their claims? And this must be the consequence of agreeing to the proposed motion. In his opinion, the greatest friends of the Catholics, even those who thought them entitled to unqualified emancipation, as well as those who thought conditional security necessary, roust vote against the motion. Indeed it was strange that the noble lord should have risked the support of so many of their friends.—The hon. gentleman went on to argue, from lord Grenville's Letter, that that noble lord and his friends must give it their negative: for that noble lord had insisted on the necessity of maintaining the church inviolable, and had even opposed the presentation of a petition, praying for, the appointment 551 of a Committee, as now proposed, on the ground of the indisposition of government, and of the difficulties arising out of the Veto. Although he would not accuse that noble lord of a pertinacious adherence to his opinions for years, yet he could not believe that twenty months could create such an alteration as to induce him now to vote for such a Committee. What was the real state of the question? The law laid down certain securities for the Protestant interests, with which the Catholics were dissatisfied, and called for a concession of the whole, accusing the Protestants of throwing trifling obstacles in their way; while, on their own part, they would not concede even the very little they had in their power. They, on his side, were accused of intolerance; and when they referred, to shew the contrary, to the concessions made in 1778, 1782, and 1793, the Catholic advocates turned upon them, and said, "For these very reasons you are bound to grant us more." But would they tell them where they were to stop, and not ask to be admitted to power without those oaths which were deemed necessary to bind every other description of the subject? It was said, you have given them the reality of power in the elective franchise, &c and why do you refuse them the semblance? To this he would reply, that it never was foreseen by those who framed these measures, that such an argument could have been raised upon them; and that instead of being satisfied with the boons for their own value, they should only be considered as the grounds for further claims and more extended pretensions. He would mention one point more relative to religious prejudices. It had been charged to gentlemen on his side of the House, that they had raised the cry of No Popery; and a most serious charge it was, although altogether unsupported. But he would ask, on the other hand, whether or no pains had not been taken to inflame the passions of Catholics? And whether Liberty of Conscience had not been made the watch-word of a party? In giving his vote, however, on the present occasion, he would by means pledge himself with regard to the. Catholic question, but merely give his negative to a motion which, in the present instance, was at least unnecessary.
§ Lord George Grenville
said that in giving his most hearty consent to every principle so eloquently illustrated, and to every argument so ably enforced, in the speech of 552 the noble mover, he could not but express his sincere joy at the circumstances under which the question itself was brought forward. He rejoiced at seeing a proposition laid before that House, which would again bring under its contemplation, and that of the country, a subject, which he was sure the of tener it was discussed would be the nearer its attainment. I am convinced, said the noble lord, that, by the inter course being uninterruptedly maintained between the Irish Catholics and this House, it will establish a mutual confidence between them, it will give additional weight to their claims, and will give the surest earnest to the country of their intention, to pursue, firmly, moderately and legitimately, the great object they have in view. And this effect seems already in part to be produced. A right hon. and learned gentleman (Sir John Nicholl) who spoke early in the debate, seemed to take for granted a conviction on the part of the people of the impossibility of the Catholic claims ever being granted, and referred as a proof of his assertion to the absence of all Anti-catholic Addresses from your table. I will inform that right hon. and learned gentleman, that he will not have the nakedness of that table long to complain of. It is at this moment, I believe, matter of notoriety that petitions in favour of the admission of the Catholics to a participation of rights with themselves, is even now, every hour, and every where in Ireland, receiving the signatures of incalculable numbers of the Protestant population of that country, clergy, as well as gentry and freeholders, (Hear! hear!)
I rejoice at this period being fixed for the discussion of such a question. First, because the Irish Catholic will see that, from the new shape the question has assumed, the united parliament is disposed to watch with tenderness and anxiety over his interests, without being as it were forced to the discussion of them by a petition being brought up to your table; and, secondly, because that circumstances of time, circumstances of event but above all, because the conduct of the Irish government itself have now rendered the interference of parliament imperatively necessary. And what has the conduct the Irish government been? It saw a spirit, and I should be tempted to say a most noble and praiseworthy spirit, spreading itself throughout Catholic Ireland; a spirit, however, which they conceived, or 553 affected to conceive, dangerous to our establishment in that country, both of church and constitution. And how did they attempt to subdue or to destroy that spirit? I will not now enter into any discussion upon what I should be tempted to designate as at least, that very questionable instrument in the hands or government, the Convention Act. I will not ask, whether at its enactment it were capable of those objects for which it was enacted, nor still more, whether it were now capable of those objects for which it has been revived, and to which it has been applied. But certain I am, that for enforcing its power, and bringing it into action, the Irish government has placed its enforcement in the hands of the one person who, officially, was, of all men in Ireland, the most improper for it. I mean the lord chief justice of that country. I will not ask, whether in point of fact the placing the lord chief justice of Ireland in the situation, and into the functions of a police magistrate, were or were not a degradation and a misapplying of the high office he holds in that country; but I will say, that the putting him forward at such a moment, as a police magistrate, was a most absurd and wicked measure; aware as the Irish government must have been, that the Catholic, resolved as he was to persevere in the object of assembling to prepare a petition to parliament, would have rested the legality or illegality of such meetings upon the decision of a jury, it was thought fit to place the lord chief justice in the public predicament of being brought forward, as a delinquent, into his own court, at which he ought to preside, but upon whose bench, under such circumstances, he, of course, could not even have attended.
And what has, on the other hand, been the demeanour of the Irish Catholics? And I will say that, looking at the conduct of the Irish Catholic from the first period of the annunciation of the intended enforcement of the Convention act, which I date from the period of the Irish Secretary's letter, down to this moment, I cannot but contemplate it as having been such as would have ennobled the brightest page of the political history of our country. We have seen him standing forward, strong in the conviction of his power, and, I should say, strong too, in the justice of his cause, against the petulance of a government, whose violence seems to have kept pace with its 554 impotency. We have seen him, with the law in his right hand, the firm assertor of a religion, which he believes to be the right one, which he knows to be the oppressed one, resting his cause upon what he conceived its own intrinsic claims to respect, and entrusting his own fate to justice and to his country. "Methinks," says Milton in an address to parliament on the subject of unlicenced printing, some time ago quoted upon a different subject by a noble lord now in the other House, "Methinks I see a great and puissant nation rousing herself like a strong man from her sleep, and shaking her invincible locks. Methinks I see her purging and unsealing her long abused sight at the fountain itself of heavenly radiance. Whilst the whole noise of timorous and flocking birds, and of those, too, who love the twilight, flutter about, amazed at what she means, and, in their envious gabble, would prognosticate a year of sects and schisms." (Hear! hear!)
Such, Sir, and in such power, do we now see the whole Irish nation arising from slumber. We now, indeed, see the Irish Protestant clearing from his long abused sight the films of prejudice which long overhung it, and standing forward, at once the champion and the advocate of his Catholic fellow-subjects. Why, Sir, to the Irish Roman Catholic, in such a cause, success would indeed be joy, while failure cannot be disgrace. Failure cannot be disgrace, because he will have looked round him, and will have seen much of the talent, much of the integrity, and much of the real political influence of his Protestant brethren at once the patrons of his hopes, the champions of his cause, and the partners of his defeat. And is this the bond which the Irish government has ever believed that it can either disunite or destroy? And how? By the revival of a long dormant and originally questionable act, and by the publishing a circular letter from Mr. Pole to the chief magistrates of the country! Why, it is indeed a giant whose arms you have bound with this thread—a thread, which may indeed gall and irritate him, but which cannot coerce his strength for one moment, after he himself shall have chosen to exert it.—The Irish government is now contending, not with the Irish Catholics, but with the Irish people; she is no longer raising her standard against a sect, but against a nation!
555 It is a principle on which I believe I shall scarcely be contradicted, that, before we can make it up to our own minds to oppress, or even to suspect, any man, or body of men whatever, we ought at least to ask ourselves whether we do it under any apprehension of immediate and great evil, or whether we have any hope of good resulting from such a system. And let me ask the right hon. gentlemen opposite, his Majesty's ministers, under the influence of what possible apprehension, or with the hope of what possible advantage do they still pertinaciously adhere to a system which has long been the characteristic disgrace of what has been called their government?
The right hon. and learned gentleman (Sir John Nicholl) in his speech seemed to apprehend much danger from what he termed the introduction of Catholic ambition into this House. Why, Sir, is that right hon. and learned gentleman not aware that there exist other dissentients from the established church besides Roman Catholics?—Nay, is he not aware that he is, at this moment, surrounded by dissentient members in every part of the House?—And does he really go so far as to say, that he has detected his dissenting friends in the habit of making, as he terms it, religion a stepping stone to power, of substituting polemical controversy, for parliamentary discussion? The right hon. and learned gentleman seemed again to rest much of his apprehension upon this question; "Is the Catholic religion changed since the period when the penal statutes against it were enacted?" As a political profession, Sir, Popery is most materially changed. We have heard much of the canon of the Council of Lateran, which gives the Papist a power of departing from his oath when pledged to a heretic. Does the right hon. and learned gentleman then in the teeth of the written and specific disavowal of six Roman Catholic Universities, still believe that the Roman Catholic adheres to a profligate canon, which every Catholic from one end of Europe to the other has repeatedly, through every organ of his faith, denied, and which he revolts from, and laughs to scorn, as much as the right hon. and learned gentleman himself can. If he really and sincerely believes in this cause of apprehension, the right hon. gentleman may take up every oath from your table, and bum them one after the other, for they are no longer any safeguard against the 556 encroachments of Popery. If such a position be true, the Roman Catholic may at any moment walk into this House, swear to every one of them, take his seat, and vote in the united parliament; if false, on what rests our alarm? The right hon. and learned gentleman again testifies much apprehension at what he terms the physical force of four millions of Irish papists: why, Sir, if you are afraid of them, you have either done too much, or too little. You have given them arms—nay you have forced them to take arms—if you found the Irish Roman Catholic peasant poaching on your manor, you sent him to man your fleets,—if you found the Irish peasant at his plough, you ballotted him into the militia: you have, then, given him arms;—you have forced him to take arms. And I will say, you have seen him use those arms, and bravely too, in your defence. You saw him, in the 88th regiment, entirely composed of Irish Catholics, driving the French at the bayonet's point from the heights of Busaco. You saw him again, in the 87th regiment, equally composed of Irish Catholics, tearing the French eagle from its staff on the plains of Barrosa, and it is but the other day, that you saw the same 87th defending against a superior French force the hitherto considered untenable town of Tariffa, and prepared to defend the breach with a "living wall of men." You have, then, given him arms; you have taught him to use them; you have seen him use them; but you have not given him the first incentive to a soldier's ambition, the hope of promotion for brave and honourable exertion in the duties of his profession.
We have heard much, both in this House and out of it, of a fear that the number of conversions to our faith would be much diminished, if the Catholic religion were admitted to the same civil rights with it. To answer this argument, we need, I think, only refer it to our own feelings, and I confess that, referring it to my feelings, I should be tempted to say that, were I the representative of an old Roman Catholic family, disgusted, perhaps, with many of the ceremonial follies of my own faith, and unattached to any one of its polemical doctrines, no inducement under heaven should operate with me to make me desert the religion of my forefathers, so long as it laboured under civil incapacities, no inducement should make me place myself before the gaze of my countrymen 557 as an object for the finger of scorn and malice to point at, for the whisper of suspicion to say to, "You are the man who, it is possible, may have abandoned your religion for your interest, who may have deserted your God for political influence." Good God, Sir, it is making our Protestant religion a stigma of disgrace to its proselytes; it is rendering those proselytes themselves objects of suspicion both to the Catholics whose faith they have abandoned, and to the Protestants, whose faith they have embraced.
Then to what is it that we are to still refer the principle of exclusion which we; see acted upon by the right hon. gentlemen opposite? Do they believe the Irish Catholic to be disaffected to our constitution? No. Do they believe him to be disaffected to our government? Yes. And I do not conceive myself at all bound to apologise to the Irish Papist for so designating him. I do believe him to be very much disaffected to the English government: and that, on the best and purest principle of human nature; the principle, namely, that renders him disgusted at suspicion and indignant at restraint.
I feel, perhaps, that I ought to apologise to the House for having consumed any part of its time in endeavouring to illustrate points and to enforce arguments, which, I do believe, have long ago been strongly seen and felt by almost every gentleman that now hears me. But, before I sit down, let me implore the right hon. gentlemen opposite to me, as they value their own characters, or their country's safety, to consider well and deeply the crisis which is now fast approaching upon them. A crisis which it will be neither in their power to avert nor to delay. A crisis at which perhaps, (what may God forbid!) those claims which have hitherto come before you as petitions may assume the shape of demands, and of formidable ones. At which the Irish Catholic may no longer approach you in the tone of humble and chastened remonstrance, but in the tone and attitude of menace and defiance.
And let me implore those right hon. gentlemen to consider well and deeply, at such a crisis, the advice which it will then be their duty to give to the Prince Regent. An advice, on which will, I am convinced, depend this alternative. Whether by the adoption of at once a magnanimous, an enlightened, and an honest policy, they will enable him to conciliate 558 to himself for ever the affections of a brave, a naturally loyal and affectionate people, or whether, by still counselling him to an adherence to that system which they long recommended to his royal father, they will place him in the predicament I am sure he will then be placed in, that of himself lighting the torch of civil discord between these countries, the plunging them both in a state of horrid and hopeless civil war, that of being obliged to hoist his standard at the head of eleven millions of his subjects, and lead them forth to political, if not to actual contest, against the remaining five. (Hear! hear!)
, of Kerry, agreed in every thing which had fallen from the right hon. gentleman on the floor (Mr. Canning), and felt as enthusiastic as himself in the cause of the Roman Catholics. He could not pretend to add any thing to the speech of the right hon. gentleman, and merely meant to state, that the right of petitioning had not been infringed, and that the Irish government had done every thing in their power to avoid coming to extremities with the Irish Catholics. For this reason he wished the House to go into the Committee.
Sir Arthur Pigott
wished to know when it was supposed the time would arrive that might be proper for granting the claims of the Catholics? His right hon. and learned friend (Sir. J. Nicholl) had said that when the Irish people were educated, when they were conducted from ignorance to knowledge, and from turbulence to order, that would be the period for taking the subject into consideration. For his part, as he did not pretend to dive into futurity, he could not be supposed to know exactly when that time might come; but really he had no very great hope that he should ever live to see the period when, according to the ideas of his right hon. and learned friend, it might be advisable to take the claims of the Catholics of Ireland into consideration. The right hon. gentleman who followed his right hon. and learned friend in the debate, and whose brilliant and animated speech no one could admire more than himself, had urged the Catholic claims with giant strength, but after putting to flight all the arguments of the opponents of those claims, and dispersing them like chaff before the wind, the right hon. gentleman did at last conclude—"Oh, conclusion most lame and impotent!"—that because his hon. friend (Mr. Hutchinson) had 559 given notice of a motion on the subject of the Union in March next, he could not enter into the consideration of the state of Ireland at present!—The right hon. gentleman had also stated that when the motion before the House was disposed of—and there could be little doubt of the way in which it would be disposed of—that then the subject would be fit for the consideration of the executive government; and that afterwards, when all pre judices were subdued and when all irritation had subsided, he should think it the time to come forward and give the proposition his concurrence. Thus he (sir A. P.) was left in altogether as hopeless a situation by the right hon. gentleman as by his right hon. and learned friend; for he could not, nor could any man foresee the period of that golden age when prejudices should totally disappear from the earth.—In a question so important to the vital interests of the country he should have concluded that no time ought to be lost, and that no compliance with the wishes of any court—no supposed consideration of what might be agreeable to this or to that quarter—would be allowed to have weight with parliament. He thought it was their duty fully to enquire into the present alarming state of Ireland, and into the nature and consequences of the measures of his Majesty's government there, which in his opinion required much explanation and justification. It was with great satisfaction that he saw the right hon. gentleman who was minister for Ireland, and must therefore be supposed to have originated and conducted those measures, in his place; for it was that right hon. gentleman's duty to explain the way in which Ireland had been driven from the quiet situation in which it was before the enterprises of the Irish government, into its present state of dangerous agitation.—If his Majesty's ministers would condescend to name any time at which they would be disposed to enter into the question—if they would say in fifteen days for instance—he would not object to the delay (although he should certainly think that even that was too great a postponement of such an important consideration) but they would say no such thing; and he was persuaded that at the expiration of any given period his Majesty's ministers would be as little disposed to consent to the discussion of the question as at the present moment. It was therefore cruelly trifling with the feelings of the Catholics 560 to play off this political pantomime upon them; to say to them "your claims are fit to be received, but they are not fit to be now received;" and to point out to them no precise period at which their case might be taken into consideration. But as his Majesty's ministers did not think proper to point out any time at which the Catholic claims might be taken into consideration; it was for the House to consider the subject themselves—to consider if it was fit to be entertained at any time; and if fit to be entertained at all, why it was not fit to be entertained now. What was the situation of the empire? Was it safe that things should remain in their present state? The Union had been the occasion of feeding the Catholics—he could not say with promises, but certainly with expectations of success. Notwithstanding all that had been said of what had been done by the legislature for the Catholics, the fact was that excepting some little regulations of trade, nothing had been done for them since the year 1793; the act of which year contained a long list of offices from which Catholics were to be excluded. In 1801, at the period of the Union, it was held out to the Catholics that all local prejudices against them would be removed by transferring the question to a united parliament, from whose impartial justice they would obtain that relief for their grievances for which they had hitherto sought in vain. But from 1801 to 1812—during that long period of 11 years—in what situation were the Catholics of Ireland? They were like subjects out of the pale of the constitution; their case could not be taken into consideration for a reason so well known to every person in the House that it was superfluous to allude more forcibly to it. During that period they had been more like outcasts than subjects. Subject no doubt they were to the legislature; they were subject to the payment of taxes, but all consideration of their complaints was waved. The only consolation which any good subject could feel amidst his distress for the unhappy state of his Majesty, was that the consideration of the grievances of Ireland was thereby opened to parliament, and that the functions of the legislature, which had so long been suspended, need no longer be so; for it was quite impossible, and indeed would be as absurd as false, to suppose, that the august person who now administered the government of the realms did not feel himself free to listen to the 561 advice of parliament on that, as well as on any other question of national importance. There had formerly been some obstacles about a coronation oath, or some nonsense of that sort; as if an oath imposed by the legislature on the executive magistrate was for ever to prevent the legislature itself from making such provisions as the good of the nation appeared to them to require! According to this absurd doctrine, the supreme will of the legislature, consisting of King, Lords, and Commons, was to be fettered and entirely suspended in consequence of an oath which the same legislature had formerly prescribed! He repeated that it was one of the consolations which they had in the present afflicted state of the sovereign, that they were now at liberty to enter fully into the discussion of this great and important subject. As to presenting Petitions by delegation, he most state, that ever since the year 1757, before the Catholics of Ireland had the miserable privilege of reclaiming a little bog, or possessing an acre of arable-land, (unless at a certain distance from a town), they had been accustomed to present their petitions by committee-men of their own choice. These committee-men had at all times negotiated with government on the subject of their petitions, and had frequently been introduced to his Majesty by his secretary of state. In the very year 1793, when this Convention Act was passed, an act of Parliament was also passed, granting farther privileges to the Catholics, and stating in the very preamble of it their peaceable and royal demeanour? It therefore certainly could not have been against them that this act was intended, and yet, from the duke of Bedford's government of Ireland, in 1757, down to that time, they had always been in the habit of acting by delegation through representatives and Committee men. An not of parliament was always best explained by he history of the circumstances which gave rise to it; and it was very well known what gave occasion to the statute in question. In the year 1793 there was a convention of delegates for the province of Ulster that met at Dungannon and assumed all the authority of another parliament. No one subject connected with politics escaped them; peace and war, grievances and reform, were the subjects of their deliberation, and they at last came to resolutions, which went to change the whole constitution of the country. After sitting for some time, 562 they invited a more general convention to meet at Athlone, delegated from all parts of the country, and for similar purpose". It was under these circumstances that the Convention Act was passed; but so far from that statute having any Committee of Catholics for its object, there was actually such a committee sitting in Dublin at the time when it was framed, and in full and frequent communication with government.
In the next place, what were the provisions of this act? Why its object was to prevent the election of persons to unlawful assemblies, 'under the pretence of preparing petitions, &c.' Now the obvious meaning of 'pretence' was, that something was meant to be concealed by these delegates; that they met together under false allegations; not for the purpose of preparing petitions, but for a very different object. But was there any proof that the Catholics had not met precisely for the purpose of petitioning? and if so, how, by any fairness of reasoning, could the statute in question be presumed to apply to them? The act then went on to prohibit the assembling of any persons pretending to represent any county, city, or borough, other than the Commons in parliament assembled; and this obviously applied to the self-called Convention of Dungannon. The parliament of Ireland did not mean to trench on the right of petitioning; but they knew, that under the pretence of petitioning, other illegal measures might be cloaked and covered, which it was expedient to prevent. Whenever the bona fide purpose of any set of individuals was to present a petition for the redress of grievances, to them the act would not apply; and therefore the framers of the act introduced a proviso to satisfy the most fastidious, that it should operate as an eternal prohibition of any attempt to obstruct or impede the exercise of the right of petitioning. Was any privy council, then, or any court of Justice, entitled so to construe the act as to restrict or impede this right Certainly not. The, Catholic Committee had been sitting from time, to time, from 1793 to 1810, for the purpose of preparing and presenting petitions, and it never occurred to any but the present ingenious government and to interrupt them. But then it was said, the act did not disqualify individual Catholics from petitioning; but only committee men from counties. How inconsistent was this! It was quite natural for 563 the Catholics to wish their petition to be drawn up by a numerous committee, in order that numbers of people might afterwards sign it, and it might come with all the weight which numbers could give it. Some men were better at stating a grievance than others, different grievances would of course occur to different individuals, and hence arose the necessity of appointing committee-men or agents, to draw up their petition in such a form as was likely to meet with general concurrence. Let the House consider in support of his argument the last clause of the statute of 1796, to prevent seditious assemblies (which he quoted) with the view of impressing on themselves the inestimable value of that right of petitioning, which ministers wished to abridge if not to destroy. Adverting to the proclamation issued by the Irish government in July last, authorising any magistrates to center the Catholic meetings therein mentioned, and disperse them, be would assert, that the magistrates had not a right to interfere but in cases of treason, felony, or breach of the peace. The offence for which the Catholic Committee were arraigned, was in the act itself a misdemeanour; and that could only be proceeded against by ex officio information, or by presentment of the grand jury, to be tried in a court of over and terminer. He therefore doubted extremely, the legality of the authority which the proclamation gave the magistrates to commit the persons who assembled in Liffey-street chapel. He doubted much, either the authority of government to issue, or that of the magistrates to obey such an order; and, indeed, he did not believe that one magistrate had acted upon it. It was just cause also for complaint, that the informations against the members of the Catholic Committee had been laid before the lord chief justice, that he was the person who had been applied to, when there were 800 other magistrates in Ireland who could have served the purpose as well. He thought this, to say the least of it, indecorous; and one reason for his thinking so was, in the language held by the right hon. gentleman opposite (Mr. Pole) last year, "because if any of these persons were brought to trial, he, the chief justice, must have presided on the occasion, and every stain on the administration of justice ought to be avoided." No person was less disposed than he to throw out reflections on the administration of justice: but really he thought, that the chief justice of Ireland 564 ought not to have been employed to issue a warrant against these persons. It was essential to the purity of justice, that no communication should take place between him and the crown on the subject of judicial matters; and it would at least have been decent, that one of the many police magistrates whom government had at their disposal in Dublin, should have been employed in his stead. Had a similar application been made under similar circumstances, to the lord chief justice of the court of King's-bench, in England, he (sir. A. P.) was persuaded that that noble and learned lord would have refused to grant his warrant. In saying this, he by no means intended to throw any imputation on the individual, the accuracy of whose conduct he had been questioning. For all those who were appointed to administer justice, he had a sincere respect, but he had a most important duty to discharge, that of a member of the English and Irish parliament, which called upon him to protest against any irregular proceeding on the part of the judicature, if it might not indeed be stigmatized with a more unwelcome term. All these circumstances furnished reasons for going into an enquiry into the causes which had disturbed the tranquillity of Ireland, and that at a time when his Majesty's indisposition had placed the Prince Regent in power, from whose gracious and benignant disposition the Catholics of Ireland had just reason to expect so much. Was it no impediment to the sacred right of petitioning, to say, that all the Irish Catholics, however scattered, must meet together in aggregate bodies, and not appoint committees out of the most intelligent of their number? And was it by rendering necessary the assemblage of such large bodies of men, that government thought they would best prevent the occurrence of riots, tumults, and disorders in Ireland? Was it the design of ministers to implicate the Prince Regent in their proceedings against Ireland? If so, he trusted they would be effectually disappointed. He should certainly give his most hearty assent to the motion of his noble friend.
§ Mr. Speaker
; if I had not recollected what passed last year, when the measures of the Irish government were discussed in this House, I should have been surprised that, upon a question, which certainly is brought forward with a view to censure 565 that government, those gentlemen most acquainted with the state of Ireland, those great leaders on the other side, should hare so long remained silent. In truth, Sir, I came down this day expecting that the right hon. and learned gentleman opposite to me, (Mr. Ponsonby) or some of his friends, would have risen early in the debate to prefer those charges which it was understood they intended to make against the Irish administration. They have, however, thought proper to pursue another course; the hon. and learned gentleman who has just sat down has been put forward, and the part he has played in what he has been pleased to call this 'political pantomime' has completely succeeded. By the direct and general accusation which he has so broadly made against the Irish administration, he has rendered it necessary for me to rise and address the House, before the charges were made by those by whom I expected to be attacked, and to whom I wished to have replied. Knowing, however, that the cause which I have to support is a good one, and that the Irish government has only performed its duty, in acting as it has done, I feel the less regret at the task which has devolved upon me, of proceeding to vindicate their conduct, and my own, under all the disadvantages that I may have to contend with from the mode in which the attack has been conducted.
I shall commence the observations which I have to submit to the House by stating, that notwithstanding the guarded manner, in which the noble lord has brought forward his motion, (a manner, undoubtedly, as creditable to his abilities as to his taste), and notwithstanding the backwardness of the hon. gentlemen opposite me, I shall consider the motion as a direct attack upon the conduct of the duke of Richmond.
The question naturally divides itself into two distinct parts, viz. the intended censure upon the conduct of the Irish government, and the consideration of the Catholic question. In defending the conduct of the Irish government, I must observe, that, during the whole course of last summer, every possible effort, every factious art was used to mislead the people of Ireland, and of this country, by confounding what was called the Catholic question, with the measures to which the lord lieutenant has been compelled to have recourse in order to maintain the public tranquillity. With the view which the lord lieutenant took of the situation of the 566 state of Ireland, and with the measures which it was necessary to adopt, the question of the Catholic claims had nothing to do. The lord lieutenant thought that his duty consisted in maintaining the laws of the land, in enforcing obedience to those laws; and in taking care that equal justice was administered to all classes of his Majesty's subjects whom he was appointed to govern, and I can assure the House, that the lord lieutenant and his advisers found they had quite enough to do in performing those duties, without entering into abstract speculations about altering the constitution. The lord lieutenant and his advisers felt that it was not their duty to enter into the merits of the Catholic question; they thought it was not proper for them to give any opinion upon that subject. They felt also, that it was their duty to take care that no impediment should be thrown in the way of any of his Majesty's subjects of whatever class or denomination, who wished to bring forward any claims they might have to urge, or to petition for the redress of any grievance under which they might labour, provided it was done in a legal and constitutional manner. It is necessary to state this, and to press it strongly on the attention of the House, because there is no art that faction could use, no exertion that the most active agents could employ, no misrepresentation that invention could frame, that have not been resorted to, and propagated to impress a belief upon the minds of the people of both countries, that the object of the Irish government was, not to enforce obedience to the laws, not to maintain public tranquillity, but to throw impediments in the way of the Catholics petitioning, and to prevent them from claiming what they conceived to be their rights, or stating what they considered to be their grievances.
Before I proceed to the consideration of that part of the conduct of the Irish government which more immediately claims the attention of the House, I must beg leave to allude very shortly to what passed last session. The House cannot have forgotten the Circular Letter* which was issued, about which so much had been said, and which had given rise to so much wit. That letter was certainly issued in my name, but it was framed and drawn up, as I stated at the time, by the law officers of the crown. I am far from*See Vol. 19, p. 1.567 wishing to disclaim any responsibility which belongs to me, for any part that I took in that transaction; but I cannot help lamenting, that when a solemn instrument had been issued by the government, it should, for bad purposes, have been turned into ridicule, and represented as the hasty composition of an arrogant man. That letter, when it was discussed in this House last session, underwent a solemn investigation. I remember the motion of the right hon. and learned gentleman opposite to me, (Mr. Ponsonby)* on the subject, and I feel, that I ought to call the attention of the House particularly to it, because I mean to build an argument upon it, which will be of material consequence in the consideration of the present question.
The right hon. and learned gent., upon that occasion, objected to the proceedings of the Irish government on three grounds:
First, That it was impolitic to have recourse to the Convention act at the time and under the circumstances the Irish government attempted to enforce it.
Secondly, That if the Irish government felt it absolutely necessary to act upon fire law, they ought to have proceeded by way of proclamation, instead of issuing a circular letter.
Thirdly, That the Convention act only attached upon those who had attended the meetings described, voted, and acted, but that, in the Circular Letter, the magistrates were called upon to arrest, and hold to bail those who attended, or voted, or acted. These were the objections taken by the right hon. and learned gentleman, but it never was asserted by that the Construction, Which the Irish government had put upon the act of parliament, was hot the true and legal construction, and that the law was inapplicable to meetings of the description "in question. Here Mr. Ponsonby manifested some dissent from Mr. Pole's statement.] I am convinced that I am correct in my assertion, and have no doubt, that I shall be able to Convince the House, and even the right hon. and learned gentleman, that my recollection upon the subject is accurate. The right hon. and learned gentleman had; as I have before stated, contended that the Circular Letter was wrong in asserting, that any person who attended or Voted, or acted at any of the meetings alluded to, were guilty of a misdemeanor,*See Vol. 19, p. 269.568 because he said, in that case any person who attended innocently, without taking any part in the business, or who even attended for the purpose of dispersing the meeting, might be arrested and held to bail. If I am wrong in my recollection upon this subject, if the fight hon. and learned gentleman really did doubt the legality of the proceedings of the Irish government, I should be glad to know how it happened, that he merely contented himself with moving for papers, and that he never brought forward any specific motion against the Irish government for acting illegally? Was it not most strange and unaccountable, if the right hon. and learned gentleman and his friends on the other side thought that the Irish government had acted illegally upon that occasion, that not one of them had felt it necessary to bring the matter before the House, although it sat for months after the discussion I allude to?—Sir, I must also observe, that in the long discussions which afterwards took place on the Catholic Petition, throughout the whole of that debate, not a syllable was uttered against the conduct of the Irish government. If the gentlemen opposite thought that the government had acted illegally, surely upon that occasion they would have mentioned it. I attended the House during that debate for the purpose of defending the Irish government, if any attack had been made upon it; but not one word respecting the illegality of the proceeding was mentioned by any gentleman on the other side of the House. But, Sir, I must mention one more Circumstance, which will put the matter out of all doubt: an hon. gentleman on the other side of the House (Mr. Hutchinson) gave notice, last session, of a motion to repeal the Convention act: that hon. gentleman, however, did not bring it forward; and in stating his reason for not doing so, he praised the Irish government for the lemency of their conduct, and said he was glad to find that they did not mean to enforce that law I felt it my duty to undeceive him I got up and desired that he would not forego his motion on that ground, I told him that the opinion of the Irish government remained unaltered; and that if the lord lieutenant saw the same reason for putting the few in force that his grate had before seen, he would undoubtedly do so.* Not-*See Vol. 20, p. 575.569 withstanding this declaration on my part, the hon. member did not press his motion. Thus the matter stood at the end of last session. When, therefore, I returned to Ireland, I contend that the Irish government had a right to feel with perfect confidence that their conduct was approved of by this House, not only that they enjoyed such approbation, but that there was no idea entertained by any man in it, that their construction of the law was not a just and correct one. Every man in Ireland was acquainted with what had passed in this House in the last session; every man knew that the conduct of the Irish government had met with the approbation of parliament, and knew also that the legality of that conduct had not been questioned by a single individual. Under these circumstances, could I possibly have imagined, not only that the legality of that conduct would now have been questioned, but that the government should be accused with having taken the people of Ireland by surprise? Surprise! after every part of the conduct of the Irish government had been fully discussed; after every man in Ireland had been made acquainted with the detail, and with the result of these discussions, and after the public declarations which I had made in this House, that it was the firm determination of the government to enforce the Convention act, if the Committee again had recourse to their former measures.
I shall certainly not fatigue the House by going into a detail of all the circumstances and events which gave rise to the Circular Letter of last year.—I shall not repeat the statement which I was under the necessity of making of the whole conduct of the Catholic Committee.—I shall not repeat all the intemperate and inflammatory language which was used in that Committee, and with which the factious prints in Dublin were daily filled, because, I trust, that the subject is still fresh in the recollection of the members of this House: it will be sufficient for me to remind gentlemen, that the assembly called the Catholic Committee was formed in 1793, was revived in, 1809, and in 1810 it was again reestablished.
It has been repeatedly asked, why, if the Irish government entertained such an opinion of the conduct of the Catholic Committee, they had not interfered before? 570 Why, if their conduct and their language had been so intemperate and so inflammatory, the government bad not sooner resorted to the powers they were invested with, to put a stop to such proceedings? The answer which I before gave, and which I shall now give, was the true one. The Irish government was anxious to treat the whole Catholic body with lenity, and to administer the law in the spirit in which it ought to be administered, with tenderness; and, although the lord lieutenant was aware that the assembly was unlawful, yet, being composed of Catholics, he did not proceed against them as he would have proceeded against any other of the King's subjects. The lord lieutenant hoped that the forbearance which was thus manifested, would produce a proper effect; that the loyal and well disposed part of the Catholic body would be able to counteract the efforts, and repress the violence of those who were endeavouring to excite dissatisfaction and irritation; the lord lieutenant saw the danger, but hoped it would be temporary, and therefore ad-stained from interfering as long as he could consistently with the general tranquillity of the country. This was the plain and true reason why the government of Ireland did not interfere before; and yet they Were to be accused of intolerance towards the Catholics, of treating them with harshness, of taking them by surprise, and of acting illegally, in order to prevent them from petitioning.
Having stated the motives by which the lord lieutenant of Ireland had been actuated, I shall now proceed to say a few words upon what has fallen from the hon. and learned gentleman who spoke last. That hon. and learned gentleman is completely mistaken in what he has said respecting the causes which led to the passing of the Convention act, and the object which it had in view. He must be wholly unacquainted with all the circumstances relative to that act, if he supposes that ft was meant to apply to any one class or denomination of people whatever. The meaning of the act is distinct; its application is general, without any regard to Protestants or Catholics. It was enacted just before the Convention proposed to be held at Athlone. I have beard a great deal said about the existence of Catholic Committees ever since the year 1757, and 571 that now, for the first time, the Irish government had interposed its authority to suppress them. If the hon. and learned gent, supposed that the committees of former times, to which he alluded, were similar to the committees of 1809 and 1810, in Dublin, he is completely ignorant of the country of which he is speaking. There was not a single point of similarity between these committees; they differed in formation, in character, in proceedings, in object; in short, they were as different as the imagination could conceive. If any doubt is entertained on this subject, I can produce such proofs of the radical, essential difference between the committees of former days and the one which is now unfortunately the subject of discussion, as must, if party feeling has not banished every sentiment of candour from the opposite benches, convince those gentlemen of the injustice, as well as the absurdity, of making the comparison.
I will not enter into a detailed account of the proceedings or of the debates of the assembly calling itself the Catholic Committee.—I did so, in some degree, last year. It will be sufficient to say, that the Catholic Committee debated every topic that could irritate, inflame, or mislead the public mind; that the columns of the newspapers were filled with their factious harangues and proceedings; that they aped all the forms of Parliament; that they had their committees and their subcommittees; their committee of grievances; in a word, that they affected to be, and assumed the tone of, a Convention representing the whole Catholic population of Ireland. They had even carried their proceedings to such an extent, that they themselves were sensible of the dangerous lengths to which they were going. I will mention an anecdote, to shew the sense they themselves entertained of their own proceedings. During one of the violent debates which took place in the Committee, after some language of a peculiarly inflammatory and seditious nature had been used, one of the members called out to a person who was taking notes, and said, "We are going too far, you bad better not take that down." The note-taker replied, "I thought so myself, and had already shut my book." Such was the character of the proceedings of this Committee before government interfered. When I state this, need it be asked what it was that caused the Circular Letter?—If the 572 question is asked, I answer, it was because, not satisfied with debating and keeping the whole country in a ferment, they issued a circular letter in the name of their secretary, Mr. Hay, the object of which was to augment their numbers by ten representatives from each county. It was then that the government of Ireland felt that it could not consistently, with its duty to the public, adhere any longer to its system of forbearance, and that they were bound, if they meant to preserve the tranquillity of the country, to interfere.
It has been said, I understand, in another place, that the Irish Government, last year, interfered just at the moment that the Committee was about to augment its numbers, by the accession of ten respectable persons from each county, who would have repressed the violence of the others. Was that the fact? Lord Ffrench had, in consequence of the violence of their proceedings, seceded from them;—and had used the emphatic expression, "Ireland is sick of this business; do you mean to erect yourselves into a perpetual parliament?" Lord Fingall had also seceded from them, and it was the remnant, whose violence had disgusted these noble lords and the moderate part of the Catholic body, that issued this circular letter. This was the plain and simple state of the case; and I cannot avoid saying, that it is a pity, when gentlemen take so much pains to vilify government, they do not take equal pains to ascertain the facts upon which they found their slanders.
I will not dwell farther upon the proceedings of last year—I will only state, that we had hoped, that the lenity with which we acted, would have been met by a corresponding conduct on the part of the Catholic Committee. I must observe, however, that the fate of the duke of Richmond, and of those who had the honour of advising him, is rather hard. They endeavoured to prevent the mischief which they saw was likely to ensue; they determined not to allow the Committee to assemble; they intended to stop the elections, and they did stop them; the ten persons which were ordered to be returned from each county last year, in point of fact, never did assemble; and yet, because the Irish Government thought it proper to permit small bodies of the Committee to meet without molestation, it was immediately said, that they had abandoned the measures which they had rashly undertaken, and that the Catholic 573 Committee had triumphed over them. Because, however, the government have now thought proper to interfere with meetings that were likely to become dangerous to the tranquillity of the country, the epithets of madness, folly, intemperance, and intolerance, were immediately applied to them. With what justice those epithets had been so applied, I will leave to the candour of the House to determine.—When we saw danger, we acted; when we saw the public tranquillity menaced, we interfered to preserve it;—when we thought there was no danger, we suffered the Committee to proceed, in the hope that they would find out their error, and that they would not persist in a system pregnant with such general mischief.
I now come to that part where it is necessary that I should enter into a detail of the measures of the Irish government, which have called forth the animadversions of the hon. and learned gentleman. When I returned to my duty in Ireland, it was impossible for me not to consider, that parliament had sanctioned the conduct of the Irish government, and that the lord lieutenant would be fully warranted in proceeding as he had formerly done, if the necessity of the case, in his judgment, required it.
I shall now proceed, with the leave of the House, to state the circumstances that led to the proclamation as shortly as I can; and detail, with the most unreserved candour, all the subsequent proceedings of the Irish government. On the 9th of July last, an aggregate meeting of the Catholics was held in Dublin; at this meeting certain Resolutions were entered into. With the permission of the House, I will state what was the nature of those Resolutions, and in what they differed from those passed in the preceding January. By the Resolutions of the 24th of May, 1809, readopted in 1810, it was resolved, "that the noblemen and gentlemen are not representatives of the Catholic body, or any portion thereof, or shall they assume or pretend to be representatives of the Catholic body, or any portion thereof."
When I was arguing this question last year, I stated, that there was enough in this Resolution to afford a ground for belief that the Catholics had the Convention act in their mind, and that they would not violate it. But, on the 9th of July last, the meeting, aware of the construction of the Convention act, aware of all the agitation that had been excited in Ireland, 574 aware of the opinion expressed by parliament upon the subject, and aware of the declared determination of the Irish government not to suffer the continuance of such practices; the meeting, aware of all these things, resolved, (leaving out the Resolution which I have just read, disclaiming all representation, that the Committee should be re-appointed, and that the said Committee should consist of the Catholic peers of Ireland, of their eldest sons, of the Catholic baronets of Ireland, of the prelates of the Irish Roman Catholic Church," (appointed then for the first time,) "of ten persons from each county in Ireland, and of five persons from each parish in Dublin, and the survivors of the delegates of 1793."This was the mode in which the aggregate meeting of the Catholic body, with lord Fingall at their head, thought proper to proceed—the very persons against whom it was said, that the Irish government had acted with intemperance and intolerance; and, as if they were determined to remove every doubt that might by possibility exist of their real intentions, they determined that, until the new Committee should be assembled, "the management of the Catholic affairs should be confided to the Catholic peers, baronets, and survivors of the delegates of 1793." This was the first time, as I have already stated, that the Roman Catholic prelates of Ireland had ever been appointed to constitute a part of such a Committee. The meeting thus constituted would have amounted to about 473 persons. This convention of the three estates of the Roman Catholic body, (for a more complete convention of these estates it was impossible to conceive,) was appointed to meet in Dublin. I will fairly own, that when the lord lieutenant, and those who had the honour of advising him, saw those Resolutions, they were struck with the danger that might result from them. They felt that it was a melancholy thing, that a man of lord Fingall's rank and character, should lend himself to such proceedings, particularly after what he had witnessed the year before, when he found that all his attempts were vain to repress the violence and factious language manifested in the debates, and when he found that their proceedings were of so dangerous a nature, as to render it necessary for him to secede. The government felt also, that in consequence of the Resolutions to which I have adverted, all those persons who had distinguished themselves 575 in the Old Committee for their violence and turbulence; who had exerted themselves with the greatest assiduity and zeal to promote general irritation and discontent, would be members of the New Committee; and in fact, there was not a man, no, not a single man, who had ever made a factious speech in the Old Committee, who was not chosen to form a part of the new. This Committee, then, with the advantage, if I may use the expression, of all the experienced advocates of faction of the Old Committee, and all the strength which would be derived from the members that were to be returned from the counties, if allowed to sit in defiance of the law, and to act, as they most undoubtedly would have acted, must have virtually annulled the government. If such a Convention, (for I cannot with propriety give it any other name,) even if assembled for any purpose however legal, had been allowed to sit in the city of Dublin, it would have been impossible to have been responsible for the peace of that city for one moment. What were these people who were thus constituting themselves into so formidable a body? I will tell the House in their own language. They state themselves to be the representatives of four millions of Roman Catholics, who "occupy the most valuable positions, whether for commercial, or for military purposes. The boldest coasts, most navigable rivers, and most tenable passes, the most fertile districts, the richest supplies of forage, the readiest means of attack or defence."
The Catholics were represented, on the same authority, as forming five-sixths of the population of Ireland. The number of persons of that religion, qualified to sit in parliament, from learning, talents, and property, were estimated at thirty thousand; and their clergy, who, it was stated, ought to be provided for by the state, without any condition or limitation, amounted to two thousand. This population, so described, were, it was said, not only qualified to hold all public offices, (even including that of lord lieutenant), but had an actual right to hold five-sixths of them. I ask the House, in what state would the government of Ireland be, if a committee, professing to be the full and complete representation of five-sixths of the whole population of that country, a population possessing such physical and local advantages, avowing such pretensions, and demanding such concessions, was established 576 in the metropolis—what, I ask, would be the security for the tranquillity of the country, if such a committee were allowed to sit, deliberate, and act, in Dublin?
What would you say, Mr. Speaker, if, in one of the theatres in the Hay-market, there was a convention representing four millions of the people of this country, assuming all the forms of parliament? I am convinced, if such a thing were to occur, gentlemen would rise from every corner of the House, and say it ought to be put down. If no law existed to enable government to disperse such a meeting, you would instantly pass an act to suppress it. If such would be the conduct of gentlemen, and I am confident it would, (if the case were applicable to England), surely, they ought to feel the necessity of giving the same, or even greater support to the government of Ireland: a government that does not possess the advantage and support of a resident legislature, and which has nothing to look to but its own vigilance and its own energy.
I will now state the proceedings that took place, in consequence of the conduct of the Catholic Committee which I have just described. The lord lieutenant, having taken every part of the subject into his most serious consideration, sent, on the 20th of July last, a dispatch upon it to his Majesty's ministers. In this dispatch, his grace expressed his opinion, that the government of Ireland ought to proceed against those who had manifested so unequivocal a determination to violate the law. He also observed, that be had laid the whole of the proceedings of the Catholics before the crown lawyers, who were clearly of opinion, that they were direct violations of the Convention act. Such was the substance of the dispatch seat off on the 20th of July, to ministers. It has been often said, and indeed I heard it remarked in another place, that the government of Ireland were very remiss is not communicating with the Catholics, when they found they were going too far, and warning them of the penalties which they were incurring. It had also been stated last year, that it would have been more fair, more liberal, 'and more parental' towards the Catholics, to have proceeded by way of proclamation, instead of issuing tile Circular* Words used by Mr. Ponsonby. See Vol. 19, p. 272,577 Letter. It was said, that a proclamation would have shewn that there did not exist any intention of taking the people by surprise; that it must have had great weight with the people, and great authority from the sanction of the great law-officers of the crown. Feeling all this, and giving it all the weight it deserved, the lord lieutenant, before he received an answer to his dispatch, considered that it would be highly desirable, notwithstanding the conduct of the Catholics, to proceed with mildness; and, thinking that it was impossible that lord Fingall and the other respectable persons at the head of the Roman Catholic body, could willingly fly in the face of the law, of the known determination of government, and of the avowed opinion of parliament, his grace ordered me, on the 22nd instant, to see his lordship. On the 25th, it not being convenient to him to come sootier, lord Fingall called upon me.
I told his lordship that the lord lieutenant had desired me to acquaint him, that the very high respect he entertained for him, and the thorough good opinion he had of his loyalty and public spirit, had induced him to direct me to express to his lordship, that, from the Resolutions which had appeared in the newspapers, with his name affixed to them, and also from some accounts which had been published of some returns of representatives from parishes in Dublin, for the purpose of forming a meeting of delegates, of the nature stated in those Resolutions, and which it was the opinion of his Majesty's law servants would be illegal; his grace was apprehensive that the Catholics were about to proceed in a manner which would make it necessary for his Majesty's government to take their conduct into serious consideration, with a view to those measures to which it might be his duty to resort; that I was therefore to communicate with his lordship upon the subject: in order that he might be apprised of the lord lieutenant's feelings upon it. I pointed out to his lordship the danger that was likely to result from the meeting of a committee so constituted, and I entered into a comparison between the Resolutions of the committee passed in May, 1809, (readopted in 1810,) and those passed on the 9th of July last. I observed, that in the former all representation was denied, but that in the latter, no such reserve was made. I did not attempt to compare either of the committees with those of 578 former days, as has been done by the learned gentleman. Lord Fingall would have laughed at me if I had done so, for he really knows something of Ireland.—Lord Fingall said, that he was of opinion, that the addition of the peers and the prelates to the committee would give such a preponderance to the loyal and temperate, that no mischief need be apprehended. I beg the House will mark the absurdity of this. We were to trust to the high rank, authority, and loyalty of the peers and prelates, to guard us against the mischief we apprehended, when it was well known that in the preceding year, when the committee was not near so numerous, neither lord Fingall nor his friends could check the violence and intemperance of the factious part of it.
I reminded his lordship of what passed last year in the committee, when he, lord Ffrench, and others, were so disgusted that they were under the necessity of seceding. I told him that the introduction of ten persons from each county would, in all probability, add to the preponderance of the democratic part of the committee over the peers and prelates; and that therefore I was convinced he would not be able to wield this great machine, having already failed in giving a proper direction to a lesser one. I concluded with informing him, that, under all the circumstances of the case, the government felt itself bound to take some serious steps to avert the, threatened danger; that these-steps would not be taken without due deliberation; and that whatever the measures of government might be, his lordship should be apprised of them. The interview then terminated.
On the 29th of July, a dispatch was received by the lord lieutenant from ministers, in answer to the one which I before mentioned, approving of every thing his grace had proposed, and recommending the proceeding by proclamation. The lord chancellor of Ireland, the attorney general and myself, thought that the mode of proceeding by letter was preferable to a proclamation; but we did not think proper to set up our opinion in opposition to that expressed by ministers, and we thought that by proceeding in the way recommended, we should at least be sure of the approbation of those who in the preceding session had told us that our great error was in not haying issued a proclamation. I wrote to lord Fingall on the 30th of July, requesting an interview 579 with him on that day, and his lordship called upon me accordingly. A council was to meet in the afternoon, in order to consider of the proclamation. I beg pardon of the House for going into these details, but they are necessary because so much has been said against the Irish government for not having treated the Catholics with proper attention, that it is fit the House should know the facts and decide for itself.
Sir, a long conversation ensued between lord Fingall and myself, nearly similar to that which took place on the 25th, I stated to him the measure that was about to be adopted, and just as we were upon the point of separating, the lord lieutenant, and the lord chancellor, accidentally came into the room. His grace with great condescension addressed lord Fingall, and expressed his sentiments respecting the danger of the meeting, and the necessity of an interference on the part of government. The Lord Chancellor also spoke to the same effect.
Sir, I then felt it my duty to say—"Your lordship has heard the opinion of the lord lieutenant, and of the lord chancellor—You are already acquainted with the opinion of the law-officers of this country,—and I have informed you to-day that the law-officers, as well as the cabinet ministers, of England, concur in thinking that your proceeding are in all their steps contrary to law, and highly dangerous to the state. I ask your lordship, whether the lord lieutenant, with the collective opinions of the law-officers of the crown in both countries, upon the law, and with the opinions which he entertains, in common with the British cabinet, upon the danger, can be justified in suffering the committee to persevere in their attempts to assemble with impunity?—And I put it to you, who, as a man of high rank and property, must be deeply interested in the peace and prosperity of the country, whether you will now persist in lending your sanction to these proceedings; I put it to your lordship whether you will suffer yourself to be led into measures that must endanger the tranquillity of the country?"
Sir, my lord Fingall was assured that there could not be a grosser misrepresentation than that which had been asserted in the factious prints, that the Irish government wished to prevent the Roman Catholics from petitioning. He was informed 580 that if they wished to call an aggregate meeting, for the purpose of considering the propriety of presenting a petition to parliament, such a meeting might be held; but that the committee must not sit from day to day, debating and promulgating doctrines which could not but be dangerous to the state, and must create agitation in every part of Ireland. The lord lieutenant told him, that, so far from impeding the Catholics in the fair exercise of their right of petitioning, he would even give them a room in the castle to meet in, if they wanted accommodation; but, added his grace, do not lend yourself to people who are forcing on measures that will probably affect yourselves, and endanger the peace of the country.
Sir, at this meeting lord Fingall desired that I would write him a letter, expressive of the determination of government, that he might lay it before the Catholic committee; and I wrote him one accordingly, which has been published in all the newspapers. This letter has been represented as an insult to lord Fingall, and it has also been asserted that his lordship and the Catholic body had been taken by surprize, and that they had no intimation of the intentions of government to interfere. I really wish that when persons are so anxious to bring forward charges, they would condescend previously to ascertain facts. I wish that they would recollect that those who compose the government of Ireland are men of honour; that they have characters to maintain; characters, I will add, that stand as high as any of those by whom they are accused: and that those characters ought not to be assailed by assertions which had not the slightest foundation in truth.
Sir, notwithstanding all that had passed, lord Fingall, the very next day, sat in the chair at a meeting of the committee, at which the following Resolutions, among others, were agreed to:—
1. "Resolved, That the Catholic committee, having adjourned on the 25th July to the 19th October 1811, have, notwithstanding, deemed it expedient to hold an extraordinary meeting on this 31st day of July, in consequence of a communication from government to the earl of Fingall, dated the 30th inst. to the following effect:—"That a privy council was to be assembled to take into consideration the "expediency of issuing a proclamation, 581 "declaratory of the law, &c. &c.; and likewise of the course to be pursued to ensure its observance."
§ "Resolved, That this committee, relying on the constitutional right of the subject to petition the legislature, in the way and manner specified in a resolution to that effect, passed at the last aggregate meeting of their body, do now determine to continue and persevere in the constitutional course they have maturely adopted, for the sole, express, and specific purpose of preparing a petition or petitions to parliament for their full participation of the rights of the constitution, and that, in so doing, they not only, in their opinion, do not violate, but act in strict conformity with its soundest principle." And they resolved also" That the Resolutions of the aggregate meeting of the Catholics, held on the 9th of July, should be republished." [Here some gentlemen on the opposite side of the House cried hear, hear!] I am glad to find that gentlemen are so well disposed to hear; if they mean by that cheer to set up the opinion of this meeting against that of the Irish government, of the law-officers of the crown, and of the court of King's bench, they are at liberty to do so. But I hope and believe the country will pause before it draws similar conclusions.
§ Thus, then, the House will perceive after the proclamation had been issued, and every effort bad been made to apprize lord Fingall of the illegality of the proceedings, the Catholics entered into new, and re-published their former Resolutions, in defiance of the law, and in total disregard of all the high authorities I have stated.
§ The House, Sir, is now in possession of the facts; and I have no doubt that, under all the circumstances of the case, it will be of opinion, that, if the lord lieutenant tad not enforced the law, he would have been guilty of a gross dereliction of his duty.
§ After the issuing of the proclamation, a great ferment was excited in Ireland; the government was assailed from all quarters, and particularly by the factious prints, with the grossest abuse; and the most violent of the agitators proceeded to have meetings held in the different counties of Ireland, for the purpose of making the people believe that the elections were going, on, according to the resolutions of the Catholics: in fact, however, they were held in such a way as not to come 582 within the provisions of the Convention act. The intention evidently was, to proceed in such manner as to have it supposed that these four millions of Catholics had peaceably, and without opposition, elected representatives to manage their affairs in this new Committee. These meetings were held for the most part during the assizes, but they were conducted in such a manner that it was almost impossible to find out what passed at them. Even in the county which I have the honour of representing, where it may naturally be supposed I have some interest, and could obtain the earliest information, two days elapsed before I could get a copy of their resolutions. Attempts were daily made to make the people believe that the elections were going on publicly, and in open defiance of the government and of the law. The fact, however, was, that they did not venture to act in open opposition to the law in any one county, after the issuing of the proclamation, except in the county of Meath, where lord Fingall presided, in consequence of which, proceedings were ordered against his lordship, and some of the other leading persons who were present. It had been insinuated that the magistrates were afraid to act, though the Catholics openly violated the law; but this was not the fact. The meetings were held in such a manner as to keep within the letter of the law.
§ Sir, I can mention a curious instance to prove this assertion:—There was a gentleman (whose name, I have no doubt, will be received by the gentlemen on the other side with a cheer) I mean major Bryan, who was sent over here last year with an address to the. Prince Regent, signed, as it had been stated, by 29,000 persons, for the removal of the duke of Richmond, and of his chief secretary. From the language and conduct of this gentleman, it might naturally have been supposed that here was a stout champion, who would have boldly expounded the law in a way different from that adopted by government: but what was the fact? When the proclamation of the Irish government was stuck up at Kilkenny, I was informed that major Bryan bad posted up one of his manifestoes along side of it; and we were told by the newspapers that the proclamation, from that moment, was no better than waste paper.—I certainly then thought that this great champion, by this proceeding, was determined on grappling with the government, and disputing the 583 validity of its proclamation. I naturally concluded that the gallant officer's Notice would have run thus:—"Whereas a meeting of the Catholics of Ireland was held on the 9th July last, at which it was resolved, that ten representatives should be elected in each county in Ireland; and whereas a proclamation has been issued by government, stating, that such elections are indirect violation of the Convention act; now we, being of opinion that such proclamation is not in itself justified by law, are determined to meet, for the purpose of electing the said representatives. We therefore call on the inhabitants of the county and city of Kilkenny to assemble on the 6th August, in order to proceed to the said election."—But what, Sir, was my surprise when I inquired into the nature of the gallant major's notice, and found, that, instead of its being an open avowal of his carrying the resolutions of the Catholics into effect, it was only an innocent paper, requiring a general meeting of the Catholics of the county and city of Kilkenny, on the 6th of August, "to take into consideration the propriety of concurring with the general petition of the Catholics of Ireland, and adopting those measures necessarily connected with petitioning."—The Resolution of the Catholics was to elect ten representatives; instead of which the meeting at Kilkenny, contented itself with passing nine resolutions, which were quite as innocent as the gallant major's notice.
§ There was another curious meeting of the same kind at Waterford: a right hon. baronet (Sir. J. Newport) attended it, and made a good common-place speech about Catholic emancipation; but did he, like a good privy counsellor, advise those whom he was addressing, to consider how far they might be guilty of violating the law? However, not seeing the right hon. baronet in his place, I shall not animadvert any more upon what passed at that meeting.
§ I come now to that part of the subject on which I shall have occasion to say a word or two on the issuing of the Lord Chief Justice's warrant. Sir, it would be presumptuous in me to enter into any discussion upon the legal part of the question; shall leave that to be argued by my learned friends near me. I shall only observe, that it was impossible for the lord lieutenant to receive the construction of the law from any body but the law-officers of the crown, and it affords me 584 great satisfaction to find their opinion confirmed by the unanimous decision of the court of King's bench. I think it necessary, however, to vindicate the character of the lord lieutenant, and those who had the honour to advise him, from one of the foulest, and basest, and falsest aspersions that ever was thrown out against any public men; I allude to what has been said respecting the signature of the warrant by the lord chief justice. It has been said, I understand, that the lord chief justice was a man of the highest integrity and talents, and not likely to have taken such a step, but that it was by the 'contrivance' of the Irish government that he was induced to sign the warrant. What is meant by the word 'contrivance?' It must mean something improper;—it means that the lord chief justice had been induced by management or by trick to do something that he would not otherwise have done. Now, what was the plain fact? When it was determined to proceed against persons supposed to have transgressed the law, all informations of course were, brought to me in my official capacity, and I immediately sent them to the crown solicitor, in order that they might be and before the law-officers. The crown lawyers recommended that the persons who had violated the law should be proceeded against, and they at the same time recommended that the warrant which was to be issued against them should be signed by the lord chief justice, stating it to be the common practice in matters of great moment, especially in a case where the law had been so openly violated, that a chief justice's warrant should be issued, and being of opinion, that the solemnity of this proceeding, might have the beneficial effect of detering others from following a similar course. This, Sir, is the true state of the case, and this was the 'contrivance' used by the Irish government to induce the chief justice to affix his signature to the warrant! I never saw the chief justice's warrant except in print; and whether he was right or wrong, is not for me to say; it is sufficient for me to have stated the facts.
§ The hon. and learned gentleman has alluded to what fell from me, last year, when I said that I had not recommended the taking the benefit of the chief justice's opinion at a council, or giving his authority to a proclamation; because, if any person were to be tried for offending against the law, he would probably be 585 their judge; and I did not wish to throw a stain on the purity of a court of justice; and the learned gentleman asked, why we had not now proceeded upon the same principle? It is very true, that I did use the words the learned gentleman has read, and from the appearance of the paper from which he read them, I suspect it is the same that was used, for a similar purpose, in another place. But the learned gentleman has forgot to state to the House, as the other person did, who bad quoted my speech, that the observation was made in reply to a remark of the right hon. and learned gentleman (Mr. Ponsonby) opposite to me; that if we had proceeded by proclamation, we might have had the benefit of the chief justice's opinion, and all the weight of his authority. Sir, there is, in fact, a most material difference between the two cases; in the former, the chief justice would have actually been called upon to give ah opinion upon the legal guilt or innocence of the parties, before the period of trial, whereas the issuing of the warrant involved no opinion whatever; but was merely an act performed, in the regular and ordinary discharge of his official duty, as a magistrate. Another material difference between the two cases is, that before the issuing the proclamation, and the lord chief justice's warrant, the Irish government had had the sanction of parliament for the whole of their proceedings, as well as for their construction of the Convention Act.
§ An attempt has been made to raise a clamour against the Irish government, for proceeding against lord Fingall; and it has been represented in the newspapers, here to-night, and in another place, as an intentional insult to the whole Catholic body. This is an objection that I did not expect to hear, from those who profess to be advocates for the equal and impartial administration of justice. Upon what principle of justice, I beg to ask, could the Irish government, in a case where persons of high, and persons of low rank, had equally violated the law, pass by the former, and prosecute the latter? It appears to me, that if any difference was to be made, the person of rank and fortune ought rather to be the person prosecuted, because he has the means of knowing better, and his example is more likely to be productive of mischief. But the lord lieutenant admitted of no such distinctions. He knows only those who obey, and those who violate the law. He makes no difference 586 between peer and peasant, between Catholic and Protestant.
§ Sir, there is one point of view in which this subject has struck me, that I beg leave to state to the House. We are accused of madness, felly, and intemperance, because, under the authority of the advice of the law-officers of the crown, in both countries, we endeavoured to put down a complete convention, representing the three estates of the Roman Catholics of Ireland; a convention, in which there were persons who have shewn that they would not stop at any thing short of a separation of the two countries. [Here some gentlemen on the other side expressed their dissent.] If gentlemen will take the trouble of reading the debates of the Committee, they will find that separation was distinctly and openly recommended, and that every argument, every topic of declamation, that ingenuity could suggest, was made use of to throw the two countries into confusion, and to set the people of Ireland against those of England. I put it to the House, whether, if the Irish government believed that to be the case, and that they had the opinion of the law officers of the crown justifying that presumption, they would not have been justly censured, had they allowed the convention to sit in the city of Dublin? Could the convention have been suffered to sit from day to day, with any degree of propriety, or without manifest danger to the public tranquillity? Suppose the Irish government had vainly believed, that it could have sat without danger, that, contrary to the opinion of the law-officers of the crown, they had allowed it to meet; and suppose, that by the intemperance of any one individual, blood had been shed, or any mischief had ensued; what then would have been said of that government? I ask, whether the gentlemen opposite to me, would not have been the first to accuse us, and justly too, for having grossly neglected our duty, and endangered the safety of the state? Will any man tell me, that an assembly, constituted like the one which I have described, without a crown to dissolve, without a speaker to restrain it, could sit in the city of Dublin, without endangering the public tranquillity? What justification could the Irish government have offered, if they had allowed this convention to sit, and any mischief had ensued? Would not the gentlemen opposite to me have said, you knew that this was an illegal meeting; the law officers of the crown told 587 you it was an illegal meeting; they advised you to proceed, and they pointed out the means with which the constitution had invested you to put down such meetings. You have neglected your duty by not taking this advice, and you are responsible for the mischiefs that have occurred. What answer could the Irish government have made to such a charge? I have not put an extreme case, and unless party spirit and political hostility have destroyed all candour, the gentlemen, on the other side of the House, must admit, that we could not have adopted a different course consistently with our duty.
§ Sir, I had before heard of the opinion given this night by the learned gentleman on the Convention act, and indeed, I have seen it; but I never, till to-night, knew on what grounds, and by what arguments, he intended to defend that opinion. I now perceive that he has read, with some care, the speech of Mr. Burrowes, on Dr. Sheridan's trial, as reported by Mr. Ridgeway. I wish he had read a little farther. I wish he had perused the eloquent and convincing answer of the Solicitor-General; he would have found a complete refutation of the opinion he has now expressed, and the true spirit and meaning of the Convention act accurately pointed out.
§ I will now advert to the proceedings of the Committee, from which it will be manifest, that they were conscious they were acting illegally. Lord Fingall knew that if the Committee attempted to meet, it was the determination of government to disperse it. On the 19th of October the Committee was to meet: it did meet, and there was a kind of race between them and the magistrates. Lord Fingall was not, according to the depositions made on oath by the two peace officers who attended, above ten or fifteen minutes in the chair, when the meeting broke up. On the 23d of December, the Committee was to assemble again. It met accordingly, but government was then more on the alert, and dispersed the meeting. The magistrate who was employed on this occasion, had, it was admitted on all hands, conducted himself in the mildest and most conciliating manner. This gentleman, when he entered the meeting, asked lord Fingall, who was in the chair, if that was the Catholic Committee? If they thought they were acting legally, the answer would have been directly in the affirmative; but what was the answer? Lord 588 Fingall said, "we are met here for lawful purposes." The magistrate was obliged to cross-examine his lordship, and Mr. O'Connell, the barrister, was at his elbow, cautioning him against committing himself by his answers. Surely, this was not the conduct of men conscious of their innocence, and convinced that they were acting in conformity with the laws of the land. I see my hon. friend (Mr. Whitbread) opposite, taking notes—I am sure he would not have acted in such a manner—be would, if conscious that he was acting constitutionally and legally, have avowed in a manly way, the object of the meeting, and he would have defied any one to interrupt them.—Sir, the government of Ireland would have proved itself most inefficient indeed, if it had been satisfied with mere formal declarations, without endeavouring to ascertain what was the real object and intention of the people whose conduct they were watching.
§ I should observe, that a few days before the Committee was dispersed, a dinner was given, as it was described, to the Friends of Religious Liberty. At this dinner a number of very respectable Protestant gentlemen attended, and great pains were taken, and a great deal of art used, to make it appear, that they had given their countenance to the illegal meeting which was about to be held. I am far from believing, that any of the Protestant gentlemen who attended had any intention of giving their sanction to a violation of the law; but such was the construction which was artfully put upon, their attendance, upon that occasion.
§ At the meeting of the 23d December, there were about 300 delegates present, according to the best information that could be collected. After they had been dispersed, in the manner which I have stated, they immediately repaired to an-other place, where they assembled in smaller, but still in considerable numbers. The magistrate followed them thither, and' asked them if they were an adjourned meeting of the Catholic Committee? They replied, they were not; that they were merely met as individuals; and upon that assurance he left them unmolested. From this it was obvious, that if they had wished to call an aggregate meeting to consider their petition, they would not have been impeded. In fact, they did determine to call an aggregate meeting, and it assembled on the 26th of December, at ten o'clock in the morning. Those delegates 589 who had come to town to attend the Committee, having remained in Dublin, were all present at this meeting. Now, Sir, if, as it has been contended, it was necessary, for the more effectually preparing the petition, to have the assistance of persons from all parts of Ireland, here an opportunity had offered of the most favourable nature. Here were the ten representatives from each county, and the five persons from the parishes, &c. assembled as individuals, and assisted by the collective wisdom of a very large and respectable body of Catholics. Here was no fear of molestation from the government. Here lord Fingall was in the very same chair; Mr. Hay sat as secretary, with the very same petition in his pocket, which he was about to read to the Committee on the 23d, when it was dispersed; but did it ever occur to the persons present to avail themselves of a combination so fortunate, if the object really was to ascertain the opinions from all quarters of Ireland on the terms of the petition? no such thing! not one word was mentioned about the petition; their time was occupied in discussing and passing a set of violent Resolutions against the Irish Government, and in establishing a board, composed of all the members of the general Committee, (which has never yet met, as far as I can learn,) to prepare an Address to the Prince Regent. They then adjourned till the 28th February. The Resolutions in question contained some violent censures against the duke of Richmond and his administration, accusing him of a systematic course of oppression against the Catholics.—[Mr. Pole then read the following Resolutions:]
§ "AGGREGATE MEETING.
§ "At a very numerous Meeting of the Catholics of Ireland, held in Dublin, at the Private Theatre in Fishamble-street, on Thursday, the 26th of December 1811,
§ "The Earl of Fingall in the chair,
§ "Resolved, That it appears to us, that the general Committee of the Catholics of Ireland, appointed and assembled for the sole and constitutional purpose of preparing petitions to the legislature, on behalf of the Catholic people, and possessing the confidence, esteem, and reverence of Irishmen, of all persuasions, have been forcibly and illegally obstructed and outraged by the orders of his grace Charles duke of Richmond, the present chief governor of 590 Ireland, in conjunction with other persons exercising the civil government therein, and their prominent legal advisers.
§ "Resolved, That in the measures pursued by the administration of Ireland for some years, we have observed, with regret and indignation, a spirit of progressive intemperance, and exasperating intolerance, arising from the impolicy of those rulers, as well as from their ignorance of the country they have undertaken to govern."
§ Sir, these Resolutions are signed by lord Fingall. I really feel quite ashamed to trouble the House so much at length, but the character of the Irish government is implicated, and I hope I shall be excused. It is remarkable, that fourteen months before lord Fingall signed the resolutions which I have just read, that noble lord, at a meeting of freeholders of the county of Meath, moved a vote of thanks to lord Wellington. Now, if during the time lord Wellington had the honour of being one of the duke of Richmond's advisers, that noble duke had manifested a spirit of" progressive intemperance and exasperating intolerance." against the Roman Catholics, lord Fingall, most undoubtedly, would not have proposed such a vote of thanks to lord Wellington. It follows then, of course, that all that intemperance and intolerance must have been manifested during the time I have bad the honour of being one of his grace's confidential advisers. Now I will challenge any man, whatever, to bring forward a single instance of intolerance on my part towards the Roman Catholics—nothing will give me more satisfaction than to have every measure, which I have recommended, examined with the utmost rigour. Is the repeal of the Insurrection Act a proof of intolerance? Is the modification of the Arms Act, by which very considerable powers were taken from the magistrates, a proof of such a disposition? By the latter act, as it at first stood, magistrates were authorised to enter any house to search for arms, of their own authority, and without any information on oath.—By the amended act, that power is taken away from them, and the whole responsibility thrown upon the government. Is the Gaol Act, the benefit of which has been universally felt and acknowledged, a proof of any intolerant feeling?—I have carefully looked over all the prominent measures of the duke of Richmond's administration, and I cannot trace any one act which deserved those epithets; and I am sure that I can 591 assert with safety, that his grace never Sir having concluded all assert with safety, that his grace never meant to act towards that part of his Majesty's subjects, whose case is under consideration, bat with the utmost mildness and conciliation. If any gentleman is disposed to controvert my assertion, let him state the case in which the duke of Richmond's administration has manifested any symptom of intolerance, and I will answer him, and shew by the most decisive documents that the charge is unfounded.
§ In order that the House may see the spirit with which these things are conducted, I will read two Resolutions which were passed in September 1810, at an aggregate meeting of the freeholders and citizens of Dublin, held for the purpose of petitioning for the repeal of the Union. A great number of Catholic gentlemen were present; among others, Mr. O'Connel, who took an active part upon that occasion, as well as at the meeting in December last, when the violent Resolutions against the duke of Richmond were passed.—The Resolutions I am now about to read were carried with acclamation, and will shew the opinion then entertained by those gentlemen, of the duke of Richmond and his government.—I will not give any epithet to their conduct, but leave it to the public to decide upon its consistency.
§ [Mr. Pole then read the Resolutions:]
§ "REPEAL OF THE UNION.
§ "AGGREGATE MEETING.
§ "At an Aggregate Meeting of the freemen and freeholders of the city of Dublin, convened pursuant to requisition, held at the Royal Exchange, on Tuesday the 18th of September, 1810.
§ "Resolved unanimously, That our excellent and amiable viceroy, his grace the duke of Richmond, has, by the uniform conciliation and wisdom of his conduct, merited the gratitude and thanks of the Irish nation. As a patron of public institutions, as a friend to Irish manufactures, as an upright chief governor, combining at once suavity of demeanor with constitutional moderation; his grace's ministry will be long remembered with affection and esteem by every loyal Irishman.
§ "Resolved unanimously, That we, the citizens of Dublin, in Aggregate Meeting legally assembled, fully impressed with a sense of his grace's many virtues, seize with pleasure this public opportunity of returning our grateful acknowledgments to his grace, and of thus recording our unqualified approbation of his lieutenancy in this kingdom."592
§ Sir, having concluded all the observations which I have to make, respecting the conduct of the Irish government, I shall now say a few words respecting the other part of the question, namely, the Catholic claims. I wish to premise, that it has never fallen to my lot to take any part in the debates which have occurred from time to time, upon the petitions preferred by the Roman Catholics. I should have been very glad, if a motion had been made, to bring forward the question of the conduct of the Irish government without coupling it with the Catholic question. I should have been glad, for a reason which I shall presently state, to have been able to abstain, while I am in my present situation, from taking any part in the discussion of that question; but the subjects are this night so blended, that it is impossible for me to avoid noticing it. Though I have never taken any part in the debates upon the Catholic claims, I have always voted against the prayer of their petition. When I undertook my present office, I felt that it was most desirable, that any person holding it, should not take any part in the debates relating to the Catholics, unless he was prepared to recommend an alteration of the law in their favour.
§ Sir, it is the duty of the lord lieutenant to see that equal justice is distributed, but it is not his province to alter the constitution.—Feeling that it was not his province to alter the constitution, and feeling that it was not the proper time for granting any further privileges, to the Roman Catholics, I thought it sufficient to express my opinion, as a member of parliament, by my vote; and I thought that I best performed my duty by attending to the business of my office, and not giving a ground for saying that I had done any thing that was likely to throw a prejudice on the Catholic question. Had I been of opinion that the prayer of the Catholic petition ought to be granted, I should have quitted my office, and so declared myself.
§ The discussion, however, being now forced upon me, I have do hesitation in declaring, that I am not one of those who think, that at no period further privileges may not be granted to the Catholics; but, at the same time, I am bound to declare, that I never have seen any plan proposed which afforded even a plausible hope that the claims of the Catholics could be granted, with a due regard to the safety of the establishments in church and state. It appears to me to be impossible to put the 593 Roman Catholics upon the same footing with the Protestants, without endangering those establishments. But I am open to conviction, and I might appeal to my conduct in Ireland, during the period of my residence there, a great part of which has been passed in troublesome times, whether I have ever given any reason to suppose, that I was inclined to go one inch further against the Catholics than was actually necessary to protect the constitution.
§ Sir, in my opinion, the Catholics have now assumed a tone, and adopted a line of conduct, which render it impossible for parliament to alter their condition, as long as they persist in the same course, and maintain the same menacing attitude. I do not mean to accuse the Catholic body itself; my observations apply to the committee; but the committee being declared to be the organ of the whole Catholic body, they are, of course, implicated in every act of that committee. The House will recollect, that, in the Catholic proceedings of last year, one of their members stated the progress made by the sub-committee of grievances in their report on the penal laws. At a subsequent meeting, it was determined, that 500 copies of that report should be printed. The first part of this work has been published by Mr. Fitzpatrick, and in such a manner as makes it evident, that it has the sanction of the committee.—I think it impossible, if this book has the authority which I have stated it to have, for any one to say, it does not come forward as the deliberate work of the Catholic committee, speaking the language of the Catholic body;—and, if so, I am sure no man can say it would be safe or proper to giant what is therein demanded.
§ I will just state what it professes to be. Its title is, "A Statement of the Penal Laws which aggrieve the Catholics of Ireland."—Has any gentleman a doubt of its being the production of the Catholic Committee? ["Yes, I, have," exclaimed Mr. Parnell.] The hon. gentleman doubts it, does he? I think I can easily satisfy him on that point. The report the committee is published by Fitzpatrick, in Capel Street; now I beg to read a short extract from a book published by the same person, some days after, and compiled by a Mr. Hamilton. It contains a great deal of matter which is very amusing; it contains all the libels that were written against me in the newspapers, in the course of the year. It is entitled, "A Statement of the 594 Catholic Cause, from the issuing of Mr. Pole's Circular Letter to the present day." The passage which I wish to read is as follows: "It was thought, and justly too, that the people of England were, and indeed still are, ignorant of the nature and extent of the restrictions which oppress, the Catholics of Ireland, and that even the sufferers themselves were not aware of all the privations and grievances to which they were and are liable. The report of the sub-committee is, we understand, fall and luminous, consisting of 124 sheets, evincing much labour and research, and interspersed with a highly-talented commentary." To this passage is annexed the following note:
§ "As this Report of the sub-committee of grievances is now published by Fitzpatrick, Capel Street, it is unnecessary to enlarge upon the subject."
§ After this statement, I think no doubt can be entertained as to the authenticity of this publication, which contains a most exaggerated account of the grievances under which the Roman Catholics are supposed to labour, and treats with contempt all that has been done for that body.—Mr. Pole then read the following extracts from the work:—"The Irish Legislature has carefully established a new ecclesiastical board, whose province it is to detect Catholic charities, and to appropriate their funds, when detected and seized, to the better maintenance of Protestant institutions. To facilitate this object, a special corporation has been embodied, under the plausible title of Commissioners of Charitable Bequests. This corporation deserves notice, by reason of its alertness in hunting down Catholic charities."—"Thus has the Irish parliament, in the last year of its existence, solemnly, organized a powerful inquisition, vigilant and eager in the pursuit of its prey, and armed with every necessary authority for discovering and seizing the funds destined by dying Catholics for the maintenance of the pious, and the poor of their own communion."—"Suffice it to say, respecting the general conduct of this board, that their zeal and activity in the discharge of their inquisitorial functions have completely succeeded in frustrating every attempt of the Irish Catholics to, provide any permanent maintenance for the ministers of their worship, their places of education, or other pious or charitable foundations."
§ I beg leave to state to the House, that 595 the commissioners of Charitable Donations thus spoken of, consist of the archbishops and bishops, the lord chancellor, and the twelve judges, some high dignitaries of the church, and the several incumbents of the parishes within the city and liberties of Dublin. The commissioners have now existed twelve years; during that period, the number of prosecutions which they have instituted, amount only to fifteen, all under the opinion of the Attorney General for the time being; and of these, only two have been brought against persons of the Catholic religion. The House will, I hope, forgive me if I state shortly the nature of the two cases in which these commissioners felt themselves bound to interfere:—
§ The commissioners, upon a complaint made to them, that a bequest left by a Roman Catholic to endow an hospital for Catholics, had not been carried into effect, commenced a suit, and in consequence of their interference, the hospital has been established, and is now a most well regulated and useful charity, in a country town, in which such an institution was much wanted. The case I allude to, is Houghton's hospital at New Ross. Here then it appears that the commissioners carried into execution the charitable intentions of this Catholic!
§ The other case, where a prosecution was recommended by Mr. Plunket, then Attorney General, was that of a Mrs. Mary Power, of Waterford, who had left a large sum for certain charitable uses; but, this money being left to two Catholic bishops and their successors for ever, it became a question whether they could be legally considered as a corporation; and in order to decide this point, as well as the legality of some of the bequests, Mr. Plunket recommended an application to the court of Chancery. However, before the matter was decided, the heir at law, a Catholic, arrived in Ireland, and commenced a prosecution to recover the property, on the ground that the will had been made under undue influence.—The matter I understand remains still undecided.
§ The remaining prosecutions were all against either Protestants or Protestant Dissenters, to compel them to carry into execution certain charitable bequests entrusted to them.
§ The commissioners, so far from considering themselves as composing the "inquisition" described in the book, and so far from acting in the spirit of inquisitors, 596 conceived their duty to be merely to enforce all charitable bequests, be they Protestant or Catholic. By the law, executors are bound to publish in the gazette statements of all charitable donations entrusted to them; but in many instances this provision had been neglected. I have at the same time to remark, that the commissioners are themselves in possession of regular returns of all donations left by will, which are furnished to them from the different registry offices, which returns are printed every second year and distributed. I have examined these returns, which contain donations for every species of Catholic charitable purposes that can be imagined, not one of which has been interfered with in the slightest degree.
§ Mr. Pole
then read to the House the following instances from these returns:
"1800.—According to the printed returns of this year, William Sawey of Downpatrick, bequeathed the sum of 1,000l to the Roman Catholic College of Maynooth."
"In the returns of the same year, Patrick Power, of New Ross, left the profit-rent of a house for the use of two chapels near Ross."
"1801.—The Rev. Matt. Lennon, titular bishop of Dromore, bequeathed 500l. to purchase six government debentures, for the purpose of establishing a daily mass in the chapel of Newry, in perpetuance; and he left a further sum of 500l for the erection of a school contiguous to the chapel, for the education of children of poor Catholics only."
"1802.—William Doran, of Wexford, gentleman, left unto the Rev. James Currin a Roman Catholic parish priest, 400l. for building and supporting a charity-school, to be erected at the rear of the chapel of Wexford, in the church yard, and also an annuity of 35l. yearly, for the uses and purposes which he had directed in, and by a letter or memorandum given by him to Mr. Currin."
"1803.—Mrs. Trench left, a sum of money to say masses for her soul, and the souls of her two husbands, besides bequests to seven Roman Catholic charity schools in the city of Dublin."
"1804.—Mrs. Mathews, of Usher's-quay, left 250l. to Maynooth College, and 100l. to the Roman Catholic school of St. Andrew's parish;—and Mr. Bonfield, of Limerick left 500l. for the use only of the Roman Catholic schools in Limerick."
"1805.—Edmund Connellan, of Cork, 597 after leaving a trifling sum to each of the chapels in the city of Cork, adds, 'I leave my executors at liberty to give whatever they please to father Dennis Sullivan, to say masses for mine and my wife's soul."
"John Reilly, of Prospect, in the county and town of Drogheda, left to Dr. Richard Reilly (the titular primate) 1500l. in trust, to be applied to such charitable uses as he should think fit."
"1810.—James Baldwin of Macroom, county of Cork, left all his lands and tenements in reversion, to Doctors Shuegrue and Moylan, in trust, out of the issues and rents thereof, to dispose of the sum of 400l. per annum, for establishing a school or schools, to be kept by Roman Catholic clergymen, in the parish of Kilnamartra, county of Cork, for instructing poor children in the religious tenets and rules of the church of Rome."
It is also asserted in this work, that "all national charities, legislative endowments, and pious funds, are absorbed in Protestant institutions, and monopolized by the ruling class."—Now I beg the House for a moment to consider the nature of these charitable institutions, and gentlemen will immediately be convinced how unfounded these assertions are.—The first charity I shall mention is the House of Industry, where Catholics and Protestants are indiscriminately received. It generally contains about 3,000 persons, who being necessarily of the lower orders of the community, the great majority of them are of course Catholics. So all the public hospitals that receive parliamentary aid; so all the county infirmaries; so the Lying-in hospital; so the Fever hospital.—Another institution, upon a very extensive scale, is the Foundling hospital, about which so much was said in the Catholic Committee last year; this charity is supported by large parliamentary grants; by a tax upon the houses of the city of Dublin; and by charitable bequests. By law, no child can be received into the Foundling hospital after the age of one year. If they remain till they are seven or eight years old, they are of course brought up in the Established religion of the country. But as infants are received without discrimination (legitimate as well as illegitimate) and are uniformly marked, so as to be at all times recognized; are nursed by Catholic nurses, are examined once a year at the hospital, and are, whenever demanded, delivered to those persons, who by stating their marks, shew they have a just right to 598 claim them; and there being generally in the house about 1,200 children, and at nurse about 4,000;—is it to be said that the Catholic body reaps no benefit from this noble institution? Indeed, I have been informed that many of the poorer inhabitants of Dublin take advantage of this institution, and leave their infants in the hospital, with a view to reclaim them at a future period, which they often do, when their industry has so far improved their circumstances, as to enable them to maintain their children.
Sir, there is another observation made in The work respecting "the miserable pittance which annually insults the Maynooth establishment." Now I have only to remark on this ungracious assertion, that no less a sum than 148,000l. has been voted by parliament within the last 16 years, for its support.
I now beg leave to say a few words respecting the Gaol Act, in which I may, in some degree, be considered personally interested.—Mr. Pole then read an extract from the same work to the following effect.
"As for the county gaols of Ireland, a certain limited compensation, under special restrictions, has been recently (by a statute enacted in 1810) provided for such Catholic clergymen as the respective grand juries may be pleased to nominate for the purpose of officiating as chaplains. But here too, from the ignorance of the framers, their neglecting or disdaining to consult the Catholic clergy, and the supercilious management of the entire transaction, this statute has fallen far short of its professed object. In some instances, it has proved even pernicious, by exciting discord between the grand jury and the Catholic bishop of the district. These mischiefs might have been avoided, by timely caution and ordinary prudence in preparing this law."
Now, Sir, this act was framed partly upon the report of the commissioners appointed to enquire into the state of the gaols in Ireland, and partly upon the best information that could be procured. It was submitted to the chief justice and judges of the King's-bench, under whose auspices and inspection it was drawn. It was then brought into parliament, printed, circulated throughout Ireland, and remained four months on the table of this House before it was passed. Every suggestion that was given from any quarter was attended to; and I appeal to the recollection of the House when I state, 599 that the Bill ultimately passed with the unanimous approbation of the House, and the satisfaction of every Irish member.
Catholic chaplains were appointed to the institutions under government in Dublin, at the recommendation of Dr. Troy, the titular archbishop of Dublin, and up to the Moment I am speaking, I am not aware that a single objection to the act, or a single suggestion for any alteration in it, has been made to the government by any Catholic whatever.—It is notorious, and I will appeal for the truth of my assertion to the Irish gentlemen in the House, that this act has been considered by all the lower orders of the Catholics as most beneficial in its effects.
Sir, whether the Roman Catholics derive any benefit from this act will be best shewn by a letter, which I received in the course of the autumn after the act passed, from the Roman Catholic bishop of Kildare and Leighlin; the grand jury of the Queen's county, of which I happened to be foreman, offered the Catholic chaplaincy of the gaol of Maryborough to the priest of the parish, who refused it on the ground that the salary, 30l. a year, was inadequate to the labour. I then wrote to the bishop, requesting him to recommend a proper person, and I received the following answer:"Tullow, 31 st August, 1810.Right hon. Sir; I had the honour this day or your very gracious communication respecting the offer made to Mr. O'Neil, of the chaplainship to the gaol of Maryborough, and his having declined to accept the appointment on the score alleged by him of the reputed smallness of the salary; I should expect that a conscientious clergyman would be chiefly swayed in matters appertaining to the pastoral charge, as in the present instance, by motives of a superior nature to those of pecuniary considerations, and even in the latter point of view, do, for my part, esteem 30l. a year a handsome provision, in addition to his other official emoluments, for a priest, resident on the spot, if otherwise at liberty to discharge the office. How grateful should we feel for this rare concession? What a striking contrast, I cannot help begging leave to observe, between the liberal and beneficial conduct of our legislature at the present day, in this particular, and the penal restrictions, may I presume to say, of former periods? When a Catholic priest, far from dreaming of such a thing as Stipendiary retribution 600 for his service would have considered himself as signally happy to be able to gain, even by stealth, at the most arduous risk, private admission into a gaol, for the purpose of exercising, without any hope, assuredly, or earthly fee or reward, in the most secret-wise, the functions of his sacred ministry, in behalf of its forlorn inmates of his profession; and now; to be not only thus openly and legally sanctioned in the public discharge of this important duty, but even stimulated to its execution, by an ample, permanent remuneration from the state.—What an incitement to the most strenuous co-operation on our side, in carrying into effect such excellent and charitable views!I speak here, permit me to aver, right hon. Sir, only what I intimately feel on the occasion. Under this impression, it must necessarily afford roe unspeakable regret, hot to be able to submit to your consideration a fit person for the office in question, from the extreme want of priests that actually prevails at this juncture, throughout the district with which I am charged; a circumstance that leaves (I humbly beg pardon for this detail,) not a few parochial chapels, to which are nevertheless attached, a numerous and wide-extended population, absolutely without divine service, even on Sundays.—I have the honour to be, &c. (Signed.)D. DELANY.Such, is the opinion, and such the language of a Roman Catholic bishop, respecting the advantages derived by Roman Catholics from this act, of which this work so strongly complains.
Sir, as long as the Roman Catholics adopt the language of this book, and adhere to the positions laid down in it, I cannot give my assent to a compliance with their demands. If, at any time, I should see a proper temper and disposition actuating the body of the Catholics, and this spirit of exaggeration and disaffection towards the government subside, I should be the last man in this House to oppose their pretensions. But until such a disposition is manifested by the Catholics, I feel it my duty to state distinctly, that I do not think it practicable, or possible, with security to the establishments, to put the Catholics upon an equal footing with the Protestans.
§ Mr. Sheridan
said, the right hon. gentleman had repeatedly appealed to him, although he had not uttered one word during the course of the debate. But as 601 he had so appealed to him, he must beg leave to say a word or two on the manner and matter of the speech of the right hon. gentleman, whom he should be proud to call his friend. He really had a high opinion of the mind and comprehension of the right hon. gentleman; but he had made no display on the present occasion of those talents for which he was willing to give him credit. On the contrary, he had taken a narrow and pitiful view of so great and important a question, and had stuffed his speech with endless extracts of the most miserable minutiæ, the most paltry and contemptible trash, and that in the discussion of a question the most momentous that could come under the consideration of the House; for the question of that night was, whether Ireland should be preserved in her allegiance to the British crown by conciliation and justice, or driven into the arms of the enemy, by injustice, tyranny, and oppression? This was the real question before the House, and not merely the claims of the Catholics, which formed only a part of the mass of grievances of which Ireland had to complain, and on which he would trouble the House of Commons more at length at a more favourable moment. Indeed, he had no intention of saying a word that night, and the few words he had uttered were extorted from him by the tone and the tenets which characterised the speech of the right hon. Secretary. For who could hear, without feelings of indignation, that justice and right was to be refused to a people merely because some of their advocates might have used indecorous and intemperate language in the assertion of their claims? The right hon. Secretary had called on the Irish Catholics to come forward in an attitude of submission and humility; with a tone and language that bespoke meekness, moderation, and forbearance. But while he was thus demanding from the Catholics every demonstration of mildness, submission and docility, he was himself making use of language, and insisting on topics, which no men, conscious of their rectitude and of the justice of their claims, could have temper to listen to, or patience to endure. As many honourable members had not yet spoken, and many valuable speeches might be expected from them, he begged leave to suggest the propriety of an adjournment.
§ The question was then put, and the further debate upon lord Morpeth's motion was adjourned till to-morrow.