§ The House having, according to order, resumed the adjourned Debate upon the motion made yesterday, "That this House will resolve itself into a committee of the whole House, to take into consideration the present state of Ireland,"
§ Sir John Newport
rose, and apologised to the House for thus early pressing upon its attention, when, from indisposition, he was so little able to treat the subject in a manner suitable to his own conception of its magnitude. He would not have come forward, had it not been that his conduct had been called in question, when he had not an opportunity of making that defence, of which he trusted that conduct would always be susceptible. The step which he had taken (attending the Catholic meeting at Waterford), and which he understood to have been animadverted upon, was not taken rashly. He had acted on that occasion with the coolest deliberation, and had done what he did from the firmest conviction, that he was not contravening the law, but was, on the contrary, consulting the best interests of his country. The proclamation was only the interpretation of the law, and not the law itself; and if any individual was sure that the construction of the law was wrong, he could not be called a violator of the law, when he disregarded the interpretation. The powers assumed by the privy council in the times of the Stuarts were well known to have been one of the chief causes of the expulsion of that unfortunate family. He did certainly attend a meeting of the Roman Catholics of Waterford, assembled for the purpose of preparing a petition to that House; and he had never ceased to hold out to that body, that in that House the redress of their grievances was to be sought for. He was not one of those who wished to impress upon their minds, that the door of parliament was shut against them. Certain factious persons had done so for the purpose of agitating the public mind in Ireland; and lately the government appeared to have joined with the agitators to produce the same effect. But fie called upon them to consider the consequences of turning away the minds of three or four millions of people from the constitution, by inculcating the persuasion, that they could never hope for an equal share of its benefits. Was that their way of tranquillizing Ireland? For his own part, he had always considered it the soundest policy to keep 606 the eyes of the Catholics upon that House; he had ever inculcated, that fresh sources of information were constantly opening more liberal views to the legislature; that the world was every day exhibiting phenomena bearing strongly upon this question; and that, though several sentences had been given against them, they had no reason to despair of the future. But it had been said, that the Catholics had their answer; and an unwise saying it was. They had not had their answer; and he hoped that no one would be able to do so much mischief to the country, as to persuade them that the restrictions under which they laboured were irrevocable. In the years 1792 and 1793, the parliament of Ireland had varied as much as day and night. In 1792, certain claims of the Catholics were almost unanimously rejected; in 1793, they were nearly unanimously admitted; and restrictions were then removed of great consequence in practice and in theory. He had uniformly inculcated upon the Catholics, therefore, that what had happened once might happen again. Such was the ground upon which he had attended the Catholic meeting. But why, it had been said, did he not attend the privy council, and there give his opinion? Because of his distance from the capital. If he could have attended, he would willingly have met the right hon. secretary (Mr. Pole) at council, and there openly stated his opinion, that nothing but the grossest infatuation, and most mischievous insanity, could have given rise to the construction which they put upon the Convention act As to the opinion of the judges of the court of King's-bench, he maintained, that he had a right to consider his own interpretation of the act to be correct, till the question had been decided upon in the last resort; for he had often seen opinions of that kind set aside. And as to the opinion of the law officers, there, were upon the table two opinions of the Attorney-general, on the subject of warehousing sugar, one given in January, and the other in March, directly contradictory to each other. He could not be supposed to place much confidence in such opinions.—The right hon. baronet then adverted to the extracts which had been read from a Catholic pamphlet, in order to shew the violent and intemperate manner in which that body conducted themselves: but extracts read from a book, taken without connection with the context, might be made to 607 prove any thing. Supposing, however, they were sometimes intemperate, this might admit of some excuse from men smarting under a sense of unmerited grievance. It was strange reasoning to say, We admit the grievances, and the propriety of redressing them, but then this is not the time; you must be cool—and not disturb our official repose with your intemperance. But even if there had been any thing in this, it was most unjust to charge the expressions of an individual upon a whole body. One of the passages, relating to the Commissioners of Charitable Donations, had stated, that their object appeared to be, to defeat the Catholic bequests. This was said to be unfounded. But it was not altogether unfounded; and, to prove this, he adverted to the case of a Catholic widow, who left her property in charitable donations. The first bequest in the will was, 1,000l. to the poor of the city of Waterford, without distinction of religious persuasions. This might have secured the favour of the guardians of Charitable Donations; but, in framing the statute, it bas been provided, that the commissioners might, in case of an illegal bequest; apply the money to a purpose which they might think the nearest to the testator's intention. In this case, they filed a bill in Chancery, to set the bequest aside. After this attempt to deprive the poor of Waterford of this property, was it surprizing that such should have been the opinion of the Catholics with respect to the commissioners, or that they should have entertained and expressed the most unfavourable opinions of these parliamentary guardians of Charitable Bequests, who endeavoured to do away the provisions of a will framed by this good Roman Catholic lady, in the most enlarged and exemplary spirit of liberality, and acted upon by her executor, the Roman Catholic bishop of Waterford, with the same enlightened and benevolent spirit. His right hon. friend (Mr. Grattan) could state what had taken place at the passing of the Convention bill. The preamble stated, that it was a declaration of the existing law; and, upon reference to the statute book, he saw no act that prevented the meeting of the people by delegates to prepare a petition to parliament. It had been said, indeed, that "under the pretence" meant the same thing as "for the purpose"—and to justify this construction, they had referred to a statute of Charles 2, to times when laws were made for the purpose of 608 entrapping the ignorant and the unwary; and bringing them under the power of the executive government. But he contended, that the words of laws intended for the people must be taken in their ordinary acceptation, and that it was not sufficient for him to be told by a lawyer, that, in statutes passed in bad times, words had been construed differently from their ordinary acceptation; but, if there could be any doubt as to the real meaning of the law, it must be solved on a reference to the concluding proviso, "That nothing herein contained shall be construed in any wise to prevent or impede the right of the subject to petition;" and how, he would ask, could an immense body of people prepare a petition, except by choosing a few, in whom they confided, for carrying that object into effect? In conclusion, he observed, that he really did not know how to give expression to the sense which he entertained of the magnitude of this question; convinced, as he was, that the crisis of this country is at hand; and that nothing could save it, but the cordial cooperation of all ranks and descriptions of the people. Let them not apply the flattering unction to their souls, that they may stifle or call up this subject at their pleasure. Let them remember that, by endeavouring to get rid of the question for an indefinite time, some putting it off for ever, and others doing what amounted nearly to the same thing—they estranged from the government a great portion of the population. He besought the House to consider how much might depend on the decision of that night.—Upon the temper which they displayed, either to receive the Catholics into the pale of the constitution, or to shut the door against them, would rest no less a stake than this—success or failure in the struggle, which was fast approaching, for their existence as a nation. I would, said the right hon. baronet, impress upon this House what I myself deeply and sincerely feel. In the few short and fleeting months which compose the present session of parliament, the doom of the British empire, will, I fear, be sealed; if her four millions of Catholic subjects be not by a full admission into every civil capacity embodied with the constitution, and for the constitution, this empire must fall. It is idle to talk of this as a question of time, or to suppose that the great mass of Irish population are to be told by those who admit the justice of their claims, it is not yet time to discharge 609 the debt; bat that when with perfect absence of irritation, or properly speaking, absence of feeling, they approach as humble petitioners, it may possibly be thought fit to concede that which ought never to have been with held. I implore the House to pause before it embraces such fatal doctrines, and at once to pursue that course which is the road of justice and of safety.
§ Mr. Charles Adams
thought the question might be divided into two parts; the one political, the other religious. With respect to the political part, it had been stated, that in case of the passing of the measure, one half of the members might be Roman Catholics; but though it was possible the proportion might be still greater, he apprehended that it was the greatest injustice to give any immunities to them without an intention at some future period to give all. On the religious part of the subject he thought the Roman Catholic doctrines were inadmissible; but he was happy to say, that though he had come down to the House strongly prepossessed against the conduct of the right hon. Secretary (Mr. Pole), his opinion was entirely altered in that respect, and he agreed that he had only done his duty. He had listened with pleasure to the eloquent display of a right hon. gentleman on the floor (Mr. Canning) on a former night; but he must say of his speech as had been said of the speech of a Roman, on a former occasion, that he had displayed—'Satis eloquentiœ, sapientiœparum.' Satisfied as he was with the defence which had been made for the Irish government, he should vote against the motion.
§ Mr. W. Fitzgerald
opposed the vote on a ground not yet much insisted upon, and observed, that the supporters of the motion and its proposer differed much in their reasons for agreeing together that it was a fit one. For the noble lord who had brought it forward had declared, that he abstained from involving in it the consideration of the conduct of the. Irish government while that subject was under a legal process, and while so much irritation prevailed on the public mind. But this example, though, from the manner in which the House marked their sense of its propriety, it was evidently greatly approved of, was not followed by those who deemed it right to support the noble lord on those very grounds which he had disclaimed. An hon. and learned gentleman opposite, (Sir A. Pigott) indeed, had, on the con- 610 trary, declared, that these were the very considerations which induced him to give the noble lord his vote.—On the subject of concessions, he differed from some of his right hon. friends, for he was convinced that at some time concession ought to be made. But that was not now the question, for it had not yet come to be avowed in that House, as it had been elsewhere, that they ought to surrender at discretion, and give up every guard, defence, and security. He was for the preservation of the state and of the church in their ancient and political rights. Even on the grounds of the noble lord, to whose Letter he had alluded (lord Grenville), he felt himself compelled to resist the present motion. With the worthy baronet who spoke last but one, he perfectly agreed that they ought not to drive Petitioners from their doors, but this doctrine was so universally avowed, that it seemed scarcely necessary to have dwelt at such length in inforcing it. As to the right hon. baronet's attendance at the Waterford meeting, he seemed to have been misinformed as to what passed on that subject last night. His right honourable friend (Mr. Pole) had not urged it against him as a subject of crimination and charge, but had merely stated his difference of opinion from him, and instanced this meeting as one of those endeavoured to be turned to the purpose of making a delusive impression on the public mind; that it was in direct contradiction to the law as laid down by the government, and sanctioned by the presence of a gentleman who had lately filled a high official situation. He thought the right hon. baronet had gone too far when he compared the government to the agitators, and accused them of having driven the Catholics from the attainment of legal objects by legal means. Was it so? Was preventing the election of a convention an act of this kind? Was the offering of facilities for an aggregate meeting such an act? He did not differ from the right hon. baronet when he said, the decision of parliament was not to be considered as final. If he thought it was, much as he deprecated the present motion, he would rather vote for it than against it, even if he thought the latter could in any way affect the final decision of the Catholic claims. He explained why the right hon. baronet wag not summoned to attend the privy council, which, from the necessity for dispatch, allowed only time to call on the members within ten miles of Dublin. The right 611 hon. baronet charged the council with measures of mischievous insanity; and no man could concur in the present motion unless he was prepared to go this length with the arguments of those who supported it. Could any man do this? On the contrary, he would defend the conduct of the Irish government; and even if they were wrong in the law, which they were not, it must be allowed on the other side, that they had not acted in an uncourteous, uncivil, or arrogant manner. The government had acted in the manner last session recommended by a right hon. gentleman opposite. They had communicated with courteous deportment with the leading men among the Catholics: they had adopted the parental measure of proclamation, and yet, though they followed their very opinions, they could not satisfy these hon. gentlemen. He contended, that they had the sanction of the House in what they had done, and of the law, as now decided in the cases of Dr. Sheridan and Mr. Kirwan. He entered into a warm panegyric on the character of of chief justice Downes, who had not last night, in his opinion, been treated with that deference and respect he merited. As a lawyer, as a judge, as a man, and as a magistrate, he was as venerable and unimpeachable as the highest of those who had dared to arraign him. With regard to the Attorney and Solicitor General, who had been treated with equal disrespect, even the most factious of the writers, who thought the best way to support the Catholic claims was to stigmatize their opponents, had not dated to impeach the purity of their principles. They had deserved better treatment than they had met With from art hon. and learned gentleman opposite (sir A. Pigott); and one of them (Mr. Bushe) was a man of whose splendid talents and ability all Ireland was proud. He could hot suffer those names to be so introduced, without offering his humble tribute in their vindication. The gentlemen opposite, though they had only mentioned the lawyers for the purpose of throwing a 'slur upon them, had desired to have more law, and they were not satisfied Without haying, in addition, the highest authority in this country against them. As for the legal proceedings in these cases, it was obvious to every one, that the Catholic advocates had never met the question fairly on its own grounds, but had displayed much ingenuity in 612 defending their clients, by objections and' points, as they would defend a felon at the Old Bailey. They never dared to admit the act of election, and try the cause on its merits, but endeavoured to foil the government by putting it to the proof. But he contended, that if the law had not, the danger of such a convention would have authorised the interference of government; and, in support of this argument, supposed a similar delegation to consider of the expediency of a repeal of the Union. Would it be said that such a meeting should, for a moment, be permitted, even if it only consisted of county representatives? And would they contend that a more dangerous meeting should be allowed with the representatives of Peers, Church and Commons? He paid a tribute of applause to the private character of lord Fingall, but referred to history to prove, that in all revolutions, erring virtuous men had commenced the ruin which they had not power to stop, and though they might acquit then" of guilt, it was not easy to acquit them of imprudence. The violence of the Catholic advocates had done the cause much harm, and their publications were enough even to frighten men from their side who had pledged themselves to support them. On these grounds he was decidedly against the motion; and thought it better for the Catholics to follow the course they had chalked out for themselves, to meet on the 28th of February and petition the Regent, then free from all restrictions.
Sir John Sebright
said, he should have no objection to make concessions to the Roman Catholics, provided such security was given as would effectually prevent any 'danger from accruing to the constitution. Thus far he was content to go. In his opinion, if the Irish government had pursued a different line of conduct from-that which they had adopted, they would have been grossly culpable.' The plain and simple statement made last night by the right hon. Secretary for Ireland, had effected a very great impression on his mind. The proceedings of the government had been mild and conciliating, such as be expected from the honourable character of the noble duke, the present for lieutenant of Ireland, with whom he had the happiness of being personally acquainted. But the conduct of the Roman Catholics bad been such, as influenced hint to oppose the 613 motion. This he regretted, as it had been introduced by his noble friend; but, most assuredly, the Roman Catholics were not justified in demanding that as a right, which ought to be requested as a boon—much less should they have assumed a menacing or threatening posture; yet, from the statements which had been made, it was clear they had formed a society dangerous to the existence of any state—and a book bad been published, with their concurrence, which was of a most inflammatory tendency. As a cry of "No Popery" was alleged to have gone abroad, he thought it right thus publicly to state his sentiments, lest he might be suspected of having flinched from his duty. As long as the Catholics stood in a menacing posture they should find an enemy in him. He confessed that the Catholics had a right to be emancipated, but they should receive emancipation with gratitude, and rather as a boon.
Mr. C. W. Wynn
said, that the principal objections of the hon. gentleman who spoke last but one were taken from the speech delivered, on the preceding evening, by the right hon. secretary for Ireland (Mr. Pole.) The present motion was supported on two grounds—the discontented state of Ireland, and the cause of that discontent. Many honourable members conceived that the refusal of the Catholic Claims was the source of the misfortune; others believed it to arise from the severity of the course pursued by the Irish government; and not a few attributed it to both those grounds. But how it was possible for any person, who admitted that every part of Ireland was in a state of irritation, to resist giving so important a subject the most assiduous consideration of the House, he could not conceive. For his own part, he concurred, on both the grounds, in the propriety of the motion. He was surprised at many expressions which had fallen. from the right hon. secretary, as they evinced a total ignorance of the principles of the constitution established by the Union of the two countries. The main recommendation of that great measure was, that henceforward there should be one state, one parliament, and one cabinet; instead of which, the right hon. gentleman was constantly imagining that Ireland was a separate kingdom, of which the duke of Richmond was king, and himself Prime Minister. He talked of the 'Irish Cabinet,' and of himself as 'minis- 614 ter for Ireland.' No such cabinet could, since the Union, exist; and the responsible ministers for Ireland were the Lord Lieutenant, and the Secretary of State for the Home Department. The right hon. gentleman, as Secretary to the Lord Lieutenant, was not even entitled to correspond with the Secretary of State, or to act in. any case however trifling, but under the orders of the lord lieutenant.—He had spoken of the duke of Richmond's "Privy Council,' was he, himself a privy counsellor, so ignorant as not to know that the privy council for Ireland was the King's privy council, that it was a body, the members of which were independent of the lord lieutenant; neither appointed by his authority, nor removable at his pleasure? In the same spirit, he had designated the lord chancellor, the attorney and solicitor general, as 'the lord lieutenant's servants.' Indeed, these lofty ideas appeared to pervade not only his language that night, but every part of his conduct. He had claimed great credit for the mild and conciliatory conduct of the Irish government, and yet his own statement of the language which he had used to lord Fingall disproved the assertion. What were these conciliatory expressions? "My lord Fin-gall, the lord lieutenant has condescended to state to you—he has condescended to explain to you!" He was not acquainted with the noble lord—but he believed, he-was descended from one of the most ancient families in the empire, and four millions of people looked up to him as the assertor of their rights. Was this the language in which he should have, been addressed? The lord lieutenant condescended The right hon. Secretary should have known, that, as an hereditary adviser of the crown, he had a right to Claim an audience even of hit Majesty!. In the same spirit of fancied dignity and independent authority, he had commenced the present-contest with the Catholics by issuing his famous Circular Letter, without even consulting the King's responsible ministers, or obtaining the sanction of the secretary of State for the Home Department, although there was ample and sufficient time for that purpose.—The right hon. Secretary had complained of the ridicule which had been cast upon that Circular Letter, and had "aid that it was not right to place it to his account, as it had been drawn up by the law officers. But he ought to recollect that this ridicule bad proceeded not, from the opposition, but from his own 615 friends, and that the appropriate epithet of 'slovenly' by which that performance had ever since been designated, was originally given by no less an authority than the Lord Chancellor. With respect to the authorship of that Letter, it was some-what unusual for a gentleman to complain of the hardship of being considered answerable for a paper which bore his signature, and not very magnanimous to cast the blame upon another, but in the present instance, he cared not whether the right hon. Secretary was, or was not, the author; he looked upon it as the act of his Majesty's cabinet. They had not disavowed it, or dismissed the person who issued it, therefore they were responsible for it. After the promulgation of the Circular, a proclamation followed; and the House were told, that the proceedings of the Catholics were highly contumacious, because the attorney and solicitor general having given their opinion that they were acting illegally, they still persevered. But, when it was recollected, that the Convention act was passed eighteen years ago, that during the whole of that period, Catholic meetings were permitted, that they had been encouraged by different administrations, and that Catholic delegates had been honoured with an audience of his Majesty, these might be considered tolerable grounds for influencing the Catholic body to believe that their proceedings were not improper. Still however, it was said, the opinions of the Attorney and Solicitor General were against them, and therefore they ought to have acquiesced. Had the opinions of the Attorney and Solicitor General been always found infallible? He remembered a case when the opinion of the then Attorney General, and now Chancellor of the Exchequer (Mr. Perceval) had been as industriously circulated through England to convince the volunteers that they were not at liberty to resign. Yet that opinion was resisted by the volunteers, and in consequence over-ruled by the King's-bench unanimously and without hesitation. He hoped and trusted, the matter would not rest with the opinions delivered in the case of Dr. Sheridan, or the verdict given in that of Mr. Kirwan; but that the question would be brought before a higher tribunal, not that he entertained a mean opinion of the Irish courts, but that he had a much higher of the House of Lords. He meant not to reflect on the conduct of the Irish judges; but, if he ever did, he would not 616 be deterred by what fell from the hon. gentleman (Mr. W. Fitzgerald) as to any hon. member daring' to arraign that conduct. It was their bounden duty to arraign it, if they conceived it necessary; and it was dangerous to the welfare of the country, to support a principle by which the controul of parliament was questioned. He should always maintain that the powers of the House of Commons were as competent to take cognizance of complaints against judges as against any other individuals.
The hon. gentleman next adverted to the warrant of the chief-justice, which he contended, had been made use of for no other purpose than to prejudge the question—to obtain an extrajudicial decision. The only case in which a Chief Justice's warrant was usually issued was, where the person to be apprehended could not easily be found. According to the laws both of England and Ireland, the chief justice's warrant pervaded every part of the kingdom, and it was compulsory upon every inferior magistrate to see it carried into effect.—The warrant issued for the arrest of the Catholic delegates was (contrary he. believed to the usual form), directed only; to the county, and city of Dublin, and was therefore a warrant which any Dublin magistrate was as well qualified as the lord chief justice himself to issue; In this assumption he was borne out by the circumstance, that the form of the act had not been followed; and the insertion of the words "on pretence of petitioning," which had never been explained, was most,; extraordinary.
He then entered into an examination of the act, and contended that being strictly declaratory, it could not carry the law farther than it stood before it was passed in 1793, and at that period the law was the same in England as in Ireland: if there fore the new interpretation of the law was correct, great commercial towns in Ireland could not delegate persons to prepare there petitions for the improvement of their ports&c. without committing a breach of it. Or, if they were permitted to do so, way should a similar indulgence be refused lathe Roman Catholics, when they wished" to frame a petition for their tights? If thaw meeting of 500 persons was illegal, so must the meeting of 10, and, if this were law in Ireland, it would equally extend top England. This being the case, then, there was scarcely a gentleman who heard him who had not, at one time or other been 617 guilty of an illegal act—having been delegated to prepare petitions to parliament for Canal Bills, &c. In 1793, delegates came to this country: were they considered illegal? Perhaps it might be said, government did not wish to proceed against a trifling breach of the law, but they would not encourage it. Yet, it should be remembered, that it was the policy of the administration of Mr. Pitt and Mr. Dundas to treat with those persons. In fact, neither those ministers nor the framers of the act ever imagined that it could apply to persons delegated with petitions to parliament.
He now came to the question of safeguards and securities. And this brought him to a right hon. and learned civilian (sir J. Nicholl) who, by his tone and manner, and the place from which he spoke, seemed to have been put forward as the double of another right hon. civilian (Dr. Duigenan), who was then absent, and, to say the truth, he acquitted himself with equal ability. The learned gentleman had entreated the House to listen to no pledges which rested on the authority of indvidual Catholics. Why, if any pledges at all were to be given, they must be given on the authority either of individuals speaking their private opinions, or of persons delegated to speak the sense of the whole body. The learned gentleman had therefore placed the leading Catholics in this singular dilemma—that if they pledged themselves as individuals, they were not to be believed; if, as delegates, sent to Newgate. Indeed, this mode of arguing by dilemma was a very favourite one with the opposers of the Catholic claims. If the Catholics came forward peaceably and decorously to urge their petition, then it was contended, that it was unadvisable to enter into a consideration of it, lest you should disturb their tranquillity. If, on the contrary, they state their claim strongly and with those feelings which their privations are likely to excite, then it is said, We cannot concede, lest we should seem to be intimidated. So if the Catholics enlist in great numbers, it is argued that they are satisfied, and it is unnecessary to open the higher commissions to them; if in small, that they are disloyal and it would be dangerous.
A young member (Mr. Peel) had inquired, last night, why the Roman Catholics bad called to their assembly peers, and the sons of peers—was it to prepare their Petition? It was not merely for that pur- 618 pose; but that they might hold communication with the members of that House, that they might be enabled to state what the precise wishes of the Catholics were, and to specify what were the securities they would give; which, while they were sufficient for the preservation of the Protestant establishment, should be the least burdensome to themselves. It would be well for the House to look under what circumstances the obnoxious meeting was intended to be formed. Some intemperance having manifested itself in the Committee, lord Ffrench informed them, that they would hurt themselves by those violent proceedings; therefore it was determined that a number of the most respectable characters should be infused into the old Committee. How was this to be done? Certainly by introducing the Roman Catholic nobility, their archbishops and bishops, who, from their age, from their sacred character, and from the honourable tenour of their lives, would themselves be a very great barrier against any seditious or improper proceeding. A meeting thus constituted he looked upon as extremely desirable—being the most proper organ to speak the sense of the Catholic body. In answer to what had been last night stated by a learned civilian, that the sense of the population of this country was against the Catholic claims, he thought it right to observe, that so far from this being a correct assertion, it appeared, that the great body of the people felt convinced that some attention ought to be paid to those claims—and, if they were to compare the proceedings on the Catholic question in former sessions with the present time, it would be manifest that various objections, which formerly existed both within and without doors, had now happily subsided. An hon. member who spoke last night (Mr. Peel), had read extracts from the letter of a noble relative of his (lord Grenville) on the subject of securities. What were the terms of that letter? It was there expressly stated, that, if concession were made, safeguards would be required: but what they were to be was not mentioned. How, then, were they to come to this knowledge? Certainly by going into a committee on the subject; for they ought to shew themselves perfectly willing to investigate the situation of so numerous a body of people. The hon. gentleman concluded by expressing his perfect concurrence in the motion, as well on the ground of the 619 claims of the Irish Catholics, as on the conduct of the Irish government towards them.
§ Mr. Manners Sutton
said, he had listened to the speech of the hon. gentleman who had just sat down, with great attention, but he must beg leave to differ from him en every point. The hon. gentleman had observed, that Ireland was at present in a state of great irritation, and, he, therefore, called on the House to go into the Committee. He, however, must doubt the propriety and efficacy of this mode, which, in his opinion, would tend to increase, rather than allay that irritation. The hon. gentleman had combated, in the course of his speech, a number of points of mere etiquette, in which he conceived his right hon. friend (Mr. Pole) had been mistaken. They were unworthy of notice; and had nothing to do with the principle on which the debate proceeded. When the hon. gentleman criticised the mention of two cabinets, although that expression might be wrong, yet it did not invalidate a single sentence his right hon. friend had advanced. When the hon. gentleman spoke of the Convention act, he expressed an opinion that its interpretation was not finally decided; and defended the right of the House to examine the conduct of public men.—But, were these the grounds on which they would agree to the motion? What had these observations to do with the question under discussion? The hon. gentleman expressed a fervent hope, that the decision under the Convention act would be brought before the dernier resort, the highest tribunal in the state, the House of Lords; and yet, while the question was pending, he would advise that House to step in before them, by appointing this Committee. An hon. and learned gentleman (sir A. Piggott) had asserted last night, that, prior to the present time, there was a great bar to the discussion of the Catholic claims, but that that bar was now done away, in consequence of the melancholy illness with which his Majesty was afflicted. He (Mr. Sutton) could have wished that this statement had not been made. The Catholic cause wanted no such argument; which must have been painful to him that adduced it, but was much more painful to many who heard it. The hon. and learned gentleman had followed up that statement by a declaration, that he had this consolation, under his Majesty's indisposition, that the interests of Ireland would now be attended to. 620 Good God! did the hon. and learned gentleman mean to insinuate, that the interests of Ireland had been neglected? Did he mean to say, that, during the long reign of his Majesty, proper attention had not been directed towards Ireland? Need he inform the hon. and learned gentleman, that the rights and privileges which the Catholics possessed, were granted since his Majesty's accession to the crown? He could not brook the idea, that the calamity of his Majesty should be held out a* offering a consolation, because the rights of the people of Ireland could now be investigated with advantage. He was not prepared to go into the Committee proposed; he would not support the motion, because the time was not proper; nor would he be accessary to throwing a slander on the Irish government. He never had had an opportunity of stating his sentiments on Catholic Emancipation. And here he would disclaim the feeling, which was generally imputed to those who opposed the measure, that he considered the Catholics as enemies to their country. He gave them full credit for honour, bravery, loyalty, and every generous feeling—he did not believe the Roman Catholics, as men, were; depraved or bad; nor would he impute to them, as had been done by an hon. gentleman who affected to advocate their cause, that if, from the. view parliament took of the subject, their claims were not now acceded to, they would re" sort to force. If he cherished an opinion, that, under any circumstances, they would so conduct themselves, then, indeed, might the imputation be justly cast on him. He did not consider this a question of right, but of expediency—of justice, if gentlemen would have it so; justice to the Roman Catholics on the one side, and to the Protestant establishments in church and state, on the other. If that were the case, as seemed to be admitted by gentlemen. opposite, he thought it was unfair that those who expressed doubts on a question of such magnitude, should be abused and vilified. Different opinions had been entertained on the subject; some had said, that the Catholic claims should be conceded, without any restrictions. If it were just and expedient to do so much for the Catholics, then it was just and expedient to do that Which had not been done for the Protestants. Others were of opinion, that unqualified concession could not be granted with, safety; but that the Catholics would agree to every safeguard necessary 621 for the well-being of the constitution. When, however, they were asked, what those securities were? their advice was, that they should be considered in a Committee, He was aware that a Bill could be debated in a Committee, better than in the whole House; but it was proper that the whole House should first know the principle of the measure. On that ground he could not consent to go into a Committee, unless the securities were specified. If he did, it would be trifling with the Catholics; for he should enter the Committee with a feeling that he never could concede what was demanded. Without pledging himself one way or the other; without venturing to state a decided opinion on the subject of the Catholic claims, he felt insuperable objections to the motion. He could not agree to the formation of this Committee, in the slender hope, that, during the collision of debate, some security might arise. Such a mode would be degrading and insulting to the Catholic body.—With respect to the government of Ireland, deeply slandered as it had been by several gentlemen, he was not officially connected with it, so as to state the case with all that accuracy which the weight and importance of the subject demanded. But this he would say, that a government more moderate in its conduct, or more acceptable to the people of Ireland, although some circumstances of irritation had occurred, was never seen in that country. Much had been said of that government; both as to its construction of the Convention act, and the manner in which it was carried into execution. At the head of the law authorities in that country was placed a nobleman, a near relation of his, than whom' a more honourable or dignified character did not exist; and he could not help observing; with feelings which he hoped no person could blame; that that noble lord; and the law officers of the crown, had not been commented on with justice or candour. Whatever might be the opinion of other persons, on reading that act of parliament, he was willing to stand with the judgment of the whole of the judges, in the court of King's bench of Ireland, against the speculative ideas which had been promulgated. However he might respect the pinion delivered by an hon. and learned gentleman (sir A. Pigott) last night; however unwilling he should be to advance an interpretation of his own, in contradiction to it, still he would express him- 622 self satisfied with that construction which had been put on the act in Ireland; and he sincerely hoped, as well as the hon. gentleman who spoke last, that the question would come before the dernier resort for final adjudication. It had been said, that no person should be arrested, except in cases of treason, felony, or actual breach of the peace. Now, if the hon. and' learned gentleman who supported that opinion, would inquire, he would find that the uniform practice in Ireland was, to commit for misdemeanors tending to a breach of the peace. He would go farther, and say, if that hon. and learned gentleman had looked into the law books at home, he would have discovered, that it had been done in this country. The point was argued in the King's-bench, and the warrant was held legal. That was in a case of libel, which made the decision still more strong in favour of his argument.—Gentlemen had argued, that no time more favourable than the present could be selected for the consideration of this question. In his opinion, there might; and he grounded himself on the conduct of the Catholics themselves. He bowed to their authority; they best knew their own interests—yet they had not pressed the question forward—they had presented no petitions to either House of Parliament. He concurred with them, and conceived the time completely unfit. He also thought it was a most inopportune period to examine the conduct of the Irish government, when the proceedings were in a course of legal investigation. Such an investigation could only tend to warp the fair, regular, and constitutional course of the law. Seeing no good reason to enter into the Catholic claims at present, and feeling that no charge had been substantiated against the Irish government, he gave his most decided negative to the motion.
§ Mr. Parnell
rose and said: The hon. member who spoke last, has assumed to himself a superiority in argument over my hon. friend to which he is not entitled; for his pretensions rest upon a very superficial conception of the motion before the House. It is not, as he has argued, a motion made for the sole purpose of inquiring into the legality of the conduct of government, but a motion that has for its object an inquiry into the policy, as well as the legality, of that conduct; and also into the condition of the Catholics of Ireland. The policy and the legality of the conduct are two distinct considerations; or, otherwise, 623 the crown lawyers would be the efficient ministers of the country. I confess, Sir, I heard, with great surprize, the assertion of the hon. member, that there had existed no bar to the interests of Ireland. Surely, the hon. member must have forgotten the reasons which Mr. Pitt had assigned for quitting his office in 1801: the cause of the dismissal of the last administration, and the obstinacy with which their successors have resisted every measure that has been proposed, even of the most trifling importance to the interests of Ireland. He must have forgotten, that from the time of the Union, when so much was promised the Catholics, to the present hour, no one statute has been made to give them any new concession, and that the prayer of their Petition has been uniformly refused. The hon. member has said there are great objections to the present motion, arising from the time of proposing it: that certain considerations, having reference to the state of the executive government, and the example of the Catholics in postponing their application to parliament, render this motion, at this time, particularly unseasonable. With regard to the first objection, it seems to me, that when the House considers what the state of Ireland is, and that no mention was made of its political condition in the Speech from the throne, it became the duty of parliament to supply the defect, and give its whole attention to it, for the amelioration of the state of Ireland cannot bear postponement. Even in the short period that has elapsed since the opening of the session, measures have occurred, which have greatly contributed to heighten ail its disorders. As to the assertion of the hon. member, that the Catholics wished the discussion of their case to be delayed, there is the evidence of their own resolution to prove, that if their proceedings had not been interrupted, their Petitions would have now been upon the table. So far from viewing this motion as unfavourable to them, they must, on all accounts, deem it of the greatest service to their cause; but, more particularly, from the assurance it holds out to them, that that great party in this country, which compose what is called the opposition, will not undertake the administration of government, unless they have it in their power to grant the wished-for concessions.
The hon. member, and several other members, have assumed, that the Catholics 624 demand these concessions as a matter of right. It is said, the Catholics must abandon this menacing position, before even their claims can deserve discussion. I do not know where this demand, in the sense here given to it, is to be found. It is not in the speeches of their friends in parliament, or in their own petitions. I conceive, that whenever they make use of the word right, they use it in a qualified sense. I conceive that the Catholics do not deny the force of the general maxim, that 'salus populi suprema lex;' but that the right which they assert is the unquestionable right of every British subject, not to be restricted in any thing that is not adverse to the safety of the country.
Having now examined the principal topics of the hon. member's speech, I will proceed to make some observations upon that of the Chief-Secretary of Ireland. It appears to me, that the recent conduct of the Catholics has been greatly misrepresented by him and many others; and that it is a matter of great importance, that what their conduct has been should be accurately known, inasmuch as it will be highly injurious, not only to them, but to the empire also, to suffer any obstacles to exist, in the way of their emancipation, in addition to those which may fairly belong to it. I shall, therefore, endeavour to shew, what that conduct has been, and what the motives which have guided it. With respect to the speech of the right hon. gentleman, the most accurate description, I think I can give of it, is this—that it was a speech most remarkable for the extravagance of its prefatory accusations, and the impotency of its proofs and conclusions. There was no crime which the right hon. gentleman did not insinuate, or directly charge against the Catholics. Libelling, sedition, treason, rebellion, separation, revolution, each and every of them, he repeatedly attributed to them; but when we examine the endeavours of the right hon. gentleman to support his case, what do we see? That the whole of his anger and accusation, and also of his measures, are clearly to be attributed to the soreness which he feels, in consequence of the abuse that has been bestowed upon him through the medium of the public newspapers—from the beginning to the end of his speech the burden of it was this news-paper abuse. Newspaper abuse in January, newspaper abuse in February, newspaper abuse in July, newspaper abuse in December; and, because this great 625 minister has been thus abused, he thinks he can discover a sufficient justification for all those violent and arbitrary measures which have plunged Ireland into its present state of anxiety and agitation. The right hon. gentleman commenced his statement of the late proceedings of the Catholics, by going over his former charges against the committee of 1810. But the House cannot fail to recollect how feebly he supported those charges in the last session. Their great crime was making violent speeches. No resolution, no overt act was given in proof, to substantiate a single illegal measure against them. Certain speeches were made, which found their way into the newspapers, which were very free in their animadversions on the opposition to the Catholic claims, and on the conduct of government; and in consequence of those speeches, the right hon. gentleman thought proper to issue his Circular Letter, and thus to impute to the whole body seditious and treasonable intentions. Now, Sir, it does appear to me to be exceedingly cruel and very unjust, to impute any criminal intention to any man for what he may be reported to have said in a public assembly; much more cruel and unjust to go one step farther, and impute a criminal intention to a whole body of people, for the speeches of certain individuals belonging to it. For speech is so subject to interpretation; there is so great a difference between indiscretion and malice, and generally so little of the latter in the freedom of public expression, that no wise and temperate government would ever suffer itself to be influenced by the speeches of popular assemblies, to adopt measures of extreme severity against those who composed those assemblies. Happy, then, would it have been for Ireland, if it had been under the care of a wise and temperate government: of a government that would have condescended to follow an example that is to be found in ancient history; the example of the emperor Theodosius, who wrote thus to the prefect Rufinas: "Though a man should happen to speak amiss of our person or government, we do not intend to punish him: 'si id ex levitate processerit, contemnendum est; si ex insania, miseratione dignissimum; si ab injuria, remittendum.'" But this committee of 1810, whatever were its merits or defects, was dissolved when the object of its institution was attained. Surely it would have been good policy in government to have, suf- 626 fered it to have sunk into oblivion, and to have judged the future proceedings of the Catholics by those proceedings, and not by proceedings of this committee. But government have not thought so, for it clearly appears, from the speech of the right hon. gentleman, that all the latter measures of government have been guided by a revengeful recollection of the speeches of the committee of 1810. Acting upon this feeling of revenge, they have rushed headlong into a new contest with the Catholics; and by their temerity and violence, have kept the whole country in a state of unexampled agitation.
But the Catholics, says the right hon. gentleman, are the aggressors; they are wholly to blame; we have acted upon a sound policy, and strictly according to law. I will endeavour, Sir, to expose how wholly void of foundation these assertions are, by stating truly to the House, what it is the Catholics have done. It seems that an Aggregate Meeting was held in Dublin on the 9th of July, and that at this meeting it was resolved to petition parliament in this session, and to convene a committee of delegates to prepare and conduct the petition. The first question that presents itself for examination is, had or had not the Catholics good reason for determining to petition? The answer has already been given by a right hon. gentleman who spoke so ably last night, (Mr. Canning): they had the best of reasons; the removal, for the first time since the Union, of the great bar to their claims, and the, commencement of a new reign, from which they had good grounds to expect the most liberal policy. The next question is, had or had not the Catholics good reason for convening a committee of delegates to manage their petition? I know, Sir, that there are many who think the right hon. gentleman had said that he thinks, that if the Aggregate Meeting of the 9th of July had framed and signed, a petition, it would have been a good and valid petition of the Catholics of Ireland. Mr. Saurin had gone so far as to say, all that was necessary, was, to select some person, who could read and write, to make him copy some former petition, to sign it, and send it to parliament. Now, Sir, I feel quite sure, that if the Catholics had proceeded in this manner, we should never have heard the end of the arguments of the right hon. gent, opposite, that such a petition was proof the sentiments of 627 the Catholic body; we should have had it asserted, as it has been so frequently asserted before, that so far from its speaking the sentiments of the Catholics, many of them did not understand what emancipation meant; many of them did not desire it; and the great mass of the lower orders could derive no benefit from it. But, Sir, it so happened, that those gentlemen, who took Upon themselves to advise the measures of the Catholics on this head, had some experience and precedents to guide them. In 1790, a petition was presented to the Irish parliament, from an Aggregate Meeting held in Dublin; but this petition was rejected, and for these reasons; it was called, "The act of an obscure faction, confined merely to the capital, disavowed by the great mass of the Catholics, ignorant of their sentiments, and incompetent to speak on their behalf." In 1805, a similar petition was presented to the united parliament. Let us see what a learned doctor (Duigenan) said on that occasion—" From nineteen of the thirty-two counties in Ireland, there is not one subscriber, and from the remaining thirteen but one each, and not a single name from all the Catholic clergy. How, therefore," (he exclaimed) "can this petition be said to come from the Catholic communities either of Great Britain or Ireland!" The Catholic leaders might have supposed it possible that Mr. Saurin could be capable of the great inconsistency of advising such a petition in one part of his speech, and in other parts speak thus of the Aggregate Meeting:—" An Aggregate Meeting, which assumed to itself to be a general meeting of the Roman Catholics." "An assembly, assuming to itself the domination of a general aggregate meeting of the Catholics of Ireland."—With such proofs of what objections would probably be urged against a petition of this kind, no candid person can say the Catholics had not good reason for having adopted the manner of proceeding. But the right hon. gentleman says, so far am I from objecting to the principle of an aggregate meeting, I would not have interfered, if the whole Catholic population had come up to Dublin. Now, I think, it is quite plain, from the manner in which he had been alarmed for the safety of the state, by the project of an assembly, the right hon. gentleman would be equally forward in obstructing it; and, I dare say we should have heard him descant much more on the real dangers of it: and have found him very ready in as- 628 serting, that if the Catholics had proposed a delegated committee, to that he would have no sort of objection.
Another mode of proceeding that the Catholics might have taken, was that of having county meetings and separate petitions. But every one who knows any thing of the Catholic body, its size and its various opinions respecting their own case, will allow that petitions of this description would have spoken any thing else but the unanimous and combined opinion of that great body. Besides, it might with reason be supposed, that a government that was so particularly anxious to prevent the agitation of the public mind—to prevent Catholic speech-making, would have great objections to this course. It was not overlooked that, in times which such a government might think the best, I mean in the reign of Charles 2, they could have found a precedent for an admirable proclamation of that king, against tumultuous petitions having a tendency to sedition and rebellion.
There being, therefore, such reasonable objections to induce the Catholics not to adopt either of these two plans of proceeding, there remained only one other plan, that which they did adopt, the plan of proceeding by a committee of delegates. And, Sir, I confidently trust, that when the House dispassionately examines the grounds upon which this decision can be supported, they will give their judgment in favour of them, and against the government. However absurd the opinion of lord Fingall may appear to the right hon. gentleman, that the plan of a committee was more fit to secure the public peace, than one great aggregate meeting, or several county meetings, I think that that opinion was founded on the best of reasons, inasmuch as in such a committee,' there would be so much more information, so much more temper, so much interest in. the quiet of the country, than there could possibly exist in an aggregate meeting or in county meetings:—that their proceedings would necessarily be more wise, more moderate, and more consistent with the peace and tranquillity of the country, than it is likely the proceedings' would be of these other descriptions of meetings. It is quite undeniable, that the object of acquiring an accurate acquaintance with the real sentiments of the Catholics, could in no way be so well attained; and under the present circumstances of the times, this is no small justification 629 of the plan. But here, let me make one observation in respect to lord Fingall. It seems to roe, that the right hon. gentleman should have been the last person to make such animadversions as he has made upon that most respectable nobleman. The House cannot forget the anger and indignation with which he expressed himself, when he complained of attacks which had been made upon him in another place; and of the earnestness with which he urged the injustice of such attacks, upon a person who was necessarily absent, and had no means of repelling them. With what colour of justice, then, can the right hon. gentleman support his conduct in attributing to lord Fingall those various offences, which he has attributed to him so profusely, in the course of his speech. Lord Fingall, who is barred of his right to defend himself in his proper place in parliament, by those laws which the right hon. gentleman will not consent to repeal.
But, Sir, besides these reasons which I have given, to show the Catholics were warranted in appointing a committee of delegates, there existed the authority of established usage and acknowledged precedents to direct them. The right hon. gentleman has exclaimed, "This committee is not like any other committee," and he has also arrogated, to himself, but with what justice we shall soon see, a knowledge of Irish history superior to that possessed by any other member. Why, Sir, this knowledge of the right hon. gentleman cannot extend back as far as for the last twenty years, or he could never have hazarded so unfounded an assertion; for, in the year 1792, a committee of delegates was convoked and assembled, under circumstances and forms much more resembling the forms by which we are brought together, than those by which it was proposed to elect the committee of 1811. In respect to the committee of 1792, I wish to draw the particular attention of the House to this historical fact; that in the circular letter which was sent throughout the Catholic body, calling upon them to elect delegates, there is this passage to be found, "We have the first authority for asserting, that this application" (a petition to the King) "will have great weight with our gracious sovereign, and with parliament, if our friends are qualified to declare, that it is the universal wish of every Catholic in the nation." If the right hon. gen- 630 tleman will enquire how this passage found its way into this letter, he will learn that the authority alluded to is the British government, over which Mr. Pitt presided; and, therefore, I argue, that the committee of 1792 arose out of the recommendation of the British government.—By looking further into this circular letter, it will appear, that forms of returns were sent down to the country in the blanks, for the names of the persons elected. That in the first place, each parish chose a certain number of electors, and that these electors chose the delegates. That the delegates met in Dublin in 1792; sat from day to day, debated the whole of the Catholic affairs: and not with less spirit, or in a manner less sparing of their opponents than the committee of 1810. Lord Westmoreland was at this time lord lieutenant, but at that day it was not the fashion to look at a Catholic convention with the same alarm with which such an assembly is now regarded. This convention sent their petition to the King by deputies of their own body, and so far was Mr. Pitt from treating it in the way the present government have acted towards the new committee, that he presented them to the King on the 3d of July, 1793, and on the 10th of January, lord Westmoreland told the Irish parliament in a speech from the throne, that he had the commands of the King to recommend it to them, to take the state of the Catholics into their consideration. Soon after the act of 1793 passed, declaring the loyal demeanour of the Catholics, and giving them considerable constitutional privileges.
But besides this precedent of 1792, there existed precedents of a succession of Catholic delegated committees, from 1753, to lead the Catholics or their late decision. The Catholic Committee of 1757, which, originated with Mr. Wye, was a committee of delegates, and so were all those which at various periods, by their persevering and patriotic zeal, have obtained for the Catholics every concession that has been made to them. These committees have been recognized by a succession of Irish administrations, in 1757, 1771, 1777, 1782, 1790, 1792; in 1803 and 1805, by lord Hardwicke, recognised by him in a most unqualified manner; by the duke of Bedford, in 1806; and by the duke of Richmond in 1808, 1809, and 1810, until some change had taken place in hit counsels.
631 But, Sir, the right hon. gentleman has charged the Catholics with a wilful and premeditated violation of the law. He says they must have known that the law was as the government declared it to be, and that they have acted as bad subjects in resisting the law. The House will consider however, before they adopt the same opinion, whether the Catholics had not as good reasons for not taking the construction which government have given to the law, as they had for selecting the plan of petitioning by a delegated committee. The House will, in the first place, see, that "if the Catholics examined the history of the Convention act, that they would discover it never was intended by those who framed and made it a law, to prevent delegation for a preconceived object. I will not occupy the time of the House by reading what has already been mentioned so often, and never refuted, the declaration of lord Kilwarden, that the Convention act was not intended to prevent conventions assembling to carry into effect a preconceived object. But I beg leave to call the attention of the House to the following explanation of it by major Hobart. It rests on the authority of a most respectable citizen of Dublin, Mr. O'Donnell. At the meeting of July the 31st, he made use of these words, "On seeing this act pass, many gentlemen who then took an active part in Catholic affairs, applied to the Secretary to know whether this was levelled against them?" I can state the words of major Hobart on the occasion. 'You are,' said he, 'uneasy without cause; the act has no retrospect to your late convention, for it is designed to prevent any general meeting of Irishmen, such as was held at 'Dungannon.'—Surely this authority is sufficient to set at rest, for ever, all doubt on the subject. But if the history of the law might lead the Catholics with reason to question the construction given to it by government, will not the letter of it give them further reason to do so? Let us suppose a Catholic really wishing to form a fair judgment upon it, to read this act: will any man deny that he might have read it, and understood it according to the just construction to be given to the language contained in it, without thinking it unlawful to be a delegate or elect a delegate; Every one must acknowledge, that if he gave to the word 'pretence' the sense which it conveys in common parlance, he could not feel that he would commit the crime created by the act, by 632 electing, or acting as a delegate. But if such a Catholic should wish for a better interpretation of the law than his own mind could afford him, was it not possible for him to find opinions of lawyers, differing from the opinions of the crown lawyers, though of as great or even greater authority? Might he not have rested his judgment on the "provision of the act? Under all these circumstances, therefore, I maintain the right hon. gentleman is not borne out in his charge; that the Catholics wilfully and knowingly violated the law.
Having now, Sir, found that the Catholics had good reasons for petitioning, that they had good reasons for appointing a delegated committee; and that they had good reasons to doubt the construction given to the Convention act by the government, I would ask the House with what authority could a great officer of the crown, the Irish Attorney General, make use of the following language in his speech, on the trial of Dr. Sheridan? "I trespass on your time, in ardent expectation of allaying those discontents, and abating that fever and ferment, which treason and seditions have excited. I am sanguine in expecting that the result of the proceedings of this day will be to frustrate the designs of treason."—" Many of them, by these arts and speeches, are working the work of the United Irishmen, in the cause of separation and revolution."—"This National Convention,"—"This National Assembly."—"I cannot but conclude with the position on which I, originally set out, that this project is the plan of the design of some, whose object is the separation of the two countries—a revolution." This is the language which we find in a correct report of the speech of the Attorney General. I however appeal, with great confidence, to the House, for their judgment, that such language is not borne out by the conduct of the Catholics, but conveys insinuations against them altogether unfounded.
The right hon. gentleman has thought proper to impute great blame to the Catholics for what he finds written in a pamphlet, which he calls a Report of a Committee of Grievances. The evidence by which he proves it to be such a report, is somewhat curious. He produces two pamphlets, and says, here is a pamphlet containing an account of the laws which aggrieve the Catholics, pub- 633 lished by H. Fitzpatrick. Here is another pamphlet, called the State of the Catholic Cause, published also by H. Fitzpatrick; and in the preface of this pamphlet there is a note, as follows: "This Report of the Sub-Committee of Grievances, is now published by Fitzpatrick." Therefore, the right hon. gentleman infers, that this is that report, and the whole of the Catholics are to be judged by it. I am sure, Sir, I may safely say, that the person who wrote this note, had no authority to call the first pamphlet a Report of the Sub-Committee of Grievances. No such committee ever existed. The committee of 1810 did certainly appoint a sub-committee to examine what laws there were in existence operating against the Catholics; and it is true that their enemies gave it the nick-name of a Committee of Grievances; but the object of the appointment of this committee was merely to obtain information which was wanting for the preparing of the then intended petition. As far as I am informed on the subject, the subcommittee never made any report on the laws; and the pamphlet which gives an account of them is, in point of fact, the work of a most, respectable Catholic barrister, who alone is responsible for it. As to the several' parts of this work, on which the right hon. gentleman has made his animadversions, was it not for the lateness of the hour, I would follow him through them, and show the House that he is wrong, and the author right. The statement of the physical power of the Catholics is a true statement, and if it is alarming, those who resist their claims are alone to blame. It was called for by the statements of those who have falsely under-rated the power of the Catholics. If it be a crime to tell the truth, then, indeed, may this pamphlet deserve the censure which has been heaped upon it; but those who can read it without prejudice and passion, will approve of it, and derive great advantage from their trouble, as they will thereby acquire an accurate knowledge of the real condition of the Irish Catholics. Before I quit this part of the subject, I must be allowed to say, that it gave me great pleasure to find the right hon. gentleman did not allude to the attack which has been made on this work by the Corporation of Dublin, and that he thus has contributed to expose its futility and folly.
The right hon. gentleman has rested 634 the defence of government upon the opinions of the law officers. He seems to suppose that he has completely cleared himself, by proving that he acted under their advice. He says this committee was most dangerous, and that being the case, he consulted the law officers, and enforced the Convention act. But I insist upon it, that it was a false and impolitic decision to consider this committee so dangerous as to warrant the application of this law. There was nothing in the proceedings of the Catholics to justify the slightest alarm for the public peace. The right hon. gentleman has made use of a most curious argument to justify what has been done; he says, No one in the last session denied the legality of enforcing this act. I have looked over the reports of what then happened, and so far from that being the case, I find that I and others who took a part in the debates, distinctly denied both the policy and legality of applying it. But this wise government have failed in an equal degree in respect to the Catholic cause, for instead of impeding its progress they have advanced it. Had I been asked twelve months ago, what measures I would advise as a friend to Catholic emancipation, I would have said, take those steps which will rouse the Catholics from their inactive habits, which will dispel their absurd divisions, which will make them fully sensible of their own case, which will lead them to be loud and incessant in their applications to the legislature; and, if possible, some measure which will bring over their Protestant fellow-countrymen to their side. All this has the government done in a manner the most complete. Activity, union, and a determination to persevere in petitioning, prevail every where; and as to the Protestants, their sentiments have been so unequivocally expressed in favour of the Catholics, that I may say, if the concession depended upon them, that almost four-fifths of that body would be ready to grant them; a fact of no small importance, because they are the very persons who best know the Catholics, and who are most interested hi their question.
But, Sir, the recent measures of government have not only brought over the Protestants of Ireland, they have also produced a very general alteration in the sentiments of the people of England: so much so, as to have removed nearly all the 635 the difficulty on that head which existed in the way of emancipation. When, Sir, I compare the reason which the government have adverted to in justification of their conduct, with the actual circumstances of the case, and see how exaggerated and unfounded their statements are, I cannot avoid attributing to them objects different to those which they profess to have had in view. I do believe that they were desirous of preventing the Catholics from petitioning with effect. If the Catholics had adopted the plan of a petition from a Dublin meeting, which would have been a petition of no sort of efficacy, to this the government would not have objected: if they had adopted the plan of county petitions, which would also have been without efficacy, to this the government would not have objected. But when they did adopt the only plan by which the common prayer of the whole body could be laid before the Prince Regent and parliament, then the government, let the consequences be ever so dangerous to the state, began their attack, and left no effort untried to impede the success of the Catholics. Nor can I avoid suspecting that a design still more culpable was at the bottom of all their measures. For let it be understood, that every thing that has passed since July has been with the sanction of the English cabinet; that the prime minister is most immediately responsible. When therefore, we consider under what circumstances the Catholics stand in respect to his royal highness the Prince Regent, and under what circumstances the ministers stand with respect to both, may it not be conjectured that he would have lent his aid to efface from the mind of his Royal Highness those impressions which have always been thought to be favourable to the Catholics? When, Sir, we recollect that we are now in that state, which leaves us no other security for our political existence but our internal resources; when we see ourselves on the eve of a war with America, the policy does appear to be so obvious of accepting the enthusiastic co-operation of this great and generous people; and the opposite policy so insane, of rejecting their offers, and flying to a system of unusual violence against them, that I shall most cordially support the motion for going into a Committee to inquire into the State of Ireland.
said, that as he had already had various opportunities of ex- 636 pressing his opinion on the general principle of the Catholic claims, and of explaining every circumstance in which he was considered personally implicated in the question, it would not be necessary to detain the House long upon those points. He had at different times distinctly stated, that there had been no promise given to the Catholics; but that he had always considered, and had never hesitated to express the opinion, that he thought, that in a statesman-like view of the question, the measure of the Union would be incomplete without some concessions to the Catholics, and that their claims were likely to meet with fewer obstacles in a parliament of the empire, than in a parliament such as the Irish parliament was at that lime; but he had never supposed, that such claims could be granted without some arrangement being devised, which would be satisfactory to the feelings of the Protestants as well as Catholics. Although he agreed in the general principle laid down by the noble lord, it appeared to him, that he had not sufficiently weighed the difficulties which were in the way. It appeared to him, that there was nothing more likely to injure the cause of the Catholics, to run down their character, or to give spirits to the common enemy from the hope of internal disunion, than the vague and indistinct manner in which this question had been brought before parliament year after year. He deprecated, also, those vague epithets and accusations, by which those who were of one side were charged with intolerance, and those on the other of indifference about the security of the constitution. He wished the real difficulties of the case to be fairly sounded: and when the question should be divested of all the difficulties which did not properly belong to it, he then wished that the principle of the claim should have fair play. In that case it would be for the deliberate wisdom of parliament to determine, whether concessions made to the Catholics might not be made perfectly reconcileable to the securit of the constitution and our establishments. He hoped that there would never be any indisposition in the Catholic mind to submit their claims fairly to the deliberate wisdom of parliament; and whatever might be the decision, to unite themselves heartily with the rest of their countrymen in opposing the common enemy.—The subject of the Catholic claims had usually been considered in three different points of view. There was 637 one class who considered it as a question of strict right, and as such, thought that it ought not to be coupled with any other considerations. There was a second class (to which he belonged) that were favourable to the granting those claims, but who thought that the concession should be coupled with guards to the constitution more effectual than the present restrictions. The third class, who appeared not to have looked so deeply into the question, professed a determined resistance to the claims. He never, however, heard any class say, that the claims ought never to be conceded under any circumstances; and he thought the right hon. and learned gentleman (sir John Nicholl) had been misunderstood upon this point. He had not mentioned a final decision as extending to all times, but only as applying to the indefinite grounds upon which the motion rested. As to those who contended for the measure, as a measure of strict right, he thought that it was unfortunate for them that the decision of parliament was not had on that particular point. The feelings of the Catholics now appeared to be, to turn their backs upon every thing in the shape of regulation; but if the bare claim of right had been left to the decision of parliament, they would have found, from the very small number of supporters it would meet with, either in that assembly or in any other deliberative assembly, that it would be much more for their advantage to receive concessions in the way of an arrangement and a regulation. He could not conceive it to be proper policy for that House, either upon the present or any other occasion, to resolve itself into a committee to enquire, when no individual member had been able to suggest to them a tolerable idea of what it was expected that such a committee would be able to do. As for the Catholic mind, he could not suppose that it was now very materially altered from what it was when he had communications with them, and when he supposed such an arrangement was practicable. A right hon. gentleman, (Mr. Grattan,) who had been the chief advocate of their claims in that House, and who had certainly brought forward those claims at all times in a manner the most likely to produce conciliation, had stated, on a former occasion, that he would not propose the measure without conceiving that it might be coupled with such an arrangement as would protect the country from any patronage 638 exercised by the Pope, who might be under the controul of the foreign enemy. He would wish to ask the right hon. gentleman this day, whether such was now his opinion, and whether the Catholics coincided with that view? He had been informed, that the Catholic clergy would consent to no such arrangement; and that they had stated, that from the deference which they owed to the Pope, they could not agree to it without his full consent. They represented, that they would consider it a crime to take advantage of the present weakness and captivity of their sovereign pontiff. Here, then, a very serious difficulty occurred; and it remained to be seen, whether there were not means of making such an arrangement, that the church of Ireland might be as independant of the Pope, as, by other arrangements, the church has become in many other Catholic countries. It would be necessary on this point to look to the Catholic mind and judgment in other countries. He conceived that it would be infinitely more for the interest of the Catholic body that such an arrangement should be made, as the ecclesiastical as well as the lay part of their community could agree to. In the year 1801 he did feel that there was a difficulty almost insurmountable in the state of the public mind at that time upon the question.—There was also another obstacle which he had then despaired of being able to overcome. A very strong impression prevailed in a very high quarter against those claims. It was no transient opinion that there was hope of being able to change; it was a fixed principle, proceeding from the feeling of an obligation imposed under the sanctity of an oath. With such an impression on his mind, this was a case in which that high person could not be expected to take the advice of ministers. If the two Houses of Parliament had passed the measure, there was every reason to suppose that he would have given the negative which the constitution allowed him to do. In such circumstances, and to prevent the royal negative being given, if the two Houses had agreed to the prayer of the petition, he thought that it was much the best way not at that time to agitate a question which could not then be successful. For his part, he was not one of those who entertained such an opinion of the effect of the coronation-oath. He never thought that the oath could have validity to interfere with the decision of 639 the legislature on any question relating to the public good; but still the obstacle was of a nature which could not be surmounted.—With respect to the transactions which had recently taken place in Ireland, he wished to put the most favourable construction on the conduct of all the parties. He thought that the Catholics were entitled to a considerable degree of forbearance. As to those parts of their proceedings which appeared most deserving of blame, he must say, that he believed that" there was no member of that House who had ever attended popular meetings, who did not know that often the speeches of one or two men, gave a colour to the whole proceedings of the meeting; although often the real sentiments of the majority of persons present were very different. He hoped that this was the case with the majority of Catholics present at those meetings, but he must say, that nothing could be more impolitic than the course which they pursued. If the Convention act did not apply to such a convention as theirs, he was at a loss to know to what case it could possibly apply. If the law was doubtful, it might become the duty of the legislature to explain it; but he could not conceive there was the least rational doubt with regard to its meaning. Was it possible that any government could exist among conventions of this nature? If the Catholics might thus sit in convention, notwithstanding the law, there was nothing to prevent the worst classes of the community, the Thrashers for example, from being also represented in a convention of their own. The Convention act was certainly first introduced by lord Clare, to oppose the influence of French principles, and the efforts of the United Irishmen, who openly avowed that their object was to connect the great mass of the population of the country, with a convention which would be thus able to overawe the legislature. He was free to admit, that he did not believe that the Catholics had assembled with any mischievous intentions (Hear, bear!); but be believed they had imagined, that assembling such a body in the city of Dublin would give an extraordinary weight and authority to their petition. If the Catholics had, however, been permitted to hold their conventions, an example would have been set to any body of men, whose intentions really were mischievous, to form conventions, and endeavour by this means to wield the physical force of the 640 country. He thought that the Catholics had lately engaged in a most unwise conflict with the legal authority of the country; but whatever intemperance there might have been in their proceedings, that would never alter his general opinion of the merits of their case. He thought that they imposed upon the judges of the land difficulties which, in point of feeling, they ought not to have imposed upon them. He thought that they threw a difficulty, which they ought not to have done, upon the Attorney-General, in forcing him to bring such a man as lord Fingall before a jury. How great must be the difficulty of persuading any jury that such a man as lord Fingall, so peaceable and exemplary in his conduct, could have any criminal or improper motives! He thought that the Catholics had also acted very hastily and wrong, in the great irritation which they expressed latterly at the conduct of the duke of Richmond, whose government they had before confessed to be founded not only on the principles of forbearance, but on the greatest benevolence and impartiality to all parties. Every one who knew the character and the principles of that noble duke, must be convinced, that their anger against him was without just cause. The Catholic body, in fact, never appeared to less advantage, than when they were debating in conclave. As to the right of petitioning, what was there to prevent them from the old British constitutional mode of petitioning by counties and by districts? He hoped that the Catholics would now for ever close their book of conventions, and proceed in the old regular way of petitioning. He would allow, that it was highly natural for the Catholics to feel severely those restrictions which placed them on an inferior footing to the rest of their fellow subjects. He really thought that many gentlemen were completely mistaken in supposing that the Catholics would gain much political power by this measure, as it appeared to him that they now enjoyed a certain share of it, through those Protestant representatives chosen by their influence; and he would just as soon see Catholic gentlemen representing the Catholic influence; as see Protestants in that situation. The noble lord concluded by declaring it as his opinion, that it did infinite mischief to the Catholic cause to have the subject agitated so frequently in Parliament, without one practical measure being, proposed which had the least chance of meeting the views of 641 all parties, in reconciling the concessions to be made with the securities to be provided for the constitution. On the general principle, his opinion remained unaltered; and he only wished to see some practical plan proposed which was likely to be acceded to. Until that was done, he thought those endless discussions on the subject did great injury to the cause, by committing members in a manner in consequence of the votes they had already given.
§ Mr. Whitbread
rose at the same time with another hon. member, but the House expressing a general wish to hear Mr. W he began by declaring his regret, unconnected as he was with Ireland, except by being a member of the united parliament, to prevent other hon. gentlemen from delivering their opinion on the subject; but, protracted as the debate had been, the speech which had just been made by the noble lord rendered him extremely anxious to assign his reasons for the vote he should give. The noble lord had complained of the indistinct and indefinite nature of the motion before the House; he had termed the discussion an unintelligible one, and yet, to do the noble lord ample justice, he had contributed his full share to that unintelligibility, (A laugh.) He, (Mr. W.) was now, as he always had been, a warm friend to the consideration of the Catholic claims. Agreeing with the noble lord in some of his general propositions (as well as he could understand them) he entirely differed from him in thinking that the attainment of those claims had been retarded by the discussions to which the various motions on the subject had given rise. On the contrary, he maintained that discussion alone had raised the Catholics from that state of abject slavery in which they were once plunged—that to discussion alone were the Catholics indebted for all that "light and life" which they already possessed—and that to discussion alone would they owe the acquisition of those rights and privileges which were yet withheld from them. Instead, therefore, of advising them to remain in the state of torpor recommended by the noble lord, his strenuous advice to them would be to reiterate their claims until they obtained the accomplishment of their just wishes. The noble lord had balanced the difficulties and dangers which attended the question on both sides. He had enlarged on the necessity of securities for the constitutional establishments, and 642 yet the noble lord had concluded by admitting (with what consistency he would riot pretend to determine) that one of the best of those securities would be created by allowing Catholics to sit in parliament. Notwithstanding this admission, the noble lord arraigned, with great vehemence, the noble lord who originated the present discussion—his right hon. friend near him (Mr. Grattan)—and even that great man who first brought the Catholic question under the consideration of the united parliament, (Mr. Fox,) for the indefinite nature of their respective propositions. But surely if the House had a right to apply to any one to take the question out of this undefinable state, it was to the noble lord himself; who, for the first time, had that night introduced into the debate the King in person (Hear, bear!) The noble lord, not thinking that the King was bound by the coronation oath to resist the Catholic claims, had nevertheless confessed that he had placed himself between the Catholics and the crown. The noble lord professed himself to have been the champion of the crown in this affair. Yet, what had he done? He had shrunk from the side of the crown, and with his colleagues had retired from office. Why? Because they could not carry the question of the Catholic claims. Not because the people objected to them—not because parliament objected to them,—but because the King objected to them, the noble lord and his colleagues left the cabinet, and his Majesty called to his counsels men who were willing to take on themselves the responsibility-of resistance to the Catholics. At the time of the Union, the noble lord (to use his own words) formed "an important feature" of that compact; but he now denied that at that period there was any specific promise that the Catholic claims should be granted. True. But there was a distinct understanding, not merely that the subject should be discussed in the united parliament, but that the claims of the Catholics should be backed by all the talents of Mr. Pitt, all the weight of the noble lord (then chief secretary for Ireland) and all the influence of lord Cornwallis. Well did the noble lord know that without such a tacit agreement the Union could never have been effected. With all the money, with all the promises, that had been lavished—and "with all means and appliances to boot," the Union would never have been effected had not the Catholic body been won over by a 643 distinct understanding that their claims would be conceded. It was much too late, therefore, for the noble lord to talk of the insuperable difficulties arising from the state of the Catholic clergy and laity, and the necessity of securities for the established church. Having agreed at the period of the Union to bring forward and support the Catholic claims, unless the noble lord had at that period arranged in his own mind a definite plan by which such an important object might be attained, he had been guilty of little less than treachery in holding out expectations of success to the unfortunate and suffering Catholics. But how was the question respecting these difficulties to be decided? The noble lord talked of the impossibility of parliament's legislating without any communication from the Catholics as to their assent to or dissent from the measures that might be proposed. But what arrangement had the Catholics in their power to suggest, prevented as they were from assembling for that purpose? Their meetings might be pronounced legal by one jury, and illegal by the next. And yet, without being warranted in the assertion by any information received from the general body, the noble lord declared that the difficulty regarding the King's Veto on the appointment of Catholic bishops could not be overcome. The claimants, it was contended, would not now give up that point; and the noble lord had told the House, that the Catholic mind was not prepared for receiving the concessions which it was proposed to grant. Strange assertion! That four millions of petitioners, who came respectfully presenting their prayers to parliament, were not prepared properly to receive that for which they asked! But if the state of the Catholic mind was not perfectly satisfactory at present—would the noble lord venture to assert that at the period of the Union the Catholics were not disposed to concede the Veto? If so, all the change that had taken place, all the irritation that had been produced, was attributable to the delay which the Catholics had experienced in the attainment of their just claims. To the noble lord and to his colleagues must be ascribed their present exasperation and feelings of discontent, which he prayed to God might not increase to a much more alarming extent.
The right hon. secretary for Ireland (Mr. Pole) in his speech last night, seemed to think that the whole of the debate re-644 lated to himself and to his own little actions, and was extremely displeased at the order in which the various speakers had risen; wishing, no doubt, to have marshalled them according to his own fashion. The House had certainly to complain that the person with whom the Irish government communicated (the Secretary of State for the Home Department) had not hitherto thought proper to favour them with his opinions on the subject: But perhaps the time of that right hon. gentleman was too much engrossed by the consideration of the Police of the metropolis and the state of the Nightly Watch (A laugh.) With that exception, he really saw no reason to complain of the order in which the speakers on the present question had succeeded to each other. There had been—first the noble lord who began the debate, then the learned civilian opposite to him, then a right hon. privy counsellor, then a learned lawyer on the other side, and so on, in very fair and regular alternation, until they concluded with the noble lord who combined in himself all these various characters. The right hon. and learned civilian (sir J. Nicholl) who was connected with the Church Establishment, and who seemed to stand in the place of another learned doctor and privy counsellor (Dr. Duigenan,) had made a long address to the House in a style very similar to that of his able predecessor (a laugh.) According to him, all the rescinded statutes of the penal code to which the Catholics had formerly been subject, ought to be re-enacted for the purpose of producing tranquility in Ireland; but at the same time be professed himself (with what sincerity it was for the House to determine) extremely averse to shutting the door against any future consideration of the Catholic claims; and the noble lord had further explained for the right hon. and learned gentleman, that he meant nothing more than to object to indefinite measures. Such had been the effect of repeated discussions on this most important subject, that all concurred in the opinion, that some day or other the claims of the Catholics ought to be conceded; but it so happened, that every hon. member who spoke from the other side of the House, after admitting the propriety of the concession, terminated his address by exclaiming "Oh; but the time is not come!"' They were all emancipators; but none of them would go into the Committee to consider the best mode of emancipation. 645 The Catholic question seemed to be much in the same state as the question for the abolition of the Slave trade had once been; and in which it would still have been, had the arguments of the gradual abolitionists been listened to.—All were abolitionists; but none' would abolish it, for "the time was not come." The right honourable and learned civilian had maintained, that the great body of the Catholics were not at all affected by the exclusions under which they laboured; the operation of which was confined to the gentlemen of the country. This assertion had been admirably refuted by the right hon. gentleman who followed, (Mr. Canning) in a speech, one of the most distinguished for eloquence which had ever been heard in that House. One part of that speech, however, he could by no means approve. It was a passage which savoured strongly of the doctrines of that administration, to which in its commencement the right hon. gentleman had belonged, comprehending as it did a sort of jogging to the country to be ready to renew the cry of "No Popery." Of the other parts of the brilliant effusion to which he had alluded, it was impossible to speak too highly. "Oh, profound ignorance of human nature!" had that right hon. gentleman eloquently and justly exclaimed, when he adverted to the argument that the exclusion of the higher orders from offices of dignity and state would not operate to the discouragement and depression of every class of the community. Was it hot most exhilarating to witness, as the House bad done last night, a gallant soldier, a native of the sister island (general Cole, see p. 492.) take his seat after a long absence spent in military service, and receice the highest gratification which a military man could experience—the thanks of the representatives of a free people? It was a circumstance which the posterity of that gallant general Would take a pride in recollecting, while the eloquent and impressive terms in which the thanks of the House were conveyed, would be read with sensibility by the successors and descendants of him who delivered them. (Hear, hear!) But what would have been the feelings of a Catholic nobleman, blessed with virtuous, brave, and well educated sons, who by any accident might have been a spectator of this scene? Would he not, in the bitterness of his heart, have exclaimed, "My sons may bleed and die in the defence of 646 their country as ensigns and captains—they may tread the paths of glory, and deserve the honours which general Cole has received, but reap them, alas! they never can!" (Hear, hear!). Was it surprising that the Catholics should show repeated symptoms of indignation at distinctions so utterly unreasonable? It was a natural feeling; and the consequence of it had been, that many Irishmen, ardent, brave, and enthusiastic, full of honour, eager for distinction, and unable to submit to those restrictions which limited their views of promotion in the British service, sought in foreign nations for that glory which they were denied at home. To this cause was it owing that a Lacy, a Lally, a Sheldon, an O'Farrel had devoted their military talents to the service of hostile countries. To this cause was it owing that in almost every great battle which had been fought on the continent—in the fields of Blenheim, of Ramilies, of Malplaquet, of Fontenoy, Irishmen had been brigaded against us. Such had hitherto been the case, and such must continue to be so. If the same barrier were interposed, the same effects would follow. Step by step the Irish Catholics had acquired the privileges which they possessed. Their spirit and intellect had burst forth with additional ardour since the removal of the restrictions in 1793. This ardour must have vent. If we were not prepared to engage them on our side in the great battle which we had to fight with our inveterate-enemy, we should find both the physical force and the intellect—both the mea and the minds, leagued against us. (Hear, hear!) Reverting to the speech of the right hon. gentleman opposite (Mr. Canning) he repeated his testimony to the singular eloquence by which it was distinguished. An hon. member had characterised that speech as satis eloquentiæ, sapientiæ parum.' In this description of it he Could not concur. He would rather say 'satis eloquentiæ, sapientiæ satis.' Yet he felt no surprise that the arguments of the right bon. gentleman had failed to produce conviction in the mind of the hon. gentleman, for they had actually failed to produce conviction in the mind of the right hon. gentleman himself (A laugh.) Nevertheless the right hon. gentleman was last night in a situation id which something different might have been expected from him. Last night he was himself emancipated. He had shaken off the trammels of office—he had 647 escaped from the influence of his late colleagues—his genius, with its plumage all bright and resplendent, had taken a full and unrestrained flight into the regions of truth and eloquence—but what was the result? Labouring to convince every body else, the right hon. gentleman could not at last obtain his own vote. (A laugh.) As he listened to the right hon. gentleman's polished periods, he could not help asking himself, "Is this really the man who has hitherto been the enemy of the Catholic claims—who when in office distinguished himself as the strenuous opposer of Catholic concession—who concurred in the vote which went to disqualify a Catholic from being a Bank Director in Ireland—who was of opinion with his late colleagues that it was dangerous for a Catholic to become an admiral or a general—who joined in recommending the prototype of the right hon. and learned civilian opposite, as a fit person to be made a privy counsellor to the crown?" Alas! such was the inconsistency of human nature, this was the very man! This was he who could now concede the Catholic claims, provided certain animosities were allayed, certain prejudices done away, and tranquillity restored. These conditions were as unreasonable as those of the right honourable and learned civilian. There Were no grounds whatever for supposing that tranquillity could be restored till the concessions were granted. The right hon. gentleman stated as a preliminary, that certain prejudices should be removed and certain animosities allayed. Who had done so much to excite the one and to inflame the other, as the right hon. gentleman and the government with which he had acted? In 1807, those prejudices and animosities did not exist. In 1807, the whole of Ireland was tranquil. The member for Northampton, however, thought proper to raise the cry of "No Popery." On the wings of that cry he flew into power, and was accompanied by the right hon. gentleman who now professed himself to be so anxious that the minds of the Catholic population should be tranquillized. Might he (Mr. W.) not exclaim as he contemplated these occurrences, "Oh! inexplicable inconsistency, of human nature!" (Hear! hear!)—But when the right hon. gentleman talked of objecting to the present motion, on account of the notice which had been given by an hon. friend of his (Mr. Hutchinson) of an intended motion for the repeal of the 648 legislative Union between Great Britain and Ireland, he really could hardly help supposing that the right hon. gentleman was laughing at the House. The right hon. gentleman declared that that intended motion was of such a nature, that in his opinion' no man would be found to vote for it—that it would be as reasonable a proposition to recommend the restoration of the heptarchy—and yet it was to operate as a bar to the consideration of the Catholic claims! For himself, he was ready to admit that the intended motion of his hon. friend would not have his concurrence. He wished the Union between the two countries to be consolidated—not annulled. But how was it to be consolidated? By the adoption of those very means which Mr. Pitt and the noble lord opposite, and the right hon. gentleman himself, once declared themselves disposed to adopt (in which declaration the Catholics had placed implicit faith) not, indeed, by express stipulation, but by the tenour, the understood conditions of the Union. If those means were now rejected, it was not a dissolution of the Union alone that might be apprehended, but a dissolution of the empire.—The right hon. gentleman had talked much of the menacing attitude which Ireland had assumed, and of the impolicy as well as the degradation of submitting to this threatening aspect. To him (Mr. W.) it appeared, that we first drove Ireland to the necessity of assuming that attitude by our repulsive tone, and by our refusal to accede to the claims of that country. But did not all historical evidence contradict the right hon. gentleman in his declaration of the impolicy of conceding to menacing attitudes? In the reign of Elizabeth, considerable concessions had been made to the Irish, and surely their attitude was as menacing then as now. Queen Elizabeth also exhibited her knowledge of what was necessary for the security of the state in the concessions she made to the Low Countries. But she was a great princess, and knew how to give. She knew how to bestow as the boon of her free grace, What, when she gave it, was received with gratitude, and repaid with attachment; other sovereigns knew only how to-with hold; and at last they had been compelled to yield to menacing attitudes. Had this not been the case in the disputes with America? And yet at that period there were persons who talked as big about menacing attitudes a; they did now. But to the menacing attitude 649 of America, they had been forced to yield.—America had since grown to be a stale of importance, and with America there seemed to be at present little prospect of avoiding a war—a war, not with "rebels" as they had once been termed, but with an independent people, rendered so by the same conduct on the part of the British government, as that which had been pursued towards Ireland? (Hear! hear!) The right hon. gentleman said, that a new era had dawned upon the Irish—that the day star of their liberty had appeared. And was it not to be supposed that the people of Ireland, notwithstanding the strong respect and attachment which they had always manifested for his Majesty, had watched for this new era with all the fondness of devotion—had hailed its arrival with all the ardour of gratitude? They supposed it to be commenced, and they asked "Can you now take our claims into consideration—can you now listen to our grievances?" "No," replied the right non. gentleman, "you must first remove your prejudices, you must first allay your animosities, and then we will talk to you." What must be the disappointment of he people of Ireland, at hearing this language! Could the arguments of the right hon. gentleman diminish its poignancy, even if they would listen to them? Were they to wait for the extinction of religious prejudices, that phenomenon, which had appeared only in Switzerland? In the Swiss Cantons for above 200 years, and until the accursed period of the French invasion, such an amicable fellowship was preserved-in matters of religion, that in many places the Protestants and the Catholics used the same church, the one sect the morning, the other in the afternoon. Yet the Swiss, too, had in the beginning quarrelled and fought, about religious opinions; their natural good sense made them soon bury those dissensions in mutual Forgiveness; but had the right hon. gentleman been their adviser, their differences would probably have lasted to the present day. The proposition contained in the right hon. gentleman's speech, seemed to be the most unphilosophical one; that effects ought to be made to precede causes. The cause that would remove prejudices, the cause that would restore tranquillity, was concession. Let that be granted, and the effect would necessarily follow. "But," it had been asked, "what haw the Irish Catholics to give in return for this con- 650 cession?" To this he would answer, that they had nothing to give but all their affection, all their energy, an united empire" and security against every foe. Was this nothing? Were not these advantages worth obtaining? (Hear! hear!) The right hon. gent. had endeavoured to illustrate his argument by an allusion to what took place in the reign of Henry the 4th of France, that great prince, who, if any monarch ever deserved the appellation, might justly be called the delight of his people. What did Henry the fourth do? He conceded the claims of the Hugonots, and all dissatisfaction ceased. The Hugonots were not, as had been represented that night, a small and unimportant body. They were numerous and powerful; and Sully, that admirable minister, that pattern for all statesmen, that upright, wise, and conscientious adviser of his sovereign, declared in the very same page, in which he recorded the Edict of Nantz, that the boldness of the Protestants had never risen to such insolence as at the very moment when the Edict was issued. Henry, however, was not to be deterred by that circumstance from complying with their just and reasonable claims. But, supposing the right hon. gentleman had been Henry the fourth's minister, what would have been his counsel? "True it is," he would have said, "that your majesty is well disposed towards your Protestant subjects; true it is that all your majesty's subjects, and your Protestant subjects in particular, think the time is come for discussing their claims and listening to their grievances; but certain petty objections exist, certain little prejudices must be removed, certain paltry animosities must be allayed; and I advise your majesty therefore not to suffer the subject to be now even taken into consideration." Such would have been the right hon gentleman's ad vice. But Henry the fourth would have spurned such a minister from his presence. He was a model for sovereigns. His plumes, whether in the civil or the military career, always pointed to the path of honour. He (Mr. W.) trusted that the plumes under the shadow of which this country now reposed, would acquire as truly glorious a direction; and that Catholic emancipation would give to this expectation the fondest presage of reality.
He would now proceed to consider the conduct of the Irish government with respect to the Convention act. While he complimented the activity, and he really be- 651 lieved the purity of motive of the Chief Secretary for Ireland, he must say, that that right hon. gentleman had shown something like an anxiety to see the Catholics resort to strong resolutions and measures, that he might have an opportunity of retaliating upon them. Nothing, however, could be more impolitic or more mischievous on the part of any government, than to goad on a people to illegal acts and deeds of desperation. As to the Catholic Committee, although he could not presume to discuss the question as a question of law, yet he would observe as an unlearned man, that à priori he could not conceive that the Convention act could have been framed to prevent delegates from being appointed in a lawful cause. If the wishes of the Catholic population were to be collected, how was it to be done but by delegation? The primary matter for consideration was, if they could meet by law? He thought they could. But he would go further; and maintain that, if no inconvenience resulted from their asembling, the law ought not to be allowed to touch them even if by possibility it could be strained so as to reach their proceedings. Subsequently to the passing of this Convention act, in the year 1793, he had seen and dined with a Catholic delegation in England. They were acknowledged and received as such by Mr. Dundas, who was the Secretary of State for the Home Department. When the Secretary however professed his readiness to lay before his Majesty any communication which they might wish to make, they replied, "No; we will either see the king of Ireland ourselves, or go back to our own country." They were as good, as their word; they did see the king of Ireland; and the consequence was a recommendation from the crown to parliament to grant the Catholics the concessions which they then obtained. In this country there were committees and delegations, who acted for bodies of individuals in matters both of commerce and of religion. Of this latter description was the committee of dissenters, whose meetings were last year occasioned by the ill-advised bill of a certain noble viscount, (lord Sid-mouth.) There committees acted by delegation; and why should the Catholics of Ireland be debarred from availing themselves of the means of expressing their sentiments which were enjoyed by their fellow-subjects in Great Britain? When the Irish Catholics were in possession of 652 these facts; when they knew that other societies of men had been allowed without objection to appoint delegates to carry their purposes into effect, was it not natural for them to ask why they might not be permitted to exercise the same privileges? He saw nothing in the Resolutions of the Delegates which militated against them, "But then," it had been said, "intemperate speeches were delivered there." Suppose they had, was that a sufficient reason for such rash proceedings as had ensued en the part of the Irish government? If the Catholic Committee had met unfairly—if it had assembled for purposes not such as were ostensibly held out, it might then with propriety have been dissolved: the Chief Secretary had the power so to dissolve it. But when the persons who were officially detached on the affair reached the place of meeting, the business was over; lord Fingall bad left the chair; and those persons were under the necessity of asking that nobleman who he was, and what had been the object of the assembly? Proudly, indeed, might he have replied to the first of these enquiries, "I am the earl of Fingall." The man who could answer to that name might justly feel a sense of conscious dignity. To the latter question lord Fingall replied, that it had been a meeting for the purpose of petitioning parliament. Was it to be supposed that lord Fingall could deviate from the truth—he, whom even the noble viscount opposite (lord Castlereagh) had described as having been firm, temperate, loyal and patriotic in the worst of times? The right hon. the Secretary for Ireland, while he travelled to Dublin in his post-chaise, appeared to have been employed in reading the news-papers, and in taking for granted all that those publications asserted to have been done and said by the Catholics. The right hon gentleman had, indeed, attacked members of that House for expressions and sentiments which they never uttered, but which the Morning Post had put into their mouths for them.—Happy was it for England and Ireland that the earl of Fingall had been placed at the head of the Catholics in the latter country: he was a man who to high rank and large fortune added such a sound judgment, such suavity of as manners, and yet such spirited conduct, enabled him to unite Catholics and Protestants in one common interest. He thanked God that the man who represented the Catholics of Ireland was the earl of Fingall.
653 The noble lord who had just sat down had told the House, that if they conceded to the claims made by the Catholics of Ireland, they must do the same by the Catholics of Great Britain. Certainly, it ought to be so Nay more, the Test Act must be repealed; and the dissenters must be allowed to come in for their share of relief from civil incapacities. And where was the danger to the Established Church from all this? These fears about the Established Church were sounded in the ears of the country as often as the present question was agitated. Were the Catholic claims to be granted? the Church would be overturned! Were the Dissenters to be relieved from tests which were Virtually abrogated every year? the Church would be overturned! He was himself a member of the Established Church; and it was his anxious desire to fortify that establishment by divesting it of some of those prerogatives which were at present an incumbrance to it, and the removal of which could not fail of producing the most beneficial results. No man who knew any thing of the purity of the principles of the Church establishment, and considered the deep root which it had taken in the minds of all Protestants who had any regard to religion, together with the many guards and fences by which it was surrounded, could entertain any reasonable apprehension of its destruction, except by its own corruptions and by the culpable indolence of its professors. The alarm about the church of England, however, was by no means peculiar to the present period or to the present circumstances. A grave and learned divine bad lately attempted to prove, in a book written on purpose, that the Church was threatened with imminent danger by the dissemination of copies of the Bible, divested of any gloss or comment Nay, he had himself been accused in a publication by a professor, of divinity at Cambridge, of seeking to overturn the Church, in consequence of a speech which he had made at a meeting of one of the Bible societies in the country! Such apprehensions he could not otherwise denominate than as theFears of the brave, and follies of the wise.The right hon. Secretary had expressed a hope that the Catholics would petition the Prince Regent rather than petition parliament. From what he had heard, he understood it to be their actual intention to petition the Prince Regent, stating 654 their claims to his Royal Highness, and praying his interference in their behalf by recommending their case to the consideration of parliament. That such a recommendation would be successful no one could doubt. Most dangerous was the advice of the right hon. gentleman opposite (Mr. Canning) to delay the concessions until the Catholics had sunk into a state of flat despair. "Good God!" concluded Mr. Whitbread, "may I not here again exclaim, Oh! wonderful ignorance of human nature!—Can it be supposed that men, exasperated by disappointment, furious from oppression and intemperate from necessity, will content themselves with the whining accents of petitioning? I fear not. I fear they will adopt a far different language; and lest therefore they should be driven to the extremity which I dread, I trust that parliament will gratuitously concede their claims."
totally disclaimed the version which the hon. gentleman had been pleased to give of his speech.
Mr. Secretary Ryder
considered that it would have amounted to a criminal violation of the trust reposed in the government if they had neglected to take measures for preventing the meetings, and to enforce the provisions of the Convention act. The right hon. Secretary briefly recapitulated the statement made by the right' hon. Secretary for Ireland with respect to the measures pursued on that occasion. Did the hon. gentlemen opposite mean to contend that government ought to have waited until the object of the meeting was complete, before they decided on putting the statute in force? The construction which had been put on the act was the legal one. The claims of the Catholics were not recognized by the country at large: there was a general and prevalent disposition against them, which had increased in consequence of their late proceedings, and he was not prepared to admit that mischief would not arise from these frequent discussions.
The Attorney General
said that upon a subject of this nature, involving in it matter of such importance, and more especially questions of law, he trusted he might be allowed to trouble the House with a few words. With respect to the Convention act, he must say, that if it was not the intention of the legislature in passing that act to provide against such meeting" as the Catholics were lately holding in 655 Ireland, he felt himself wholly at a loss to say what their intentions could possibly have been. He complained of the indiscreet and light manner in which a solemn decision of a court of law in Ireland had been treated in that House and elsewhere. He agreed with his hon. and learned friend, in thinking that where a judge of the land had misconducted himself in the discharge of his sacred trust, it was for that House to interpose and address the crown to remove him from the judgment seat he had prostituted; but he could not agree with him in thinking that because any member of that House thought the solemn decision of a law court a wrong decision, he ought to look for redress by complaining to that House. Whenever such a wrong occurred, and there was no wrong without its remedy, the law and the constitution had placed the remedy in another place, and to that dernier court and no other should the complainant resort for redress. He contended that the judgment of a court of law, as such, was not impeachable in that House, and if it was not, he thought his hon. and learned friends, who had so impeached it, had travelled not a little out of the record. But this had not been a mere impeachment of the judgment of the court. Personal reflections upon the conduct of the chief justice of the King's bench had been introduced, and he must say, not in the most prudent, he had almost said, not in the most decent manner. It was monstrous to suppose that a person filling that high station, could be brought to be a mere tool in the hands of any government, in any mean job or contrivance against the rights or liberties of the subject. It was a thing that could not be presumed, it ought not to be believed, but on the most unquestionable evidence; and what other evidence was before the House but that of the heated assertions of men in the warmth of controversy?—The hon. and learned gentleman then proceeded to vindicate the conduct of the Irish chief justice on the ground of law, contending, that in issuing warrants against delegates, and holding them to bail he had done nothing more than had been often clone in Ireland. He then entered into a citation of sundry authorities, to prove that the legality of arresting parties previous to their indictment, had been for a long time maintained. He next examined the wording of the warrant under which the delegates had been arrested, and contended 656 that it came within the general authority of the cases he had cited. He passed a compliment upon the calm, pacific, and conciliatory mode in which the law officers of the crown in Ireland had conducted the late prosecutions, and read from a pamphlet he held in his hand, an extract from the speech of Mr. Saurin, on the trial of Dr. Sheridan, to shew in contradiction to what had been asserted in that House, that the Attorney General of Ireland had not charged the Catholics of Ireland with disloyalty; so far from it, he had distinctly expressed his persuasion that they were most loyally disposed; and therefore he thought it but fair in those who had complained that Mr. Saurin had charged the Irish Catholics with treason and sedition, to admit that they were wrong.
began by declaring that he did not know that he was ever in his life so much affected by vanity, as at that moment, finding as he did, from the speech of the right hon. Secretary for Ireland, that a speech of his in that House was the cause of the late proceedings of the government in Ireland. The right hon. Secretary had said, that he, in a motion made by him last-session, strongly recommended a proclamation. That assertion he must deny; it was true, he had asked if a proclamation had on that occasion been issued, but he had not recommended one. The right hon. Secretary had said, that he did not wish to be made the subject of witticisms. God forbid that the right hon. Secretary should be the subject of witticisms! But if he had suffered in this way, it certainly was from the gravest of his own friends. He thought he had reason to complain that it should have been attributed to him to have said that a letter issued as the deliberate act of the Irish government, was a slovenly letter. The right hon. gentleman himself had called it a grave and solemn proceeding, and he agreed with him that it was. If the Irish government had acted wrong, or in a slovenly manner, it could not be attributed to the short period they had allowed for consideration and deliberation. The right hon. Secretary, however, had talked as if this debate were calculated for no other purpose than to give him an opportunity of exculpating himself. The right hon. Secretary reminded him of a work which he had seen with this title, "Memoirs of P. B. clerk of this parish, shewing the importance of a man 657 to himself." The right hon. Secretary had said that the government could not be wrong, because the necessity of the measure resorted to was shewn in the conduct and speeches of those men who had formerly assembled. If so, he would ask the right hon. Secretary where was his attention to his duty, when he allowed those men to go without punishment? Why did he not then resort to the laws of the land? And why did he make his own neglect as to them, the cause of calumnies against the whole Catholic body? The right hon. Secretary was bound to show in that House, if he had any evidence to prove, that this was the operation of their meetings and actings: he had hitherto proved nothing but intentions towards those men. But he (Mr. Ponsonby) had a stronger reason for entertaining this opinion, and that was founded on what passed upon the trial, where one of the witnesses who had been a person in the confidence and employment of those very persons, and had been in all their secrets, was afterwards brought forward by government as a wit-ness against them, and even he could not attribute to them any thing like bad intentions. The right hon. Secretary had said, that government could not exist if such assemblies were suffered to meet. If they really were about to meet for an unlawful purpose, he agreed with the right hon. Secretary that they ought to be prevented; but if their object in meeting was to petition, what danger could possibly result from it? The right hon. gentleman had said, that there might have been danger. If this was all, then were he and the government too provident in the hasty steps they had taken, and for which they were not justified on any principles of sound policy. The right hon. Secretary had said, that it was impossible these persons could have met merely for the purpose of petitioning; and this seemed to have had considerable influence on many of his friends and on the House.—Now, he, on the contrary, declared he was convinced that they did meet for that purpose, and for that purpose only: and he was also convinced that never was any meeting held in which there were stronger feelings of gratitude and good-will to those whom they meant to address.—He appealed to the recollection of the Chair, whether on all occasions some objection or another was not found against these petitions of the 658 Catholics: at one time the nobility, at another time the clergy, and on a third occasion, the commonalty were not serious in the application. The petitions were declared to be the growth of a faction, and did not come as the genuine prayer of the whole people. But now, when persons from all and each of those classes had assembled, then they were declared an unlawful meeting. He never knew a set of men so hardly dealt with; it being impossible for them to do any thing to please those whom they were anxious to propitiate.—The right hon. gentleman proceeded to take a view of the law of the case, which he still conceived to be different from that laid down by the judges of the King's-bench of Ireland. He presumed to think there was nothing unbecoming in supposing those judges fallible. How else could a counsel ever advise his client to proceed by writ of error? It had been said, however, that this was not a proper time, or rather, that it was a most unpropitious time for the Catholic claims. Then was he deeply responsible, for he had recommended to them that notice to the effect now moved for should be given on the very first day of the session; and this was the ground on which he wished it to be given, because he was resolved not to temporise. "I will not," said the right hon. gentleman, "make my countrymen a footstool for my ambition. I will not mount into office upon their discontents; nor would I, if in. power, turn my back upon their claims. I would not make speeches that would pledge me to conditions incompatible with my being a member of any administration, and hold out hopes to the Catholics, of which I was determined they never should enjoy the fruits." No person, I admit, ought to be so amply provided with conditions as the noble lord (Castle-reagh); but see the sort of conditions with which he would clog his proffered grant. The noble lord will do nothing for the Irish Catholics, until the Pope is free, and completely his own master; but the Pope is allowed to be in a state of captivity, and doubtless it is the intention of France to keep him so. Now, if the Catholics are to have no relief until the Pope is free from the power of France, the noble lord need not be afraid of being called on for the performance of his promise, and the realization of the hopes of the Catholics,—Nor is this all. It seems that we are a more 659 potent body on this side of the House than we were aware of. A single notice given by a friend near me (Mr. C. Hutchinson's notice for a repeal of the Union) is, it seems, sufficient to deter a right hon. gentleman opposite (Mr. Canning) from his intended course; and to induce him to refuse to the Catholics those rights to which he considers them entitled. He is anxious to grant the boon, but the notice unfortunately ties him up, arrests the course of justice, and prevents the grant. My hon. friend has, therefore, only to defer his motion from session to session, which he no doubt may do, and then the right hon. gentleman will find the time of his promised grant as far removed as that of the noble lord, who adjourns his grant until the Pope is free from the power of France—and the justice and liberality of both will commence together. But it is said we have nothing to fear from refusal, as, in that event, the Catholics will still remain peaceable and content. That they will acquiesce in the decision of parliament, although unfavourable to their claims, I admit; but that they will be content, I deny. I do not think any decision, however unfavourable, will drive them to desperation; but I wish the House to consult human nature, and learn from thence the consequence of hopes long deferred and never realised, of repeated disappointments and exhausted patience. I know the language which it is the custom of certain gentlemen, confident in their own strength, to use in this House. I know they are accustomed to say, "You must obey, or we will compel you." But see the danger of acting up to this doctrine. Not many sessions ago the far-famed Orders in Council were introduced, and we, on this side of the House, pronounced that they would commence in commercial disaster, and lead to absolute hostility. For holding this language we were scoffed at, as degrading and undervaluing the country; and yet, what is the case now? We are come to this point, that we must repeal those Orders in Council, or meet despised America, that America which they held so lightly, in arms. But some say it is unnecessary to grant the Catholics any thing, as we have all the benefit that can be derived from them already. How ungenerous because you have their services, you reward them by disappointing their hopes. I am happy, however, that the prejudices which would thus under- 660 value Ireland are wearing away; for, without any partiality to my country, I must in truth say, that the safety of England depends upon the warm and cordial attachment of Ireland, and that France is only to be combated with success by the united force of both. And will any man say that Ireland can afford her full resources, that she can pour out her whole strength and energies, while four-fifths of her population remain deprived of their just rights? This is assuming a case of war, but it will apply also to peace. In case of a negociation for peace, how can you expect favourable terms from France, when she thinks she has an ally and a friend in the discontents of Ireland? The discontents of the nations whom he has attacked, have proved to Buonaparté his most powerful weapons, and he will not view the discontents of Ireland in a different light. Whether, then, it be war, or whether it be peace, the state of that country is of the first importance, and you cannot depend upon its warm and cordial attachment until you have conciliated the great body of its population. Oh! but say the gentlemen on the other side of the House, we are all for conciliation. Yes; but they will have it only at their own time; and it remains, they contend, for the advocates of the Catholics to name the securities on which the conciliatory boon is to be granted. Now, I deny that it is for us to shew upon what terms the Catholics ought to enjoy the full benefit of the constitution; on the contrary, I contend it is for them to shew why the Catholics are excluded. It is no argument to say the Church is in danger. How are the Catholics to endanger it? Do they mean to overthrow it by force? Why, if so, they are as able to accomplish their purpose now as they can be hereafter: but if not by force, how else can they effect their purpose? It will be said, by the assistance of others, by the assistance of the Protestants, but they have that assistance already. I beg, therefore, that when gentlemen talk of the overthrow of the Church, as the consequence of the grant of the Catholic claims, they will state the means which the Catholics will thence derive for the purpose, and how they mean to carry it into execution—But alluding to what passed on a former occasion, it has been said, the advocates of the Catholics Will not be forward to make proposals, remembering that those which they, did make were disavowed. I, Sir, 661 was one of those who made such proposals, namely, the Veto, and the whole of my conduct on that occasion I explained, and I believe gentlemen admitted I did so most satisfactorily: but I never stated that as a measure insisted upon by me. I did not wish for any such condition on my own account, I wished it only for the sake of conciliating others, far more powerful than myself, and without whose concurrence my efforts could be of little avail. I wished to conciliate this House, for I am not vain and fantastical enough to expect that it would adopt my opinions. I lay little stress upon the Veto. I look upon all securities of this kind in a very inferior point of view. I think the Catholics, like other men, must be governed by their interests and affections.—The debate, Sir, having been so long protracted, I must thank the House for the patience with which I have been listened to, and shall conclude by repeating my firm conviction, that without conciliation to the Catholics of Ireland, we can neither be strong in war, nor entitled to hope for an advantageous peace.
The Chancellor of the Exchequer
said, that he gave the noble lord who brought forward the present motion, credit both for his motives in so doing, and for the ability which he had displayed in its support. He was sure he was not paying an ill compliment to that noble lord to say, that he deplored, however, in common with other members, the calamity which had taken it out of those hands which were fully competent to do it justice. But at the same time he could not withhold his strong disapprobation, both of the mode adopted on the present occasion by the other side of the House, and of the object which that mode was intended to accomplish. He did not in the first place, think it a wise or proper thing to bring the conduct of the courts of law in Ireland under the review of the House of Commons, because it might lead to a decision in that House, which preserved no appellant jurisdiction, prejudicial to the judgment of the question by the appropriate tribunal. The noble lord had not said, nor did he believe that he intended to say, that he had any charge to bring against the court of King's bench in Ireland; but the effect of his motion, if carried, must be to stigmatize that court, because the motion was so framed as to take into its purview the double ground of the claims of the Catholics and the conduct of the Irish administra- 662 tion. And the true friends of the Catholic cause bad reason to complain that they were thus attempted to be caught, by voting for one object, into an admission of the truth of the alleged misconduct of the Irish government. Why did not gentlemen bring a specific charge against that government, and try it fairly on its own merits? This would have been an honourable, a candid, and a manly cause of procedure. But no, at a time when, according to the representations of an honourable member, the existence of the present administration was drawing to a close, it was deemed necessary to make a display of the strength of those who avowed themselves competitors for the succession. The hon. gentleman to whom he had attributed the expression, was now in his place, and could answer for himself.
[Mr. Parnell disclaimed the words imputed to him.]
The Chancellor of the Exchequer
resumed, and assured the House that he was not the only person who had been deceived. The right hon. gentleman then entered into a vindication of the measures of the Irish government, and solemnly professed it to be his opinion, that looking at the constitution of the Catholic Convention and its recent proceedings, if no such law as the Convention act had been in existence, it would have been the indispensible duty of his Majesty's ministers to have proposed to the legislature the immediate adoption of some similar provision. But, whatever difference of opinion might prevail on this subject, it would at least have been the most open and manly way of proceeding to have tried the question of the Irish government separately, and not to have mingled it with the question of Catholic concession, for the obvious purpose of collecting every stray vote which conviction, on one point, joined to uncertainty on another, might be the means of furnishing. He was at the same time fully persuaded that in lending all the weight of their sanction to the meetings of a Convention sitting permanently, equalling almost in number the united parliament, and representing every order of Catholic society, the gentlemen opposite, whether they expected to remain where they were, or to succeed to office, were acting a most impolitic and dangerous part. Such, however was the violence of party feeling, such their desire of condemning government, that their better judgment had been misled, and had become blinded to the 663 consequences of their own counsels. "Upon the general subject of the Catholic claims," said the right hon. gentleman, "my opinions are well known, I have seen no reason to alter those opinions. I have before said that I could not conceive a time, or any change of circumstances, which could render further concessions to the Catholics consistent with the safety of the state, and to those opinions I continue to adhere." The Catholics were perfectly prepared to receive, but not to make, any concessions. The two great points were, security from foreign influence, and from danger to our own establishments. The right hon. gentleman then proceeded to read some passages from lord Grenville's Letter to lord Fingall, from which he shewed that though the noble lord was not pledged to the Veto, yet he demanded some equivalent to it for securing an establishment in church and state, which he considered necessary in the views, not of bigots, but of enlightened men. The noble lord had even added, that if nothing of that sort could be done, he should despair; alluding to arrangements respecting the nomination of bishops. And unless the House knew of some security, the right hon. gentleman contended, they would only be deluding the Catholics by going into a committee. But had any body heard of any proposition of the kind that the Catholics would accept? Those who had been engaged in this cause for years, could not venture to propose any specific measure; he could not therefore see the probability of any event which would render the concessions safe, or a security acceptable. The noble lord (Grenville) had said, that he had deliberated on the subject with the late Mr. Pitt, and had been long revolving it in his mind; the result of all which was the Veto. Conciliation was the object of all: but it had been said, "pass a legislative enactment, and let the Catholics take it or leave it." That, however, would not conciliate, if they objected to it. With respect to the hard names of bigotry and intolerance that had been applied to him, dtd not lord Grenville's letter equally demand guards and securities against foreign and domestic dangers? Sure he Was, that the Catholics ought to come to parliament to ask for concessions in a different tone and attitude from those which they had lately manifested. As to the notice of a motion for a repeal of the legislative Union, alluded to last night right 664 hon. friend (Mr. Canning), he could not see in that a great additional objection to the measure. The repeal of the Union could only tend to produce a separation of the two countries. No enlightened mind could contemplate it in any other point of view. He was glad to find that the argument, founded on a claim of right, had not been supported by any gentleman in that House.—After various arguments against the propriety of adopting the motion for a committee, the right hon. gentleman trusted that many members would feel forcibly the manner in which it was attempted to entrap them into a vote for the motion; connecting the conduct of the government respecting the law of the land, with a question of claims, without consideration of the fitness of the time, or the suggestion of the necessary conditions on which alone those claims could be conceded.
§ Mr. Grattan
did not rise to address the House until four in the morning. He declared, that in voting for the motion of the noble lord he did not wish to be thought to have voted any censure on the judges of Ireland. For of those judges he had a very high opinion, and for one of them in particular he had a very warm affection; but while he did not wish to vote any censure on their conduct, he would vindicate the right of inquiry. The right hon. gentleman had said, that the point of law was in favour of the ministers of the crown.—But. allowing that the point of law was against them, the right hon. gentleman had contended, that if they were advised to act, as they did, by the legal advisers of the crown, they would still be morally right. He wished the right hon. gentleman to recollect, however, that if in this way they were legally wrong and morally right, he had been making the very best apology for the Roman Catholics. They were men, and liable to err as well as ministers; they had acted under the advice of eminent lawyers, as well as ministers; and if they had transgressed the law they were not to be considered guilty, but only in error. With respect to the Convention bill, he remembered very well the period when it had passed. At that time he not only voted against it, but spoke against it; for in his opinion it was liable to one great objection, namely, that of declaring that all representative delegations, for the purpose of procuring alterations in Church and State, were illegal. He then remembered that Ireland owed 665 some of her greatest advantages to representative delegates; he remembered the delegates at Dungannon; he remembered the Convention which preceded the grants to the Catholics, in 1793; he remembered that these delegations had been, in some degree, acknowledged by the legislature; for the petition which was presented from the Catholic delegates, and transmitted to both Houses of Parliament, received the countenance of a majority of both those Houses. This act casted reflections on some of the greatest and proudest periods of our history; it casted reflections on the Convention from which England had derived one of the greatest blessings which she had ever enjoyed—the Convention of 1688; it was saying that the title to the crown of his present Majesty was unlawful; it was saying that the Revolution was unlawful. If it had been wished to pass an act of attainder on all those who had been instrumental in placing king William on the throne of these realms, the preamble would have been materially the same as that of the Convention act. He could not conceive how it was possible to declare the principle of Conventions on all occasions, and for all purposes, unlawful, though he could conceive a time when Conventions for some purposes might be dangerous. We owed our privileges to the existence of Conventions, and we owed the preservation of them to the infrequency of Conventions; therefore, though be would defend the principle of Convention, he would not defend their frequency. The Catholics had had examples set them by their Catholic brethren; and, admitting the illegality, the censure against their conduct was not the less unfounded; and supposing the Catholics had assembled without the sanction of the law as to the manner in which they were to claim their privileges, that was but a poor argument against the privileges themselves. If the conduct of the Catholic body had been more vehement than men in the full enjoyment of their rights would have exhibited; if it was not altogether constitutional in every point, parliament themselves were the cause; they had deprived four millions of people of their rights, and they were not to be astonished that these four millions of people had spirit enough to feel the injury. The Catholics were called upon to triumph over their prejudices, as if the prejudices were altogether on the side of the Catholics. It should not, however, be a victory of one sect over 666 another sect, but of both against common prejudices; and the result of this mutual victory would be the establishment of public tranquillity. The conduct of parliament towards the Catholics was injurious to the best interests of the nation. It taught them to consider that the principal argument against their cause, however invincible, was not to be defined; but, if the people were to be familiarized to repeated defeats, they would destroy that spirit by which the liberties of a people were to be protected. The refusal of the Catholics to take the oath wished to be imposed upon them, was the strongest argument in their favour: for a Deist, an Atheist, nay even Lucifer himself might take that oath which the Catholics would not take. He did not consider the Catholic oath intended as an evidence of the Catholic conviction, but as an evidence of their political dissaffection; and whenever this disaffection ceased, the principle on which the oath was justifiable, ceased also. It had been said, that concession to the Catholics of part of their claims formerly produced no good, and that they were dissatisfied at that government under which they were granted. This had been so well refuted by a right hon. gentleman (Mr. Canning,) that it was unnecessary for him to enlarge upon it. He would only add, that the minister who then presided in Ireland was unpopular, and a declared enemy to the Catholic religion; and it was well known that a hostile ministry always made a discontented people under whatever constitution. But, did the concessions produce no good effect? What! the soldiers and sailors, who after the repeal shed their blood with pleasure at your command, no good effect? Although the ministry who granted the concessions derived no advantage, the ease and facility with which the army and navy afterwards were filled, was an advantage to the country of the highest nature. A right hon. and learned gentleman (sir John Nicholl) thought it would be advisable to wait till the Irish were better informed, and less disorderly and barbarous. But this was a reflection on the English government. However hard the laws under which they suffered, still an affectionate peasantry filled the armies of their country. But the question was, not whether the peasantry were to be entrusted with power, but whether the nobility and gentry were to be entrusted with it, With respect to the danger of the church—the church establishment was 667 not made for the ministry, nor the king, but for the people. It had been thought proper to give the religious establishment of England to the people of Ireland; in which perhaps they were right; but they were wrong if they imposed upon the people of Ireland the English church, and then made that a reason for disqualifying them from the enjoyment of their rights. Was it to be said that the establishment of the English church was not compatible with the liberties of the people? He had never seen any alteration proposed in church or state, without going into a committee; and he lamented to see the manner in which the ministry were raising up imaginary difficulties, for they seemed to embrace the difficulty merely because they were in opposition to the principle. Any thing might be food for opposition to an unwilling ministry. He remembered when the Irish reform was proposed, no plan could be found practicable; but when the Union came, it was all done in less than a week. Upwards of twenty five law-suits existed at present in Ireland. They had gone to law with the whole people of Ireland; and they had gone to law with individuals; and no less than five actions had been brought against the lord chief justice; there were suits on all sides, and able lawyers on all sides; lawyer against lawyer; evil against evil; longrobe against longrobe; bat would the fire which raged at present in Ireland be extinguished by all the twenty-five law suits, or by all the sufferings of the members of the Irish committee? The evil did not exist in this or that chief justice, or in this or that Secretary; but in the law itself; and in order to produce satisfaction it was necessary to repeal the law. When an artery in the political body was tied up, that body naturally fell into convulsions. The Irish Catholics exhausted their treasure and their blood in the defence of the empire; the people of England were not insensible to their merits, nor unwilling to acknowledge their merits; and supposing the minister should procure a temporary triumph, he would tell him that the honest feeling, that the honour and honesty of the people of England would not long support him in that triumph. Whether this country should stand or fall in her struggle with the enemy of Europe, he wished it might stand or fall with Ireland—but with Ireland in the possession of equal privileges and equal rights.
§ Mr. Croker
observed, that the right hon. 668 gentleman who spoke last, had swept away all the arguments of his friends with respect to the construction of the Convention act, for he fairly admitted that, at the time it passed, he was aware that it was directed against delegation. After this admission, he had a right to call upon those who had, upon a misconception of the intention of the act, spoken for the motion, now to vote against it. The late right hon. Chancellor of Ireland, and the right hon. gentleman who spoke last, were quite at variance with regard to the meaning of the act, and he should leave it to themselves to reconcile their jarring opinions.
§ Mr. Tierney
said, that the right hon. the Chancellor of the Exchequer had called upon his noble friend who had brought forward the present question, to vote against his own proposition, because it had been supported on grounds different from those on which he had originally moved it. Mr. T. stated, that he felt it due to himself, as well as to his noble friend, to declare distinctly the view he took of the subject. On a motion for a committee to take into consideration the State of Ireland, it was not extraordinary that different gentlemen should recommend such a proceeding on different grounds. For my own part, said the right hon. gentleman, I swear by my vote to ex press no censure on what has recently passed in the courts of law in Ireland, either with respect to the judges or the juries. As to the ministers here, or in Ireland, it is new to me to be told, that a motion ought to be resisted because it has a tendency to criminate them. Such an argument, if admitted, would put a stop to all inquiries. Whether the motion now proposed would lead to a censure on the government for their conduct, can only be ascertained by a full examination into all the circumstances which have taken place. At present it is enough to say, that the state of Ireland, upon the shewing of ministers themselves, is such as to demand the immediate and anxious attention of this House. We are bound, as I think, to take it into consideration; but if we go into a committee, my own earnest advice to my noble friend would be, to postpone all other objects to that most important one, the repeal of those harsh and impolitic laws which now oppress the Catlrolics. That is the great and most urgent point for deliberation, and to that, in ray judgment, all other matters should give way.— 669 I wish to allay the heats and animosities by which Ireland is distracted. The course proposed by my noble friend would announce to her, that parliament felt for and was occupied in the consideration of her situation. Such a proceeding would I am persuaded, in itself be looked upon as conciliatory, and be the means of procuring at least a pause and interval, during which, I entertain a confidential hope, that such measures would be adopted as would bury in oblivion all that has passed. I keep my word with the House, and abstain from all argument on the question before us. If the motion of my noble friend is to be rejected, we must submit; but my noble friend and those who vote with him, will hereafter stand absolved in the eyes of the world from all responsibility with respect to the fatal consequences which may arise from the continuance of the discontents and distractions by which Ireland is at this day so unhappily divided.
in voting for the motion, declared he had no intention to criminate ministers, but to consider the claims of the Catholics, which were essentially connected with the safety of the empire.
made a brief reply; in the course of which he observed, that it had been alleged, that the motion he had submitted to the House had been brought forward to serve some political purpose or party view. He knew not what was meant by this insinuation, but, if an ardent wish to promote conciliation, and to unite the hearts of all descriptions of persons in a general affection to the state, was a political view, was a party purpose, be was proud to admit the charge.
§ The House then divided, when the numbers were:
|For lord Morpeth's motion||135|
|Majority against the motion||94|
§ Adjourned at half-past five o'clock on Wednesday morning.
|List of the Minority.|
|Abercromby, Hon. J.||Baring, Sir T.|
|Adair, R.||Bennet, Hon. H. G.|
|Agar, E. M.||Bennett, R. H. A.|
|Althorpe, Visc.||Bernard, S.|
|Aubrey, Sir J.||Bradshaw, Hon. A. C.|
|Antonie, Lee.||Brand, Hon. T.|
|Bagenal, W.||Brougham, H.|
|Baring, A.||Browne, A.|
|Busk W.||Lyttleton, Hon. W. H.|
|Byng, G.||Lloyd, J. M.|
|Bligh, Thos.||Longman, Geo.|
|Campbell, D.||Macdonald, J.|
|Chaloner, R.||Madocks, W. A.|
|Coke, T. W.||Mahon, Hon. S.|
|Coke, E.||Markham, J.|
|Colborne, N. R.||Marryatt, J.|
|Combe, H. C.||Mathew, Hon. M.|
|Creevey, T.||Milton, Vise.|
|Cuthbert, J. R.||Meade, Hon. J.|
|Cocks, James.||Moore, P.|
|Dundas, C.||Mildmay, Sir H.|
|Dundas, Hon. R. L.||Morpeth, Visc.|
|Duncannon, Lord.||Neville, Hon. R.|
|Daly, Bowes.||North, D.|
|Eden, Hon. G.||Odell, W.|
|Elliott, Rt. Hon. W.||Oglander, Sir W.|
|Ferguson, R. C.||Orde, W.|
|Fitzpatrick, Hon. R.||Osborne, Lord F.|
|Fitzroy, Lord C.||Pelham, Hon. G. A.|
|Fitzroy, Lord Wm.||Parnell, H.|
|Foley, T.||Piggott, Sir A.|
|French, A.||Ponsonby, Rt. Hon. G.|
|Folkestone, Visc.||Ponsonby, G.|
|Frankland, W.||Ponsonby, F.|
|Fitzgerald, Lord H.||Power, R.|
|Giles, D.||Poyntz, W. S.|
|Gower, Earl.||Prittie, Hon. F. A.|
|Grant, C. Jun.||Pym, F.|
|Grattan, Rt. Hon. H.||Quin, Hon. W.|
|Greenhill, R.||Ridley, Sir M. W.|
|Grenfell, P.||Romilly, Sir S.|
|Grenville, Lord G.||St. Aubyn, Sir J.|
|Greenough, G. B.||Savage, T.|
|Halsey, Jos.||Scudamore, R. P.|
|Hanbury, W.||Sharp, R.|
|Hamilton, Hans.||Sheridan, Rt. Hon. R.|
|Herbert, H. A.||Sinclair, G.|
|Herbert, Hon. W.||Smith, John.|
|Hibbert, G.||Smith, Wm.|
|Hobhouse, B.||Smith, G.|
|Horner, F.||Stanley, Lord.|
|Howard, H.||Speirs, A.|
|Howard, Hon. W.||Tavistock, Marq.|
|Hughes, W. L.||Temple, Earl.|
|Hume, W. H.||Templetown, Vise.|
|Hurst, Rob.||Tierney, Rt. Hon. G.|
|Hussey, Thos.||Tighe, W.|
|Hutchinson, Hon. C.||Tracy, C. H.|
|Ingelby, Sir W.||Talbot, R. W.|
|Knight, R.||Vernon, G. V.|
|Knox, Hon. T.||Western, C. C.|
|Lamb, Hon. W.||Whitbread, S.|
|Latouche, D.||Warrender, Sir G.|
|Latouche, J.||Walpole, Hon. G.|
|Latouche, R.||Wrottesley, H.|
|Leach, J.||Wynn, Sir W. W.|
|Lemon, J.||C. W. W. Wynn.|
|Lemon, Sir W.||W. H. Fremantle.|