§ Mr. Grattan moved the order of the day, for the House "to resolve itself into a committee of the whole House, to take into its most serious consideration the state of the Laws affecting his Majesty's Roman Catholic subjects in Great Britain and Ireland, with a view to such a final and conciliatory adjustment as may be conducive to the peace and strength of the United Kingdom, to the stability of the Protestant establishment, and to the general satisfaction and concord of all classes of his Majesty's subjects."
§ On the motion, that the Speaker do leave the chair,
§ Mr. Lushington
said, that as perhaps after the Speaker had left the chair, he should have no opportunity of delivering his sentiments on the important question then be- 1195 fore the House, he trusted to their indulgence for a short time, while he briefly expressed his sentiments upon the subject: and he hoped, at the same time, that no accusation of intolerance or bigotry would be preferred against him, for the opinions he was about to utter. He was as sincere a friend to tolerance, when it could be safely granted, as the hon. gentlemen who were the warmest advocates of the Catholic cause, and he was confident he might say the same of the respectable clergy of the city he had the honour to represent (Canterbury.) They had, it was true, presented a petition against the claims of the Roman Catholics, but it was on the grounds he had just professed, and which were not removed by the propositions of the right hon. gentleman who had introduced the motion. That right hon. gentleman did not appear to him to have established sufficient grounds to overset at once all the land-marks of the constitution, as settled by the Bill of Rights. This fundamental law of the land had been attacked on account of the temper of the times it which it was enacted. No reference, however, had been made to the time in which, previous to that, Roman Catholics enjoyed civil power in this country; and this he considered on the part of the hon. gentlemen opposite, as a proof of discretion; for surely their conduct in those times of their power, would not have disposed the House in favour of the motion; nor had he referred the House to the example of other countries where the Catholics enjoyed political power, and where the concord and conciliation of all classes of the inhabitants had been thereby promoted. The hon. gentleman then commented on the perpetual variations in the conduct of the Roman Catholics of the present day. He was afraid that by yielding to the demands of the Catholics, the very reverse of concord and conciliation would be the consequence as long as they professed their obnoxious doctrines. The Catholics had shewn no disposition to concession. A right hon. friend of his (Mr. Canning) had proposed last session a motion in their favour, but it had been hardly carried, when the Roman Catholics declared that they would listen to no concession whatever on their side. Again, lord Grenville had announced in another place, that they were disposed to concede the Veto, but he had scarcely returned home when the same Roman Catholics denied every assertion he had made in their 1196 favour, and, as it was supposed, in their names. In this state of things it was the duty of the right hon. gentleman, before he proceeded to press the House to adopt new measures, to shew that the Roman Catholics had really and sincerely abandoned those obnoxious doctrines, which first made restrictions necessary. After the writings lately published and avowed by that society, he saw no hopes whatever of any accommodation, and in that view of the subject, he hoped that the House would agree with him that their best way was to retrace their steps. They were to go back to the Bill of Rights, and on that topic he had been astonished to hear a right hon. and learned gentleman (Mr. Plunket) whose eloquence he admired as much as any one, declare on the first night of the debate, that he saw no specific exclusion of the Catholics contained in that Act. He maintained, on the contrary, that the principle was contained in the very preamble, which stated that restrictions were necessary against them, as long as they retained the obnoxious opinions imputed to them. Another confirmation of that principle was to be found in the preamble of the 31st of his present Majesty, to grant further immunities; for that preamble stated, that whereas certain doctrines dangerous to the state and to civil liberty, were attributed to the Catholics, and whereas they were willing to disclaim the same, it was advisable to do away certain of the disqualifications by which they had been hitherto affected, on their disclaiming those doctrines. From this he conceived that it was the duty of the right hon. gentleman to prove that the Roman Catholics had utterly disclaimed those opinions, before he called upon the House to grant them farther indulgences. He was desirous of impressing on the minds of the House the necessity of ascertaining how far the dangers, against which the Bill of Rights had provided, were removed, before they did away the securities which were intended to protect the Protestant constitution and establishments in church and state. He could not distinctly see from the speeches of the hon. gentlemen opposite, the nature of the securities which were meant to be substituted; and if it were once proved to him that they were likely to be satisfactory, no man could be more willing than himself to grant further indulgence to the Roman Catholics; he wished for nothing more than to promote concord among all classes of his Majesty's 1197 subjects; but he was afraid that the continuation of the discussion would have no Other effect but that of transplanting into this country those scenes of tumult and discord which had too often, and so lately disgraced Ireland.
§ The House then resolved ittelf into a Committee, Mr. Wrottesley in the chair, upon which,
§ Mr. Grattan
rose and said, that he had thought it unnecessary and inconvenient the other night, when the House shewed the greatest anxiety to come to the question, to go at large into any reply to the arguments against his motion. He would now, however, remark upon several of them; and in doing so he thought it right to observe, that he had made an alteration in the Resolution, as it was originally proposed. It did not, however, at all alter the principle, but merely modified the terms in which it was expressed. The alteration which he was sure could not meet with the disapprobation of the opponents of the measure, was to this effect: That the House would take measures for restoring to the Catholics the privileges of the constitution, subject, however, to certain exceptions, and under such regulations as might be deemed necessary to support the Protestant establishment in church and state. This was a suggestion proposed by a right hon. gentleman, with whom, in principle, he completely agreed: and he did most willingly comply with it, not as any dereliction of the principle, but as a modification of the terms in which it was conceived. With regard to the church of Scotland and the people of that communion, they seemed to be perfectly acquiescent in the wisdom of parliament on this question. It was of great importance to his motion that he could say that the Presbytery of Scotland were not hostile to the measure of concession and conciliation. The Presbytery of Edinburgh were, indeed, against the Catholics, but that of Glasgow was favourable; and he might conclude from their not having petitioned, that the great body of the church of Scotland was friendly to the Catholic cause. Nor could it be maintained, that the church of England, generally speaking, was against the principle, though many of its members had been more active in opposing the measure, than the Scottish clergy had been; and though it might be granted that many of the clergy were not placable, yet it did not follow as a truth 1198 that the people of England were in general hostile to the communication of their own privileges to the people of Ireland. The opposition to the Catholic claims was respectable: but at the same time they had received great and efficient support. Notwithstanding the opposition, to which he would not deny the name of respectable, how were we warranted to say, that the people of England were against the motion, when so few great public bodies had expressed their opinion? If such was the case with the people of England, sure he was that the great body of the Protestants in Ireland were still less unfavourable. The most respectable of the petitions from that part of the empire also were not founded on the principle of opposition, but on the principle of security to existing establishments. He had no doubt, in short, that the weight of Ireland, both in point of property and respectability, was decidedly in favour of the Catholics.
But supposing that the sense of the nation was divided on the subject, this furnished, in his mind, a decisive argument for finishing the controversy by the wisdom of parliament: if they found the country in a dispute, it was their duty to terminate it as soon as possible. The truth was, that too many at present of those who enjoyed the privileges of the constitution, founded their arguments for exclusion on topics which affronted and insulted those who were out of this constitution; the controversy, therefore, must proceed to mischief, unless the wisdom of parliament interfered. He was convinced that many people in England, who signed these Anti-catholic petitions, did not understand the ultimate object to which they led; but were influenced by misconceptions and prejudices. If, for instance, they were asked, in plain terms, whether they believed the Catholics were enemies to liberty, and disaffected to government? he had little doubt they would answer in the negative; but, one opposition naturally begot another, and at length, by the mutual warmth of controversy, it might become a question, whether one fifth of the population was well affected to the government or not. There was no saying where such disputes might end. He regretted that so many of the clergy had shewn a disposition to place the security of the church on the principles of exclusion; by so doing, they did all that lay in their power to place it on principles which might be fatal to its existence. 1199 With respect to the enemies to the Catholic cause, what had they done? they had petitioned for a monopoly, and said that the concession of the claims would be dangerous. It was a subject fatal to the Protestant monopoly and the Protestant church. This party were for a perpetual division, and desired parliament to exclude a great portion of the people from the benefits of the constitution—and upon what grounds—upon an argument that tended ultimately to force them out of the empire.
He would again revert shortly to the arguments that were clothed with the sacred name of the Act of Settlement. He allowed, that it was a point of the Act of Settlement to exclude the Catholics, but it was by no means an essential part which could admit of no alteration. In the Act of Union with Scotland, the oath was declared to be subject to future regulation; for it was declared, that it should remain as it then was, until otherwise provided for by parliament. This sufficiently manifested the power of parliament to interfere: and when his opponents set forth the consecration of the Act of Settlement, as an insuperable barrier, he should reply to them with this provisional vote of parliament, which declared, that the oath was not fundamental, but subject to future regulation. At the time when the union with Ireland was under consideration it did not appear that it was deemed fundamental. Some of those who were concerned in that measure were still alive and in the House; and were they now that they had attained their object, in gaining the Union, prepared to say that they looked upon that this day to be fundamental which they then allowed to be provisionary?
But the argument upon which some hon. gentlemen mainly rested, was the incompatibility of all the plans that had been proposed. His answer was, that a diversity of opinion, as to the mode of effecting Catholic emancipation, was by no means fatal to unity of principle with regard to the object. All were agreed, that the church of England, the church of Scotland, and the church of Ireland, should be amply secured and maintained. Here, at least, was concord. If you agreed that the Catholic religion was consistent with the welfare of the state, you might have different modes of conciliation, but you were agreed as to one essential point. His right hon. friend under 1200 the gallery, and himself, might think differently as to the particular limitations and exceptions; any plan, indeed, to be proposed, would of course be the subject of modification, and a matter of debate. When the House resolved to go into the Committee, they, in fact, decided that Catholic emancipation, however a question of difficulty, was not a question of impossibility. The question, indeed, before the Committee, might be comprehended under three heads: the first was, set at liberty the Catholics; the second, establish the church, by every requisite security; and the third, impose no conditions incompatible with the Catholic faith. These were the heads of what he should have to propose.
It had been said, that Mr. Pitt had sunk under the difficulties which the subject presented; and as a proof of this, it was added, that he never had communicated his plan. But it was certain, that Mr. Pitt went out of office in 1801, not because his plan was impracticable, but from other wellknown obstacles. He did not think so in 1799 or in 1800, and from his communication through the late marquis Cornwallis to the Catholics, it did not appear that he deemed the measure impracticable in the following year. That distinguished man on this very occasion, sent the letter he alluded to, to the Catholics of Ireland, in which he told them, that "by acting with moderation, and pursuing a loyal and dutiful line of conduct, they would afford additional grounds of argument to the growing number of their advocates in this country, till their object was ultimately attained." Such was the language of the letter which Mr. Pitt caused to be transmitted to lord Fingal, Dr. Troy, and others. What, again, did the marquis Cornwallis say on that very occasion? He gave his formal opinion, annexed to the same communication, that the measure of emancipation was necessary for securing the connection between Great Britain and Ireland. Again, when the question was brought forward by Mr. Fox, in 1805, there was nothing in the language of Mr. Pitt to shew that he considered the measure impracticable. He said, there was a bar to its agitation, the nature of which was sufficiently understood,—but never that it was impracticable. He differed as to the right, but not as to any thing that concerned the question as a measure of regulation. He even alluded to the plan which he had entertained, as 1201 consisting of a variety of regulations. Nine months after this period, Mr. Pitt died; so that we were now called upon to believe that what he contemplated as practicable for six years, within these nine short months he found out to be impracticable. But what were the difficulties under which the great mind of Mr. Pitt was supposed to sink? Why, they were the difficulties of promoting meritorious Catholic officers on the staff of the army; of admitting such men as lord Fingal into the House of Peers, and as sir P. Bellew into the House of Commons! These were the mighty difficulties under which his mind was supposed to have sunk, who had the ability to destroy 70 Irish boroughs! There was a difficulty started in the Irish parliament, at the time when it was proposed to grant the Catholics the right of voting at elections,—it was then said that an inundation of Popery would sweep away every thing before it. But what were the effects of this restoration of Catholic rights? Ireland had evidently gained by it; the elections were more free and independent; they were now founded not on monopoly, but on property and respectability.
In addition to Mr. Pitt, he begged leave to name Mr. Burke, Mr. Fox, and Mr. Windham, distinguished statesmen and philosophers, as strenuous supporters of the Catholic claims. He might also enumerate men of learning like the bishop of Llandaff and the bishop of Norwich, a name that would be ever respected, and which was dear to every friend of religious liberty and social freedom. It was also remarkable that the lord-lieutenants of Ireland, for the last 70 years, were uniformly in favour of them. Lord Fitzwilliam was decidedly so: lord Camden, who went over to Ireland with opposite sentiments, and who lived in that country at a most trying time, when he could not avoid knowing the opinions of the Catholics, was ultimately for concession: he too, was the friend of Mr. Pitt, and might be supposed not unacquainted with the sentiments of that illustrious person: lord Cornwallis publicly declared it essentially necessary for preserving the connection between Britain and Ireland. This was the practical conclusion formed by a statesman and a soldier, at a most critical period of Irish history, and was entitled to the utmost respect. Lord Hardwicke did not go over a friend to the measure; but after some years' residence as lord lieute- 1202 nant, he altered his opinion, and now supported it by his vote. His right hon. friend the late secretary for Ireland (Mr. W. Pole), had at first opposed the Catholic claims on account of the obstacles that existed in certain quarters to the granting of these claims; but when, by the removal of the restrictions on the Prince Regent, such obstacles were done away, and after his right hon. friend had derived from a five years' official residence in Ireland, a high degree of experience on this subject, he had voted in favour of the Catholics, and had stated, that in his opinion the country could not do well without some measure of the kind. He had, for this, been charged, and in his opinion unfairly, with inconsistency. His right hon. friend's mind was not stationary like the minds of those who made this silly charge. He shewed that it was progressive; and he was right, for time and circumstances had operated very powerfully in favour of the Catholic question particularly.
There was a time when Roman Catholic emancipation would not have been heard of without horror; but the intenseness of the prejudice, as had been stated by an hon. gentleman on a former night, and it was a word of choice selection, the 'intenseness' of the prejudice had been weakened. Those professing the two religions had advanced much nearer to each other in spirit; so that though they still differed on points of faith, they were much more likely than formerly to coalesce in other respects. He intended then to propose Resolutions,—first, that the Catholic disabilities should be removed; second, that the establishments in church and state ought to be effectually secured; and he should then propose regulations for the ecclesiastical courts, and other matters, and an oath against foreign influence. It might be demanded of him to state the regulations; but he would not, and for this reason, that under pretence of opposing these regulations, some gentlemen would oppose the principle. He would only say, that if any gentlemen on the other side proposed any regulation of security not trenching on the Catholic religion, he would support it, for he valued the principle so much, that he would not be that fool to lose it by precipitation and punctilio. His object was to lay the seminal principle of making the inhabitants of the empire an united people. The language we ought to hold was, we are friends to your liberty, and to our own re- 1203 ligion. Suppose he was to introduce a clause into the preamble of his Bill, saying, it was necessary that the Protestant succession should be secured, in order to obtain the concurrence of some of those who opposed his measure—Would they not then admit that to be provisional now, and not fundamental, which they formerly, in their comments on the Bill of Rights, contended to be fundamental, and not provisionary? For his own part, he must say, that he valued the principle too much to surrender or lose it for reasons of regulation. If once admitted, it would make the empire one—for it was a principle of union and regeneration.
If the Resolutions were agreed to, he should then move for leave to bring in a Bill; but he was not desirous of precipitating the measure. He thought that time ought to be given for the spirits to cool,—that they should not legislate without consulting the feelings of the people; and that in the mean time, they should repose upon the good sense of both countries, and not take any step that should deprive the cause of the benefit of that good sense. It might be asked, why the Catholics did not protest against the violence of some of their own body? The answer was, that parliament had not given them encouragement. But when the arm of parliament should be once stretched out to the Catholics, there would be many wise and moderate enough to embrace it. By thus evincing a conciliatory disposition to the Catholics, parliament would at all events shew that the fault did not remain with them, if the measure should be unsuccessful. Let them send out the dove, however, and they might depend on his bringing back the olive branch. The right hon. gentleman concluded, by moving
"That with a view to such an adjustment as may be conducive to the peace and strength of the United Kingdom, to the security of the Established Church, and to the ultimate concord of all classes of his Majesty's subjects, it is highly advisable to provide for the removal of the civil and military disqualifications under which his Majesty's Roman Catholic subjects now labour, with such exceptions and under such regulations as may be found necessary for preserving, unalterably, the Protestant succession to the crown, according to the Act for the further limitation of the crown and better securing the rights and liberties of the subject, and for maintaining invio- 1204 late the Protestant episcopal church of England and Ireland, and the doctrine, discipline, and government thereof, and the church of Scotland, and the doctrine, worship, discipline, and government thereof, as the same are respectively by law established."
The Right Hon. Charles Abbot:
The right hon. gentleman who spoke last (Mr. Grattan) having truly stated that bur present discussion may be considered as the continuation of the former debate upon the question, and the Resolution in your hand as the basis of the whole measure proposed for our adoption, I am desirous of taking the earliest opportunity in my power, to enter my warning protest against the course hitherto pursued, as well as against the measure now proposed; and at the same time to state such other course as in my opinion might advantageously be taken for enlarging the privileges of his Majesty's Roman Catholic subjects, without endangering the general fabric of the constitution.
And, Sir, in the first place, looking back to the mode by which we have arrived at the Committee, I cannot think that its result will be successful. The object for which the House was persuaded to enter into this committee, was to discuss the details of three different plans, the first of which is already abandoned, the second will satisfy no party, and the third is admitted to be impracticable.
The first plan was for unlimited and unconditional concession, as urged by the Irish Roman Catholics in their Petitions; but this claim of right for absolute and unconditional emancipation (as it is termed) has found but few advocates in this House; it has been abandoned by the right honourable mover of this great question, and disclaimed also by the right hon. gentleman (Mr. Plunkett) who supported the motion with such distinguished eloquence and ability upon the first day of these debates. It has now no longer any persisting advocate.
The second plan was for qualified concessions, with some legislative control over the Roman Catholic clergy; this is apparently the plan of the right hon. mover, so far as hitherto explained; and it is undoubtedly the plan of the right honourable gentleman (Mr. Canning), who obtained from the last parliament the pledge for entering upon its consideration.
1205 But this plan is resisted by the Roman Catholics themselves; for they call it persecution, and inadmissible control; they refuse even to subject their church discipline to state inspection; as we may collect from the Declaration of the Roman Catholic prelates at Dublin in November, 1812, and also from the explicit language contained in the publication of Mr. Clinch, whom they have avowed and adopted by a formal resolution as their advocate and champion.
And as this plan is also acknowledged to involve a repeal of the Corporation and Test Acts, such concessions will on the other hand dissatisfy the Protestant Church of England; so that if the Roman Catholics are not gained, and the Protestants are dissatisfied, the whole professed object of conciliation is lost.
The third plan, that of the noble viscount (lord Castlereagh) is for bringing the Roman Catholics within the reach of political power, with safety to the Protestant establishment, by obtaining the sanction and concurrence of the head of the Roman Catholic church, to such arrangements as shall be satisfactory to both parties. But this is admitted at the present time to be wholly impracticable, if desirable, and may be fairly laid out of the question for all present purposes.
Such then are the three plans of which the different supporters have all concurred in voting for this committee; but where two parties out of three cannot attain their object, and the third party are by no means agreed upon its extent, or upon the mode of executing it.
With respect to the measure itself, as now proposed, I object altogether to its form and character. We are required to begin with a sweeping repeal of all known securities, upon the faith of other securities as yet unknown. Our surrender is to be instant and nearly entire; the provision for self-defence is to be subsequent and precarious.
What is the proposed grant, when drawn out into particulars? The doors of both Houses of parliament, of the privy council, of the judicial bench, and all corporate magistracy, are at once to be laid open; and the Test Act in England, which the Prince of Orange expressly insisted upon retaining at the Revolution, is to be abolished. All these are fearful changes. For old checks, as it appears to me, may nevertheless be good against new dangers; and what protected us at one 1206 time from a pretender to the throne, may not be useless at another time against the domestic disturber, or the foreign invader and subverter of empires.
Then as to the securities.—We are told that we have the present oaths, and that we shall have some control over the Roman Catholic clergy and their foreign intercourse. Of the oaths I do not mean to speak lightly, or of the conscientious sense in which they may be taken by honourable men. But we cannot be blind or deaf to all that is to be seen and heard upon this subject. We see in England no very great eagerness to take these oaths, if we may judge by the recent statement of the oaths taken by Roman Catholics, and returned to the privy council under the act of 1791; for during the last ten years there appears to have been but one solitary instance. And however specific the language of these oaths and asseverations, there have not been wanting many explanatory distinctions to do away their effect: some are said to be solemn and serious, some serious but not solemn; we have some that are active and some that are passive; and in Ireland, the hon. baronet opposite to me (sir John Hippisley) well knows that ecclesiastical monitions have been issued to warn the Roman Catholics from unwarily thinking these oaths more extensively binding than they really are, and from supposing themselves too much under the necessity of forbearing to weaken and disturb the Protestant church and government. With respect to the control and regulation of the Roman Catholic church, without which it is said that no act of concession should be allowed to operate, and until which takes place we have been advised that all privileges if granted should nevertheless be suspended in their operation, would it not be more rational to begin with the Regulating Bill, and see whether the Roman Catholics will accede to any regulation whatever? For if not, the whole proceeding in the way of conciliation is worse than nugatory.
The consequences, however, of such a Bill, even if proposed to lie over for consideration to another session of parliament, will not be indifferent; it will naturally give exaggerated hopes to the Roman Catholics, which cannot be ultimately fulfilled, and it will spread universal dissatisfaction through the established church, and hold out the prospect of perpetual conflict and agitation. For I think no 1207 maxim more false or dangerous in policy, than that which has been advanced in support of measures like the present, that by adding to the power of those who are hostile to our establishments, we may hope to abate of their enmity.
I shall then be asked, can I think that matters ought all to remain on their present footing, or do I believe that they can so remain?—I have never thought so; I have often said otherwise to those with whom I have communicated upon these subjects. There is much to be done every way.
But my views are different from those of the present proceeding, both as to the measure, and the mode. The measure must not be sweeping and violent, and the mode must be distinct and gradual. The temper of this country, in great concerns of legislation, is happily slow and cautious; the people are not unwilling to consider of useful changes, but they are not disposed to the hazardous adoption of wholesale projects.
There are several important changes for which I am prepared, useful to the state as Protestant, and useful also to the Roman Catholics, which nevertheless would not alter the fundamental policy of the constitution. Some are of concession, some of regulation.
In the way of concession, adverse as my principles are to admitting the Roman Catholics into offices of civil power, authority, or jurisdiction, I should gladly open to them a larger and more liberal share in the honours of the military profession. The Roman Catholic officer should rise as freely to military rank in every part of the empire as he may by law in Ireland; the military system in this respect should-also be made uniform and complete for all his Majesty's subjects of every religious persuasion. Beyond this I should be glad to see a repeal of that part of the law of 1793 which excludes Roman Catholics from the situation of generals on the staff; for I would place within the reach of their honorable ambition all the high ranks of military command, excepting only the very highest commands at home; and I except those, only because they have necessarily in their hands great political power.
I state this as an instance of concession involving no transfer of power, though it confers high rewards for honorable exertion in the field; and I would apply the same principle also most freely to the ho- 1208 nours of the bar; nor do I believe that concessions of this description, if asked for, would in either case be denied.
Again, the toleration of the Roman Catholic religion should be rendered more complete in points of which the Roman Catholics may now reasonably complain. The rights of the Irish Roman Catholic soldier to his own religious worship in England should stand upon law here, as it does in Ireland, and not merely upon military regulation. The English Roman Catholic should not be compelled to marry a Protestant churches. And the Roman Catholic mass houses every where should be protected by law from outrage and disturbance as completely as all other places of religious worship.
All these are instances illustrative of that description of privileges and protections which in my judgment might safely and usefully be granted at once, and without stipulation or condition.
On the other hand, measures also must be adopted for regulating the Roman Catholic church, independently of every question of concession, and whether any further privileges are granted or not. The hierarchy of the English and Irish Roman Catholics must be brought within the inspection and control of the state. Parliament has been compelled to look into this subject, and the conclusion is irresistible.
Foreign intercourse, and even foreign influence, are alledged to be of the essence of the Roman Catholic religion; and the master-link of foreign connection is in the hands of our mortal enemy. The noble viscount has told us the opinion formed by the most vigilant ministers of France, and the recent acts of Buonaparté demonstrate his opinion of the important influence of papal authority over all Roman Catholics. In Ireland, all who have read the instructive publications of the hon. baronet, know that in modern times even aliens have been obtruded and appointed to Roman Catholic bishoprics there, and when general Humbert invaded Ireland, and landed at Killalla, he found that the Roman Catholic bishop of Killalla, appointed by the Pope, was brother to a rebel general in his own army. These things must no longer be endured. And that the vicars apostolic of England must also be brought within the cognizance of the state, is most evident from the formidable nature of their powers which they exercised in the transactions of the year 1790 over the English Human Catholics.
1209 Upon this point, if the Roman Catholic prelates in England and Ireland have any desire to conciliate their Protestant fellow subjects, the road is now open to them; this is their day; let them come forward and define the limits of their obedience, and tender the largest submission which any other Roman Catholic subjects have ever yielded to any Protestant government. If they decline so to do, their disposition will be no longer doubtful. But at all events, whether they do or not, it behoves government to look to its own security in this quarter, and new model the provisions of the statute of Elizabeth, and apply it to all parts of the united kingdom, before even any proposal can be entertained for putting the English and Irish Roman Catholics upon a footing of equal privileges.
As to further claims of civil power, I confess I see no prospect of making any such concession until the Roman Catholic clergy shall go much farther, and bring themselves to the temper of other Roman Catholic countries and times, where the spiritual supremacy of the Pope has been altogether renounced; for history shews it to have been no part of the ancient Roman Catholic religion; and it is vain and idle to be fastidious in declining to understand these matters with which we have practically to deal. Whilst the spiritual supremacy of the Pope is reserved by the Roman Catholic clergy out of their allegiance to the state, in the language of lord Clarendon, who had deeply examined, and has amply developed this subject, "this reserve is elusory of the whole." Other able writers have truly described it to be "a mere legerdemain." And until this is renounced, I would answer the Roman Catholic claims for power in the recent language of the northern counties of Ireland, "If you cannot give up what you call your faith, we cannot give up what we know to be our constitution."
With respect to these points, on which I have taken the liberty of suggesting the expediency of a larger admission to honours, and a stricter regulation of allegiance, all these, in my humble judgment, demand our early and serious attention; but they stand clear of all encroachment upon the civil and political power of this Protestant state, and therefore this committee is not the proceeding out of which they should originate.
The Petitions before us, the discus- 1210 sions which have preceded and attended them, and the origin of this committee, are all too hostile in their aspect, and too lofty in their pretensions; and if allowed to go to their professed and intended length, would speedily endanger the public tranquillity; and England will no longer be England, if all religious distinctions in the stale are to be laid prostrate, for the vain and chimerical scheme of establishing the rights of what is called universal religious liberty, uncontrolled by maxims and considerations of civil expediency, and unchecked by the necessary defences of our establishments.
For these reasons, readily as I should concur in any or all of the separate measures which I have suggested, when brought under our separate consideration, and in another course, I must give my decided negative to the general sweeping and subversive principles of the proposition now laid before us.
, with the most perfect respect for the right hon. gentleman, could not but say that he seemed completely to have misunderstood the nature of the Resolution, and it was in order to set him right he was anxious to address the House.
The Resolution did not propose any thing which could at all prove subversive of the establishment, but, on the contrary, while it went to relieve the Catholics, coupled the measures resorted to for that purpose with securities for the protection of the establishment. His right hon. friend had declined going into detail, and indeed it was not incumbent on his right hon. friend, in the present stage of the matter, to state what those securities would be. It was sufficient, if any hon. gentleman was not satisfied with the securities proposed by his right hon. friend, that he had it in his power to superadd such further securities as he might think necessary; and it would be for the Catholics to accept of what was offered to them under the conditions on which the concessions were agreed to be granted, or to reject them. The House had a right, if they admitted them into the constitution, to ask of them to assent to such securities as they thought proper to annex to their grant. The right hon. gentleman (the Speaker) had alluded to three plans, all of which, he said, had been proposed to the House, and successively abandoned. He (Mr. Ponsonby) declared he did not know of any such plans. The first described 1211 by the right hon. gent. was one of unqualified concession. He was not aware that any plan, the basis of which was unqualified concession to the Catholics, had ever been proposed in this House, and if never proposed, he did not see how such plan could ever have been abandoned. The second plan talked of by the right hon. gentleman, was a plan with securities, and this he would also have it understood was abandoned, because his right hon. friend (Mr. Grattan) had not stated what those securities should be. These, however, his right hon. friend was willing to leave to the House, and to accept of the concessions to the Catholics even under more severe restrictions than he himself might think called for, should the House be of opinion that such were necessary; this he had emphatically stated that night, and that he would go far to secure the principle. How then, he would be glad to know, could it be said that his right hon. friend had abandoned a plan that he had never proposed, or that he had not proposed securities to accompany concessions, merely because he had not defined them. The third plan spoken of, was one said to have come from a noble lord (lord Castlereagh) which he should leave it to that noble lord to state, as he did not understand one word concerning it; but of the plans of his right hon. friend (Mr. Grattan), he contended that one had never been proposed, and that the other had never been abandoned even in idea. The right hon. gentleman said he would give honours to the Catholics, but he could not agree to concede to them political power. This, however, the legislature had already done, and it was extraordinary that it should now be thought incumbent on them to stop. If it was so dangerous, why had it been granted? and as it had been granted, he did not see exactly why the House should stop at that particular point. But the right hon. gentleman said he would willingly give them every noble distinction; he would give them the whole of the army, except the office of commander in chief; and he would also allow them to rise to all the honours and dignities that could be attained at the bar. He wished that those had been known to be the sentiments of the right hon. gentleman years ago; if so, he was certain the University of Oxford, which that right hon. gentleman represented, with so much honour to himself and advantage to the nation, would not have lent itself to the 1212 cry that the Church was in Danger, merely because a bill, founded on opinions, and for objects similar to those to which the right hon. gentleman had declared himself friendly, had been brought in. The University of Oxford, he was certain, would not have lent itself to such a cry, and that, too, to the destruction of an administration merely because such a bill as that had been introduced, had they been aware that such were the sentiments of their highly esteemed and respected representative. But, he asked, would that right hon. gentleman give to the Catholics all the honours of the army, and all the honours of the bar, and yet expect that they could keep from them political power? Would not the opening to them the way to the honours in which the right hon. gentleman saw no danger, render them more impatient for the attainment of political power, which he was of opinion ought on no account to be conceded to them. Grant them these honours, and would it be possible to keep political power from falling into their hands? Having attained the highest honours of the bar, would they not naturally look to seats in that House as affording the most legitimate vent for their abilities? And if shut out from that House, must not the disability be found the more galling, and the establishment be thus more peculiarly endangered? If power was so very dangerous in their hands, he did not know by what lucky chance they had obtained the small portion they now possessed. The right hon. gentleman quoted the authority of lord Clarendon to shew that the spiritual and temporal power of the Pope were the same; but he wished to know, who made lord Clarendon a judge of this, more than any other Protestant? Was it not more reasonable to take the opinion on this subject of persons professing the Catholic faith? It was the first time he had ever heard of a Protestant being set up as the perfect judge of the faith of a Catholic. What said the parliament of this country on the subject? Had it taken the opinion of lord Clarendon or of the Catholics themselves, as affording the best evidence of the fact? They had taken the latter; and with this interpretation of the matter the right of suffrage had been conceded to the Catholics, without any denial on their part of the spiritual supremacy of the Pope, and, notwithstanding the opinion of lord Clarendon was, no doubt, highly estimated by the University of Oxford, 1213 and consequently by the right hon. gentleman, yet, he hoped, that opinion was not to decide the question. But the right hon. gentleman said, the claims of the Catholics ought never to be conceded to them till they were willing to make concessions on their part. He presumed the first of these would be that the Pope had no spiritual power of supremacy? They must disclaim this, or the right hon. gentleman could never consent to give them any political power! Why, from the moment they did so, they must cease to be Catholics. What was this but saying that we would admit them into the pale of the constitution notwithstanding their being Roman Catholics; but then, the first thing they must do, to entitle them to this privilege, is to surrender the very principle which we build on as the ground-work of the exclusion! therefore it was a mockery, an insult, to offer them concession on such terms—on condition only that they should abandon their religion.—The right hon. gentleman did not appear to be aware of the extent of his proposition, for he affected to concede something which he made it impossible for them to receive.—Let us not deceive ourselves or the Catholics on this subject—let us assume no mental disguise—let us practise no equivocation or-mental reservation, and suppose that in doing what the right hon. gentleman proposed, we made any concessions to the Catholics—for if we so acted, all we did amounted to this—"We will make concessions to the Catholic only when they cease to be Catholics." This would, in fact, be the case; and if we wailed till the Catholics denied the spiritual supremacy of the Pope, before we made the concessions now demanded, we conceded to them nothing. But what reason, he would ask, could there be, why the Catholics should give to parliament securities till they offered to them those concessions which they were willing to grant? The course to be pursued by the House was, to tell the Catholics plainly what it was inclined to grant, and it was for them to accept or reject the proposition; but in case they did not accept of what the House might think proper to offer, was the House then bound to proceed in the measure? If concessions were agreed to, and the exceptions and exclusions marked out, should any disposition to object to the plan be manifested by the Catholics, would the House be bound to complete the arrangement? He imagined not—if the Bill had been 1214 brought in and read a second time, would they be obliged to go through the committee? Certainly not. He wished the House to look at the absurdity of retarding the measure in its progress, lest the plan should not ultimately be agreeable to the Catholics. If the concessions were held out to them, under certain conditions, then the Catholics would know on what footing they stood, and would have it in their power to accept of what was tendered to them, or not, just as they thought proper. But was parliament bound to make concessions if they would not accept of them? What bound down, or fettered the House, if the Catholics would not accede to their offer? Suppose his right hon. friend to obtain leave to bring in his Bill, and that the claims of the Catholics should be granted under certain conditions and restrictions, if the Catholics did not submit to the conditions, neither could they be entitled to the concessions. It was not, continued the right hon. member, intended to propose unlimited grants; it was intended only to obtain from parliament a gracious disposition to listen to the complaints of the Roman Catholics. Neither was it the intention of his right hon. friend to compel parliament to make the whole advance, while no advance was to be made by the Catholics. The proposition of his right hon. friend (Mr. Grattan) was widely different from that which it had been described to be; it was a most wise, just, and judicious resolution, to obtain a gracious declaration from the House to the Catholics, that it would take their case into its most serious consideration, but without pledging the House to any specific measure. His right hon. friend had not gone into the whole matter in detail, because, as he had stated, that would be better done in the progress of the Bill; and because he did not wish to appear as if he were dictating to parliament. He was as little inclined to canvass the question minutely, as any one; but it was impossible to sit down under such great authority as had that night declared that it was safe to grant high honours to the Catholics, but dangerous to admit them to the enjoyment of power. If honours were granted, power must follow; the more there was granted to them, the more they would desire, and the more they would be enabled to gain what they desired. To suppose the reverse was a dangerous fallacy. He would not say more at present, but he could not hear the pro- 1215 posal of his right hon. friend misrepresented, without rising to say a few words to explain the nature of the proposition.
§ Sir J. C. Hippisley
rose and said:
I think that the Committee will be of opinion that it is my duty to avail myself of the earliest opportunity to obey the call which has been pointedly made upon me by so distinguished a member, (the Speaker *). I must, however, avow, that I do not participate in his apprehensions of danger from the influence of a foreign supremacy, merely in spirituals. On every occasion when the question of the Catholic claims has been agitated in this House, I have uniformly maintained this conviction:—contending at the same time for those substantial regulations and restrictions which the wise policy of our ancestors, from the earliest period of our history, and, indeed, which the wisdom and policy of every other state of Europe, of whatever religious communion, have most sedulously prescribed.
Agreeing, as I do, with the right hon. mover of the Resolution upon many points, in looking to the same end which the motion now before the Committee holds out to us, I do not agree with him as to the means by which it is to be attained; and I shall think it my duty in the course of the proceedings of this Committee, to propose that measure, which I have ever considered to be the only practicable measure, calculated to produce a satisfactory result, I mean, Sir, that having gone into the committee of the whole House, as a preliminary step, necessarily enjoined by the standing orders, the chairman should be instructed to move the House for the appointment of a Select Committee, with the usual powers, which alone appears to me to be adequate to such an investigation as may form a substantial basis of ulterior legislation.
On what data, let me ask, are we now to proceed to legislation?—Has a single paper been laid upon the table that conveys any information on the subject?—We have heard most eloquent and argumentative speeches from my right hon. friend, the mover of the Resolution, and from other gentlemen, who have repeatedly supported the same principle: We have heard also their speeches op-* The Speaker referred to sir J. H. on the subject of the oaths prescribed to be taken by the R. C. Toleration Acts.1216 posed by others of great force. A right hon. and learned gent. (the member for Armagh) who in the course of this discussion, on former occasions, has produced documents which, unexplained, would, primâ facie, arrest our progress at the very threshold, will probably resume the same course in this committed. It is necessary to repel such documents in a manner not merely to satisfy the committee, but that the impression should also go forth to the country, that the disqualifying accusations, which have been so industriously prosecuted against our fellow subjects of the Catholic communion, in every part of the kingdom, and which every member of this House receives gratuitously, from hour to hour, should also be satisfactorily repelled, before we can proceed to any act of legislation compatible with my view of the motion now proposed to the House.
If I am asked what should be the course of proceeding in such a committee, as I could wish to see adopted, I would say it should be this: the committee should be instructed to inquire into the existing laws, bearing upon his Majesty's Roman Catholic subjects of the United Kingdom: is it, let me ask, within the ordinary scope of the enquiries of gentlemen sitting in this House to wade through the almost bottomless gulph of our statute books, to enable them to discuss this question satisfactorily to themselves and advantageously to the public? He who attempts the labour would find difficulties, much surpassing his patience. It is true that a compilation has been drawn up entitled "A Statement of the Penal Laws affecting his Majesty's Roman Catholic subjects in Ireland," and a similar compilation has been also given to the public by another professional gentleman, staling those laws which more immediately affect the Catholics of England: but will the parliament of Great Britain place an implicit confidence in either? Confidence, I mean, to the extent of absolutely governing its legislative enactments upon the basis of those statements.
With respect to the "Statement of the Penal Laws affecting the Catholics of Ireland," we have read that it has been sanctioned by a great aggregate assembly; the book, in two parts, has gone forth into the world, passed through many editions, and is probably in the hands of many of the members of this House. I must say that I lament that the text of the law should have been so much overwhelmed 1217 with the commentary; in my judgment it would have been sufficient, merely to have pointed out the laws pressing upon the Roman Catholics, especially avoiding alt the acrimony of commentary which spreads through and overwhelms the Statement. If I am to regulate my opinion of the accuracy of the text by the correctness of the commentary, I must withhold my confidence. I recollect, in one part of that work, the compiler recites a conference with a noble lord, who he tells us had a conversation with the present Pope: in that interview the Pope is represented as complaining of the treatment he received from this country, contrasted with other states—"Every other state," exclaimed his holiness, "sends to me their ambassadors—their envoys or their ministers—your country alone refuses me that courtesy." Whatever might have passed between Pius 7, and the noble lord alluded to, I must be permitted to entertain my doubts of the accuracy of the representation; for I contend that it is a fundamental principle of the See of Rome that no ambassador, envoy, or minister shall be received, who does not come accredited by a Roman Catholic state. I know that Russia, Prussia, and Sweden has agents at Rome both for commercial purposes, and for communications with the Datary, but they are not accredited representatives of their sovereigns. This assertion I make not merely from the general notoriety of the fact, but on the authority of the instructions drawn up by order of Pius 6, for the conduct of a prelate, sent into this country in 1793—the late cardinal Erskine. In those instructions was an article expressly stating that it was the fixed policy of the court of Rome to allow of no diplomatic representation from any Non Catholic prince. A copy of these instructions were transmitted to me by the cardinal's secretary of state, by order of the sovereign pontiff himself, but I now refer to them merely to shew the facility with which the compiler of the Statement gives currency to error.—I will not detain the committee by pointing out other errors, though I might state one, indeed, not very courteously, indeed I might say very coarsely, directed against myself. But this Statement, however accurate in other respects, I contend is not an authority to supersede the investigation of a committee, which alone is competent to examine and report the state of those laws, Which must be clearly in our view, before 1218 we can adequately legislate on this important question.
Another part of the useful labours of such a committee would be to ascertain and authenticate the answers to the questions submitted, at the instance of Mr. Pitt, to six of the Catholic universities.—The right hon. and learned member for Armagh, has, more than once, asserted that those answers rest merely on the authority of a private individual—the late Dr. Hussey,—this is not the fact—two prelates of the Roman Catholic communion are now in the kingdom, whose attestations under their own hands are in my possession, and which, together with the attestations of the surviving members of the committee in communication with Mr. Pitt, I had the honour to lay upon the table of this House, though not authoritatively, in the course of a former debate; a course which was afterwards taken by an illustrious personage, in another place. I consider it therefore as a matter of no light interest to have these answers authenticated, as scarcely any document of more importance can be produced in favour of the integrity of the civil principles of Roman Catholics as subjects of a state, not in communion with Rome.—I mean and contend that the integrity of their allegiance is in perfect consonance with the doctrine and discipline of their church, though it may have often been at variance with the principles of the court of Rome.
Again, the resolutions of the four metropolitan and six senior Roman Catholic bishops of Ireland, transmitted to the noble viscount on the treasury bench in 1799, is a document which ought to be officially substantiated. How often have we heard that arrangement misrepresented, both within and without the doors of parliament. The decryers of the measure contend that the resolutions were voted in what they call the reign of terror, though the contrary can be proved to be the fact. I regret I feel myself so often constrained to go over the same beaten track—but it is but too necessary.—Resolutions proceeding from such authority and recognising the principle of the fitness and justice of the interference of the executive government, in ascertaining the loyalty of any individual proposed to fill a vacant Roman Catholic see, ought to be fully ascertained upon the records of such a committee. I have no hesitation in saying that I think the end proposed by those 1219 prelates might have been obtained by means more consonant to the feelings and credit of the Roman Catholic clergy, than by those proposed.—The prelates proposed to go the length of a canonical election before they intimated to government the name of the individual who was in their contemplation, and if that individual was afterwards objected to—he was thrown back upon the second order of clergy, and the prelates proceeded to a new election. The obvious inconvenience and painful result to the individual rejected, might be readily obviated by submitting to government, in the first instance, a list of all those persons whom they considered eligible, and proceeding to election from the reduced list, should it happen to be reduced, which I should conceive would very rarely or ever be the case in future. By adopting such an arrangement there would have been no necessity, even upon their own principles, to have consulted the see of Rome before they applied for the faculties of institution.—A sketch of regulations which I drew up on this principle I have heretofore observed was severely animadverted upon by Mr. C. Keogh, in a pamphlet which suggested, what he considered a more advisable mode, which was that of a Veto upon the election of the bishops, exercised by all the Catholic population, "simul "taneously polled in all the parishes."—Such was the Veto of Mr. Keogh.
My right hon. friend the member for Liverpool has adverted, and much to my satisfaction, to the necessity of adopting a regulation of which I have uniformly been the strenuous advocate, namely, a controul upon the intromission of pontifical bulls and rescripts. I have ever considered a regulation of this description as offering a much greater security in itself than an original controul over ecclesiastical nominations, and highly necessary to accompany it.—In looking to the adoption of such a regulation I have the authority of every Catholic state in Europe, as well as those of the reformed churches.
In the last recess of parliament I represented to the noble viscount on the Treasury-bench, with whom, as I have before stated in this House, I had the honour of being in correspondence on this subject anterior to the Union, that I was anxious to receive further information through the medium of his Majesty's ministers, accredited to such courts with whom we retained any foreign relations. His lordship obligingly acceded to my request, and all the answers I have 1220 received to the questions transmitted to them have completely verified the information I before obtained, and added many highly interesting facts. The right to the crown both as to nominations to the episcopacy, and a controul over all papal rescripts, is still scrupulously adhered to in the kingdom of Sicily: a royal dispatch of the 22d Feb. 1779, extended the power so far as to prevent any of the king's subjects applying to the see of Rome for briefs of dispensation in the first instance, without the consent of the king, and also extended to all monastical orders in points of government. The court of the Monarchia, in Sicily, which has supreme jurisdiction in ecclesiastical matters, is regulated by a judge of his majesty's nomination. It would here be too tedious to enter into the details of those regulations, which secure the crown and the subject against any encroachments of a foreign jurisdiction even in spirituals. Similar regulations obtain at the present hour in Portugal—the same in Spain. The Gallican church we know was protected by a corresponding institution, and as far back as the year 1442, the Supreme Council of Provence enacted "that no rescript from the See of Rome should be permitted to be executed within the state, till it had received the fiat of the proper officer of the government."—In a word the universality of the Regium Exequatur or Placitum, or supreme controul of the sovereign upon the admission of all papal rescripts, is in every state of the continent established beyond controversy: the Roman Catholic and the reformed churches seem to vie with each other in the adoption of securities of this description; demonstrating the necessity, by the universality of their concurrence. I have often had occasion to notice the only provision we have upon our statute books which points directly against the intromission of such rescripts from the papal see, namely, the statute 13 Elizabeth, ch. 2. In the spirit of the sanguinary times when it was enacted, it denounces the penalties of high treason against the introduction of every papal bull, brief or rescript from the see of Rome, however innocent its object. This Act was left unrepealed on our statute-books when the statutes of toleration in favor of Roman Catholics passed the legislation in the years 1791 and 1793. As the Act, from its sanguinary hue, has never been enforced, an unchecked communication with the see of Rome results from it, open 1221 to great abuse, and in some circumstances, as at the present hour, might be attended with mischievous consequences.
I am far from imputing to the Catholics of the United Kingdom any recent abuse of their communications with the see of Rome, but I can see no reason why our municipal regulations should be guided by a less cautious policy in this respect, than the regulations of those states wherein the sovereign himself is in communion with the see of Rome. Without any great stretch of imagination we can conceive it possible that abuses may exist, as they have existed, and those who are not disposed to take a wider range of inquiry may satisfy themselves by the perusal of my lord chief justice Coke's 5th Report, in Caudry's Case, where the whole law of the ancient jurisdiction of the crown is laid down with great perspicuity.
It is not possible to speak upon this subject without retracing the beaten ground of the "Veto" and again I must say that for many weeks after that measure had been introduced in this House by my right hon. friend the member for Dublin, the principal prelates of the Roman Catholic church still adhered to the propriety of its adoption, and even after a host of popular writers had raised a cry throughout the country in opposition to it, and in a manner intimidated the prelates into a vote declaring it "inexpedient;" that inexpediency was avowed by the primate and Dr. Troy, to result only from "existing circumstances."—In the various synodical acts of the Irish Roman Catholic prelacy, as I have often observed, they have never controverted the principle, though they have pointedly condemned another measure, that of domestic nomination in chapters, a practice countenanced nearly through all the German states, and which is certainly more congenial to the ancient discipline of the church. Where the nomination is exercised by the sovereign, reserving the institution, and in particular instances the collation, to the Pope, we may take it for granted that it is an arrangement made at the expence of the second order of clergy, but herein I have never presumed to suggest an alteration. I have looked principally, if not wholly to the security of the state, as far as assuring ourselves of the, loyalty of the persons selected to possess so great an influence upon the people committed to their charge, without interfering in the details of elections. A fact has been more than once 1222 stated, and if not explained I am given to understand it may be subject to injurious misconception: I had formerly observed that Dr. Bellew, the present bishop of Killala, unfortunately had a brother deeply engaged in the Rebellion of 1798. I mentioned it to shew the advantage which might have been derived from an intercourse with government, that the electors might thereby become apprized of facts which might involve the disqualification of an individual, in other respects unexceptionable. No one can impute disloyalty to Dr. Bellew, but if the Roman Catholic see of Killala had been vacant at the moment his brother was approaching the town, in 1798, at the head of an hostile force, such an intimation assuredly would have prevented an election in his favour. I have long known Dr. Bellew, and my favourable prepossessions remain unimpaired by the lapse of time. Dr. Hussey's nomination to the see of Water-ford is an instance also in reference to which, I noticed that if the transactions of that prelate at the court of Madrid in 1786 had been known to the electors, Dr. Hussey could not have been placed in the station he afterwards filled. [Here sir John Hippisley went into a detail of the nature of those transactions, with a view to illustrate the principle of the utility of a communication between the electors and his Majesty's ministers, respecting the nomination to Catholic prelacies.] But I must not overlook a part of this subject wherein it is necessary to answer the pointed call I am honoured with by the Speaker, now sitting in our committee. And here I would ask my right hon. friend, does he seriously think that the oaths as they now stand of the 14th, of the 31st, and 33d of his present Majesty, are clearly understood by those who administer or by those who take them? Are they of such simple comprehension as to be considered fit for adoption in any bill he may bring forward on this subject r I fear they will not be so considered by the House. The history of the oath of 1793 I have before adverted to: the Catholics of Ireland made a declaration of their principles. An oath was proposed in 1793 by the earl of Buckinghamshire, then secretary of the government, and the learned gentleman (Dr. Duigenan) then in the House of Commons, exclaimed, "the Catholics have made a solemn declaration of their principles, let the oath be drawn up in the words of their declaration." It was so drawn up by him- 1223 self, and in his candour he then observed, "let them swear to it, they are honest men, and I will believe their declaration.
"In a review of these oaths I would ask, whether when the Catholic priest swears to the disclosure of all traitorous conspiracies, it is not generally understood that if treason be disclosed to him, even in confession, he is bound by his oath to reveal it? I answer for the Catholic priest, that in his own honest conception of his duties he is not so bound—and moreover he is fortified by the established canonical discipline of the Church of England, which authorises the minister of the establishment, nay, commands him, to conceal "all such crimes as are committed to his secrecy, in confession, under pain of ecclesiastical censures." It was upon this point, as I have before remarked, that the hon. member for Yorkshire (Mr. Wilberforce) so much misunderstood me, that, when I adverted to this 113th constitution or canon of 1603, he exclaimed "You are quoting a Popish canon."—I will here content myself to repeat that those canons of 1603, constitute the great code of regulation of our church establishment, and the principle, as I have before often noticed, has been recognized by the highest authorities of our courts of law. I have heretofore observed also that our municipal law in this respect is at issue with our ecclesiastical law. By the latter the minister is commanded to conceal all crimes committed to his secrecy in confession, of however deep a dye, "provided they be not such as the concealment might endanger his own life." Now as the concealment of high treason subjects only the offender to the penalties attached to premunire, namely, imprisonment, at the king's pleasure, and forfeiture of goods, it follows that there is no crime existing upon our statute books the bare concealment of which constitutes a capital offence. The minister therefore of the Church of England is, by the ecclesiastical constitutions, bound to conceal what the municipal law commands him to reveal; but this subject I have so often before pressed that it is unnecessary now to dwell upon it; I will only observe that a new provision ought necessarily to be framed, explicitly sanctioning the conscientious scruple of the Catholic priest, and protecting him against misconstruction. It became a question with Henry 4th of France, whether the seal of confession should not be broken, but the king, upon mature deliberation, abandoned his 1224 purpose—it was wisely observed that by withdrawing the obligation of secrecy, a solitary instance might occur of some public utility, but the seal of confession being no longer to be considered as a protection to the penitent, crimes would be no longer avowed, and every advantage resulting from the institution would be lost to society. I have examined the application of this tenet of Catholic discipline with no light attention, not even passing over the cells of our public prisons for examples of useful application, and I can take upon myself to affirm that, under the wholesome influence of a most worthy priest, whose name I consider it as a sort of duty to mention (Mr. Devereux, who attends the gaol of Newgate) the detection of the most notorious offenders and the restitution of property to a great amount, have at various times been made to great public as well as private advantage.
I shall now proceed to the oath of 1793; the oath which, as I have stated, was drawn up by a right hon. and learned gentleman, from the declaration made by the Catholics anterior to the introduction of the Bill in parliament. The Catholic by this oath swears that he will not exercise any privilege to which he is or may become entitled, "to disturb and weaken the Protestant religion and Protestant government in this kingdom. "The construction of the Catholic upon this clause is "that it is necessary to disturb and weaken, not only the Protestant religion, but likewise the Protestant government, in order to violate this clause, and that if it had been put disjunctively as it was proposed to be, it would have been inadmissible by the Catholics." I think I need not say that this is a sort of special pleading upon the construction of an oath which ought to have been avoided, and an oath of so complicated a description ought never to have been imposed. I feel myself called upon to give the House all the information in my power on this point. The Catholic defends himself by telling you that if he is not to weaken the establishment in any way, you must preclude him from preaching and teaching. Each sect of Christians may fairly be allowed to exercise their polemical weapons while they keep within the pale of good citizenship, but I contend that an oath should be so simple and explicit as not to be open to these subtle distinctions,—nor could I overlook these distinctions even if I had hot been called upon, as they have been 1225 urged by the Catholics themselves, and printed in a note subjoined to the oath. [Here sir J. H. read the note.]
The government of the Dutch United Provinces were wise in adopting securities of a different description. They received a disavowal of obnoxious principles under the "priestly word" of an ecclesiastic, and confided rather to practical collateral securities than to the mere test of an oath. I am very far from undervalueing the sanctity of an oath, but security must be sought against those whom oaths will not bind—such were the securities which the states of Holland had wisely interposed, and such were the securities which every state in Europe have in their wisdom and policy at some time or another enacted.
I am extremely unwilling to detain the House to this length, but I cannot avoid adverting to that sort of investigation, which I conceive should be adopted in a committee, for though I have often urged the course that I think ought to be pursued, yet I am now speaking within the hearing of many to whom the subject is comparatively new. As an elucidation of the propriety of calling for evidence, I think it right to state, that the prelates of the Roman Catholic religion within this realm had, till a recent period, been invariably named by the representative of the House of Stuart. An original register of their nominations might be laid before the House, upon an address to the Prince Regent. [Sir John Hippisley then went into details of the nature of the evidence, which he would wish to record in a select committee, conformably to the practice of other governments, in reference to the appointment of bishops of the Roman Catholic communion—He spoke in terms of much praise of bishop Poynter, the apostolic vicar of the London district, but contended that it was not the description of prelacy that he could wish to retain in this country, as it was little suited to the spirit of our government, an apostolic vicar being in fact but a mere delegate of the see of Rome, and revocable at her pleasure]. Thus far have I adverted (continued sir J. H.) to various heads of investigation for a select committee, and now let us look also to the proposed course of my right hon. friend. After we have voted in favor of his proposition, he brings in his Bill, what may not the House then say, and what may not an hon. member near me, (the member for Bedford), 1226 then say?—will be not then, exclaim as he did a few nights since upon another grave subject: "Will the people of England be contented with mere statements, will they not call for documents?" [The hon. baronet then recurred to the charge of the bishop of Lincoln, (respecting the discipline of the council of Trent), the bishop having fallen into the same error as Mr. Perceval did, in quoting a passage from Professor De la Hogue's Treatise, without adverting to an antecedent section of the same tract, which refuted of the inference drawn from the cited passage.] In a committee you will have an opportunity of investigating all such points. I do not mean that the Committee should be empowered to report opinions, but that it should be merely the instrument of the House, in putting upon record the requisite evidence. I have no objection to an open committee, provided it be not a committee of the whole House. The report of such a committee going forth to the people of England, I conceive to be a measure which the House could scarcely dispense with, when they looked around them and witnessed the gross misconception obtaining on every side with respect to the question before the House. Adverting to the tests necessary to be taken by Catholics, I own I feel a great disposition to adopt the example of the states of Holland, before adverted to, where the Catholic population is nearly at a par with that of the Protestants; and not merely in this respect would I wish to imitate the example of that once sagacious government, their ecclesiastical regulations, for the exterior government of the different sects of religion, which were not dominant, being most wisely framed, and acted upon with a salutary policy. In a select committee, I am persuaded such facts would come out in evidence, as would naturally point to the remedies necessary to be applied, where danger was to be apprehended from foreign encroachment—indeed it required no stretch of genius to suggest those remedies—they were practical remedies, resorted to, under various modifications, in every other state. In reference to the Roman Catholic prelates, speaking of them as a body, I am persuaded the King has not a more loyal description of subjects. A noble lord, who, when a member of this House, brought in the tolerating Act of 1791, expressed a partiality in favour of the English Church government of the Roman Catholics, op- 1227 posed to that in Ireland—but no man who will look into the constitution of those governments, can, I think, deliberately give his voice in favor of a delegation, purely dependant upon the will of the Pope, unprotected by the securities of canonical regulation. Such a government is humiliating to the Catholic, and eventually dangerous to the state. It eludes in a great degree an adequate power of regulation—for you cannot properly recognize such a delegation—nor can there be strictly speaking any electors of an ecclesiastical delegate, bearing such a commission.
[Sir John Hippisley then went into further details of the objects of a select committee, and its probable beneficial effects upon the public mind, at present labouring under contrasted assertions, without the power of resorting to any authoritative documents to direct their judgment.]—It can only be by such means that early prejudices can be reconciled to the measures now in contemplation even in the most limited degree—and who could have anticipated fifty years ago that we should now be sitting in deliberation on the claims now before the House? As I shall have the privilege of offering my sentiments again in the course of the committee, I shall now sit down, declaring that I concur in the motion of my right hon. friend, as a preliminary measure leading to the necessary constitution of another investigation, commensurate to all the preliminary arrangements of a liberal legislative enactment, under those safeguards which the principles of the constitution have an unquestionable right to demand.
§ Mr. Bathurst
said, that after the decided majority of the House for going into a committee, he should endeavour to confine himself to the question, on the footing upon which it stood. The Resolution of last session was for considering the question generally, with the view to two objects—the conciliation of the Catholics, and security to the Protestant establishment. It seemed to him, that the promoters of the question did not see their way. He objected to the mode of proceeding which had been adopted by the right hon. mover of the Resolution. He was aware, that in all questions relative to an alteration in the laws of the country, the regular mode was to submit the proposition to a committee; but the person making the proposition stated the measure he had in view, described its general 1228 bearings, pointed out what it was his object to approve, and how far he was willing to qualify it, and that being done, a resolution was founded upon a motion, to accomplish the ulterior object in view. A reference to the proceedings of 1772 and 1791, would shew that such was the parliamentary course. One mode of proceeding there was which seemed to be intended, and by which in a committee, the particular objects not being specified, the affairs of religion might be considered at large, and any point might be proposed and discussed; and then the resolutions would form the foundation of a Bill. But the course now pursued was different, and the Resolution gave them very little information generally, and none at all, indeed, as to particulars, of the measure by which it was to be followed. The subject was one of very great extent, comprising, at once, the state of the Protestant and of the Catholic church—and he should have been very glad if the right hon. mover, or the hon. baronet who had just addressed them, had proposed any thing which might be looked upon as the foundation of a future Bill, instead of this vague and indeterminate Resolution. The proposition laid down this principle, that "relief ought to be granted to his Majesty's Roman Catholic subjects;" but it was worded in such general terms, that if leave were given to bring in a Bill, pursuant to that Resolution, he would defy the ingenuity of man to state what measure would finally result from a power so large and so indefinite. But they were told, that time was to be given—they were told, after having been first informed that immense good would immediately be derived from the discussion of this question, that the examination of the measure to be proposed was to be left to a future time, and they were to recollect all the sentiments which had been recently expressed on the investigation of this question, as containing principles by which their decision might be guided, and by a recurrence to which they might amend and improve any Bill which might be offered to them. Nobody could guess what the Bill was to be. When that Bill should afterwards come to its committee, they would have to recollect all the discordant opinions of those who had voted for a committee in the first instance. This, without meaning any disrespect to the right hon. mover, did not appear to him to be a fair parliamentary way of dealing 1229 with a question of this importance. The right hon. mover had disclaimed the idea that it had ever entered the mind of man to grant unconditional concession (and of course his plan in general must be one of conciliation and regulation) but, if that were not the intention—if the only plan were concession, mixed with safeguards and restrictions, was it not, then, of the very essence of the measure, that those who would be called on to agree to it, should know what it was? Or, was the ultimate proposition to be covered and concealed, by the generality of the expressions contained in the Resolution before the House? The substance of that Resolution was, that parliament should begin with doing away all the disabilities at present affecting the Catholics, the Protestant church of England, Ireland, and Scotland, being secured—but how this security was to be obtained, they were left to imagine. The principle of the Resolution might be explained as only saying, that nothing done by the Roman Catholics should pointedly infringe the Protestant establishment; but, as to any measure for preventing foreign interference with the Catholic church—as to any plan for removing whatever was most obnoxious in the See or the Court of Rome (whichever gentlemen pleased to call it), by which alone danger to our constitution could be prevented, the right hon. mover had not said any thing specific, either on this or on the former night. All that was left for future arrangement. But it was not fit the committee should begin by abolishing the ancient guards of the church and state, without making restrictions co-existent with such abolition. It had been said (but not very candidly, in his opinion,) that parliament was reduced to this dilemma, that it must either declare its determination never to grant any concessions, under any circumstances, of this country, of Ireland, or of Europe; or that it was bound specifically to avow on the present occasion what it was proposed to do. He really could not see that the question was necessarily resolved into one or other of those determinations. It was surprising, with the view the hon. baronet had taken of the question, that he would countenance this round-about mode or vote for the Resolution as it then stood. What he had stated of the interference of the see or court of Rome; of the various tenour of their oaths; and the motion of which he had given notice; all tended to 1230 point out the necessity of a development of the plan which was in contemplation. The hon. baronet had uniformly maintained this principle, that certain regulations should be entered into for the security of the establishment. What, then, was the course he ought to pursue, on his own view of the subject? Surely, he ought to have begun by pointing out those safeguards—and, after having provided that the interference of the see of Rome should be placed under the same restrictions as were provided in the other Protestant states of Europe, then provision might be made for a Bill to repeal the laws complained of by the Catholics. This was the course, which, in his opinion, ought to have been taken—and it was not a fair or candid way of putting the question, to say, if the present proposition were not agreed to, unexplained as it stood, that, therefore, the legislature were unwilling to do any thing. These were matters of less moment, which, no doubt, ought and would be conceded. He saw many difficulties in the way, but he had never said, that no time nor circumstances could occur, in which the proposed relief could not be given. He denied the inconsistency charged on those who had thought great concessions impracticable, when they stated that some things, such as what related to Irish soldiers, &c. might be granted. For instance, it was foolish to say, that the Catholic soldier, coming from Ireland to England, should be placed in a worse situation in the latter than he was in the former country. Such points as these might be conceded, without going into the whole Catholic claims. The demands of the Catholics, unaccompanied by any securities, appeared to him to be unreasonable; and he had a Tight to assume, that such was also the feeling of their advocates, since not one of them supported their claims to the extent which they themselves seemed to desire. Probably he should not have interposed on the present occasion, if the Resolution, instead of being general, had been specific. But, when it took its present shape, when the right hon. mover stated that he would leave the House in possession of this general proposition, and that he would afterwards move for leave to bring in a Bill on the Resolution which he submitted to them, he felt it necessary to state his reasons for opposing the motion. An hon. member (Mr. Ponsonby,) had stated, that no person now, no person ever did talk of 1231 unconditional concession. He would ask what was the language of the whole Catholic body as expressed in their petitions. If indeed, (he Catholics had no advocate in that House who would venture to stand up, and assert their claims to the full length they themselves had gone, yet the House could not but know that such instructions were in their brief, and those instructions were so unreasonable, that the House should pause before it went any further, to ascertain, if possible, what hopes there were of producing satisfaction on one side or the other. If the committee came to the Resolution before them, the next step would be to bring in a Bill pursuant to that Resolution. Now, as by the common consent of mankind, the right hon. mover, who had so long advocated the Catholic cause, would be the principal person in drawing up the Bill, and in bringing it forward, they might perhaps anticipate what its principal provisions would be. All the restrictive laws would, of course, be repealed. Some provisions, he understood, would be made as to ecclesiastical courts and advowsons, but not a word would be mentioned about law officers, or about what securities it was intended to propose for the church. These were to be left to take their chance; something was to be done for the Catholics; but it was not told under what qualifications. The Bill, thus constituted, was to be sent out to the country, amongst a people, at the present moment expressing great apprehensions on this subject—it was to go out, with one thing resolved upon, "that those laws were to be repealed;" but under what modifications was completely uncertain. If it were proposed, that these laws should undergo the consideration of parliament, he should not have troubled the House on the subject; but when the right hon. gentleman said "By my Bill, I will repeal these laws," he felt it his duty to oppose the proposition, except unexceptionable securities were offered. What would be the consequence of the success of such a Bill? It would be this—if its provisions were afterwards complained of, it would be demanded of the legislature, both by that party which approved, and that which disapproved it, "why did you not make proper regulations when it was in your power?" Why did you not oppose the Bill in the first instance? It was therefore necessary for him to state his objections now. The question was eligibility; but was it not the enjoyment of 1232 power consequent thereupon that was looked to? To go on without knowing what they were doing, would only hold out hopes not to be realized. There could be no injury done by stopping the progress of a measure in the committee, as it could be revived in another stage. The hon. baronet said, he would wait till he had seen the result of the discussion before this committee, and then be would submit a motion to its consideration. Would the hon. baronet have an opportunity of so proceeding? There were but two questions connected with the committee—that immediately before them; and that which was to follow (if the former were successful) namely, the motion for leave to bring in a Bill. Where, then, would be the opportunity for the hon. baronet to move for a committee above stairs, to examine into the dogmas of the Catholic Church? Such an investigation, he thought, would be better confined to the hon. baronet himself; and he knew not what benefit could be produced by referring the subject to a committee of that House for their consideration. It had been frequently alleged as an argument on the part of the Catholics, that, having given them so much already, it followed, on principles of consistency and policy, nothing now should be withheld—their claims should be granted in the fullest extent. This argument went to the utmost principle of granting concession, without any regulation or restriction whatever; and it proceeded on this ungracious assumption, that the legislature could not confer any immunity, however consistent with the security of the state, without incurring the risk of having it retorted on them at a future day—"You have granted this, and, therefore, you must grant the other;" although perhaps a compliance with the demand might be most dangerous.—He knew not where this argument was to stop. If it were pursued to its extreme limit, they could not grant a step further in the army, or higher at the bar, without occasioning additional and more pressing claims. Under all the circumstances, he did not think the present mode was most conducive to a temperate consideration of the subject—and, therefore, the House ought to stand on their guard. This mode of arguing the question had this night been strongly enforced by a right hon. gentleman (Mr. Ponsonby) who declared, that it would be in vain to grant the Catholics part of what they want, as 1233 that would only make them more eager for the rest, and were determined to get it; and that if they were resolved to stop now, why did they grant them the elective franchise in 1793? That mode of argument, as he had stated, appeared to him to be most fallacious. If it was to be adopted, the committee must then go the whole length of the petitioners, and grant unqualified concession. Parliament would not be able to concede some things, because it would be told, now you have conceded those, I'll show you why you must concede more. He repeated it was impossible to anticipate where such an argument would stop. But, he would ask, with respect to the elective franchise, was there no difference between allowing a Catholic to vote for the return of Protestant members, and opening the doors of parliament to the Catholic himself?—He thought it a most ungracious argument, and it behoved that House to make a stand upon the ground they possessed, and maturely deliberate before they permitted a new system of things to be established. The hon baronet seemed to suppose that what they were then doing, was likely to conciliate the Catholic body—but he conceived, they would not be doing justice to themselves, if they did not negative the present Resolution—and, perhaps, another might be introduced in its place, no less conciliatory to the Catholics and at the same time more satisfactory to the people in general.
§ Sir John Newport
said, the right hon. gentleman was incorrect in stating, that the Roman Catholics, in their petitions, expressed a determination not to accede to any regulation whatever. Now, if he had read those petitions right, no such assertion was contained in them. They prayed, that every remaining penal statute might be repealed; that, while they conducted themselves as loyal subjects, they might be placed on a level with their Protestant brethren; and that no disability should be inflicted on them, in consequence of their adherence to the tenets of the Catholic church. Now, in the correct sense of the word, the Catholic certainly did want complete emancipation—but this was perfectly compatible with every necessary regulation—and the friends of the Roman Catholics, in moving for the repeal of the disabilities, were fully impressed with the conviction, that such a measure was completely consistent with the security of church and state. 1234 The right hon. gentleman seemed to think, that the desire of conciliation, manifested by the House, would not be assisted by the feeling of the Catholic body in general, and more particularly by the Catholic board. But, to judge properly of this assertion, it would be right to know how the last Resolution of that House, on the subject of the Catholic claims, had been received by the board; and that the committee might be correctly informed on the subject, he would read a recent proceeding of that board. They would thu9 see, that the first conciliatory measure adopted by the House had been viewed by the Catholics in a spirit and temper quite the reverse of that by which they were supposed to be actuated. At a meeting of the Catholic board which had taken place in Dublin since the late vote for a committee, a resolution such as could not fail to be gratifying to the House, had been moved, and that by a person who had been heretofore arraigned for the violence of his conduct in that assembly. The hon. baronet then read the following paragraph:—
"Catholic Board, March 6, 1813.
"A meeting of the board was this day held, major Brian in the chair, at which Mr. Lawless gave notice of the following Resolution, for the consideration of the board, on Saturday next:—
'Resolved—That we heartily congratulate our fellow subjects of every religious persuasion, in the British empire, on the late glorious and successful struggle of the friends of civil and religious liberty, in the Imperial House of Commons, from which we may confidently date the commencement of that harmony which is likely to subsist hereafter, among men of all denominations and relilgions in the country, which must obliterate the remembrance of past injuries, and make Ireland as united as she will be unconquerable.'
Having read this document, he would ask whether the advanees of that House-had not been met by a spirit of conciliation on the part of the Catholics? Did they not rejoice at the prospect of uniform harmony among all sects? Did they not express feelings of the strongest delight, in the hope which was now held out to the empire, that we should be an united, and consequently an unconquerable people? Now with respect to the qualified concession on which persons opposing 1235 the claims of the Catholics had now taken their stand, he would beg to offer a few remarks. A right hon. gentleman had proposed to withhold from the Roman Catholics all political power—and in the very same breath, he signified his willingness to give them high political rank. He would ask that right hon. gentleman how he would act in the case of a victorious Catholic commander in chief abroad? for the only limitation he had placed on the extension of military honours, referred to the situation of commander in chief at home. What course would the right hon. gentleman adopt, in the case of a Catholic Wellington having the same claims on the gratitude of his country? Would he admit him to the dignity of the peerage, or would he not? If he did grant that honour, by what device would he limit it? How would he fetter the dignity so as to keep it thoroughly separated from political power. At every step they went, these friends to the prescriptive rights of the constitution found themselves entangled in mazes, from which they could not disentangle themselves. The only way in which to settle the question was one free from all intricacy, and in which there was no danger; that was, to extend the privileges of the constitution in all their plenitude to all classes of his Majesty's subjects, and thus unite them all in its defence, it was to grant to the Catholics that which would unite them to the great body of the people. This should be done without looking to dogmas, which had been promulgated three centuries ago, to tenets maintained by this sect or by that, and to forbear imputing to any sect or class of Christians whatsoever, that spirit by which its adherents had been actuated at former periods. Instead of contemplating the obsolete canons of departed councils, they ought to be guided by the general system of the Catholic church, as acted upon at this day. He would not have trespassed on the Committee, but for the purpose of doing away any false impression which might arise from the assertion that the Catholics were not actuated by a spirit of conciliation. This object he had completely effected, by shewing the manner in which, at the earliest possible period, they had expressed their sentiments on the Resolution which parliament had agreed to. Under every difficulty, the Catholics of Ireland had shewed themselves a grateful and a loyal people. That very body were the victims of a mis- 1236 placed loyalty to a family, who, at all times, had ill-requited them. Their loyalty was recorded on the statute books; and it was not by the charges of rev. bishops to their clergy, that parliament would be induced to erase those honourable testimonies of bravery and devotion for their country—or to impede their just reward. Those claims to the confidence and support of their fellow-subjects being allowed, it was unjust to withhold from them the rights to which every man was entitled under the constitution. If the statements of some hon. gentlemen were true, the legislature must undo a great deal of what they had already done. Those gentlemen declared, that the Catholic should not be permitted to exercise any political power—in other words, they were contending against what they had already given; for, by extending the elective franchise, political power had been conferred. "But," it was observed, "it is now necessary to make a stand." The only meaning which he could attach to this expression was, that, because the legislature had granted the Catholics a power, which, if they pleased, they might exercise improperly, but which they had used most constitutionally and correctly, therefore they were to be shut out from further privileges. The bar had been thrown open, to a certain extent, in 1793, but the Catholic wag severed from its highest honours; he wondered that those who were most active in procuring that indulgence did not perceive by what had since taken place, that when gentlemen of the legal profession were prevented from rising by their acquirements, they would, of necessity, become the leaders of popular assemblies. This really had happened, and it was a strong argument in favour of removing the barrier by which their promotion was impeded. What, he would ask, was it which dissolved the administration in 1807? It was an attempt to extend to the Roman Catholics those very privileges, (considerably qualified indeed), which a right hon. gentleman that night expressed his willingness to grant to them. This was a strong proof that the prejudices against the Catholics were subsiding. A few years ago the coronation oath was considered as the great bar to their claims—that had vanished; the dangers to be apprehended from permitting them to embrace a military life had also vanished; and he felt assured, that by these repeated discussions, it would at length be discovered that there 1237 was no safety for the state, except by admitting all persons to enjoy the benefits of the constitution, and thus inducing them to unite in its defence.
, after remarking that he hoped the example of the Catholic committee which had just been referred to, would be extensively followed, said he could not but express his concurrence in the proposition before the committee, for, connected with Ireland as he was, he could not be a stranger to the advantages which must result from conciliating the Catholics of that country. He was willing to grant to the Catholic much of what was required, but he must have securities for the Protestant establishment. The securities were to be contemporaneous with the concessions, if the expression could be made use of, as to the enactments of the same Bill. The regulations he should approve of would be such as might attach the Catholics to the constitution, and nothing could more attach them to it than liberty and security. He should approve of the select committee proposed by the hon. baronet (sir J. Hippisley) as there was considerable risk in legislating on subjects with which they were insufficiently acquainted.
§ Lord Milton
and Mr. Plunkett rose at the same time, but the former was declared to be in possession of the committee. He said, that he had ventured thus to occupy the time of the committee, because his sentiments on this subject were not similar to those of most of the gentlemen with whom he should concur in his vote. He could not but premise, that in his opinion, the right hon. mover had been somewhat hardly used as to the course which he had deemed it right to propose for adoption. The main question before them had his warmest concurrence. As to what had been said by the right hon. the Speaker, it was the duty of that right hon. member to propose (as this was one of the few occasions on which he had it in his power) resolutions containing the substance of his opinion, that many laws operating to the disadvantage of the Catholics, might be abrogated. As to securities he thought, that the best securities were the good will and affection of the governed; all others were built on an unsound foundation, and were not worth contending for. It behoved those, however, who were of a contrary opinion, to submit their securities to the House. Conceiving, as he did, that no securities were necessary 1238 as to the power which it was proper to concede to the Catholics, he was not a friend to unlimited concession. Of the concessions made to the Catholics, this should be the principle of limitation,—that they should be excluded from all offices involving political patronage; as for example, from the office of Chancellor in Great Britain and Ireland, unless under some regulations. It would be monstrous, indeed, to exclude the Catholic from exercising an hereditary right of advowson, while he might exercise ecclesiastical patronage by virtue of his office. Some offices in the ecclesiastical court, might, perhaps, be liable to the same remarks. At the same time, he should not wish to exclude the Catholics from any political power; and leaving it to others to discuss whether they should withhold the unsubstantial after granting the substantial part of civil rights, he should conclude by expressing his opinion, that all political power should lay open to all classes of his Majesty's subjects.
§ Mr. Wilberforce
had listened to all that had been said with attention, and with a sincere desire to receive all the information possible on this important subject. He should vote for the resolution now before the committee. He, however, was anxious to make some few observations on the policy of concession to the Catholics. If it had fallen to his lot to choose the method of proceeding on this question he should have preferred, with the hon. baronet, to refer the state of the laws in question to a select committee. This he conceived to be the more desirable, as it must have been observed by all gentlemen who had looked into the subject, how different were the statements which had been propagated, for while some represented that the amount of the disabilities imposed on the Catholics, amounted only to exclusion from 32 great offices, others asserted that the disabilities were numerous, and met the Catholics at every turn and in every line of life, and entering into the most common affairs of life, irritated those whose political power they did not serve materially to abridge. This measure also would have tended to a calm consideration of the subject, as every one would know the extent of the grievances under which their Catholic brethren laboured. He did not, however, object to the present motion, because the appointment of a committee was not precluded in a future stage. The doctrine of the Catholics, he did not think could with advantage be referred to 1239 a committee, as such a body would be much less competent to such an inquiry than the hon. baronet who proposed it. What weighed with him in the vote he should give was, that the elective franchise had already been conceded to the Catholics, and it would be absurd and injurious, after having granted such privileges, to deny them seats in the two Houses. It had been objected, that the Catholics might form mischievous or treasonable connections with foreign powers. But the connection existed now; and while concession would not increase the connection with a foreign power, it would render the influence of that power less effective. The mischiefs to be apprehended from Catholics being admitted into that House he could not perceive, for what measure which they might wish to accomplish could they not attain through their Protestant representatives, who were so much less exposed to jealousy and suspicion? The grand consideration which weighed with him in the vote he should give, was, that the Catholics had already political power extended to them by the possession of the elective franchise; and it appeared to him to be absurd to prevent Catholics from holding seats in that House. Suppose there were Catholic members amongst them, would they ever propose any measure, or pursue any course that might not also be adopted by the Protestant representatives of Catholic electors. The oath which these Catholics would take, whether it bound their consciences or no, must yet impose some restraint on them as gentlemen; for who, after swearing not to "disturb or endanger" the establishment, would have the hardihood to propose any measure which might palpably tend to its detriment. Well then, they were leaning on a broken reed—they were relying on a false security. Political power had already been granted to the Catholics, and by leaving them in their present state, the legislature would not be acting with policy for the security of the country. The House could not stop where it was—the Catholics could not remain in their present situation. It was in vain to expect them to be satisfied. He thought something ought to be done for them at the present time—the moment was a peculiarly favourable one—it was a sort of golden opportunity which might never return if they now lost it. Light and knowledge were spreading in Ireland, and the more they extended, the more would the Catholics 1240 of Ireland desire to enjoy all the privileges of freemen. It was not simply because Ireland was encreasing in numbers, in. wealth, and in circumstances, but because she was encreasing in knowledge, that he thought they ought not to lose any time in making the desired concessions to them, for that very increase of knowledge would make them feel more keenly the indignities under which they thought they laboured. He trusted that the House would see the policy of concession, for he yet indulged the fond hope of living to see the day when the good effects resulting from it would be made apparent; and to allay that fever which had long existed in Ireland would not be one of the least of them. He trusted, therefore, that the resolution would be acquiesced in, for he most fervently believed that it would tend to promote peace and good order in Ireland. The petitioners against the Catholics, though actuated, he was convinced, by the most laudable motives, were deceived in their ideas of the subject, and did not seem aware that the Catholics possessed at present all the power which could be exerted to the detriment of the establishment, and the House would encourage that delusion, if they spread the idea that they might remain with safety where they now were. It was very easy to tell the Catholics to be contented with the concessions which had been made to them; but he could not conceive any thing more galling to a body of men who were brought, as the Catholics had been, into contact with political objects, to be thus excluded from the enjoyment of them. Thinking thus, that it was politic to make concessions to the Catholics, as that body would be thereby conciliated, while the establishmemt would be rendered more secure, he thought it peculiarly desirable to grant it at the present moment. The Catholics were now advancing in wealth and consequence, and if concessions were not made at this moment, they might be made at a less favourable period. We were now suffering for the follies and vices of our forefathers. Ireland had been treated as a conquered country, and the remaining links of her ancient chains pressed more severely on her, because she had been admitted to a part of the blessings of the British constitution. The more Catholic Ireland abounded in men, who could take a part in political life, the more irritating would exclusion become, and not only increasing wealth but advancing knowledge would cause them 1241 to feel most acutely the state of degradation in which it was attempted to keep them. The system of excluding Catholics from parliament, was contrary to all the principles which had been laid down on both sides the discussions on parliamentary reform, that no great body should be without its representatives in parliament. The refusal of the barons to agree to any innovation in the constitution, had been alluded to as an example to modern parliaments. But 'nolumus leges Anglia mutari' was uttered by men in the full enjoyment of all the privileges of the constitution, to secure to themselves their rights, not to exclude those who were debarred from those privileges from participating in them. The hon. gentleman proceeded to remark, that a circumstance in favour of the claims of the, Catholics was, that the influence of the priests on the higher orders of that body had diminished. There was an annual excommunication issued against all Protestants, but notwithstanding this fulmination, a Catholic nobleman (it was well known,) had raised a body of volunteers to defend this excommunicated country. When objections were made to this corps being headed by his son, with a truly British spirit he said, that nothing could absolve him from his duty of defending his country, and that his son should serve in the ranks of this body which he was not permitted to command.
rose and read the Resolution on the subject of Catholic emancipation, which proposed security to the Protestant religion; but the present measure, he said, contained no security whatever. It was the same scheme as that of James the 2d, and therefore the necessary consequence of passing this Bill would be, that that king and his family were driven unjustly from the throne. The Roman Catholic religion was unchangeable: their enmity to the Protestant establishment was the same that it ever was; and the only question to be considered was, whether you would bestow civil privileges and political power on your eternal and inveterate foe. The doctrines laid down in their decrees and councils were really dreadful. To prove this, the right hon. gentleman went into numerous documents, and read copiously from their oaths, and the decisions of various councils unrepealed, which tended to shew their entire dependence upon the Pope, and that they were not bound' to keep faith with heretics. The spiritual supremacy of the Roman see, he 1242 argued, brought with it temporal power. There were, he well knew, persons in that House who did not like to hear the true Catholic doctrines. The council of Constance had decreed that no oath was binding which was contrary to the interest of the church. Any oath to a Protestant king was consequently void. No one would be hardy enough to assert, that spiritual power did not bring along with it temporal power. But the Catholic religion was at this moment in a peculiar situation. It was no longer the Roman Catholic religion, but the Parisian Catholic religion, and Buonaparté, our mortal enemy, would, if this measure were consented to, have the power of carrying into effect all his villainous designs against this country, by means of a vassal pope. He next noticed the petitions; and stated, that the signatures to those from Protestants in Ireland, in favour of concession, amounted to only 4,000, while those against it were above 100,000 most respectable names. This circumstance, with the petitions from England, signed by more than 300,000 persons, evidently shewed the feelings of the people on the subject. One half of the petitions on the table were directed against all concession to the Catholics. [Cries of No! no! no!] "Yes, yes, yes, (said the right hon. doctor) I can prove my words." He then proceeded to descant on the formal security talked of for the established church; but contended, that from the nature of the Catholic religion, and their professed disregard of all faith with heretics, no such security could be obtained. They themselves refused to give it. They had repeatedly declared, that they would receive emancipation as no partial boon, nor would they submit to any conditions whatever. How, then, could we conciliate these people? If a man was to come into your house, and threaten to destroy you with fire and sword, could you be expected to receive him with the same complaisance as your dearest friend? Let gentlemen look to the statutes they were called on to repeal. He asserted the measure proposed to be a fundamental overthrow of the constitution, doing away with the Test and Corporation Acts, and violating the coronation oath, as well as the acts of Union between England and Scotland, and Great Britain and Ireland, This Bill would subvert the constitution to its very foundation. Would any man say, that the crown could be absolved from its oath? 1243 His present Majesty thought otherwise, and every reasonable and conscientious man would think otherwise. An act of parliament, indeed, was imperious, nothing could oppose it, but the consent of the crown was necessary to an act of parliament. The resolution of the two Houses was nothing—of itself it possessed no power against the conscience of the King. It had been said, that the oath had already been broken, but it was not in essentials; the alterations which had been made amounted to no breach of that oath; but the measures now proposed would amount to a revolution; the repeal of the Corporation and Test Acts would overturn the authority of both church and state. The first article of the new constitution of Spain was, that the Roman Catholic should be the established religion of the country, and that no other should be tolerated. Here was Catholic liberality. Though we were fighting their battles for them, and wasting our blood and treasure in supporting them against the tyrant of Europe, they would not even tolerate us as Protestants. He also noticed a suggestion thrown out on a former debate, that even if the one hundred Irish members were Catholics, there would be no danger in the fact. That they would be so, he thought very probable, and appealed to the House for the dangers that must ensue from such a body, acting together with one end in view. The rudder was small, but it guided the ship; and no minister could withstand such a combination as this might be, of men elected, not by the property, but by the beggary of Ireland, and under the influence of their Catholic, priests. A hundred Catholics in that House would govern parliament. Suppose these hundred members made a bargain with the minister to vote with him on every occasion, must they not have every thing their own way?—Elections in Ireland, he repeated, were not made by the property, but by the beggary of the country, and three fourths of the present members were returned by the direction of Popish priests. They would, if this bill passed, come over like a swarm of bees, and he would be a great minister who could withstand them. First, they would have all Ireland to themselves; it could not be doubted whether they would continue long united with this country, when the dissolution of the Union was the first object in all their declarations.
having stated his general 1244 opinions on a former night, now rose to speak solely to the motion of the right hon. gentleman. The committee was reduced to a difficulty of great extremity. They were, in fact, called upon to grant almost every thing, or to grant nothing to the claims of the Catholics. Yet he was free to say, that while much might be granted, there was also something to be withheld. He could not but consider the question in every possible point of view but as one which appeared to him a measure of expedience, and in reality a measure of necessity. Gentlemen, he was sure, must feel, that if they were to stop where they were, they had either gone too far, or not far enough. It would be a subject of great regret, if, after the resolution of last parliament, and the adoption of that pledge by that House, the matter should be terminated abruptly, without their being able, after all this discussion, to collect any practical result. For these reasons he was in favour of the motion. At the same time he had no scruple in stating his regret that the right hon. mover had not opened his views to a larger extent than he had done, and given him some prospect of agreeing with him hereafter. But if the right hon. gentleman had not come up to his outline, he had called for no pledge which would prevent any one from engrafting any amendment thought necessary and proper on the ulterior measure, and the more he heard this question discussed, the more conscientiously was he convinced, not only of its expediency, but of its actual necessity. The motion before them only acknowledged the principle, but bound them to no detail, and, in concurring with these propositions he considered himself as only doing that to which he stood pledged by the opinions he had formerly declared. It had been stated by a right hon. gentleman (the Speaker) that this resolution embraced a general sweep of repealing all the statutes of restrictions, without providing any securities. If he thought so, he would vote against it; but as it must be accompanied in its future progress with modifications and restrictions, he was not anxious to look out for points of difference in its earliest stages, and would therefore support it in principle, till of necessity they came to points, where diversity of opinion prevailed. The noble lord then referred to the proposition made by sir J. C. Hippisley, which he considered to be objectionable, as it would bring a code of laws they all looked on with re- 1245 gret, into an invidious point of view; it would also lead to the examination of doctors Milner, O'Connor, &c. and afford them a reasonable prospect of a religious controversy up stairs. The only point on which it could be useful would be inquiring into, and determining the state of the influence allowed to the Roman see in other countries of Europe, Catholic as well as Protestant; but this subject was already completely elucidated by the hon. baronet's pamphlets upon it. He did not believe there was any reasonable man in the country who was not persuaded that the see of Rome had very properly been a constant subject of jealousy in every court of Europe. We had lost sight of that jealousy: and it was to be regretted, that in this country, except the horrible and obsolete Acts of Elizabeth, there was no steady system which operated as a guard against that power. When we were on the point of removing the last remains of the penal laws, which we looked back to with regret and horror, it was proper that some regulations should be enforced for the purpose of securing the church and state from all attempts to which they might be exposed. Our law had been much neglected on this head, and must be revised in whatever decision the legislature came to on the important question now agitating. The noble lord concluded by saying, he should give his cordial vote for the Resolution, which appeared to leave every gentleman's judgment unshackled, and to be a fair and candid proposal in the present stage of the business. He did not, however, hold himself precluded in any future stage from opposing the Bill, if it should become his painful duty so to do.
, like the noble lord, would confine himself to the question immediately before the House, and avoid the temptation to wander into the general discussion which had already appeared so wearisome. He thought the speech of the noble lord, his declaration of support and limitation of the contingency on which his opposition might afterwards be determined, were stated with perfect candour. The noble lord had, in very strong terms, held forth the advantage which such a measure would, if carried, produce to the country. If the noble lord had gone a little further and promised to lend his own powerful aid to the measure, if it might turn out what in his opinion it ought to be, it would have been as much as the warmest friends of the Catholics could 1246 desire. The measure, if perfected, would be a boon to one country, and a blessing to the other; and he should do his humble endeavours to bring it to that state. If it should so happen that measures should be attempted to be connected with it which he considered of a dangerous nature to the constitution, rather than give his sanction to them, he would imitate the noble lord and withdraw his support; though he did not consider this event as at all probable, but only reserved to himself the right, if in the future discussion any insuperable obstacle should arise, to withdraw from the course that he had hitherto pursued, satisfied that things should remain in their existing state, rather than that his sanction should be given to any thing dangerous to the establishments of the country.
The discussion of that night had added much to his hopes and his expectations. He knew not what effect might have been produced on the minds of others; but with him it had done more to strengthen his hopes, and do away his apprehensions, than any former debate, when so much more had been conceded on all sides than had ever been conceded before, so as to disarm irritation if it did not overcome objection. In debates on this question, and on other questions, it had been usual for the one party to charge the other with pursuing wild and unattainable objects. But to-night a singular objection was made, that all the objectionable parts of the measure had been done away. It was certainly a new objection that the measure had lost all its convenient extravagance. This absence of fault had been imputed to the plan as culpable, though he could not but think it highly fortunate. There was, however, one right hon. gentleman who was still consistent (Dr. Duigenan) one who never flinched from his duty, and who now remained in a dignified and respectable solitude, like a mighty pillar, standing erect amidst the ruins from which every other person had fled. To night, with the exception of the voice of that right hon. and learned gent., which those who formerly concurred with him in opinion seemed anxious to drown, lest it might reproach them with its abandonment, with that sole exception there was a complete dereliction of any attempt to assert the old arguments that had been urged on the subject. Not one individual rose up in support of the existing system. The charge on the one side was that their ad- 1247 versaries ceased to be bigotted, and, on the other, that they ceased to be obstinate. Discussion on this question, therefore, had had the effect which temperate discussion ought always to have—that of approximating parties. Extremes which seemed irreconcilable were now so nearly approached that the one side could almost hold out their hands and reach the held out bands of their antagonist. Those who seemed before to be at an immeasurable distance from each other, had by mutual compromise approached into view; and union and peace were placed within their grasp. Every one who spoke that night must feel himself bound not to let the subject go without proposing what he thought right. They might not succeed in accomplishing what all desired; but if they did not succeed in perfecting the system which the right hon. gentleman had in contemplation, they had at least the arguments respecting the danger of foreign influence, and the admission of one right hon. and distinguished member (the Speaker) that it could not remain as it was, but must become subject to legislative interference. They had the admission that things must not remain as at present; they had the admission that the army must not remain as it was, but that the Catholics must be rendered eligible to promotion; they had had an admission that the bar could not remain as it was, but that the Catholics must be allowed to partake of the honours as well as the emoluments of that profession.—They had the further admission, that the Catholics were so far advanced in light and knowledge, that even if nothing of all this should be now done, the question must at no distant period come under the consideration of parliament. They had the powerful admission of his hon. friend opposite (Mr. Wilberforce) who, for the first time this night, bad taken a part in the debate, and whose opinion was the more valuable from its conscientiousness and the deliberation upon which it had been perhaps not fearlessly formed, that to Catholics the doors of that House should be opened. Was he not, therefore, entitled to say that the friends of Catholic concession had that night reaped the fruits of the long and frequent discussions which the subject had undergone; and that the question stood in a more favourable point of view than could have been anticipated a fortnight ago by the 1248 most sanguine imagination. The only effective opposition to the vote was made on grounds which, if tenable, would be futile, but which were as futile as they were untenable. This was the objection to the form of proceedings. If the right hon. gentleman had brought forward his Bill in the first instance, they would have turned round on him, and told him as Mr. Mitford had been told by the Speaker in 1791, when he introduced his Bill, that it was necessary that it should first be submitted to a committee. But it was said, that the right honourable gentleman ought to have been more full and explicit in his resolution. He approved of the present mode. Why, in the first instance, was he bound to throw out every possible suggestion in order to give footing to every possible objection, when there would be so many future opportunities of taking these points into consideration? Besides, even if the right hon. gentleman meant to play false with the House, (which could not for a moment be suspected), it was impossible that he could pass a measure though the House without the imposition of sufficient guards by those who would be jealous of such a proceeding. It was rather hard that he should be accused of not bringing forward his restrictions first: this would be to begin by driving the broad end of the wedge. His plan was not without precedent; in 1793, the preamble set forth a general sweeping repeal, and then the restrictions followed. Such would be the case now: and, indeed, from the course of parliamentary tactics, he must say that it was necessary that conciliation should be expressed in the preamble; for if the restrictions were first voted, it might be feared that the conciliatory clauses would never follow. He thought it was wise not to detail the plan now, but rather leave it to the wisdom of the House to engraft such restrictions as might seem good and expedient. As to the measure of a select committee, he had no particular objection to it, but thought it ought not to be pressed in the present branch of the proceeding, as he could not consent to adopt it in lieu of the proposed resolution, to which he gave his hearty concurrence.
§ The House then divided,
|For the Resolution||186|