§ Mr. Canning
rose and said:*
Sir; if I could flatter myself with the expectation of conveying to the minds of those who hear me, the same conscientious conviction that is impressed upon my own, of the justice and expediency of the measure which I am about to recommend to the consideration of the House, I should approach this question with a feeling of confidence such as I have never before experienced is I now approach it with feelings of a mixed nature; with much of hope, indeed, but with much of trepidation and anxiety, it is because, if my motion should unhappily fail of success, (I trust it will not fail) I have no refuge in the doubtfulness of my case, none in the paucity of arguments to be adduced in support of it, from the painful but unavoidable conclusion, that a cause unquestionably just will have been lost by the inability of its advocate.
Before I proceed to state the grounds on which I shall call on the House for the removal of the disabilities under which Roman Catholic peers labour with respect to their undoubted right of sitting and voting in parliament, it may be expedient to get rid of some particular and preliminary objections, which have been made, rather to the manner and form than to the principle of the proposition which I am bringing forward; some within the walls of* From the original edition, printed for J. Murray, Albemarle street.212 this House, others in conversation out, of doors.
The first objection which I shall notice, is one which was originally started by the hon. member for Bristol (Mr. Bright) and has been just now repeated by the hon. member for Somersetshire, that this motion for the admission or rather the restoration of the Roman Catholic peers to parliament, is an insidious attempt to obtain a partial decision on the whole of what is called the Catholic question. In contradiction to this objection comes another, which asserts, that the separation of one class of the Catholic community from the rest, must necessarily prejudice the whole. I might in fairness set these contradictory objections face to face, and leave the one to balance the other; but I will offer a word or two on each. If my measure be a step to advance the general question, it cannot prejudice that question; if it be, on the other hand, an obstacle to the success of the general question, then surely it must be hailed with delight by those who wish that question to be lost.
In one sense, I admit, the proposed measure would be of advantage to the general question; in as much as the gain of any one of the several parts of which that question consists, would be a deduction from the amount of the difficulties to be overcome in carrying the whole. There is another and a more general sense, in which the mere introduction of the present measure may be an advantage to the general question; I mean from the discussion which it will occasion. In all cases, founded in truth and in justice, frequent discussion is of itself an advancement; and those who would find fault with me on that principle, tacitly admit that their view of the subject will not bear the test of discussion. But it would not be enough for their purpose to suppress discussion alone. Unless they can check the course of thought and arrest the flight of time, every hour must brings us nearer and nearer to that establishment of truth upon which ultimate success depends. In any other sense, I deny that the present question can be considered objectionable, on the plea of taking an unfair advantage: and it has one great recommendation peculiar to itself, that it places the matter of dispute on a basis accurately circumscribed, relieving it from many complicated considerations, in which the more general question is necessarily involved. Hitherto 213 it has been objected to the advocates of the Catholic question, that they did not confine themselves to law and fact;—thst they assumed data, and wandered into generalities; soared to the highest regions of abstract principle, and ranged in the widest fields of remote analogy; but that they did not respect the limitations of statutes and the landmarks of the constitution. I trust that in what I am now about to submit to the House I shall be able to change place with my antagonists; to meet them on the very ground which they pride themselves upon choosing—the ground of fact and law; and, without undervaluing the general topics which belong to the general question, to adhere strictly to the matter of the notice which I have given; and to address myself no further to that general question, than the discussion of principles which belong to it as a whole, must, in the consideration of one of its parts, render necessary and unavoidable.
The other objection comes, I presume, from friends of the general question, who are so high-minded as to be indifferent to any progress towards success, unless the whole question can at once be carried; not because they think that this partial concession will confer valueless privileges, but that it will strip the general cause of many topics of declamation. Much as I am disposed to admit the efficacy of discussion, I confess myself not one of those who, to enrich future debates, would deprive myself of present practical advantage. If there be any force in such an objection, why not go back to the time when the penal code, with all its oppressive and odious inflictions, was in full, unmitigated operation;—when even the most jejune statements must have been powerfully eloquent, from the mere strength of the facts, the very amount of the sufferings which they had to detail? How must such objectors lament the removal of so many disabilities, under which the Roman Catholic has long ceased to groan! How must they regret, that from an early period of the late reign up the present time so many of the most galling fetters have been gradually taken off, and leave little more than the mark of them visible! How must they regret the act of 1778, which restored to the Roman Catholics the right of property; the act of 1791, which removed many vexatious disabilities, with respect to the exercise of religion, to professions, to 214 civil, and in several important instances, political rights! How must they deplore the act of 1793, which gave to the Irish Roman Catholics—in many instances advisedly, distinctly, specifically—in all more remotely, and by sure implication—political power and consequence, in giving them the elective franchise! How must their sorrow have been increased by the measure which, five years ago, silently opened the army and navy to Catholic enterprize, bravery, and ambition! I suppose, Sir, all these boons are to be lamented; because if still withholden, they would have formed the ground-work of a most impressive speech, the topics of which are now comparatively reduced! I need not say how differently I view this matter, and how unwise I consider the opinion, that the advantage of better grounds of complaint would have been cheaply purchased at the expense of continued privations.
But another objection is coupled with the last, which entitles it to further consideration. It is suggested, that the noble persons interested in the present measure have some disinclination to the introduction of it, because it does not include all those who are connected with them by the same religion. I give those noble individuals credit for the most liberal feelings on this subject; but I will add, that I have never appeared in this House as the sworn advocate of the Roman Catholics (I may have used the word advocate, but. if so, it was in its common and popular sense—not as implying any special commission from them—or consultation with them); I have never pleaded for them, except on public principles—on principles of state policy, and of national benefit. I seek not their thanks or their praise; nor can I ask their opinions on a parliamentary measure of relief; and least of all the opinions of those among them who have the most peculiar interest in such a measure. Such would be my answer, if I had reason to believe the suggestion to which I have referred, to be correct: but I am relieved from any embarrassment on this point, by a communication which I have: this day received from the individual of the highest rank in the Catholie—indeed in the British—peerage which I have permission to read to the House. I will not abuse that permission by reading the whole letter: it is sufficient to say, that after alluding to the reports which have been circulated as to the objections said to exist 215 in the minds of some of the Roman Catholic lords, the letter concludes with these words, "I am to assure you, on their authority, that there is no foundation whatever for such report." I will not add any thing to this declaration except only to repeat to a larger audience what I have before said in this House, and often in private—that as I did not think it any part of my public duty to consult the opinion of the parties interested in this motion, so I declare, upon my honour, that the proposition which I shall have the honour to move, has not been suggested to me directly or indirectly by them, or by any person connected with them. The responsibility is entirely my own; and if I call upon parliament to legislate in the case of a few individuals, I do so as little from any individual instigation as if that legislation were to embrace the whole Roman Catholic community, or the whole community of England.
Another objection which I have somewhere heard is, that there is something peculiarly improper in originating in the House of Commons, a meaure which concerns exclusively the rights and privileges of the House of Peers. This is an objection, the validity of which must he mainly deckled by precedent; and if I look to precedent, I find that the very act, the operation of which I now propose to correct, originated in the House of Commons. The disqualification which it created, was peculiar to the Peers. It imposed, indeed, on both Houses of parliament the declaration against transubstantiation and so forth, which we still take, at our respective tables, in this House and in the House of Lords:—but up to the passing of the act of the 30th of Charles 2nd, the relative situation in which the Roman Catholic Peers stood with respect to Roman Catholic commoners was this; the commoners were already required to take the oath of supremacy; the peers were not. The Roman Catholic commoners, therefore, were disabled from sitting in parliament, so far as the oath of supremacy disqualified—the Roman Catholic peers held their seats unquestioned. Although it be true, therefore, that the act legislated in apparently equal terms with respect to both, it in effect only confirmed a disability under which commoners before laboured, but created for the peers dine to which they had not been subjected before: If that act; then, originated with the House of 216 Commons, in the name of common sense, what reason can there be for supposing, that as the Commons originated the disability, they may not also originate the relief?
But why need I confine myself to this, particular act? The act of the 5th Elizabeth originated with the House of Commons. The act for disqualifying the bishops originated with this House in 1641. an evil time, undoubtedly—an evil example, therefore, if it stood alone; but peculiarly applicable to the present argument, since twenty years afterwards the Commons repaired the outrage inflicted through that act, by originating the act of the 13th Charles 2nd, by which the bishops were restored to their scats in parliament. When I have such precedents before me, what need have I to go farther? or how can it be maintained for an instant, that there is any thing disrespectful to the other House of Parliament in originating a measure in which their privileges are concerned? much less that it is disrespectful that the same House which created the grievance, should in an hour of late but proper penitence, suggest the relief?
This last objection reminds me of another which may appear to be countenanced by the speech of the hon. member fortSomersetshire—a speech so flattering to myself, that I am bound to acknowledge it with thankfulness, at the same time that I venture to dispute the inference to which it might seem to lead. I have been told that I am guilty of inconsistency in introducing a principle of reform in the House of Lords, while I persevere in opposing a reform in the House of Commons. This being merely an argumentum ad hominem, I may not pehaps be justified in taking up the time of the House to refute it: but as it has been at all times deemed excusable if not important, that the proposer of any measure should endeavour to stand well as to his motives before those to whom he proposes it, I will say a few words on this subject. It often happens very provokingly, that the point on which a man piques himself most, is that which is selected for a charge against him. Now, I really do flatter myself, that instead of being liable to this charge of inconsistency in bringing forward the present motion, I can show it to be perfectly consistent with every principle on which I have resisted parliamentary reform. In resisting parliamentary 217 reform, I have always contended, that it behoves the proposer of such a measure distinctly to define his meaning: whether he aims at constructing the House of Commons anew?—or at restoring it to a particular state or condition in which it was at some former period? If the former, I require the nature of the meditated change and its principle and extent to be fully described. If the latter, I ask at what time the House of Commons was precisely such as the reformers wish to make it?—These I hold to be necessary tests of any measure of reform: and by these tests am I willing to have my own proposition tried.—To the first question I answer, that my object is not to reconstruct the House of Lords, but to bring it back to a state in which it formerly existed; and if desired to point out the period at which it did exist in the state to which I wish to restore it, I point to the period which terminated on the 30th Nov. 1678; on which day the royal assent was given to the act, by which Roman Catholic peers were excluded from the House of Lords. Up to that day, by immemorial custom, peers had held their seats in parliament unquestioned, and without disqualification on account of religious opinions; and in the 5th Elizabeth,* that right was recognized by special statute, The principle of my measure, therefore, is not innovation, but restoration: and if further questioned as to the extent to which this restoration would go, I reply—to the immediate admission of six English Catholic peers; and by possibility, at some future time, to the admission of about the same n tuber of Irish.
I have thus put my proposition to the tests to which I am in the habit of requiring that every measure of reform should be submitted: and I trust that I have vindicated myself from the imputed inconsistency of supporting a reform in one House, whilst I oppose it in another. I have shown, that my reform has all those* 5th Eliz. ch. 1. sect. 17. "Provided alway, That forasmuch as the queen's majesty is otherwise sufficiently assured of the faith and loyalty of the temporal lords of her high court of parliament; therefore this act, nor any thing therein contained, shall not extend to compel ally temporal person, of or above the degree of a baron of this realm, to take or pronounce the oath aforesaid (of supremacy), nor to incur any penalty limited by this act, for not taking or refusing the same; any thing in this act to the contrary in any wise notwithstanding.218 characters, without which none can be safe or ought to be tolerated: that it is something precise and intelligible; which brings the constitution back to a state in which it had before existed; and of which the operation is certain, and the consequences limited and defined. But I will go farther: I will show, not only that my measure is not innovation but restoration—but that it is a restoration founded upon principles of the strictest justice. I will show, that it restores rights, the suspension of which arose from causes that no longer exist, and was justified on pretences which were never true.
Having, I trust, cleared away all preliminary objections, I proceed now to the substance of my motion. The history of our legislation as affecting the Roman Catholics, may be divided into three periods;—the first, dating from the Reformation, or to be more precise, from the beginning of the reign of Elizabeth, to the restoration of Charles 2nd; the second, from the reign of Charles 2nd to the Revolution; and the third, from the Revolution to the reign of his late majesty, the auspicious æra of the relaxation of the penal code. This division, unequal in point of time, is dictated by the difference of the principles of legislation which distinguish these several periods. The precautions, and in the latter part of her reign, the severities of Elizabeth were caused, if not justified, by the disquietude of one religion not altogether put down, and the instability of another not wholly established; and by those frequent plots against her crown and her life, which were instigated by the influence of foreign politics, and connected an opposition to her belief with a refusal of allegiance to her authority. The security of Elizabeth's throne was identified with the establishment of the reformed religion.—In the third period (passing the second for the present), the period from the Revolution to the time when legislation against the Roman Catholics ceased—the causes which operated against them, were a deposed and exiled monarch who was of the same religious belief, a new dynasty, and a disputed succession. Politics were here again blended with religion and the one was considered as a sort of test of the other. In such a state of things, it was natural that William 3rd and his advisers, not only should not do away any of the laws which they found already enacted against the Roman Catholics; that they 219 should rather adopt and strengthen them with additions calculated to discountenance the religion of the exiled monarch, to discourage the acquisition of property by those who with that property might assist his rival, and to disarm those hands which were likely to be lifted against the new establishment. To render his Roman Catholic subjects feeble and powerless, was to deprive his rival and his foreign enemies of the means of disturbing the tranquillity of his kingdom: and the measures which king William pursued for this purpose must be considered not only as measures of internal regulation but of foreign policy and war. The revocation of the edict of Nantes, some years before, had contributed not a little to the exasperation of religious animosities: and it can hardly be doubted, that something like the same policy suggested the expediency of endeavouring to drive the Catholics of England (though by a less open and violent process) to expatriation.
I state these considerations, without either condemning or justifying them: without condemning, because much allowance must be made for the political exigency of the times;—without justifying because it would indeed be painful to justify, in cold blood, the harsh and terrible enactments of irritation, jealousy and fear. In Ireland, especially, where so much greater a proportion of the people was hostile to the government, and favoured the cause of the dethroned king, the system towards the Catholics was one of unmixed oppression. The endeavour there was, to grind the people to the dust to loosen the holds of family and kindred, to reduce society to barbarism, and to erect a garrison of Protestants amidst a nation of Catholic slaves. But was this attempted in mere wantonness or caprice? No: but because the Protestant religion in Ireland was less settled; and because the opposition to it, was almost in every instance in that day, connected with the support of a competitor for the Crown.
In both those periods, therefore—that of Elizabeth and of the Revolution—the cause of the Protestant religion was also the cause of the throne; and the enactment of penal statutes against Roman Catholics was dictated more by policy than by faith. The intervening period comprizes the reign of Charles 2nd, to which I shall now come, and with, which alone we are for this night's question concerned. The measures against the 220 Roman Catholics, passed in that reign, not only constitute the object of our consideration on this occasion, but they are' almost the only remains of legislative enactments against the Roman Catholics, which survive at the present day. For in the merciful reign of our late sovereign George 3rd, almost the whole of the penal laws of the two periods to which I have already referred, were repealed. The 5th Eliz. (which was confirmed by the 30th Charles 2nd), and the 13th; Eliz., prohibiting all communication with the see of Rome (which, though technically still in force, has long fallen into disuse), are, I believe, nearly all that remain of the penal and restrictive statutes of Elizabeth: and a statute of queen Anne, which transfers to the two universities advowsons of livings possessed by Roman Catholics, is, I believe, the only material remnant of the penal and restrictive code enacted since the Revolution. There were till lately other acts in force, prescribing certain oaths which excluded Catholics from the army and navy; but that exclusion was practically done away; by an act of 1817. I say, I believe this to be as I state it—because I will not venture positively to affirm so general a proposition. That in some corner of an obscure statute, there may not still lurk some penal or restrictive clause, which has not been swept away, I cannot undertake to aver; but, speaking generally, I believe I may say, that the whole of the penal enactments which remain in force against the Roman Catholics, will be found within the period of the reign of Charles 2nd.
In narrowing the compass of the debate within these limits, we get rid of abundance of matter which has encumbered the principle of the general Catholic question, and distracted our debates in former sessions. The Anti-catholic legislation of Charles 2nd, may be discussed on its own grounds. It holds to the period which preceded it, principally by the very statute which is the occasion of my motion—by which statute the 5th Eliz. was confirmed and extended and to the period which followed it, by the continuance or re-enactment of this statute* (with other acts of Charles,2nd), after the Revolution.
* The Oath of Supremacy, mentioned in the act of Charles 2nd, was remodelled by the act of the 1st of William and Mary; the declaration remained unchanged.221 In entering upon the transactions of the reign of Charles 2nd, I am aware that I enter upon the most debateable ground of our history. The account of it given by writers on different sides, are extremely partial; but I shall endeavour to state the facts necessary to my argument, without adopting the extravagancies of either party. I think I may safely assert, then, that Charles though not avowedly, was secretly a Catholic; that his brother was avowedly of that religion; that the latter, if not the former, was justly suspected of designing to re-establish that religion, and to subvert the constitution of the kingdom; and that in consequence parliament looked with very great jealousy to the prospect of the duke of York's succession to the throne; that in effect the predominant feeling of the parliament of that day was dread of a Popish successor. If that point be kept steadily in view, it will throw light upon much that would be otherwise obscure, and make clear much that would otherwise seem complicated and difficult; it will divest some of the measures of that parliament of the stain of excessive rigour—and some of the principle actors in them of the appearance of an inconsistency not otherwise to be explained.
That the great object which the House of Commons had in view, was the debarring the duke of York from the succession, is plainly evinced by their repeated remonstrances, and by the many indications of ill-will towards the duke of York personally, which preceded the direct attempt at his exclusion. In stating these facts, I do not mean to impute blame, but simply to show the object of the House of Commons. Their proceedings were steadily directed to their object. The Test act (the 25th Charles 2nd), though introduced ostensibly for the purpose of affecting all officers, civil and military, dissenters from the established church—was evidently aimed at the duke of York: and it had immediately the effect intended by its promoters; for as soon as it was passed, the duke laid down his office of lord high admiral of England. The address to the Crown against the duke of York's marriage with a Catholic, and the address to remove the duke of York from the king's presence and councils, which was first agitated while the act of the 30th Charles 2nd was pending in the House of Lords, were of the same character. To crown all, the act of the 30th Charles 222 2nd itself, the immediate object of this night's discussion, while its avowed object was to exclude from both Houses of parliament, peers or commoners who refused to take the Oath of Supremacy and to subscribe the declaration therein contained, was manifestly pointed against the duke of York; whom, if it had been passed into a law as sent up from the House of Commons, it would have reduced to utter insignificance In the House of Lords, the duke of York, not without some difficulty, succeeded in procuring an exemption in his favour. When the bill was sent back to the Commons, this exemption was adopted there by a majority of only two. And then, and not till then, it was, that the House of Commons, finding the duke protected from the operation of this act, resorted to the more direct measure of an Exclusion bill. Removed from office by the Test act, and from the king's presence and councils by address—if they could also have removed the duke of York from parliament, their work was done:—and done, as the soberer part of his opponents would have wished, without a measure of so strong and questionable a character as a breach in the legitimate succession to the throne. That the king was perfectly aware of the object of the Commons, is plain from several of his messages and speeches; but more particularly from a speech which he made to both Houses of parliament, while the act of the 30th was pending in the House of Lords, in which speech he promises to agree to any "reasonable bills," to "make them safe in the reign of his successor; so as they tend not to impeach the right of succession." Rapin, an historian not disposed to throw a deeper shade on the acts of the House of Commons than truth requires, plainly intimates that through the whole of these proceedings, the desire to exclude the duke of York, fronts the Crown was all along the governing motive of the Commons—that they attacked him step by step; and that' when all the smaller measures failed, or were evaded, then they resorted to an Exclusion bill, as the ultimate and effectual remedy.**"The Commons not satisfied, with these slight precautions, prepare a bill to prevent the danger from so many Papists sitting in parliament, and particularly in the House of Lords. But this was only a preparative for223 What reference do I draw from this series of transactions?—that the parliament of that day were wrong?—that the succession of the duke of York ought not to have been guarded against as dangerous?—No. But simply that this was the real and undoubted danger against which the parliament were anxious to provide, and that the penal enactments of that day rested on the ground of this great state necessity. But if such was the ground of enacting, what is now the ground for continuing those penalties? Where is now the Popish successor to the throne? Where is now the danger of Popish ascendency within these realms? and if there be none in existence, are we justified in retaining the same penal measures as our ancestors framed in peril and necessity—now, when all the peril is passed, and when the necessity exists no longer?
In reviewing these events, I do not mean to enter into a disquisition how far a great and legitimate political object does morally justify a sacrifice of the rights of innocent individuals; neither do I mean here to affirm or to deny the guilt or innocence of the parties affected by the measures which I have described. I might without prejudicing my argument, assume either supposition: I might concede or might contend, either that the necessity of getting rid of the duke of York's succession did or that, it did not, justify the expulsion of the Catholic peerage from parliament. The question in either case alike recurs—shall we, who have not the same motive or excuse of danger, wantonly and vexatiously continue the same remedy? and when called upon to remit the penalty of an exclusion now no longer maintainable on the grounds on which it was enacted, shall we convert a measure of temporary precaution into one of permanent privation and punishment?
My first argument, therefore, forgetting rid of the consequences of the act of the 30th of Charles 2nd, by which peers pro-the more easy prevention of the danger with which religion was threatened, from the hopes conceived by the Papists of seeing the duke of York on the throne after his brother, who neither had, nor expected to have, any legitimate issue. This danger caused several members of the Commons to form the project of a bill for excluding the duke of York from the succession to the Crown: but this was done by degrees."—RAPIN, Vol. 2. (folio) p. 692.224 fessing the Roman Catholic religion were first excluded from their seats in the House of Lords is, that the main object of that act was not the one which in fact was effected by it; that the intent of those who framed that act, was to exclude the duke of York, the popish heir presumptive to the throne; that though the provisions of it were made general, its real aim was particular—that the Roman Catholic peer, were comprehended in that aim only because it was suspected that they might be abettors of the duke of York's politics, and instruments of his designs. A careful perusal of the history of those times will satisfy any candid mind, that the pervading principle of all the proceedings of the Commons, was the exclusion of the duke of York; and that this and other acts were but so many different ways of compassing that object.
I come next to enquire into the particular circumstances under which this act of the 30th of Charles 2nd was passed. In the midst of the jealousies and apprehensions of the Commons, and while the project of excluding the popish heir presumptive was working in their minds; in the hottest ferment of political controversy, came to the aid of the exclusionists, the memorable popish plot; a plot, which I will not (amidst conflicting testimonies) venture to affirm to have been pure invention and unmixed falsehood—but upon which the concurrent opinions of history and posterity have stamped the characters of perjury and fraud. The season, as Mr. Hume welt observes, "was peculiarly fit for seizing on the fears and apprehensions of a people jealous to an extraordinary degree, and alive to every suspicion. The cry of 'a plot!' all on a sudden struck their ears and they, like men affirighted and in the dark, took every figure for a spectre. The terror of each man became the source of terror to another; and an universal panic being diffused, reason and argument, and common sense and common humanity, lost all influence over them."
We are in the habit of referring, and often justly, to the wise and firm manner in which our ancestors asserted and maintained their liberties, and. secured the transmission of theta their posterity. But it is mat easy to look at the proceedings of the parliament in 1678, without expressing a doubt whether that, be a period which an historian would be disposed to select, as exhibiting in the most favour- 225 able light that eminent firmness and wisdom. The parliament met on the 21st of October. The king's speech made only a slight allusion to the popish plot. The Commons either felt or affected a great solicitude for further information; they sat day after day, and all day long, engaged in the examination of Titus Oates and other witnesses; and in the interval of these examinations, and while they had a select committee employed in searching for barrels of gunpowder under the House (which it is needless to say were not found), they passed the act which is the subject of our discussion, and which, or rather the re-enacted remnant of which (for two-thirds of it are obsolete) is now the chief bulwark of the British constitution. Exactly on the seventh day after their meeting, they sent their bill up to the House of Lords for their approbation. It went up, however, not unharbingered. Some days before the bill passed the Commons, warrants were issued by order of that House, for the arrest of five out of about eighteen Catholic peers who then sat in the House of Lords.
The Commons may have deliberated with becoming gravity and temper; they may have framed their bill with extraordinary wisdom—(the grammar of it is indeed in some parts a little hurried, but not more than I suppose was thought to comport with the urgency of the occasion)—they may have had abundant reason for not delaying the course of just precaution which they thought the emergency required: but in what temper of mind must the Lords have proceeded, when they saw five of their own body swept away—torn from their scats and committed to prison—as a preliminary to the first reading of the bill?
It was in this state, however, of calm and fearless preparation, that the House of Lords was called upon to enact the 30th of Charles 2nd. Their progress in the bill was watched by the Commons with a jealousy which in these days would, I think, be considered as hardly compatible with the mutual independence of the two Houses of Parliament. Did the Lords presume to defer the consideration of the bill from one day to another?—they were goaded with messages from the Commons, reminding them that such a bill was on their table. Assailed by all the horrors and absurdities of the plot, and with Titus Oates thundering at their doors, they at length passed the bill; but, moved by the 226 tears and protestations of the duke of York, they inserted into it the exemption in his favour, and so returned it to the House of Commons. The bill so returned, did, as has been said, greatly disappoint the Commons, who saw their main purpose defeated, by the exemption of the duke of York from its operation. It was, however, sufficiently comprehensive to exclude the whole of the Catholic peers from their seats in parliament: and that exclusion so enacted, as I have described, continues unto the present hour.
In truth, I am strongly persuaded, that the framers of the bill themselves did not intend to inflict a permanent disability. They had in view a specific purpose, the exclusion of the duke of York; which, they thought, the alarms and agitation then prevailing would help them to achieve. But what reason is there to believe that—that purpose once achieved—they would have altered the frame of the constitution of parliament such as it had subsisted immemorially; such as it had been confirmed by statute for the last 115 years?—The king himself was plainly of opinion that the act was intended only to be temporary; for in passing it, he expressly says that he consents to it, because it is thought fitting at this time.
Again I aver, that the more the transactions of that time are studied, the clearer it will appear, that if the duke of York had not been a papist, the Catholic peers would not have been disturbed in their seats. What then is the condition of the Catholic peers of the present day?—A measure which there is every reason for believing that our ancestors devised as a precautionary security against an existing and defined danger, will, if not permitted by our vote this night to be re-considered, be permanently fixed upon these peers and their successors for ever, without the smallest imputation of crime, or the shadow of present justification. That we may truly estimate the amount of the wrong thus inflicted, let us consider what was the species of right which was affected by the 30th of Charles 2nd.
Attempts had been made in former years, but with quite different objects, to impose oaths and declarations upon the House of Lords, annexing to neglect or refusal the penalty of forfeiture of the right of sitting and voting in parliament. These attempts had uniformly been resisted—not by Roman Catholic peers only, but by the body of the House. 227 Protests were formally entered upon the Journals of the House of Lords, declaring the privilege of peerage to be an honor enjoyed by birthright, and "of so inherent a quality, as that nothing could take it away but what by the law of the land could withal take away their lives and liberties." Nay, only three years previously to the passing of the act of 1678, namely, in the year 1675, in the course of the debates on the bill called the bishop's test bill (which did not pass into a law), a standing order of the House of Lords was passed unanimously to the following effect:—"Ordered, by the lords spiritual and temporal in parliament assembled, That no oath shall be imposed by any bill or otherwise, upon the peers, with a penalty, in case of refusal, to lose their places or votes in parliament, or liberty of debates therein." And this order now remains unrepealed among the standing orders of the House of Lords.
How happens it, I ask, that this standing order, framed and entered on the Journals three years before the act of 1678, should have been suffered to remain, if the expulsion of the Catholic peers were intended to be perpetual?—I do not mean to set up a standing order of one branch of the legislature in competition with the law of the land; or to deny, that if the one contained any thing incompatible with the provisions of the other, the statute must be obeyed, and the standing order disregarded: but from the circumstance of the latter being suffered to remain on the Journals, is to be inferred one of two things:—either that the Lords were at the moment in the possession and exercise of their calm deliberative functions, and intending the expulsion of the peers to be but temporary, did not revoke the standing order;—or, that in the enforced haste and trepidation of their proceedings, they had not presence of mind to pause at the order which they had only three years before unanimously sanctioned. The more probable inference seems to be, that acting under the menaces of the Commons, and under the hazard (if they should refuse their assent to the measure then demanded) of being involved in the charge of conspiracy to murder the king and subvert the constitution, their sober and deliberate judgment was, in a great degree, overpowered by the sense of immediate danger; but that they did yet look forward to a time when, after the passing of the storm, they 228 might recur to the principles of their, standing order. That order was therefore suffered to remain unnoticed (for to bring it into notice would have been, in the heat of the time, to ensure its repeal—and yet surely it was too recent to be forgotten), a dormant but solemn recognition of those privileges of the peerage which were suspended, not annihilated, by the act of parliament. There is no other rational way of reconciling so apparent a contradiction. When a bill is passed for suspending the operation of the Habeas Corpus act, the Habeas Corpus act remains upon the Statute book unrepealed; to break out again with unchanged lustre, when the veil of the suspension is removed. In like manner this standing order was probably considered as retaining its force, while it retained its situation; though overlaid for a time by the oppression of the occasional statute.
This construction derives considerable force from the terms of the statute itself; great part of which is, in its very nature, temporary, and the whole so loose and inaccurate, as to form a specimen of legislative skill utterly unworthy to be (as some are of opinion it ought to be) considered as fundamental to the constitution. For example, the preamble declares, that "divers good laws had been made for preventing the increase and danger of popery; which have not had the desired effect, by reason of the free access which popish recusants have had to his majesty's court, and by reason of the liberty which, of late, some of the recusants have had and taken to sit and vote in parliament." Now, here are two distinct grievances alleged, for which the act provides two different remedies: for the access to his majesty's court, the obvious remedy of forbidding the resort of Papists to court; for the danger arising from sitting and voting in parliament, that of their removal from the two Houses. But it is to be observed, that the two grievances are not only distinct in themselves, but apply quite plainly to different classes of persons. The latter part of the preamble—that which relates to sitting and voting in parliament—is absolute nonsense, if applied to the peers; for it was not only "of late" that peers of whatever religion, had had the privilege of sitting in parliament; peers had never lost it; up to that period, they sat in the House of lords as a matter of right, not affected by the oath of supremacy imposed by the 5th of Queen 229 Elizabeth on the House of Commons, but, as I have already said, exempted by a special clause, from the operation of that oath. In the House of Commons indeed, some Catholics had contrived, by evasions of one kind or another, to regain seats; and there had lately been two or three expulsions of members detected to be popish recusants. One species of popish recusancy was the refusal to take the oath of supremacy. The declaration in the preamble could therefore apply only to the commons; yet the exclusion which this act effected comprehended both; and, for a reason which affected only the commons, excluded the lords from their seats in their own House of parliament. Upon the face of the statute itself here is a flagrant and manifest injustice, here is an inconsequence so obvious, that nothing but the heat and terror of the times could have enabled it to pass. Whereas Catholics have "of late" found their way into the House of Commons, in spite of the provisions of the act of Elizabeth; be it enacted—what? That Roman Catholic peers—whom the 5th of Elizabeth did not touch, who were never for a moment out of parliament, and who, therefore, cannot in common sense be said to have "had and used of late," that which they have "had and used" from time immemorial without let or interruption, shall lose their seats in the House of Lords. Is this the sort of syllogism by which rights ought to be taken away?
The other grievance stated in the preamble—the access to the king's court, does apply to the peers, and to them, with more peculiar force than to the commons; as a peer in his character of an hereditary counsellor of the Crown, had the means of more easy and frequent access. The peers, therefore, were logically (if not justly) banished from the court. But mark the singularity of the fate attending this enactment; and observe how it countenances the construction, that the whole act was of a temporary nature. This liability of a Catholic peer to be prosecuted for coming into his majesty's presence, or into the court where the king resided, is removed. It is the only penalty on the peer which the preamble of the statute which we are examining, reasonably infers; and this penalty is removed! It has been removed by the act of 1791, commonly called Mr. Mitford (now lord Redesdale's) act. The Ca- 230 tholic peer is again admissible to the presence of his sovereign, is again acknowledged an hereditary counsellor of the Crown. Here then is one of the deprivations which the act of Charles 2nd inflicted upon Catholic peers, done away; and that deprivation, the only one for which the statute assigned a reason: while that for which (as I have shewn) the statute assigned no reason in their case,—exclusion from parliament—is maintained.
And in what manner has this relief been given? And what is the state in which Catholic peers are now placed by the double operation of the old and the new law? The act of 1791 relieved Roman Catholic peers from that part of the oath of supremacy which Catholics cannot take consistently with their spiritual scruples. In the oath of supremacy it is sworn, "that no foreign prince, person, prelate, state or potentate, bath or ought to have any jurisdiction, power, superiority, pre-eminence, or authority, ecclesiastical or spiritual within this realm." By the act of 1791, the Roman Catholic is to swear that he does not believe that "the pope of Rome, or any other foreign prince, prelate, state or potentate, bath, or ought to have, any temporal or civil jurisdiction, power, superiority or pre-eminence, directly or indirectly, within this realm." After taking this latter oath, the Catholic peer is competent to go into the presence of his sovereign; to tender his advice in the royal closet. But into parliament he cannot go without taking the oath of supremacy in its former shape; and further, without denying transubstantiation, and asserting the invocation of the Virgin Mary and other saints, and the sacrifice of the mass, to be superstitious and idolatrous. Here then is an individual entitled by birthright to the enjoyment of two particular privileges;—the one to tender to his sovereign as one of his hereditary counsellors, such advice as he may think expedient for the affairs of the nation; the other to sit in parliament, and in the face of his peers and of the nation, to defend in his place as a peer the advice which he has given in that character. Let him only deny the "civil and temporal" power of the pope,—and no man can prevent his entering the royal closet;—no man can prevent that access which would enable him, if he were an assassin, to plunge a poi nerd into his sovereign's breast, at an interview 231 so easily and simply acquired;—at any rate he may influence the royal mind without danger, or risk, or personal responsibility: but before he can publicly answer for the bad or good use which he may have made of these opportunities, he must deny the "ecclesiastical and spiritual" authority of the pope, and enter deeply into the disputes about transubstantiation. Was ever absurdity like this?—The Catholic peer may drive directly, to saint James's, and demand admission to the royal presence; the cabalistic words "temporal and civil," dissolve the interdiction of the 5th clause of the act of Charles 2nd; and the closet doors fly open at the sound: but if he turns his horses' heads from the palace towards the parliament House, the charm loses its efficacy; no entrance there except through the words "ecclesiastical and spiritual," followed up with a sworn opinion upon certain controverted points of religious faith and worship.
I really know not which is more decisive against the act of Charles 2nd, the disability which is continued, or that which has been repealed: that which is continued, but was enacted without any statement to justify it; or that which has been repealed, in spite of its more apparent justification. Taken together, this continuance and this repeal constitute an anomaly, not with respect to different classes or different persons, but in the person of each individual peer, such as I imagine, no legislation can parallel.
But this is not all. The repeal of this clause by the act of 1791, is in another point of view highly remarkable. The repeal is in favour of peers by name; and the act of 1791 originated in the House of Commons. What becomes then, I would ask, of the objection, that the House of Commons cannot legislate for the peers alone? and why, if one act of parliament, originating in this House, could relieve peers from disability to enter the king's, court, may snot another act, with the same origin, relieve them from the disability as to parliament? What is there in this case to prevent the like special relief? If it be answered, as I own it may, that the relief given to peers by the act of 1791, was given to them alone, because they alone required it;—there being no members of the House of Commons Roman Catholics;—and "Popish Recusants" being an extinct race in the present day;—I reply that in 232 the grievance which remains to be repealed, the exclusion from parliament—peers, though not the only, are special sufferers:—that the operation of the act of Charles 2nd, was to inflict this Suffering on them alone—on the commons only continuing and enforcing it
But the strange anomalies in the situation of Catholic peers are not yet exhausted. Fertile as was the reign of George 3rd in acts of relief, ameliorating the condition of his Roman Catholic subjects;—it remained for his present majesty at the opening of his auspicious reign, to add a further anomaly to the condition of his Catholic peers, by a distinction the most gracious and benevolent in design, but bringing some mixture of bitterness with enjoyment; a distinction exalting, indeed, the dignity of the Catholic peer, but at the same time sharpening the sting of his recollections. I allude to the coronation. Last year, for the first tithe for upwards of one hundred and thirty years, were catholic peers summoned to attend a coronation:—an august and awful ceremony; not to be viewed as an unmeaning pomp—a mere gorgeous pageant; but as a public ratification, by the sovereign of a free people, of the compact which binds together all the orders of the realm. This solemn political rite was celebrated with all the magnificence becoming a monarch surrounded by his nobles, his prelates, and his counsellors, and by crowds of his loving subjects—receiving their united homage, and pledging himself to their protection and good government in return. It was celebrated in the presence of the representatives of Catholic as well as Protestant Europe: Imagine the ministers of foreign potentates collecting for their respective courts the details of this splendid and affecting consecration. Who is it that overtops the barons as they march?—the Catholic lord Clifford. Who is it that does homage to the throne on behalf of the highest order of the peerage?—the Catholic duke of Norfolk. Whom has the king selected to return thanks to this assemblage of all that is most splendid and most worthy in the realm, in acknowledgment of their libation to his majesty's health?—again, the Catholic duke of Norfolk. Did it occur to the representatives of Europe, when contemplating this animating spectacle—did it occur to the ambassadors of Catholic Austria, of Catholic France, or of states more bigotted in matters of re- 233 ligion, that the moment this ceremony was over the duke of Norfolk would become disseised of the exercise of his privileges among his fellow peers? That his robes of ceremony, were to be laid aside and hung up, until the distant (be it very distant!) day, when the coronation of a successor to his present most gracious sovereign might again call him forth to assist at a similar solemnization?—that, after being thus exhibited to the eyes of the peers and people of England, and to the representatives of the princes and nations of the world, the duke of Norfolk, highest in rank among the peers, the lord Clifford, and others, like him, representing a long line of illustrious ancestry,—as if called forth and furnished for the occasion, like the lustres and banners that flamed and glittered in the scene, were to be, like them, thrown by as useless and trumpery formalities?—That they might bend the knee and kiss the hand—that they might bear the train or rear the canopy—might discharge the offices assigned by Roman pride to their barbarian ancestors—Purpurea tollant aulæa Britanni,but that with the pageantry of the hour, their importance faded away; that as their distinction vanished, their humiliation returned; and that he who headed the procession of peers to day, could not sit among them as their equal on the morrow?
Nor is this the only act of royal beneficence and condescension to the highest order of Catholics, which has marked the reign of his present majesty. In the course of the late royal visit to Ireland, a visit, which I agree with my right hon. friend (Mr. Plunkett) in thinking, was as much a measure of wisdom as of grace, a noble lord of the catholic religion, the earl of Fingall, was, by the favour of his majesty, decorated with the riband of the national order of Ireland. In the preamble of the statutes of that order, we find the qualifications which every man is understood to possess, who is selected for the distinguished honour of being a knight of St. Patrick. It is therein declared, "That it hath been the custom of wise and beneficent princes, in all ages, to distinguish the virtue and loyalty of their subjects by marks of honour, &c. that so their eminent merits may stand acknowledged to the world, and create a virtuous emulation in others to deserve similar distinction." These reasons, no doubt, 234 recommended lord, Fingall for so high a mark of his majesty's favour. Of his qualifications there can be no doubt; but as to the "emulation" which that most gracious favour was to excite, how was that to be exemplified? Did not lord Fingall, when he departed from the court of Dublin to his own estate in the country, find himself in a worse situation, as to the exercise of political rights, than any of the labourers who till the ground around his dwelling? Lord Fingall, a Catholic peer, is not only wholly disqualified from sitting or voting in either House of parliament, but even from voting at the election of a member for either. The tillers of his ground, catholic or protestant, have, probably the very humblest of them, a right of suffrage at the election of a member to represent him in parliament; while lord Fingall and his fellows are not thought fit to be intrusted with the privilege of voting at the election of the representative peers of Ireland! Is this an anomaly which ought to have perpetual existence?
Here I take occasion to say, that if the House allows me to bring in the bill which I mean to propose to their consideration it will be found to include the Irish as well as the English Catholic peers in its operation; and to enable the former to be representative peers, as well as, to vote at the election of them.
I have, as yet, considered the Act of 1678 only in a political point of view; but I should greatly under-rate the objections to which it is liable, if I were not to consider it in its not less striking character as a measure of individual injustice. One cannot look at the period and circumstances of the passing of that act, without seeing that the House of Lords legislated under duresse, and were instigated to pass it by false pretences, let me, at the same time, repeat my former observation, that if all the motives had been real instead of being, at least in part, pretended; if the object had been to extinguish the catholic peerage instead of to exclude the duke of York (the latter, perhaps, a right and necessary measure); if in short the statute had been in all its enactments as manifestly just at the time, as they appear even then doubtful and suspicious;—still the necessity for continuing those enactments having long since passed away, their continuance at the present day would be unjustifiable. Had all the five Catholic 235 Peers who were accused of conspiring the king's death and, the subversion of the government, been tried and proved guilty, (whereas no charge was attempted to be substantiated against them); had lord Stafford, who alone was selected for trial, been as guilty as he is believed to have been innocent;—I should still say, that no grounds had been made out for visiting the whole Catholic peerage with perpetual disabilities; I should still say, that it is revolting to the spirit of British law to make eternal penalties which were enacted for the transactions of times long past—transactions which have no influence, and infer no guilt in the present age. But if the pretences upon which the act was passed were false; if the popish plot (by which the passing of it was so terribly facilitated) was built upon the fabrication of abandoned wretches, committing the most enormous perjury; then I ask with increased confidence, upon what plea is this exclusion to be justified? with what grace can any wan contend for its prolongation? I contend, that to the Catholic peerage, not only in reference to their quality as peers of the land, but to their feelings and their characters as men, we owe an atonement for the wounds which have been inflicted upon their rights and their honour, for the privations with which they have been punished, not only for no crime of their own, but for no crime at all. We owe them relief from those restraints, which, even if they were merited by the original transgressors, would have been too severely entailed upon an unoffending posterity.
I do not impute to the parliament of Charles 2nd, that they did wrong wantonly and wilfully, in the knowledge that the grounds upon which they acted were untrue. In common fairness and candour I believe that parliament to have taken the evidence on which they proceeded, not indeed with any deep and entire conviction of its truth, but with that sort of unexamining credulity, that ready acquiescence, with which men naturally receive a story which falls in with their own prejudices, and forwards their predetermined objects. But it cannot be denied and must net be overlooked, that the act of 1678 was passed under the same delusion, was forced through the House of Lords by the same impulse, as it were, which brought lord Stafford to the block.
The accusation against lord Stafford and the other Catholic peers, was sent up 236 to the house of Lords (as I have already stated) in the first alarm of the plot, and most clearly as the harbinger of the subsequent bill. It would not be candour but folly to doubt, that it was considered by those who sent it up, as the probable means of effecting, through intimidation, the exclusion of the body of which the accused peers formed a part, and of which the duke of York was the chief, from parliament. Those means eventually, so far succeeded, as that the whole of the Catholic peers of the realm, with the exception of the principal intended victim, the duke of York, were so excluded from parliament.
In pursuance of this accusation, lord Stafford was brought to trial, condemned, and beheaded. In about six or seven years after that event, the principal witnesses against him were convicted of perjury; and after that conviction, a bill, reversing lord Stafford's attainder, was brought into the House of Lords and passed there; but coming down to the House of Commons it was rejected, or rather was dropped, for there is no trace on the journals of its rejection. The loss of the bill is attributed, by some historians to the disinclination of the House of Commons to entertain any measure of this nature; while others account for it, and perhaps sufficiently, by the intervention of the duke of Monmouth's landing, which took place on or about the time that had been appointed for the committee on the bill;—"The lords ht passing the bill," says Rapin, "did it rather to oblige the king, than with any view to do justice to lord Stafford. But the Commons did not entertain the same deference for the wishes of James; it was lost in that House, after a second reading, and was never heard of more." True it is, that after that parliament had been dissolved, the bill for the reversal of lord Stafford's attainder was not resumed;—true it is, that Titus Oates, upon whose conviction for perjury, the bill had been brought in, was, after the revolution, pensioned by the government. I cannot, however, admit the non-resumption of the bill, after the revolution, as any proof of lord Stafford's guilt, still less can I admit the pension to Oates as a recognition of Oates s innocence and veracity. This favour to Oates, like many other political measures of equivocal morality, must be et down to the account of those circumstances— 237Res dura, et regni novitas—which a revolution in government naturally and necessarily begets; and to the temper and condition of the times, which precluded too nice an examination of what might be strictly due to a political enemy. I am the rather confirmed in this opinion, when I find a sensible and judicious historian, like Mr. Hume, capable of making this remark on the bill for reversing lord Stafford's attainder: "The bill" (says Mr. Hume) "fixed so deep a reproach on the former proceedings of the exclusionists, that it met with great opposition among the lords; and it was at last, after one reading," (this I take to be incorrect—it was read a second time I think, and the day for the committee was appointed) "dropped by the Commons. Though the reparation of injustice be the second honour which a nation can attain, the present emergence seemed very improper for granting so full a justification to the Catholics, and throwing so foul a stain on the Protestants."—The amount of this opinion of the historian seems to be, that the apology of the House of Commons for not completing an act of justice, was to be found, not in the merits of the case, but in the inexpediency of acknowledging that against the Catholics any injustice had been committed. I will not pause to examine the moral propriety of such a doctrine; but I cannot help asking, have parliament now any similar reasons for refusing to do justice? Is there any inexpediency in an attempt of the parliament of 1822 to gain the "second honour" open to a nation—that of atoning for wrong? Must we now, and for what reason, continue the exclusion of the Catholic peers? Is there now any difficulty in making atonement to their descendants? What are the jealousies now to be consulted? By what "impropriety" as to "the present emergency," is the judgment of the House now to be influenced against adopting measures of equity and expiation? Would such a "reparation of injustice" now put to hazard the safety of that Constitution, to which we owe our national happiness and freedom, and our generally equitable laws?
As the extract which I have read from Hume exhibits that historian in an unamiable light as the defender, upon principles of expediency, of an omission of which he does not palliate the injustice; it may be but fair to compare this cold- 238 blooded sentence, with the terms of generous indignation in which the same writer had previously spoken of the execution of lord Stafford:—"This was the last blood which was shed on account of the Popish plot: an incident which, for the credit of the nation, it were better to bury in eternal oblivion; but which it is necessary to perpetuate, as well to maintain the truth of history, as to warn, if possible, their posterity, and all mankind, never again to fall into so shameful and barbarous a delusion." This is strong language, and as true as it is strong.
What is the language a the House of Lords itself, within seven years after they had concurred in the act of 1678—within five after they had condemned lord Stafford to death? Hear the preamble of the act which they passed for the reversal of his attainder. "Whereas William, late viscount Stafford, was impeached of high treason, for conspiring the death of his late majesty, king Charles the 2nd, of blessed memory, and the subversion of the government, and was arraigned and tried before the peers in parliament for the said high treason, and was found guilty thereof, and condemned and executed And whereas, it is now manifest that the said late viscount Stafford was innocent of the treasons laid to his charge, and that the testimony whereupon he was convicted was false: Be it enacted, &c.
What are the opinions of other more impartial judges on the subject of lord Stafford's condemnation, as they have been delivered at a later period, upon a calm review of the history of those times?—In the year 1791, debates took place, both in the House of Commons and House of Lords, on the question which was then raised, as to the abatement of Mr. Hastings' impeachment. In the discussion of precedents on that occasion, as to the continuation of and impeachment after the dissolution of a parliament, the case of lord Stafford was often cited. In arguing this question, the opinions of two very distinguished men, (I am sure that their names alone will command attention,) the late lords Thurlow and Kenyon, were incidentally given on the proceedings against lord Stafford. Lord Thurlow, undoubtedly, was not a favourer of Catholics; and lord Kenyon certainly has not bequeathed any vehement affection for them to his posterity. Lord Thurlow is recorded to have declared, "that he disdained a precedent which was derived 239 from times, when accusations darkly contrived, and impudently alleged against innocent men, were greedily entertained; when individuals were liable to suffer in their lives and fortunes, not because they had committed crimes against the state, but because they had rendered themselves obnoxious to this or that party in the state." Lord Kenyon's opinion is still more decided and precise; he said "that whatever, while their passions were excited and their feelings were strong, men might have thought at the time of the conviction and sentence of lord Stafford, he firmly believed, that there was no one of them who, when reason had resumed her scat, and sober reflection had dissipated the mists of prejudice would not have thought with him (lord Kenyon), that the execution of lord Stafford was a legal murder." On this part of the subject, therefore, it may be enough for me to place the solemn declaration of the House of Lords, revising their own judgment against lord Stafford; to place the opinions of lord Thurlow and of lord Kenyon—against the character and pension of Titus Oates. In addition to these testimonies, however, important as they are, I confess that I believe, in common (if concurrent histories be true) with all who heard them at the time—the dying protestations of lord Stafford;—and I must believe, according to every principle of law as well as of justice, in the innocence of those other peers, who like lord Stafford were accused, but who were not, like him, put upon their trial.
Now, it is impossible not to see that the fate of Stafford, and the expulsion of the Catholic peers from parliament, were parts of the same system. The same testimony which produced the condemnation of lord Stafford, occasioned also the act of 1678. Lord Stafford might have been guilty, and his fellows in accusation innocent;—they might have been guilty, and yet the rest of the Catholic peerage blameless: the establishment of lord Stafford's criminality therefore, would not of itself justify the statute. It would not necessarily have justified the enactment of it at the time: still less would it now justify its continuance. But trace the chain of reasoning the other way, and the result is irresistibly conclusive. If lord Stafford, who was tried and convicted, was not guilty, much less so were those Catholic peers, who though accused with him were not tried;—much less so those others who though not even accused were nevertheless ex- 240 pelled from parliament. So far therefore as the act of the 30th of Charles II rests on the Popish plot, the foundation of it entirely fails. Technical difficulties or temporary expediency may have prevented the reversal of lord Stafford's attainder: but is there any thing temporary or technical to prevent this House from paying homage to truth, though late, and reversing legislative error?
I have now, Sir, only to recapitulate the grounds upon which I think the parliament of this day ought to annul, with respect to Catholic peers, the operation of the statute to which my motion refers, even if political considerations were wholly set aside, it violated an inherent birthright, not to be taken away, unless for causes that would warrant the taking away property and life itself. It created a disability which if justly because necessarily created under the circumstances of the time, could continue to be just only while the same circumstances should continue, or if others of a similar character should arise in their place. It visited not the criminal himself only, and his supposed but untried accomplices; and his suspected but unaccused fellows in religious faith; but his and their remote and innocent posterity. It did all this upon evidence, the truth of which the parliament which had passed the act, six years afterwards solemnly denied: and the judgment of all impartial men at this day confirms that denial.
With all these considerations, political and moral, in favour of a repeal, of the exclusion of Roman Catholic peers, I am not to be deterred from urging it by being warned of the anomaly which it is pretended would be introduced by it into the constitution. I deny the fact:—not of the anomaly—but I deny that my bill could introduce it. If Catholic peers should sit in parliament while commoners continued to be excluded—such was the state of things for 115 years, from the 5th of Elizabeth to the 30th of Charles II, without, so far as I know, any sensible inconvenience; without affecting the prosperity of the state, or encroaching upon the liberties of the nation, or shaking the stability of the throne. It is not a state of things which I wish; but it is not new, nor is it so monstrous as it is represented. Eligibility and possession are to be argued, one upon the principle of expediency, the other on that of justice. No man can think more sincerely than I do, that we 241 are wrong in refusing to Roman Catholics seats in this House:—but that is a different sort of injury from the one of which I now complain. It is indeed the withholding of an important privilege; but the injury to which the Catholic peer has been subjected, is the deprivation of a right of inheritance.
I am as unwilling as any man can be to give invidious preferences: and while I wish to see the Catholic peers restored to their own House, to sit there,In their own dimensions like themselves.I do not wish (can it be necessary to say that I do not?) to see their fellow Catholics, curtailed of their fair pretensions by a lasting exclusion from the House of Commons. I should despise myself if any feeling of deference to aristocracy, any vulgar homage to rank or station, entered for a particle of motive into my selection of that case of the peers. I select it for its, clearness, its compactness, its tangibility; for its freedom from those complications and qualifications which incumber and perplex the general question of the admission of Catholics into the state. I select it because it lays bare the principle of the argument, and on principle alone must be resisted, if resisted at all.
I select the case of the peers, because as on the one hand the right taken away is more definite and perfect, so on the other the privation inflicted is beyond all proportion more severe. Compare the hardship, the invidiousness of exclusion from one and from the other House of parliament. How many contingencies might operate to prevent the entrance of the Catholic commoner into parliament, supposing his disability on account of religion removed! He might be an officer of the revenue—he might not have the requisite pecuniary qualification—or he might, like hundreds of thousands of his qualified contemporaries, not have the good fortune to be chosen. But he does not like the Catholic peer, bear about him the distinctive mark of his exclusion—the badge of his painful peculiarity. He is not a member of parliament—what of that; millions of his fellow subjects are not so, and no one thinks the worse of them that they are not But the case of the peer is widely different. Who can see the duke of Norfolk, for instance, in the ordinary intercourse of society, without recollecting, without finding the idea instantly and involuntarily suggested to his mind—that 242 there is a nobleman, by birthright the chief of the peerage of the land, who is shut out from the House of parliament to which he belongs? Who can hear his, wide possessions, his proud titles enumerated, without being sensible that their owner is degraded by such an exclusion; and that the coronet which sparkles on his brow, brands rather than distinguishes its illustrious possessor?
The statute of 1678, in taking from the peers a right, inflicted on them a grievous wrong; not merely a technical and political injury—a privation once inflicted and endured, and then to be forgotten;—but a constant living rankling soreness, present every day and every hour to their feelings and recollections;—something that never quits them in public or in private—that haunts their footsteps—that sounds in the very names.
My selection of the peers, then, is justified by the peculiarity of their situation—by the nature of that right which they lost—by the injustice through which they have lost it—and by the inflictions which the statute of exclusion has occasioned them: and so far from making them the objects of premature and partial redress, if the bill for their special relief were to pass now, they would have but tardy justice. They have stood by for nearly, fifty years, while to ether Roman Catholics great relaxations of disabling laws, and many privileges, have been conceded. They have stood by, silent and contented spectators of the benefits conferred on others; and if I now present myself to bring their appeal before parliament, I must repeat, that my interposition is unsolicited by them; though, perhaps, it is not against their wish, it is entirely without their concurrence.
Sir, I have nearly done. The hon. member for Somersetshire, to whom I have already expressed myself obliged for the attention with which he has this evening honoured me, will, I am sure, acknowledge that I have shown my present proposition to be altogether distinct from the general question. This is as much a case by itself, and stands as singly upon its own merits, as any case in Westminster hall, which has no relation to the one that preceded it, or the one that is to follow. Nay, so confident do I feel in the view which I have taken of this case, that if it were possible to bring it before any legal tribunal, which should have the power of revising the proceedings of the 243 legislature, I have no doubt that before such a tribunal the Catholic peers would obtain a verdict. Taking into consideration all the circumstances of the Popish plot—the operation of these circumstances upon the House of Lords when it passed the act of 1678—the evident reluctance with which the act was passed, under instigations and menaces almost amounting to compulsion—the protest still extant on the Journals of that House, by which deprivation of the right of sitting and voting in the House of Peers, is declared to be unknown to the constitution:—and considering also the innocence of those against whom the provisions of this act were levelled, or rather whom, being levelled against another, they involved; I feel no hesitation in affirming, that there is no jury which would not decide, that the expulsion of the Roman Catholic peers had been wrongfully obtained, and that their posterity are entitled to restoration to their place in parliament.
It is hardly necessary again to repeat, that this is a very different proposition from that of rendering the Catholics generally eligible to parliament. But I repeat it, for the purpose of subjoining, that I do not agree with those who think that the re-admission of the Catholic peers would therefore be a measure altogether indifferent to the great body of the Catholics. What!—Is not the whole clergy of the Church of England ennobled by the admission of its prelates into the House of Lords; although there is an express statute, prohibiting any parson from sitting in the Commons' House of Parliament? Is it possible that any great body in the state should not partake of the dignity or degradation attaching to those who are at its head? Does not the meanest Catholic in the kingdom sympathize with the Catholic peers, for the sufferings endured by them in their exclusion; and would not he feel himself elevated by their restoration? No happier illustration perhaps can be found of this principle, than one drawn from the plan devised by an hon. gentleman on the other side of the House (Mr. Ricardo), for the restoration of our depreciated currency—a plan as full of genius as of science. The paper currency of the country was in a state of depreciation. To set it right at once by a corresponding issue of gold was impracticable. It was suggested, to make certain large masses 244 of notes payable with bars of gold. It was objected to this plan, that the poor man's one pound note would thus be even more depreciated in value, by comparison with those which the rich man could carry in aggregated hundreds to the Bank, and get exchanged for bullion. Parliament, however, wisely adopted this plan: and what was the consequence? why that the value of the currency was speedily raised from one end of the country to the other—the one pound note of the poor man, partaking in that rise with its fellows aggregated in the treasures of the rich, although it could not be exchanged for gold. In like manner if parliament should determine to admit the Catholic peers to their seats, although the Catholic peasantry could be little affected, so far as regarded any prospect of their reaching parliamentary honours, yet would they find a measure not useless to themselves, by which the value of the whole Roman Catholic denomination would be immediately raised throughout the kingdom.
This, Sir, is all that I shall permit myself to say on the question relating to the general body of his majesty's Roman Catholic subjects. I say this to obviate prejudice on their parts; but I will add nothing more; for it is not my business on this occasion to plead their cause. And having, I trust, fulfilled my promise, of not diverging into the general question of Catholic disabilities; if I should be met with an assertion, that my motion in fact, is an opening of the whole question, and must be met and argued as the whole;—undoubtedly I shall, as to the course of the argument, be disappointed; but I shall consider my cause as gained.
The questions which I require to be answered are—1st:—Were not Catholic peers first excluded from the House of Lords by the 30th of Charles 2nd, after they had been expressly and anxiously retained there by queen Elizabeth, at the time when she imposed the Oath of Supremacy on the House of Commons?—Not that I think it by any means clear, that Elizabeth imposed that oath, even on the House of Commons, with a decided intention of excluding Roman Catholics from parliament. The oaths at different times administered to Catholics, have been of two sorts: some have been put to them bonâ fide as tests of their allegiance; while others have been framed as tests, not of loyalty, but of Catholicism; the framers of this latter sort of oath assuming 245 Catholicism to be disloyalty. The Oath of Supremacy of Elizabeth was framed, I am inclined to believe, in the hope that Catholics might be brought to take it. Partially perhaps they did: generally speaking, they did not. But when that oath was subsequently imposed on the peers, together with the declaration against transubstantiation, those enactments were clearly and confessedly not intended as tests of allegiance, but were prescribed with a fore-knowledge that the Catholics would not take them;—or rather with a pre-determination that they should be such as Catholics could not take.—2ndly:—Wherefore were the Roman Catholic peers thus expelled from parliament? With the view of excluding the duke of York from the throne? or in consequence of the Popish plot? If with a view to the exclusion of popery from the throne, that object is long ago attained; the throne is unalterably Protestant. If in consequence of the Popish plot, then arise the further questions—Were the five Catholic peers justly or unjustly accused of participation in that plot? If justly, why were they not put upon their trial? One only of them was brought to trial: he, it is true, was condemned; but has not even his innocence been since established?—and even if upon that point there is any scepticism, what is the species of justice which condemns four accused persons upon the trial of one?—and which deduces from four charges and one trial the proscription of thrice the number not only innocent but unaccused,—and not only in their own persons, but throughout all succeeding generations of their posterity.
These, I say, are the questions to which I am entitled to require an answer from those who oppose my motion: and, in the absence of a satisfactory answer to them, I am entitled to say, that while I leave the larger question of Catholic disability or admissibility, to rest on political expediency; what I claim for the Catholic peers, I claim as a matter of right. Against their continued exclusion, I appeal not only from the House of Commons of 1678, to this House which I have now the honour of addressing—not only from former to present times—but from Shaftesbury to Burleigh—from the testimony of Oates to that of queen Elizabeth. Nay, I appeal from our ancestors of that day, to our ancestors themselves; from the House of Lords in 1678 to the same 246 —or nearly the same—body in 1685; from the intoxication of their fears, to the sobriety of their reflection and repentance. I adjure the House not to adopt in conduct, as they certainly would not sanction in words, the implied opinion of Mr. Hume, that perseverance in wrong can, under any circumstances, be preferable to inconvenient (even if in this case it were inconvenient) reparation. And I solemnly declare to the House, that I would not have brought this question, forward, had I not felt assured, that the reparation which I ask on behalf of the Catholic peers, is in the name of policy as expedient, as in the name of humanity it is charitable, and in the name of God, just.—Sir, I move "That leave be given to bring in a Bill to relieve Roman Catholic Peers from the disabilities imposed upon them by the Act of the 30th Charles 2nd, with regard to the right of sitting and voting in the House of Peers."
The Hon. G. A. Ellis
seconded the motion, and said, that after the eloquent and convincing speech of his right hon. friend, it would be bad taste, and indeed presumptuous, in so humble an individual as himself to trespass long on the attention of the House. He was always of opinion that the general measure of removing the Catholic disabilities, was a measure of right and of justice. The part of that question which was then before them had an additional claim to their favour, inasmuch as it related to an exclusion which had its origin in a plot which was supported by perjury, and in the existence of which no one of the present day believed. He hoped the stain would be soon removed from the Statute-book. He recollected a saying of that spirited defender of the Protestant ascendancy, queen Elizabeth, who being advised to administer tests to the Catholics, replied, that she had better means of ascertaining the loyalty of the peers.
§ Mr. Peel
said, that if his right hon. friend knew to the full extent how sincerely he admired his great talents—if he knew the great delight which he uniformly felt and expressed on every occasion where he had the good fortune to have heard his right hon. friend, he would be able to understand the regret with which he rose to answer the eloquent speech with which the House had been that night delighted. With those who did not know him, he feared he should incur the charge of presumption; but with respect to the 247 House in general he felt confident that they would excuse hint for rising to explain the reasons why he could not come to the conclusion which his right hon. friend would wish the House to arrive at. He knew the situation in which he was placed—he was aware of the difficulty of appealing, with any hope of success, to the House, whose feelings were warmed, and whose passions were inflamed by the splendid imagery, the imposing eloquence, of his right hon. friend. Cold reasoning and sober views of the question, he alone was competent to present; and he hoped the House would bear with him whilst he endeavoured to execute the difficult task which he felt it his duty to perform. His right hon. friend, at the conclusion of his speech, had thought fit to prescribe the ground which those who might follow him were to take, and the weapons which they were to use. With respect to that, he must say, that as his right hon. friend had given the challenge, those who accepted it were, by all the rules of war, entitled to choice of the weapons. It was not, however, his intention to enter on the discussion of general principles; he would endeavour to confine his observations within those limits which were pointed out by his right hon. friend. He would, in the first place, contend, that there were no reasons why that house should attempt to remove from the Roman Catholic peers those disabilities to which the Commons were subject. Upon no constitutional ground, upon no ground of policy, could he see the propriety of such a measure. As to those noble persons who were the subject of the motion, for their rank and their hereditary distinction, he felt the greatest respect; but still he would contend, that it was the duty of that House, to oppose a proposition for placing Roman Catholics in the other House of Parliament, whilst they continued the disabilities which excluded them from the Commons.
It was a difficult and a painful duty to attempt to follow his right hon. friend, but, however difficult the task, and however painful, he would not omit any argument which was urged by his right hon. friend, and he would endeavour to give to each argument the most fair and the most satisfactory reply. And first, as to the competency of that branch of the legislature to interfere in a matter affecting solely the other House of Parliament. When his right hon. friend said 248 that such an interference was supported by precedents, he had only to observe, that the precedents quoted by his right hon. friend did not appear to him to bear upon the case. The only precedent which appeared at all in point, was that act by which the spiritual peers were excluded from parliament. That act was passed in the year 1640, immediately before the commencement of the civil war. It was at that period that the House of Commons passed a bill affecting the House of Lords—it was at that period that the precedent was followed; but, surely, it was not a precedent that ought to be followed or upheld. As to the other act, that of the 30th of Charles 2nd, it repealed the foregoing act. Could any thing be more natural than that, after such an act had been passed, the House of Commons should have hastened to repeal it? The object of his right hon. friend was, the repeal of the 30th of Charles 2nd. Did he mean to go to the full extent of that act? That act put both peers and commoners under similar disabilities; it subjected both to make declarations against the doctrine of trans substantiation. His right hon. friend had said that from the time of the Reformation, up to the year 1678, the Catholic peers sat in parliament, but that the Roman Catholics had been long before excluded from the House of Commons. He might be permitted to observe, that different opinions were entertained on that subject, and, upon that diversity of opinions, different arguments had been, from time to time, urged in that House. As so much had been said upon precedents, he would be glad to know to what extent his right hon. friend would respect the authority which he was now about to cite. Some, of course, would suppose, that he was about to refer to remote antiquity—to some almost forgotten name—to some musty opinion which could have no reference to the present question, or if it had any, introduced invidiously by those who had an interest in opposing the views which his right hon. friend had taken of the question—that question being, whether, from the accession of Elizabeth to the 30th of Charles 2nd, Catholic peers were on a different footing from Catholic commoners, and had the privilege of sitting and voting in parliament? The House would recollect the discussion which had taken place in the last session of parliament on the question of the Roman 249 Catholic disabilities. The object then was, by a final and conciliatory arrangement, to put an end to all further discussion, and to bind all his majesty's subjects in one common interest—in one common feeling—for the defence of the person and family of the king, and the maintenance of the constitution. The House would permit him to refer to the eloquent and impressive speech pronounced on that occasion by his right hon. and learned friend, the member for the University of Dublin. In that speech, his right hon. friend had said, that "the very year before the enactment of the disqualifying statute, the 30th of Charles 2nd, sir Solomon Swale, a Roman Catholic, and a member of parliament, was expelled that House. For what? Not because he was a Catholic, but because he was a Popish recusant. The argument was to be found in the debates of that time. It was stated by sir Robert Sawyer, that sir Solomon had convicted himself by not being duly qualified. The resolution inserted on the Journals of that House states the same disqualification. That expulsion took place the year before the 30th of Charles 2nd." These were the words of his right hon. friend; and if he was correct, it was evident that he cut the ground from under the feet of his right hon. friend (Mr. Canning) so far as he had gone, to show a peculiar difference between the case of the Roman Catholic peers and the commoners. But his right hon. friend had not rested on the case of sir Solomon Swale alone. In that case an erroneous or unfair judgment might have been passed; but his right hon. friend had cited the title of the act itself, which was decisive of the question; it was "an Act for disabling Catholics from sitting in either House of Parliament." Thus it appeared, that when the general question was brought before the House, it was contended that, up to the year 1678, every rank was open to the Roman Catholics; and the House was told, that it was a mistake to suppose that the exclusion of the Catholics was co-eval with the Reformation; but, when the particular case of the Roman Catholic peers was submitted to their consideration, the case was reversed, and sir Solomon was forgotten. Not one word was said with respect to the title of the act. But an attempt was made by his right hon. friend (Mr. Canning) to shew a peculiar distinction between the case of the Roman 250 Catholic peers and the commoners. All he (Mr. P.) could say was, that those authorities contradicted each other, and the House could not by any possibility come to the same conclusion with respect to both.
But, his right hon. friend had said, that there was a distinction between the peers and the commoners on another ground. His right hon. friend had said, that there was something inherent in the privilege of the peers, which ought to protect them from the disabilities complained of. Upon constitutional grounds he would say, that at whatever period those disabilities might have been imposed on the Catholic peers, no ground was shewn by his right hon. friend to induce the House of Commons of the present day to subject the representatives of the people to disabilities from which the peers were to be exempted. He would also say, that there was nothing in the practice of parliament which went to recognize that inherent and exclusive principle for which his right hon. friend contended. The parliament had dealt with the privileges of the peers on more occasions than one. At the time of the Irish Union, the parliament subjected the peers to absolute disabilities. They certainly, on that occasion, introduced the anomaly of peers being elected like commoners; but it was never said—it was never supposed—that any inherent privilege of the peers was a bar to the Union. As to the Scotch Union, it was remarkable that his right hon. friend had omitted to state, how he intended to provide for the case of the Roman Catholic peers that existed at present in Scotland, or that may hereafter be created there. He should like to know whether, in the bill which his right hon. friend had moved for, he intended to introduce a clause to qualify Roman Catholic peers belonging to Scotland to sit and vote in parliament, or whether, he intended to respect that article of the act of Union by which the Scotch peers were pointedly excluded, eo nomine, from the House of Peers? They were not left merely subject to a disqualification growing out of certain oaths, but by the letter of the act, no papist was qualified to form any part of any of the estates of the realm, or to sit as members for any of those estates. He did not refer to that act, merely to shew that if it were repealed, an anomaly must exist, but he cited it to shew, that the legislature did not recognize any inherent principle belonging to the Peers, that 251 exempted them from disabilities to which on the same grounds commoners were made subjected. And when he referred to the act of Union with Scotland, he might be allowed to ask, who were the persons who framed that act? Who were the commissioners by whom it was managed? Lord Somers was one of those commissioners, and if there was any inherent principle such as his right hon. friend contended for, would lord Somers have disregarded it? Would the act of Union have destroyed it, and destroyed it for ever?
He now proceeded to another ground which his right hon. friend had taken. His right hon. friend seemed to think, that the privileges of the peers were so sacred, that they ought not to be affected any more than their lives or fortunes. The commissioners of the Union with Scotland did not think so. They dealt with those privileges—they excluded the peers from parliament, though they did not interfere with property or with life. His right hon. friend had said, that by excluding the English Roman Catholic peers from parliament an injustice was committed—and a stigma was unnecessarily placed on seven or eight peers. Now, he would ask his right hon. friend, whether by the bill which he intended to introduce, he intended to limit the number to be admitted into the house of Lords to the present existing number of Roman Catholic peers? Was it not, on the contrary, the object of his right hon. friend to give to the Crown the unlimited power of placing as many Catholic peers in the other House of Parliament as it might think fit? Thus would his right hon. friend emancipate one order of Roman Catholics, whilst the other were left under disabilities. The act would go to recognize this principle: that those who were not elected—who were nominated by the Crown—were to be freed from all disabilities, whilst those whose functions were temporary—whose power was limited—were to remain excluded.
The House would here permit him to call to their recollection the situation in which it stood with relation to the Catholic question. It was seven or eight months ago since that House had passed a bill to relieve the Roman Catholics from the disabilities under which they labour. That Bill declared, that, considering the disposition and conduct of the Catholic body, it was fit and proper that the disabilities under 252 which they laboured, should be removed. What, he might be permitted to ask, was the pressing necessity which could now induce the House to agitate this isolated branch of the question? Since the question had been brought forward by Mr. Fox, and seconded by Mr. Grattan, in the year 1805, up to the present moment, no proposition of the kind had been ever submitted. Why was that anomaly introduced? Under what circumstances was it proposed to the Commons to remove from one order of the king's subjects, disabilities to which they were themselves subjected? It was alter his right hon. and learned friend, the member for the University of Dublin, had given notice, that at the earliest possible opportunity in the next session of parliament, he would bring forward the whole of the subject for the consideration oldie House. Why, then, should this branch of the subject be pressed at the present moment? Was it that at the end of the session the barren privilege should be conferred upon the Catholic peers to sit in parliament during the recess, when no parliament would be held. If the question were to be agitated the earliest moment that parliament should assemble the next session, he could not see, that any case had been made out to induce the House to entertain at the present moment a peculiar branch of the question.
His right hon. friend had referred to the period at which these disabilities had commenced; and had attempted to attach to the law which excluded Catholic peers from parliament all possible odium, on account of the Popish plot, and the discoveries which had been subsequently made. His right hon. friend had said, that from the time of Elizabeth to the year 1678, the peers had the right of sitting in parliament, and that they were then removed in consequence of the Popish plot. He protested against that mode of treating a legislative question. The exclusion of the Roman Catholic peers was not to be traced up to the Popish plot, or to any particular act, but was to be accounted for on a general reference to the history of the times. Like all periods of commotion, the times to which his right hon. friend alluded, afforded many causes of distrust; and men were generally predisposed to trace to one cause an event which might have been the effect of many causes. So it happened at the period of the civil wars—so it happened during the 253 French revolution. But it was not to the popish plot merely—that the exclusion was to be traced, but to the general state of the times. It was an act founded on the policy of the legislature in 1678, and confirmed at the period of the Revolution—confirmed at that period when the Bill of Rights was passed, and when a popish king was excluded from the throne. Let any man look to the period of Charles 2nd, and, whether he might think that the story of Oates was a fabrication or not, he would find that there then existed against the liberties and religion of this country a formidable and an infamous conspiracy. He would find, that the object was not merely to establish the claim of a popish successor to the throne, but the downfall of the religion of the country. In justice to those who laboured to defend that religion, and to support the threatened liberties of the country, it was but fair to bear in mind the peculiar circumstances under which they were placed. The mere jealousy of a popish successor was not the only object of suspicion, with those who were at that day labouring for the salvation of their country. If he, for the sake of argument, admitted that the popish plot was nothing but a fabrication—if with Dryden he were to say—Some truth there was, but dashed and brewed with lies,To please the fools and puzzle all the wise;Succeeding times will equal folly call,Believing nothing, or believing all"—Or, if he supposed that it was mere madness and folly in those who believed something respecting that plot, yet would he implore the House to take into view the situation of the country at that period. Taking it for granted that the popish plot and the story of Oates was a mere tissue of fabrication, yet would he ask, what had predisposed the country to receive and to credit that fabrication? The country was at that time enlightened. It was at that very period at which Mr. Justice Blackstone described the constitution to have arrived at the highest pitch of theoretical perfection—that period which Mr. Fox described as the æra of good laws and bad government. Why then, at such a period, did the people swallow with avidity every story that was propagated against the Catholics? What had occurred even for the short period of eight years before the passing of the act? Charles 2nd, by every means and artifice, appealed to every good and generous feeling of the country. 254 He issued a declaration in favour, as he said, of the liberty of conscience. He exercised the dispensing power—that power which stood opposed to the security of public liberty—that power which was reprobated at the Revolution—and he exercised it for the purpose of relaxing the laws against the Roman Catholics. Though he affected to exercise that power in favour of the Dissenters, to their credit, they refused to be relieved from the disabilities under which they laboured, because they saw, in the exercise of that power, a plot for the extinction of the liberties of their country. To forward the Roman Catholic religion in England, Charles entered into a treaty with Louis 14th. The object of his policy and views might be best collected from the confessions contained in Coleman's letters. Coleman was secretary to the duke of York. They were written in 1675, three years before the enactment of the bill for the exclusion of Catholics from parliament. In one of those letters, he says, "a plan is now in agitation to give a death blow to that pestilential heresy with which the northern parts of Europe is infested." It went on to say, that the plans which the duke of York had in agitation, were likely to be more successful than any that had been tried since the time of Mary. It was right to mention these circumstances. It was not fair to confine the discussion to the fabrication, if it were a fabrication, of Oates, whilst other circumstances of that reign served so strikingly to explain the policy of parliament at that period. Charles had also entered into a secret treaty with Louis 14th, by which he expressly declared that he, the king of Great Britain, was convinced of the truth of the Catholic religion—that he was determined to declare himself a Catholic, and to be reconciled to the Church of Rome—that for carrying those purposes into execution the assistance of Louis might be necessary. For the purpose of facilitating the design, it was agreed, that the king of France should advance to the king of England 200,000l., and should furnish troops and money in case his subjects should rebel against him, which could not be the case. This was a treaty, not with James 2nd, not with the duke of York, but with Charles 2nd, the reigning monarch, to barter the liberties and religion of this country for 200,000l., not half the sum which we should now vote for a Caledonian Canal, or a Milbank 255 Penitentiary. When it was said, that at the time of the Revolution there was no cause for jealousy of the Catholic peers, should it not have been borne in mind, that this disgraceful treaty was concluded by the advice of lord Arlington, lord Clifford, and lord Arundel of Wardour, three Roman Catholic peers? Was it surprizing then, that independently of the popish plot there should have existed a peculiar jealousy of Catholic peers?
His right hon. friend had also dwelt with great force on an order of the House of Lords, passed in 1675, which declared, that the peerage being an inheritable privilege, no bill should be received in that House to impose any test on peers. His right hon. friend had thence argued, that after this solemn declaration, it could only have been under duresse, or under the influence of extraordinary terror, that the House of Lords could have so shortly passed the bill which disabled Catholic peers from sitting and voting. So far from any such inference being warrantable, in that very bill out of which the order originated, a test was included, which, though it did not pass, was retained in the bill to its latest stage. The date of 1675 was highly important. The whole history of that act, and the debates upon it, were given by Mr. Locke, in what was called "A Letter from a Person of Quality to his Friend in the Country.* The act was not directed against the Roman Catholics, it originated with the Spiritual Lords, and was directed against the persons who were infected with the old leaven of the civil wars. No less than seventeen days were occupied upon it, and it was perfectly true, that in the course of the debates an order was moved by lord Shaftesbury, to prevent the imposition of test; yet, at the very moment this order was made, the House of Lords did in fact the very thing that was objected to. After the order had been made, the lord keeper proposed a test equally applicable to both Houses; and in Mr. Locke's letter would be found a protest on the subject, the ground of which was, that it was inconsistent with the order. The lord keeper stated, nevertheless, that the House was master of its own orders, and, as far as the bill went, it was accompanied by a test, the effect of which would* This curious pamphlet will be found in the Parliamentary History, v. 4. Appendix, p. xxxvii.256 be, to exclude Roman Catholic peers. The general history of the motives actuating lords Shaftesbury, Halifax, and Hollis, to support the order, was given by Burnet, who said, that the new test was opposed by those whom he terms Papists, because they well knew that if there were any precedent of a test, it would be applied to themselves. He added, that lords Shaftesbury, Halifax, and others, thought it was not right that any test should be imposed upon members of parliament; that peers were appointed by the Crown, and Commons elected by the people; and that it was absurd to impose a test that would shut them out from the national deliberations. At the Revolution, the bill passed requiring the declaration against transubstantiation, and altering the oaths of allegiance and supremacy; and if any act of parliament could in its nature be permanent, permanency ought to belong to those acts passed at the period of the Bill of Rights, when it was declared, that James 2nd had a design to extirpate the Protestant religion, and had been under the direction of evil councils and ministers. Such was the intention of the legislators of that day, and he never could believe, if it were not their intention, that lord Somers and the other Whigs would in 1705, so soon after the Revolution, have inserted the articles in the Scottish Union, that the Peers and Commons from thence should necessarily be Protestants, and Protestants only. At the time of the Revolution, the parliament naturally took a view of the dangers to which, in preceding years, the country had been subjected. They saw in the reign of Charles 1st the danger which had flowed from a king under the influence of a Catholic queen. They saw, in James 2nd the danger of a Roman Catholic king, acting directly against the religion of the country. But what did they see in Charles 2nd? A king in outward conformity with the Protestant Church, but under the influence of Catholic advisers, engaged in plans subversive of the liberties of the people and the Protestant religion. Providing, therefore, against the dangers in the several reigns, they declared, to meet the danger of the time of Charles 1st, that the queen should not be a Catholic; to meet the danger of James 2nd, they declared that the king should be a Protestant; and against the danger of the time of Charles 2nd, they declared that the king should have Protestant advisers. It 257 was from this motive, that, ten years after the discoveries of Oates, the great men who established the Revolution, thus established also the Protestant character of the constitution of the country.
There were two other points to which his right hon. friend had referred. The Catholic peers had been summoned to the solemnity of the coronation; and his right hon. friend had argued, from this act of courtesy, that they should be admitted to the power of legislation. This was the only part of his right hon. friend's speech which he had heard with pain. If a disposition existed among those who maintained the propriety of the disabilities under which the Catholics were placed, to admit them to all the honours and privileges not inconsistent with the safety of the state, he had thought that his right hon. friend would be the last to discourage this instance of liberality on the part of the sovereign. If the foreign individuals present at that ceremony, to take up the supposition of his right hon. friend, were told, that the Catholic peers were merely like the wax candles or lustres introduced to fill up the show, and that they were excluded from legislative power in the state, they might have heard it with disgust. But if it were explained to them, that the constitution was essentially Protestant, and that it was the practice to require, not conformity indeed, but an abjuration of the Catholic religion, their admission to all honours consistent with the preservation of the political principle, would be rather deemed a mark of liberality and wisdom. If a disposition appeared on all hands to give the duke of Norfolk, for instance, not power, but every privilege not involving political power—if there was a disposition to grant to lord Fingall every honour that could be safely bestowed—he hoped his right hon. friend would view the measures in their proper light, and not take advantage to impose on those who advised or concurred in them the necessity of further concession. Of this he was sure, that if any one hadhunted out of the rules of the order of St. Patrick any regulation which might have opposed the admission of lord Fingall—if any one had said, that the honour was conferred as a reward for loyalty and high character, and lord Fingall being a Catholic, was not a fit subject to bestow it on—they would not soon have heard the last of the outcry Against such a glaring instance of obstinate bigotry. He (Mr. P.) should certainly in such a, case have advised the 258 Crown not to execute too rigidly laws which might be in themselves necessary, but to open all the avenues to distinction, when it could be done with safety to the country; and assuredly in such a case he should not have, on that account, deemed himself concluded to admit Catholic peers to the large privilege of a seat in the House of Lords.
His right hon. friend had last of all adverted to the strange state of the legislation, on the subject of the Catholics. But, would the measure proposed by his right hon. friend cure any one of its anomalies? Would not the state of the Irish Catholic peer present a new mass of anomalies? The Irish Catholic peer would be qualified to sit in the House of Peers: he might be elected as a representative peer; but when the same individual offered himself as a member of parliament for a town or county in England (as an Irish peer might do), he would be turned back, because he could not take those oaths and declarations which he was freed from in the House of Lords. He would ask, whether this was not a striking anomaly? If, also, the Roman Catholic English peer was called, as he would be by his writ of summons, to counsel and advise the Crown, "de rebus concernentibus Ecclesiam Anglicanam,"—if he were to be admitted to legislate for the Church of England, would it be no anomaly that he should not be permitted to act as a magistrate in the county in which he might reside; and could he, by any sound argument, maintain, that, for instance, when the duke of Norfolk was admitted to the first privilege and power of his high rank, he should be precluded from receiving the slightest mark of the confidence of the Crown in the way of official situation. The exclusion under which the Catholic peers would then labour did not of course present itself to him as an evil; but it was a strong reason for postponing the case of the peers, until they also discussed and decided the other parts of the great question.
He saw around him many who had opposed, and many who had supported, on distinct grounds, the Catholic claims. To those who thought with him, that there was danger in the admission of the Catholics to legislative power; to those who thought with him, that it was in the other house of parliament that the danger arose, it would not be necessary to say more, as to a measure for again admitting Catholics into that branch of the legislature; but, 259 with thanks for the indulgence with which the House had heard him, he would address a few words to those who had hitherto supported the Roman Catholic claims. There were many who supported the claims of the Catholics, who thought, whenever this great question came to be discussed, that there should be a final and conciliatory arrangement. To them he should say, that the measure before them would not be final; and he doubted much whether it could be conciliatory. There were others who thought, that when they proceeded to remove the disabilities under which our Catholic brethren laboured, they should consider, at the same time, the whole state of the Catholic Church, with a view to take those securities, which in the last session had been appended to the bill of relief. In the last session, the; right hon. gentleman had objected to separate the securities from the concessions, because if the concessions were not carried, it would not be fair to demand the securities. But he would ask whether it would be wise to pass a partial measure, and to open to the Catholics one branch of the legislature, with no security whatever? What would be their situation, when in some future stage of concession, they began to insist on securities? Would it not be said, "You have opened one branch of the legislature to the Catholics: you have admitted those who have hereditary and irrevocable rights; you have given the Crown the power of calling to the House of Lords any number of its Catholic subjects; you have done this without taking any securities; and when you, the House of Commons, come to admit persons elected by the people to serve only for a limited time, will it not be invidious for you to require those securities which, in the former case, you have declared unnecessary." Would it not be said, when they admitted, not the duke of Norfolk and lords Clifford and Shrewsbury only, but all their descendants—when they gave the power of creating any number of Catholic peers, not merely to the reigning monarch, but to monarchs in all time to conie—that, if in return for so large a concession to the aristocracy and the Crown, they had required no security, it would be invidious in the representatives of the people to require security against a danger which could only arise through the exercise of the choice of the people? There were those who thought with him, that there was some danger in acceding to the 260 claims of the Catholics, who still said, that that remote and possible danger should be hazarded on account of the state of Ireland, and because they conceived that the government of Ireland was placed on too narrow a basis, and could not be carried on unless they opened the enjoyment of all civil privileges to the Catholic subjects of the king. Would the opening of the House of Lords to Catholic peers, while Catholics were excluded from the House of Commons, advance the views of these gentlemen. There were others who with his right hon. friend, the member for the University of Dublin, viewed this question on the broadest constitutional grounds, on the assertion of the right inherent in every liege subject of his majesty of admissibility to office. The assertion of this principle he could not give more strongly than in his right hon. friend's own words:—"I speak in the presence of enlightened constitutional lawyers and statesmen, and I do not fear contradiction when I assert, that the doctrine of exclusion is not to be found in the principles or in the analogies of the constitution. It is not to be found in the history of our country, or in the opinions of any of our statesmen; and it is at once inconsistent with the subjects rights and the king's prerogatives. Ours is a free monarchy, and it is of the essence of such a government, that the king can call for the services of all his liege subjects, otherwise it is not a monarchy; and no class of subjects can be excluded from privileges, otherwise it is not a free monarchy." He appealed to those who had used or adopted this language; and of them he asked—the time being arrived when it was wise and safe to remove restrictions preventing admission into the House of Lords—if it was just or decent to continue the restrictions to admission into the House of Commons. If admissibility to office were a general right belonging to all ranks of Roman Catholics, why were the disabilities of the great mass of that body to be postponed to the claims of a few, however respectable, founded as those claims were, only upon the same inherent right? All he required—and it formed the whole object of his address—was, that the claims of the Roman Catholic peers should be postponed until the whole question, with the securities, was again introduced. He gave his right hon. friend full credit for the best intentions. He was perfectly sure that his right hon. friend fancied there existed in the case of the peers a peculiarity war- 261 ranting this distinct motion in their favour: but he was equally certain, that it was neither worthy of the great abilities of his right hon. friend, nor of the character of the House, thus, by a partial measure, to give an advantage to the great question, independent of the principles upon which it must rest its pretensions. He had thus attempted to state why he had arrived at a different conclusion from his right hon. friend. It was not his intention to move the previous question, in order to secure some stray votes but to meet the motion in the most fair and open manner. He should pursue now the course in which he had always proceeded on this subject, by giving the proposal his most decided negative.
Lord F. Gower
could not hesitate to declare his sentiments in favour of the motion. So long as the restrictions were removed from the Catholics, he cared not about the anomalies so much dwelt upon by the opponents of the measure. He was anxious to do an act of justice, and he was clearly convinced of the justice of the claim of the Catholic peers. If the six Catholic peers were the rankest Jesuits that ever infested the Escurial, he should be ashamed of having a seat in that House if their admission to participate in all their just rights in the legislature could excite one moment's alarm in that House. He considered the fears of those who resisted the Catholic claims generally to be altogether chimerical.
§ Lord Nugent
said, he entertained certain opinions with respect to the whole question of Catholic emancipation, and feeling these opinions strongly and conscientiously, he approached the motion with considerable difficulty. He could not see how, in point of principle, the grounds on which they advanced to this question could be fairly severed from the case of the Roman Catholic body in general. The question was, whether there any longer existed a justification, or a semblance of justification, for excluding the Roman Catholics generally, on account of their religious belief, from those civil privileges of which they had been so long deprived? He thought that this subject could stand on no other parliamentary ground with advantage. On none, he was sure, could it be placed so plain and so direct; and, he for one, might be allowed to say, that on none could it be advocated so beneficially in parliament; because, by stating the question thus generally, the onus of making 262 out a case of justification was completely thrown on the other side. The cause of those who were favourable to Catholic emancipation stood simply on the showing that the disabilities which affected the Roman Catholics were exceptions from the general spirit of the English law—exceptions from the otherwise undistinguishing doctrines of the British constitution. It appeared to him, on another ground, that the general argument was better than one of a partial description; because it came in a more direct and straight-forward way. He confessed he was one of those who never could shrink from considering those privileges as matter of strict right; and he did so on the ground that, from the moment they could be supported as claims of clear justice, they appeared to him to be claims of clear right. It seemed to him to be necessary, that the adversaries of this question should, from time to time, from year to year, point out the existence of some great and still-continuing danger, which justified the exclusion of the Catholics from those privileges to which, in the absence of such a danger, they were entitled. He would, not press this point farther on the consideration of the House, except to allude to one of the arguments adduced by the right hon. mover, and which, in his opinion, might be pushed to a much greater extent than the right hon. gentleman had thought fit to do. He had stated, that not only the history of the time, but the very title of the act under which those disabilities were imposed, proved that it was adopted under circumstances of temporary expediency. It was an act to secure his: majesty's person and government against a supposed danger; it was an act founded on terror; in other words, it was the off-spring of a plot. The evidence of the existence of that plot was now believed by very few people; but still the act to which it gave birth was in full force against the Catholics. It was, then, on this broad ground that they were entitled to the restoration of their rights altogether. They had been originally bereaved unjustly of them; and they were now, without any satisfactory cause, withheld from them. This question could not be reasoned on the principle of expediency; it was a claim of pure justice and right, and the refusal to concede it was an adherence to wanton and manifest, injustice. It was singular enough, that one of these bulwarks or safeguards, as they were called, of the constitution—he 263 meant the declaration against transubstanfiation—rejected a doctrine, the truth of which queen Elizabeth would not suffer to be discussed, in the defence of which Martin Luther wrote a tract, and, by supporting which; Henry 8th obtained the title of defender of the faith. The Roman Catholics were now called on to abjure, by a declaration on oath, that very doctrine which the first Protestant king of England would have burned his subject for refusing to subscribe and acknowledge as an article of their religion. If they looked to the 39 Articles, they would also finch, that this declaration was at variance with the discipline of the Protestant church: they would perceive, that the declaration, so enacted, and at variance with the 39 Articles, was drawn up for the mere purpose of enabling persons of a different faith, to accuse, on oath, nine-tenths of all christendom of idolatry, and to prevent the Catholic nobility from serving the state of which they were subjects. That was the measure, which brought a bar and stigma home to them in their private capacities. They could not be even intrusted with the commission of the peace. And who were the men that were thus excluded? Amongst them were to be found the names of Mowbray, of Fitz. Allen, and of Mahravers, the posterity of those who had signed the great charter; of Talbot, the descendant of the great man who had twice conquered France, and added -her shield to the escutcheon of England; of Norfolk, the earl marshal of England, who, though possessed of that elevate and honourable title, was excluded from exercising the most petty jurisdiction. Was it not lamentable that the name of Howard, a name so intimately connected with the glories of England, could not give sanction and validity even to a paltry parish rate? He could not recollect these circumstances—he could not remember that these individuals were descended from some of the most patriotic men this country ever produced—without emotions of sorrow; and he did not envy the feelings of those who could, without regret, contemplate their present situation, oppressed as they were by unjust disabilities. They were the last remnants of our most ancient families—they might classically be called the representatives of old English nobility. They stood proudly independent amidst the ruin of their privileges, determined to give up these privileges rather than the faith of 264 theire fathers; and, to men of such unbending honour, the privations under which they suffered must be severe in the extreme.—With respect to the motion which he was particularly Called on to discuss, he assured the House that he came to it with more difficulty and hesitation than he had ever felt on any former question. As to the great cause which this motion was intended to assist, it should always, have his firm and decided support. It was intimately connected with the first principles of justice and liberty. He did, however, feel certain: apprehensions, with reference to the present motion; and, if he could bring himself to support it, he should do so only on the belief; that, before long, the objectionable parts of this proposition would be merged and lost in the great triumph of justice and liberty, which he confidently anticipated. But, if he could by possibility suppose that the law would remain unamended after the passing of this bill; he would, on the whole, prefer the state of the law as it now stood, monstrous and anomalous as it was. Singly taken, the right hon. gentleman's measure could do little good; while in some respects it had a tendency to establish an anomalous principle. He had never voted for the Catholic question, except on this great political ground, that every man was fully entitled, whatever his religion might be, to exercise the privileges of a citizen. The proposed bill asserted no such general principle: on the contrary, taken singly, it brought back the law to an anomalous state. In the present state of the law, Englishmen were separated from Englishmen—Protestants from Catholics. That separation was founded on the principle of religious difference; but the law which the right hon. gent. endeavoured to introduce would divide Catholic from Catholic, on no principle at all. It was, therefore, in the full conviction that the great measure would, ere long, be carried, that he would give it his support. Why should not the House come at once to the general question? Why were they now confined to a part, when formerly they had carried the whole?
§ Mr. Warre
could not agree with his noble friend in some of the arguments which he had urged against the motion. In the year 1813 it was not objected to the bill for removing the disabilities which excluded Catholics from the army and navy, that it was only a partial measure. 265 Why then should his noble friend object to the motion on that ground? The right hon. secretary had said, that there was no precedent of a measure which immediately affected the privileges of the other House, having originated in the House of Commons. He would recall his recollection to a precedent, not perhaps strictly in point, but still extremely material in point of analogy—he alluded to the Septennial bill which was a bill absolutely regulating the duration of that House, and which nevertheless originated in the House of Lords. There was an historical fact which had an immediate reference to the question before the House. Lord Montague, a Catholic peer, had vigorously opposed the bill of supremacy, and had shewn the strongest Catholic propensities. Yet four years afterwards when Elizabeth was threatened by one of the most formidable Catholic sovereigns of Europe, she selected this very lord Montague as ambassador to the court of Madrid. She had no hesitation in trusting him because he was a Catholic; for she knew him to be an honest and loyal subject; and his exertions at the court of Madrid were in the highest degree successful. The great lord Chatham had well said, in answer to some objections which were urged against the policy of employing the Highlanders, in consequence of their Jacobite principles, that he had found in the Highlands a brave and gallant race of men, against whom unjust prejudices were entertained, that he had taken them under his protection, that he had called them forth to fight the battles of their country, and that his expectations had not been disappointed. He (Mr. W.) doubted not, that if the disabilities under which our Catholic brethren laboured, were removed, there would be found among them, on all occasions, some of the most useful and valuable members of the legislature.
of Galway, said, the Catholics of the county with which he spas connected, were most anxious for the success of the present measure. The speech of the right hon. secretary would apply with equal force to the times when the mitigation of the penal code was first under consideration, as to the present time, and even with greater; for surely it was unreasonable to refuse the small advantages that remained, when every thing of real magnitude was already in their possession. It mattered very little what 266 the conduct of the Catholics was a century ago. To quarrel with the Catholics of the present generation for what their progenitors had done, was playing the part of the wolf in the fable towards the innocent lamb.
said, that the peculiar ground upon which the motion of his right hon. friend rested had been so completely exhausted by his luminous statement, that he should nut have trespassed on the House with a single observation, were it not that he had the petition of his Roman Catholic fellow-subjects in his hand. If, being so circumstanced, he had continued silent, it might have been supposed that he felt the present question as an interference with the motion which at a future period he was bound to bring forward. It was in order to negative that impression that he now rose. He agreed perfectly in the motion of his; right hon. friend, because he considered it as a step towards the general measure; but, even if he did not consider it in that light, he should still feel himself called upon to support it as an act of substantial justice, though not going to the full extent which justice demanded. Last session when the great question was before the House in all its parts and bearings—with all its qualifications and securities—considerable embarrassments were thrown in the way of those who supported It was finally carried, and received the sanction of that House; but, during its progress, it was involved in multifarious details, and accompanied by guards and securities which endangered its success. He did not complain that it was unfairly dealt with in the opposition which it had received from his right hon. friend (Mr. Peel); but that opposition, joined to the complexity of its details, occasioned its friends considerable embarrassment. Some of those members who supported the measure anticipated so little danger that they objected to the securities, while others thought all securities insufficient. It was, therefore, to him a great source of satisfaction to see a measure introduced so little liable to misconstruction, and so little connected with danger, as to relieve its friends from all those embarrassments. Nothing could be more simple than the object of his right hon. friend He proposed to repeal a part of an act which excluded a few Irish and British peers from their seats in the upper House, and to restore them to the enjoyment of this 267 privilege. Those peers had been restored to the privilege of approaching their sovereign, and giving him advice in managing the affairs of the nation; and the intended measure would only enable them to defend in their places in parliament the advice which they had privately given. No objection had been stated to the justice or the expediency of the general measure, no apprehensions of danger had been uttered at concession, no attempt had been made to show that it would be bestowed on the unworthy. It had been opposed only on points of etiquette, and the debate upon it had been turned to disputed portions of history. It was said, that the motion ought not to be agreed to, because the concession here obtained would only lay the ground for additional demand, and because this was a partial measure, preparatory to the general measure. This was no objection to those who had brought forward and carried the general measure in this House last year, and who had not concealed that it was intended next session again to submit it to the consideration of parliament. He (Mr. P.) would be glad, before the general measure should be again submitted to the other House, where it had been lost last year, that those who sat in it should be called upon as men, as gentlemen, and as men of honour, to receive among them those peers who had originally been unjustly deprived of their privileges or to state the grounds, in law and justice, of their continued exclusion. He hoped, when these peers knocked at the door of their house for admission, that those who opposed their entrance would be able to state the principle of right and justice on which they acted, and would not sanction rules which would place their own valued privileges and hereditary distinctions at the mercy of some Titus Oates of after-times. This measure of justice was, to reverse an act of attainder passed on the evidence of the most infamous of mankind, and in circumstances of alarm which had now for ever disappeared. The least attention to these circumstances would show the injustice of the exclusion. The cause of it was not that the Catholic peers were dangerous counsellors, but that the House of Commons, in the reign of Charles 2nd, suspected the king of being a Catholic, a fact which, though unknown at the time, was afterwards ascertained to be the case, and dreaded a Catholic successor to the throne. It was, 268 certain that if a bill of exclusion against the latter could have been carried, this bill of attainder against the peers would never have passed. What, then, was done? The innocent had been proscribed and punished because an exclusion bill could not be carried. The guiltless were attainted because the proper object of attack could not be reached. His right hon. friend (Mr. Peel) had said, that it was not alone the fear of a Popish succession, or the alarm of popish plots, which had led the parliament of the reign of Charles 2nd to pass the act which the motion was intended to repeal, but that for a long time a just distrust was entertained of the Catholics, and a plot was going forward to subvert the liberties and change the religion of the country by foreign aid, that an alliance had been formed with the court of France for this object, and that the Roman Catholics were ready to second any invasion of their country which might enable them to regain their lost power. He would admit that the Catholics of that day were not well affected to a Protestant state, or to the Protestant throne. Nor could they be expected to be so. He admitted that other causes of suspicion against them existed than the fable of the Popish plot. Be it allowed that they were disaffected then! The question was, were they so now? This recurrence to history would be found to contain the strongest argument for the motion; for, if the spirit of the Catholics now was so different from what it had been then, why apply the same rule to both?—On what ground continue an exclusion against a loyal and well-affected peer, which had been obtained against his disloyal and disaffected ancestor?—On what ground enforce an act which passed when doubts existed of a Protestant succession and of rebellion, when the succession to the throne is secure, and disaffection no longer existed? But his right hon. friend had not felt secure in resting on the history of Charles the Second's reign.—He had gone down to the Revolution, and had appealed to the principles then sanctioned, in support of his own views. He begged leave to set his right hon. friend right on some of these points. The laws against the Catholics, to which he had alluded, formed no part of the Revolution—they formed no part of the Bill of Rights. The last act was not mentioned in the Bill of Rights. The amended oath of supremacy was excluded 269 in that bill; because it was intended, by setting it forth at full, to show the difference between that oath and the oath of the same name framed in the reign of queen Elizabeth. When the Revolution was appealed to as a sanction to measures of a penal and partial character, or on questions of this kind, he professed that he did not know what was meant. Was it meant that all the acts which preceded, accompanied, or followed the Revolution, were parts of the Revolution? If they were, then the repeal of the penal laws against Catholics, and the relaxation of various statutes for admitting them to civil privileges, had made great inroads on the glorious Revolution. According to this principle, the law that deprived the Catholic of the superintendance of his own children's education, the law that prohibited him from acquiring property, the law that banished him to within six miles of the palace of Westminster, were all parts of the glorious Revolution. In short, the 10th and 11th of William, with all its injustice and cruelty, were parts of that Revolution. By that statute, saying mass was punishable with perpetual imprisonment; the Catholic was to forfeit his estate to his nearest Protestant relation, unless he abjured his faith, and he was subjected to many other persecutions. When the glorious Revolution was considered as giving a sanction to acts like these, it might be of use to inquire into the history of this statute. It was given by bishop Burnet, but he would read it in the language of Mr. Burke:—"A party in the nation, enemies to the system of the Revolution, were then in opposition to the government of king William. They knew that our glorious deliverer was an enemy to all persecution. They knew that he came to free us from slavery and popery, out of a country where a third of the people are contented Catholics under a Protestant government. He came with a part of his army composed of those very Catholics to overset the power of a Popish prince. Such is the effect of a tolerating spirit; and so much is liberty served in every way, and by all persons, by a manly adherence to its own principles. Whilst freedom is true to itself, every thing becomes subject to it, and its very adversaries are an instrument in its hands. This party resolved to make the king either violate his principles of toleration, or incur the odium of protecting papists. They therefore brought in this bill, and made it 270 purposely wicked and absurd, that it might be rejected. The then court party, discovering their game, turned the tables on them, and returned their bill to them stuffed with still greater absurdities, that is loss might lie on its original authors. They, finding their own ball thrown back upon them, kicked it back again to their adversaries. And thus this act, loaded with the double injustice of two parties, neither of whom intended to pass what they hoped the other would be persuaded to reject, went through the legislature contrary to the wish of all parts of it, and al all the parties who composed it. In this manner, those insolent and profligate factions, as if they were playing with balls and counters, made a sport of the fortunes and liberties of their fellow creatures." Now, all this was done in the glorious Revolution. But the glorious Revolution was at an end if it consisted of this statute as one or its component parts; for it had been repealed long ago, and the argument of his right hon. friend would better have been employed in 1791 than now. If, then, the laws which preceded and followed the Revolution were not parts of it, why should we be restrained from doing an act of right and justice by an appeal to it? The principles of the Revolution did not require the exclusion of any class of the people from civil privileges, on account of religious opinions. The Protestant religion, he allowed, had had a great influence in establishing the Hanoverian succession, but it was the spirit of freedom which was the cause of both. He did not feel disposed to go at length into the history of religion in this country; but he would just observe, that the Reformation arose not so much from a dislike to the doctrines of the Roman Catholic church, as from resistance to the exactions of the court of Rome; and during the reign of the Stuarts, the Protestant religion was always joined with freedom to oppose popery and arbitrary power. If the Protestant establishment could only be preserved by the maintenance of principles which would exclude great classes of the people from civil privileges, the price would certainly be great. Mr. Burke, no enemy to the establishment, had truly observed, "I cannot conceive how any thing worse can be said of the Protestant religion of the Church of England than this, that, wherever it is established, it becomes necessary to deprive the body of 271 the people of their liberties, and to reduce them to a state of civil servitude." This was not necessary in his (Mr. P's) opinion. The safety of the establishment could be easily reconciled with the admission of persons, professing another religion, to civil rights. He would, therefore, support the motion as a great measure of justice. He would have supported it, though it had included only one peer. Every instance of exclusion, every hour of delay in admitting them to their rights, was an injustice—while every concession was an act of conciliation and justice. It had been objected, that this measure, which affected the other House, should begin in this. This objection must be stated on the part of the other House; but it had not been acted upon last year, when a bill was thrown out in that House which affected the Commons. When a joint bill was sent up, it was rejected because it was a joint bill: when a separate bill should be sent up, it would be rejected as a separate bill: there never would be wanting pretexts 'for rejecting. The right hon. gentleman concluded by warmly supporting the motion.
§ Mr. Wetherell
rose amidst a loud cry for the question. He considered the proposition a novelty, and was desirous of making a few observations on some of its points. The right hon. mover had departed from the principle upon which the greatest authorities had supported the claims to Catholic emancipation. He might mention Pitt, Fox, Windham, and Ponsonby. Those distinguished characters had all declared, that no measure but a general measure should be brought before parliament. It was formerly held that concessions should be made on one side and security given on the other. By that arrangement Catholics and Protestants were to be reconciled. That was the proposition on which the bill of last session was founded; but the measure proposed by the right hon. gentleman was all concession on one side, and no security on the other. If Catholic peers were allowed to sit in the House of Peers, could that House say that Catholic commoners should not come to the House of Commons? If they were to be admitted, which they must be if the present proposition was adopted, what would become of Mr. Pitt's principle, that no concession could be made without securities for the preservation of the constitution. The right hon. gentleman proposed the intro- 272 duction of six or eight Catholic noblemen to parliament, who could not be bound to subscribe to any test whatever. The bill reminded him of Dr. Johnson's account of his journey in Scotland, where he went to an inn, and found nothing solid or fluid in the place, but an entire blank of provisions. The right hon. gentleman's bill was a perfect blank of securities. If the right hon. gentleman was right in the application of his principle without securities, all the persons whose names he had mentioned had taken a narrow and partial view of the subject; for not one of them had ventured to ask for concessions without securities. The House ought to see to what a compliance with the measure proposed would lead. If such a bill were carried, Catholic commoners would, next session, claim to sit in that House without restraint. If they turned to the church, the clergy would say, Why make us submit to the Crown the nomination of bishops? Why claim a veto?—You have rescinded your restrictions with respect to members of parliament, and you ought no longer to restrain us. That would be the necessary consequence arising from the adoption of he right hon. gentleman's measure. His opinion was, that parliament, doing their duty, could never admit Catholics to the privileges of the constitution without securities. The rights of Protestants and Catholics could never be secured, on the principle of the right hon. gentleman's bill. If it were true, that the public opinion was, as it was said, liberalising on his question—if its advocates were every lay gaining ground, and the strength of is adversaries diminishing—if all these things were true, let the question, in its entire state, be submitted to the consideration of the House. He should prefer be passing of the whole measure of concession rather than entertain the subject piecemeal. Instead of his mind being convinced by the course the right hon. gentleman had taken, he was free to confess that, as to the extension of concession, it had, from the nature of the course pursued, rather retrograded. He was not disposed to deal in compliment: he had ho wish to measure spears with the right hon. gentleman; but, in the spirit of that see agency which it was the duty of a member of parliament to feel, he must say that the measure that night proposed was the acme and perfection of unrivalled singularity. What was the object of its 273 introduction by the right hon. gentleman? He believed it was because the right hon. gentleman was anxious to make that speech in the year 1822, which, from circumstances, he would not be able to make in 1823. The learned member then proceeded, but the noise which prevailed rendered him wholly inaudible.
§ Mr. Canning
rose to reply. After the full measure of indulgence which the House, in its kindness, had extended to him, he assured them that he reluctantly availed himself of that privilege which the forms of the House extended to those who had the honour of submitting any proposition to its deliberation. There were, however, some points in the speech of his right hon. friend (Mr. Peel), and in that of the hon. and learned gentleman who had just sat down, so peculiar, that he could not forego the opportunity or making a few observations upon them. If the measure he had introduced was of the singular character the hon. and learned gentleman had described it to be, he must say that it had been treated by its opponents with equal singularity. If they had not given him arguments, they were at least not sparing in admonitions—gentle indeed, but still admonitions against the course which he had pursued. All the speeches of these opponents, not excepting the speech of the noble lord, who was in the habit of presenting to the House the very petitions of those Catholic peers, whose restoration to their hereditary honours he was then advocating, dwelt not upon the impropriety of the measure itself, but on the imprudence of bringing it forward at the present time, and in its present shape. His right hon. friend (Mr. Peel) even—no doubt with that anxiety for the entire question for which he was so peculiarly distinguished—even he had pointed out the inexpediency of the measure, because, forsooth, it tended in its present shape, to defeat the success of the general question. He was free to confess that, when he entered the House that day, he entertained some doubts suggested by the inexpediency of the motion he was about to make. Since he had heard the speeches of the opponents of that motion, those doubts had vanished and he now with confidence felt, that its success was the certain harbinger of that larger and more comprehensive concession, which his right hon. friend, the secretary of state for the home department, no longer deprecated, but it would seem 274 anticipated with satisfaction. [Hear, hear.] His right hon. friend had stated, that he (Mr. C) had only cited a solitary precedent, in support of the interference of the House of Commons, as to the rights and privileges of the peerage, and that the interference was an act of disfranchisement. He must appeal to the recollection of the House, as to the use he had made of that precedent. He had characterized the act of disfranchisement, as one of gross injustice—and of unjustifiable violence; and he had quoted the precedent of the 30th of Charles the 2nd, to show, that as the injustice of the disfranchisement originated with the House of Commons, that House had made the subsequent atonement. He had then drawn an exact parallel between those precedents and the state of the Catholic Peers. A House of Commons, under false pretences, in 1678, disfranchised these peers of their rights and their honours, and he now called on a House of Commons in 1822, convened under different circumstances, to make reparation for that injustice, by a restoration of those rights to their posterity. Another objection of his right hon. friend was founded on the state of the peerage of Scotland and Ireland growing out of the Union, and as contrasted with what he (Mr. C.) had argued as the absolute rights of the peerage. The anomalies which sprung from these two great arrangements were out of the march of ordinary events, and beyond the landmarks of the constitution. Because two kingdoms merged their respective legislatures in the legislature of Great Britain, and. out of these extraordinary proceedings—exceptions to general principles resulted; would any man contend that the case of a British peer unjustly deprived of his franchises, was not to be considered with a view of remedying that injustice? What could be more anomalous than the situation of an Irish peer capable of being a representative of the peerage of that kingdom by delegation, and capable of surrendering his rights as a peer, by being elected a member of the House of Commons? But was that his (Mr. C.'s) fault? Was this bill to be presumed defective because it could not remove anomalies which sprung out of an extraordinary state arrangement? But there was in that arrangement, as it affected the Union of Ireland, this great clue to the consideration of the question, that the oaths imposed 275 upon an Irish representative peer, or an Irish peer voting for such representative, were such as were then taken, or shall be hereafter taken, by a British peer. If, then, these oaths constituted an essential and fundamental part of the constitution, how came it that the concurrent sense of two legislatures, by the very spirit and letter of the act of Union, left these securities open to the alteration of the united parliament. Would they have done so if they had put the same construction on their immortality, on which the whole of the objections of his right hon. friend rested? If they had not, contemplated the possibility of other oaths—if they had considered the tests as they stood at the period, as the immutable and eternal securities against Catholic participation—would the parliaments of Great Britain and Ireland have left such a question open to subsequent doubt, in the provisions of an arrangement which constituted their permanent incorporation? It was perfectly true, that Scotland, on her part stipulated against any Scotch Catholic sitting in the two Houses of parliament—the introduction of the word "Protestant" in her part of the articles barred all alteration. All therefore that could be done, under such a restriction, was, to leave it open to Scotland, in the progress of the liberal spirit of the age, to apply to the united legislature when she wished to remove that impediment. As England was the stronger party to that contract, the proposition should be left entirely to Scotland; end, though he felt the injustice to the individuals, he preferred the lesser evil of, subjecting to disfranchisement two Scotch Catholic peers, rather than risk the imputation of violating the articles of Union. It was, however, rather extraordinary, and not in accordance with the general tone of the Irish character, that they should, in their arrangement, have so sagaciously provided for those alterations which an enlightened policy might suggest, while the more staid, and prudent, and provident character of the Scottish nation, fettered itself by positive restrictions—he felt he had little more to add. The learned gentleman had, indeed, saved him from the effort. The learned gentleman had said, he would reserve his more cogent arguments for the future stages of the measure—a mark of his sagacity, which he (Mr. C.) hailed as decisive of the success of the proposition now under discussion. 276 Neither, the learned gentleman, nor his right hon. friend, discussed that question on the grounds of its legality, its expediency, or its justice. They were adverse to it, because it was a partial measure. Now, considering it partial, only as constituting a part of the whole, he could not discover the grounds of that blame which n such a sense, attached to his proposition. He had heard a lesson on that subject read, and successfully read, by those who defeated the general measure of Catholic concession, on the very ground that From its generality they were perplexed. Give them any specific part, any fit or suitable proposition, and they were ready to discuss it. Here, then, was a part of the great question resting on its own particular merits—here was a dismemberment of the general claims relieved from the perplexity of details, that might be decided without any pledge to future extension. And yet, the very persons who so ardently sought for the separated proposition, now turned round upon the proposer, converted the separate recommendation into its demerit, and exclaimed, we want no isolated, no partial concession. "Our great capacity has stomach for it all." For his own part, he could not recognize the value of that attachment to the constitution, which only manifested itself in hostility to the speculative tenets of millions of his countrymen. He appreciated far more highly the blessings of the constitution under which he lived, than to think that it essentially consisted, not in protection, but exclusion—not in the consciousness of the blessings it imparted, but in the perpetuity of tests, which he never heard administered at that table without feeling that while they were useless as to the discharge of any legislative function, they were well calculated to give pain to millions of his fellow subjects. And yet they were told, that independently of all positive claims, exclusion was the talisman that called all the virtues of our constitution into existence; and oaths of disqualification were the securities on which its permanence depended. His right hon. friend had told him, that he had under-rated the extent of those dangers, under which these disqualifications were introduced—that he had not sufficiently calculated on the hazards, which the Protestant religion encountered in the reign of Charles 2nd. He did not under-rate those dangers. He believed that a more profligate or corrupt monarch 277 than Charles 2nd never sate upon the throne. He was bent upon destroying the liberties of the country, and introducing slavery. He was secretly attached to popery, while he openly professed Protestantism; and history related, that he went to a Catholic and a Protestant chapel on one and the same day, and received the communion at both. He was a bigot at the commencement of his reign, and a tyrant at its conclusion. But, all this and much more, which he was willing to concede, would make against and not for the argument of his right hon. friend. Did he not perceive that the more depraved the character of the government of that day, the less excuse there was now for the continuance of those acts of Catholic persecution which marked the history of that period? Every circumstance between that period and the present was not only dissimilar, but contrasted. He would go along with his right hon. friend in condemnation of all those acts of bigotry and oppression which disgraced the reign of that profligate monarch; but he must deny the remotest similitude between that period and the present time. What danger could we feel in restoring the descendants of six Catholic peers to the enjoyment of their family honours? We had now no fear of a Popish king, or a Popish presumptive heir to the throne. We had none of those dangers which but palliated the injustice of that disfranchisement. These were objections which met the opponents of his motion in full front, and which, notwithstanding the "fears of the brave and follies of the wise," had no ground of existence in the circumstances of these times. Either these restrictions were continued on the grounds on which they were originally imposed, or the advocates for their continuance were called upon to show the reasons why they should be perpetuated. What equivalent, in the latter case, could his right hon. friend show for a Popish king—a Popish successor—or a ministry conspiring against the religion of the state and the constitution of the country? The consideration of such fears as these might be adjourned, with the remainder of the hon. and learned gentleman's speech, to a future day. He could not conclude without anticipating that the present partial success would dead to the attainment of the greater concession; the benefit of which he sincerely trusted the country would speedily enjoy.
§ The House then divided: Ayes 249; Noes 244; Majority for the motion 5.
|List of the Minority.|
|A'Court, E. A.||Davis, R. H.|
|Alexander, J.||Dawkins, J.|
|Antrobus, G. C.||Dawkins, H.|
|Apsley, lord||Dawson, G.|
|Archdall, M.||Deerhurst, visc.|
|Ashhurst, W. H.||Dickinson, W.|
|Astell, W.||Divett, Thos.|
|Astley, sir J. D.||Dodson, John|
|Bankes, H.||Domville, sir C.|
|Bankes, G.||Dowdeswell, J. E.|
|Barne, M.||Downie, R.|
|Barry, rt. hon. J. M.||Douglas, J.|
|Bastard, E. P.||Drake, W. T.|
|Bastard, J.||Drake, T. T.|
|Bathurst, hon. T. S.||Dugdale, T. S.|
|Belfast, earl of||Duncombe, C.|
|Bentinck, lord F.||Duncombe, W.|
|Beresford, lord G.||Egerton, W.|
|Beresford, sir J. P.||Ellis, T.|
|Bernard, visct.||Ennismore, visc.|
|Blackburne, J.||Estcourt, T. G.|
|Blair, J.||Fairlie, sir W. C.|
|Boughey, sir J. F.||Fane, John|
|Bouverie, hon. B.||Fane, Vere|
|Bradshaw, R. H.||Farrand, R.|
|Bridges, G.||Fellowes, W. H.|
|Bright, H.||Fetherstone, sir T.|
|Bruce, R.||Fleming, John|
|Brudenell, lord||Forde, M.|
|Buchanan, J.||Forrester, F.|
|Butterworth, Jos.||Gascoyne, Isaac|
|Buxton, J. L.||Gifford, sir R.|
|Calvert, John||Gipps, Geo.|
|Cartwright, W. R.||Gooch, T. S.|
|Chandos, marq.||Gordon, hon. W.|
|Chaplin, C.||Gossett, col.|
|Cheere, E. M.||Goulburn, rt. hon. H.|
|Cherry, G.||Grant, A. C.|
|Chetwynd, G.||Greville, sir C.|
|Childe, W. L.||Graves, lord|
|Cholmeley, sir M.||Grosett, J. R.|
|Claughton, Thomas||Handley, H.|
|Clements, hon. J. M.||Hart, general|
|Clinton, sir W.||Harvey, sir E.|
|Clinton, H. Fynes||Heber, R.|
|Clive, hon. R.||Heygate, W.|
|Clive, H.||Hill, rt. hn. sir G. F.|
|Cole, sir G. L.||Hill, Rowland|
|Collett, E. J.||Hodson, J.|
|Congreve, sir W.||Holford, G. P.|
|Cooper, E. S.||Holmes, W.|
|Cooper, R. B.||Horrocks, S.|
|Copley, sir J. S.||Hotham, lord|
|Corbett, P.||Houldsworth, T.|
|Cotterell, sir J. G.||Howard, hon. F. G.|
|Cripps, J.||Hudson, H.|
|Curteis, E. J.||Innes, John|
|Curzon, hon. R.||Irving, John|
|Cust, hon. W.||Jervoise, G. P.|
|Cust, hon. P.||Keck, G. A. L.|
|Cust, hon. E.||King, sir J. D.|
|Cuffe, col.||Kinnersley, W. S.|
|Davenport, D.||Knatchbull, sir E.|
|Langston, J. H.||Rowley, sir J.|
|Lascelles, hon. W. S.||Russell, J. W.|
|Legh, Thos.||Ryder, rt. hon. Rd.|
|Leigh, Francis||St. Paul, sir H.|
|Leigh, J. H.||Scott, Samuel|
|Leslie, C. P.||Scott, hon. W. H. J.|
|Legge, hon. H.||Shelley, sir J.|
|Lethbridge, sir T.||Shiffner, sir G.|
|Lewis, Wyndham||Smith, T. A.|
|Lindsay, lord||Smith, Ch.|
|Lindsay, hon. H.||Smith, Abel|
|Long, right hon. sir C.||Sneyd, N.|
|Lopez, sir M.||Somerset, lord E.|
|Lowther, visc.||Somerset, lord G.|
|Lowther, hon. H.||Sotheron, F.|
|Lowther, John||Stanhope, hon. J. H.|
|Lowther, J. H.||Stewart, sir J.|
|Lucy, G.||Stewart, W.|
|Lushington, S. R.||Stopford, lord|
|Luttrell, J. F.||Strathaven, lord|
|Lygon, hon. H.||Strutt, J. H.|
|Maberly, John||Stuart, W.|
|Magennis, R.||Sumner, G. H.|
|Manners, lord C.||Suttie, sir James|
|Manners, lord R.||Taylor, G. W.|
|Macnaghten, E. A.||Taylor, sir H.|
|Mansfield, John||Thynne, lord|
|Martin, sir T. B.||Tompson, W.|
|Maxwell, J. W.||Townshend, lord J.|
|Miles, P. J.||Townshend, hon. H.|
|Mitchell, John||Tremayne, J. H.|
|Monteith, H.||Trench, F. W.|
|Morgan, sir C.||Tulk, C. A.|
|Morgan, G. G.||Vansittart, rt. hon. N.|
|Mount Charles, earl||Vaughan, sir R.|
|Mundy, G.||Ure, M.|
|Musgrave, sir P.||Walker, J.|
|Newman, R.||Wallace, rt. hon. T.|
|Nicholl, R. H. sir J.||Walpole, lord|
|Nightingall, sir M.||Wells, John|
|Northey, W.||Wemyss, J.|
|Ommanney, sir F.||Westenra, hon. H.|
|O'Neill, hn. J. R. B.||Wetherell, C.|
|Onslow, Arthur.||Whitmore, Thos.|
|Osborne, sir John||Wildman, J. B.|
|Owen, sir John||Wigram, Wm.|
|Palk, sir L.||Wilbraham, E. B.|
|Paxton, W. G.||Williams, Rt.|
|Pearse, John||Willoughby, H.|
|Pechell, sir T.||Wilson, sir H. W.|
|Peel, right hon. R.||Wilson, Tho.|
|Peel, W. G.||Wilson, W. W. C.|
|Pellew, hon. P. B.||Wodehouse, hon. J.|
|Pennant, G. H. D.||Worcester, Marquis|
|Percy, hon. W.||PAIRED-OFF.|
|Pitt, W. M.||Ancram, lord|
|Pitt, Jos.||Beauchamp, visc.|
|Pole, sir Peter||Burrell, sir C.|
|Pollen, sir John||Campbell, A.|
|Pollington, visct.||Cawthorne, J. F.|
|Powell, W. E.||Cole, sir C.|
|Raine, Jonathan||Crawley, S.|
|Rice, hon. G.||Curtis, sir W.|
|Rickford, W.||Dalrymple, A.|
|Robarts, A.W.||Hope, sir W. J.|
|Robertson, Alex.||Jenkinson, hon. C. C.|
|Rogers, Edward||Jocelyn, hon. J.|
|Lennox, lord G.||Swann, H.|
|Mundy, E. M.||Smith, Samuel|
|Price, Rich.||Vivian, sir H.|
|Rochfort, G. H.||Ward, R.|
|Seymour, Horace||Yarmouth, earl|
|Skeffington, hon. T.|