§ On the motion of Mr. Canning, the order of the day was read for the second reading of the Catholic Peers bill.
§ Mr. T. A. Smith
said, he felt if his duty to address a few observations to the House on this particular measure, but on the general question he would not say one word. With all the respect which he had for the wonderful talents and splendid eloquence of the right hon. member who had introduced the bill, he could not help looking on this measure as a most extraordinary one. He thought the measure most unfair, most unjust, towards the great body of the Catholics: he thought it most aristocratic in its principle; for 476 what could be more aristocratic than to grant a boon to the peers, and to leave the commoners in their existing situation? On a former evening he had paid the most sedulous attention to the hon. mover's speech. He had listened to it with impatience, not unmixed with alarm, after what had fallen from the hon. member for Somersetshire, lest he should be captivated by the voice of the Syren. But the charm of, that address, whatever it might have been, had been completely removed by the speech of the right hon. secretary. If he knew any thing of the subject, the measure of the right hon. member was not pleasing even to the most zealous advocates of Catholic emancipation. He had hoped to see it rejected by a large majority; but he supposed that the right hon. attorney-general for Ireland, finding that he could not prevent the motion from being brought forward, had thought it better to express his approbation of it, than to meet it by moving the previous question, as he had been expected by many to do. If the right hon. attorney-general was sincere in the approbation he expressed, why had he not brought forward the general, measure at once? For certainly the general measure, backed by securities, would have come better to the House than the measure now brought forward. He must express his hope that many members who had supported this measure at first, would, upon consideration, agree in the propriety of its postponement until they came to a vote on the general question. The question, as it now stood, was not whether the story of Titus Oates was false or not, whether Charles 2nd was a Catholic or whether the Catholics were unjustly deprived of their privileges or not; but it was, whether, because they were lords, they ought to be restored to their privileges instanter? But if ever a time should arise when such securities were offered as would be deemed sufficient in the opinion of his right hon. friend (Mr. Peel), and would induce him to relax his opposition, then, and not till then, would he accede to the concession.
§ Mr. Wetherell
said, that upon all former occasions he had been an opponent of the measure, termed Catholic emancipation; and whatever objections, founded upon what he conceived to be the just and wise policy, and the real principles of the constitution, had upon former occasions appeared to him to be fairly available against 477 the measure, in the different shapes in which it had been formerly brought forward, had in his judgment assumed a double weight as against the extraordinary bill then under consideration.
It belonged to great genius to take a flight peculiar to itself, and to quit the beaten course of ordinary men; and in that respect no person had higher pretensions than the right hon. gentleman. But what struck him as so singular in this instance was, that the right hon. gentleman not only differed in the step he now proposed to take, from the common mass of opinions on the subject, but he was equally at variance with the known and declared opinions and the practical conduct of all the great men who had preceded him, in endeavouring to accomplish the same object. The right hon. gentleman's name might be well classed with those of his illustrious predecessors in the field; Mr. Pitt, Mr. Burke, Mr. Fox, Mr. Windham, Mr. Ponsonby, and Mr. Grattan. Equal rank with them as Catholic emancipators, the right hon. gentleman would ask for, and it was assuredly his—superiority he would probably not aspire to—and yet, however strange, so it was, that the right hon. gentleman forgetting the sentiments and professions of these, his former companions in arms, took a course diametrically opposite to theirs, and virtually and in effect, condemned their policy and threw a reproach on them for want of liberality and wisdom.
If the right hon. gentleman's measure was right, their's was wrong; for their's and his were repugnant and incompatible. Soon after the Irish Union, Mr. Pitt first broached the general idea of what is called Catholic emancipation. The entire intermixture of the countries, as he conceived, counterbalanced the local preponderance of the Catholic population of Ireland, which, in the separate state of that country, as he thought, could not safely be entrusted with an accession of power and strength. But that great man, whenever he spoke of the measure he had in prospect, contemplating as he probably did, the equalization of Catholics and Protestants, in all their relations towards the state, and in all their civil functions and employments, always spoke of concessions to be made and of securities to be required. The precise nature of these securities he did not indeed specify, for no measure had then been matured on the subject, nor was any practically brought for- 478 ward in his time, and therefore the species, the quality, the detail and structure of theses securities, which he conceived to be essential cannot be exactly known. But it is indisputable and beyond doubt that Mr. Pitt, the first author of the idea of abolishing the distinction between the two religions, for the purpose of general and equal civil capacity, never dreamt of absolute and unqualified, but of qualified and conditional emancipation. His doctrine was, not that Catholic interests and feelings were unproductive of any danger; on the contrary, his doctrine was, that the apprehended danger did exist, but that it might be balanced by securities sufficient to control and overcome it. Mr. Pitt's plan was that of some general measure with securities. What was the right hon. gentleman's plan, a partial measure without any securities whatever. The comprehensive theory of that great statesman, was thus completely abandoned and repudiated by the present bill, which was its direct reverse.
But this was not all, after Mr. Pitt's death, in proportion as the subject advanced towards some practical step, the Catholic community were themselves consulted, and a kind of negotiation was entered upon, and securities to a certain extent were offered by themselves. There were many difficulties in their final settlement; but still securities were offered. The project proceeded and the cause of emancipation from time to time gained considerable strength, till at length Mr. Grattan's bill was brought in, the provisions of which he should hereafter have occasion more particularly no notice. Their general contents were already within the recollection of the House. What were the opinions of Mr. Grattan on this subject may be learnt equally from his speeches and his bill. Mr. Grattan's plan, following that of Mr. Pitt, was, to adopt a general measure which was to comprehend all subjects of difference with the Catholic body; the affairs of their church, the appointing their bishops, and other ecclesiastics, their mode of correspondence with the see of Rome; their claim to admission to both House of Parliament, and to fill civil offices. These concessions having been made, pledges and securities were to be given as far as could be, to prevent and abuse of this equal power, and to enforce and maintain their perfect alliance and consolidation with the state. Amongst the most warm and most zealous friends 479 of emancipation, this kind of feeling was expressed; give every thing which ought to be given, and demand every thing which can be reasonably required; do this, and unanimity and confidence will instantly assume the place of jealousy and distrust. Mr. Grattan's precise expression when he produced his bill was, "Here are our securities, where are your concessions." Now what a strange contrast with this full and comprehensive plan of Mr. Grattan, this exchange of terms mutually proposed and complied with, which was to harmonize and unite both parties in common and equal confidence; what a grievous departure from all this was this insulated step, this fragment of a system, this piece meal legislation which they were called upon to adopt! The peer is to be invested with the most honourable, the largest, and most valuable power in, the state; and is bound by no oath, test, or security whatever, to recognize the civil superiority of the state, or the supremacy of the king upon those various subjects so highly important to the independency and the very being of the empire, and so absolutely essential to the power and just prerogative of the Crown as the civil head of the government, which have always constituted, and still constitute the danger of external influence and authority, on the part of the see of Rome, under the pretence of mere and pure religion. Why is this unrestricted unlimited confidence to be placed in the peer alone? Why, because we have been told, and truly, that from the time of queen. Elizabeth, to the 30th Charles the second, there was no test to exclude peers from taking their seats. Queen Elizabeth says in her statute that she was otherwise "assured of the faith and loyalty of the temporal lords of her parliament and therefore does not require them to take the oaths of supremacy imposed upon the members of this House." From Charles the second's time to this moment, the test has equally affected both Houses; and now, by a partiality and predilection for the aristocratical order, not very congenial to the feelings of this House, not quite consistent perhaps with our immediate duty to secure the popular and plebeian rights of our own equals and constituents, we are called upon by the right hon. gentleman's bill to keep the doors of this House still closed against a Catholic commoner, by allowing the statute of queen Elizabeth to remain in force as against them, while, 480 with more politeness than justice, we are about to restore the excluded lords; our friends the commoners may well complain of our desertion in leaving them in the lobby.
It might have been as well to leave the House of Lords to originate this bill themselves, though I agree with the right hon. gentleman, that he has precedent in his favour, for the exclusion bill of Charles the 2nd, actually originated in this House; and instances may be produced in which the House of Lords have originated bills upon subjects apparently more appropriate to ourselves. It is not worth disputing, however, whether propriety, would most require the initiative of the measure to be elsewhere or here. But other and infinitely more important considerations grew out of this solitary and isolated step, which will hereafter involve the justice and consistency of this House as they affect the Catholic body at large. If the peer is to be made the precursor of the commoner into parliament, unrestricted by those oaths and securities which by Mr. Grattan's bill in 1813, and by the bill of the last session were imposed on lay Catholics as well as upon the church. If the peer is to take no oath of supremacy according to the right hon. gentleman's bill, I beg to ask on what ground can the Catholic member be restricted by such an oath? Are we to allow our own House to be subjected to tests which it is thought safe and advisable to remove from the other House?
Why then the right hon. gentleman either does or does not mean that the Catholic commoner and the Catholic peer shall be placed on the same footing.—If that be his intention, why should not both, contemporaneously and passibus œquis be allowed to sit in parliament?—But, if the right hon. gentleman does not mean to treat the two cases as the same, why does he not?—for constitutionally they are identically the same, and if he will not—this House must treat them as the same, unless it chooses to abandon its character equally for consistency and justice. But it may be answered to this, that next session a bill may be introduced to repeal the statutes of Elizabeth, and what difference is there in a few months. Why this series of separate bills, and separate measures, this legislation sparsim is the very thing to be complained of.—It is destructive of the essential character and admitted policy of the 481 general measure as an entire system.—Next session comes a bill to make the Catholic commoner admissible here.—Can you demand oaths and securities from him?—No—The session after this the pretensions of the Catholic church will be advanced.—They will say, why entertain fear or jealousy of us?—why suspect our allegiance and submission to the civil supremacy of the state?—Why quarrel with us about the limits of what is spiritual discipline belonging to the pope as a mere religionist and civil power which belongs to the king?—You have trusted the peer and the member of parliament on this subject—you have actually Committed into their hands, a large share of the civil power of the state itself, leave to us the mere private discipline of our church:—What answer will you give to the Catholic church.—Lastly comes a bill to' grant admission to all civil offices.—Why ask security from a removable servant of the Crown, when none is to be taken from a member of either House?—Can any gentleman fail to see that this Course of proceeding at once destroys the very basis of that system of confidence to be founded on just protection and precaution which was to be Made the vital principle of the measure.—For upwards of 20 years, from the time of the Irish Union, we have heard of nothing but concession and security—these terms have been coupled together, whenever Catholic emancipation was mentioned—they have always been associated and treated as inseparable in every publication out of doors; in every speech made in this House, and in the silent votes of those who did not speak.—But what is still more, they were embodied and combined together in Mr. Grattan's bill in 1813, and in the bill of the right hon. the attorney general for Ireland of the last session. They have had the sanction of members of this House on several discussions—and this House, having, in the last session, legislatively declared by passing the bill that securities were necessary,—the right hon. gentleman by his present bill, which is the acme and perfection of unrivalled singularity, is calling upon the House virtually to declare that they are not necessary, and to involve themselves in the inconsistency of contradicting their own vote of the last session. He trusted that he might be allowed to address this point to the considerate reflection of the House—and to ask, how 482 it was possible for this measure to inspire harmony and conciliation, and to give satisfaction or confidence to the Protestant mind and feelings of the country, when a contradiction so palpable could be so justly imputable to parliament itself. He would, however, endeavour to follow the right hon. gentleman and to examine as well as he could, what were his own reasons for deserting the general measure, and taking up his partial and particular Measure,—As far as he could judge of those reasons, dropping the splendor and eloquence of the right hon. gentleman's speech, it seemed to him, that his first proposition was, that the exclusion bill of Charles the second grew entirely out of the pretended Popish Plot—that it was the offspring of the delirium and alarm which then agitated the public feelings.—That its origin was unjust, and that its continuance Was equally so.—Now he would agree with him in saying, that a great part of, Titus Oates's narrative was a huge lie. Dryden's description of it is perhaps the best.Some truth there was, but dashed and brewed with lies.It appeared foreign to common sense that the Papists should enter into a scheme to assassinate the king who was supposed to be at heart a Papist, though he dared not to shew any marks Of external conformity to the church of Rome.
But granting a great part of the plot to be a fiction. It is notorious, that during the reign of Charles 2nd, a correspondence was carried on with the see of Rome and its emissaries, for the purpose of supplanting the Protestant religion. His right honourable friend (Mr. Peel) had already alluded to it. He would, however, refer the House to a very important historical document on that subject, which would prove that Louis the 14th was well acquainted with, and a party in these transactions. He alluded to the dispatches which passed between the French court and Barillon, who was then minister here, Which Mr. Fox first brought to light, and published in his historical work, having Obtained them at Paris from the archives of the secretary of state's office. It appears, that as soon as the breath was out of the king's body, Barillon writes over to Verseilles, and it is pretty clear from his letter that the king died in communion with the church of Rome, and 10 days afterwards the king directs him to ascertain what "was the strength of the Catholic Party in England:"
483 It cannot be doubted, that during the reign of Charles the second, the Papists were encouraged with the hope, and entertained the project, of overturning the Protestant establishment at some future opportunity, and though the right hon. gentleman has said, that the exclusion of the duke of York was the principal object of the bill, I cannot agree with him in thinking that the exclusion of Catholic peers was unjust or uncalled for by the circumstances of the times, though the imputations then raised against Papists may have been aggravated, by mere fear and alarm, beyond the truth.
But be this as it may, and supposing that at the precise period when the restriction commenced, no case of fair and reasonable necessity for its origin existed—What would the right hon. gentleman say to the whole transactions, to the entire character of the reign of James the Second?—Would he say, that there existed no fair and reasonable necessity for its continuance during his reign?—Would he say, that the statute ought to have ceased and to have been repealed in his reign?—No—this would be much too absurd.—Well, then, supposing, for the sake of the argument, the origin of the exclusion to have been premature; the reign of James the 2nd would, beyond all doubt, have justified the origin of the exclusion then, as undoubtedly it justified the continuance of it.—He must own therefore that he could net feel the force of the argument, which the right hon. gentleman would deduce from his historical survey, for granting his view of the times to be correct—granting that the exclusion law was an unjust sacrifice to the popular delirium—granting the non-existence of any just cause for passing the statute;—still, if other causes afterwards authorised its continuance, as confessedly they did, the real questions were, at what former period the statute ought to have been repealed, and whether it ought to be repealed now.
This led him on, in the order of time, to the Revolution, it was to that important and momentous period—it was to what was then laid down and established as essential points in the British constitution, it was to the principles then fixed for the preservation of the Protestant monarchy, and liberties of this country, that he had ever looked and should ever look for the regulation of his own opinion on this subject—And here his difference was extreme With both the right hon. gentle- 484 men. But the right hon. gentleman (Mr. Canning) passing by the constitutional law of the Revolution, had endeavoured to insulate the case of the peer, and to treat it as a case standing upon grounds of exception to the general rule of the constitution, or upon grounds sufficient to distinguish it from the case of the commoner, and from the merits of the general measure—now what were these grounds?—Why the right hon. gentleman had said, that the peer qua peer had a right to legislate—that his seat in the House of lords is an absolute right, inherent in his rank and order—a right a priori flowing out of his peerage—this right he says, and truly, was taken away from the peer by the statute Charles the 2nd which operated as a depriving law, though he was allowed to sit under the statute of the 5th Elizabeth, which imposed a test operating as an exclusion of a Catholic commoner from this House. He had next said, that the case of the commoner is that of simple eligibility, or mere capacity of representation, a possible contingent privilege, not an absolute or positive right annexed to the person. Why undoubtedly for legal purposes this distinction exists, for the purpose of mere abstract or metaphysical definition this distinction may be drawn.—But for the purpose of the more large and ample definition of civil and political right—this difference between privilege and right, between the capacity to be chosen as a representative, and the original personal title of a peer, is most flimsey, and unsubstantial, and contrary to the genius and spirit of the constitution. In both cases the restriction is equally unjust, and improper, unless political expediency renders it necessary.—The commons as legislators can only act by representation.—The peerage acts personally and individually. The principle of deprivation or exclusion, by requiring a religious test, operates upon the representative character of a member, precisely in the same manner, and as injuriously, as upon the original personal character of a peer.—There is no practical difference between the functions which either party is prohibited from exercising. Politically speaking, the cases are one and the same. But upon this part of the subject, he had higher authority than his own, he had that of his right hon. friend the attorney-general for Ireland. The right hon. gentleman (Mr. Canning) had differed from every Catholic 485 liberator in bringing forward a part of the measure instead of the whole—and what was not less remarkable, he differed also in his arguments from every other person.—The House well recollected the able display of reasoning of the attorney-general of Ireland, when he supported his general measure in the last session; upon that occasion a passage was produced by him from lord Bacon, which was much cheered and applauded, in which that great man speaks of "competency or ability, to enjoy all the benefits of the constitution, as the birth-right of all the king's subjects" and the right hon. the attorney-general for Ireland, reasoned powerfully for the universal and equal political and civil right of every Catholic to enjoy office, honour and power under the state—upon lord Bacon's principle, and upon arguments precisely the reverse of those, by which the right hon. gentleman would now deduce the subtle and untungible difference between the eligibility of the commoner and the inherent right of the peer.
But, he had no objection to examine this notion of right in the positive sense, in which the right hon. gentleman now urged it. In that view his proposition seemed to be, that the exercise of a personal right, could not be made to depend on a religious test—for his own part, be had always understood, that, according to the first principles of civil society, right itself gave way to expediency. And that it was essential to the very existence of every government, of whatever form or composition, that the right to share in the powers of the state, must depend upon considerations of political expediency affecting each state.—Under this constitution a case could hardly be put, of any right which was not made to depend on expediency alone. But he would not travel beyond the particular case of rights subjected to religious qualifications. You have taken away, said the right hon. gentleman, the personal right of a peer, by the depriving statute of 30th Charles 2nd; restore it back to him again, place him in the same situation as he stood in at the Reformation.—But did not the very same argument upon the doctrine of right, embrace the Crown, as well as the peer? Had not the sovereign a personal right as sovereign, a priori, to maintain or oppose the Catholic, or the Protestant faith, whichever he might think the better?—yes. But by your coronation oath, you have 486 taken away that personal right. Hat not the sovereign a personal right to choose his consort? But you have taken it away by the bill of rights. Had not the sovereign a personal right to liberty of conscience in matters of religion?—yes. But the bill of rights has said no; he must and shall be a Protestant, and it exacts from him the same qualification as the statute 30th Charles 2nd exacts from the peer. The deprivation, then, of the personal right of the Crown is not an anomaly peculiar to his case. It stands upon that general principle which requires Protestantism from the Crown, from the member of parliament, and from every individual holding a civil place or office. If a peer were not subject to the same test, the anomaly upon the notion of right would just be the other way. The attempt of the right hon. gentleman was, to represent the case of the peer, as a solitary case, whereas it was actually the case of the king, and the caso of the commoner, and was governed by the same pervading and universal principle which ran through every branch of the state and affected in a similar manner and degree every individual who lived under it.
He would now pass on to another topic in the speech of the right hon. gentleman, upon the soundness or fallacy of which depended, in his opinion, the most important consideration of the question.—The right hon. gentleman, throughout, his speech, insinuated, that at the Revolution it was not understood that the legislature should be exclusively Protestant. And his right hon. friend, the attorney general for Ireland, had, in his speech, in terms the most direct, asserted, that the exclusion of Catholics was not fundamental principle of the Revolution. This statement he had heard with utter surprise and astonishment, and he would undertake to demonstrate the direct contrary, and this from several sources. He would first refer the House to an important historical document, which he believed had not been noticed, in the former discussions on this subject. Gentlemen recollected, that before the Revolution, James 2nd had endeavoured to sound the political feelings of the prince and princess of Orange. He would have made them parties if he could, in his conspiracy against the liberties and constitution of this country; fortunately he did not succeed, or we should have had no deliverer in the person of king William. The correspondence on 487 this subject was conducted by Mr. Stewart on the part of James 2nd, and by Pensionary Fagel on the part of the prince and princess of Orange. He would read teethe House, Pensionary Fagel's letter. "And if his majesty James 2nd desires their concurrence in repealing the penal laws, their highnesses are ready to give it; provided those laws remain still in their full force, by which Roman Catholics are shut out of both Houses of Parliament, and out of all public employments, ecclesiastical, civil and military, as likewise those other laws, which confirm the Protestant religion, and which secure it against all the attempts of the Roman Catholics. But their highnesses cannot agree to the repeal of the test, and those other Penal laws last mentioned, that teat to the security of the Protestant religion; since the Roman Catholics receive no other prejudice from these, than the being excluded from parliament, and all public employments, and that, by them, the Protestant religion was sheltered from all the designs of the Roman Catholics against it, or against the public safety. That neither the test, nor those other laws can be said to carry any severity in them against the Roman Catholics, on account of their consciences, being only provisions qualifying men to be members of parliament, or to bear offices, by which they must declare before God and men, that they were for the Protestant religion, so that, indeed, all this amounted to no more, than to a securing of the Protestants from any prejudices it may receive from the Roman Catholics."—
What will gentlemen say to this letter? They must dispute the plain meaning of the English language to get rid of its effect. Here is the demonstration of history—which will gentlemen prefer, the truth of history, or the beauty and splendour of the right hon. gentleman's declamation? Politically speaking, the letter was a treaty between king William and the British people—it was in the nature of a compact, combining those rules and maxims of government by which he proposed to bind himself.—His opinions had become known. It was ascertained, that he refused to join king James in his conspiracy to overturn the Protestant establishment, and it was this fixed point in his character which induced this country afterwards to place themselves under his protection. This correspondence took place some time prior to the actual crisis 488 of the Revolution. Upon the abdication of James, king William was invited to take the vacant throne. He came here upon the grounds of political good faith—nay more upon the faith of a direct political treaty between himself and the British people—the fundamental principle of which was, to make Protestantism exclusively the basis and character of the constitution and the government, to consolidate it essentially with every one of its departments, and to make the profession and the practice of it a preliminary, and an absolute and indispensable qualification, for the exercise of the political powers and duties of the state in. every one of its branches. In the Crown, in the peerage—in this House and every civil place and office of every description.
When he heard this principle disputed, when he heard it denied as a Revolution, principle, that the members of the two branches of the legislature which belonged to the people, must be exclusively Protestant, he could hardly trust his hearing. But assert it who may, and he was sorry when the assertion came from so high a quarter, the assertion was ins the teeth of direct historical testimony, and not less in the teeth of the legislative declaration of the Bill of Rights. There may be, indeed, some principles of the constitution with respect to which, it must be left to, construction to decide, whether they are Revolution principles. Some doctrines can be collected only inferentially, and argumentatively from what then passed.—But this point did not depend upon inference or construction, or loose understanding; nor did it want the aid of external history to determine, though he would still say that Pensionary Fagel's letter was an important historical document which ought to be kept in view as illustrating the legislative mind of the framers of the Bill of Rights. In that letter toleration principles are laid down, and a relaxation of the Penal Code, as far as it was not inconsistent with these principles. But the line of distinction is drawn and reasoned upon between the exercise of religion and the exercise of political power. The former it was proposed to place upon a liberal footing; but the restriction from sitting in either House of Parliament it is declared shall still be continued in force against the Catholics. In consonance with the principles thus avowed by the prince of Orange, the House recollects, that the act, called 489 the Toleration act, was one of the earliest of king William's reign, and he made good his promise to establish the freedom of religious opinions and worship. In consonance with the principle so plainly and explicitly avowed by him, that Catholics should not sit in parliament, you will find a declaration in the Bill of Rights embodying in itself, declaring and practically maintaining that principle in a very remarkable manner.
The House will recollect, that the first parliament of king William, called the Revolution parliament, was, in truth, not a parliament constitutionally assembled under the great seal. But it was a convention summoned by letters from the prince of Orange. He wished gentlemen would condescend to look into the Bill of Rights. He knew not whether they would like the trouble to do so, for he had been censured for the drudgery of reading too much on this subject. There might be such a thing as an alternative of that fault which he supposed was matter of praise. In this same Bill of Rights, now scarcely recollected, the doctrines of which are now repudiated, disputed, and denied, was to be found this remarkable passage—that the prince's letters of summons were written "to the lords spiritual and temporal, being Protestants." And yet we have been most boldly told, but most unadvisedly, that the exclusion of Catholics was not a Revolution principle. This very statement, could only be introduced to mark the entire Protestant character of the legislature. And its meaning is as plain as if a declaratory enactment had been introduced, providing that the restrictive statute of Charles 2nd should continue in force. It operates virtually, as a re-assertion of the principle of that statute.
Pursuing the same line of inquiry, be would next refer to another most material source of illustration—he meant that branch of the coronation oath, or rather that new and substantive oath, for the first time introduced at the Revolution, by which the Crown is bound to maintain the true profession of the Protestant reformed religion, established by law, and the rights and privileges of the clergy and the church. This personal duty and restriction upon the power and the conscience of the Crown, had never been imposed upon any sovereign after the Reformation. The coronation oath did not bind queen Elizabeth to maintain the 490 Reformation; and the old customary coronation oath continued through the reigns of the four princes of the house of Stuart. It merely bound the Crown to preserve the rights and liberties of the, people. But the coronation oath of king William imposed a new duty and a new personal character on the sovereign. It binds the Crown in its legislative, as well as in its executive character, to maintain the Protestant establishment with all its rights. The Crown, in its legislative character, and as one of three legislative estates of the realm, must be personally protestant, and it would be a breach of that oath to concur in acts of legislation subversive or injurious to Protestant interests. And precisely upon the same principle, the other two integral parts of the entire legislature were, at the Revolution, not for the first time subjected to the same restrictive qualification as the sovereign, but the antecedent restrictions were continued; and consistency required that it should be so, not for the purpose of theoretical uniformity, not for the purpose of the ideal beauties of symmetry and regularity in the features of the constitution, but for the necessary practical purposes of legislation in carrying on the affairs of a Protestant government with safety and permanency. What a gross violation of principle. What a monstrous departure would it be from all good sense and practical wisdom, that one constituent part of the legislature should be Protestant, bound by a rigid obligation on its conscience to maintain Protestantism, while the other branches might be Catholic. Was it possible that a state of things, so utterly incongruous and discrepant with itself, could be intended as a system for the government of this country. He was unwilling to trouble the House further with what passed at the time of the Revolution, because he thought it superfluous to do so. He must observe, however, that the drift of the right hon. gentleman's (Mr. Canning) speech rather went to infer, that this point had passed unobserved, or sub silentio, at the Revolution, and that the statute of Charles 2nd, now sought to be repealed, had not been distinctly brought under notice at that period. Now, it was not very likely that Somers was unacquainted with the history of the proceedings connected with Titus Oates's plot, and unversed in the general nature and transactions of the reign of king Charles 491 2nd. And so little time was it that the restrictions, virtually created by the statute of Charles against Catholic peers, and which prevented them sitting in parliament, were unnoticed; so little time was it that the letter and the spirit of that restriction were not intended to be kept alive and perpetuated by the constitutional system settled at the Revolution; so little was this the case, that it is remarkable that the Bill of Rights refers to the statute of Charles 2nd, and imposes upon the king, at the age of 12 years, the obligation of repeating that very identical declaration against transubstantiation, the repeating or refusal to repeat which, was introduced by the statute of Charles, as the qualification or disqualification of peers for taking or not taking their seats in the House of Lords.
The right hon. gentleman (Mr. Canning) had accurately enough divided his historical periods, and had commented at large on the transactions of the reign of Charles 2nd. He had excited the sympathy of the House by reminding them of the judicial murder of lord Stafford. The right hon. gentleman's main argument seemed to be the fiction of the Popish Plot; but the right hon. gentleman had not said one word as to the transactions of the reign of James 2nd, though these, he presumed, were not fictions but realities; nor had he even once referred to the Bill of Rights; nor had he said, one syllable as to what was meant to be the real and permanent character of the constitution, as settled at the Revelation. It served well the purpose of the right hon. gentleman to omit all this. But his right hon. colleague had not so contented himself; for he had broadly asserted (how correctly he must leave the House to decide) that the power of legislation was not, at the Revolution, exclusively embodied with Protestantism. He would crave the indulgence of the House to say a little more, and it would be but little, on this branch of the subject. He could assure them that he wished to avoid going into the consideration of the general measure, and would only notice those points which had not been adverted to in former discussions, or which had a pointed and distinct bearing on the immediate and particular question now before the House.—Keeping within this range, he would next remind them, that about eighteen years after the Revolution the very same principle by which the Protestant character 492 and constitution of the English parliament was secured, was embodied into and made a fundamental principle in the union with Scotland. At a very short interval before the treaty of union was concluded, an act was passed in the then separate parliament of Scotland, by which the 16 representative peers, and the 45 members of this House must be Protestants, and must be elected by Protestants. And this act is made a fundamental article in the treaty of union.
Here again is the Revolution system evidenced and acted upon in the composition of the united parliament. It was entirely unnecessary to refer, for a similar purpose, to the union with Ireland. Now to be told in the teeth of all this that Protestantism was not intended at, the Revolution to be made a Personal condition and an indelible indispensable qualification to the taking a seat in either House, was a statement to which the authority of no man could give one moment's currency.
Wishing to confine himself entirely within the circle of the present question, he would proceed to notice some other topics in the right hon. gentleman's speech. He had said, that the statute of Charles 2nd, was intended as a temporary measure, in order to prevent a Popish successor; but that danger had long since passed and the restriction ought not, therefore, to be prolonged beyond the duration of that necessity which gave it birth; instead of this, it was now made an indiscriminate instrument of vexation. He would not go over that part of the argument again. It might be true, that object was more immediately the exciting motive, the causa causans, for the introduction of the law; but to him it was perfectly manifest that the continuance of it was intended at the Revolution to be made permanent precisely for the same reasons and upon the same principles as the provisions of the Bill of Rights, and the constitutional system of Protestant government was then intended to be made permanent.
Were the provisions of the Bill of Rights to cease when the Popish descendants of James the Second were extinct?—certainly not. Every future king of England in the new Protestant succession was for ever afterwards to be bound by those strict and rigid precautions which were deemed absolutely necessary to prevent the most distant ap- 493 proach of danger to the reformed religion and Protestant liberties of the people. Insomuch, that if any future king should hold communion with the Church of Rome, or profess the Popish religion, or marry a Papist, the crown instantly falls from his head—he is no longer king, and his subjects are ipso facto dissolved from their allegiance. It was not left to parliament by the Bill of Rights, to hear and try these breaches of its provisions, and declare the throne vacant by any intervention or act of legislation on its part. But the fatal consequence is made immediate, absolute, and unavoidable. It was very true, that as long as a Popish pretender to the throne was in existence, the danger to the state from Catholic councils or Catholic power in the country was the greater. But to say, when that greater danger ceased, that all danger ceased, was reasoning which one could not well understand. And assuredly the Bill of Rights was founded on quite opposite reasoning, and introduced a system of permanent precaution to meet even possibilities. But the right hon. gentleman by his present bill, proposes to re-integrate the peer in his lost rights, and replace him in the same state in which he stood in the reign of queen Elizabeth—unfettering him alone from all oaths, tests, restrictions, and securities, because danger had long ceased from a Popish pretender to the throne; As to the see of Rome, what harm could it do? whatever influence it had was gone, it had become effete and inert. And as to the legislative votes of seven or eight Catholic lords, they were melted and diluted in the mass of the peerage and were almost imperceptible. Danger externally or internally had become a vexatious pretence—such was the present strain of the right hon. gentleman's language. The right hon. gentleman had, on a former night, when he (Mr. W.) had ventured to address the House (and at no very auspicious season of the debate), told him, rather pleasantly, that he had reserved his more cogent arguments for the second reading of the bill. Now, if he could show that any arguments about to be used by himself, were in truth, the arguments of the right hon. gentleman against his own, bill, he should then very confidently say they were cogent—not because they were personally his (Mr. W.'s), of which presumption he should not be suspected, but because they were the 494 arguments of the right hon. gentleman himself, who could never be less than year, cogent. Such arguments he thought he could produce from the opinions, the speeches, the votes, the compositions, and the legislation of the right hon. gentleman himself, upon former occasions, connected with the subject before them. Danger, says the right hon. gentleman, now is an idle generality, no man can reduce it into shape and tell us what it is. And in conformity with this sentiment the right hon. gentleman's bill confers on the Catholic peer absolute and unqualified restoration to the legislative power of the peerage. But what did the right hon. gentleman think on this subject, how did he act upon it; how did he deal with the Catholic peers when Mr. Grattan brought in his bill in 1813?—Did the right hon. gentleman then assert the nonexistence of danger?—did he then assert the claim of the Catholic peers upon those grounds of abstract original right upon which he now endeavours to distinguish them from a Catholic member of this House?—Did he then propose to confer upon them simple unqualified restoration to their power as it stood before the 80 Charles 2nd?—Why certainly not. The grounds then taken by the right hon. gentleman were' precisely the contrary of all this, as much as one thing can be the contrary of another. "And this difference does not rest upon speeches or arguments, for they may be forgotten or misunderstood; but the right hon. gentleman's opinions are recorded in Mr. Grattan's bill, in which he took so large a part. He would remind the House of the short contents of that bill. It was printed at length in the late publication of Mr. Grattan's speeches. The right hon. gentleman, and he hoped the House would well recollect the nature of it—in fact, it was almost as much the bill of the right hon. gentleman as of Mr. Grattan—That bill was not short as the present bill—not naked of oaths, qualifications; and securities, now so much decried as unnecessary by the right hon. gentleman; on the contrary, it contained a promissory oath occupying two pages of the book he held in his hand—an oath so voluminous, so minute, and so detailed, that it was a journey to get in the end of it, and the House would be fatigued and hardly have patience if he attempted to read it—he would not do so—but he would select the most pressing and strongest parts of it.
495 He would, however, first remind gentlemen, that this oath was to be taken as a qualification by the Catholic peer as well as by the commoner before they could sit and vote in either House. In the first place the oath contained a disclaimer of the civil and temporal authority of the see of Rome in this country being a substitution for the former oath of supremacy.
Now what did the right hon. gentleman's present bill provide on this subject? Why, nothing—it dispensed with the necessity of taking the existing oath of supremacy to the king; but it substitutes no new oath whatever in the place of it.
Mr. Grattan's oath then proceeds to make the Catholic peer as well as the commoner swear, that he would defend the settlement and arrangement of property within the realm as established by law. It contains a disclaimer of any intention to subvert the Protestant church, and then the Peer is made by a strong promissory obligation to swear, that he would not use his privilege, power or influence to disturb the present church establishment, and that he would never abet others by any contrivance to make such an attempt.
Whether this oath acknowledged the pen of the right hon. gentleman as its author, or of Mr. Grattan, or of both, he did not know. But certain it was, that several other clauses forming a very important part of Mr. Grattan's bill, were personally brought up by the right hon. gentleman, and in the publication he now held in his hand, are dignified by his name. They comprise a very detailed system for the establishment of commissions for the purpose of inquiring into the loyalty of the persons nominated to be bishops, and for the purpose of control and supervision over the correspondence with the see of Rome.
Why did the right hon. gentleman think an oath of supremacy necessary in 1813, if it be not so now?—Why did he bind the Catholic peer then by that elaborate path of which not one syllable has found its way into the present bill?—What was the difference between the case of the peer in 1813?—If there did exist grounds for apprehension in 1813 (and he had the right hon. gentleman's sanction and authority for saying that they did then exist) what had happened since to remove them?
But he must next remind the right hon. gentleman and the House, of the bill of the last session. The oath contained in that bill did certainly omit the promissory ob- 496 ligations of Mr. Grattan's oath. But it contained an oath of supremacy disclaiming the jurisdiction of the see of Rome in all matters which conflicted with the duties of undivided allegiance to the king, or with the duties of civil obedience to him or his courts.—But even this oath has been discarded by the right hon. gentleman as unnecessary, though a year only has elapsed since the right hon. gentleman by the part he took upon that occasion must have entertained a contrary opinion—and so did the House at large. When he witnessed so strange a course of proceeding, his own notions retrograded much upon the expediency of Catholic emancipation. What reliance could any man have?—What confidence could he assume, that the Protestant religion, and the rights and liberties of the people, so inseparably connected with it, were placed beyond the reach of attack and injury?—What satisfaction could the public or the Protestant population of the empire have, when they observed what was passing?—What rational man would say, that a system of precaution, protection and security upon this great subject, had been matured by the reflection and wisdom of parliament, when year after year, a bill was produced, each inconsistent with every other, the latter always in contradiction with the former, and all of them so irreconcilable with any fixed rule, standard or opinion, as to show, that there was not only nothing agreed upon between the opponents and supporters of the measure, but that there was no fixed principle agreed upon, even by the supporters of the measure among themselves. Upon former occasions great names were appealed to; but it was in vain for the present purpose. Mr. Pitt's name had been formerly mentioned—how could be have supported such a bill as this? Mr. Fox's authority had been referred to as in favour of the general measure. This distinguished man died before any practical measure had been agitated. But it was remarkable, that when the first relaxation of the penal code against Catholics was introduced by sir John Mitford, in order to secure their titles, and to enable them to enjoy real property, that great anti expressly excepted the concession of enabling them to sit in parliament. He found no traces of his ever having changed that opinion. He was an authority not for, but against the right hon. gentleman.
If Mr. Grattan had been living—believ- 497 ing, as he did, that his sentiments were genuine and sincere on this subject, and recollecting as he did his manly avowal upon the subject of securities, he did not believe that he would have concurred in this bill. He was highly sensible of the indulgence of the noose, and had little more to add. But the House would recollect that they were placed in a new situation by the nature of this bill, and by the novelty of the right hon. gentleman's arguments, and his wish was simply to advert to the new bearing and aspect of the question.
Upon a former occasion he had been a little sarcastically complimented by his hon. friend, the member for Knares-borough, as being the only man in the kingdom, who had read through that large folio volume, laid upon the table of the House, as the report of the committee appointed to inquire into the state of the Catholic church throughout Europe; chiefly for the purpose of ascertaining their relations, and subjection to the civil government, &c. of each state. Certainly, that folio had rather a repulsive exterior, which, to many persons, was a perfect veto against opening the leaves of it. He had no morbid appetite for drudgery and, superfluous labour; but, he must confess the crime of having made himself master of the report; and he was glad that he had done so, because the House would probably give him credit for stating the result of it.
His opinion had always been, that in order to find out what submission to the king, as the civil head of the constitution of our country, we might reasonably exact from the Catholic body, it was a fair criterion to inquire what control was exercised, and what preventions were interposed by the different states of Europe to exclude the interference of the see of Rome, and to maintain their own internal government. With this view, he had felt it to be his duty, to trace the subject through those papers, valuable in his individual opinion, which had been transmitted from the different foreign courts, which it seems were, in the eye of other persons, so useless, that they ought not to have been compiled, and which had been printed, in order, not to be read. And having done so, he would in his seat assert, that there was no state upon the continent, from large Austria, to little Venice, which had not armed itself with that control over the Catholic religion, in all its external and internal rela- 498 tions as they might affect the civil power of each state, which it was now thought wise in this country to east away and abandon. And he would ask of the Catholic emancipators a question, to which they perhaps might be able to give an answer, but to which he protested he could give none. Why Great Britain was to be the only territory in Europe, in which the Catholic religion and its professors were not to be bound by the same principles of submission to the civil supremacy of the state, which were exacted and enforced in every other corner of Europe? What was there so peculiar in the British constitution that its safety was beyond the reach of attack, and that we should throw away those precautions, for maintaining that perfect independency of the external influence of the see of Rome, operating through the internal agency of its religion, which every other government thought absolutely essential to its preservation? Why, he knew, indeed, that apprehensions from this quarter had been treated with ridicule and levity. Were we, it is said, to, be terrified now with the Barbarous bigotry which prevailed three centuries ago? Were we to be frightened now with the Catholic league, and the Spanish armada? He felt no greater alarm now, from those ancient terrors, than other gentlemen did. But he had heard the see, of Rome at the present day, represented to be equally inert in its dispositions, and impotent in its measures. Now, if those gentlemen, who were so averse to reading the papers on the table, would allow him to offer them the result of what he was happy to have read, in order to save them trouble he would convince them of the contrary. In the year 1786, a period of no very dark antiquity, the pope actually established ecclesiastical tribunals in several of the electorates of Germany; this encroachment produced a congress of all the ecclesiastical electors which was held at the Baths of Embs, and the emperor, as the head of the Germanic body, sent a strong remonstrance to Rome, declaring that he would defend the rights of the Germanic body against what he properly called an unwarrantable usurpation. But the latest instance of that inertness or apathy, which are now said so much to distinguish the character of the church of Rome, the best and most remarkable. In Spain, it seems, that the bishops and archbishops take an oath, for the same purpose as our own oath of 499 supremacy, by which they swear fidelity to, the king, and deference to his prerogatives. Now, no longer since than the 29th of November 1814, the nuncio of the present pope made application to the Spanish government to omit the clause respecting the obedience and deference to the royal prerogatives. But the court of Madrid returned for answer, "that no innovation should be made in the oath." Now, will the Catholic emancipators, or the right hon. gentleman in his reply, have the goodness to inform us why at Madrid, the favourite climate of papal feelings and: principles, that very oath to secure the civil supremacy of the Crown in its objects and purposes, the same as our own, should be deemed requisite to maintain the independency of that country, which has become so useless or so unjust, under the Protestant monarchy, and Protestant constitution of Great Britain, as to require unqualified abolition.
He should detain them but a moment longer; had those gentlemen who so boldly asserted the effete state of papal intervention as it might operate on foreign governments; who would give us to understand, that there is scarcely vitality or existence in such an idea—have they forgot the coronation of the emperor Napoleon, by that authority which we are told, politically speaking, is a nonentity—have they forgot, that by the same authority, Napoleon was divorced, in order that he might ally himself by marriage with the House of Austria, and perpetuate his usurpation in a family of his own; an event, of the consequences of which, notwithstanding what had since happened he would say, God grant they may continue indifferent and innoxious, to the future destinies of France and of Europe. But he was too sensible of the indulgence he had experienced to occupy the time of the House any longer; and, therefore, he should conclude, by saying, that the grounds of his decided opposition to the partial and singular measure of the right hon. gentleman were, its utter repugnancy and contradiction, to those views of the general question, which had been taken of it by either side, and even by those majorities which had formerly been successful.—He concluded with moving, "That the second reading be put off till that day six months.
§ Mr. Wilmot
said, that though he had voted before for concessions to the Catholics, he had never stated his opinions 500 upon the question; but he should now take the opportunity of doing so, because he had the misfortune to differ with a large and respectable body of his constituents. The learned gentleman had asked, why this measure was separated from the general measure? He was not bound to answer that question. All that he was bound to do was to examine into the general merits of the measure. He would therefore ask the learned gentleman whether there was any thing in the Roman Catholic religion that disqualified the Catholic peer from doing his duty as a legislator to his fellow countrymen? He was certain the learned gentleman would admit that there was nothing of that nature in the tenets of the Catholics. "But," said the learned gentleman "would you give concessions without demanding securities?" To that question he would reply by saying, that he could not ask for securities where he saw no danger. Now, he saw no present danger from the admission of Catholic peers into parliament; and even supposing that there was a distant contingency of future danger from such a measure, he would say, as the House of Commons had long been a debtor to those noble lords for the immunities which it had withheld from them, it might afford to be their creditor for a short time for the securities required. Had it been the fortune of our ancestors to have lived in the present day, he was sure that, though they might have originated these disabilities, they themselves would have given the motion of his right hon friend their support.—Much had been said as to the obligations of a king at his coronation; but he denied that there was any thing contained in the coronation oath which could at all prevent his majesty from consenting to revoke any restraints at present bearing on his Roman Catholic subjects. He denied the contrary assertion, because such a consent would not endanger the safety of the established church. He was equally pre: pared to deny that an alteration of this kind, in favour of the Roman Catholic peers, could by possibility be as dangerous to the country as it was formerly supposed to be; conceiving, as he did that our constitution was sufficiently plastic to adapt itself to any such change. At the same time, he was willing to allow, that Charles 2nd was actuated by most corrupt and un-English principles, and was a Catholic in heart as well as in fact. 501 Danger was justly apprehended from Catholic influence under such a king, and under his brother. But let the House observe, after the expulsion of the Stuart family, how gradually less those apprehensions had become, and how many severe statutes had been repealed, until, in the reign of our late beneficent sovereign, the civil condition of the Catholics had been considerably ameliorated. By such partial relaxations, government themselves had forced the Catholics to ask for concessions; they had permitted them just to taste the cup of civil liberty, and then had dashed it from their lips. For his part, he anticipated no inconvenience from granting the concession at present asked for. They had been told, however, by an hon. and learned gentleman that in another House these seven peers might produce certain evil consequences; as if, in the first place, their influence upon the sentiments of the great body of our nobility was to be such as to direct their votes and conduct; or, in the second place, as if all these seven peers must necessarily be of the same opinion on political matters. But the hon. and learned gentleman had said, that the passing of this bill would be heart's-ease to the Catholic peers, and heart-breaking to the Catholic body. Good God! was that House called upon in this way to supply arguments to the Catholic population? Were they to suppose that the Catholic population would repine because the Catholic peers were restored to their seats in the House of Lords? Would they not reject the suspicion with disdain? Was it necessary here to discuss that endless question of securities and of the influence of the Papal See, which, in deliberating upon the general question, had always been found the great, the almost insuperable difficulty, although it had been very properly made the first question to be ascertained. The present measure rested upon grounds entirely distinct and separate. He would support it, because he was convinced it was a proper measure, because he believed it would conciliate the people of Ireland, a people for whose loyalty he felt respect, and for whose sufferings he felt compassion; and lastly, because it would restore to a noble and illustrious order of men the rights which their ancestors possessed, and which they had never forfeited by crime or dishonour. He recollected well, during a discussion 502 on this question, which took place in the other House of parliament about eight years ago, having seen a noble lord with his son, a lad about twelve years of age, standing at the bar of the House. The nobleman to whom he alluded, turned round to a friend of his, and said, "The result of this night's discussion will determine me whether I shall encourage or repress the spirit of emulation in this boy's mind" [Hear hear!]. He knew not what course that Nobleman took with respect to the education of his child; but this he knew, that it was unworthy in that House to preserve laws which went to degrade all that was noble, and to stifle in honourable minds the desire and the hope of serving their country. Neither in a political nor religious point of view was there any real objection to the measure; He would therefore invoke them, in the spirit of the constitution, to give freedom to those who never forfeited their rights; and, in the spirit of religion, to "do unto others as they would wish others should do unto them."
said, that until the penal laws were totally repealed, the peace and tranquillity of Ireland would never be restored. But, in repealing those laws, parliament should take care to carry the mind the country with them. He denied that the mind of the Protestants was with the present measure. He would support the general measure; but be thought at present that the country was taken by surprise, and that the question of securities was evaded. He would therefore vote against the bill.
§ Dr. Phillimore
observed, that upon former occasions, the supporters of measures tending to remove the disabilities of the Roman Catholics had been met with such remarks as these—"Deal not with us in general propositions; give us some specific measure." It could not, on the present occasion be objected, that a specific measure was brought forward. He was ready to admit that the general question was one that had been ever nearest his heart; but the present measure, standing as it did on peculiar and very favourable grounds, had his most hearty support. The experience of every page in our history, since the period at which disabilities were first imposed upon Roman Catholics served to prove the claims which the peers of that persuasion had, to an act of justice like that which the legislature were now called upon to pass. The learned gentle- 503 man then proceeded to show, that when the Spanish Armada had sailed upon its destination and approached our coasts, queen Elizabeth confided the chief command of that navy which had proved the salvation a the country, to a Catholic peer, lord Howard of Effingham. In the reign, of Charles I., it was a memorable fact, that the Catholic peers voted in favour of the Protestant bishops. During the wars which ensued, it had been calculated, that of the three hundred noblemen who bravely perished in the cause of royalty, no fewer than 190 were Roman Catholics. The exclusion of these peers from their seats in the House of Lords was the result of evidence of a description the most perjured, and of alleged plots which had no real existence; and that the strongest authority for the harsh measure of expulsion was the testimony of wretches such as Oates and Bedloe. The iniquitous system which they had contrived was consummated by what historians had justly denominated the judicial murder of lord Stafford. The learned member here read an affecting account of the trial of that noble peer given by Mr. Evelyn, who had witnessed the whole of the proceedings. Mr. Evelyn indignantly complained that the life of a virtuous and aged nobleman should have been taken away upon the evidence of a witness, "whose testimony, with impartial men, would not be considered sufficient to hang a dog." When it was said that the Catholic peers would act with hostility towards the Church of England, what proof of this had they from experience? When the bill was agitated in the House of Peers in the reign of Charles I. to exclude the bishops, how did the Catholic peers vote? How did the ancestor of the duke of Norfolk vote on that occasion? What greater possible danger could be apprehended from Catholic peers than from peers denying the divinity of our Saviour, or the doctrine of the atonement, or professing Presbyterianism, a doctrine much more hostile to the Church of England, in many respects, than Catholicism, and under which the church had actually been trampled under foot? As a measure of retributive justice and Christian charity, they were called upon to pass the bill.
§ Mr. W. Courtenay
thought the hon. and learned member for Oxford had not addressed his arguments to the true question before the House. That question was not whether these disabilities were or 504 were not tightly imposed in the first instance, but whether it was proper to continue them? They had been passed at the time of the discovery of a plot, and when the nation was under the influence of general alarm. It was provided that Catholics should not have access to the king's person. At present there was no fear of their getting near the person of the king, but it was feared lest they should get to sit in parliament. But he would ask, which was of the most consequence, the access of Catholics of rank, influence, and talents, to the sovereign, whom they might sway by their counsels; or their sitting among the mass of Protestants in the House of Peers? If any danger existed formerly, none existed now. He rejoiced to see a system of toleration prevail among all classes: The annual indemnity bill was passed to enable Dissenters of all denominations to sit and vote in parliament. The army and navy had been opened to the Catholics. Their peers might fill the most exalted ranks, and enjoy the advantages of promotion. In short they were intrusted by law with every species of power that might be dangerous, yet refused admittance within the walls of parliament where they would be subject to control. Surely this was a most glaring anomaly! Looking at the present state of Ireland, it was most important that this bill should be passed, that those who had hitherto been most unjustly excluded from the benefits of the constitution might feel, a common interest, and unite in a common cause. The friends of harmony and tranquillity must be the friends of this bill. He felt a strong persuasion that the great general measure was silently making its progress towards ultimate success; and he conjured gentlemen who had not yet voted or who having voted still doubted, to consider whether the present was not the precise moment when such a gracious concession ought, for the general welfare, to be made.
§ Mr. W. Peel
did not believe that the supporters of the bill were aware of the consequences that would ensue if it were passed into a law. The question was not merely whether six or eight Catholic peers of high character should be admitted into the other House; but, if this partial measure was successful, Catholic commoners ere long would be introduced into this House, and there would be no reason why other sects should be excluded. What, became of the security of the Pro- 505 testant church? It had been said, that the majority of the inhabitants of Ireland were in favour of the measure: perhaps so; but if it were possible to poll the whole population of the three kingdoms, the numbers would be greatly against any further concession. He could not tell how any man who hoped for tranquillity could support such a proposition. If the present were the time to admit Catholic peers, why was it not the time to admit Catholic commoners? And if so, why had not the right hon. the attorney-general for Ireland brought forward the general question? Had he been a Catholic peer, he declared to God he would have objected to the introduction of the separate question, and would not have accepted of a boon that was not given to all those who were of the same persuasion. He should be glad to learn why this question was now agitated. Its most sanguine friends could not hope that it would pass into a law, and it was only imposing upon the peers the invidious task of throwing it out.
, after complimenting the hon. member for Newcastle (Mr. Wilmot) on the liberal view he had taken of the subject, expressed his concurrence in the opinion, that the passing of this bill could have the effect of tranquillizing Ireland. In every view it was most important, but in this view it was incalculably so. Without it, all future measures of conciliation would want half their grace, and every measure of coercion would acquire additional severity. He saw no reason for not carrying a partial bill of relief, if the general measure could not at present be advantageously brought forward. After referring shortly to the proceedings in 1813, and regretting the vote he had then given, the right hon. gentleman went on to contend, that no danger could result from the admission of Catholic peers into the other House. If, as the hon. member who last spoke apprehended, this bill should be followed by others to admit commoners, then was the proper time to object. At the present moment, other sects were not excluded. The learned member for Oxford also dreaded much from the votes and influence of six or eight individuals, and had contended, that if Catholics were admitted into the legislature, the king ought to be released from the obligation not to marry a Catholic. There was, however, a most decided difference between the cases: the Catholic peer would be controlled by the Protestant 506 majority, but the king was complete in himself, and could exercise his prerogative without control, excepting from public opinion. The learned member for Oxford, however, did not seem to think that public opinion would be any check and that the king could, if be wished it, create a vast number of Catholic peers. It would be just as easy for, the king, to march the 1st regiment of guards into the House of Lords and make them all peers. The thing was impossible in the Present state and frame of society. It had been asked, where are the securities? And it had been fairly answered, where are dangers? He had supported the bill of 1821 with securities, not because he thought them necessary but because he thought that they would contribute, to the success of the measure; nay, he would consent to their insertion in this bill, if they would be at all useful. When he recollected that it was now 290 years since the Reformation, and that during half that time the Roman Catholic peers had sat in parliament without the slightest imputation, even when they were much more numerous than at present, he could not entertain a moment's fear as to the effect of their influence. If any man could point out a single inconvenience that really arose to the constitution in consequence of their formerly having seats, he would admit that an argument of some weight might be founded upon it. Not very long since, within the memory of some present, the Roman Catholics were looked upon as a distinct class. That distinction had now been removed, and he was satisfied that the time was not very far distant, when they would be admitted into both branches of ht legislature, without exciting the least apprehension. If there were a discrepancy in admitting peers and not admitting commons, it was a discrepancy that had existed for a century. In conclusion, he was ready to vote for any bill, the effect of which would be to remove any of the disabilities, however unimportant, under which the Roman Catholics labourd.
, of Galway, said, the hon. and learned member for Oxford had come forward on the present occasion as one of the Horiatii. [A laugh.] He begged pardon of the House if he had not pronounced the word correctly. He trusted the bill would carried. It wan not connected with the general question, and had not been brought forward by his 507 hon. friend (Mr. Plunkett) because it was considered that the present time was unfavourable to the discussion of the Catholic claims. All the restrictions imposed on the Catholics had been condemned by Blackstone. That learned commentator said, that if ever the time should arrive when the authority of the Pope ceased to be formidable, and there was no pretender to the Crown, it would be proper to repeal the laws against Catholics. Now the authority of the Pope had ceased to be formidable.
Mr. Secretary Peel
said, that after having stated his sentiments to the House so fully on a former evening, it was not his intention at present to occupy much of their attention. He rose rather for the purpose of removing some misconceptions and misapprehensions. He did not object to the measure, because it was a partial measure, nor did he solicit the vote of any gentleman who might concur with him in his objections to the particular measure, under the impression that when the general question came to be discussed, his (Mr. P's) opposition to it would be relaxed. It was impossible, after the House had so recently passed a bill removing the disabilities affecting the Roman Catholics, that he could anticipate so decided an opposition to the general measure, as might have been expected in former times; but he would not relax his opposition to the measure, because he foresaw the probability of its ultimate success. He apprehended that it was in the true spirit of the constitution that members of that House should maintain their opinions to the last, notwithstanding overwhelming majorities against them. If it were probable that the general measure would be carried, the argument for the particular measure was, pro tanto, weakened, and in proportion to the probability of the ultimate success of the general measure, he did most earnestly deprecate the success of the present bill. He should merely state the outline of the argument on which he relied, without referring to collateral topics. If the House should take a different view of this question, he should have another interest to look to and another duty to perform; for it would then become his duty to endeavour to create as little evil, and derive as much good as possible from the measure. He did not object to the present measure because it was partial; for there were some partial measures to which he should 508 not object, such, for instance, as that of placing the English and Irish Roman Catholics on the same footing, or that of granting the distinction of a silk gown, and other privileges, short of the judicial functions, to Roman Catholic barristers. There was a great distinction between a specific and a partial measure; and his objection to the present measure was, that it was partial in its operation while it was general in its principle. It had been argued, that there could be no danger in restoring a few noblemen of distinguished rank and excellent character, to the privileges which their ancestors enjoyed; but, could any man of common sense fail to see the sophistry of this argument? The question was not, whether half a dozen individuals should be restored to the privileges of their ancestors, but whether the disabilities affecting one branch of the legislature should be removed, while they continued to be imposed on the other—whether the Crown should have the power of creating an unlimited number of Roman Catholic peers, while the people had not the power of returning to the House of Commons a limited number of Roman Catholic representatives. It had been contended, that the disabilities affecting the peers ought to be removed first, because they were latest imposed upon them; but if there was any validity in that argument, it would go to prove that all restrictions should be first removed from the throne.—With regard to securities, that part of the subject had not been discussed in the last debate, and in his opinion it would have been better to pass it over in silence, than to allude to it in so ominous a manner as in the present discussion. They were now told that these securities were never necessary, that they had been adopted merely for the purpose of quieting some ridiculous and exaggerated fears of Protestant bigots, and that the best security was to be derived from the unqualified admission of our Roman Catholic fellow subjects to the enjoyment of equal rights and privileges. If such was the language adopted now, and the present bill were to pass without any securities, what would be the arguments employed with regard to securities when the general question came to be discussed in the next session? The advocates of this question so frequently shifted their ground, that it was not easy to anticipate their arguments, or unravel all the sophistries to which they might have recourse— 509Quo teneam vultus mutantem Protea nodo?There could be no doubt, however, that if the present bill passed, it would be urged as an argument next session against every species of security.—There was one point to which he was particularly desirous of calling the attention of his right hon. friend. The present bill professed only to remove the disabilities affecting the Roman Catholic peers; but it went much farther, for it would have the effect of relieving the House of Peers from the necessity of taking the oath of supremacy. This was a most serious difficulty in the way of the measure. As far as authority went, he had that of the late Mr. Grattan, Mr. Ponsonby, and almost all the most enlightened advocates of the general question, against repealing the oath of supremacy. So enamoured, indeed, were they of this oath, that another oath of supremacy, to be taken by Catholic peers, had been annexed to the bill which passed that House in the last session. That oath was solemnly recognized by the Bill of Rights, the charter upon which king William accepted the throne at the Revolution, and which differed from all other acts of parliament, in being declared to be permanently enacted as the law of the realm for ever. There was the same guarantee, therefore, for the continuation of the oath of supremacy, as for the exclusion of Roman Catholics from the throne, and the maintenance of the rights and liberties of the subject. He could not but consider it a fatal objection to this measure, that it exempted the House of Peers from the necessity of taking this oath, which had been framed in the reign of Elizabeth, and which was solemnly recognized by the Bill of Rights. He would admit, that at the period when the Catholic peers were excluded the House of Peers was under a temporary alarm from Titus Oates's plot; he would admit that they acted under duress, and that they were not in possession of their right faculties; he would admit that the trial of lord Stafford was unjust, and that his execution was a judicial murder; yet he still contended, that there might be other concurring circumstances which formed a sufficient ground for the enactment of the bill affecting the peers.—But it was said, that, even admitting that there were circumstances which justified the exclusion of Catholic peers from parliament, those circumstances had ceased, and the disabilities ought to cease with 510 them. If the validity of this argument were admitted, the House must be prepared to abandon many of the best securities for the maintenance of the constitution. Neither the constitution, nor the securities by which it was maintained, were framed a priori: they were founded on the experience of the past. They were not called upon to inquire into the causes which led to the Reformation, or to examine minutely the frame of mind in which Henry 8th wrote a treatise one year "adversus Martinum Lutherum," and, in the next year, on account of his divorce from queen Catherine, became a violent opponent of the Catholic faith. The septennial bill was enacted in consequence of specific circumstances; but were they to return to triennial parliaments, because those circumstances had ceased? Under all the circumstances, he felt himself bound to resist the present motion; and he implored the advocates of the just rights and privileges of the constitution, to consider whether it was decent or wise in the House of Commons to originate this measure? All that could be lost by the rejection of the present proposal was, the postponement of the general question until the early part of next session, when it would be taken up upon a broad and high ground. They could then contend for the eligibility, not merely of peers to sit in the House of Lords, but of every person to all situations in the country. If peers were to be admitted, there was no justice in the exclusion of commoners. He could, therefore, see no good reason for pressing the present partial measure; as a delay of a few months would bring the question before them in its most ample and general form. There would be no disadvantages resulting from the rejection of this measure, and the House could not, in his opinion, sanction it consistently with their duty.
The Marquis of Londonderry
agreed, with many of his hon. friends in thinking that the present moment was not the most favourable for the introduction of the general measure. He would admit that the great tendency in the disposition of the country was, to view this subject with less of alarm, and with more favourable sentiments than on former occasions; but still he did not think it would be politic to press that disposition too much. But though this was his opinion as to the general measure, still he could understand 511 the policy of the present measure, and, under all the circumstances, he was disposed to support it. In the bill before the House, the grounds of discussion were very much narrowed; a variety of topics, connected with the general proposition, were necessarily omitted, as having no bearing on this part. In the general discussion, be had always rested the criterion by which the question, not of admission, but of eligibility to office of Roman Catholics, should be tried on this—Whether there was that reasonable fear of danger to the state which would render this eligibility impolitic? The present motion did not require so wide a discussion; and in the interval between this and the period of the great question, he thought it most proper; for there were many who would support the admission of Catholic. Peers, who would not be disposed to go the length of admitting the eligibility of the Roman Catholic commoners. With respect to the question of securities, he did not see why the Catholics should not associate themselves to the state as well as other classes of his majesty's subjects; but he would modify those securities in such a manner, as that, while they afforded that guarantee which he was satisfied the Catholics were disposed to give, would prevent the measure from having the appearance of severity. "But then," said his right hon. friend (Mr. Peel) "you have given up the oath of supremacy by this bill." He apprehended, that if his right hon. friend would be satisfied with an oath of supremacy, the bill might be easily so modified as to insure his support. The Roman Catholic did not object to the oath, and the only difference which existed at all on the subject was, as to the sense in which the word "spiritual" was to be understood. On the ground of the acquisition of power by the Catholics, there was no real cause of fear. The utmost that could be expected from the general emancipation would be, the return to that House of perhaps eight or nine Catholic members, and the power which they had in this country was pretty well known. He viewed the leaving open this question as a matter not so much of danger as of embarrassment to the country; and with that view he should wish to see it set at rest. As to the particular question before the House, though his right hon. friend had argued it as a matter of just and of legal right, yet, however disposed he 512 might be to concur in that view of the question, still, after a lapse of so long a time, he should not be disposed to support it if he saw the least appearance of danger. That danger, however, had not been made apparent to his mind, and therefore he would concur in the bill.
§ Mr. Canning
began by observing, that if in the reply which he had made on the former night to his right hon. friend (Mr. Peel), he had dropped a word, or let slip an expression, which could be supposed to convey to his right hon. friend's mind, that he thought he had met the question unfairly, his right hon. friend had entirely mistaken his meaning; for he would declare, that whatever difference of opinion subsisted between them, it was impossible in his conception, either with reference to the question in its wider range, or to the narrow basis on which he had placed it, to have encountered a fairer adversary. If he had said, that his right hon. friend had not touched the justice or expediency of the case, he meant the justice and expediency of that part of it which he had introduced, and not the general question. He was glad that his noble friend's speech had intervened between that of his right hon. friend and his own; for, in his latter remarks, he had very ably developed the views and the policy to which the discussion of this question should be referred. To bring the merits of this partial motion more clearly to their attention, he would beg of honourable gentlemen to recollect what had been the progress of the discussions: on the measure before parliament. To go no farther back, he would begin with the discussion which the House of Commons entertained in 1812. On that occasion, he had had the honour of submitting a resolution, the first successful one on that point which had engaged the attention of parliament. In that resolution the House pledged itself to consider the subject early in the ensuing session, with the view of bringing the question to a secure, conciliatory, and permanent adjustment. What was the fate of that measure? It was well known that it was one which did not meet the concurrence of the other House. In the next year, and in redemption of its pledge, the subject was introduced, and submitted for consideration in its most comprehensive sense. The bill had passed two of its stages, but it failed in the committee, owing to the introduction of a clause 513 which continued to shut the Roman Catholics out of parliament. In consequence of that clause, the measure was withdrawn, and in that measure he fully concurred at the time. But, looking back to the stage of the measure then, and to its progress since, he felt convinced that the decision of himself and the other friends of the measure on that occasion, was one not so much of reason as of temper; and though he took his full share of the blame of assenting, he had regretted it ever since. At that time the friends of the bill were offered all sorts of partial concessions, except the opening of parliament, by the hon. Members who took a lead in opposing the measure. The friends of the bill improvidently refused, and they now found, with regret, that though nine years had elapsed, the question had not much advanced. Last year, however, a bill was introduced, supported by the stupendous, talents of his right hon. friend, the attorney-general for Ireland, and was carried through the Commons—a measure tom; prehensive in the highest degree, and accompanied with conditions of such a nature as were thought to preclude all possible danger in the minds of those who feared any. What was the fate of that measure? It was rejected in the other House, and the friends of the measure were now called upon to adopt one which was more likely to be successful. But, what were the arguments of their opponents? They called upon them to adhere to the same course in which they had hitherto so repeatedly failed. That was natural enough on the part of those who were hostile to the ultimate success of the measure; but it was strange that it should have weight with any of its supporters.—The right hon. gentleman here adverted to the partial, though highly important concessions which had been made since 1813—the opening of the army and navy to the Roman Catholics—a measure, too, originating in the House of Lords; and it should not be forgotten, that the danger of opening the army and navy to. Catholics was formerly urged as one of the strongest arguments against concession. Yet such was the effect of partial discussion, that this was carried, which would have been rejected if thrown into the general measure—He then contended, that the disabilities thus removed, almost without discussion, were far more important than those which he sought. The 514 measure before the House was not complicated. Its bearings could be seen at a glance. It went not to innovate, but to restore rights which had existed before—to remove from the injured posterity the disabilities which were entailed on them by the injustice done towards their ancestors. This was not touching on the privileges of the peers, or if it did, it did so with tenderness and delicacy. It made the Commons do for them, what it was supposed they would not do for themselves—for it was not to be imagined that they would begin by admitting the Catholics of their own order, while they refused any such concession to Catholic commoners. The right hon. gentleman next dwelt upon the anomaly of supposing that the House of Lords, which had originated a bill rendering a Catholic peer eligible to rise to the highest rank in the army and navy, to command a large portion of the armed force of the country, to have access to the closet of his sovereign; would, notwithstanding he might possess such power, exclude him from a seat in that assembly, one of the objects of which was, to check, to control, and to keep down the pride and ambition of great and powerful subjects. It had been shown that the present measure was not innovation, but restoration—that it was granting back privileges which had been taken away unjustly, and that even the alleged causes had long since ceased to exist. But it was said, that thought the same caused which produced those disabilities did not now exist, other causes might, which would be equally conclusive. He would admit this reasoning; but let the other causes be shown. At the Revolution, the act of the 30th of Charles 2nd, was continued, from causes of danger from abroad, and the discontent of a large party at home; but that cast no slur on the Revolution. Now, let his right hon. friend point out the existence of any one of the same dangers. "I do not," continued the right hon. gentleman, "call upon my right hon. friend to shown the existence of a Popish successor; I do not require of him to produce a king taking the sacrament according to the Catholic mode one day, and the Protestant the next; I do not insist on his pointing out an exiled monarch in a foreign land, aided by foreign powers, planning the invasion of the country; but I think I have a right to call upon him to show me some little danger to justify 515 his opposition to this measure. I do not insist upon his searching history, but his own imagination, which is less likely to fail him, for some little scantling of danger; and if he will show me that as arising from my plan, I give him my word I will sit down and withdraw this bill." [Hear, hear.]—On the subject of securities, the right hon. gentleman said he would have no objection to them, but he would not traffic between security and concession. As he had already said, he would not make them matters of barter and sale. He was of opinion that there ought not to exist any correspondence with any foreign power, against the letter of an existing law. But it was not to be expected from him, that he should provide those securities, since the House of Lords had thrown them completely over, when they passed the Army and Navy bill. His right hon. friend might complain, that other securities were not annexed to this bill. He (Mr. C.) would say, that the contents of this bill did not require these securities. It had been asked, whether Great Britain was to be the country in which such securities were not to be required? He had no right to answer this question, but he would say that, in his opinion, it ought not. It was necessary that a proper control should be exercised; but he was not to be blamed because be had not provided for it in the measure under discussion. He would, however, in his turn, ask, whether the events which had taken place in Europe since 1812 had not placed this country in a different situation from that in which it stood before? Were we now to be more completely insulated in our policy than at any former period? Ought it not to be taken into consideration, that at the congress of Vienna an act was adopted, by which it was agreed, that in all the states over which the congress could exercise control, religious difference should create no distinction as to civil or political rights. He had been told that his bill was little and short, and effected its purpose with irrelevant dimensions. But here was the congress of Vienna altering the whole policy of Europe, over an extent of territory comprising from 45,000,000 to 50,000,000 of inhabitants. This great measure was accomplished by the single stroke of a pen. It should be recollected, that England was a party to the arrangements of the congress, and that Hanover was one of the states affected 516 by them. Hanover might have Catholic ministers and Catholic senators, but not so England. It might be said, that the particular measure upon the subject of religion, adopted by the congress, was nugatory. He believed that this was not the case. He was assured by those whom he believed to possess accurate information on the subject, that, before the act of congress was agreed to, the system of exclusion on account of religious differences was exceedingly strict; and, as a proof of this, it was stated that not many years ago, a menial servant in the stables of the emperor of Austria was dismissed on account of his being a Protestant. At this moment he understood the president of one of the chambers of the kingdom of Hanover was a Catholic. When it appeared that a spirit of liberality was diffusing itself throughout the continent, was it necessary that England alone should retain her insulated policy with regard to religion? It was often said, that England was the only country in which the slave became free upon setting his foot upon the soil. Should it also be said, that it was the only country in which disqualifications prevailed founded on religious difference? We had long been accustomed to deal in negatives, Members of that House had long been in the practice of swearing at the table in a manner to make them believe that faith was, not what they believed, but what they disbelieved—to think privation a privilege, and to be proud of that which was called disgraceful. The grounds upon which he rested his measure were, that the dangers which existed, first from the date of the Reformation to the time of Charles 2nd, and secondly, from the time of Charles 2nd to the Revolution, and which formed a justification for the statutes which had been framed against the Catholics, were now passed away. He was willing to grant to the fullest extent, that a great political necessity had a right to demand the sacrifice of individual privileges; but he coupled this admission with the condition, that the existence of political necessity ought to be incontrovertibly proved. Those persons who endeavoured to show that the act of Charles 2nd was passed in times like the present, had misrepresented, and not quoted the opinions of their ancestors in support of their argument. He was of opinion that too much weight was attached to the conduct of our ancestors at the period of the Revolution. That 517 was not a time when it could be expected that a man, even of the clearest head—and most humane heart, would try experiments in legislation. Our ancestors, in the unsettled circumstances of the times, took the laws as they found them. Good God! how different was the situation of the country now, from that in which it stood at those periods to which the opponents of the Catholics were fond of referring for arguments against them! For about a hundred years after the Reformation, the Catholic and Protestant parties were combating on this soil; it might be said that a struggle was going on to see which should wed the state, and make her exclusively its own. But the time of combat was passed—the Catholics tendered a willing submission,—Vicisti, et victual tendere palmasAusonii videre: tua est Lavinia conjux."You," said the Catholics, "have wedded the state: we no longer pretend to be rivals; we wish to be united with you in friendship; we are willing to live quietly under your reign; we call upon you to deal out an equal measure of justice and mercy towards us." [Cheers.] His right hon. friend had argued a question of peace in the spirit of conflict. The question of rivalry had been decided. The Protestant religion and the constitution were inseparably united; and all that he asked was, that the subdued party might be allowed to participate in the enjoyment of that happiness which was to be obtained by living under the constitution of this country, and participating in its privileges. The House ought to consider, that it was not the business of states to found their prosperity upon extraordinary virtues; they must calculate only on the ordinary average weight of good qualities which might be hoped to be found in all mankind. It was a great panegyrick upon those noble persons for whose relief the bill was intended, that under all their privations they had preserved their loyalty and attachment to the constitution unshaken; but it was impossible to suppose that they would always continue in the same temper of mind. By refusing to accede to the measure which he had introduced, the House would maintain a system of exclusion which, when it was necessary was harsh, but had now become inhuman. He called upon them to redeem themselves from the imputation of adapting their own conduct to that uncharitable 518 and unfeeling principle which they ascribe to the Catholic community, and to concede a gift which, if given with grace, would be received with gratitude, and tend to cement in one bond of union the people of the Catholic creed with the professors of the Protestant religion. [Loud cheers.]
§ The question being put, "That the bill be now read a second time," the House divided: Ayes 235. Noes 223. Majority 12. The bill was then read a second time.