§ Lord Nugent
rose and said:—Sir; the object of the bill that I move for leave to bring in, is to equalize the laws affecting the Roman Catholics, by placing those of Great Britain in the same situation with respect to civil rights and franchises as those of Ireland. I wish, in the discussion of it, to separate it as widely as possible from what is called the question of Catholic Claims. There are, no doubt, many topics in common between the two questions; some of these topics, I should be disposed to say, are in my opinion, not among the least strong by which this measure might be supported. But these, for many reasons, I wish to avoid. In order to narrow the question, and to place my will upon its own simple and more obvious, and, perhaps to some persons, less questionable grounds. At the same time, Sir, I would not for the world be misunderstood. I would not, even if I had the power so to deceive the House, be insincere enough to disavow the spirit in which I offer to you the proposition with which I shall conclude, nor attempt to disguise from the House, that I do it under the influence of the self-same motives which have always influenced me in the support of that great measure. Nay, further; if I could for one moment bring myself to believe that the discussion of this question could in any, the remotest degree, prejudice or interfere with that great; object, believing that object as I do to be essential, not less to the interests and honour of England, than to the last hopes of peace and happiness for Ireland, I would, with whatever regret, abandon for the present, and should feel myself justified in abandoning, those far lesser benefits which I now geek for the Catholics of Great Britain. Sir, I should do the British Catholics the greatest. Wrong if I did not say that I know that in this feeling with regard to Ireland, I am seconded, I am anticipated by them. I must, in justice to them, I had almost said in justice to myself, make this; farther declaration. What I now propose to you, I propose, not only not at their instance, but without even having consulted their sentiments or wishes upon it. I have carefully, I have painfully abstained from communicating with them upon it, because I know their high and honourable feeling; because I know that feeling as they do, how strong are their claims to a full and undistinguishing 575 share of all the common law privileges of all other British subjects, they would disdain (with whatever deference they submit themselves to your judgment), they would disdain to petition for any act, like this, of incomplete and restricted toleration. It would be arrogance in me to say how warmly I concur with them in this feeling, but I was anxious that at least the House should not by any fault of mine, misunderstand them on this point. What I urge, however, not on their prayer, I urge on your wisdom, your sympathy, and your justice. If I should fail, and it would be affectation in me to say, that I expect or believe I can fail, in this my plea on their behalf, the failure would be mine alone. It would be the failure of the weakest advocate in the strongest, and, as I hope to show, the most unanswerable case. If I succeed, the benefit will be theirs, the benefit and the honour will belong to you of having cancelled one unjust and unreasonable law which now divides the people of this land.
There are grounds peculiar to this measure, and to these I shall most strictly confine myself. None of them conflicting with the interests of the Catholic question; none of them interfering with the grounds on which that great question may hereafter be debated, or with those on which it has been generally opposed. Before I gave my notice, I ascertained by the declarations of the attorney-general for Ireland that, for this session at least, that question had been abandoned by him. For one, I can never despair of its ultimate success, nor can I ever cease to cling to that object with eager and sanguine hope. But the considerations which might otherwise have induced me to pause, are now removed. I shall, therefore, advert to it no more, but apply myself to the special object which I now take the liberty of submitting to you.
By the act of 1793 in Ireland, it is well known to the House, that certain privileges were restored to the Catholics of that country. Why was that act passed? It is important, with reference to this question, to keep that act in view. It was passed, because the last of what were called the penal laws had been repealed, and the anomaly of those disqualifying laws that remained, had become too evident and too gross. The inheritance of property had been secured to the Roman 576 Catholics, under the protection of the law. It was felt that, under the British constitution, representation was an inalienable attribute of property. That property was the basis of representation. It was felt, that where property was unrepresented, the best safeguard which the constitution provides for private and public interests is wanting. The right of election then followed in England, I contend, as a consequence upon the right of property, and it is on this ground I wish to place the argument now. But the early acts of relief towards the Roman Catholics of Ireland were passed under singular circumstances. From the year 1777 to the year 1782, the empire was in a situation of great danger and difficulty. The disasters of the American war—war with almost the whole continent of Europe, and the prevalent spirit of emigration to America, bad made it expedient to conciliate the Catholics of Ireland by an act, however tardy, of justice and humanity. In 1782, the famous convention of Dungannon produced fresh concessions to Ireland; and, in 1793, the French Revolutionary war, and the apprehended influence of French Revolutionary principles, produced fresh measures of conciliation. Sir; why do I mention these things? not to reproach the parliament of that country with unworthy motives; not to lessen the sense of the benefits themselves; I mention them only to show, that the benefits I now claim at your hands for the British Catholics were, with reference to the Irish Catholics judged to be, first of considerable value to them, and secondly to be unaccompanied by any possible danger to the state. The very motives under which they were granted show at least that they were considered of some importance in the estimation of those for whose benefit they were intended. For they were granted as a peace-offering to that country, at a time when the object was, above all, to unite the interests and strengthen the moral resources of the empire. And, that they were not considered as in any way dangerous to the Protestant ascendancy, we have a tolerable assurance in the recollection at what periods, and by whose hands those, measures were perfected. But I mention them also to ask you this: Will you declare that the British Catholics of 1823, that their supposed objects, that their known dispositions, that their numerical force, are calculated to excite in your minds any 577 reasonable apprehensions beyond what were felt towards the Irish Roman Catholic of from 1777 to 1793? Because this you must assert to justify the distinction now made in their dis-favour. Or will you say, I am sure you will not, that what was then granted to necessity and fear, you will now refuse to sympathy and justice?
Sir, the act of 1795 in Ireland, followed in the short space of 16 years, after the first relaxation of the penal code of proscription and death. A code under which the merely officiating at the worship of the Roman Catholic church was punishable with the gibbet. It is now 46 years since the first relaxation of that bloody code. Will you say that the experience of the last nearly half century, has furnished you with additional motives of jealousy against the British Catholics? For, short of this, short of your making out a case to show the undiminished and increasing necessity of these peculiar restrictions (and the onus prohandi here rests on you, not them), short of your making out a case that would justify you in your own opinion, if these laws had never been enacted, in enacting them now for the first time, allow me to submit to the House that, in truth and in justice, my motion is gained.
In two very important respects the British Catholics are placed in a condition of much more lamentable degradation than any other natural-born subjects of the realm. They are debarred from the exercise of the elective franchise; they are debarred from qualifying to act in the king's commission of the peace. Sir, an act of naturalization would qualify an alien for these privileges. Nothing would qualify a natural-born Catholic Englishman. Nothing would qualify him, except indeed, an act of perjury. That would qualify him for any trust, and against that you have no security. Let us see for a moment how their case stands. Compare them with any others who are subject to disqualification by religious tests. Against the Protestant dissenter you have, it is true, the test and corporation acts. And I must say, that weak and tormentable monuments I must think them, of a spirit much too intolerant, and shown to be practically much too inconvenient to be brought into operation against so large and so powerful a body in the state, as the Protestant dissenters. Among the Protestant dissenters a very 578 large proportion of the property, a very large proportion of the intelligence, and of the moral and political influence of the empire resides. And you cannot be unjust towards them up to the full measure of your laws. In their case, for all practical purposes, the exception has become the rule. The annual Indemnity bill has in effect become the law of the land. Well, even the Roman Catholics of Ireland—God forbid, that for one moment I should endeavour to underrate the severe and unjust restrictions, as I think them, under which the almost countless majority of that unhappy people are placed—but still they have admissibility to certain offices, they have the elective franchise, to remind them, in the intervals of the dark system which overshadows them, of the share, a very limited one indeed, of political existence which is doled out to them, a very sad and anomalous condition, I grant, theirs is—alt-lowed to elect, but contrary to all constitutional analogy, forbidden under any circumstances to elect Out of their own body. Allowed to elect only out Of a body between whom and them, an impassable barrier is fixed by law. But the condition of the British Roman Catholics, how much more deplorable! From the privilege of the poorest freeholder who sends a representative to make laws, to the authority of the pettyest officer who administers them, from all the privileges which remind men that they are members of a free and popular government, they are hopelessly excluded. Hopelessly excluded, unless (and forbid it good faith, and forbid it that pure honour which glows in some of the noblest breasts in your country), unless they would purchase these privileges by perjury, or by what would, in them, be a base and an interested conformity to our privileged mode of worshiping God [Loud cheers!].
Sir, I said just now that the elective franchise, as exercised by the Irish, is a sad and an anomalous condition. I was aware when I said so, and when I was cheered by the hon. member for Corfe Castle, in a tone I fear of animadversion, that this admission on my part was considered by him as making against my argument. Am I then asked if I would extend this anomaly to England? Sir, the anomaly already exists in England; Catholics have already an influence at elections, far more effectual than that of a vote, of which you cannot 579 deprive them. Not only the moral influence of character and station in recommending candidates, but the actual operative influence also of wealth to assist in the return of members. If there is any anomaly in the influence of Catholics over the return of Protestant members, of that influence in the present state of the representation you cannot deprive them. If there is any danger, from that danger you cannot escape. Unless you are prepared to retrace your steps along the gloomy paths of restriction and penalty, until you arrive again at the point from which your inarch has been directed during the whole course Of the late king's reign, and unless, taking your stand once more upon the original vantage ground of penal law, you prohibit them once more from the inheritance or purchase of property. But then the Raman Catholics shall have no voice at elections. A papist shall not be allowed to' meddle with a Protestant representation. Bat a Papist may be in a condition to return members upon his own direct nomination. A Papist may buy Old Sarum, and you cannot prevent him. You deprive him of his single vote! a valuable security! you only leave him all that greater power of which you cannot deprive him; you only leave him all the due and all the undue influence of property. You reject his single vote, and only leave him the power of bringing perhaps the whole of a numerous body of tenantry to Vote in the very way in which this bill would enable him to use his single franchise. Sir, these seem monstrous contradictions. They are so. But they are not merely supposeable cases. I will mention a singular one of late occurrence. A case not of what is called direct nomination, but of the fair influence of property in recommending candidates at a popular election; In Worcestershire, and of late years too, both the members were recommended to the choice of that county by Roman Catholics. One of them, I may name him, a person, lately a member of the other House, whose death is matter of Very recent grief to his family, the late lord Beauchamp. He sat in this House for Worcestershire for two parliaments, Slaving on both occasions been put in nomination by a gentleman of large property, of great connexions, and of high respectability in the county, and a Roman Catholic. What was singular too, this Catholic gentleman was here putting in nomination a person who during the whole 580 time he sat in parliament uniformly voted against the admission of the Catholics to parliament and to office. At the very same time lord Beauchamp's colleague, an hon. friend of mine, Mr. Lyttleton, his nomination, was seconded by another gentleman of large property, great connexions, and great respectability also and also a Roman Catholic. This gentleman to be sure had an advantage not enjoyed by the other gentleman of the same communion, that he was recommending a person whose votes in this House made a somewhat better return, at least to Catholic nomination. But, Sir, I mention these instances in order to ask the House with what feelings do we suppose that on these occasions these two Roman Catholic gentlemen left those hustings? Was it with the subdued and prostrate feelings of men aware that they were considered unworthy to interfere in any matters affecting the representation of their country? Oh no, Sir. Their rank and station, and political importance, had elevated them to the post which they had just left, and had enabled them to make a recommendation in the face of a great country of those persons whom they thought most fit to represent it in parliament. Their intelligence had enabled them to give effect to that recommendation, and their political integrity had been sufficiently recognized by those at least, the great majority of that county, with whom their several recommendations had prevailed. Separated in personal and political objects, these two gentlemen divided between them the concurrence of the county as to the propriety of the introduction, which Roman Catholics had given, and as to the propriety of Roman Catholics giving such an introduction. But here their privileges stopped. Here they were arrested in the discharge of their duties. And by what were they arrested? By a purely theological test! Here, then, is a case pure and unmixed of a merely doctrinal, dogmatical, disqualification, station, character, reputation; the concurrence of two opposite parties, divided in all other respects, had conceded to two Roman Catholics all the influence, they were only deprived of the means of their single vote by an insulting and wan ton inquiry into matters of simply speculative belief in matters between God and themselves.
But, Sir, shall I be told that practically the votes of Catholics are often taken at elections, and no questions asked? I 581 think I shall not be told so, at least not in opposition to my motion. I believe the fact is so, because in truth you cannot arrive at the means of detecting these spiritual tenets, except by a certain catechetical process, rather inconvenient, rather tedious in point of length to apply to each individual voter. If so, then, if you seldom enforce the disqualifying oath, pass this bill. You will grant the Catholics a real benefit; and, as far as the vote goes, the practice will not be materially altered. I say you will grant the Catholics a real benefit, because you will enable them to do by privilege what they now do by sufferance. And is there no real difference between privilege and sufferance? I think I shall not be told so in an assembly of gentlemen whose own feelings would not be slow in suggesting the distinction. I can easily conceive circumstances under which even positive rigid exclusion is less painful than sufferance. Because sufferance always implies what is the most humbling, the most cruel to a proud spirit. A feeling of undue obligation. Obligation perhaps to some puffed up petty officer, some little being of momentary attorney-like importance, whose very look of sufferance, of indulgences of vulgar protection, is a keen insult from which I emplore the House to relieve a very deserving portion of your people from which I implore the House to relieve, the representatives of some of the first families in the land.
Sir, with regard to the officers for which this bill will permit the Roman Catholics to qualify, on this I will not long detain the House. My object will be to give them the means of qualifying for those offices only which could now be held by them in Ireland. And I pledge my word to the House that to that standard I shall conform myself most strictly. There are a few of the offices in Ireland not above two or three, I believe, to which they are there admissible, and which have no exact parallel in England. In these cases, I shall in no instance trust myself to vague analogy, nor attempt to render them admissible to any offices in England merely because they may be considered analogous to these. I should consider, myself departing from the spirit of my bill, and from the engagement I have entered into with the House by the title under, which my bill is moved to be brought in. In the enumeration of offices, to be barred to the Roman Catholics, my bill shall be an 582 exact transcript of that of 1793 in Ireland. In some small particulars, therefore, not worth mentioning, and very few, the British Catholics will still remain one hair's breadth, one shade in point of privilege bellow those of Ireland. How far below all Protestant Dissenters, it is almost needless to point out. In practice they may sit in this and the other House, I know, under the precarious protection of an Indemnity bill; and I would fain see them claiming toleration upon a sounder and more liberal tenure. But the conditions of the Test act it is known are two-fold; the sacramental test, and the oath and declaration against Popery. By the letter of the act, and by the annual Indemnity bills, it should appear, that both of these are equally conditions subsequent to the taking office. Upon this I am sure that the ingenious and powerful argument of the secretary to the Admiralty, though of some years ago, in the year 1819, is still fresh in the memory of many persons in the House. But the truth is, that in practice, and in a practice which from its prevalence and duration has acquired almost the force of law, the oath of declaration against. Popery, in the case of a magistrate qualifying, is made a condition previous. How far this practice is founded in law is scarcely worth inquiring, because I am sure the House would feel that above all, the office of a magistrate is one that ought not to be held upon sufferance only, or under circumstances of doubt. The magistrate be it remembered, has power in many cases over the liberty and the property of others, and I am sure the House would feel that this power ought not to be held, under circumstances of sufferance or doubt, But in practice the declaration against Popery is made a condition previous. From the sacramental test the Dissenter escapes by the Indemnity bill. The declaration against Popery catches the Catholick without the means of escape. The effect then is, that the Dissenter may pass through the evils of this act at pleasure, while the poor Papist is caught floundering, as it were, in the very first mesh.
Now, Sir, I know that there are, even in this House, persons who still believe the Test act to be one of the main props and bulwarks of the national church. To those persons it is doubtless matter of absolute duty to guard these sacred, buttresses from demolition. Albeit these buttresses have been practically, and I 583 think, most beneficially, removed from the edifice annually from 25th of March to 25th of March, for a period of about 96 years. I must respect the sincerity of these scruples, although I own I never could discover the grounds on which they rest. I have no wish however on this occasion, nor is it for the interest of the measure, I have at heart, looking at the probabilities of its success to attack the supposed security of a sacramental test. In looking to what is desirable one must limit one's views to what one may believe practicable. However objectionable, then, I think the Test act in point of principle, and I do not hesitate to say that I think it a blot, and a reproach upon the spirit of the country and the times, it is not my Intention by this bill to interfere with the power of exclusion by the sacramental test. Allowing myself only to congratulate the country, for the 6ake of our immense majority of the people on a certain act which it has been the habit of the legislature, for now near a century, to pass, called the act of Indemnity. I propose to leave the British Catholics, as the Dissenters, arc, liable to the sacramental test, to be relieved with them by an act, for the passing of which I trust we may feel some security in the annual wisdom of both Houses of parliament.
And now, Sir, only a few words, I have troubled you too long, of general remark. I Would observe to those who are exclusively the friends of Ireland—I beg their pardons for the phrase—I mean those Irish members, whose first duties are towards their Own much-injured and unhappy Country, I would make one observation to them. This bill is in some respects, and I trust Ireland will feel it so, by reflection at least, a benefit even to the Catholics of that country. Their cause, though not necessarily connected, is by no means a necessarily separate one. The British Catholics have never separated their cause from that Of Ireland, nor if they were ever disposed, which I trust and believe they never Will, so to do, would lever lend myself to be the humble means for making such ah attempt. With regard to votes in respect of property which may be inherited or purchased by Irishmen in this country, their interests are equally affected by this bill. But I own, I avowed it at the outset of my statement, ray views go a great deal further. I do not disguise them. I believe much may be gained to what is called the Catholic cause by an 584 amalgamation of their habits and feelings with those of the Protestant population. It is a bill to unite in England Protestant and Catholic in certain functions in which by law they are now separated—It is wit place them side by side in situations and in duties where now by the acts in force they never can meet. And I own that I think that, without subjecting myself to the imputation of very visionary hopes, I may augur some benefit likely to arise hereafter to the Catholics, and under the best securities to the state, those of a community of feeling and interest, from such an union—to the British Catholics I augur from this bill great and solid benefits. And I think he must have been a bad observer of human nature who does not know that there are ingredients in the mind of man which make even these small privileges valuable. Sir, the idea of freedom is closely interwoven with that of privilege. If you redeem from bondage, give privilege. And though simply of not much apparent value, still, when combined, these privileges strengthen the great bond of society, and unite men in a community of habit and feeling. At a popular election a single vote may be very inconsiderable, looking to the event; but it is important, vastly important, to him who gives it. And above all the imputation of disfranchisement is a great and serious, and ought to be felt as a great and serious, grievance. Admissibility to the commission of the peace may, singly considered, be rather likely to impose a burthen of not very desirable duty, than to confer any very enviable privilege. But yet these things have their effect—they are ties which attach men to country, which, as Mr. Burke describes them, "though light as air are stronger than bonds of Iron?
Sir, the British Catholics have, for the greater part of a century, lain under a grievance of a singular and a monstrous sort—That the absence of all colourable pretence of alarm from them has thrown them entirely out of observation. The stream of parliamentary sympathy which, from time to time has been suffered to flow in stinted measure, indeed, towards a people considerable in number, and whom other circumstances have forced upon our notice, has passed by the British Catholics, unrelieved, and almost unheeded. Even the innocent tranquillity of their demeanour, which should entitle them to our sympathy, even the absence of all shadow of danger which gives them 585 a claim imperative on our justice, even these have hitherto delayed inquiry into their separate case. It is high time that some light should be cast on them, and on the laws which still affect them. The existence of such a body has been barely recognized in our debates. The preposterous declaration of a former lord chancellor of Ireland, concerning the Roman Catholics of his own country, is become nearly true with respect to these—The lord chancellor Bowes declared from the bench in Ireland, and chief justice Robinson makes the same declaration, "that the law does not presume such a person to exist as"—what will the House believe? —"an Irish Roman Catholic."—"Founded" says the learned commentator, "upon a well-known fiction of law in Ireland, thus stated formerly by one of their best authorities, to be law, that all effective inhabitants of Ireland are to be presumed to be protestants, and that therefore the papists, their clergy, worship, &c. &c. are not to be supposed to exist, save for reprehension and penalty." [a laugh and hear!] Sir, it is in such a state that every Catholic in this island feels himself to be placed—of this they complain. And looking at their own condition they almost doubt themselves to be considered by you as your countrymen. The very feelings which compose the national spirit of Englishmen, and inspire it, are feelings which in them are endeavoured in every way by your laws to be oppressed and outraged. Oh, Sir, respect and cherish these feelings —we know not perhaps how mainly dependent upon them are all those sentiments which form the national character of which we sometimes make our boast, and all those affections which constitute that noble passion, love of country. As it is, we invert the maxim of ancient wisdom. To divide may be a means of subjugation, but never never let it be recommended as a system of government. The present law can tend only to unite by a community of grievance those whom as a political party we should disjoin in order to make them one with ourselves. We unite a sect, but we divide a people. I wish I could impress upon the House the truth of this doctrine. It was well expressed by bishop Hoadly, and he was no friend to popery, "I cannot justify" says he "the exclusion of a papist from civil office upon any ground but that of his open avowed enmity to civil government as now settled in this land."
586 Sir, I will now place this motion in your hands. Those who think that on the whole no charge of peculiar disloyalty against the British Catholics exists, to awaken your peculiar jealousy, or justify peculiar rigour, must feel the injustice of the law as it now stands, and vote for my motion. Those who think that wanton and capricious exclusion from any constitutional benefits whatever is an act of oppression, must feel that the law as it stands is oppressive and vote for my motion. Those who think that these exclusions are not in fact almost universally operative, and that those things are every day done by sufferance and practice which are here sought to be done by privilege, must feel that the law as it stands is inoperative and therefore absurd, and must vote for my motion. And allow me to repeat that, unless every gentleman who opposes me can now lay his hand on his heart and say that if these laws had never been enacted he would now be prepared to move their enactment, I must submit to the House that, in truth and in justice, my motion is gained. The noble lord concluded, amidst loud cheers, with moving, "That leave be given to bring in a bill for regulating the administration of Tests and Qualifications for the exercise or enjoyment of Offices and Franchises."
§ Mr. Stuart Wortley
seconded the motion, and said, that when he considered the character of the body to whom this motion related, the noble blood which flowed in their veins, their well-known respectability, and their loyalty, he thought a very strong case indeed should be made out to prevent them from enjoying the same privileges as were possessed by their fellow-subjects of the same persuasion in Ireland.
§ Mr. Wetherell
entered into certain explanations relative to the principles of this bill, reserving to a future stage of the discussion those objections which he might have to its details. He maintained that it would place the Catholics of England higher in point of privilege than those of Ireland, as there was no test and corporation act in Ireland. He contended that property, as property, did not confer the elective franchise, and, after adverting to the prevalence of the practice of splitting freeholds in Ireland, he expressed his opinion, that because the elective franchise had been given to Catholics in Ireland, it formed no ground for communicating the same privilege to those in England.
Mr. G. Bankes
said, that if this measure had been proposed to the House inconsequence of a petition from the great body of the English Roman Catholics, he should have considered the petition of such a body entitled to great attention; but it appeared to be a mere project of the noble lord himself, who hardly knew whether it would be considered as a boon or not. The admission of English Roman Catholics to the magistracy might, under due limitations, be desirable; but he could not give his consent to extending the elective franchise to that body.
Mr. Secretary Peel
said, he had, on a former occasion, expressed himself not unwilling to consent to a measure for taking into consideration the propriety of placing the Roman Catholics of England on the same footing as those of Ireland. Consistently with that declaration, therefore, he felt himself bound to admit the first proposition of the noble lord for leave to bring in the bill. He made this concession, not merely in consistence with that declaration, but because he felt it to be reasonable that the measure should at least be fairly considered. The noble lord had adverted to three points, in which the Roman Catholics of England stood in a different situation from those of Ireland; the elective franchise, the magistracy, and admission to office. With regard to the elective; franchise, he allowed at once that he was willing to admit the English Catholic to that privilege. He had always considered the distinction taken by Mr. Burke between the elective franchise and admission to office, as sound and judicious. In a speech on the subject of the Catholic claims, Mr. Burke said, that if the Roman Catholics were admitted to the right of voting for members of parliament, it did not necessarily follow that they should be admitted to office. He must observe, that the noble lord would find some difficulty in placing the Roman Catholics of England and Scotland on the same footing, because by the act of Union the Roman Catholics of Scotland could not exercise the elective franchise. He was disposed, after mature consideration, to admit the Roman Catholics of England to the same privileges with regard to voting, as the Roman Catholics of Ireland; but he should strenuously resist their being themselves elected. In this respect they would stand-in the same situation as the clergy who were qualified to elect though they were disqualified from sitting in that 588 House. The right hon. gentleman proceeded to advert to the abuses of the elective franchise in Ireland, where the system of fictitious voting conferred no advantage whatever on the wretched individuals who were brought forward solely for the purpose of supporting die political influence of their landlords. It must be admitted, that the state of England was so entirely different from that of Ireland that if the granting of the elective franchise in Ireland had, in some respects, been attended with mischievous consequences, the same danger could not fairly be inferred in England, where the minority of Catholics was notoriously so small. With regard to the magistracy, he agreed with his hon. friend, the member who spoke last, that it might be advisable that Roman Catholics should be associated with Protestants in the exercise of magisterial duties. On the question of admission to offices he begged leave to leave to reserve himself. He should not object to making English Roman Catholics eligible to the same subordinate offices to which Irish Roman Catholics were admissible, provided they were placed in no better situation than Protestant Dissenters. If it were the object of the noble lord to open the same offices to them as the Catholics of Ireland, subjecting them, in the same manner as Protestant Dissenters, to the operation of the annual Indemnity act, he should not object to such a measure. If it introduced no new principle which might furnish an argument for further concession to the Roman Catholics of Ireland—if it introduced no relaxation of the Corporation and Test acts, or alteration of the existing law with regard to Protestant Dissenters—he should be disposed to accede to it. AH these points involved details which would properly come under consideration in a future stage of the bill. He intirely concurred in the observations which had fallen from the noble lord, as to the great respectability of the Roman Catholics of England, and it was this consideration which induced him to feel so strong a disposition to make concessions in their favour.
§ Mr. Hudson Gurney
said, he certainly? should vote for the measure proposed by the noble lord. At the same time, he could not avoid saying, that the only motion he had ever heard which had common sense for its basis, relative to the Catholics, since he had had the honour of a sent in parliament, was one made by general Thornton, which nobody at the time sup- 589 ported; namely, so to alter the wording of the Oath of Supremacy, that a Pro-Protestant might take it without disgrace, and a Catholic without reviling the religion of his fathers. It would be perfectly easy to retain all that gave imagined security against foreign assumption of powers within these realms, without placing the point of honour, as well as that of religion, between the Catholic and the possibility of his conforming—rand, thus at once to get rid of the perpetual repetition of irritating and unprofitable discussions; whilst, in the lapse of a very few years, the Catholic question would be no more thought of.
§ Mr. H. Bankes
felt himself bound, in fairness to the noble lord, to state how far be could agree with him. The elective franchise ought, in his opinion, never to have been granted to the Catholics of Ireland, and he could never consent to grant it to the Roman Catholics of England. He could never consent to admit persons differing so essentially in opinions, effecting the vital interests of the constitution, to any share of political power. It should be recollected that that most injudicious measure, which admitted the Catholics of Ireland to the elective franchise, was passed in a parliament entirely Irish. To the subdivision of freeholds, and the system of fictitious voting, much of the present misery of Ireland was to be attributed. The measure of the noble lord went too far; for it would, in effect, lead to the repeal of those bulwarks of the constitution, the Corporation and Test acts. If the admission of the Roman Catholics of England to the magistracy could be effected, without interfering with the great principles to which he had adverted, it might be a desirable measure.
§ Mr. W. Smith
was glad to hear that no privileges were to be conceded to the Catholics of England which were refused to Protestant Dissenters, though he could not but consider the provisions which subjected Protestant Dissenters to the Test and Corporation acts, as a most unjust and unmerited stigma on, that body. He was satisfied, however that the time was not far distant when Roman Catholics would be admitted to seats in that House. The hon. member adverted to a speech of the late marquis of Londonderry, delivered in the year 1821, in which he declared, that the only point in which he declared, that the only point in which the congress of Vienna unanimously concurred was, the total abolition of all religious distinctions 590 with regard to eligibility to office, and that this measure had tended greatly to remove dissentions which existed on this subject in the smaller states of Germany.—He hoped the time would come when such illiberalities would be trampled in the dust, under the feet of Englishmen. He could not hope to live to sec that time, but he trusted it would come, and come shortly, when an end would be put to all the absurd disqualifications which arose from religious distinctions.
§ Sir J. Mackintosh
said, it appeared to him that the question before the House in no way affected the general question of the Catholic claims. He, for himself, would support that general question under every possible circumstance; he would support it whether brought forward by friends or by foes—as a partial or as an ample, as a conditional or as an unconditional measure; but it seemed to him that no vote given whichever way it went, upon the present occasion, pledged the giver to to any specific course, when that general question should be discussed. As to the point of magistracy, he would offer nothing. It seemed to be agreed on all hands, that no difficulty would be made to that arrangement, unless some difficulty should arise in the detail; and he believed that, from the manner in which the bill would be framed, no such difficulty would arise. But, with respect, to the question of the elective franchise, he was compelled to protest against the doctrine which had; been laid down upon that point. That the exclusion of qualified Catholic freeholders from the exercise of the elective franchise was part of the fundamental law, or of the constitutional principle of the kingdom, he utterly denied. In what part of the constitution was that exclusion to be found? And, as to the fundamental law, why the Catholics of Ireland had, continued to exercise the elective franchise long after the exclusion of Catholics from the Houses of parliament; and the Cat he lies of England bad not been deprived of the elective franchise until the statutes of the 7th or 8th of William 3rd—more than twenty years after the exclusion of Catholics from parliament in England. Fundamental law. It was perfectly, well known that the statute of William 3rd had passed upon the spur of the moment under immediate apprehension from the* See Vol. IV., p. 1028 of the present Series.591 discovery of the assassination plot, and not upon any cool and deliberate calculation of it principle. It had been stated, that if the present measure passed, the Catholics of England would be placed m a better situation than the Catholics of Ireland, because no Test act now existed in Ireland. He denied that position altogether. The, bill now proposed to be brought in would not touch, nor interfere with the Test act. The Catholics of England would still be freed from the Test act, as they were freed from it under the existing arrangements by an Indemnity bill passed annually for that purpose. The fact was, that the English Catholics Would hold by sufferance that which the Irish Catholics held as a matter of right He begged to repeat, that he saw no inconsistency in hon. members taking the line which occurred to them upon the question immediately at issue, without reference to their general opinions upon the Catholic claims. The refusal, however, to admit those claims did appear to him to be almost inexplicable. It looked, he thought, like one of those acts of infatuation which had sometimes preceded the downfall of empires.
§ Lord Nugent
said, that under the present circumstances, the motion for leave to bring in the bill not being opposed, he should not trouble the House with more than a very few observations in reply. His hon. friend, the member for the University of Cambridge, seemed to rest his principal objection on the fact of the Roman Catholics themselves not having been consulted on this measure. His hon. friend had described it as a mere project of his. As such, he wished it to be understood. But he was quite sure that his hon. friend would not be prepared to resist it on this ground alone. If the measure could be shewn to be founded in justice, he would call on him to do an act of justice on any man's project. Nor was it an objection to state, that it had not been moved at the instance or upon the prayer of those who were principally interested in the result. His hon. and learned friend, the member for Oxford, had, he thought, singularly mistaken the object, as he had stated it, of his bill. His hon. and learned friend had apprehended, that the effect of it would be to place the British Catholics higher in point of privilege than those of Ireland. He was surprised at this objection from one of the acute and correct mind of his hon. 592 and learned friend. He trusted he should be able to shew him, when his bill should be printed, that the utmost effect of it would be to give to the British Catholic, under the operation of the Test act which did; not exist in Ireland, the same privileges by sufferance which the Irish enjoyed by right. The eligibility to office, and the elective franchise, were held by the Irish in the nature of a freehold. This bill would not go to repeal the Test act. It Would leave to the British Catholic the enjoyment of those privileges only under the condition of the annual Indemnity bill—in the nature of a tenancy at will. With regard to the question as it affected Scotland, he was aware of the difficulty pointed out by the right hon. secretary of state. He would not enter upon the discussion of it now; but he thought that, under the fair construction of Mr. Dundas's Scotch act of 1791, this bill might operate in Scotland without any infringement of the act of queen Anne, which had been appended to the act of Union. If that act had not been virtually repealed by Mr. Dundas's bill, which he thought questionable, this bill could in no way touch it. At all events the act of queen Anne related only to the elective franchise. The other part of the present bill, namely eligibility to office, it did not affect. It was, however, with the greatest satisfaction, that he found the principle of the present measure adopted almost unanimously by the House. He trusted he should be able to satisfy the House hereafter upon the details.
§ Leave was given to bring in the bill.