HC Deb 19 April 1825 vol 13 cc3-21

Numerous petitions were presented both for and against the claims of the Roman Catholics. Mr. Hart Davis having presented a petition from the clergy of Bristol against those claims,

Mr. Leycester

avowed it as his opinion, that the persons who had so strongly expressed sentiments hostile to any further concession to the Catholics, had done so in profound ignorance of the subject, and labouring under great mistakes as to the religious belief of the Roman Catholics. His own errors on the subject were of the same description, until the investigation of the committee on Irish affairs had thrown a new light upon the question. Until that information had been communicated, he had believed, that all those monstrous mummeries, so long attributed to the Popish faith, were articles of faith with all Roman Catholics. That was now entirely denied. But all denial was useless; the opinions which the Catholics entertained centuries ago were supposed by the petitioners against their claims to be the opinions which they still cherished. Their cry was— Delicta majorum immeritus lues, Romane.

Mr. Bright

denied that the opinions of the petitioners had been formed in the ignorance attributed to them by the hon. gentleman. The petitioners had read—what the hon. gentleman seemed to have neglected, the history of this country and the Christian world. In that history they had seen the real character of Catholicism. Could the Protestant people of this country forget the times that were past? When had the Catholics shown themselves favourable to the religious and civil liberties of the people of England? Never. And as to intolerance, let the House observe on which side it lay. Whenever a petition was presented unfavourable to the Catholic Claims, with what accuracy was it not criticised, with what scorn was it not treated? Let the House look back to what had taken place on the continent but a few years after the peace. Let them recollect the motion made in the year 1815, by a learned and lamented individual, sir S. Romilly, with respect to the prosecution of the Protestants at Nismes. Did not that event show that persecution was the essence of popery, whenever popery was restored to power ? If the hon. gentleman who had just spoken had looked to general history, instead of the ex-parte examination of individuals before the committee on Irish affairs, he would have arrived at a very different conclusion. He disclaimed all disposition to stir up religious animosities; but, when he was incited by such Statements as those which had fallen from the hon. gentleman, he felt the necessity of standing forward, and declaring his opinion of the unchanged character of the religion of Rome.

Mr. A. Smith

presented a petition from Portsmouth and Portsea, against further concessions to the Catholics.

Mr. Carter

begged to say a few words as to the mode in which this petition was produced, in order to show that the declaration that these anti-Catholic petitions generally spoke the sense of the country was unfounded. In the original advertisement to call together a meeting for the purpose of framing this petition, the mayor of Portsmouth had introduced an expression intimating that the meeting was for the purpose of "discussing" the question. As the day of meeting, however, approached, discussion was thought to be dangerous to the cause of anti-Catholicism; and an attempt was made to prevent the meeting. It took place, however, and a counter resolution was carried, expressive of the sense of the meeting, and, he firmly believed, the sense of the great majority of the population of the country, that it was inexpedient to express any opinion on the subject; and that it might be safely left to the wisdom of the legislature.

Mr. A. Smith

observed, that the petition was most numerously and respectably signed.

Colonel Johnson

rose,to present a petition from a Roman Catholic gentleman of the name of Newton, residing in the county of Lincoln, against the pending bill for the relief of the Roman Catholics. The petitioner begged to represent, that if such a bill should pass into a law, it would not materially benefit the condition of the Roman Catholics, at the same time that it would certainly be most degrading to them as a body. The hon. gentleman took that opportunity of' declaring, that were he himself a Roman Catholic, he certainly could not take the oath to be enjoined by the bill in question.

Sir Robert Heron,

in presenting two petitions in favour of the bill, complained of the manner in which a petition from Grantham had been got up, that was presented on Friday. That petition did not at all represent the sense of the inhabitants of the town.

Mr. Brougham

begged to thank his hon. friend for the light he had thrown upon the mode in which some of the petitions against the bill had been got up; and he himself was able, not only to bear out the hon. baronet's statement, as to the very pretty manner in which the petition alluded to had been manufactured, but to add one or two facts, that might show the Christian spirit and wisdom that must have prevailed over some of the subscribers to it, and have induced that expression of extreme anxiety for the welfare of the Established Church, and dread of the direful effects of relief to the Roman Catholics, which the petition set forth. Now, as to Grantham and its soke, that district contained about 14 parishes, and a population of 10,000 persons. The meeting at which the petition in question had been agreed to was composed of twenty-nine persons. It was got up rather in the manner or a Scotch than of an English meeting. Twenty-nine persons were the small per centage who were found on that occasion to attend, in order to testify the serious apprehensions that the petition intended to express. With respect to the petition itself, it should be observed, that it was signed by 439 persons, 242 of whom, or above half, stood in this situation—(and he was now speaking upon the information of a most respectable individual whom he knew and could rely on )— 15 of them were clergymen; but as for the rest, they were the very reverse of clergymen; for no less than 198 of these petitioners, who had weighed so maturely the great interests of the Catholic question, and who, according to the petition, had carried their minds back to the earlier pages of our history, and had considered the character of the Roman Catholic religion in past ages (and all this they must have heard in speeches, and not have learned in books, with which, of necessity, they could have been but little occupied), 198 of them could not write [hear, hear]; or at least the whole of that number—perhaps, indeed, for the sake of conciseness—signed their names with a cross. They were marksmen, who preferred this mode of subscription by a cross, in order to manifest at once their love of conciseness and their hatred of the Catholic religion. Four others were, perhaps, not so much to blame for the mode they had resorted to of expressing their opinions; because it happened, in respect of them, that they had not properly exercised beforehand the faculties that nature had given to them. In short, they were convicts [a laugh]—he begged pardon of the House, he should more correctly say, that two of the four were convicts, the other two were keepers of brothels. Perhaps the latter two had been induced, from a religious horror of the rival trade of the lady of Babylon, to protest that they could not bear any other religion but their own. Many of the other petitioners had been previously in the receipt of parochial relief.

Sir M. Cholmeley

was here about to address the chair, but was called to order.

Mr. Brougham

resumed. He had his information from a party of whose accuracy he had no doubt, and who could not be mistaken. He understood that every one of these 198 persons [a cry of "No"]—perhaps the hon. baronet knew them all, and could distinctly state whether such was the fact or not—every one of them had made his cross. Possible it was that they could write; but, at any rate, they had not chosen to favour the, House with a specimen of their penmanship. Surely the hon. baronet knew as well as he did what a marksman was; and thus, therefore, he must allow, that as marksmen 198 of these petitioners were disposed of. In respect of the other four, he dared to say that the hon. baronet could give his negative evidence, at least to the character of those two housekeepers whom he had before named; if not, it did not follow that other gentlemen might not have been in their houses, and be able to speak more directly to the matter. Altogether there were in this way 242 Out of the 439 petitioners' names accounted for; leaving a per centage of somewhat less that 5 per cent as upon the whole population, whose sentiments this petition affected to represent.

Sir Montague Cholmeley

said, that he knew of no such proceedings, in the manufacture of the petitions in question, as had been just stated. He could only say for himself, that he had never entered a house of the description mentioned by the hon. and learned gentleman [a laugh]. He was very sure that the attack which had been made by the hon. and learned gentleman and the hon. baronet was most unjust as to the petitioners, and most unfair in the absence of the hon. member who had presented their petition. For his own part, he was rather warm at present; and, though he felt disposed to speak upon the subject of the Catholic claims, he considered that he was too much excited to address himself to it with all that calmness which so important a question demanded.

Lord Nugent

said, he had received similar information to that which his hon. and learned friend had submitted to the House, from a person of high respectability, whose name, he was sure, must be well known to the hon. baronet ["name, name!"]. He was not authorized to declare who the individual was; but he would communicate his name with pleasure to the hon. baronet.

Mr. Brougham

said, that in his information the 198 persons who had signed with a cross were marked "illiterate;" by which he conceived he was to understand, either that they could not write their names, and had therefore put a cross, or that some person had signed for a great number of others.

Mr. Secretary Peel

said, he had been surprised when he heard the statements made by hon. gentlemen on the other side, and, conceiving that they must have gone upon information on which they could rely, he had felt it necessary to send for the petition itself. That petition he held in his hand; and, after strict examination, he could find no more than one name to which a cross was affixed [hear, hear!].

Sir R. Heron

said, it was not his intention to make any observation upon the nature or the signatures, nor the manner in which they had been obtained, as he did not know whether the parties had signed themselves, or had procured others to sign for them. This, however, he could say, that be it as it might, it was never dreamt of to impute the slightest blame to the hon. member who presented the petition, or those who supported it.

The original petition, presented on Friday last, having been handed over the table by the clerk, to Mr. Brougham and lord Nugent, the latter quitted the House for a few moments. On his return,

Lord Nugent

said, lie wished to take that opportunity of explaining to the House an error into which he had been led ,with respect to the petition. Having heard what had been stated, lie had felt it his duty to apply to the party for information, and he found that it was totally incorrect. He regretted that he had led the House astray upon such information.

Mr. Brougham

said, it had been originally his intention to look into a petition, described as having been signed in such an extraordinary manner, but other avocations had prevented him from doing so. Having said thus much, he had only to add, that he should in future use more caution in receiving information from a quarter upon which he had hitherto relied; as the gentleman was not only a supporter but a member of the Catholic body, yet even there he should receive his information with that grain of allowance and caution which the experience of that night had taught him. He had looked over the petition, and it certainly contained no more than one name to which a cross was affixed. There were, indeed, perhaps forty names, in all, subscribed by one and the same hand; but, upon the whole, the names said to be signed by crosses were as good specimens of average penmanship as were usually found in petitions of this nature.

Mr. Secretary Peel

said, he had several petitions to present against this bill, all of which had been forwarded to him under the circumstances he had mentioned on the preceding evening. One of these he begged particularly to call the attention, of the House to. It was from the ministers, elders, and provincial synod of Glasgow, and was signed by Mr. M'Farlane, their moderator; and a written claim had been transmitted by that gentleman to have this petition considered, not as that of the individuals by whom it was so signed, but as that of a part of the established church of Scotland. Now, he was not exactly certain whether the House could, in point of form, receive this petition with this single signature, though he found a similar one entered as received upon their Journals in 1813. Perhaps the House made a distinction between corporate bodies having seals, and corporate bodies, like that from which the petition in his hand professed to emanate, having no seal.

The Speaker

thought the safer course would be, to be governed by the precedent on their Journals, upon the understanding, that though this corporation did not possess, like either of the universities, a common seal, their petition was to be received as the petition of a corporation, but of a corporation having no seal

Mr. Wynn

coincided in the opinion of the Speaker

Mr. J. P. Grant

stated, that, to render the petition fit to be received by the House, it was not necessary that the body presenting it should possess a seal. Many of the corporations of Scotland, particularly the ecclesiastical corporations, had no seal

Mr. W. Smith

said, be did not object to the exercise of the right of petition on the part of any of those individuals who had thought proper to address the House on this occasion, whether Dissenters or others, whatever their opinions might be. Neither did he object to any thing they had done, in order to show their feelings with reference to the Catholic question. It certainly did, however, happen yesterday, that his learned friend (Mr. Brougham) was so far mistaken, as to attribute to the Protestant dissenters a strong feeling against the bill for the relief of the Roman Catholics, Now, he believed, that up to yesterday, not more than nine or ten petitions from Protestant dissenters had been presented. He had that morning looked over an alphabetical list of 2,000 congregations in England; and amongst those be could find but five or six congregations that had appeared before the House. Gentlemen might easily calculate how small a proportion this number bore to the general mass of Protestant dissenters. He held in his hand a list (comprising the period from the year 1732 down to the present time) of Protestant dissenters, properly so called. These were divided into three classes—Presbyterians, Independents, and Baptists. When they agreed on any public act, that act was performed by a number deputed from the general body. In that list he found ninety-seven congregations. He had dissected the list of petitions as well as the time would allow him, and he could discover no more than five which came from persons who could be said to belong to the sects he had mentioned. There were great number of persons who belonged to the class of Methodists ( which was chiefly divided into the Whitfieldite and Wesleyan connexion), who were sometimes confounded with the Protestant dissenters, but did not in reality belong to them. He meant to cast no reflection on those parties. He merely wished to put every gentleman on his guard, lest he should be led. to suppose that, because twenty petitions, emanating from this heterogeneous mixture, had been presented against the Catholic Claims, that therefore tire grew body of Protestant dissenters were opposed to them. They had, in fact, expressed no opinion about it. He would maintain, that not one in a hundred of the Protestant dissenting congregations in England had given any opinion at all upon this question. He believed the feeling of the Protestant dissenters throughout the country, was, to leave the subject to be dealt with as parliament in its wisdom should think fit. Speaking of them as a body, he believed they were desirous that justice should be done to the Roman Catholics. He should be sorry if the suspicion which appeared to have entered the minds of some gentlemen near him, as to the feelings of the Protestant dissenters, was in any degree well-founded. It would give him much pain, if the body of' which he was speaking stood forward as the foes of religious liberty in its widest extent. If they came forward and demanded that the claims of the Catholics should be refused, he should be both surprised and grieved. The Protestant dissenters were not so bound together as to have amongst them but one opinion. They, of course, had their own opinions on political matters. They were tied up to no one Common opinion, except that which was connected with the religion they professed. They maintained most liberal opinions in politics; and he knew no shorter or better mode of expressing their feelings, than by quoting the rule of their conduct; namely, that of doing unto others as they wished others to do unto them. This, the best of all possible maxims, was their motto, and he believed they were most anxious to act up to it

Mr. Spring Rice

said, he held in his hand a declaration in favour of the Catholic Claims, which had emanated from a most respectable body of the Protestant dissenters of Ireland. The Presbyterians of the north of Ireland were as ready as any set of men to admit the claims which the Catholics had on the justice of that House. They were as liberal a body of men as any in the empire. He said this, because an idea had gone forth, and was, indeed, embodied in the evidence given relative to the state of Ireland, that the Presbyterians of the north of Ireland had become more than ever adverse to that claims of the Catholics. He had that day, in contradiction to that assertion, to lay before the House a statement (for the parties had not time to put it in the shape of a petition) from the ministers and elders of the Presbyterian profession in the county of Down and Belfast, to which they requested him to call the attention of parliament. Those individuals said, that, so far from being adverse to the Catholic Claims, if the Presbyterians declared themselves hostile to civil and religious liberty, they would belie the principles of the church to which they belonged. On all occasions they had declared their opinions in, favour of that liberality which became them as followers of the Christian faith. In 1812, no less than 139 members of the synod of Ulster had called on the House to do away with all civil disabilities on account of religious opinions. The individuals whose sentiments he was now speaking, begged of him to state, that any person acting as moderator could express nothing more than his own opinion. If he assumed a representative capacity, he passed the line and boundary of his office; since he had a right only to act in his individual capacity. The parties stated that, as the cause of Catholic emancipation was gaining ground in the north, they wished, both in justice to the Dissenters and to the Catholics, to record these their opinions. If a general declaration on the subject had been necessary, they could have procured thousands of respectable signatures to it; and they stated, that they never felt greater chagrin than they did on the publication of the evidence, in which the Protestant dissenters were described as entertaining hostility against the Roman Catholics. He should certainly think very ill of any of that class, who, having a monopoly of toleration, endeavoured to prevent others from enjoying those benefits which they themselves possessed

Mr. Scarlett

said, that the petition which he rose to present, in favour of the bill for removing the disabilities under which the Roman Catholics laboured, was signed by 163 individuals; and he believed that a greater mass of intelligence than was to be found amongst the petitioners could not be met with amongst those who affixed their names to many other petitions, though the number of signatures might be ten times as great. There were not 163 gentlemen in that House, or out of it, who could form a more competent judgment on the subject of this petition than those individuals to whose sentiments he begged leave to call the attention of the house. No body of men were better fitted to give an opinion on this momentous question, uninfluenced by any of those motives which might be supposed to attach themselves to other petitions which had been presented on this subject, than the gentlemen whose petition he then held in his hand. It was the petition of a number of sergeants and barristers at law, of that part of the united kingdom called England; and, as it was vary short, he would take the liberty of reading it. [The learned gentleman here read the petition, which briefly prayed, that the civil disabilities which affected his majesty's Roman Catholic subjects should be forthwith removed.] This petition, he observed, was signed by 163 gentlemen of the description he had mentioned; but the House must by no means conclude, that the whole number of the individuals at the bar of England who were favourable to Catholic emancipation, was comprised in those signatures. He could speak from his own observation, of individuals of high character, and of profound knowledge, who, concurring entirely in the prayer of this petition, had nevertheless, from a dislike to affix their names to it, lest the petition might be supposed to come from the bar of England as a body, declined signing the document. They, however, desired most anxiously, that the House should sanction the measure now in progress. If this petition was worthy of consideration, on account of the respectability of the gentlemen who had signed it, he would ask, were there not other circumstances which ought more especially to direct the attention of the House towards those petitioners ? He would say, that if there were any body of men, to whom, more than to any others, it was beneficial to exclude as much as possible all competitors from their honours, emoluments, and dignities, that body was the bar of England. Another circumstance to which he would call the attention of the House was this—that the gentlemen signing this petition, as well as many others professing sentiments favourable to Catholic emancipation, knew perfectly well, that an avowal of those sentiments was not now, and had not been for some years back, the most ready road to preferment. It was not necessary to allude to facts which were matter of history; but perhaps it would be found, that the best mode which a barrister of intelligence could take, for the purpose of securing honours, was to become an apostate horn those principles of liberality and tolerance which he might have professed at a former period of his life. The House, he thought, would agree with him when he said, that those who, under such circumstances, had the courage to sign this petition, deserved all the attention which any number of gentlemen could receive in approaching parliament with their sentiments. The petitioners were possessed of knowledge, information, and intelligence, and certainly they had a right to expect that the legislature would pay due attention to their opinions. He could not conclude without expressing the high sense which he entertained of the honour conferred on him by intrusting such a petition to his hands. He felt it deeply and sensibly. He was not apprised of the existence of the petition until lately. It was not signed by arty member of that House; and could not therefore be traced to the influence of arty gentleman who had a seat there. He believed there never was a time when a larger number of gentlemen, highly educated, possessing greater knowledge, more indefatigable zeal, or more unbending integrity, could be found at the bar than at the present moment. He knew it was asserted, and that too, in a high quarter, that the bar was deficient in talent; that it was not now so fruitful in ability as it formerly was. He unfortunately was growing old amongst that body; but, he would say, that for learning and ability, the bar of the present day might enter into competition with the bar of former times. Anciently there were but a few men of learning at the bar, and that learning was chiefly confined to their own profession; but he would assert, that for general information, and for extent and variety of knowledge, there never was such a body of men at the bar as those who now supported its character

Mr. Brougham

observed, that he should not discharge his duty to that illustrious body, the professors of the law, whose importance to the constitution, to the preservation of the rights of the subject, and to the stability of the government, as well as to the due administration of justice, was undoubted, if he did not join his testimony to the clear and forcible statement of his learned friend. With regard to the petition itself, he wished to add one or two particulars, in his view, of some moment. His learned friend had justly observed, that it was set on foot and signed, before it was known to him, and to those who might be termed the leaders at the bar, that such a project was entertained. Afterwards it had been adopted by others of more distinguished rank, or of greater standing, though certainly not of greater learning or ability, than those who, in the first instance, had affixed their signatures. No member of that House had either signed it, or taken part in its preparation; and it did not contain the names of any of the Roman Catholic members of the profession. He begged leave most distinctly to add his evidence to the assertion of his learned friend, that the House would form a most inadequate estimate of the numbers of the members of the bar who were in favour of the petition, if it judged merely from the number of the signatures. The northern circuit consisted of about ninety members; it might be termed a floating body of from ninety to a hundred members; upwards of fifty of these barristers had signed the petition, and from his own personal knowledge, he would assert, that thirty-four or thirty-five of the remainder had expressed their warm concurrence in the object of the petition, but at the same time had objected to sign it, because they entertained some scruple, how far it was fit for the bar, as a body, to petition the legislature. Out of the whole circuit, he believed he might say, that there were not half a dozen, and certainly not twelve, members of it, who held opinions adverse to the claims of the Catholics. He entertained the highest respect for the circuit of which be was an unworthy member, and had no reason to think, that opinions favourable to emancipation were more prevalent upon that than upon other circuits. He therefore called upon the House to observe the prodigious majority on behalf of concession. The same observation could not have been truly made even ten or twelve years ago. When Mr. Fox brought forward the question in 1805, seconded by Mr. Grattan, the majority was the other way, and disposed to combine against the Catholic Claims. Now, however, a great and salutary change had occurred; and the opinion of the English bar might fairly be taken as an exponent of the sentiments of the enlightened portion of the community. Not more than six in the hundred, or about one-twentieth part of the whole bar, objected to the grant of what the Catholics so justly required. Those who cast their eyes over the petition would observe, that the signatures were not those of men of one religious or political persuasion—Churchmen and Dissenters, Whigs and Tories, the enemies and the friends of the minister of the day, joined in one prayer; namely that disabilities, on account of religious opinions, should be immediately removed.

Lord Nugent

moved for leave to bring up the petition of the Roman Catholics of Great Britain, a most considerable, exemplary, and deeply aggrieved portion of the community; considerable in number and station, exemplary in character and conduct, and deeply aggrieved, by being shut out from many of the most valuable privileges, which both by right of birth and title they ought to enjoy. They approached the House on the present occasion with renewed, and he did not disguise it, with most sanguine hopes of success—hopes founded on the justice of their claim, and on the increased prevalence of liberal and enlightened principles—hopes also increased and confirmed by the progress of the bill upon the table, placed as it was in the hands of the one man in this country, whom, in his conscience, he believed best qualified to carry it through the House [hear, hear!]. The Catholics of Great Britain felt, that the cause of humanity, justice, and liberality must be advanced under his auspices: the sincerity, the energy and ability of his proceedings could only be equalled by the spirit of moderation and forbearance to which it was known he had made most important sacrifices [hear, hear!]. Whatever might be the result of the bill this year, it must triumph ere long: he said this year, because he agreed with those who said, that the opposition to it was reduced to a mere calculation, whether for one, two, or three more sessions it might still be possible to protract the expiring life of this extensive and hazardous injustice. Whatever, therefore, he repeated, might be the result this year, the hon. baronet (sir F. Burdett) might enjoy the proud satisfaction of knowing how much he had contributed to advance the cause of Catholic Emancipation. He had advanced it, he believed, in the opinion even of a majority of the House, not by any compromise of his own feelings or principles, but by raising the popular sentiment upon this question a little nearer to the level of his own virtue [hear!]. The petition he had to offer was signed by upwards of 32,000 persons, but he did not state the number for the sake of any impression to be made by it; because was easy to conceive that, out of the gross amount of the Catholic population of Great Britain, exceeding 200,000, the, mere circumstance, that a few thou- sands more or less had signed the petition, was not of much importance, when the whole body was united in one common hope and solicitation. Neither did he feel it necessary to advert to the illustrious names usually standing first on the petition; but he mentioned the facts only to shew, that, under all the circumstances of the affairs of Ireland, under all the appeals, not, he thought, to the best feelings of the Protestant population of this country, the petitioners had not been deterred, by any consideration unworthy of themselves, from doing what they consider justice, not only to themselves, but to their suffering brethren of the sister island. Upon this subject he would not for the world be misunderstood, or run the slightest risk of misrepresentation.—The petitioners of Great Britain joined their eager prayer to that of the petitioners of Ireland, and they held their cause inseparable. High as were the personal and hereditary claims of the duke of Norfolk; forcible as were the appeals of the ancient aristocracy of this country, and just as were the demands of 200,000 Catholics to be relieved from disabilities, they would be weak and worthless, compared with the rights of a whole nation, from many individuals of which. the House, to its shame, had year after year received petitions. The right hon. the Secretary of State for the Home Department had said from the first day of the debate on the subject matter of the present bill, that he should be ready to rest his vote upon this question on the articles of the treaty of Limerick. Perhaps, before the conclusion of the debate the House might hear the articles of that treaty discussed by the hon. member for Westminster; they might hear the case discussed upon that very point. They might hear the question argued, not on the narrow and partial view of the case, said to be made by the Catholics themselves, but the broad principles of the law—on the letter of the statute of the 9th William 3rd ;—of that statute, known as the act passed in confirmation of the treaty of Limerick. If the conduct of the Irish people, and of the English parliament, could he reviewed from the time of the infraction of that treaty almost to the present moment, he was afraid, the House would appear no better than faithless debtors—than men, whose conduct had been as little directed by moral justice as by political wisdom. He had not the folly or the madness to insult the peti- tioners by defending them against the general imputations which some persons might think proper to cast out against them. He wished, on behalf of these petitioners, that the House would believe, not merely from the evidence of one witness, but from the whole body of proof now before them, that the despair at times exhibited by Irish people—the tone sometimes maintained by that Association which was now put down—nay, even that the very existence of that Association itself, might he dated from the rejection of that very important measure which had been proposed, in order to place English, Scottish, and Irish Catholics upon the same footing. The Irish Catholics had never considered their cause as Catholics, distinctly and separately from that of England, or from that of universal religious liberty. They had always felt that religious liberty ought to be extended to all the subjects of the empire alike; and differring in this from those who had this night presented petitions against them, they prayed that all others who, like themselves, were suffering disabilites under unwise and unjust laws, should be freed from those disabilities. They prayed, too, on their own account, that they might be relieved from oaths which were at least needless; since by them the political integrity of the Catholics could not be ascertained; from oaths which had been imposed as the consequence of a plot that no man of common sense and honesty did not attribute more to political faction than to religious frenzy. One of the oaths which a Catholic was required to take, in order to free himself from the disabilities under which he now laboured, was an oath against transubstantiation—against that very doctrine which one of the greatest sovereigns, queen Elizabeth, would not suffer to be questioned, and which Henry 8th, going still further, had actually burnt people for denying. All the questions, however, resolved themselves into this—Did the Catholics admit the right of foreign interference by any power whatever? The answer to this was too evident to admit of doubt. No one could believe that the Catholics would acknowledge the political supremacy of any foreign power at the present time, whatever they might have been inclined to do in former ages. Did the duke of Norfolk, that illustrious descendant of so many noble families, feel no higher duty—did he acknowledge no clearer interest as a public man, or as a private individual— than to be the mere English agent of a foreign power? But, he was prepared to deny that the English Catholics had ever been the willing slaves of foreign powers. If hon. members were willing to go back to remote periods of history, he was equally willing to meet them; and he was prepared to shew, that from the time of Magna Charta downwards, through the statutes of mortmain and præmunire, when the people were engaged in a contest with the church, which was then Catholic, no instance could be found, in which the interference of the pope had been even for a moment allowed [hear!]. He had lately heard it said, that it was in the contemplation of the Catholic powers of Europe to restore the order of the Jesuits, and that the intended re-establishment of that order met with the sanction of the pope. That statement had been advanced as an additional reason why the Catholics of this kingdom were not to be relieved front their disabilities. Now, though he was as unfriendly as any man could be to the re-establishment of an order which, in his opinion, had always done its utmost in support of absolute power, yet he could not admit the force of the argument to which be had alluded, for he denied the statement, that the order of the Jesuits was to be re-established in Ireland, under the sanction of the Papal government. On the contrary, the fact was, that the pope had uniformly refused to permit the re-establishment of that order. The union between the Catholic priesthood and people had sometimes been objected to; he besought the House to take the shortest mode to dissolve it. Let them give the laity the means of representing the interests of the people—let them thus unite the laity and the people together, and by passing the bill to-night, destroy that influence of the priesthood which they affected so much to dread. He was sure that when a few years had elapsed after the bill now about to come before the House should have been passed (and that it would be passed he confidently hoped), men would look back with wonder that it had been so long delayed. There was no man living who would now propose the enactment of such laws as were in existence; and he did not believe there was any man in the House who could lay his hand upon his heart and say, that their continuance was now necessary. He would read an extract from a letter written by one who was an Irishman, and who had been a Catholic, but who afterwards abandoned and betrayed his country and his faith: he meant Dr. Duigenan. In writing to Mr. Grattan in 1797, and advocating the Union, he said, "If we were one people, the preponderance of the Protestant interest would be so great, that there would be no necessity for the continuance of any restrictions on the Catholics;" and yet, to the hour of his death, that person who had thus offered an unanswerable argument in favour of the Catholics, persisted in excluding them. The effect of that exclusion was obviously as impolitic as it was unjust; for it accumulated the motives which the Catholics felt to adhere to their faith. It was impossible that any man of honour could abandon a claim which he felt was just, and for his pretension to which he was invidiously deprived of rights to which, as a member of the community, he was entitled. At this moment a very large body of men would receive as a boon that which he demanded for them on grounds of political justice; but, if there were only one man who for conscience sake was subject to these unwise and unjust laws, he would, with undiminished zeal and earnestness, claim for that man, as he did now for millions, the relief to which he would be entitled. He recommended to the serious attention of the House, the petition which he now presented, and reminded them, that by granting the prayer of it they would benefit themselves, at the same time that they did justice to more than six millions of their fellow-subjects

Mr. John Smith

feared it was not generally known of what materials the body of the British Catholics was composed. He could assure the House, that for moral conduct, for integrity of principle, for property and industry, they were not exceeded by any body of men in the kingdom—excepting, perhaps, only the Quakers, with whom he believed no sect could be put in competition. The question was, whether the House would be justified in preventing such men as he had described, from enjoying those rights which were freely possessed by all their fellow subjects.

Mr. Robertson

said, the House were already aware of his sentiments upon this subject. He had before stated, that he considered every concession ought to be made to the Irish. Catholics, and he had given his reasons for saying, that their claim to equality of rights ought to be admitted. He could not, however, help saying, that he looked upon the present petitioners in a very different manner. He had a great respect for the Catholics of Ireland, but he felt somewhat differently toward the Catholics of England and Scotland; at least in a political point of view. He would give the Irish Catholics the emancipation they required; but he should feel it necessary to move, that a clause be inserted in the bill, declaring that no Catholic member should sit for any county, city or Borough in Great Britain. [a laugh].

Mr. Coke

said, he had to present a petition in favour of the Catholic claims from the archdeaconry of Norwich, and seventy clergymen of that diocese. He should be extremely happy if he should be able to congratulate that great and good man, the present bishop of Norwich, on the success of the measure, which that right reverend prelate had so long and so ably advocated. The petitioners would not have intruded themselves upon the notice of the House, but that they saw some of their clerical brethren using every exertion to get up petitions against the claims of the Catholics. The exertions of the persons to whom he alluded had not been suspended even in Passion Week; and on Good Friday—perhaps they thought the better day the better deed—they had been peculiarly active. Under these circumstances, the petitioners had felt it their duty to come forward. He should not now say more than confirm what had been stated by the hon. member for Norwich; namely, that the Dissenters of Norfolk entertained the most sincere wishes for the extension of civil and religious liberty to all classes of their fellow subjects. He could not better express the opinions of the petitioners than by reading a part of the prayer of their petition: "As ministers of the church of England, we are not behind any of our brethren in attachment to that church, and in anxious regard for its prosperity and welfare; but we consider its true strength to consist in the purity and excellence of its doctrines, rather than in any restraint imposed upon those who may differ from them." A petition founded on such a spirit of toleration offered a worthy example for all the ministers of time established church to follow.

Colonel Wodehouse

bore testimony to the extreme respectability of the petition- ers. He knew no persons of more honourable or unexceptionable character. When these petitions were first introduced into parliament, they had been treated by some members with an asperity that was quite disgraceful, and which did not accord with the frame and temper of mind of those who sincerely professed the Protestant form of worship. It was, however, impossible for any words to convey a greater propriety of sentiment, than those of this petition. With every word of this petition he heartily concurred.

Lord Milton

took that opportunity of adding his thanks to those of the hon. gentleman, for the sentiments contained in this petition. It had been too much the practice of those who advocated the pre-eminence of the Protestant religion, instead of founding it upon its own high grounds, to endeavour to establish a system of exclusion which was degrading to its purity and dignity. Friend as he was to Catholic emancipation, he was not blind to the corruptions of the Catholic church. He thought that those clerical petitioners had a very unbecoming sense of the excellence of the religion they professed, who, instead of leaving its defence and protection to its own excellence, and to the piety and learning of its ministry, called in the assistance of the strong arm of the law, and would punish all who dissented from its doctrines, by depriving them of political advantages. The law as it stood at present had this operation, and degraded the church of England, by making it a pretence for persecuting other sects. The word "persecution," might sound ill in the ears of some gentlemen, but what less than persecution was it, to deprive men of those political rights to which, as citizens, they were entitled, on no other ground than that of religious dissent?

The several petitions were ordered to lie on the table.