Sir William Plunkett
rose, in consequence of the notice which he had last night given, to present the petition of the Roman Catholic Bishops of Ireland, praying for a repeal of the disabilities which affected their body. He was, he said, particularly anxious to call the attention of the House to this petition, because of the important information which it conveyed, the great respectability of the persons from whom it came, and who were entitled to every consideration from that House. It was not only the high station and character of these petitioners which gave them that consideration, but the opportunities which they had of possessing an intimate knowledge of the situation of the people, of whose views and wants they were the most competent judges. They stated, that they felt the greatest reluctance in coming forward in any manner to participate in the consideration of a merely political question; but they added, that they should be wanting in duty, both to the government and to the people, if they abstained from communicating their sentiments at the present crisis. They stated, that they should be wanting in their solemn duty, if they did not, at this alarming moment, raise their warning voice against the continuance of disabilities which prevented them from discharging their proper functions for the people. They pointed out the deep sense of degradation under which the Catholics laboured, and the galling superiority evinced by their Protestant brethren, in many instances not so meekly as it were to be wished it should be evinced. The petitioners did, in the most solemn and deliberate manner, refute 793 those calumnies which had been thrown upon them, and they repeated, once more, what they had before declared upon their oaths. It had been asserted, that their religious tenets precluded them from being good subjects, good citizens, or good members of society. Nothing could be more incorrect than these assertions; and whatever opinions hon. members might entertain upon the great question, he was quite sure that every impartial person would join with him in giving these respectable individuals credit for that good order, and that propriety of conduct, which had always characterized the body to which they belonged. If the laws were obeyed in Ireland, as they now were, it was owing mainly to the exertions of the great body of the Catholic clergy; and to them the quiescence of the people was to be attributed. It was quite impossible that any extensive public body should be without some slur upon their conduct; but he would contend that, with respect to this body, impropriety formed the exception, and that any dereliction from duty in individuals was always reprimanded by the great body as soon as it was pointed out to them. He would not trespass any farther on the attention of the House, but he trusted that they would not think their time thrown away in hearing the petition, read. He would now move that it be brought up.
The Hon. George Agar Ellis
rose and said;—It is certainly not my intention, upon the present occasion, to trouble the House with any general arguments in favour of Catholic emancipation; being well aware, that a fitter occasion will occur, if I am inclined so to do, in a few days, when the question will be fairly before the House. I only wish to call the attention of the House, for a few moments, to one point alluded to in the petition just presented by the right hon. gentleman, from the Roman Catholic prelates of Ireland; namely, that which referred to the danger of any longer withholding from the Catholics the concession of their claims. Upon this subject, I am, I own, most anxious to take this earliest opportunity of imploring the House and the country, to weigh well the consequences of the decision to which they may come next week; and to believe that the question never came before them so fraught with vitally important considerations as it does at the present moment. I feel that as an individual member of par- 794 liament, I am undoubtedly a very humble and a very unimportant one; but I consider that I stand before the House upon the present occasion, not only in that capacity, but also in that of the representative of a large property in Ireland, and as therefore peculiarly interested in the peace and prosperity of that country. In that capacity I deem it an imperative duty to state to the House my conviction that, upon the decision of the legislature this year, with regard to the Catholic claims, depends perhaps exclusively the future well-being of Ireland. I consider that country to be upon the very brink of an awful crisis, from which nothing can save her, but the passing of this great question, and the consequent appeasing of the alarming and universal irritation, which at present prevails there. It is even possible, I tremble to think, that such may be the case, that we may be even now too late to prevent the crisis I apprehend; but certain I am, that our only chance of preventing it will be in the forthwith granting to the Catholics of Ireland their long withheld rights. With regard to the fate of the question in this House, I have sanguine hopes; grounded upon what has taken place upon the same subject in former parliaments; but I own I wish that my voice could be heard not only here, but even penetrate to another place, and that it might act as a warning denunciation to the ears of the blind opponents of this measure; of those men who either cannot or will not sec the threatening signs of the times. To those men I would address myself. I would entreat, I would beseech, them to open their eyes to what may and probably will be the consequences to Ireland and to England of the rejection of this measure. I implore them to consider, that this is probably the last time that they will be asked for this boon, with the sword remaining still in the scabbard: that this is, perhaps, the last opportunity they will have of doing this act of justice, and at the same time of preventing much bloodshed, great misery, and even civil war. I have now sat for some years in parliament, and have never yet troubled the House upon this subject, except when, upon one occasion, I seconded a motion of the right hon. the Secretary for Foreign Affairs, for restoring the Catholic peers to their seats in the other House; but I have felt it a duty I owed my country upon the present occasion, to declare my 795 opinion of the vast, the peculiar importance which this year attaches to the decision of this long agitated question.
§ Sir George Hill
said, that with the objections which he entertained to these claims, it was impossible for him to refrain from one or two observations, in opposition to the panegyric which had been passed on the Roman Catholic clergy. It was notorious in Ireland, and it ought to be quite as notorious in this country, that the whole body of the Roman Catholic clergy had identified themselves with the Catholic Association; that it had joined them in all their schemes and projects; and that the demagogues and agitators of the public peace by whom that association had been established, were upheld and encouraged by them. He would ask the House to look over the petition, and see if the name of Dr. Doyle was attached to it? Was the name of that individual attached to it who was so well known in Ireland by the initials I. K. L.? He did not mean to dispute with his majesty's Attorney-general for Ireland the cause of the peace of that country; but he would ask where the Roman Catholic clergy were from 1819 to 1823, when the western and southern parts of Ireland were in a state little short of rebellion? Did they put down those disturbances? No. They were put down by a two-fold number of troops. He had attended the trials in the south of Ireland for a conspiracy; and it was proved upon those trials that seventeen counties had sent delegates to a meeting, the object of which was to separate the two countries; but he had never discovered that the Roman Catholic clergy had used any means to prevent such meeting, or to divert the people from the object which they had in view.
Mr. H. Maxwell
said, that he also found it impossible to agree in the panegyric which had been passed upon the Roman Catholic clergy of Ireland. What had been their conduct during the last general election? He was prepared to prove, that, so far from confining themselves to their religious duties, they had been wholly occupied in political matters. Relative to their conduct upon this occasion, he had many facts, supported by affidavit, which, if he were to relate the whole of them, would astonish the House. It was well known, that their agents went through the country sowing the seeds of dissention between tenant and landlord, by making 796 the former vote for the candidates whom the priests had put forward. He had himself beheld the priests heading large mobs, and heard them exciting the Catholics, by the most seditious and inflammatory language. He had seen them driving the people to the hustings, and attending them to the polling booths, one priest being before and one behind them. He would relate to the House a fact respecting one of the priests, which was supported by affidavit. There was a freeholder who had voted contrary to the wishes and directions of a priest, and who was blind of one eye. This misfortune, severe enough of itself, ought, it would be supposed, at least to have protected him from insult. The priest, however, was of a different opinion, and after the election was over, he one day called out to the people, from the altar, and said, "Look at that blind-eyed rascal who voted so and so at the late election. He is blind of one eye, and he shall never open it but in the flames of hell." He had so many facts, stated on oath, respecting this priest, that he would mention his name to the House. He was the rev. Patrick Corr. The same priest had also said, that he (Mr. Maxwell) and his hon. colleague "should be damned to all eternity, and might his curse light upon them and the curse of God likewise." He would not trouble the House with any further instances of this nature; but he would contend, that so fur from the conduct of the Roman Catholic clergy of Ireland deserving the approbation of the country, the fact was the very reverse. They had opposed every measure which had been set on foot for the education of the people and for the improvement of their moral state; but, notwithstanding this, no less than from seven to eight hundred persons in the county of Cavan had renounced the errors of Popery. He would ask if the name of Dr. Doyle was attached to this petition? If so, he would take the liberty of reading a letter from Dr. Doyle to lord Farnham. The hon. member then read the letter, in which Dr. Doyle stated it to be his firm opinion, that the established church in Ireland must fall sooner or later, and that the concession of the Catholic claims would accelerate this desirable object; that the established religion was an incubus on the nation; that it resembled the worship of Juggernaut, and that it derived no weight or strength whatever, either from merit, from reason, or from justice. The hon. member 797 concluded by expressing a hope, that the people, of Ireland would be shortly emancipated from the power of their priests, and learn to think for themselves. Ireland would then be in a very different state to what it now was. The Catholic would join with the Protestant in friendly intercourse, and England and Ireland, no longer separated, would form one happy country.
Mr. Maurice Fitzgerald
said, that an expression of his right hon. friend the Attorney-general for Ireland; namely, that the peace and tranquillity of Ireland were mainly attributable to the Roman Catholic clergy, had brought up several hon. gentlemen, who had endeavoured to invalidate this position. The House must certainly have perceived that it was a matter of mystery that persons connected with the government should come forward with such conflicting and contradictory statements. He would endeavour to explain that mystery. The two hon. members, the one for Derry and the other for Cavan, had given the House a very fair display of the spirit which prevailed in the north of Ireland; namely, hostility to the priesthood. He did not mean to impute any thing improper to either of those hon. members, but with this hint the House would readily see why, in the counties of Derry and Cavan, Catholics could not be less or more than men, and why it was unreasonable to expect any thing from them but a corresponding hostility. The right hon. baronet had uttered expressions, by which he imputed almost treason to the Catholic prelates of Ireland. But how had he supported his assertion? He had contented himself with merely denouncing an individual, Dr. Doyle. The case of the hon. member who followed him, about the freeholder with one eye, appeared to him to be a case calculated rather to come before an election committee under the Grenville act, than for any other purpose that he was aware of. The sum of that hon. member's objections to the Catholic priesthood of Ireland was, that they interfered with the election. Now, it appeared to him to be very unreasonable that Catholic priests should be refused an interference, which was constantly exercised by the Protestant clergy. If it was improper in the one, by what argument was it attempted to be shown that it was proper in the other? Was it meant to be contended, that an act was bad when com- 798 mitted by those who had no power at all; and good only when exercised by those who had all the power in their own hands? Neither as a Protestant nor as a politician did he sec why the rights of our own clergy should be contended for in this particular, and those of the Catholics be denied. He thought it better that they should both leave these matters alone; if they were to be represented, it had always been his opinion that it should be in their houses of convocation; but, if one was thought proper to interfere, he was perfectly at a loss to conceive any reason why such conduct was to be reprobated in the other. For his own part, he would say, that during the various rebellions and the threats of invasion, he had had an opportunity of observing the conduct of the Catholic clergy, and he must declare, that the restoration of peace and tranquillity in some places, and the preservation of them in others, were almost wholly attributable to that body. It was by their means that, although the French were on the coast of Kerry, his majesty was enabled to withdraw all the troops; and, when the French were in Bantry Bay, he had beheld the peasantry dragging his majesty's cannon with a zeal and ardour which could not be surpassed. He believed that the Protestants were now meeting the Catholic claims with more asperity than they would have met them some years ago; but ought they for that reason to be refused? He thought not. The feeling between them had now risen to a degree of hostility, which it was at once wise and necessary to remove.
Mr. Wilmot Horton
said, he had no wish to prolong this debate, but he besought the House to look to the terms of the petition before them. The Catholic clergy, by whom it was signed, made a full and candid avowal of their opinions: they stated also, that those opinions (and of this fact the House would judge) were perfectly compatible with the safety of the country, and that therefore they ought to be freed from the political disabilities under which they had hitherto laboured. He was convinced that justice to the petitioners required that those opinions should be examined, and, if they could bear the investigation to which they were to be subjected, there could be no reason for hesitating to accept that solemn sanction of an oath which they offered. He was desirous that the discussion, which was somewhat discursive, should be continued 799 no further at present, and that the petition should be read.
The Petition was then read. It purported to be the Petition of the Roman Catholic Bishops in Ireland; setting forth,
"That the Petitioners are the spiritual pastors of a large portion of his Majesty's Irish subjects, and suffer with them under the pressure of those penal laws which still aggrieve the entire body of Roman Catholics within these realms; that the Petitioners, instructed by the example of their predecessors, would await patiently and in silence the operation of the wisdom of the House in repealing entirely the remnant of the penal code, were they not excited at the present time by the most urgent motives, to pray the attention of the House to the state of Ireland; that the Petitioners presume to represent most respectfully to the House, that whole classes of his Majesty's Irish Catholic subjects have increased, and are daily increasing in knowledge, in industry, and in wealth, and that a feeling of discontent, which even a partial exclusion, when unmerited, from the pale of the constitution, naturally produces, is gradually gaining strength in their minds; that this discontent, as the Petitioners humbly conceive, tends strongly to diminish that respect which a Christian people should entertain for those who are placed in authority over them, and also gradually to weaken those ties by which harmony is preserved, and happiness promoted in every well-ordered community; the Petitioners beg also to state, that a portion of the people of Ireland who are raised by the law above their fellow-subjects, have exercised their privileges without due moderation, making heavy the burthens, or wounding the feelings of their suffering countrymen; the dispositions of mind which thus prevail upon the one side, by conflicting with those which are excited on the other, produce collision, and hence the relations of civil life are troubled, natural kindness is interrupted in its course, the sources of charity are dried up or perverted, and scenes without a parallel in any other nation are daily and hourly exhibited to every observer, whether foreign or domestic, of Petitioners' unhappy country; but the Petitioners, as ministers of religion, are especially impelled to present their earnest prayer to the House on behalf of Ireland, because in Ireland the blessings of the 800 Christian dispensation, and the labours of the sacred ministry are counteracted by the existing state of the laws, the divine ordinance commanding men to love each other as brethren, and prescribing to every person to do to his neighbour as he would that his neighbour should do unto him, is in that part of the United Kingdom greatly and grievously violated, and it is feared will continue to be disobeyed so long as the laws inflict penalties where there is no moral offence, nor will the voice of the sacred ministry, preaching peace and good will on earth, be duly attended to, until the passions which those laws excite are entirely appeased, until then the Petitioners apprehend that religion, as at present, will be appealed to in Ireland, to justify division, to hallow strife, and to irritate, or render incurable those wounds which' it should only be employed to heal; these are evils which, may it please the House, are daily presented to the view of the Petitioners, and to which they entreat them, as the guardians of public morality, to direct their special attention; finally, the Petitioners, who in forming their opinions have been guided by the light of experience, and an intimate knowledge of the dispositions and character of the Irish people, most respectfully, but most confidently, assure the House that, whilst the existing disabilities affecting Roman Catholics continue, whilst one part of his Majesty's subjects is depressed, and another exalted by the law, without reference to talents, to knowledge, to art, to industry, to property, or to public services, no acts of legislation, of whatever kind, can remove the real and efficient causes of those evils which afflict Ireland, nor produce any essential or permanent improvement in her at present depressed and distracted condition; the Petitioners are deeply interested in the peace and happiness of Ireland, their fidelity to the constitution, and obedience to the laws, have been long tried, they are devoted to their King and Country by the strongest attachment, and bound in their allegiance by the most awful and solemn ties; they continue to fulfil the duties of loyal subjects; they have, on several occasions, and in the most express, formal, and authentic, shape, and, as they hope, satisfactorily, explained such portion of their religious doctrines as were most frequently misunderstood by their fellow subjects; they have disclaimed anew all 801 those ambitious views, all those anti-social and disloyal opinions which have so often and so gratuitously been imputed to them and for this purpose have within the last year adopted, approved, and published a declaration, to a portion of which here following, they earnestly solicit the attention of the House: 'No actual sin can be forgiven at the will of any Pope, or any priest, or of any person whatsoever, without a sincere sorrow for having offended God, and a firm resolution to avoid future guilt, and to atone for past transgressions; any person who receives absolution without these necessary conditions, far from obtaining the remission of his sins, incurs the additional guilt of violating a sacrament;' the Catholics of Ireland not only do not believe, but they declare upon oath, that they detest as unchristian and impious, the belief, 'that it is lawful to murder or to destroy any person or persons whatsoever, for or under the pretence of their being heretics,' and also the principle 'that no faith is to be kept with heretics;' they further declare on oath their belief that no act in itself unjust, immoral, or wicked, can ever be justified or excused, by or under pretence or colour that it was done either for the good of the Church, or in obedience to any ecclesiastical power whatsoever; 'that it is not an article of the Catholic faith, neither are they thereby required to believe, that the Pope is infallible,' and that they do not hold themselves c bound to obey any order in its own nature immoral, though the Pope, or any ecclesiastical power, should issue or direct such an order, but on the contrary, that it would be sinful in them to pay any respect or obedience thereto;' 'the Catholics of Ireland swear that they will be faithful, and bear true allegiance to our Most Gracious Sovereign Lord King George the Fourth; that they will maintain, support, and defend, to the utmost of their power, the succession of the Crown in his Majesty's family, against any person or persons whatsoever, utterly renouncing and abjuring any obedience or allegiance to any other person claiming or pretending a right to the Crown of these realms; that they renounce, reject, and abjure, the opinion that princes excommunicated by the Pope and Council, or by any authority of the See of Rome, or by any authority whatsoever, may be deposed or murdered by their subjects, or by any person what 802 soever; and that they do not believe that the Pope of Rome, or any other foreign prince, prelate, state, or potentate hath, or ought to have, any temporal or civil jurisdiction, power, superiority, or pre-eminence, directly or indirectly, within this realm; 'they therefore further solemnly, in the presence of God, profess, testify, and declare, that they make this Declaration, and every part thereof, in the plain and ordinary sense of the words of their oath, without any evasion, equivocation, or mental reservation whatsoever, and without any dispensation already granted by the Pope, or any authority of the See of Rome, or any person whatsoever, and without thinking that they are or can be acquitted before God or man, or absolved of this declaration or any part thereof, although the Pope, or any persons, or authority whatsoever, shall dispense with or annul the same, or declare that it was null and void, from the beginning;' After this full, explicit, and sworn Declaration, the Petitioners are utterly at a loss to conceive on what possible ground they could be justly charged with bearing towards our most gracious Sovereign only a divided allegiance; 'the Catholics of Ireland, far from claiming any right or title to forfeited lands, resulting from any right, title, or interest which their ancestors may have had therein, declare upon oath, that they will defend to the utmost of their power, the settlement and arrangement of property in this country as established by the laws now in being;' 'they also disclaim, disavow, and solemnly abjure any intention to subvert the present Church Establishment, for the purpose of substituting a Catholic Establishment in its stead; and further they swear, that they will not exercise any privilege to which they are, or may be entitled, to disturb and weaken the Protestant Religion and Protestant government in Ireland, whilst the petitioners have, in the foregoing declaration, endeavoured to state in the simplicity of truth, such doctrines of their Church as are most frequently misunderstood or misrepresented amongst their fellow-subjects, to the great detriment of the public welfare and of Christian charity, and whilst the Petitioners have disclaimed anew those errors or wicked principles which have been imputed to Catholics, they also avail themselves of the present occasion, to express their readiness at all times to give, when required by 803 the competent authority, authentic and true information upon all subjects connected with the doctrine and discipline of their Church, and to deprecate the injustice of having their faith and principles judged of by reports made of them by persons, either avowedly ignorant of, or but imperfectly acquainted with, the nature of their Church Government, its doctrines, laws, usages, and discipline;' the Petitioners, referring not alone to the sentiments and doctrines here professed or disclaimed, but also to the tenor of their lives as well as to that of their predecessors, the Prelates of the Roman Catholic Church in Ireland, are unable to discover any cause on their own part, or in the doctrines of the Church to which they belong, on account of which, the wall of separation which still divides the inhabitants of the same country should not be taken down, and the interests and affections of all his Majesty's subjects knit indissolubly together; the Petitioners make this their most earnest and respectful appeal to the House on their own behalf, and on behalf of their fellow subjects of every religious denomination, whose interests are best promoted by being combined, but above all on behalf of their King and Country, that his Majesty may be enabled to act as the father of all his people, and the peace and happiness of his kingdom be reckoned permanent and secure; May it therefore please the House to concur in repealing those laws, which continue to aggrieve the Roman Catholics of the United Kingdom."
§ Mr. George Dawson
said, that although he had no wish unnecessarily to lengthen the discussion, he was induced to make a few observations, in consequence of the importance which the Attorney-general for Ireland had conferred upon the petition by having it read at length. There could be no question that it would form an important feature in the debate which was fixed for Monday, and he was therefore desirous that its tendency and merits should be fully understood. The petitioners stated, that the surety which they offered for their good intentions ought to be received; but never yet had any means been discovered, by which the allegiance of the Roman Catholic priesthood could be bound. There were numerous instances on record, in which the Roman Catholic clergy had proffered an oath to confirm the allegiance which they professed, and had 804 afterwards withdrawn that oath when the power of the Pope was opposed to that of the monarch whom they had sworn to obey and to servo. In the reign of James the 1st, particularly, the oath of allegiance was tendered to the Roman Catholic priests, just after the discovery of the Gunpowder Plot. All the Catholic prelates, and even the Pope's legate in this country, took the oath, and it was then sent to Rome to receive the sanction of the Pope; but, as it was found that the oath denied the Pope's power of deposing kings, it was sent back again; the persons who had agreed to take the oath were ordered to recant, which they did; and the oath of allegiance was never taken. This fact ought to be recollected as often as the House was called upon to legislate for the Catholics. In the year 1808, to take a more recent instance, a declaration was signed by four metropolitan, and six other bishops, consenting that the king should have the power of giving a veto in the election of their bishops. This declaration received the sanction of a great number of Catholics and their friends. Dr. Milner, their champion and advocate, lord Grenville, Mr. Ponsonby, and many others, had declared their approbation of it, and it was regarded generally as the means of settling the Roman Catholic claims. At the very moment when this declaration was beginning to have the effect, which it was intended to have, these bishops turned round and recanted. These things were matters of history; and he should think he neglected his duty to the House, if he did not, as often as such petitions as this should be presented, recall these instances of the shameful tergiversation of the Roman Catholic clergy. They professed sentiments of attachment to the constitution, and of respect for the religion of the country in this petition; and yet in the letter which the hon. member for Cavan had just read, Dr. Doyle had described that religion as an incubus on the nation, and had compared its worship to that of the idol Juggernaut, to which human victims were sacrificed. And yet, after this, the same Dr. Doyle came to add his voice to the expressions of attachment and respect he had alluded to ! He had had occasion before to notice some of the inconsistencies of that right rev. prelate, but never had the occasion seemed to him more urgent, or the inconsistency more glaring, than the present; 805 and he was convinced that, if the House did not look earnestly and closely to the condition of Ireland, influenced as it now was by the Roman Catholic priesthood, they would find themselves exposed to dangers from which a retreat would be impossible.
Lord F. L. Gower
said, that the hon. gentleman who had just spoken appealed to history in support of his opinions. But there were two ways of appealing to history. The one was to swallow down every imputation made, without taking the trouble of examining it; the other was by a free investigation of facts, and that in the spirit of Christian charity. When any of the members for Ireland mentioned the penal laws, and, on the part of their constituents, called for the repeal of them, they were answered, that there were no such laws in existence. Either all these laws should be abrogated, or those that were repealed should be again re-enacted. But, was there any man now who would dare to propose the re-enactment of those laws? Was it fair to suppose that education and the light of truth had flashed on the minds of Protestants only, and that not one single ray had penetrated the obscure bosom of a Catholic? He did not stand up there as the advocate either of the rev. Patrick Corr or of Dr. Doyle. They might have their faults, as all men had. It was not to be denied that great and tremendous power devolved on the Catholic clergy. But, under what system and code of laws did they possess that power? The hon. member for Cavan had told the House that it was their duty to encourage the conversion of the Catholics in Ireland —that conversion was the only remedy for the evils of that country. He applauded the suggestion of the hon. member; but it was not a new one. In the time of Charles the Second, the same suggestion was made by lord Tyrconnel to lord Bellasis, when Charles sought to reduce Ireland to subjection. Lord Tyrconnel told him, that the only remedy was to convert all the people of Ireland to the Catholic faith; on which lord Bellasis observed to Charles, that lord Tyrconnel was fool and madman enough to risk the loss of ten kingdoms for the sake of converting one soul.
Sir William Plunkett
said, that after the speech of the noble lord he would have been well contented that the subject should drop, but it was impossible for him to let 806 what had fallen from the hon. member for Derry pass without observation. The House would recollect that, in opening this subject, he had abstained from touching on any of the topics which belonged to it; wishing that as little as possible should be said on them until Monday, which had been fixed for the discussion of the question, and being desirous not to excite any feeling on the subject before that day: he did hope, that the members of the House would cordially have joined him in the testimony which he bore, and which his conscience obliged him to bear to the loyalty, good conduct, and constitutional principles of the great body of the Catholic clergy of Ireland. He repeated, and there had not been any attempt to contradict the assertion, that they were distinguished for uniform loyalty and obedience to the laws. But the hon. gentleman, in the observations which he had thought fit to make had resorted to a method of dealing with them which was wholly unfair and unwarrantable, and which, if applied to any class of individuals, however great their collective respectability, would be much more than they could bear. He said, and he said it without the possibility of being contradicted, that the great body of the Catholic clergy of Ireland, who possessed a power far beyond what any gentleman not well acquainted with Ireland could form any idea of, had, upon all occasions, displayed a strong attachment to the laws, to the state, and to the king. But, how had the hon. members for the city and the county of Derry, and the hon. member for Cavan, endeavoured to shake this well-earned reputation? By impeaching the conduct of the general body? No, but by bringing to the notice of the House, some circumstances which they did not approve of, in the conduct of individuals. If any person were to follow; a similar course with respect to the great body of the Protestant clergy of Ireland, and should seek to impeach the whole body, by dragging before the public view the excesses of any one individual belonging to it, was this a test which they could abide by? Such a practice would lead to an odious and unsatisfactory system of recrimination, into which he would not condescend to be led. But the use which had been made of it, showed its tendency to exasperate prejudices, so as to overcome; all moral feeling, and to urge gentlemen to make an attack which, on any other 807 subject than this, their better judgment and better feelings would have induced them to abandon. As to Dr. Doyle's letter, he did not hesitate to say, that he utterly condemned the sentiments which it contained, and the manner in which those sentiments were expressed. But, was the great body of the Catholic priesthood therefore to be condemned? The hon. member for Cavan had said that this letter was addressed to a noble relative of his; but had the hon. gentleman called the attention of the House to the proceedings of that noble relative? He had no doubt that lord Farnham had been induced to adopt that conduct, from conscientious motives. He had taken upon himself to convert the Roman Catholics of Ireland to the Protestant religion. Had he, however, in the crusade which he had thought fit to undertake, done nothing which might have provoked the sentiments and expressions used in the letter which had been alluded to? To the endeavour of converting the Catholics of Ireland, he wished, from the bottom of his heart, the fullest success; but, at the same time, he must add, that it was without the least hope—the pursuit being, in his opinion, the merest chimera that ever bewildered the mind of man. In the prosecution of this design, the persons who were engaged in it proceeded in the usual way; that was, by attacking the religion to which they were opposed, for the purpose of bringing its votaries over to their own. This might be prudent, as far as the attempt to attain their object was concerned; but was it likely to conciliate the clergy or laity of the opposing body? In zeal for the Protestant religion he would not yield to any man; and upon former occasions he had given unequivocal proofs of this feeling; but, his attachment to that religion could not make him insensible of the regard which others felt for the form of religion in which they had been educated. Was it likely that the Catholic clergy should stand quietly, with their arms folded, before their assailants, and make no defence when their religion was impugned? Did any man who was attacked by another, word in hand, content himself with parrying only? Did he not thrust in return? If any men, or set of men, were outraged, could it be expected that they would not outrage in return, and when in addition to this the nature of the contest was considered, the bellum plusquam civile which theo 808 logical disputes engendered, it was not to be wondered at, that the conflict should be carried on with pertinacity and rancour. He had reason to know, and it was his duty to tell the House, that from these disputes dangers must spring, which, he prayed to God, might be averted; but which, if they were not, must be, in their consequences, of a most alarming tendency. He knew that since this wild crusade had been commenced, a determination, which no man could blame, had been formed by the Catholic clergy, to discuss the merits of the two religions; and for this purpose to meet their adversaries openly. This was occasioned by the conduct of the Protestant clergy; none of whom he would at that moment name, but who, not content with exercising their labours in their own parishes, and from their own pulpits, had gone on journies and embassies throughout the country, challenging the Catholic clergy to meet and discuss the doctrines of the two religions, and even appealing to lay tribunals to decide between them. He did not advert to the manner in which they had joined to themselves all descriptions of sectarians and dissenters, whom they had called upon to make common cause with them against the Roman Catholics. The conduct of the Catholic clergy had been abstinent and becoming in a remarkable degree. They had refused to accept the challenges which were thus repeatedly sent to them; and they had, in consequence, been taunted for their forbearance, and told that it sprung from fear of their opponents. That abstinence and that fear, if they ever existed, were now at an end. The Catholic clergy had resolved to accept the invitation which had been given them to discuss the tenets of their faith, and unless the interference of common sense should put a stop to the headlong career of the persons he had alluded to, the whole force of the Catholic priesthood would be called out in this theological warfare. They would have I. K. L.'s, and all the other letters in the alphabet, taking part in the controversy; but was it clear that, after it had begun, this controversy would continue to be merely theological? Was it not to be apprehended, that the Catholic population of Ireland, who had been represented as an ignorant people, under the influence of a strong attachment to their clergy, would not be calm observers of a contest, in which their feelings and their passions, if not their 809 interests, must be engaged? These disputes were to be carried on in their presence, and they were to be the judges of them. Was nothing to be feared from the excitement to which such displays must give rise? and was this additional ingredient to be thrown into the cauldron of discontent and mischief which was boiling over in that country? He cared not for J. K. L.: he condemned him altogether: but at the same time he could not shut his eyes to the provocation which the noble relative of the hon. member for Cavan had given him. The objections of the hon. member for Deny to the petitioners seemed to be unreasonable beyond all measure. He had taken the pains to collect instances of objectionable conduct on the part of Catholics formerly, and had argued, that because the Catholics of the present day renounced and disapproved of such conduct, they were not to be trusted. This was an extraordinary reason for objecting to them. In former times, such as refused to recant their errors were doomed to the stake and faggot: now, the hon. member for Deny would have them treated in the same way, because they were willing to recant. A great deal had been said respecting the conduct of the Roman Catholic clergy at elections. Did any one in that House mean to say, that such interference was against any principle of the constitution? He thought no one would be found to make such an assertion. He was always sorry to see the clergy taking part in any political question; because it had the inevitable effect of bringing some degree of disgrace or discredit on religion itself. But, if such an interference was bad on one side, it was equally bad on the other; but he did not think the charge in this respect bore so heavily on the Roman Catholic as on the Protestant clergy. The law which laid the Catholics under disabilities and restrictions, excited them to endeavour, by every means in their power, to procure an alteration of that law. The Protestant clergy, who had nothing to complain of, had no such cause for interference. The practice, he was aware, had prevailed in many counties to a great extent; but he knew, also, that a very considerable degree of exaggeration had been used, in representing the interference of the clergy.
§ Mr. L. Foster
said, he was desirous of offering a few observations respecting the 810 allusion which had been made to the conduct of his noble relative, as connected with the most extraordinary speech which had been just delivered. His right hon. friend had been particularly mistaken in two points; first, in considering lord Farnham to be the author of the proceeding which he called a crusade, and secondly in believing it to be a chimera. These assertions were both equally unfounded It was only necessary to look to what had been the state of Ireland with respect to religious knowledge twenty years ago, and what was its present condition, to be satisfied that the cause was as different a one as it possibly could be. At the period to which he alluded, there were only five hundred schools in Ireland. Now, as appeared by a report made in parliament, there were six thousand schools, in which the Scriptures were taught. Was it possible that this could have happened without diffusing a great degree of religious knowledge, and exciting that curiosity which was its never-failing companion? This had induced the people to seek "a reason for the faith which was in them," and had given rise to that which the right hon. gentleman had called a religious crusade, and of which he had charged lord Farnham with being the author. He wished to add one word more, on his own authority, with regard to the supposed interference of his noble relative. His lordship had not volunteered his efforts to convert persons to the established faith. It was certainly true that a number of farmers had come to his house, for the purpose of consulting him as to whether they should renounce the Roman Catholic persuasion and adopt the Protestant belief. Lord Farnham, upon that occasion, did not express any desire to that effect; on the contrary, he said, that he had no wish to interfere, and that the applicants had much better consult their clergy, as to the important step they were about to take. His lordship did not tell these people, whether he thought they were right or wrong. All that he did was to protect those who applied to him for advice, and who represented that they were under a dangerous delusion from which they wished to be free. His noble relative certainly told those persons that if, after they had weighed the matter well, they still persisted, they should then receive the facilities they required. He wished to explain this affair, in order to set the public right with respect to the 811 part which lord Farnham had taken; and he felt it the more incumbent to do so, because he was aware that the country would soon be in possession of the present discussion, through the medium of the published debates.
§ Mr. James Grattan
thought that the principle of fair play should be extended to both sides. The letter of J. K. L. might be unwise and inflammatory, but he thought it had been matched in violence by a speech which was lately delivered in Ireland by the noble lord whose motives bad been advocated by the hon. gentleman who last addressed the House. The hon. member read an extract from a newspaper of a speech purporting to be delivered by lord Farnham, at a bible meeting in Ireland. The first sentence of the extract was to this effect—that notwithstanding all the efforts that had lately been made in Ireland to spread the light of the gospel over that benighted land, so strongly had bigotry and superstition taken root, owing to the control of the priests, that those efforts were likely to prove unavailing. The hon. gentleman said that the noble lord imputed to the Catholics a desire to subvert the established religion. The speech of the noble lord had been printed in London. If it was falsely ascribed to him, let him deny it; but let us not impute censure to others, unless we were free from blame ourselves. Would to God that Ireland was all Protestant; then parties would not be arrayed against each other as at present they were. Let them not seek to widen the differences that already unhappily existed by calumniating each other in all the bitterness of party spirit. Unworthy motives had been ascribed to the Catholic clergy; but he, knew so many instances of a contrary nature, that he never would consent to stigmatize them as a corrupt and intriguing body. In the parish where he resided he knew a Catholic priest who for thirty years, had officiated with so much benefit to his flock, and so much credit to himself, that when he died he was lamented by persons of every religious persuasion. He knew also another priest whose loss was so deeply felt in the parish where he died, that several Protestant gentlemen had proposed that a subscription should be entered into, for the purpose of erecting a monument to his memory.
§ Sir G. Hill
observed, that as the petitioners had identified themselves with the 812 Catholic association, he did not think them entitled to much attention.
§ Mr. F. Lewis
said, that the situation which the petitioners held in the country was one of the first importance; and he had no doubt but that the power which they possessed was used for good purposes. It was a power, however, which was greater than it ought to be; because it was estranged from the law of the land. Would to God that the causes of animosity in Ireland were removed for ever, and that the distinction of sect was no longer in existence ! Those who were excluded from the benefits of equal laws imagined that they were suffering for the sake of their religion; and they looked to that religion, instead of looking to the government of the country for aid and succour. He wished that the power held by the Catholic priesthood could be looked upon with more confidence; and that the Catholics could place more reliance on their Protestant fellow subjects. The Catholics, indeed, looked to that House with a strong degree of hope. They looked also with confidence to the individual at the head of his majesty's government in Ireland, who, they believed, would right their wrongs if he could; It was said, that the Roman Catholic bishops had identified themselves with the Catholic Association; but he denied that they had done so. He looked upon the association with no very favourable eyes; but its origin and existence could be traced to the peculiar situation of Ireland. The association was the necessary consequence of the state in which the Catholics were placed. It was idle to think of crushing the only medium through which the Catholics of Ireland could be heard. They must have an organ to give expression to their wrongs. The members of the association acted always upon the system of obtaining a hearing for their cause. He believed them to be in earnest in wishing for Catholic emancipation, although the contrary had been urged by their enemies. He believed that the association acted on a mistaken feeling, with regard to the means which they took to effect their object. They appeared to be in total error as to the nature of the English people, in supposing that, by threats, they could frighten them into concession. It was not by menaces or intimidation that the people of this country were to be gained over. He denied that the Roman Catholic bishops had ever identified them- 813 selves with the proceedings of the association. In proof of which he would give an instance of their disinclination to act in conjunction with that body. It was well known that the association were, at one time, very desirous of originating a Catholic system of education in Ireland; for which purpose they wished to apply a part of the funds which they derived from the rent. They applied to the Catholic bishops to sanction the proceeding; but those bishops declined giving their consent, observing, that they had already petitioned parliament for its sanction to a measure of the same nature, and that they should act disrespectfully towards the legislature if they did not await its decision. They therefore declined having any thing to do with the association, as far as regarded this subject. Knowing these facts, he conceived that the House ought to be put in possession of them, when unfounded statements to the prejudice of the Catholic bishops were brought forward.
§ Sir George Hill
said, he did not mean to infer that the Catholic bishops had identified themselves with the association. It was notorious, however, that the priesthood generally, though perhaps not any of the petitioners, were guilty of meddling with matters out of their province.
Mr. Van Homrigh,
member for Drogheda, defended the Catholic bishop, Dr. Curtis, from the charge of improperly interfering in matters of state. There could not be a more loyal man than Dr. Curtis; who, in fact, owed his appointment to the good opinion of the duke of Wellington. The hon. gentleman proceeded further to observe, that at a dinner lately given by a distinguished nobleman at which Dr. Curtis was present, the memory of his royal highness the duke of York being proposed, Dr. Curtis made an eloquent speech, in, which he eulogized the virtues of the deceased prince, and lamented the language made use of, against his royal highness, by certain members of the association.
Mr. Secretary Peel
said, that before he came down to the House, he had formed a resolution not to express any opinion on the subject now under discussion. He should, therefore, cautiously abstain from offering any remarks at present on a question that was appointed for discussion on an early day. If, however, he carefully abstained from entering upon topics that would soon be discussed, he hoped no one would suppose that, on that account, he felt 814 less interest in the question. He preferred, however, to reserve his opinions for the occasion, when he could state them more at length than it would be proper to do now. His object in rising was to present two petitions. The first was from the University of Oxford. The right hon. gentleman proceeded to read the substance of the petition, which prayed that no further concessions might be made to the Roman Catholics. The next petition which he should present, was attended with circumstances which claimed the peculiar consideration of the House. It came from the undersigned Protestant noblemen, gentlemen, and landed proprietors of Ireland. He believed there were no less than one thousand two hundred signatures attached to it. Among them were the names of several noblemen and persons of the highest rank and station in Ireland, who were now discharging their several duties as magistrates, grand jurors, &c. The names of twenty-seven peers were also attached to it; and he was sure he should not overstate the amount of property in the possession of the petitioners, when he said that it could not be less than 1,000,000l. sterling, annually. He had a personal knowledge of several of the petitioners; and he would appeal to any who differed from him in. opinion as to the Roman Catholic question, whether any set of men could be found of greater worth, credit, and integrity. When he stated that twenty-seven Irish peers had signed this petition, he might add, that every man whose name was attached to it was a resident land-owner. Every one who did not come within that class, however high his rank or fortune, was excluded from joining in this petition. No persons were more interested in the welfare of Ireland than the petitioners. Not a sentence in the petition could be traced to any hostile feeling. No acerbity of language was used. The petitioners merely prayed for a continuance of the laws by which Roman Catholics were excluded from power; and they proceeded to state the grounds on which they conceived that continuance necessary. He was glad to be selected as the channel through which this petition was to be presented to the House. He could not look at the names subscribed to it, without recollecting how many of them deserved well of their country, on account of the public services which they had ren- 815 dered to it as magistrates; and how many of them were entitled to the admiration and respect of all those who came in contact with them in private life, on account of their many amiable and valuable qualities. He was, therefore, grateful to them for having selected him as the organ to make their wishes known to the Commons House of Parliament on this all-important subject.
§ Lord Nugent
presented the petition of the Roman Catholics of Great Britain, praying to be relieved from the legal disabilities under which they laboured at present. In presenting it, the noble lord stated, that upon several previous occasions he had presented to the House petitions from that portion of his majesty's subjects which had now intrusted him again with the duty of representing their case to Parliament, and as they had no new grievance to complain of, they had not introduced any new matter into' the substance of their petition. That petition was signed by twenty-three thousand persons, and might, had it been deemed necessary, have been still more numerously signed. He did not, however, press it on the consideration of the House, so much on account of the numbers who had signed it, as on account of the injustice under which they suffered. If, instead of being the petition of the Catholic aristocracy and proprietary of the country, the petition had been the petition of but one individual, and that, individual of the obscurest description, he should have felt it to be his duty to call the attention of parliament to the singular grievances under which he described himself to labour. The petitioners, however, deserved the regard of the House, on account of their being distinguished by their rank, their properly, their learning, and their unwearied and unimpeached loyalty. They said, that the restrictions were imposed upon them originally under false pretences and for false objects, and were now continued under pretences and for objects equally false. They desired the House to consider the question of emancipation, not as an Irish but as a British question; and requested him to stale to it, that they had put forth two declarations, which were appended to their petition; one containing an explanation of the manner in which they paid allegiance to the king, and another containing an explanation of their religious tenets, as 816 far as they affected their politics. The originals of those declarations were placed in the British Museum, where the original charter, which secured the liberties of England was also placed, signed by the ancestors of some of the very men whose names were subscribed to the present petition. The petitioners stated, that they came before the new parliament with a sanguine hope, that their complaints would be listened to, and their grievances redressed. They acknowledged with gratitude the justice which they had already met with from the House of Commons, and added, that their confidence in it was increased by a knowledge acquired during the late elections of the increase of liberal feelings in all parts of England. They asked to be relieved from the consequences of the bloody Popery code, which had been originally enacted without reason, and was now retained without necessity. They prayed for emancipation, not only for themselves, but for every species of dissenters from the Established Church, who were liable to any disqualifications on account of their religious tenets.
The Petition was brought up and read; setting forth,
"That the Petitioners beg leave to represent that, on the opening of the first session of Parliament, they feel it their duty to renew the application they have more than once successfully made to the House, to pass a Bill for the repeal of the penal and disabling Laws under which they yet labour; that they worship the same God, are liege subjects to the same King, and live under and acknowledge the same Constitution as the House; the friends of the country are theirs; her enemies are theirs; in her fleets and armies they render her important services; to her support they essentially contribute; there is no class of British subjects upon whose attachment and active co-operation the House themselves have greater reliance; that the Petitioners have beheld, and continue to behold, with unspeakable satisfaction, the steady and regular advance which the cause of Catholic emancipation has made, and is making, in the public mind; during the late election, attempts were made to prejudice the electors against them and their friends, by the cry of 'no Popery;' but the places in which it served those who used it were few; in several it was received with the most marked disdain; may every dis- 817 ingenuous artifice of controversy, by whom or against whomsoever used, and every measure that tends to disunite, to keep up animosity, or to prejudice one portion of subjects against another, similarly fail! that the Petitioners have declared, and they again declare, that they bear animosity to no individual of any communion, sect, or party; that they embrace all their countrymen and fellow-subjects, whatever be their religious denomination, as friends and brethren; and that they most sincerely and fervently wish to see them all united in the participation of every civil right and blessing- which they solicit for themselves; that they have always been willing to lay before the public, in the fullest and most explicit manner, all their religious doctrines, and to disclaim every anti-civil or anti-social principle imputed to them; for this purpose they have often referred to authentic documents, in which their religious tenets are to be found, and have often printed, published, and circulated them; and that among these documents are the answers of the Foreign Universities to the questions suggested by Mr. Pitt; that very recently (the Petitioners now mention a fact to which they most earnestly solicit the attention of the House) an exposition of their religious principles, framed by the English and Scottish Catholic Prelates, has been laid before the public; that they have presented copies of this declaration to his most excellent Majesty, to his illustrious Brothers, to the Cabinet Ministers, to the Prelates of the Established Church, and to the Universities of Oxford, Cambridge, Edinburgh, Aberdeen, Glasgow, and St. Andrew's; and that they have deposited the original in the British Museum; they respectfully take leave to annex a copy of it to their present Petition, and to refer to it as a full and explicit exposition of the religious tenets of the Roman Catholics, on points therein mentioned; together with this Declaration, they have extensively circulated among their Protestant fellow countrymen, an Address, expressing their adherence to if, calculated, to the best of their judgment, to remove any unfavourable impression existing in their minds, respecting their civil and social principles, and laying before them a brief statement of the grievances which the Roman Catholics of Great Britain suffer by the present state of the penal laws beyond 818 any other class of his Majesty's Roman Catholic subjects; they beg leave to annex a copy of that Address also, to their humble Petition; they further request the House to consider the progress of public opinion on the Continent in favour of civil and religious liberty; they beg leave to mention, that the late Marquess of Londonderry announced in the House of Commons, in the debate on the Catholic Relief Bill, on the 28th day of February, 1821, ' that the only one question upon which the Congress of Vienna were unanimous, was that of doing away with distinctions and preferences on account of religion;' that it has always been asserted by their countrymen, that in wise, good, and liberal councils our country has taken the lead, and directed the opinion of the world; will this appear in her perpetuating Laws which all allow to have been enacted during a national delirium; by all the feelings which bind the House to their country and their countrymen; by every reason which makes it wise to consolidate their interests, to extinguish disunion, and' annihilate discontent among them; by the justice and humanity which every Government owes to every class of subjects; by the undeniable truth, that equal openings and equal rewards are due, by the Laws of God and man, to equal industry and equal merit; and above all, by the sacred precept of the God of all Christians, that 'all things which you would that men should do to you, you should do also to them:' as Roman Catholics suffering under the operation of unjust and oppressive laws; and as British subjects, jealous of the fair reputation of their country, which these Laws disgrace; the Petitioners most earnestly pray the House to take their case into their consideration, and to pass-a Bill which, by repealing every Law which imposes any declaration, oath, or test, relating to religious opinions as a qualification for holding civil office, or enjoying civil rights, may relieve them from every penalty and disability yet remaining in force against them, and may wipe away the stigma of intolerance which now attaches to their country."
§ Ordered to lie on the table.