HC Deb 03 July 1828 vol 19 cc1605-15
Mr. Maurice Fitzgerald

rose to submit the motion of which he had given notice, for the production of the correspondence between the English and Irish governments at the time of the Union, on the Conduct of the Roman Catholics. He did not seek for the opportunity of making a long speech on the general question—that would be bad taste; but the serious motives which induced him to abstain from going into other parts of that subject, were, that a case involving the character and consistency of eminent men now no more, should be made the subject of a separate discussion, and not be mixed up with matters which, however connected with it in another shape, formed no part of it in the way in which he proposed to submit it to the House. It was important to the characters of men who had filled high stations in the government of the country, that the question should be set at rest one way or the other. After the observation made by the right hon. Secretary opposite on a former evening, it was rendered necessary for him (Mr. Fitzgerald) to bring forward proofs in support of the statement he had made on the subject of a pledge given to the Catholics of Ireland at the time of the Union. The right hon. gentleman had said, that he denied that any pledge had been given by Mr. Pitt, lord Castlereagh, or lord Cornwallis, that the emancipation of the Catholics would be forwarded by the Union of Ireland. When he (Mr. Peel) used the word "pledge," he did not mean a written agreement, but an engagement, in the sense in which it would be understood by honourable men. This was a candid interpretation of the word pledge, as he (Mr. F.) had used it; but it was a denial of the fact for which he contended; and therefore he felt bound to establish it by proof. Mr. Pitt, in introducing the subject of the Union, in 1799, pointed out the circumstances which forced the subject on their attention. These were—the internal distraction of Ireland—the struggles between the sects—and the facility which those struggles opposed to the introduction of Jacobinism, and the effect it would have in operating the separation of the two countries. Mr. Pitt was well aware of the system which was then in existence in Ireland. He found that Dissenters of all descriptions, Protestants as well as Catholics, were excluded from the privileges of the constitution. He found the whole power of the country monopolized by a very small minority, who were called the Protestant Ascendancy. He considered this too narrow a basis on which to rest for the security of the country, and he therefore thought that the state of things required a union of the two kingdoms.— Now, Mr. Pitt, in introducing that question to the British parliament, had so ably and so forcibly conveyed his opinions on that subject, that he should be doing injustice to his case, if he did not quote the passage, and this was the more necessary, as it was not quoted in the former debate. Adverting to the opinion of Mr. Fox, who had opposed the measure, but who admitted the necessity of preserving the strictest union between the two countries, Mr. Pitt said, "I most cordially agree with him in that opinion but I then stated, that I do not barely wish for the maintenance of that connexion, as tending to add to the general strength of the empire, but I wish for the maintenance of it with a peculiar regard to the local interests of Ireland; with a regard to every thing that can give to Ireland its due weight and importance, as a great member of the empire. I wish for it with a view of giving it a full participation of all those blessings which this country so eminently enjoys." Could there be a doubt, as to what was meant by "a full participation of all those blessings which this country enjoys" Could there be a doubt that it had reference to the arrangement of religious differences in that country? He would read one or two other extracts, which he considered more decisive as to the point. The very knowledge that such sentiments were entertained by Mr. Pitt must have been sufficient to impress upon the Catholics a confident belief that emancipation was to be a consequence of the Union. "But, if struggles of this sort may and must return again; if the worst dangers are those which arc yet to come, dangers which may be greater from being more disguised; if those situations may arise when the same means of relief are not in our power, what is the remedy that reason and policy point out? It is to identify them with us; it is to make them a part of the same community, by giving them a full share of those accumulated blessings which are diffused throughout Great Britain; it is, in a word, to give them a full participation of the wealth, the power, and the stability of the British empire. If, then, this measure comes recommended not only by the obvious defects of the system which now exists, but it has also the recommendation of increasing the general power of the empire, and of guarding against future danger from the common enemy, we are next to consider it as to its effects upon the internal condition of Ireland."— "I know that the interests of the two countries must be taken together, and that a man cannot speak as a true Englishman, unless he speaks as a true Irishman, nor as a true Irishman unless he speaks as a true Englishman; but if it were possible to separate them, and I could consider myself as addressing you, not as interested for the empire at large, but for Ireland alone, I should say, that it would be indispensably necessary, for the sake of that country, to compose its present distractions by the adoption of another system—I should say, that the establishment of an Imperial Legislature was the only means of healing its wounds and of restoring it to tranquillity." —"Among the great and known defects of Ireland, one of the most prominent features is, its want of industry and capital; how are those wants to be supplied, but by blending more closely with Ireland the industry and the capital of this country? But, above all, in the great leading distinction between the people of Ireland (I mean their religious distinctions), what is their situation? The Protestant feels that the claims of the Catholics threaten the existence of the Protestant Ascendancy; while, on the other hand, the great body of Catholics feel the establishment of the National Church, and their exclusion from the exercise of certain rights and privileges, a grievance. Between the two, it becomes a matter of difficulty in the minds of many persons, whether it would be better to listen only to the fears of the former, or to grant the claims of the latter. I am well aware that the subject of religious distinction is a dangerous and delicate topic, especially when applied to a country such as Ireland, the situation of which is different in this respect from that of every other. Where the established religion of the State is the same as the general religion of the empire, and where the property of the country is in the hands of a comparatively small number of persons professing that established religion, while the religion of a great majority of the people is different, it is not easy to say, on general principles, what system of church establishment in such a country would be free from difficulty and inconvenience. By many I know it will be contended, that the religion professed by the majority of the people would, at least, be entitled to an equality of privileges. I have heard such an argument urged in this House; but those who apply it without qualification to the case of Ireland, forget surely the principles on which English interest and English connexion has been established in that country, and on which its present legislature is formed. No man can say, that, in the present state of things, and while Ireland remains a separate kingdom, full concessions could be made to the Catholics without endangering the State, and shaking the Constitution of Ireland to its centre." This memorable speech of Mr. Pitt, was printed by the king's printer, and circulated all over Ireland, with the view of allaying the discontents that prevailed there. It was found that, if the Protestants of Ireland held out against the measure, the Union could never be carried; and, as the Protestants were adverse to concession to the Catholics, no distinct and positive pledge was given to the latter body, though there could be no doubt whatever that Mr. Pitt intended to grant their claims. Lord Cornwallis arrived in Ireland in the midst of the Rebellion, and possessed the entire confidence of the king. He arrived for the purpose of putting an end to the horrors that had too long desolated the country. The object of lord Cornwallis was to put an end to martial law and military executions; but he found himself thwarted by the same faction that had before thwarted lord Fitzwilliam and sir Ralph Abercrombie. Upon that occasion, lord Castlereagh told him (Mr. F.), that lord Cornwallis, finding himself opposed in every instance, intended to leave Ireland, and that it was contemplated by a faction in and out of office to follow up the departure of the Lord-lieutenant by a proposition for the re-enactment of the Penal-laws against the Catholics. At the same time he called upon him (Mr. F.) to assist him in supporting the king's prerogative, as far as he could. This he had clone to the utmost of his power, while lord Castlereagh stood up in his place in parliament for that purpose. The consequence was, that the desired end was attained, and the faction which before had been so insolent to lord Cornwallis became meek and obsequious. He read a number of letters and other documents, and assumed from them, that Mr. Pitt, lord Cornwallis, the duke of Portland, and lord Castlereagh, at the time of the Union, and subsequently, intended that the emancipation of the Catholics, with some securities for the Protestants, would follow the measure of the Union. He then moved for "Copies or Extracts of all Correspondence between the British and Irish governments on the conduct of the Roman Catholics, and of Communications with them at the period of the Union."

Mr. Secretary Peel

said, he should confine himself strictly to the question before the House; namely, whether the high official persons alluded to had given such a pledge to support the claims of the Catholics as must bind their successors to the adoption of the line of conduct to which they had so pledged themselves.— He should not deny that Mr. Pitt had been all along favourable to the claims of the Roman Catholics, but only with the proviso that such securities should be given, as would render the admission of their claims secure in the eyes of their Protestant fellow-citizens. It was clear that Mr. Pitt thought the admission of the Catholic claims would greatly tend to settle the Union, and facilitate the measures of government in that country. The question was, whether Mr.Pitt, or those in the administration of affairs under him, had given that sort of pledge which amounted to an understanding, that in the event of the Union with Ireland being carried, the claims of the Catholics to political power should be conceded. He would broadly deny that such a pledge had ever been given. And this he would do on the strength of documents which were accessible to all. The right hon. gentleman had alluded to the assurances of Mr. Pitt, lord Cornwallis, and lord Castlereagh, on whom he placed, it seemed, great reliance. It was clear that both the former were favourable, to Catholic emancipation. In consequence of being thwarted in this instance, Mr. Pitt evinced his sincerity by resigning. Of the then Viceroy of Ireland, the marquis Cornwallis, he had never ceased to admire the integrity, simplicity, and manliness of that nobleman, throughout this and other parts of his patriotic career. As to the conduct or professions of that nobleman, he would deny that he had ever been instrumental in creating the impression that such a pledge had been given by the members of the English or Irish governments. No persons could possibly give better authority or evidence on the subject than those who were the prominent political parties in the arrangement. Would it not be fair to infer, that had Mr. Pitt so far pledged himself to the Catholic body, he would, in his letter to the king in 1801, previously to his resignation, avowedly because he would not bring forward the question of emancipation with the authority of government, have said, "I feel obliged to resign my place in your majesty's council, because the obligations of good faith will, in my opinion, be violated unless the question is conceded." No such sentiment, however, escaped from him in that letter. Shortly after the Union Mr. Pitt retired from office; and in doing so it was impossible to deny that he gave a conclusive proof of the value which he set upon the settlement of the Catholic question. In 1805, Mr. Pitt returned to office, and in that year the Catholic question was again discussed. He would beg the House to attend to the speeches which were delivered on that occasion, one of which he should never forget, for he happened to have heard it.— He never heard a speech which made a greater impression on his mind, than that delivered by Mr. Fox during that debate. Both Mr. Fox and Mr. Grattan were intimately acquainted with all the arrangements which preceded and accompanied the Union. But did Mr. Grattan, in the debate of 1805, charge Mr. Pitt with a breach of faith, in returning to office without having settled the Catholic question? If pledges had been given, would he not have called on Mr. Pitt to fulfil those pledges? But, what were the expressions of Mr. Pitt himself in 1805? They showed simply that he was still favourable to the question but they demonstrated that he never gave any pledge.— The right hon. gentleman then read an extract from Mr. Pitt's speech in 1805, where he said that he had been against the Catholic question before the Union, but that after that measure had been completed, he was in favour of the question; but he denied that he had given any distinct pledge to the Catholics that their question should be carried; but he admitted stating that the justice and policy of making concessions were more likely to be made apparent in a parliament of the United Kingdom, than in that of Ireland. "I come, then," concluded Mr. Pitt, "to the discussion of this question perfectly free and unfettered." Such was the language of Mr. Pitt in 1805. If, then, he placed, with the right hon. gentleman, confidence in the character of Mr. Pitt for sincerity, he could not but deny the assertion, that Mr. Pitt ever gave pledges on this question. Again, the language of Mr. Fox on the same occasion was material. "I have been told," said Mr. Fox, "that no promise was made to the Catholics, and I believe it; for no minister could pledge himself to do that which parliament alone could effect."— He now came to an individual who was placed in as delicate and trying a situation as Mr. Pitt—he meant lord Cornwallis.— The right hon. gentleman had said, he admitted that lord Cornwallis and Mr. Pitt could not enter into any open discussion of the question with the Irish parliament; for being a parliament so entirely Protestant, it was impossible not to see, that if they thought the Catholic question had a better chance of being carried by an united parliament, they would not have consented to the Union. Now, if that were the case, did it not strike every person, that it must have been an extremely difficult thing for the minister to authorise the Viceroy to make a declaration to the Catholics, and yet that that communication should be kept secret from the members of the Protestant parliament. The right hon. gentleman had said that lord Cornwallis had stated to Mr. Plowden, that the ministers of 1800 never gave a pledge that they would not return to office unless the Catholic question was carried. But he begged to call the attention of the House to the correspondence between lord Castlereagh and lord Cornwallis.— The right hon. gentleman then read the letter of lord Castlereagh, on March 3, 1801, and concluded by saying, that it was evidently lord Cornwallis's opinion, that no pledge had been given. The only other authority to which he would refer, was that of lord Castlereagh, certainly the most material instrument in carrying the Union. Lord Castlereagh, on May 25, 1810, in the face of the country, and in the presence of the right hon. gentleman opposite, used this language:—" He was under the necessity of again noticing insinuations such as had been too often falsely and ignorantly made, that pledges were given; he considered that the practice of representing-that breaches of faith had been committed, tended to excite a strong sense of suffering. It was singular that if pledges were given, none of the parties to whom they were addressed, should come forward to claim their execution. He could take it upon him to assert for himself, and for those who belonged to the government at the time, that no pledges had been given. At the same time the Catholics very naturally formed expectations from the general language held out to the an, and particularly from what was repeatedly told them, that their question would be in a better condition for a satisfactory settlement before the united parliament, than before the then parliament of Ireland." Such was the language of lord Castlereagh. The right hon. gentleman had spoken of a letter, which, if he could get possession of, it was all he wanted. Now, he had no difficulty in saying, that if the motion was carried, he could produce no such letter of Mr. Dundas. It was not written in his capacity of minister. It was a letter conveying the opinion of Mr. Dundas, and stating what course he should pursue; but there was no record of it in the Home Office, the Castle of Dublin, or the Colonial Office. He must say, that in relying on reports of parliamentary speeches, and upon public declarations of official men, the right hon. gentleman had laid no foundation for the production of the private and confidential correspondence of ministers. Should the motion be agreed to, he should certainly feel it his duty to comply with it; but it would be with extreme reluctance, for several reasons. The chief object in calling for the papers was, to satisfy the House as to the course taken by the Roman Catholics with respect to the Union. It would be impossible, from the state in which the parties were, to present extracts of the correspondence without mixing up party politics. The letters were written in a moment of excitement, when the parties spoke of each other in terms in which they would not now do. He was sure he could satisfy the right hon. gentleman, that nothing could be so inconvenient and unwise, as to revive the excitement of that period. These were the grounds on which he opposed the motion. He had avoided all topics of an irritating nature. He had attempted to state the grounds on which he differed from the right hon. gentleman, only by reference to those authorities to which every man had access. He had stated as much as possible respecting the expectations said to be held out to the Roman Catholics at the time of the Union, for the purpose of rescuing from obloquy the characters of three such men as Mr. Pitt, lord Cornwallis, and lord Castlereagh; and he thought he had proved that no pledges had been given by them, and subsequently broken, that could be deemed obligatory on an honourable mind.

Mr. O'Brien

expressed his alarm at the present state of Ireland, and said he should feel more alarmed than he was, if he did not conceive that his majesty's government would speedily be obliged to find a remedy for this state of things. At present the only political expedient they had found to reconcile an exasperated people was to heap on them impotent reproaches. Their policy was the scorn of Ireland and the derision of Europe. The great question at issue was, whether the Catholics should obtain emancipation, or the two countries be disunited? The Catholics would shew themselves unworthy of receiving the rights they asked, if they ceased to demand them. He wished to see them succeed, and for this reason he had become a member of the Catholic Association. Whatever influence his name and character could command in Ireland should be used to promote the cause of the Catholics.

Earl Jermyn

rose to support the motion. The question was whether any expectation had been held out to the Catholics at the time of the Union, and whether their conduct had been influenced by such expectation? He would say, that each of the three orders, the clergy, the nobility and gentry, and the lower classes had received inducements from Mr. Pitt to support the Union. He had held out to the higher ranks the prospect of getting into parliament, to the lower the idea of some effectual measure of relief, and to the clergy that of a competent provision, provided they would assist in carrying the measure.

Mr. Spring Rice

rejoiced that his right hon. friend had brought forward the motion, for he could not help thinking that he had obtained much from the right hon. Secretary, who, though he did not agree to the motion, had opposed it upon grounds which confirmed much of what his right hon. friend had stated. His right hon. friend had never said, that a direct pledge was given to the Catholics at the time of the Union. But he had said, and the point was conceded to him, that an expectation was held out from the highest quarter, that the question would be brought nearer to a favourable decision, if the Union was carried; and that the Catholics had supported it on that understanding. As for the allusion made to Mr. Grattan, he was the last man who could have had any cognizance of what passed between Mr. Pitt and the Roman Catholics. At the time, he was the avowed enemy of the Union and the government, and therefore could not expect to be made acquainted with any of their arrangements. Having said thus much, he would advise his right hon. friend not to press the motion.

The motion was withdrawn.