Mr. C. W. Wynn
rose, to move for leave to bring in a Bill, for doing away with the necessity of taking the Oath of Abjuration on the acceptance of Civil Office, and of the Oaths taken by the Members of that House before the Lord Steward. He had last Session given notice of his intention; so that it would not be necessary for him then to explain more than the general purport of his measure. It might be asked in limine, as an objection to abolishing the Oath of Abjuration, 201 where was the harm in taking it? why, therefore, do away with it? The answer was, that all useless and unnecessary oaths were mischievous, by their tendency to lower the respect and sanction with which oaths should be regarded. This was evident to every man who had experience in Sessions Courts, and other places where oaths were frequent and formal. Then as to the necessity for the oath. Where was the necessity of abjuring a dynasty that was no longer in existence? At present no member, however remote, of the House of Stuart lived, the last having been dead twenty-six years. There could be no apprehensions now concerning a Pretender to disturb the reigning family on the Throne, and therefore no necessity for the Oath of Abjuration. Indeed, if ever there was a favourable time for abolishing that oath, it was the present, with a Monarch the most deservedly popular of any in our annals on the Throne. The right hon. Gentleman, after stating that he would not propose a new form of oath as a substitute, proceeded to say that his next object was to do away with the necessity of Members of that House taking the usual oaths before the Lord Steward. The ground or occasion of this regulation, like the preceding, was no longer in existence, as the history of its origin would show. When the Lord Steward first administered these oaths to Members, the house—that is, the chamber in which the sittings were held—was considered as part of the royal palace, over which he presided as the first judicial authority; but such he need not say was not the case at present. The usage was retained, on the ground that it was the only check on persons not Members voting for a Speaker; but surely he who would vote for a Speaker, not being a Member, would not scruple to take the oaths before the Lord Steward. In point of fact, it was no check, and indeed no such check was necessary. Great difficulties and inconveniences, besides, might arise from the present regulation, to which it presented no counterbalancing advantage. What if the office of Lord Steward was vacant at the meeting of a new Parliament? There was an end to their proceedings, or rather there could be no beginning, and the public business could not be transacted. Nor was this merely a supposititious case. In 1641, there was no Lord Steward, and the House was obliged to address the King to appoint 202 one, to enable them to go on with the public business. And in 1801, in consequence of the inopportune resignation of the Lord Steward, an Act had to be passed, to exempt Members from the penalties against entering the House without having taken the oaths before that officer. The right hon. Gentleman concluded by moving for leave to bring in a bill to repeal so much of the Acts of 13 William 3, c. 6; 1 Anne, c. 22; 6 Anne, c. 23; 1 George 1, c. 13; 6 George 3, c. 53; 5 Eliz. c. 1: 7 James 1, c. 6. and 1 William and Mary, c. 8; as requires the Oath of Abjuration to be taken, and the assurances to be subscribed in Scotland, and as directs certain oaths to be taken by Members of the House of Commons, before the Lord Steward or his deputy.
Mr. Cutlar Ferguson
entirely concurred in the right hon. Gentleman's proposition; and could see no reason why any oath should be required from Members except the Oath of Allegiance. He begged, however, to call the attention of the right hon. Baronet opposite, to the extraordinary difference between the oaths prescribed to the Protestant, and the oath prescribed to the Roman Catholic Member of that House. The latter, which was admirably framed, was infinitely better than the former; for in it, the Oaths of Abjuration, Allegiance, and Supremacy were embodied in a much more intelligible and rational form than that of the three oaths which the Protestant Member was obliged to take. The Roman Catholic Member was exempted from the necessity of swearing, that no foreign Prince or Prelate had any spiritual jurisdiction in this realm. Now to him it appeared most extraordinary that the Protestant Member who never could be supposed to believe that any foreign Prince or Prelate had any spiritual jurisdiction in this realm, was called upon to negative such a supposition on oath, while the Roman Catholic Member, who of course did entertain such a belief, was not called upon to comply with any such obligation. He hoped that means would be taken to simplify the existing oaths; preserving the only oath which appeared to him to be necessary—the Oath of Allegiance.
§ Mr. O'Connell
supported the Motion; and recommended the abolition rather than the alteration of the oaths in question. There was no country in the world in which so many oaths were required; and 203 it was unquestionably desirable to dispense with as many of them as possible. For every purpose, and for no purpose, were oaths taken. In the Universities the oaths taken were absolutely frightful. So, too, in the Revenue of the Customs and Excise. With respect to what had fallen from the hon. member for Kirkcudbright, it should be considered that it was consistent with the belief of a Protestant Member to swear that the Pope neither had nor ought to have any spiritual jurisdiction in this realm. But the Roman Catholic Member could not be required to swear that, for he believed that the Pope had a spiritual jurisdiction over him. It was most desirable to adopt some means by which so solemn a sanction for the security of life and property as an oath, should have the respect paid to it which was its due. If, however, the lower classes saw the subject treated with indifference by the higher, the effect would be most injurious. He would appeal to the moral and religious feeling of every man in the House if such were not the case.
§ Lord Nugent
expressed his earnest hope that as soon as circumstances would permit, every civil distinction would be abolished. So long, however, as the Protestant and the Roman Catholic Members were called upon to take different oaths at the Table of that House, all which could had been done to facilitate so desirable an object. He confessed, however, that he agreed with the hon. and learned member for Water ford, that there were higher and deeper reasons for acquiescing in the proposed measure. He did not know what sacrifice he would not cheerfully make, to abolish one of those impious appeals to the Almighty which were now so frequent. Every moral and religious consideration required that the number of oaths should be reduced as much as possible. A great many petitions had been put into his hands on the subject. It had been his intention to bring it under the consideration of the House; and he had contemplated showing the scandalous multiplicity of the oaths taken in this country, by moving for a Return of the number taken in a certain period, with reference either to the Customs or to the Excise. Having some difficulty, however, as to the form of his Motion he had consulted the right hon. the Chancellor of the Exchequer on the subject; and, in a few minutes he was satisfied that the returns would be so vo- 204 luminous and overwhelming, that it would be impossible to produce them. This very circumstance, however, was in itself the strongest argument for setting to work with an honest and firm determination to limit the number of oaths as much as possible.
§ Mr. R. Palmer
expressed his cordial concurrence in the measure, and a wish that both Protestants and Catholics should take the same oaths.
§ Mr. Cresset Pelham
expressed his hope, that the Legislature would not repeal or alter that part of the Abjuration Oath in which those who took it declared their attachment to our present race of Sovereigns, they being descendants of the Electress Sophia.
§ Sir R. Peel
understood his right hon. friend to have two objects in view in his present Motion. The first was, to dispense with the necessity of taking, before the Lord Steward, oaths which were afterwards taken with greater solemnity at ' the Table of the House; and the second was, to dispense with the necessity of de- daring, that the descendants of the person falsely pretending to be Prince of Wales, had no claim whatever to the Throne. He would candidly confess that he had not had leisure to consider this subject; but his first impression was, that there was no objection to the accomplishment of those two objects. At the same time that he said this, he reserved to himself the liberty of further considering this question; and if he discovered any objections to his right hon. friend's proposal, he should reserve to himself the right of opposing his bill at some future stage. At present he saw no difficulties in the way of his right hon. friend's proposition, and he acquiesced in granting permission to bring in the bill. He must confess, that the longer he lived, the more clearly did he see the folly of yielding a rash and precipitate assent to any political measure. He therefore would not pledge himself not to oppose this bill. There might be objects attained by it, which even his right hon. friend himself did not at that moment perceive. If it should appear to him that there were such objects, that would be an additional reason to him to oppose the bill. He should certainly object to the total repeal of the Oath of Abjuration, though there were parts of it which might now unquestionably be dispensed with. It was right to require 205 individuals to pledge themselves to sup- port the succession to the Throne, as limited to the Princess Sophia and her heirs, being Protestants; but it was unnecessary to retain that part of it which abjured all allegiance to the descendants of James 2nd. Indeed, the House, in framing the oath to be taken by its Roman Catholic Members, had omitted that part of the Oath of Abjuration which contained the declaration against James 2nd and his descendants. The oath taken by the Catholic Member was this, "I do faithfully promise to maintain, support, and defend, to the utmost of my power, the succession of the Crown, which succession, by an Act entitled ' An Act for the further limitation of the Crown, and better securing the rights and liberties of the subject,' is, and stands, limited to the Princess Sophia, Electress of Hanover, and the heirs of her body, being Protestants, hereby utterly renouncing and abjuring any obedience or allegiance unto any other person claiming or pretending a right to the Crown of these realms." Now, there could be no claimant for the Throne at present, as a descendant of James 2nd; but if the strictness of hereditary descent were to be considered, other claimants for it might, perhaps, be found, deriving their claim from a higher stock than James 2nd. He was unwilling to make any distinction between the oaths taken by Protestants, and those taken by Roman Catholic Members. He should therefore reserve to himself, if he so thought fit, the right of retaining all those parts of the Oath of Abjuration which had no reference to the claims of the descendants of James 2nd. He thought that the time had HOW fully come, in which the House might safely omit all reference to the Pretender and his family; and, if so, it was wrong to encumber the oath by an abjuration of allegiance, which no circumstances could call again into existence. He hoped that he had sufficiently explained the limitations under which he was willing to grant to his right hon. friend leave to bring in his bill. With respect to what his right hon. friend had said on the subject of taking the oaths before the Lord Steward, he was not prepared to say, that his right hon. friend had convinced him that Members ought to vote for a Speaker without taking some oath, although he had convinced him that there might be much inconvenience in 206 their being compelled to take the oaths exclusively before the Lord Steward.
Mr. Cutlar Ferguson
wished to ask the right hon. Baronet if he did not think that the Oath of Allegiance was the only oath which ought to be taken by Members of Parliament on their admission to their seats.
§ Sir R. Peel
observed, that the inquiry of the hon. Member showed the necessity of the caution which he had already recommended. The effect of declaring that the Oath of Allegiance was sufficient, would be at once to decide the question agitated last Session, with respect to the admission of Jews into the House. If it were proper that such an admission should take place, the object ought to be effected by a direct motion, and not by a sidewind.
§ Sir C. Wetherell
thought, that this Oath of Abjuration ought not to be hastily abolished: for he had read in some Roman Catholic authors of great learning, research, and talent, that they considered the title of the House of Sardinia to the Crown of these realms as dormant,—not as extinguished. [Mr. O'Connell cried "Name."] Delicacy would have induced him not to mention the name of the author to whom he had alluded: but as he had been called upon to give up the name, he would say at once that he was alluding to Mr. Butler. If they would only take the trouble of looking at Mr. Butler's Memoirs or Reminiscences, and the chapter which he had inserted in them upon the collateral claims of the house of Sardinia, they would see that their title was supposed to be dormant, but not extinguished. For these reasons he thought that the right hon. Secretary had done right in putting the House upon its guard against the difficulties which might ensue from giving up that part of the Oath of Abjuration which negatived the claims of the descendants of James 2nd. According to his opinion, there were not more than two or three words in the Oath of Abjuration which were superfluous. He would not say that, for the sake of saving his lungs the expression of two or three idle words, he would efface from the Statute-book this Oath, which, for various reasons, might be advisable. He should, therefore, decline pledging himself, either one way or other, on this subject at present.
§ Mr. O'Connell
said, that he wished to prevent a misconception from going abroad, 207 —namely, that Mr. Butler had recognized the title of some other persons than that of the reigning family to the Throne of these realms. Now, Mr. Butler had repeatedly taken the oath to support the succession to the Throne, as it stood, limited to the House of Brunswick, being Protestants, and descendants of the Electress Sophia. Had Mr. Butler thought that any other family possessed a superior title to the Throne of these realms, Mr. Butler would never have taken that oath. The talent and research of Mr. Butler, as well as his loyalty and learning, were well known, and he hoped that the learned Gentleman, who had unintentionally cast a reflection upon Mr. Butler's character, would have the candour to retract it, as undeserved.
§ Sir C. Wetherell
I have said nothing-offensive, I hope, to Mr. Butler. I am sure that if I did, I meant it not. I should not even have mentioned his name, had I not been so pointedly called upon to do so.
§ Mr. C. W. Wynn, in reply, said, he was happy to find that the principal objection to his measure was, that it did not go far enough. He was of that opinion himself; but there were many reasons why he had not brought in a more extensive measure; but he must say, that he wished other public bodies would likewise consider the propriety of a revision of the oaths administered to their members. In the Universities, for instance, some of the oaths were extremely absurd. In taking the degree of Master of Arts, he, in common with many other Gentlemen who heard him, had been obliged to take various oaths, most useless and absurd; amongst others, there was an oath, that he should not assent to the restoration to his degree of some person whose name he forgot, and the recollection of whose offence was lost in the antiquity of the period in which he existed. No one, not even those the best acquainted with the antiquities of the University, could state the ground upon which the reference was made to this person in the oath. Every person, however, taking the degree of Master of Arts, must swear that he would not consent to the restoration to his degree of a person whose bones must have long ago mouldered into dust. The frequency of oaths was highly objectionable, and calculated to diminish their solemnity and value. In ancient times various oaths were taken 208 without scruple by the same individual; and even in our own times, how many individuals are there living, who, in the French Revolution, for instance, took different oaths, as different parties and principles obtained dominion. It was impossible that such examples should not weaken the obligation of an oath. In reference to what had fallen from the hon. and learned Gentleman opposite (Sir C. Wetherell) he could assure him, that his intention was to strengthen, not weaken, the pledges given by Members of that House to support the reigning family. The hon. and learned Member seemed to think, that there were only two or three words objectionable in the Oath of Abjuration; but if he would read the second paragraph of that oath, he would not find in it one word that was necessary.
§ Leave was given to bring in the Bill.