rose to move for the appointment of a Committee to consider the oaths which were taken, and those, if any, which ought to be taken by Members of the House. He trusted that the importance of the question would induce the House to comply and allow of the nomination of the Committee. He acknowledged that his object was to abolish all religious oaths upon Members taking their seats in that House, and, if necessary, to substitute a declaration disclaiming, in the most unequivocal manner, all species of bribery and corruption at their election. Whether the House were disposed to go so far as he wished to go or not, ought not to influence them in deciding the question, whether a Committee should be appointed or not. He was prepared to lay before the House the strongest grounds for the appointment of such a Committee; and they were to be found in the nature of oaths taken, being different in one class of Members from those of another. In fact, there were established three different modes of swearing or affirming in coming into that House—the Protestant swore—the Catholic swore—the Quaker affirmed—and the Moravian would have an equal right to take his seat on making an affirmation if elected. He thought, that the time had now arrived when the necessity of taking an oath because of the religious persuasion of the person to whom it was administered, ought to be done away. 16 The oath ought to be a universal one, and in such an oath he of course included affirmations. The recollection of the oath only existed while the Members were at the Table taking it, and for the rest of the period that they sat in the House it was completely forgotten. It might be said, that such a form of oath was meant to convey subjugation on the one, and domination to the other. An oath founded on such a principle, would be scouted by an overwhelming number in that House. The Catholics in that House ought not to be placed in an invidious light. He wished the distinctive character of the oaths administered should be abolished, and that all chance of equivocation in respect to the oath should be for ever set at rest. He asked, if there ought to be the slightest chance of equivocation existing in respect to any oath that might be taken by Members in that House? He felt disgusted as a Catholic, that any one in that House should put a different construction upon the oath which he had taken, but that which the oath conveyed, and which he solemnly felt it ought to bear. He contended, that the person taking an oath should be bound by the plain meaning of the oath, and not by the construction he or any other person might give it. The oath taken by the Catholics in this House should not have any other construction put on it than that which it bore upon the face of it. With all the respect he had for the opinions of hon. Members in general, he differed from them, and more particularly from the hon. member for St. Andrew's (Mr. Johnston), when they said, that Catholics did not feel themselves bound by the oath, unless upon their construction of it. The hon. member for St. Andrew's was a gentleman of strict integrity, no doubt, and as such would be conscientiously bound by the meaning, and not his own construction of an oath. Then why, he would ask, should the hon. Member conclude that the Catholics possessed not as much integrity, and were not as regardful of the solemn obligation of an oath according to its meaning as the hon. Member or other conscientious men? He would wish the House to understand, that he (Mr. O'Connell) would not be there if he conceived for a moment that he could take the oath according to the construction which he or any other Catholic might 17 choose to put on it. He would in the most solemn manner declare that he would vacate his seat in this House if he thought that a different construction of the oath, from that which the House attached to it, had been by possibility put on it by him. There was a magazine called the "Catholic Magazine"—one, doubtless, very little known to the Members of this House, and indeed to the country generally. It was edited by highly talented and learned Catholic clergymen; it was needless to say religious, and, as such, conscientious men. In this work it had been rather a matter of controversy whether Catholics could conscientiously take the oath imposed upon them on becoming Members of that House. For his part, he would not hesitate to say, that he had taken the oath according to its meaning, and in the full sense attached to it by the House; and he felt that he could do so with a safe conscience, and with the most perfect regard to the religion which he professed, and in relation to the religion of the State, which he could have no desire to disturb. There could be no controversy about the oath as it now stood, because there was nothing in it to prevent a Catholic from acting as he pleased with respect to the temporalities of the Established Church, either as regarded the power, authority, or emoluments of the Church. But it might very reasonably be asked why there were any oaths of a distinctive religious nature at all? It was in the reign of Henry 6th that an oath was first tendered to a Member of the House of Commons, and for only one year in that reign. The oath was merely to bind the Members to keep the peace. It was preceded by no other, nor was it followed by any other, until the distinctions in the religious communities took place at the Reformation. By the 1st of Elizabeth, c. 1, s. 9, the Oath of Supremacy was enacted, but it was not required to be taken by any Member of that House. By the 5th of Elizabeth, the Oath of Supremacy was, for the first time, required, However, the great majority of the Peers still continuing to be Catholics, there was an express clause that the oath should not be required of the Lords, and it was not required till the reign of James 1st. From the 5th of Elizabeth, till the 1st of William and Mary, the law stood in this way; and, in the 7th year of that 18 reign both Houses were required to take the Oath of Supremacy. That oath distinctly asserted the King's supremacy, not only over temporal matters, but, in the words of the oath, over all spiritual causes and things. This was changed at the Revolution—and why? Because the Presbyterians of Scotland could not acknowledge the King as a spiritual head. To meet their scruples the oath was changed into a negation of spiritual dominion in any foreign prince, prelate, or authority whatsoever. That satisfied both Presbyterians and members of the Established Church; but it was as repugnant to the Catholics as the former oath, for they did acknowledge a spiritual authority resident in a foreign country—viz., the authority of the head of their church—the Pope. The act of the 1st of Elizabeth did not extend to Ireland; and, although the Act of the 5th of Elizabeth did extend to Ireland in terms, it did not in terms extend to the Irish House of Commons, so that, throughout the reigns of Elizabeth, James 1st, and Charles 1st, there was no obligation upon members of the Irish Parliament to take the Oath of Supremacy. But in May, 1661, the Irish House of Commons, consisting of Cromwellian officers and soldiers, passed a Bill to make it obligatory upon members to take that oath; but the Bill was subsequently lost, and Catholics sat in Parliament until after the Revolution. In violation of the Treaty of Limerick, the English Parliament passed an Act (the 13th and 14th of William and Mary, c.2.) to compel members of the Irish Parliament to take the Oaths of Supremacy and Abjuration. But that Act was constitutionally void in Ireland until the year 1782, when an Act of the Irish Parliament gave it the force of a law of the land. He was thus particular in going through these details, in order to show, that religious oaths formed no part of the original constitution of that House, but that they were invented merely for the purpose of excluding persons professing certain religious opinions, from the privileges of seats in Parliament. But this reason no longer existed, and it was absurd and ridiculous to continue the practice. In 1829, considerable alteration was made. In that year an act was passed which established the oath which was at present taken by the Roman Catholics; and by the same Act 19 another very excellent alteration was made by striking out of the oath taken by Protestants the declaration that the worship of their fellow-countrymen, the Catholics, was impious and idolatrous. That was an excellent alteration, for it would not have been pleasant to have sat and heard the old oath administered. There were, however, still some strange anomalies between the oaths taken by the Members of that House. On one side of the board he saw three oaths that were required to be taken by the Protestant, while, on the other side, he found only one that the Catholic was required to take. The Protestant was called upon to abjure the house of Stuart, while the Catholic was not. Now, he had always understood that, in point of politics, the Catholics were the class of persons who were most likely to have a leaning that way; he should have thought the common-sense view of the matter was, that that oath should have been exacted from the Catholic, while the Protestant should have been exempted from it. Protestants were also called upon to swear that they would never bear any allegiance to any descendants of James 2nd. And, how stood the fact? Why, no such descendant was now in existence. Was not that taking God's name in vain? Would it not be more in accordance with the spirit of the present day that all Members should be required to take one oath only—that of allegiance to the Crown—which was an oath in which all could join—no Protestant would refuse it, and no Catholic had the slightest objection whatever to it. The Catholic oath, in its former part, was an oath of fidelity and allegiance. He saw no objection to that, though it was certainly different from that adopted by Protestants. He was ready to testify his allegiance to the heirs of Princess Sophia, being Protestants, as if the oath had been administered to him; but there was a part of the oath which he considered a complete insult:—"And I do further declare that it is not any article of my faith that any princes excommunicated by the See of Rome may be deposed or murdered by their subjects, or any person whatsoever. Why should the Catholic be called upon to swear that he should have no objection to make the declaration? But what right, he would ask, had the House to insult him, by calling upon him to take such an 20 oath? Was it possible for any man to be so destitute of moral feeling as to consider that he had a right to murder any man because the Pope excommunicated him? In his opinion the oath would be no sanction to any man who believed in anything so monstrous and unjust. He called for a Committee to inquire whether such an oath was necessary; if it were, he would bend his neck to the yoke—he would submit. But he denied, that it was necessary, and, therefore, he considered it imperative on him to call the attention or the House to it. He had the most ineffable contempt for the doctrine implied in that oath. To that part of the oath wherein the Pope's jurisdiction was renounced, he had no objection. He would pledge his most solemn sanction to that—but, if it were necessary to swear resistance, even unto death, of any foreign interference in these matters in these realms, there was no Protestant half as anxious as he was to take such an oath. But what dread did any rational person entertain of the temporal power of the Pope? Heaven help the maniac who could imagine that the Pope, who was trembling for his own small dominions, could put the temporal authorities of these kingdoms into jeopardy. Was it not a monstrous thing to think, that these realms should at any time be invaded by a regiment of cardinals, and a squadron of friars turned into riflemen? The oath then went on—"And I do swear, that I will defend to the utmost of my power the settlement of property in this realm as by law established." That prevented his making any alteration in the law regarding property, but it was an undoubted fact, that that law had been frequently altered. He could mention an instance in which, by an net passed during the last year, a gentleman became the inheritor of property to the amount of 4,000l. a year, which he could not inherit as the law previously stood, and which he had not the most remote prospect of enjoying. Therefore, that part of the oath was quite absurd, and the man who took it that year would have different impressions on his mind from the man who took it the previous year. He only threw that out to show how far equivocation would go as regarded that oath. The argument he used had been used on a former occasion with respect to the Coronation Oath. What millions of pamphlets—what masses 21 of arguments and thousands of speeches had been used regarding the violation of the Coronation Oath, all turning on the mere equivocation of the words, or the different interpretations which different individuals might give them! Did it require the Catholics, any more than the Protestants, to swear that they would defend the state of property? If they did not swear the Protestants, why did they swear the Catholics? The oath then went on—"And I hereby disclaim, disavow, and solemnly abjure any intention to subvert the Church Establishment, as by law established within the realm." The same solution might be applied to that as to the former paragraph; and here again he would adduce the occurrences of last year, when Ministers had passed the Church Temporalities Bill—a Bill which had unsettled the Church Establishment more than any Act that had taken place since the Revolution. What he (Mr. O'Connell) required, was a Committee which should put an end to these equivocations. The oath went on—"And I do solemnly swear, that I will not exercise any privilege to which I am or may be entitled, to disturb or weaken the Protestant religion, or Protestant Government within the realm." What was the meaning of Protestant Government now in this country? Was a man satisfied to swear that Government was a Protestant Government, when the whole of it might be Catholic. The whole of the judicial seats might be filled with Catholics, with the exception of the Chancellor; when the navy, the army, and the Magistrates might be Catholics? In point of law, all who were admitted into the Government, with the exception of the Chancellor, might be Catholics. Was it safe, then, to swear, that such a Government was a Protestant Government, when there were only two officers—the King and Chancellor—at all connected with it, whom it was necessary should be Protestant? He could not but feel that this was a point of great difficulty. He might be laughed at for his scruples, but he could not help acknowledging his scruples on this subject had been very great. He had been told, that it was the Legislature itself which had passed the Act, and as the word Protestant had been introduced, must have intended such a Protestant Government as now existed to have been understood—namely, composed only, as it 22 might be, of a Protestant King and Protestant keeper of his conscience, all the other members being Catholics. He trusted he had not done wrong in taking up a strong feeling on this question; but such feeling he entertained. Was it intended to be said, that there was not a great difference between Protestantism and a Protestant Government? They certainly were, as far as he was capable of distinguishing between them, most essentially different; and this was a fact which the House ought gravely to consider, when it called upon Members who took their seats there to take the oaths which it was considered necessary to administer to them. What was the meaning of the word privilege in the Catholic's oath? He knew that Johnson gave it two meanings—namely, immunity and advantage. Immunity was here out of the question. Then, as to the other meaning: could it bear that? Was, he would ask, sitting in that House an advantage? Surely not, for he and every Christian could have a scat in that House. He called on them, then, to define the meaning of the word privilege. As far as he was concerned, he did not wish to vote upon any matters relative to Church affairs—not because the word privilege was in the oath, but, as a Catholic, he did not think he should interfere in these concerns. The word privilege, then, was equivocal, and he wished all equivocation to be got rid of, so that it would be out of the power of one hon. Member to put one construction upon the oath, and another hon. Member another. There should, in fact, be no mistake upon the subject, everything respecting it should be intelligible. He thought he had certainly made out a case for au inquiry into this oath in particular, so that it might be put upon a footing which would take away all equivocation in its meaning. But, he asked, whether he had not made out a case for inquiry generally, for why should the Protestant be called upon to take the name of God in vain by abjuring the House of Stuart. The thing would be laughed at out of this House; for his own part, he did not know or care whether the Sardinian royal family was nearer to the House of Stuart than our own, but if he were a Protestant, he did not think, that he could take the present oath of supremacy. Then he came to that part of the oath which declares that no foreign prince 23 or prelate has, or ought to have, authority ecclesiastical, or temporal, within this realm. Now, he could conceive a Protestant denying that there ought to be any supremacy by a foreign prelate in this country, but he could not see how the same person could swear that the Pope had not authority and supremacy in the realm. He did not see how this could be sworn to by a Protestant in the presence of him (Mr. O'Connell) who acknowledged that supremacy. When a college for the education of Catholic clergymen was supported by Act of Parliament, and visitors, Protestant and Catholic, appointed over it by Act of Parliament, that Act expressly ordering, that all matters relating to the doctrine and discipline of the Catholic Church should be under the control of Roman Catholics, it was most absurd to make a solemn attestation to God in that House, that the Pope had no spiritual authority in these realms. He had such authority, and he had spiritual jurisdiction as sure as the sun would rise to-morrow. There might have been some feasible excuse for such an assertion, when the Parliament consisted exclusively of Protestants, and when that Parliament, one and all, would not recognize that authority. But of what use was it now, when there was no longer any distinctive reprobation of Catholics, or any distinctive exaltation of Protestants? He thought, that in such a case the House, at least, could not refuse a Committee of Inquiry. He knew the Catholic oaths had been framed as a safeguard for the State—a safeguard forsooth! He had read a thousand speeches in which the uniform expression was, "if you let Catholics into the House, you will upset the old institutions of the country—for though they may be only few—only forty or fifty in number—they will always league together; and, by so doing, have the power of injuring Protestantism, and the State, to a fearful extent." Now, what was the fact of the case? Since the admission of Catholics to the House, they had never voted together but once, and that once, he was happy and proud to say, was in favour of the Jewish Relief Bill. On the Reform Bill, one Catholic gentleman of high rank and very large property voted against the country, and on all other questions they were never united. Not only did the English Catholics differ from 24 the Irish, but the English and Irish Roman Catholics also differed among themselves. This was a convincing proof of the absurdity of the prophecies and the uselessness of the oaths. If any oaths were to be taken at the Table, let them be respecting the conduct of Members in that House. Let them be subjected to the same obligations to do justice as were imposed upon Judges and Juries. Let each Member swear, or solemnly declare, that he would vote according to his conscience. But, above all, what the people most particularly required was, that their Representatives should pledge themselves that no means of corruption or bribery had been used to obtain their seats. These were the topics to which a Committee should direct its attention, and upon which the House should afterwards adjudicate. Reform was of little value to the lower classes of the constituency, if the higher classes were to be permitted still to carry on the system of corruption by bribes. He did not press this particular point much, but he claimed it as one of the topics which the Committee should take into its consideration. He should not trouble the House further, but, thanking them most gratefully for the patient attention with which he had been heard, he begged to assure the House, that he brought this question forward in the full sincerity of a conscientious belief, that it was absolutely necessary a final construction should be put upon this Act, and that if distinctions were to exist between one side of the House and the other, they should be so marked and prominent that no man could be in any doubt as to their force and extent. He concluded by moving, "that a Select Committee should be appointed to consider the oaths now required by law to be taken by Members of that House, and to report its observations thereon to the House; and also to consider the propriety of altering or abolishing those oaths, and substituting other oaths or declarations in lieu thereof."
§ Lord Althorp
did not intend to follow the hon. and learned Gentleman through the arguments which he had advanced, but should content himself with saying a few words in reply to his observations. The first question that presented itself upon this subject was upon a point of form—namely, whether, even supposing the Motion to be a proper one in sub- 25 stance, the referring such a question to a Select Committee was the proper mode of dealing with it. There was no inquiry for the Committee to make with regard to facts. The House was already in possession of all that could be known on the subject. It had the oaths before it, and was as competent to decide upon their nature and effect without the intervention of a Committee, as it could be afterwards. The question, therefore, was one which, in all reason, ought to be decided by the whole House; that was the only way in which it could be satisfactorily and properly decided. Having made this objection to the Motion in point of form, he should not, as he had said, follow the hon. and learned Gentleman through his arguments, because if the hon. and learned Gentleman had paid any attention (which, perhaps, he had not) to the opinions declared by those with whom he acted, he would know, that as to the question of these particular oaths, they had never laid any great stress upon their value as a security; but the House must recollect, that at the time when the Catholic question was discussed, objections were made, not merely by Members of that House, but by numerous bodies out of doors, to the removal of all securities; and it was considered necessary to the carrying of that question, that such concessions should be made to the popular feeling on this point, as would be compatible with the free exercise of the Roman Catholic religion and full liberty of conscience. That took place five years ago, and the question which he should submit was, whether it would be prudent, at that time, to discuss the subject, with a view to the removal of what had, at least, been considered a great safeguard at the time of the passing of the Catholic Relief Bill. At the same time that he said this, he must confess, that he agreed in a great measure with what the hon. and learned Gentleman had said with respect to oaths. He knew that there were many who differed from him upon this subject. He had great difficulty in entering into their feelings, but he thought, that at a time so little remote from the period when that compact was made, it world be unwise to open the question again. He repeated, however, that in a great deal of what had fallen from the hon. and learned Gentleman he coincided. The oaths were intended not to 26 interfere with the privileges of those Catholics who should be sent to that House. As to the construction which the hon. and learned Gentleman said some persons put upon the Catholic Oath, it had been so completely disavowed by the House on a former occasion, that no Roman Catholic Member need feel any scruple of conscience at what had been intended by the oath. This being the view which he took of the question, he thought it would be better for the hon. and learned Gentleman to propose a Bill explaining the view which he took of the Act, and what ought to be the construction of the oath. He believed the House would be inclined to concur in his opinion, that it would not be prudent now to enter into the question. It did not appear to him that there was any great practical grievance to be complained of. He agreed with the hon. and learned Gentleman, that the oath taken by the Protestant Members was a greater grievance to them than the Catholic Oath to the Catholics; but he did not think there was reason to complain of any great practical grievance on either side. He had only to repeat, in conclusion, that knowing the feelings of a great number of persons in this country, he doubted the propriety of opening up the question.
§ Mr. Langdale
concurred with the hon. and learned member for Dublin that upon the words of the oath some difficulty and doubt did arise. When that was the case, the only course to be pursued was, to see what interpretation was put upon oaths of a similar character. Were there any oaths of a similar character to those in question? The first to which he should allude was the oath taken by the King himself. Different opinions prevailed as to the construction and effect of that oath; and he well remembered the hon. Baronet, the member for the University of Oxford, positively stating, when the Bill for the reform of the Irish Church was introduced last year, that it was incompatible with the King's oath to sanction such a measure. Now, in what more direct terms were the Catholic Members called upon to speak than those employed in the King's oath? His Majesty was asked by the Archbishop, "Will you preserve to the bishops and clergy of the Established Faith the churches committed to their care, with all the rights and privileges which do or shall appertain to them?" and he an- 27 swered, "I will." The same latitude of interpretation must be allowed to the Catholic Oath as to that taken by the King. There was another oath framed a short time before the Catholic Oath. When the Test and Corporation Acts were done away with, an oath was provided to be taken by all his Majesty's subjects upon entering office. The Ministers of the Crown were bound by exactly the same oath as the Catholics in Parliament. The Catholic Oath was, as nearly as possible, word for word the same as the oath taken by the Ministers of the Crown; and did any man mean to state that that oath prevented the Ministers of the Crown from giving the King such advice as they thought would be for the benefit of the country. The oath taken by the King's Ministers was, that they would not exercise any power, authority, or influence, which they possessed by virtue of their office, to injure or weaken the Protestant Church, or to disturb the bishops and clergy of that Church in the possession of their rights and privileges. These were nearly the very words used in the Catholic Oath. No man could suppose that, in introducing the Church Reform Bill which they had brought in last year, the Ministers of the Crown had acted in contradiction of that oath. At the same time he agreed with the hon. and learned member for Dublin, that it was most desirable this question should be settled. He and the other Catholic Members stood in a most painful position, because it was in the power of any man to insinuate that they were regardless of the obligations of their oath. It was therefore only an act of justice to clear up the point one way or another. For his own part, he would never condescend to sit in that House if he were not to enjoy the same privileges as his fellow-subjects. He would not consent to hold his scat there under pretence of being a legislator, but without power to legislate; or to be marked with a stigma, as belonging to an inferior class. In that case the Catholic Members would have been sent to that House under a false presumption, for their constituents supposed that they were to have the same powers as the Protestant Members. He should be happy to concur in any course which would most speedily and satisfactorily settle the question.
§ Sir Robert Peel
said, he concurred with 28 the noble Lord in the opinion he had expressed, that, if it were advisable that this question should be taken into consideration at all, it ought not to be referred to a Select Committee. It was a matter upon which the House of Commons ought itself to decide. It belonged to the House and not to a Select Committee to regulate the qualifications and conditions upon which a Member should hold his seat. He did not concur with the noble Lord, when he said that this objection was one of form. It was more than a question of mere form; it was a question of principle. The noble Lord had justly said, that the House had before it the oaths taken both by Protestant and Catholic Members. There was, therefore, no necessity for further inquiry through the medium of a Committee, and he for one would not consent to devolve upon a Committee the duty of deciding whether those oaths should or should not be taken. He would not allow a Committee, by such a decision, to prejudice the future consideration of the question by the House. It was quite clear that, if the subject was to be considered at all, it ought to be by bringing in a Bill to alter the oaths, and it was of great importance not to confound the provinces of Committees and of the House, because their operations would be impeded, and their usefulness impaired, if they were so confounded. With regard to the proposal for a Committee of Inquiry, he thought that the argument of the noble Lord was quite conclusive against it. But, in addition to that argument, the hon. and learned member for Dublin had also afforded him another. The hon. and learned Member had said, that if that Committee were to put a certain construction upon the words of the Catholic Oath, he should feel himself bound in conscience to vacate his seat. The moment the hon. and learned Gentleman allowed that sentence to escape his lips, he felt that the hon. Member had furnished the House with an irresistible argument against his own proposition. If a Committee were to have power to express an opinion which should compel a member to vacate his seat, the House ought not to consent to the appointment of such a Committee. It ought, if his expression of an opinion were unavoidable, to express it on the authority of the whole House to appoint it, especially when the 29 House was at least as competent as any Committee which it might appoint to form a decision upon the subject? Independently, however, of these considerations, he regretted exceedingly that this question had been agitated at all. He thought that if it could have been foreseen by the people of England in the year 1829, that, within the short space of five years, from the passing of the act which removed from the Roman Catholics every civil disability under which they laboured, an attempt would be made to repeal the oaths which were devised as securities by the framers of that Act, and that such an attempt would be made by a Roman Catholic member of so much weight and influence with his fellow-Catholics as the hon. and learned member for Dublin, the difficulties which attended the passing of that act of relief, would have been greatly, perhaps, insuperably increased. He did not mean to contend that there had been any formal compact made with the Catholic body for the maintenance of the existing oaths, but there had been a compact which, although tacit, was well understood both by Catholics and Protestants, and which ought to be morally conclusive. Nothing could be more unwise, after the people of England had been prevailed on to forego their deep-rooted impressions on this subject, and after the House of Lords, which had repeatedly placed on record its objections to any measure of Catholic relief, had been prevailed on to relinquish its opposition to it—after both the people of England and the Mouse of Lords had considered these oaths to be valid securities against the dangers which they apprehended, or, if not valid securities, to be at least the best that could be devised, nothing could be more unwise, nothing more calculated to check all liberal concessions in future, than the proposition of the hon. and learned Gentleman to set aside the conditions on which the disabilities had been removed. From the manner in which the hon. and learned Gentleman had argued respecting the Roman Catholic oath, a stranger would infer that it was an oath recently devised, required from the Roman Catholics now for the first time, that it was an oath which, if not grating to their consciences, was certainly revolting to their feelings. But the House surely was aware that this oath was not imposed for the first time on our Roman Catholic fellow-subjects by the Relief Bill. 30 At the period of introducing the Relief Bill no one had been more desirous than himself to exclude from the oath every declaration or disclaimer that could be either grating or insulting to his Catholic countrymen. He had met with considerable difficulty in carrying the oath so cautiously and so guardedly worded through that House; but he had been fortunate enough to overcome that difficulty, and so had been enabled to exclude from that oath every thing which could be construed to imply in point of civil worth inferiority on the part of the Roman Catholics. Was not the hon. and learned Member aware, that, under an act passed by the Irish Parliament, in 1793, he was required to abjure on oath many principles and doctrines imputed to the Roman Catholics, and that he could not have been called to the bar without so abjuring them? Let the House compare the oath prescribed by the Act of 1793 with that prescribed by the Act of 1829, and it would see how much less reason the Roman Catholics had to complain of the latter oath than of the former. It was insulting to the feelings of the hon. and learned Member, he said, that he should be called upon to declare, that "he made the declaration and every part of it in the plain and ordinary sense of the words of the oath, without any evasion, equivocation, or mental reservation whatever!" If the Roman Catholic had been then, for the first time, or if he specially had been required to make this declaration, he might, perhaps, have reason to complain; but, in the Oath of Abjuration, the Protestant was called upon to make the same declaration, for he was called upon to declare that "all these things he did plainly and sincerely acknowledge, and swear according to the express words by him spoken, and according to the plain sense and understanding of the same words, without any equivocation, mental evasion, or secret reservation whatsoever." If, then, there were any disparagement to the party who took the Catholic Oath, there was, at any rate, the same disparagement to the party who took the Protestant Oath. The hon. and learned Member had then entered into considerable details, into which he did not intend to follow him. The hon. and learned Gentleman had told the House, that he did not clearly understand what was meant by the terms "Protestant religion, and Protestant Government, 31 as by law established." Now, again, if those terms had been introduced for the first time into the act of 1829, there might have been some foundation for the remark; but what was the oath which the hon. and learned Gentleman had himself taken, in common with every other Irish barrister, in order to exempt himself from the operation of the penal laws? These were the words of the oath, prescribed by the statute of 1793. [The right hon. Baronet read the oath, from which it appeared that the Roman Catholics were called upon to swear, that "they would not exercise any privilege which they might derive from their situation to disturb and weaken the Protestant religion, and the Protestant Government as by law established within these realms."] Every Roman Catholic now at the bar had taken that oath; and he was very much mistaken, if that oath had not been drawn up with the privity and consent of the Roman Catholics themselves. Every word in that oath had been carefully and maturely considered, and Catholic lawyers and Catholic divines, had both certified that there was nothing in it repugnant to the faith, or revolting to the feelings of Roman Catholics. As the Roman Catholic Bill was not passed with undue precipitation, as it was under discussion for several weeks, would it not have been more just if the hon. and learned Gentleman had stated his objections to this oath before the measure of relief was passed? The language perpetually used by the most zealous and powerful advocates of emancipation, by Mr. Grattan, by Mr. Canning, and by Lord Castlereagh, was to this effect:—"Tell us the dangers which you anticipate from Catholic emancipation; tell us the securities which you want against those dangers, and we will obtain satisfaction for you from the Catholic body?" Why, if the grievance was now felt to be so afflicting, was it not stated at the time? But the grievance was not afflicting, and if no Roman Catholic had hitherto refused to accept a seat on account of the difficulties with which this oath incumbered him, was it wise in the Roman Catholic,—was it just to the Protestants of the empire,—to attempt to disturb a settlement which both parties had agreed to consider as final? He considered the Motion to be in every point of view, most impolitic. He did not wish to introduce any acrimony 32 into this discussion—he was always anxious to avoid anything like personality; but he could not help recalling to the recollection of the House that when the hon. and learned Gentleman was returned in 1829 for the county of Clare. He appeared at the Bar of that House, and said in distinct terms, "Let me take the oath provided in the Catholic Relief Bill." The following were the words used by the hon. and learned Member:—"Mr. O'Connell then proceeded to address the House. He said, he thought he could not be accused of affectation, when he stated that he was very ignorant of the forms of that House, and therefore he required the kind indulgence of the House if he should happen to violate them. He said, he was there to claim his right to sit and vote in the House as the Representative of the county of Clare, without taking the Oath of Supremacy. He was ready to take the Oath of Allegiance provided by the recent statute, entitled 'An Act for the relief of his Majesty's Roman Catholic subjects. He was desirous to have that oath administered to him, and, of course, must be prepared to verify his qualification in point of property; and whether the House should be of opinion that he ought to be permitted to take the new oath or not, he respectfully required to be allowed to take the qualification oath. If he was allowed to take that oath, be it then at his hazard to sit and vote in the House. If he were allowed only to take that oath, he was content to run the risk of sitting in the House."* It was clear, then, from this extract, that the hon. and learned Gentleman had not at that time any objections to urge against the oath, for if he had entertained such objections, he could not have been "ready" and "desirous" to take it. If he did entertain such objections at that time, why had he not stated them? Why had he not brought them under the consideration of Parliament, in order to obtain a modification of them? Considering the reasons which had induced that House, and still more the other House of Parliament, to accede to the great measure of relief in 1829, he looked upon it as a most unfortunate circumstance, that difficulties should now be found in the securities which no one dreamt of while the Bill was under dis-* Hansard (new series), xxi, p. 1401.33 cussion. With respect to the Oath of Supremacy taken by Protestants, denying to any foreign prince, prelate, or potentate, ecclesiastical authority within this realm, the hon. and learned Gentleman must be well aware that the purport of that oath had been the subject of much controversy. He must also be aware, that there was a period in the history of this country, when Roman Catholics themselves did not object to take that oath. They did not, of course, thereby mean to deny to the Pope a purely spiritual authority over those who were willing to recognize it. All that they disclaimed, was, an authority sanctioned by law, a power to enforce any ecclesiastic jurisdiction or claim of superiority, but construed the oath to mean the negation of any power in the Pope to enforce his wishes by legal process. He was unwilling to involve the House in any theological controversy; but he rested his objection to this discussion, partly on the grounds of feeling, and partly on principle. Considering that no practical grievance had arisen from this oath,—recollecting all that passed in 1829, when so many persons were reconciled to Catholic emancipation, under the impression that these oaths gave to the state some degree of security—and fearing that now to break faith with them would have the effect of checking all disposition in future to liberal concession, he must resist the disturbance of a settlement solemnly made only five years back.
§ Dr. Lushington
did not rise to enter into any discussion as to the best form in which the question might be brought on, but to state his opinion that no oath whatever ought to be required from any Member of that House. He had never yet been able to discover that the administering of oaths had been attended with benefit. On referring to the transactions of past times, however apparently solemn the obligation of oaths might have been made, whenever an inducement sufficiently strong occurred, and the circumstances of the time were favourable, there had been no hesitation in violating the oaths, or in depriving the persons who imposed them of whatever security they expected to derive from them. He had many other reasons to advance against the existing system. In the first place, whatever might have been the case with an unreformed Parliament, he was opposed to any restrictions upon the free choice of the people of England in a Re- 34 formed Parliament. The people were competent to select persons to guard their interests, without requiring any additional guard provided by Parliament. They would now select those individuals whose political principles, or known character; and the esteem which the manner in which they had discharged all the duties of life had gained for them from their fellow-countrymen, were sufficient guarantees of their fitness to be intrusted with the great duty of legislating for the kingdom, without having oaths imposed upon them. There was no reason why a man should come fettered in that House upon any subject whatever. Be he Protestant, Dissenter, or Roman Catholic, there was no reason why his lips should be sealed up—why he should be precluded from openly and fearlessly declaring the truth. Why seek to suppress that? Why bar free discussion? If they had confidence in their principles both of Church and State, what reason was there to shut out the light of full and free inquiry? The right hon. Baronet said, that in 1829, when the Roman Catholic Relief Bill passed, a sort of understood compromise was entered into with the people, that certain oaths should be taken by Roman Catholics on their admission to that House. He remembered well what occurred upon that occasion. They who uniformly advocated the emancipation of the Roman Catholics were told, "Be content with what is offered to you; do not oppose the securities proposed, or you risk the success of the measure." He recollected with bitter, with, he might say, deeply-wounded, feelings the treatment of the forty-shilling freeholders of Ireland,—how shamefully they were sacrificed to pitiful jealousy, merely for doing their duty to their God and their conscience. Under such circumstances, he and those with whom he acted abstained from pressing many points. The times were greatly changed since then. Sentiments might now be freely expressed and opinions advanced with some chance of success which would not then be listened to. The light of truth and the voice of freedom had gone forth, and their guidance must now be followed. These oaths were framed with a leaning to one set of men in some points, and with the view of conciliating the prejudices of another set in other points. It was most unwise and inexpedient to retain oaths that admitted of diversified interpretation, which some might take in one sense, 35 and some in another. Was this the sort of example they should set to the people of England? Was this the way to gain respect to the solemnities and sanctity of an oath? Nothing tended more to desecrate the sanctity of an oath, and to render it almost contemptible, than the manner in which a sort of systematic swearing pervaded the whole of their institutions. It contributed much to endanger both life and property. A man's fitness for place should rest upon his known honour, integrity, and character, and not to be made dependent upon oaths. More had been done during the last five years for the improvement of the state of society and towards the removal of erroneous opinions than for the previous twenty-five years. The sooner, then, they got rid of such oaths as were now enforced in many cases the better, and by such a course the more likely would they be to retain the good opinion of the people. From the increased influence of the people of England, from their great intelligence and extended knowledge, he had no hesitation in saying, that at the present time he was the wisest statesman who was the most bold and courageous in his course. He was the wisest statesman who feared not the progress of knowledge or the improvement that was daily taking place around him—he who, influenced by the undeviating principles of truth anti justice, made inquiries into those subjects which he considered for the benefit of society, and who made up his mind to bring forward remedial measures, that would sweep away the folly and ignorance that they saw around them. The statesman that commenced as he ought, and considered that nothing had been done whilst anything remained to be done, would obtain the confidence and support of the people of England. These were his honest opinions, and he trusted that ere long they would generally prevail in the reformed House of Commons. With respect to the proposition before the House, he must say with his noble friend, that the best plan was to agitate it in the House itself.
§ Sir Robert Inglis
felt surprised at what had fallen from the hon. and learned member for Dublin, but he was still more surprised at the speech that had been delivered by the hon. and learned Judge who had just sat down. His hon. and learned friend had talked of sweeping away the folly and ignorance of past ages. To 36 hear the hon. and learned Judge say this—recollecting the man who had preceded him in office within the last five-and twenty years,—to hear this from the hon. and learned Judge, knowing what he was, and knowing he would allow him to say, without any compliment, how deeply, sincerely, and conscientiously his hon. and learned friend felt on all occasions in this House, had been matter of greater surprise to him even then the observations of the hon. and learned member for Dublin. The hon. and learned Gentleman expressed a contemptuous disregard for all who had gone before him. It was not by a contemptuous disregard (on the part of his predecessors) of those who went before them, that the character of that very Court, or of the profession to which the hon. and learned Gentleman belonged, attained its present eminence; nor had it been by any such disregard of practice, principles, or precedents, that the House of Commons had attained its present position with the nation:—it had become great by consistently following principles; it was in practice, by changing only gradually, and of necessity—because change in itself was not beneficial—that the institutions of this country had become what they were. Even by retaining, in many instances, quiet error, rather than unruly truth (speaking only of practical policy) a nation might secure the substantial ends of Government. He was not surprised that the maxim which he had just quoted had not been received by the House with the favour which it deserved, because they had not recognised it as a maxim—not of his, but of one who was immeasurably superior to him—who established the principle, that, in practical politics, it was often better to retain quiet error, than admit unruly truth. He would not detain the House on that part of the subject, but would at once go to the question more immediately before the House. It was distinctly understood, when the measure for admitting the Roman Catholics to sit in Parliament—the passing of which he should never cease to deplore—was under discussion, that the Catholics were not to vote on any subject involving the interests of the Church. He had never, in that House nor out of it, nor since, nor previous to any Roman Catholic having taken a seat in that House, admitted, that the Roman Catholic who took the oath at the Table was at 37 liberty to interfere with any measure touching the temporalities of the Church. By that opinion he was prepared to stand or fall. The hon. and learned member for Dublin might interfere where he had the power, but in that House he at once and distinctly told the hon. and learned Member, that he was bound by the oath he had taken not to interfere with the Church. He was a Member of that House when the measure was passed under which the Roman Catholics were enabled to sit in Parliament; and he would tell the hon. and learned Member,—he was bound to tell him,—if the animus imponentis of the Parliament which passed the Relief Bill were to be regarded, that the hon. and learned Member was entirely precluded from interfering with the temporalities of the Church, after the oath he had taken. The words were:—'I do solemnly swear, that I will preserve, to the utmost of my power the settlement of property within this realm, us established by law:—And I do hereby disclaim; disavow, and solemnly abjure, any intention to subvert the present Church Establishment, as settled by law within this realm:—And I do solemnly swear, that I never will exercise any privilege which I am, or may become, entitled to, to disturb or weaken the Protestant religion, or Protestant Government, in the United Kingdom.' [Mr. O'Connell: Hear! hear!] if the hon. and learned Member who was cheering him said, that the meaning of that oath was, that he would support, or rather would not subvert, anything which might be by law hereafter established, (he, himself; not concurring in such measure so as to change anything which now is) he did not, so far, deny that the hon. and learned Member was right. He did not require him to do more than support what he found established by law; but he did hold the hon. and learned Member bound, by the terms of his oath, not to concur in any measure which had for its object the effecting of any change in property which was established by law when he took that oath. The hon. and learned Gentleman asked, what was meant by a Protestant Government? Grieving, as he should never cease to grieve, at the measure which had placed the hon. and learned Member in that. House, he felt, that so long as the hon. and learned Member and those who 38 agreed with him in religious opinions, took—as they were bound to take—that oath, he regarded it, pro tanto, as a security for his Church. So long as the hon. and learned Member did that, and so long as such a protection as the Coronation Oath was afforded to the Protestant Establishment of the country,—so long as the House claimed that oath to guard the National Church,—his answer would be, that the present was a Protestant Government—that the King was essentially Protestant. He would not confine himself to the Executive; but the King had stated, that he would maintain the Protestant religion, and upon that he would rely, and enter his strongest protest upon what had been advanced to the contrary in the House that evening. It had been said, that, after so much had been conceded, and after Catholics had been allowed to take their seats in that House, that it was unnecessary to retain the present oaths. He, however, would reply, that, granting that one security had been removed, that was no reason why another should be removed. The hon. and learned Gentleman asked, why abjure any princes of the house of Stuart? The answer was so obvious, that it could not have escaped the hon. and learned Gentleman. It was this:—they did not abjure allegiance to any living prince of that House (since there was no prince living to claim it), but they denied the right of the Stuarts, at any time since the Revolution, to have reigned in England. If they did not so renounce the legal rights of the descendants of James 2nd, they should virtually give their sanction to their claims respectively, and might allow a question to be raised in respect to their acts in the intermediate time. By the oath they declared, not merely that those princes had no right to the Throne of England, but they refused to recognise any transfer of property, any grant of any rights by them, and, generally, any of the acts of those who claimed this Throne since the Revolution. With respect to the reference which the hon. and learned Gentleman made to the House of Lords in the first Parliament of Queen Elizabeth, he was rather surprised that the hon. and learned Gentleman could have asserted that the majority were Roman Catholics; for there were not more than twenty lay Peers sitting in the House of 39 Lords at that time, above the number of Bishops. There was one part of the speech of the hon. and learned Gentleman which he would venture to say, surprised every individual in the House, whether he were Roman Catholic or Protestant. The hon. and learned Gentleman asked what was the privilege of sitting in Parliament? Was it for that which the hon. and learned Gentleman now regarded as no privilege, which he repudiated and trampled under his feet in scorn,—was it for that, that those who felt deeply upon the subject in opposition to the hon. and learned Gentleman, acceded to his claims, and the claims of those who thought with him? and was the hon. and learned Gentleman now to turn round upon the House and say, that, in so doing, they only conceded that which was a proper subject for his scorn, and fit matter for his contempt? Was that the return which the hon. and learned Gentleman made to those who, at the sacrifice of their own feelings, consented to admit him into the House? The argument of the hon. and learned Gentleman was virtually directed against all oaths. To that argument he gave a more decided negative than was given to it by the noble Lord; believing, as he did, that, without oaths—without a solemn appeal to God—as the history of past times fully proved, there could be no stability or security for any system of society. He could not refrain from saying here, that he felt considerable surprise at one of the statements of the learned Judge. The hon. and learned Judge opposite said, that he regretted that the practice of oath-taking prevailed to an iniquitous extent in England; and that, in many instances, oaths were but mere matters of form; and the persons who took them had no regard to the truth of what they swore. Coming, as these observations did, from his hon. and learned friend, they might almost be considered as coming from the judgment scat. These remarks had given him great pain. Was his hon. and learned friend prepared to get rid of all oaths in the country? Was he prepared to look forward to a state of society in which the sanction of an oath was not considered binding? The declaration that had been made by his hon. and learned friend had nothing directly to do with the subject before the House. He, therefore, hoped that it was merely a 40 careless expression. In conclusion, he must state, that he should vote with the noble Lord, and give his strenuous opposition to the Motion of the hon. and learned member for Dublin.
§ Dr. Lushington
explained: He never intended to recommend the abolition of oaths of all descriptions. He merely meant to protest against the unnecessary administration of oaths in that House, and in the country, the practice of which tended to destroy their effect when administered in Courts of Justice.
Mr. Secretary Stanley
concurred entirely in the opinion just laid down by his hon. and learned friend (Dr. Lushington); and was glad that his hon. and learned friend had risen to give an explanation. He agreed that, in the multitude and unnecessary multiplication of oaths, there was the greatest danger that a strict observance of those oaths would not be regarded, by which means the strong and general impression as to the security of the obligation of an oath would be diminished. He felt bound to say, however, that he certainly thought that one observation of his hon. and learned friend justified the impression, that he was against the administration of oaths altogether. His hon. and learned friend said, that the doctrines which he had that night advanced would not have been tolerated in an unreformed House of Commons. He wished that some of the doctrines which had been laid down by his hon. and learned friend might never be tolerated or supported in any House of Commons. He (Mr. Stanley) had ever given his cordial and earnest assent to the measures of relief to the Catholics and the Dissenters, which he considered of the greatest importance. He had supported two measures, to which, ever since he had taken part in political transactions, he had considered himself bound and pledged, not by previously-declared opinions; but he felt himself bound by the dictates of his own feelings, and by the convictions of his mind, to get rid of all impositions and checks on the civil rights of those who dissented from the doctrines of the Church of England. Another great measure, to which he considered himself pledged, was one by which the people of England would have the power of checking and influencing the proceedings of the House of Commons. He rejoiced that 41 measures for the attainment of these great objects had received the sanction of the Legislature: and by supporting them he did not consider that he was bound to give up any security to the Established Church of England. Nor did he believe for one moment that, by doing so, the Members of that House were abjuring the bond to support the Protestant Government of the country, on the one hand, or binding themselves to be the slaves of popular caprice on the other. His hon. and learned friend behind him said, that the last five years had seen a wonderful advance in popular feeling upon this subject; and, indeed, it might be his (Mr. Stanley's) misfortune to be left behind by the popular feeling, in consequence of entertaining such opinions as he had then expressed; but he would only observe that, from the first time he had supported the claims of the Roman Catholics to sit in Parliament, he had not changed his political creed, nor his political principles. His views ever were to support the established religion of the Church of England—but at the same time to remove all those restrictions which might be deemed offensive to the feelings or consciences of those dissenting from the Church, and, still more, all restrictions which had been imposed on the civil rights of every class of his Majesty's subjects. Those opinions he had hitherto held, and those opinions he should continue to hold notwithstanding he might be passed, by bolder statesmen and left far behind by his hon. and learned friend, who laid it down as a maxim that he was the wisest statesman who was the boldest statesman; and by the latter expression his hon. and learned friend did not mean he who faithfully and cautiously watched over the best interests of the country and relied upon the sound and strong sense of the people of England; but he was the bold statesman, and therefore, the wiser statesman, who put himself at the head of every show of political agitation and excitement, and taking the lead in every clamour, with a view to quiet public opinion, and, above all, to consider that nothing had been done whilst anything remained to be gained. Such was the bold and therefore wise statesman of his hon. and learned friend. He admitted that a statesman pursuing such a course would be a bold statesman, but he must take the liberty of doubting his wisdom. His hon. and learned friend said, he would 42 run before the popular voice. He would like to know how long his hon. and learned friend would be able to keep a head of it with anything like reason, and with satisfaction to him. Until some wiser politician arose—until some one entertaining more extreme opinions was found—until some man arose who was able to keep himself at the head of the political excitement of the day. Thus, then, the wisest statesman would continue his influence, and would endeavour to lead the public with him. His hon. and learned friend said, that he who went the farthest in yielding to the popular voice pursued the safest course. He (Mr. Stanley) had perfect reliance on the good sense of the people of England; he had confidence in the intelligence and integrity of the country; and it was his firm conviction, that as much public confidence was to be obtained and maintained by opposing steadily and consistently the political clamour of the day, as by following or yielding to public excitement and agitation. He therefore said, that he was the wisest statesman who followed, not the bold course, as it had been called, but who looked to the reflecting reason and the sound sense of the country, not to be influenced by idle clamour, but prepared to meet plausible objections on the one hand and disaffection on the other, but prepared to abide by and defend those opinions and doctrines he sincerely entertained. And not only would such a man be the wisest statesman, but also the most popular statesman in the only sense that popularity was worth obtaining. His hon. friend opposite (Sir R. Inglis) went too far on the other side of the question. His hon. friend was for supporting quiet and mild measures, and he objected to yielding at all to popular or political feelings. There was no one who could entertain a higher regard than he did for his hon. friend, from whom he so often differed on political questions. He was well aware of the mildness and quietness of his hon. friend's disposition, both in public and private, and he knew no one for whom be entertained greater respect; but if there was any point in his character with which he found fault, it was that of his toleration of error for the sake of quiet. It was his firm conviction that a statesman, when satisfied of the truth and justice of a political course, should follow it out firmly, sincerely, and conscientiously—that he should follow out those principles of the 43 truth of which he was convinced, without regard to conflicting circumstances, which might for a time debar his progress in the course he was pursuing, and without regard to the misrepresentations to which he might be exposed. With respect to the importance of upholding the sanctity of an oath, no one could entertain stronger opinions than himself. He did not allude to taking an oath without having any regard to words, or to the obligation imposed, and when the terms of the oath were mere sound without sense, but to a sacred and solemn obligation. He had had some experience as to the manner in which oaths were occasionally administered. Indeed no man could have been present at a contested election without having seen many instances of the gross violation of oaths. On that point he would mention to the House a circumstance that occurred to himself some years ago. He was appointed one of the Commissioners to see that the oath on registering Roman Catholic freeholders was properly administered, and that perjury was not committed. At that time twelve men came up to be registered; they were all ready to swear that they had all the same home, that they were of the same profession, resided in the same house, in the same street, and claimed the right of voting on the same ground. He need not say, that he saw such a proceeding with horror and surprise; and it had, more than anything else, confirmed him in the opinion that it was the duty of the Legislature to get rid of all unnecessary oaths. With respect to the oaths which it had been proposed that night to abolish, he would in the first place observe, that he did take the same view of them as his hon. and learned friend, who said, that he sacrificed his conscientious opinions and feelings when he assented to their being introduced into the Catholic Relief Bill. Now he regarded those oaths as concessions made to those who felt more strongly than he did on the subject. He recollected that his right hon. friend the present Governor of Ceylon, proposed in the Committee on the Roman Catholic Relief Bill, that Catholics should be prevented voting in any matters connected with the established religion of the country. That proposition was rejected by the House; and it was not considered that there was any danger in allowing Roman Catholics to vote in any matters, supported as the Church was by the feel- 44 ings, the opinions, and the affections of the great body of the people of England. It could not now be supposed that the people of England were indifferent to the question, aye or no; but still he must say he regretted exceedingly that such a question had been introduced, believing as he did, that it was calculated to raise a cry which once raised, must convulse the country from one end to the other. He did not know why the hon. Members opposite should object to his stating his deliberate opinion, that if any sound reason were furnished for such a cry the whole country would rise up en masse upon the subject. It was the bounden duty of a wise and prudent Government to suppress the agitation of all questions that might lead to raise up religious differences among the people, that could in any way excite Protestant jealousy, or that was at all calculated to cause disunion between Protestants and Roman Catholics, whom he desired to see placed upon an equal and proper footing. He himself had the honour of representing a large county in this country, and he believed that at least one-half the landed property of that country was at the present moment in the possession of persons of the Roman Catholic persuasion. He knew that every Roman Catholic in that county supported him at the last election; and he was not the least afraid of losing the support of that large, opulent, and respectable body of voters on any future occasion by strenuously upholding the Protestant religion and the Protestant Government of this country. He stated, without the least desire to give offence to any party, without being influenced by religious feelings—for he did not consider this to be a religious question but rather a question of political prudence, that it was his fixed and unalterable determination to support the Protestant Establishment both in Church and State, and to resist any attempt that might be made to endanger it, no matter whether by Roman Catholics, or by any other class or denomination of persons. As far as the Roman Catholics residing in the county he had the honour to represent were concerned, he could assure the House that no intention or desire had ever been manifested on their part that could lead to an inference that they were hostile to the Protestant religion being the religion of the State. On the contrary, they had never shown the least disposition to shrink 45 from the full observance of either the spirit or the letter of this oath, and were as anxious as any other of his Majesty's subjects to preserve inviolate the rights of property as by law established in these realms, and to disclaim, disavow, and solemnly abjure any intention of subverting the Established Church as settled by law. It was his firm belief that it was not the wish of the Roman Catholics of this country that the Protestant religion or the Protestant Government of these kingdoms should be in any way disturbed; and he felt the strongest persuasion that those Roman Catholics who took this oath did so without any evasion, equivocation, or mental reservation whatsoever. Although he did not agree with the hon. Baronet opposite, that the Roman Catholic Members of that House had not a right freely to discuss questions relating to the temporalities of the Church, he yet conceived that they were bound in discussing questions relating to the Church, to remember the nature and solemnity of the oath which they had taken, and to abstain from doing anything the tendency of which would be to subvert the Church established by law; that was, to change the religion of the State, or destroy the union which subsisted between Church and State. The Protestant Establishment allowed those who dissented from it the freest and fullest exercise of their religious opinions; and, such being the case, those who entertained doubts or scruples with respect to this oath should state clearly and explicitly their objections to it, or the alterations which they would propose making in its form or substance, in order that the House might judge of the reasonableness of their desire, and see whether it would be prudent to effect any change in it. Those who imagined that its interpretation was either ambiguous or doubtful were bound to pursue this course. His hon. and learned friend on the bench behind him said, that he had objected to the abolition of the 40s. freeholders; but that he had advocated doing away with the oath. Now, although he (Mr. Stanley) supported Catholic Emancipation, he strenuously resisted the insertion of the clause in the Catholic Relief Bill which was directed against the hon. and learned member for Dublin. He had also objected to the disfranchisement of the 40s. freeholders, and approved of the plan for paying the Catholic clergy out of the public purse. 46 But, in giving his support to these three important measures, he was actuated only by a desire to do an act of political justice, which, in his conscience, he believed would tend to the ultimate benefit of the State. He would not, he was free to confess, wish to make any sacrifice of his own conscience, and, therefore, he should not like to impose upon others the taking of an oath which they might deem inconsistent with their sense of duty, or repugnant to their consciences. He was far from arguing that all the oaths prescribed to be taken were necessary; but as this oath was part of a solemn compact that was entered into to allay the fears of those who opposed Catholic emancipation, in spite of the unruly oaths that were pressed upon them, he must say, that they would not be justified in abolishing it without they had very good grounds for adopting such a course. For his part he could not agree to any alteration of the oaths now taken, and therefore he could not give his assent to the proposition of the hon. and learned member for Dublin for appointing a Select Committee upon a subject which the House was fully competent to judge of without any such inquiry having taken place. He repeated that the proper course to be pursued was, for those who objected to the oaths to state as minutely as they pleased the grounds of their objections, and then the House would be able to decide whether they should be abolished or amended.
§ Mr. Henry Lytton Bulwer
thought, that the arguments which the hon. and learned member for Dublin (Mr. O'Connell) had used, had not been fairly treated by the hon. Gentlemen who had spoken on the other side. It was, he might almost say, ridiculous to require persons to swear that, which, on all hands, was confessed to be either untrue or absurd. He should vote to have such oaths done away with.
§ Mr. Sheil
said, it was not a little remarkable, that the oath was so framed, as to leave the party taking it, to put his own construction on it. There was, however, some difference of opinion on the subject; but he contended, that the party taking it alone could determine how far it was obligatory, and how far it was not binding upon him. The right hon. Secretary for the Colonies differed from the hon. Baronet, the member for Oxford, in thinking that the Roman Ca- 47 tholic Members of the Legislature had no right to interfere in questions relating to the temporalities of the Church; but, although this right was conceded to them by the right hon. Secretary, he forgot to say at what point they should stop, or the limits to which their interference might go. How were they to know when they were to pause, or when they were to go on?
Mr. Secretary Stanley:
What he had stated was, that when any question relating to the temporalities of the Church was brought forward, the conduct of the Roman Catholic Gentlemen should be consistent with the oath they had taken to abjure all intention of subverting the Protestant Church as by law established.
Mr. Secretary Stanley:
The words of the oath clearly fixed the interpretation that ought to be given to it. The party taking it, swore that he abjured all intention of subverting the Protestant Church as by law established.
§ Mr. Sheil:
The view which the right hon. Secretary had taken of the terms of the oath was a very narrow one. He must complain of the interruptions which he had already experienced; and said, that the right hon. Secretary had acted, in the present instance, with a species of courtesy and urbanity, which not unfrequently distinguished him, and for which he (Mr. Shed) supposed he was bound to say, he felt grateful and obliged. He denied, that there was any means of ascertaining which was the right or which was the wrong construction of the oath. There was a manifest distinction between the Protestant Religion or the Protestant Government and the temporalities annexed to the Established Church, and on this distinction it was, that Roman Catholics founded their right to interfere with the latter. It was not, however, from Roman Catholics that the right hon. Gentleman had most to apprehend for the safety of the Protestant Church. Without fear of contradiction, he could assert, that the Roman Catholics of Ireland had never expressed opinions so unfavourable to that Church, as those which were constantly expressed by Members of that House, and which were to be found in the numerous 48 petitions that poured in from all quarters against it. Let not the right hon. Gentleman be haunted by the horrid fancies with respect to Popery, when he had before his eyes the avowed hostility which the Dissenters had declared against the Church established by law. The hostility of the Dissenters was much more alarming, as far as regarded the safety of the Church, than that to be apprehended from the Roman Catholics. It was only that morning that an hon. and learned Civilian presented a petition from a body of Dissenters, stating the junction of Church and State to be at variance with the true principles of Christianity. The Roman Catholics never, at any time, used such strong language in speaking of the Church.
§ Mr. Methuen
said, that he had presented several petitions from bodies of Dissenters on the subject of the Established Church; but he denied, that any wish was expressed in them that the union between Church and State should be dissolved.
§ Mr. Methuen
said, that as no petition that he had presented contained such a prayer, the hon. and learned Gentleman's observations could not apply to the Dissenters from whom these petitions had come; and in their name, and on their behalf, he begged to disavow such sentiments.
§ Mr. Cobbett
had always been as friendly as he possibly could to the Roman Catholics, and because he was so, he regretted to see this Motion brought forward. The hon. and learned member for the Tower Hamlets (Dr. Lushington) was mistaken, if he believed that the people of England were insensible or indifferent upon this subject. Let there be an inquiry as to altering the oaths taken by Roman Catholic Members, and his opinion was, that the people of this country would be agitated from one end of the island to the other. The learned Doctor seemed to have changed his opinion on the subject of Roman Catholic oaths; for last year, in the debate on the Address, he called upon Roman Catholic Members to remember the oath which they had taken with respect to the 49 Established Church. Referring to a previous speech in the debate, the learned Doctor said, that, "The hon. and learned Member, (for Dublin) used one expression which struck particularly on his ear—he spoke of destroying the Protestant Church in Ireland. What did the hon. Member mean by that expression. Did he intend to adhere to it?" Then, an explanation being offered by the hon. Member, to the effect that, "when he spoke of interference with the Church, he meant only with its temporalities;" the learned Doctor said, that, "The explanation of the hon. Member was not more satisfactory than his original declaration. However anxious hon. Members might be to correct irregularities, and purify the Church, and no Member was more anxious than he (Dr. Lushington) to effect those objects, yet he had thought that every Member in that House was bound, by a solemn obligation, to uphold the Established Church. He had hoped that the oath taken by the Catholic Members on entering that House, made a deep impression on their minds."* But now the learned Doctor would dispense with oaths altogether. He deprecated any Committee, or the adoption of any measure on the subject, because he knew that the consequence would be, to agitate the people. In allusion to the explanation of the hon. Member opposite, on the subject of the Dissenters, he thought that the hon. Member must know, that numerous petitions had come from the Dissenters for admission into the Universities. To his surprise, Ministers appeared ready to concede the point. He did not say, that he objected to it—but all men knew, that James 2nd lost his Crown for attempting to put a Roman Catholic into Oxford; and now it was rather curious to find Ministers prepared to acquiesce in a measure of a like nature with one which caused James 2nd to be expelled from this country.
§ Mr. Cutlar Fergusson
referred to the measure of the right hon. member for Montgomeryshire, for doing away with the oaths taken before the Lord Steward, and expressed his objection to all unnecessary oaths, as tending to bring those obligations into contempt. He particularly objected to the Oath of Supremacy, and the Oath of Abjuration, which latter, Protestants were absurdly called upon to take, while Roman* Hansard, (third series) xv. p. 426.50 Catholics, to whom alone its provisions could apply, were absolved from it. If he could learn from the noble Lord (Althorp) that it was the intention of Ministers to take up this important question, he would decline to vote with the hon. and learned member for Dublin; but if he received no such intimation, he certainly would vote for a Committee. He strongly objected to the present multiplication of unnecessary oaths, and was quite ready to do away with all political oaths whatsoever, except the Oath of Allegiance.
§ Mr. O'Dwyer
thought, that the conduct of the Roman Catholic Members of that House had justly entitled them to call for the abolition of this oath. He thought it expedient that the question should be set at rest. He was willing to concur in a declaratory resolution which should relieve Roman Catholic Members from the imputation (however courteously expressed) of forgetting the obligations imposed upon them by their oaths. He should, of course, vote for granting the Committee.
§ Mr. Lambert
said, that it was preposterous for them to call on a man to swear that which their reason told them was absurd. Every oath should be clear and definite in its interpretation; but that was not the case in this instance. For his part he bore no ill-will to the Protestant Church, nor did he wish to see it subverted. On the contrary, so long as a State religion was necessary in the country he devoutly wished it to be Protestant. All he desired was, that the objectionable part of this oath should be erased from it, and he thought that if it were to run thus—"I do promise and swear to be faithful and bear true allegiance to his Majesty, and that I will uphold and support the constitution of the country as by law established"—it would not only be satisfactory, but answer all the purposes which could render an oath useful or desirable.
§ Mr. Andrew Johnston
was glad that the question of the oath was likely to be set at rest. At present such was the dubious state in which Roman Catholics were placed, that they were taunted with a construction of the oath inconsistent with their principles, when they voted on certain questions. For instance, on the subject of Irish Church temporalities, or any other subject connected with the Established Church, they were placed in a disagreeable and painful situation. He hoped, if the question could not be settled 51 now on account of an informality in the a manner in which it was brought forward, that the hon. and learned Member would I again bring it forward, before any of the questions to be mooted regarding the Church of England were brought before the House. Such were his feelings on this point, that if any motion such as that for the abolition of tithes, of which the hon. and learned Member had given notice, were brought forward before the question was settled, he would consider it his duty to move the previous question.
§ Mr. O'Reilly
expressed his regret that this question was mooted by any Catholic Member of this House, and he must protest against the arguments used by the hon. Gentleman who had just sat down. For his own part he had felt no hardship in taking the oath, and regretted to hear that there was a possibility of the cry of "No Popery" being again raised. He trusted, however, to the liberal feeling of Englishmen, to counteract any insidious attempt of the kind.
§ Mr. Philip Howard
thought the hon. and learned member for Dublin had exercised a very sound discretion in bringing the question before the House. When he compared the hon. and learned Member's definition of the obligations of the oath, with that of other Members professing the same religious faith, and when he saw good and honourable men of different religious principles, such as the hon. Baronet, the member for the University of Oxford, differing in their opinions as to the manner in which their consciences were bound by the oath, he found in those facts sufficient reason for believing that the sooner they were relieved from the oath the better. If the question had been put upon the ground of political expediency, he should have agreed with the right hon. Baronet, the member for Tamworth, that it had better not have been brought forward; but when it was declared to affect the sanctity of the obligations imposed by an oath, he thought it a ground winch demanded their attention. Belonging to one of those families which for centuries had been debarred by a very few words in an oath from the honour of a seat in that House, he thought that the oaths taken in the House ought not to be left subject to any doubt as to their strict meaning and force.
, in reply, said, he could not think that the mooting of this question could possibly excite any warmth of feeling, or probably any feeling at all, out of that House. He was not the person to whom the hon. and learned Member replied on the occasion referred to by the hon. member for Oldham. In reference to the statement of the right hon. member for Tamworth, to the effect that he made a speech at the Bar of the House in 1829, claiming to sit, and offering to take the oaths which he now wished to get rid of, he replied, that he not only offered to take the oath, but had taken it; but that since taking it, a controversy had arisen as to its meaning, which gave him uneasiness, from which he wished to be relieved by a distinct definition of the intent and meaning of the oath in one way or the other. The hon. Baronet, the member for the University of Oxford, had indulged in some self-gratulation at the alleged fulfilment of some prophecy of his as to the admission of Catholics into the House, and had candidly lamented that he saw him (Mr. O'Connell) there. He would not return the compliment; for as long as any question involving the principles of religious liberty, or any liberal and enlightened policy remained to be discussed, he desired no other adversary than the hon. Baronet. The hon. Baronet had thought it necessary to revive the whole question of the Coronation Oath, and the result of his argument upon it went to this, that the King had committed perjury. Now he was willing to be put in the same category of perjurers with his present Majesty and his deceased brother, and, if they had been guilty of perjury, certainly he had also. Neither had been guilty, or both. The speech of the right hon. Secretary, had treated the House to a speech the first part of which was eminently Conservative, and the last as highly theological. He had given them, however, a pretty good specimen of the necessity of some change in these matters by stating that he had witnessed the commission of perjury by eleven Roman Catholics; but according to his own account he, as a Magistrate, must have participated in the perjury by administering the oath.
Mr. Secretary Stanley
begged to ex- 53 plain, that he had done no such thing as what the hon. and learned Gentleman was attributing to him. In the case to which he had alluded, when the oath was to be administered, the book was put into the hands of all the party at once, when one of them pronounced the words, "I, John Smith, of No. 11, Church-street, &c." According to the oath so taken, there would have been twelve John Smiths, of No. 11, Church-street. Of course he, in administering the oath, did not pursue the course which the hon. and learned Gentleman had stated that he did, but immediately stopped the proceeding, and caused the oath to be properly administered.
said, it appeared, then, that there was no oath taken, and therefore no perjury in the case at all. The right hon. Gentleman, however, had admitted that a part of an Act of Parliament had been levelled at him (Mr. O'Connell) and he wished the right hon. Gentleman and the Government had not gone further, and that he had not also had a paragraph of a King's Speech levelled at him. He contended, however, that under this clause of the Act, all the Roman Catholics were made to swear was, that they would not subvert the Established Church. They did not swear to continue it. They did not swear to maintain tithes and oblations. Surely religion was not a thing of pounds, shillings, and pence, and it was the established religion which they were not to subvert. There were two churches in Ireland, one established by law, the other by the people. Would the Protestant be less an Established Church if deprived of its temporalities? Having the provisions of his oath before him, he would not have voted on the question whether there should be ten or twenty bishops—he would not have voted to abolish the order of bishops, or to alter the thirty-nine articles; but the Church Temporalities involved a different question. With regard, however, to temporal property given to them by an Act of Parliament, he felt himself as much at liberty to deal as any other Member of the Legislature. The noble Lord opposite had assumed that the appointment of a Committee upon this subject, might be open to objection in point of form, and therefore he (Mr. O'Connell) could not think that with propriety he could divide the House, though he begged it to be understood, that he by no means abandoned the question. It was a subject 54 which must be set at rest, and was not, as had been urged, a question of contract or compact, for none had been entered into; but, on the contrary, the right in this respect had ever been insisted upon. Though there had been three constructions put upon the oaths now prescribed to be taken, there was only one of them in which he could concur. He should persevere in bringing the subject before the House, with a view to ascertain whether the present oaths, religious oaths, taken in the House ought to be continued; and next, if they were, whether such a declaration could not be framed for the Protestant as well as Catholic, as would remove the existing feeling that hon. Members were required to swear to an absurdity. Under these circumstances he would beg leave to withdraw his Motion, and give notice that in Committee on the Bill of the hon. member for Lancashire, he should move a clause for removing all test oaths in that House as well as in other places. If he failed in that he should move a distinct resolution upon the subject.
§ The Motion was withdrawn.