HL Deb 20 April 1812 vol 22 cc452-63
The Earl of Donoughmore

.—My lords; although it would be obviously improper and unsuitable to the occasion, that I should now anticipate the interesting discussion for which the House had been summoned for to-morrow, it would. not be in my mind, less a failure of respect, to that most important class of his fellow-subjects, whose Petitions I am preparing to offer to your lordships' notice, if the person to whom they were committed, should satisfy himself, with throwing them on your lordship's table, unaccompanied by any observations on my part.

I shall therefore beg leave to observe, in the first place, that, next to the redress of their grievances, there is no feeling so strongly impressed on the minds of my Catholic countrymen, as that, whatever Petitions shall be presented to Parliament as theirs, should be framed in such a manner, as to remove the possibility of any doubt, whether or not they expressed the real feeling of that description of his Majesty's subjects.

Accordingly, such arrangements have been made, as have enabled me, to pledge myself to your lordships, from my own knowledge of the fact, that notwithstanding the interruptions which the Petitioners have experienced, the Petitions, with which I am myself charged, and those which will be presented to the House by other noble lords, previous to the discussion, contain the full and complete expression, of the undivided sentiment of all ray Catholic countrymen.

I shall next intreat your lordships' particular attention, to the subject matter of those Petitions, which will now be read at your lordships' table. In them your lordships will find the case of the Petitioners ably argued—the leading objections to their claims ably refuted—with all becoming deference to this House; and without forgetting that due respect, which the petitioners owe to their own important position in the state.

His lordship then presented the General Petition, which was read at the table as follows:

The HUMBLE PETITION of his Majesty's Subjects professing the Roman Catholic Religion in Ireland:

Humbly Sheweth,

That we, your Petitioners, beg leave most respectfully at this important conjuncture, to solicit the favourable attention of this honourable House to the peculiar condition of the Roman Catholics of Ireland, under the severe penal laws now in force against them.

If we appear to this honourable House to persevere, with more than common earnestness in our humble solicitations for the abrogation of these laws, and for a free admission to the blessings and benefits of the civil constitution of the country, we trust that our perseverance will be viewed, rather as a proof of our just title to the liberty which we seek, and of our sincerity in its pursuit, than as the result of any sentiment, hostile to the peace or true interests of this empire.

We should sincerely dread, lest our silence might be construed, by a faithful but a feeling people, as an indication of despair—and would not lightly abandon the pursuit of a laudable and most important object, strengthened as we are, by the concurring support of our generous and enlightened fellow-countrymen, as well as by the fullest approbation of our own conscientious feelings.

We beg leave humbly to state to this honourable House, that we have publicly and solemnly taken every oath of fidelity and allegiance, which the jealous caution of the legislature has, from lime to time, imposed as tests of our political and moral principles. And although we are still set apart (how wounding to every sentiment of honour!) as if unworthy of credit in these our sworn declarations, we can appeal confidently to the sacrifices, which we and our forefathers have long made, and which we still make (rather than violate conscience by taking oaths of a spiritual import contrary to our belief) as decisive proofs of our profound reverence for the sacred obligation of an oath.

By those awful tests we have bound ourselves, in the presence of the all-seeing Deity, whom all classes of Christians adore, to be faithful, and bear true allegiance to our most gracious sovereign lord king George the 3rd, and him to defend to the utmost of our power against all conspiracies and attempts whatsoever against his person, crown, or dignity; to use our utmost endeavours to disclose and make known to his Majesty, and his heirs, all treasons and traitorous conspiracies, which may be formed against him or them, and faithfully to maintain, support, and defend, to the utmost of our power, the succession to the crown in his Majesty's family, against all persons whomsoever—that by those oaths, we have renounced and abjured obedience and allegiance unto any other person, claiming or pretending a right to the crown of this realm; that we have rejected, as unchristian and impious to believe, the detestable doctrine, that it is lawful, in any ways, to injure any person or persons whomsoever, under pretence of their being heretics; and also that unchristian and impious principle, that no faith is to be kept with heretics; that it is no article of our faith, and we renounce, reject, and abjure the opinion, that princes excommunicated by the Pope and council, or by any authority whatsoever, may be deposed or murdered by their subjects, or by any person whatsoever.—That we do not believe that the Pope of Rome, or any other foreign prince, prelate, state, or potentate, hath, or ought to have, any temporal or civil jurisdiction, power, superiority, or pre-eminence within this realm.—That we firmly believe, that "0 act, in itself unjust, immoral, or wicked, can ever be justified or excused by, or under pretence or colour that it was done for the good of the Church, or in obedience to any ecclesiastical power whatsoever.—And that it is not an article of the Catholic faith, neither are we thereby required to believe or profess, that the Pope is infallible, or that we are bound to any order, in its own nature immoral, though the Pope, or any ecclesiastical power, should issue or direct such order; but that, on the contrary, we hold, that it would be sinful in us to pay any respect or obedience there to.—That we do not believe that any sin whatsoever, committed by us, can be forgiven at the mere will of any Pope, or of any priest, or of any person or persons whatsoever but that any person who receives absolution, without a sincere sorrow for such sin, and a firm and sincere resolution to avoid future guilt, and to alone to God, so far from obtaining thereby any remission of his sin, incurs the additional guilt of violating a sacrament.—And, by the same solemn obligations, we are bound and firmly pledged to defend, to the utmost of our power, the settlement and arrangement of properly in Ireland, as established by the laws now in being.—That we have declared, disavowed, and solemnly abjured, any intention to subvert the present Church establishment, for the purpose of substituting a Catholic establishment in its stead.

And we have solemnly sworn that we will not exercise any privilege, to which we are or may become entitled, to disturb and weaken the Protestant religion or Protestant government in Ireland."

We can with perfect truth assure this honourable House, that the political and moral principles, asserted by these solemn and special tests, are not merely in unison with our fixed principles, but expressly inculcated by the religion which we profess.

And we do most humbly trust that, as professors of doctrines, which permit such tesis to be taken, we shall appear to this honourable House to be entitled to the full enjoyment of religious freedom under the happy constitution of these realms.

Frequently has the legislature of Ireland borne testimony to the uniform peaceable demeanour of the Irish Roman Catholics, to their acknowledged merits as good and loyal subjects, to the wisdom and sound policy of admitting them to all the blessings of a free constitution, and of thus binding together all classes of the people by mutual interest and mutual affection.

Yet may we humbly represent to this honourable House, and we do so at this perilous crisis with sincere regret and deep solicitude; that the Roman Catholics of Ireland still remain subject to severe and humiliating laws, rigidly enforced, universally felt, and inflicting upon them divers injurious and vexatious disabilities, incapacities, privations, and penalties, by reason of their conscientious adherence to the religious doctrines of their forefathers.

For nearly the entire period of the last twenty years, the progress of religious freedom has been obstructed: and, whilst other Christian nations have hastened to-unbind the fetters imposed upon religious dissent, the Roman Catholics of Ireland have remained unrelieved.

The laws, which unequivocally attest our innocence and our merits, continue to load us with the pains of guilt; our own consciences, the voice of mankind, acquit us of crime and offence. Our Protestant fellow-citizens press forward with generous ardour and enlightened benevolence to testify their earnest wishes for our relief. Yet these penal laws, of which we humbly complain, cherish the spirit of hostility, and impede the cordial union of the people, which is at all times so desirable, and now so necessary.

These penal laws operate for no useful or meritorious purpose. Affording no aid to the constitution in Church or State not attaching affection to either; they are efficient only for objects of disunion and disaffection.

They separate the Protestant from the Catholic, and withdraw both from the public good; they irritate man against his fellow-creature, alienate the subject from the state, and leave the Roman Catholic community but a precarious and imperfect protection, as the reward of fixed and unbroken allegiance.

We forbear to detail the numerous incapacities and inconveniences, inflicted by those laws, directly or indirectly, upon the Roman Catholic community, or to dwell upon the humiliating and ignominious system of exclusion, reproach, and suspicion, which they generate and keep alive.—Perhaps no other age or nation has ever witnessed severities more vexatious, or inflictions more taunting, than those which we have long endured; and of which but too large a portion still remains.

Relief from these disabilities and penalties we have sought, through every channel that has appeared to us to be legitimate and eligible. We have never consciously violated, or sought to violate, the known laws of the land; nor have we pursued our object in any other manner, than such as has been usually adhered to, and apparently the best calculated to collect and communicate our united sentiments, accurately, without tumult, and to obviate all pretext for asserting that the Roman Catholic community at large, were indifferent to the pursuit of their freedom.

We can affirm, with perfect sincerity, that we have no latent views to realize; no secret or sinister objects to atttain. Any such imputation must be effectually repelled as we humbly conceive by the consideration of our numbers, our property, our known principles and character.

Our object is avowed and direct; earnest, yet natural: it extends to an equal participation of the civil rights of the constitution of our country, equally with our fellow-subjects of all other religious persuasions: it extends no further.

We would cheerfully concede the enjoyment of civll and religious liberty to all mankind; we ask no more for ourselves.

We seek not the possession of offices, but mere eligibility to office, in common with our fellow-citizens; not power or ascendency over any class of people, but the bare permission to rise from our prostrate posture, and to stand erect in the empire.

We have been taught, that, according to the pure and practical principles of the British constitution, property is justly entitled to a proportionate share of power; and we humbly trust, that no reasonable apprehension can arise from that power, which can only be obtained and exercised through the constitution.

We are sensible, and we do not regret that this equality of civil rights (which alone we humbly sue for) will leave a fair practical ascendency, wheresoever property shall predominate: but whilst we recognize and acknowledge the whole-someness of this great principle, we cannot admit the necessity of the unqualified disfranchisement of any part of the people, in a constitution like that of these realms.

We are gratified by the reflection, that the attainment of this our constitutional object will prove as conducive to the welfare and security of this great empire, as to the complete relief of the Roman Catholic community: that it will secure the quiet and concord of our country, animate ail classes of the people in the common defence, and form the most stable protection against the dangers which heavily menace these islands.

For we most humbly presume to submit it to this honourable House as our firm opinion, that an equal degree of enthusiasm cannot reasonably be expected from men, who feel themselves excluded from a fair participation of the blessings of a good constitution and government, as from those who fully partake of its advantages; that the enemies of this empire, who meditate its subjugation, found their best hope of success upon the effects of those penal laws, which, by depressing millions of the inhabitants of Ireland, may weaken their attachment to their country, and impair the means of its defence: and that the continued pressure of these laws, in times of unexampled danger, only spreads the general feeling of distrustful alarm, and augments the risks of common ruin.

To avert such evils, to preserve and promote the welfare and security of this empire, and to become thoroughly identified with our fellow-subjects in interests and affection, are objects as precious in our eyes, upon every consideration of property, principle and moral duly, as in those of any other description of the inhabitants of these realms.

If, in thus humbly submitting our depressed condition, and our earnest hopes to the consideration of this honourable House, we would dwell upon the great numbers and the property of the Roman Catholics of Ireland, already so considerable and so rapidly increasing, and to their consequent most important contributions to the exigencies of the state—we would do so, not with a view of exciting unworthy motives for concession, but in the honest hope of suggesting legitimate and rational grounds of constitutional relief.

And deeply indeed should we lament, if these very recommendations should serve only to hold us out as the objects of harsh suspicion, at home, or of daring attempts upon our allegiance from abroad.

May we then, with hearts deeply interested in the fate of this our humble supplication, presume to appeal to the wisdom and benignity of this honourable House on behalf of a very numerous, industrious, affectionate, and faithful body of people—the Roman Catholics of Ireland.

And to pray, that this honourable House may be pleased to take into their favourable consideration the whole of our condition—our numbers, our services, our merits, and our sufferings.

And, as we are conscious of the purity of our motives and the integrity of our principles, we therefore humbly pray to be restored to the rights and privileges of the constitution of our country; to be freed from all penal and disabling laws in force against us on account of our religious faith; and that we may thereby become more worth as well as more capable, of promoting the service of the crown, and the substantial interests of this great empire. And your Petitioners will ever pray, &c.

The Earl of Donoughmore

.—My lords; the only remaining observation, with which I shall trouble the House, is in reference to that Petition which I have had the honour of presenting, from the county and city of Kilkenny. The Petition was not originally intended for me, but had been, most properly, committed to a noble friend of mine, (the earl of Ormonde) ticularly connected with that county and city—and whose name stands conspicuously high in the peerage of his Country. It is but justice to my noble friend, to express to your lordships, the concern which my noble friend feels, that he is now prevented by indisposition, from giving that personal support, which he has never failed to afford, to the claims of his Catholic countrymen in that House, on every former occasion. To myself, entrusted as I am with the honour of presenting to your lordships the general Petition of the Catholic body, my noble friend has confided that of the county and city of Kilkenny, which he was not enabled to lay on their lordships' table himself; and by the proxy, which the noble earl had signed, in his bed, he has entrusted to me, the power of giving parliamentary effect, to his known sentiments, on the important subject, which will soon engage your lordships' attention.

The Petition of the county of Kilkenny being the same as the General Petition of the Catholics of Ireland, was not read, but ordered to lie on the table.

Earl Grey

rose for the purpose of presenting a Petition from his Majesty's subjects professing the Roman Catholic religion in England. This Petition referred to one which had been presented in a former session, and which it prayed might be taken into consideration. It was signed by all the English Roman Catholic peers, as well as by the most wealthy and respectable private gentlemen of that per-suasion, and might be considered as speaking the sense of the whole Catholic body in England, than whom, he did not think a more meritorious body existed, nor one more worthy the consideration of the House; both on account of the hardships under which they suffered, and the unshaken loyalty they exhibited on all occasions.

The Petition was then read, and ordered to lie on the table.

Earl Grey

said, he had a number of Petitions to submit to the House of a different description from those which had already been presented; they were signed by many thousand persons from the northern parts of the kingdom, namely, Yorkshire, Durham, Hull, Berwick, Sheffield, &c. The subscribers were not Roman Catholics only, but comprised many of the persons attached to the various sects of Dissenters from the Protestant, religion, and others who were members of the Established Church. They prayed that those disabilities, which were visited on their religious tenets, should be abolished, as well from principles of justice towards the petitioners, as for the security of the empire at large. He felt happy in congratulating the House and the country on such liberal conduct, which, by creating unanimity, would enable the empire to bring to a glorious conclusion the dreadful struggle in which they were engaged.

Petitions from the different places mentioned by the noble earl, were then read and laid on the table.

The Marquis of Lansdowne

presented Petitions from Bristol, Exeter, and Taunton, which were laid on the table. The noble marquis then observed, that it was his duty to present two other Petitions, under circumstances very different from those which had preceded them, and to which he was extremely desirous of drawing the particular attention of the House. The one was from the Protestants of Ireland; the other from Protestant noblemen and gentlemen, resident in this country, but connected by birth or properly with the sister island, and calling on the legislature to admit their Roman Catholic brethren to a full participation in civil and political rights. These Petitions were clearly distinguishable from those which had been already presented, inasmuch as the petitioners were not claiming a boon for themselves, but for others; considering, that the concession of the Catholic claims did not merely interest a part, but the whole of the empire. He was instructed to state, that the Petition from the Protestants of Ireland was signed by nearly 8,000 names, and there were other Protestant petitions, which had not yet reached this country, that bore also an immense number of signatures. And he felt it his duty to state, though not exactly from his own knowledge, which was not sufficiently accurate on the subject, that the signatures to those Petitions, which were about to be read, represented decidedly a majority of the proprietory of Ireland. He wished it was in his power to induce their lordships, when the Petitions were laid on the table, to examine the names annexed to them. They would there observe a great number of the most distinguished members of their lordships' House, and a large proportion of the principal landed proprietors of Ireland, who conceived that the security of the landed property which they possessed, was intimately connected with the progress made in behalf of their Roman Catholic fellow-subjects. They would also find the signatures of the principal monied capitalists of Ireland, who were convinced that the future beneficial employment of their capitals was essentially connected with the success of the application contained in those Petitions. They would also find the names of many of the leading members of the military and naval professions, who, in their own behalf, disavowed any wish to possess the monopoly of these professions, conceiving that they might be exercised with more advantage to the public, by the admission to their benefits of persons of all religious persuasions. They would also recognize among those signatures (to their honour be it spoken), a great body of the parochial clergy of Ireland, of the Established Church, who felt that the safety of that Church would be essentially furthered and promoted, by calling out in its defence the increased exertions of the empire, which would be produced by the extension of the same privileges to every class of society. He would not now say more on this subject, because he could not do it without anticipating the debate of tomorrow evening; but it was under the conviction that the highly respectable names attached to those Petitions would have due weight with their lordships, that he had ventured to call their attention to them.

The Petitions were then read and laid on the table. Petitions from the county of Kerry, the Queen's county, the city and county of Limerick, and the county of Carlow, were also read and laid on the table.

Lord Grenville

said, that their lordships had now heard the Petitions of their fellow subjects, in number nearly one-fourth part of the population of this kingdom, praying to be relieved from disabilities and penalties which they felt to be highly injurious and oppressive to themselves. They had also heard the Petitions of their Protestant brethren, recommending to our favourable consideration this their just cause, their loyal and reasonable request; and praying to be permitted to renounce the privileges which they exclusively enjoyed, to break down the barrier which we professed to maintain for their security, and to share with the whole body of their country men all the rights and all the duties of freemen.—He had now, he said, to lay before their lordships a Petition of a very different complexion, a Petition from the University of Oxford, praying that this relief may not be granted to their fellow-subjects, but that we may steadily continue to refuse ourselves to attend to the Petition" presented to us in their behalf, whether from Catholic or Protestant, in England or in Ireland. In the relation in which he had the honour to stand towards that respectable and learned body (a high honour he esteemed it), he had been requested to present this Petition to the House. With that request he had not hesitated to comply. He respected that difference of opinion which he lamented, and he gave the petitioners full credit for the same desire with which he himself was animated for the maintenance of our established religion and government, though be regretted that the course which they recommended for that purpose was such as must, in his judgment, infallibly lead to the overthrow of both.—But in presenting this Petition, in which from the official stile of the corporate body from which it came, his own name was necessarily included, he owed it to their lordships and himself to express respectfully, but explicitly, his total dissent and disapprobation of its object. He owed it also to others to state, that although he presented this Petition as the act of that respectable and learned body, the act of the majority, and therefore of the body; it was not now as formerly, their unanimous act. It had on the contrary been opposed by persons highest in station on the spot: by the the Vice-Chancellor of the University, by both her proctors, by several heads of houses, and by a body of individuals as respectable for learning, integrity, and wisdom, as could be found in any assembly. But when he stated this, let it not be supposed that he meant to derogate from the just weight due to the Petition. The petitioners prayed their lordships not to listen to the Petitions of their fellow-subjects. He prayed them to receive and to entertain this Petition—to consider well its facts, its arguments, and its prayer; to add to these all the authority which it justly derived from the high character of the body from which it proceeds, and then to put them in the balance against the complaints and grievances of millions, the prayers both of Catholic and Protestant in Ireland; and God grant, he said, that your decision may be such as may best promote the maintenance of those interests for which he confidently trusted the supporters and the opposers of this Petition are equally solicitous.

The Petition was read, and ordered to lie on the table.