His 139 Royal Highness the Duke Of York stated, that he had been requested to present to their lordships the petition of the dean and canons of Windsor, praying that no further concessions should be made to the Roman Catholics. He considered it unnecessary, in bringing before their lordships the petition of so learned and respectable a body, to assure them it was worded so as to ensure its reception; but, before he moved that it should be read he must be permitted to say a few words.
Sensible as his royal highness was of his want of habit and ability, to take a part in their lordships' debates, it was not without the greatest reluctance that he ventured to trespass upon their time and attention; but he felt that there were occasions when every man owed it to his country and to his station, to declare his sentiments; and no opportunity could, in his opinion, offer, which required more imperiously the frank avowal of them than the present, when their lordships were called upon to make a total change in the fundamental principle of the constitution, and, in his royal highness's view of the question, to strike at the very root of its existence.
His royal highness observed, that twenty-eight years had elapsed since this question had been first agitated, under the most awful circumstances, while this country was engaged in a most arduous and expensive, though just and glorious war; that the agitation of it had been the cause of a most serious and alarming illness to an illustrious personage now no more, whose exalted character and virtues, and whose parental affection for his people would render his memory ever dear to this country; that it had also produced the temporary retirement from his late majesty's councils of one of the most able, enlightened, and most honest statesmen of whom this country could boast.
Upon this question they were now called to decide; and from the first moment of its agitation to the present, his royal highness said, he had not for one instant hesitated, or felt a doubt, as to the propriety of the line of conduct he had adopted in reference to it.
That he must also call their lordships' attention to the great change of language and sentiments which had taken place since the subject was first introduced, among the advocates for Catholic emancipation. 140 That at first the most zealous of these had cautiously and yet strenuously endeavoured to impress upon the minds of the people that Catholic emancipation ought not to be granted without establishing strong and effectual barriers against any encroachment on the Protestant ascendancy. But, how changed was now their language! Their lordships were now required to surrender every principle of the constitution, and to deliver us up, bound hand and foot, to the mercy and generosity of the Roman Catholics, without any assurance even that they would be satisfied with such fearful concessions.
His royal highness said, he had, upon a former occasion, taken the liberty of stating his sentiments fully upon the subject, and had endeavoured to convey to their lordships that no person was more decidedly inclined to toleration than his late majesty, but that it mast be admitted there was a great difference between toleration, participation, and emancipation. He would not now enter into this discussion, convinced as he was that, if the bill should again be brought under their consideration, its merits would be much more ably discussed by others of their lordships. There were, however, one or two points which appeared to him to have been kept out of view in the different debates that had occurred in various places, and which seemed to him of such vital importance that he could not help touching upon them.
The first was, the situation in which the church of England would be placed should Catholic emancipation pass. If his royal highness were mistaken he would doubtless be set right; but, he had always understood that the established church of England stands in a very different situation from any other religious persuasion in the world; different ever from that of the Sectarians in this country. The established church was subject to its own government, and did not admit the interference of the civil authorities. It was placed under the authority of the king as the head of it, and under the control of parliament, so much so, that the church was not only not represented as a body in the lower House of parliament, but no clergyman was admittted to a seat in it.
Surely, their lordships could not wish to place the established church of England upon a worse footing than any other church within these realms: nor allow the Roman Catholics, who not only refused 141 to submit to our rules, but who denied any authority of the civil power over their church, to legislate for the established church; which must be the case if they should be admitted to seats in either House of parliament.
The other point to which his royal highness had to advert, was one which he felt to be of a more delicate nature. He must, therefore, begin by stating to their lordships, that he spoke only his own individual sentiments; as he must not be supposed to utter in that House the sentiments of any other person. He was sensible that, by what he was about to say, he should subject himself to the scoffs and jeers of some, and to the animadversions of others; but, from speaking conscientiously his own feelings and sentiments, he would by no apprehension whatever be appalled or deterred.
That he wished to ask whether their lordships had considered the situation in which they might place the king, or whether they recollected the oath which his majesty had taken at the altar, to his people, upon his coronation. He begged to read the words of that oath:—"I will, to the utmost of my power, maintain the laws of God, the true profession of the gospel, and the Protestant reformed religion established by law—and I will preserve unto the bishops and clergy of this realm, and to the churches committed to their charge, all such rights and privileges as by law do or shall appertain to them, or any of them,"
Their lordships must remember, that ours is a Protestant king, who knows no mental reservation, and whose situation is different from that of any other person in this country. That his royal highness and every other individual in this country could be released from his oath by the authority of parliament; but the king could not. The oath, as he had always understood, was a solemn obligation entered into by the person who took it, from which no act of his own could release him; but the king was the third part of the state, without whose voluntary consent no act of the legislature could be valid, and he could not relieve himself from the obligation of an oath.
His royal highness said, he feared that he had already trespassed too long upon their lordships, and he thanked them for the patience with which they had heard him. If he had expressed himself too warmly, especially in the latter part of 142 what he had said, he must appeal to their liberality. That he felt the subject most forcibly; and that it affected him yet more deeply, when he remembered that to its agitation must be ascribed that severe illness, and ten years of misery, which had clouded the existence of his illustrious and beloved father. That he should therefore conclude with assuring their lordships, that he had uttered his honest and conscientious sentiments, founded upon principles which he had imbibed from his earliest youth; to the justice of which he had subscribed, after serious consideration, when he attained more mature years; and that these were the principles to which he would adhere, and which he would maintain and act up to, to the latest moment of his existence, whatever might be his situation of life—So help him God!
Ordered to lie on the table.