HL Deb 21 June 1839 vol 48 cc692-701
The Earl of Winchilsea

said, that in pursuance of the notice which he had given yesterday, it now became his duty to present to their Lordships a petition signed by 3,000 persons, praying for the repeal of the statute, 10 Geo. 4th, commonly called the Roman Catholic Emancipation Act. If this petition had related to any mea- sure now under consideration before their Lordships, he would have declined, in obedience to the usage of their Lordships' House, to present it; but as it related to an Act that was passed long ago, and as it was very numerously signed, there being attached to it signatures to the amount of 3,000, all belonging to persons filling respectable situations in life, he thought that the sentiments expressed in it were certainly deserving of the notice of their Lordships. The petitioners were anxious for the repeal of the Relief Act. So was he, and he declared that he believed this feeling was rapidly increasing in this country; he believed, he said, that the people of England were fast becoming desirous for the repeal of the act which was falsely called the Roman Catholic Emancipation Act. The professed object of passing that act was to give peace and tranquillity to Ireland. Now, he did not think that there was any individual either within their Lordships' House or without it who had supported that measure on its passage through Parliament who could now honestly lay his hand on his heart, and say that he did not feel that the results which were then anticipated from it had been realized. It might be in the recollection of those who did him the honour of attending to him at that time, that he then stated his conviction that there were two distinct bodies belonging to the Roman Catholic Church—namely, the Romanists and the Papists; and that though he was totally opposed to any measure which should go to alter the Protestant form of this Government, yet to certain concessions of a civil nature to the Roman Catholics of this country he was not wholly opposed. The Roman Catholics of this country, he did think, used the power they had acquired by this act in a very different manner from the Roman Catholics of Ireland. With respect, however, to the means which had been taken to induce their Lordships to agree to the concession of that power, he would say, that though it was stated in evidence on oath before a committee of their Lordships' House, that the most objectionable doctrines of Catholicism were no longer held by British Catholics, yet he believed those doctrines had been only suspended for the time, and were now again in force; he believed, if he had a committee of their Lordships, he should be able to show that all those doctrines which were most ob- noxious and reprehensible in the Catholic creed had been revived and re-embodied about the year 1836 in a manual of theology published for the use of the Roman Catholic clergy. There were to be seen all the most obnoxious doctrines that Rome ever held. There it would be found that some of the most obnoxious Papal bulls were still in force. The publication of this book he believed to be the signal for reviving the doctrines to which he alluded, and from that moment the Roman Catholic Church had put forth the whole of its power to destroy Protestant government and undermine Protests ant authority in Ireland. The consequences of this had shaken the Protestant church from its centre to its foundation; [hear, hear!] he said from its centre to its foundation, because if the Church, as by law established, were upset in any single part of the empire, the whole; must fall altogether. After the concession of the Roman Catholic claims in, 1829, the ingenuity of man could not conceive a scheme so well calculated for the overthrow of Protestantism in this, country, and the re-establishment of the Roman Catholic religion in its stead, as was the late scheme for national education contained in the minute of Privy Council. He said this because he was prepared to contend that the Roman Catholic religion only flourished where ignorance and superstition reigned, and that where a system of education prevailed in which only general instruction was to be given in religion, ignorance and superstition must be the result. Would to God their Lordships, at the time of considering the Roman Catholic Relief Bill, had not listened to the voice of that individual whose evidence before their Lordships' committee had weighed so much in inducing many of them to side with the supporters of the bill; would to God they had not listened to the voice of that individual, who had called him a furious and intolerant bigot, although he; could put his hand on his heart and say, that he was sincerely attached to the cause both of civil and religious freedom, and, therefore, was not liable to the charge of intolerant bigotry. He believed he was as tolerant in his disposition as any man in the House. He opposed the Roman Catholic Relief Bill, not from intolerance, but from a belief that, if passed into a law, it would be found inconsistent with Pro- testant security; and he felt safe in stating that a similar feeling was at length aroused throughout the country. When, however, the measure passed into a law, he had said that he should be the last man who would seek to shrink from upholding it. From that day to this he had never made an observation tending to elicit any thing of a feeling in the country which might interfere with the due operation of the measure. He had by no means flattered himself that the power then conceded to the Roman Catholics might have been used by all of them without attempting to trench on the rights of the Established Church, without attempting, as a considerable body were now desirous of doing, to take measures for the destruction of every thing dear to us. He stated at the time, that the power granted would be so used, and that the Protestants would be obliged eventually to unite, and that the time might very possibly arrive when England would see him the greatest agitator on earth. Power given to Roman Catholics, their Lordships might depend upon it, would always be exerted against the security and interests of the Protestant Church; but this the Protestant people of England never would suffer; this the Protestant Dissenters to a man would join the members of the establishment in preventing, in defence of the rights of conscience and of that happy constitution which had given to us individually and nationally a greater share of liberty than had ever fallen to the lot of any other nation under the sun. That the people were rapidly approaching to a conviction that England must retrace her steps in this matter, he was fully convinced. He would only add, that though he was not at present prepared to make any motion on the subject of the petition, still he would say, that if this went on as it had done, he should certainly bring the matter under their Lordships' notice by a substantive proceeding at a future day.

Lord Brougham

was anxious to offer some answer to that which formed the substance of the eloquent and impressive speech of the noble Earl; he said eloquent and impressive, for such must everything be that comes from the feelings, and he fully believed that the noble Earl always spoke from his feelings; for a more conscientious, fearless, and honest mind than the noble Earl's, he was persuaded, did not exist. The appeal which the noble Earl made to all who had any concern in carrying the Roman Catholic Emancipation Act was substantially this—that of those who assisted to pass the measure, he believed there was not one, who, if he had known then what he knew now, would now agree to the measure; or would now lay his hand on his heart, and say he did not repent of his share in it. The idea of the noble Earl was, he took it, that, as now informed, the then supporters of the bill would support it no longer if it was to do over again, and that, better informed as they were now, if they did not repent of their share in passing it, they at least felt, great discontent and distrust in respect to its operation. On examining his own heart, and considering all the public events which had happened since 1829, when the Act was passed, with the large experience subsequent to that time which he had had of its working, and with some little acquaintance with the question, having supported Emancipation from the first period of his entrance upon public life, he should now, if it were to do afresh, advocate the same opinions as he advocated then, and up to 1829, when the measure was carried, with his characteristic firmness by the noble Duke. Some men, it was true, there were who now professed themselves disappointed with the effects of the measure; but why was this? Because they had entertained the most extravagant notions of the good this measure was to effect, if they believed that a benefit withheld for years, could do so much good, when, at length, it was conceded, as if it had been passed at first. They that had thought much was to be expected from a measure passed in such circumstances, had no right to be disappointed, if the results at present fell below their extravagant anticipations. If any one thought that it was in the course of a few years that centuries of misgovernment could be rolled back, and the people of Ireland placed in the same condition all at once as if such misgovernment had never been—if any one was so extravagant and romantic as to think this, that man would by no means be justified in complaining of the disappointment of his anticipations. Why, it was all along the very essence of the argument of those who supported the measure, that delay would be most injurious to the success of the measure, and most detractive from the benefits which, if it were passed in season, might reasonably be looked for from it. What else was the argument of Mr. Pitt, when he quitted the Administration upon this question? What was his argument again in the famous declaration with which he armed Lord Cornwallis, and by which the Union was virtually effected. What else was the argument to which, in 1805, Grattan lent the aid of his masterly eloquence? What else was the essence of Mr. Canning's argument from 1809 down to 1827—what, but that it would be dangerous to the peace of the country that it should be thought they were withholding justice from the Roman Catholics, and that such a delay of justice could not fail to produce in Ireland that discontent which is a gangrene in its society, and which all that good government could do for years to come, would be unable to eradicate from that ill-fated land? What was it they insisted upon, year after year, but that the longer a people were kept out of their rights, the less was the gift of them effectual and beneficial? And this was the truth. If he gives twice who gives quickly, he halves and quarters his gift who only gives after delay and perpetual delay. He, therefore, was most extravagant andromantic who expected from a measure delayed as this had been, the same benefits as if no delay had happened. Thus much for the first part of the noble Earl's observations. In reference to the second, he would say, that when they had gone on year after year withholding from the people of Ireland the rights of conscience, and the liberty of worshipping God in the way each man thought right, "no man making them afraid;" withholding too the removal of disabilities, because those on whom they pressed were of a different belief from ourselves; he said, that if there was one man who could expect that when at last the thing was granted as a boon, and the pressure removed which had fixed discontent in the minds of a party forming the great bulk of the people, until hatred, opposition to law, and dislike of English rule became a part of their second nature—for custom was second nature—if there were such a man, for he was not deserving the name of statesman, as to think that the people should all at once forget all that was past, and totally and at once change the character which for ages they had been acquiring, forming, and fixing, such a man had no right to be disappointed, if the result fell below his expectations. It would be unwise to expect that such things could be accomplished by any act of human legislation; it was unjust to complain that the measure had failed, if it only failed to answer such wild and chimerical expectations. None of the friends of Catholic Emancipation ever expected that that measure alone would be sufficient to correct all the calamities of Ireland. They had always said, that nothing could be done without that foundation, but they had never said, that the foundation was all that was required. It was just as if any one, knowing a supply of fresh air to the lungs to be necessary to sustain the life of man, should argue that that alone would be sufficient to keep him in health and strength. So with regard to Ireland, it was clear that the removal of the great obstruction to improvement in the habits of its population was the chief requisite; but this was not enough; it was necessary, in order to introduce a better state of things, to remove other grievances that pressed heavily on the people. Thus much had he said of the injustice done to the great measure of emancipation by the one-sided and partial views of the noble Lord. But he should much misstate his own opinion if he did not add, that he thought the habitual factious dispositions which had grownup under the old system were equally inveterate on both sides; they existed not only in the minds of the Orangemen towards the Catholics, but in the minds of the Catholics towards the Orangemen. He deeply lamented that Ireland should thus be made the prey of faction in its worst shape, that of religious rancour combined with political animosity—that the spirit of dissension should mix itself with the ordinary relations of society, and with all the affairs of life, eating as it were like a foul ulcer into the body politic. All unprejudiced persons must see that it would require a long course of firm, paternal, equal, and impartial administration of the law, as well as much improvement of the law itself, to eradicate this spirit and make Irish society resemble that happier state of things to be found in this country. He had no manner of doubt that the task would be a difficult one, that the government of Ireland was a load too heavy for almost any shoulders, that it would be a hard thing to carry out fully the intentions of the Legislature in grant- ing Catholic emancipation, and thus restore tranquillity to Ireland. But he was comforted by seeing that considerable progress towards these results had been made within the last nine or ten years; and if those principles which had generally guided men's conduct during that period should still prevail, and the Legislature should persevere in aiding the efforts of the Government by improving the laws, he would entertain, in spite of the apprehensions of the noble Earl and the petitioners, confident and sanguine hopes of a successful issue. Having been all his life a firm supporter of emancipation, he had been unwilling to allow this opportunity to pass without addressing these few observations to their Lordships.

The Earl of Wicklow

said, that the first act of his political life had been to give his support to the Roman Catholic Emancipation Bill. His noble Friend having appealed to all the advocates of that measure, to say whether the good they had expected from it had been obtained, he (the Earl of Wicklow) was ready to lay his hand on his heart and declare that it had produced all the good he ever expected from it. If he were again called on to give a vote on the question, he would give it in the affirmative. All the additional information he had acquired since 1829, the more confirmed him in his view. It was very easy to assert that all the evils of Ireland were to be ascribed to this Act, but it was very difficult to prove the assertion. It was not easy to say how much those evils might have been aggravated at the present moment had that measure not passed. For his part, looking at the spirit which had been afloat for some time, not only on the continent of Europe, but in this country, he was induced to think that most disastrous consequences might have ensued, had Government refused to concede the measure to the unanimous wishes of the people of Ireland, and to the wishes of the great proportion of the people of this country. [The Earl of Winchilsea: No, no.] It was asserted in Parliament when that measure was under discussion, and the opponents of the bill did not venture to deny it, that the great proportion of the people of this country were favourable to it; and the fact was proved by the circumstance that a majority of the representatives of the people demanded the measure, Session after Session, till at last no Government could have carried on affairs without conceding it. He had always considered that the Government of the day acted in the most prudent as well as in the most honest and manly manner, in consenting to wave the objections they had previously entertained to the measure, and declaring that they could not administer the affairs of the country unless it were carried. He agreed with his noble Friend in regretting the evil influence of the Irish Roman Catholic clergy, but he differed from his noble Friend's opinion that that influence was increased by the Emancipation Act. Before the passing of the Act, that influence was exercised in interfering with the elections to as great an extent as now, and he was as satisfied as he was of his own existence, that but for that Act it would have been, at this moment, much more formidable.

The Earl of Roden

differed widely from the views of his noble Friend who had just spoken. Never could he forget the words of that great man who had so long filled the Woolsack, that the sun of England would set on the day when the Catholic Relief Bill passed. He looked upon the present condition of this country as far inferior to its condition before that measure became law. He lamented the increase in the number of Jesuits both in England and Ireland. He believed, that an under-current was now going forward in England, which would extend very widely the Roman Catholic religion. The noble Lord then proceeded to quote a passage from the 2nd chapter of the Secreta Monita of the order of Jesuits, a copy of which he said had lately been found in the library of the University of Dublin. It was to the following effect:— Princesses and women of quality are easily to be gained by the influence of their women of the bedchamber. Therefore, by all means, pay particular attention to their women, by favour of whom you will easily gain access to the family, no secret of which will remain hid from us. The Protestants of this country, he was happy to see, were now awakening from their late apathy, and he hoped that the people of England, and above all the people of Scotland, who loved the religion of Protestantism, and had defended their Bibles with their swords, would not be deterred from expressing their sentiments on the important subject that now engaged their lordships.

The Marquess of Westmeath

said, that he for one did not charge upon the Catholic Relief Act all the evils that now desolated Ireland. He charged them on the Irish Reform Act, which was by an injudicious Government flung into the hands of the democracy of that country when they did not seek for it. That Act had given the priesthood such power, that three-fourths of the representation was now as completely in their hands as the nomination boroughs had been in those of their owners.

Petition to lie on the table.