§ The order of the day being moved, for resuming the adjourned debate on the motion, "That this House will resolve itself into a Committee of the whole House, to take into its most serious consideration the state of the laws affecting his Majesty's Roman Catholic subjects in Great Britain and Ireland, with a view to such a final and conciliatory adjustment as may be conducive to the peace and strength of the united kingdom, to the stability of the Protestant establishment, and to the general satisfaction and concord of all classes of his Majesty's subjects," the House resumed the said adjourned debate.880
§ Sir John Newport
rose and said, that if the question had been left to the consideration of the House, under the circumstances, and in the form in which it had undergone the discussion of last year, he certainly should not have felt himself then called upon to trespass on their patience, but would have rested the cause of the Roman Catholics on the statement so ably made by his right hon. friend who opened the debate; and on the eloquent appeal of another hon. gentleman (Mr. Plunket) whose speech was heard by the Mouse with so much attention, and which had been honoured with so much well-merited applause.
But there were circumstances attendant on the discussion of the subject this year, which did not exist when it was last submitted to the consideration of the House. Some of those who were inimical to the cause had gone as far as they possibly could, by recurring to the basest arts to prevent the subject receiving a calm and deliberate investigation. They had endeavoured to persuade the Protestant population, that this was a question vitally affecting their religion, and that it was to be judged on that principle alone, divested of those various and important political considerations, by which the legislature ought to be actuated in their examination and their decision, and which he was sure were more fit to guide the judgment of parliament, than any of those topics which seemed to be principally relied upon at several meetings,—meetings which he was in some respects obliged to characterise, as calculated to produce, and absolutely producing ill-will and dissention amongst the great body of the people.
In the course of his speech, it was his intention to examine some of the statements which had been publicly made, with a view, as he conceived, to prejudice and inflame the minds of the people, against the claims of their Catholic brethren. Under the circumstances in which they were placed—when they were called on to legislate, in order to restore tranquillity to a large portion of the empire—when they were called on to legislate, for the purpose of producing that strength and energy throughout the empire at large, which must result from conciliation and harmony—by uniting the great body of the people in the participation, and, consequently in the defence of those rights, which were common to them all—under these circumstances, it must appear evi- 881 dent to every man, that the more calmly the legislature proceeded, the more likely were they to succeed in establishing that harmony and concord, which was allowed on all hands to be so extremely desirable.
He was truly sorry to see, that, in the agitation of this great question, some men of high rank, some ecclesiastics of great dignity, had put themselves mainly forward. And he could not but think, that where a large majority of a former House of Commons, had pledged themselves to take the subject into consideration, it would have well become those mitred prelates to have left it in the hands of parliament. He was of opinion, that no good could result from their entering into the question, in charges addressed to large, bodies of the clergy; and still less could any just or equitable purpose be answered, by their throwing on a great portion of the community, accusations, at once the most foul and the most unfounded, in such a manner as left the injured parties without a direct opportunity of justifying themselves. That course having been adopted, it was necessary to examine into the nature and foundation of those charges; and to endeavour, in that House, to refute accusations so unfairly and so unwarrantably made. Amongst other matters contained in the Charge of a right reverend prelate, which he then held in his hand, which had been first delivered to a body of the clergy, and was afterwards published to the world, were a variety of statements directed against the tenets of the Roman Catholics: those statements were not confined to speculative points, or religious dogmas, but contained charges of the most abominable nature. When a reverend prelate stood forth, and put the question in this manner—" Does any person employ in his private concerns a man whom he believes to be disaffected to his interest, or who would rejoice in his downfall?" When a reverend prelate thus staled the relative situation of the Protestant and the Catholic, he felt absolute astonishment. He could not avoid demanding, with amazement, how a dignitary of the church could stand forth, with what some might term an indirect, but what he considered a direct charge against the whole Catholic body? A charge which, however it might be veiled, did, in effect, accuse them of disaffection to the state, and of harbouring principles which would lead them to rejoice in its ruin and destruction.
882 But, lest any doubt should be entertained of the meaning of the right reverend prelate in that Charge, he afterwards makes the accusation in plain and direct terms—in such terms, indeed, as he thought called for the animadversion of his Majesty's ministers; who knew that the statement was unfounded, and bad themselves, over and over again, in their places, disclaimed and refuted it. The passage to which he referred, was in another part of that reverend prelate's Charge, and set forth, "that the demands of the Catholics, in 1793, were made under their promise of peaceable demeanour, and of zeal against the common enemy. And, if granted, the Papists declared, that they would apply for no farther indulgence." This the right hon. baronet positively denied; it was, in truth, a most unfounded assertion. And, in proof of this allegation, he would call the attention of the House to a question which was put, at that time, by the late marquis of Down-shire to the present earl of Buckinghamshire, then lord Hobart. The noble marquis observed, "that his vote mainly depended on the answer he should receive to this question. Will the Catholics be satisfied, if the concessions now asked are granted? Will they accept them in full satisfaction of their demands?" What was the answer of my lord Hobart?" I am not warranted in giving any such assurance!" And what was the real slate of the fact? Why the petitioners, at that period, called, as they now call, for complete emancipation. And, it was remarkable, that, upon the bringing in of the Bill, which was introduced to grant them partial relief, the then member for the University of Dublin, the late Mr. Knox, proposed that they should be admitted to a full participation in the rights of the constitution. "All the demands which were made in 1793," continued the learned prelate, "were granted; and what was the consequence? The Papists having acquired additional strength, and having, by their promises, lulled the government info security, formed a traitorous conspiracy, broke out into open rebellion, and invited the French to their assistance, to obtain their real objects—separation from Great Britain, and Catholic ascendancy!
The right hon. baronet said, he did not think it was possible to bring forward, in more direct and decisive terms, a charge of treason against the whole body of the Catholics of Ireland. And he was sure 883 the noble lord opposite (Castlereagh) would not sanction such an imputation. Over and over again it had been declared, that it was not a Catholic rebellion. And this would be clearly seen by looking to the persons by whom it was fomented and organized. Such an examination would shew, that, of the whole Directory, but one was a Roman Catholic. For the truth of this statement, he would appeal to the declarations of the legislature. They had never designated it as a Catholic rebellion: and, surely, if they had believed it was, they would not have gone on, from year to year, making provision for the Catholic college at Maynooth.—(Hear!) He was aware that many Roman Catholics were engaged in that melancholy business. But it could not be otherwise, it must always be the case where a rebellion existed in any country, the great mass of whose inhabitants was of a particular religion, that some of the members of that religion must be connected with it; but, in the first French expedition, to Bantry Bay, so far from having any idea of assisting the invaders, every support was given by the Roman Catholics to his Majesty's troops. While at that time, in the north, an organized system prevailed, in the south, the inhabitants were perfectly peaceable and loyal, and, with heart and hand, united in defending the country against the French.
Was it right, then, that dignified clergymen should come forward and make such attacks? Was it right that such statements should pass unrefuted? To those mitred prelates who had been the means of procuring several of the adverse Petitions then lying on the table, he would strongly recommend the perusal of a passage, which struck his eye that morning, in a sermon preached by archbishop Sharpe, before the House of Lords, in Í700. That learned divine there observed, "If a preacher in the pulpit should presume to give his judgment about the management of public affairs, or to lay down doctrines as from Christ, about the forms and models of kingdoms and commonwealths, or to adjust the limits of the prerogative of the prince, or of the liberties of the subject in our present government, I say, if a divine should meddle with such matters as these in his sermons, I do not know how he can be excused from the just censure of meddling with things that nothing concerns, him. This is, in- 884 deed, a practising in state matters; and is usurping an office that belongs to another profession, and to men of another character; and I should account it every whit as indecent in a clergyman to take upon him to deal in these points, as it would be for him to determine titles of land in the pulpit, which are in dispute in Westminster-hall."* Such was the opinion of archbishop Sharpe, preaching before the House of Lords, on the 30th of January, 1700. He felt where the duty of a clergyman ceased, and where the province of a legislator began. He did not doubt, but, in the proper place, the House of Peers, that reverend prelate would have delivered his sentiments on any subject which called for them; but he very justly conceived, that the pulpit was not a place exactly suited to the discussion of politics.
It was something extraordinary, that, in several of the charges lately delivered to the clergy, as well as in that to which he had particularly referred, and in some of the petitions against the Catholics, the belief in certain tenets of religion was alleged as a cause for excluding that body from the enjoyment of the privileges of the constitution, which very tenets, those who made the accusation either did themselves hold, or they were not members of the Church of England. For instance, the doctrine of exclusive salvation was insisted on as incapacitating and unfitting the Catholic for a participation in constitutional rights; and these who made this assertion, stated, that no such doctrine was to be found in the Scriptures. He would ask of those persons, how long it was since they had read St. Athanasius's Creed?—It was really something extraordinary that they should in direct terms declare that doctrine, which they preached, and were bound to preach, was no where to be found in the Scriptures. Yet such was the statement contained in the Petition from the archdeacon and clergy of Buckinghamshire, now lying on the table. For these tenets held by particular churches, from the speculative doctrines of religion, and from the dogmas laid down in books, he thought the legislature, on considering this question, would do much more wisely to make their appeal to the practical doctrines of the Catholic church, as actually carried into effect, and as operating on the conduct of states professing that faith. There* See Howell's State Trials, vol, 15, p. 94.885 fore, instead of examining what was decreed in the council of Lateran or of Constance, it was far better to see what, in the present day, was the practice of Roman Catholic countries—and to investigate, whether they could perceive, in the conduct of great Roman Catholic governments, a recognition of those obnoxious principles which were represented as rendering men unfit to enjoy what were considered privileges, by some persons, but which he contemplated as rights—rights, which, if at all narrowed or restricted, should be thus dealt with only where danger to the state was plainly proved. They were all agreed, that the communication of any right, must, in the first instance, be guided by the great principle of safety to the state. But, if it could be proved that no danger would arise to the state from its exercise—if it appeared that the danger apprehended, existed only in the idea of individuals—if it were evident that there was no solid ground for dreading any ill effects from granting the rights demanded—then they were not justified in continuing to narrow and restrict those rights, which every man was entitled to claim. In taking this view of the subject, it would be necessary to enquire, whether in Europe such a state of things could not be pointed out as fully supported the position he had laid down. In doing this, the attention was at once arrested by the case of Hungary, to which his right hon. friend had alluded on the first night of the debate; and which he had himself noticed, in the debate on the Catholic Claims, in 1809. That case exactly corresponded, both as to previous situation, and the tranquillizing effect which the liberal conduct pursued had on the nation in general, with the question now under consideration. On former occasions, when instances, had been adduced from the slates of Switzerland, it was observed, that the system of admitting the members of every religion to a participation in civil rights, might do very well in a small, diminutive republic, but would not answer as a rule for a great population in a country like this. That objection, however, could not be urged against Hungary, which contained 7 millions of people. That country was for many years divided into contending sects—the Lutherans and Calvinists being almost equal to the members of the predominant religion, which was the Roman Catholic. During several centuries, the experiment was made in Hungary, of what might be done by exclude- 886 ing from the privileges of the constitution, that great body composed of those two sects, the Lutherans and Calvinists. The result was, that during the whole period to which he had alluded, the country was in a constant state of convulsion; so much so, that the Lutherans and Cilvanists called in the Turks to their assistance; and more than once the country was divided between the Turks and the Austrians. So the state remained for a considerable time. At length, at a late period, it was in some degree tranquillized. How was that effect produced? By the conciliatory measures of Maria Theresa—but, till 1791, it was not completely tranquillized. Tranquillity was then restored, by an extension of civil rights and civil privileges to all the inhabitants of the kingdom, without any reference to religious opinions—peace and security were obtained, by recurring to that very measure, which the advocates of the Roman Catholics now called on the legislature to carry into effect. So completely were the people of Hungary satisfied, that, in the triumphant progress of Buonaparté, by that country only was his march arrested. When he was in possession of Vienna, the nation, with an united voice, exclaimed—"There shall the proud career be stayed." It was not possible to conceive a case, more directly in point; and it should be observed, that the predominant religion of the state was the Roman Catholic, which, they had been told admitted no toleration,—which they had been informed never granted any thing like the freedom allowed in this country: which the petitioners against the Catholic Claims asserted to be so complete, that no other nation ever granted so much. Yet, in Hungary, a Catholic state, every privilege was thrown open to the Protestant tranquillity, and peace and concord followed. The same rights were now demanded for the Roman Catholics; and sure he was, the same beneficial effects, in the common course of things, must flow from the concession. If it was argued, that those concessions ought not to be made, because, for centuries, contentions had existed between the opposite sects of Protestants and Catholics, the answer was, "the same might be said, with more propriety, of Hungary, where one of the parties called in the Mahometan to their assistance; yet every right was ultimately granted, in common, to all religions; not by an arbitrary monarch, but in a diet, consisting of 400 persons, with a 887 majority of two to one. This was done in a country connected with the Popish hierarchy, and possessing a Popish priesthood—but the good sense of the laity put down all clerical opposition."
So, he hoped, it would in that House, and in the Nation at large. The legislature would, he trusted, look to the best of all possible securities, by giving to the Catholics their just and proper rights; they would, he hoped, look to the true safety and the real defence of the country, by giving that numerous body privileges to defend; they would, he hoped, render the country more dear to that numerous, and loyal, and respectable class, by giving them an interest in the constitution.
He confessed he was astonished, that persons should suspect that the loyalty of the Catholic, which, under privation, was tried, and was not found wanting, would, if his claims were conceded, be immediately extinguished. This was contrary to every principle of human action. Could it be imagined that they would willingly fight for restrictions, but that, by some extraordinary fatality, they would marshal themselves against their newly recovered rights and privileges?
But, it was observed by the petitioners against the Catholics, that they had every right which did not grant political power. The answer to this was clearly and explicitly given by his hon. friend (Mr. Plunket) on a former evening. "You gave political power before you gave the elective franchise; because, when you granted the right to acquire property, you gave that, which, in its nature, must produce power." And he saw no more danger in permitting a Catholic to sit in that House, than in permitting the nominee of a Catholic calling himself a Protestant. A statement had been made on a former evening, by the hon. member for Corfe Castle (Mr. Bankes) that a paper, which he read, was a protest of the present Pope against the full toleration, in religious matters, granted by Buonaparté.—The right hon. baronet said he had taken the trouble of inquiring, of those who were intimately acquainted with subjects of this description, whether that paper was authentic or not? If it were a fabricated paper, he meant not to charge any part of that forgery either on the hon. gentleman who first introduced it, or on another hon. member, who adverted to it in the course of his speech; but he did protest most solemnly, that every gentleman to 888 whom he applied on the subject, some of them deeply versed in Roman Catholic affairs, denied all knowledge of such a paper. He did not mean to assert, positively, that the paper did not exist; but, undoubtedly, when those who would, necessarily, be interested in it, and who had every means of inquiring into the foundation on which it rested—when such persons had not been able to find any vestige of its existence, it must, at least, be looked upon as a very doubtful document. Besides it should be recollected, that they lived in the era of fabrication! They could not forget, that a notable fabrication of the Third Part of the "Statement of the Penal Laws affecting the Catholics" had been disseminated through these islands—and, more even than that, persons who doubted its authenticity were threatened with prosecutions for expressing their sentiments. This fact had been stated, a few evenings since, by a right hon. gentleman (Mr. Huskisson), who informed them that a printer, in Chichester, who expressed his opinion of that fabricated work, was threatened with a prosecution for his temerity. But what seemed to him extremely ridiculous, they were told that this fabricated part was so clumsy a production, as ought not to have deceived any person; and yet they were informed, in the very same breath, that it had produced all the effect which was hoped and expected from it; and had not only deceived individuals, but whole bodies of men. But what was still more remarkable, the editor of one of our Reviews, a person, who doubtless would feel very much offended, if it were supposed that he could be taken in by a clumsy and ridiculous publication, had absolutely reviewed this Third Part, as if it really came from the Roman Catholics of Ireland. Now, whether it was clumsy or not, it certainly had the effect, which those who framed it had in view; and, so far, its matter or manner did not defeat the end of its author.
He was extremely loth to enter into any controversial discussion of what had passed in former periods in Ireland. It was much better to draw the veil of oblivion over such proceedings. He should, therefore, follow the precept of a right hon. baronet, (sir J. Stewart), and avoid the subject. That right hon. baronet, however, though he had laid down the precept, did not think proper to follow it. And he must say, that, in defending the 889 conduct of the Orange-men in Ireland, he could by no means agree with him. Nor did he think that the government had a right to extend their countenance and protection to bodies of men bound together by such an oath—which he thought no less inimical to the peace and happiness of the community, than the oath of the United Irishman. Whether it was qualified in one way or in another, such factions were equally dangerous to the constitution. He set of men ought be tolerated, who took an oath restricting their allegiance, or guarding it by conditions.
For many centuries Ireland had been a victim to the want of an extension of the English law beyond the English pale. This barrier was at length thrown down, and British law was extended to the people of Ireland. Sir John Davis had stated what beneficial effects were produced by that extension. Be would now implore the House to throw down this second subsisting pale, which excluded from the constitution so many of the inhabitants of Ireland. And he was convinced that consequences would result from the measure, no less excellent than those which had proceeded from the original extension of English law to the Irish people.
In proceeding to the decision of this important question, he hoped parliament would not consider it with a view to the narrow objections of this or that body of men, but that they would legislate for the community at large, with a due regard to its interests, and an extended and liberal feeling for the concord and harmony of the empire. The Catholic petitioners claimed the full benefit of the constitution; they prayed to be admitted to a community of privileges, as they gladly shared in a community of danger; and, he trusted, the legislature would answer them in the words of the Great Charter—that charter obtained by the joint exertions of their Catholic ancestors—" Nulli vendemus, nulli negabimus, nulli differemus Justitiam."
§ Mr. Wellesley Pole
rose and said:
Sir; considering the turn which this debate has taken, and the situation which I had lately the honour of holding in the government of Ireland, I do not think it would be becoming in me if I were not to explain distinctly my reasons for the vote which I shall give upon this question, a question in which the tranquillity and 890 the permanent interests of Ireland are so deeply concerned. The House, Sir, appears to me to be placed in a most extraordinary predicament. We are now in the third night of a debate upon a motion similar to that which was at the close of the last session agreed to by a large majority. The great Catholic question underwent, last year, three solemn discussions, and in the interval between the first and the last of those discussions, circumstances had occurred which induced the House to determine, as I have already said, by a large majority, that it would, at an early period of the present session, take the Catholic claims into consideration, with a view to a final and conciliatory adjustment. Sir, had it not been for the dissolution of parliament, (a measure, I believe, totally unexpected at the time the House came to the Resolution to which I have alluded), I apprehend we should not now be called upon to discuss this question: we should, as a matter of course, have gone into a committee upon the Catholic claims. I am by no means disposed to contend that the present parliament is, in any respect, bound by the Resolution passed, and the opinion expressed by the last; but, at the same time, every man must feel that that Resolution is entitled to great weight, from the effect which it must necessarily have produced throughout the whole empire, but more especially in that part of it which was more immediately affected by it—I mean Ireland.
Sir; it is indeed impossible that we can now enter into the consideration of this subject, without bearing in mind the effect that must have been produced, and the expectations that must naturally have been raised in Ireland by the Resolution finally adopted by the House last year, after so many discussions. It is, however, the duty of the House to take into its most serious consideration the precise state of this most important question, and to ascertain what are now the feelings of the people of Ireland with regard to the claims of the Roman Catholics. In entering upon this subject, it is necessary that we should recollect all that has passed between the government of Ireland and the Catholic committee during the last two years. The situation in which the question at present stands, arises, in a great degree, out of those transactions. During the course of those events, in which from my official situation, I necessarily 891 took a very prominent part, I did repeatedly and distinctly complain of the misrepresentations which were industriously circulated with respect to the measures which were pursued by the Irish government towards what I called then, and what I still must call, the Catholic convention (for a complete convention it was, representing the three estates of the Catholics). It was said, that the object of that government was not to preserve tranquillity and to enforce due obedience to the laws, but to prevent the Catholics from petitioning; this, as I have on former occasions, I now again most solemnly deny. Sir, the government of Ireland at that period had no wish to prevent the Roman Catholics from exercising their right of petitioning, provided they did it in a legal manner: there was no disposition to interfere with the Catholics, if they did not violate the law, as the law was explained by the law officers of the crown, both in Great Britain and Ireland. The steps that were taken were such as the government would have adopted with regard to any other class of his Majesty's subjects, under similar circumstances, excepting that they would have acted more promptly with others than they did with the Catholics, the peculiarity of whose situation was considered as demanding some indulgence. It was therefore, I repeat it, a gross misrepresentation of the conduct of the Irish government to say that they made any attempt, or entertained any wish to stifle the Catholic voice, or to prevent the Catholic body from petitioning. Those clamours, however, as they were not founded in truth, have subsided; but it cannot be denied, that the conduct of the government, whether right or wrong, did create a great ferment, and did lead to most important results. One of the first results which it produced was, the suppression of the Catholic committee. It is now no more. It is true that from that committee has arisen the Catholic board; but this board differs most essentially from the committee; it differs in the numbers of which it is constituted; in some degree in the tone which it has assumed; and it does not menace the country with the dangers which were to be apprehended from the continual sittings of a convention. This, therefore, I consider as a most fortunate result which has been produced by the measures to which I have alluded. Another result has been—the Roman Catholics assembling in every part of the 892 kingdom in a legal way to express their sentiments, and to state their grievances. An opinion prevailed, that it was only the higher classes of the Roman Catholics, who were anxious for emancipation, and that the lower orders were perfectly indifferent about it. The fallacy of that opinion has been made apparent from those meetings, for by their resolutions it has become obvious, that all ranks of the Roman Catholics, from the highest to the lowest, are equally desirous of obtaining what they term emancipation. But, Sir, these were not the only consequences; the Protestants of Ireland finding that the Catholics were awakened to their own interests throughout every corner of the island, became disposed to consider the subject more deeply and more seriously than they had done before, and the consequence has been, that many of them, who" before were of opinion that the application of the Catholics for the removal of disabilities was a mere stalking horse for seditious purposes, begun to see the question in a very different point of view.
I am not alluding, Sir, to the county of Fermanagh, or others where the Protestant? inhabitants had made up their minds, that under no circumstances would it be proper to grant any further concessions to the Catholics; but I allude to the county which I have the honour to represent, and many others in which I know that some time ago Catholic emancipation was considered merely as a watch word for those who wished to disturb the public tranquillity. But what is the language which, they now hold? Do they ask you not to comply with the wishes of the Catholics? No! all they ask of you is to take care that in what you do grant, the established constitution in church and state is not injured.
Sir, I am ready to admit that in some of the petitions of the Catholics some strange and intemperate language has been used: I regret it very much, and have as much reason personally as any man to object to it. I wish different language had been adopted, but the intemperance of some ought not to be visited upon the moderate and the innocent, and it ought to be recollected that it is natural for men who think that they are debarred of their rights, and that they are pushed to an extremity, to express themselves with warmth and even with intemperance. But, however blameable the language of some of the Catholics may have been, still this 893 consequence has ensued from their repeated and numerous meetings: they have had an opportunity of speaking their sentiments, and the opinion of the whole of that body is now perfectly well known. Sir, it is impossible for a moment to entertain a doubt but that the Resolution which the House of Commons came to at the close of the last session of parliament must have excited the hopes and expectations of the Roman Catholics to a very considerable degree, and their disappointment will be great indeed, if they find that you not only will not grant what they ask, but that you will not even go into a committee to consider of their claims. After twelve years struggling to obtain the support of a cabinet, united against them, they at last found a cabinet divided upon the subject, and also a material change in the disposition of parliament. What was the consequence? Why, that numbers of the Protestants of Ireland, as I have already stated, changed their opinion also, and consented to the grant of the Catholic claims under securities sufficient to protect the establishments. The first time that the Catholic question was brought before this House last year, my noble friend (lord Castlereagh) stated, that the cabinet were then unanimous in their opinion that under the existing circumstances the claims of the Catholics could not be complied with, and upon that occasion the majority of parliament were with ministers. But what was the case when towards the close of the session my right hon. friend near me (Mr. Canning) brought forward and carried his motion? The circumstances of the times had then materially changed, partly owing to a melancholy event which I, in common with every man who hears me, most sincerely deplored, an event which deprived the country of the services of a minister whose memory will be ever dear to me, and to every honest man in the country; and partly owing to other causes which it is now unnecessary for me to recapitulate. My noble friend himself (lord Castlereagh) had changed his opinion, and it was then announced that the question was not to be considered as a cabinet question. I think it a matter of great regret that this question is not to be brought forward as a cabinet measure. After the Resolution of last session, and after the interval of the whole summer, it is, I say, most unfortunate that ministers are not prepared to take up this most important question 894 as a cabinet measure, that they are not ready to submit some plan to the legislature for its consideration. In what a strange situation, Sirs are we placed, upon a question on which depends the present tranquillity and future welfare of a considerable portion of the empire. We have the Catholics of Ireland unanimous, we have a great proportion of the Protestants of Ireland for the question, and we have a cabinet divided and not prepared to submit any measure to parliament upon it I know it has been said that the majority of the Protestants in Ireland are unfavourable to the Catholic claims, but I must beg leave to doubt the correctness of that assertion. The change in the sentiments of the Protestants of Ireland has been remarkable: I know that in many counties where, a few years ago, the Protestant" were decidedly hostile to the Catholic claims, such has been the progress of opinion that they have now almost unanimously concurred in the sentiments expressed in the Petitions on the table, which do not object to admitting Catholics to the benefits of the constitution under such guards as the wisdom of parliament may think necessary for the security of the establishments. It is true, that there are many petitions from Protestants in Ireland decidedly hostile to the Catholics. I am far from suspecting or insinuating that the government of Ireland have interposed, or used any means to procure those petitions. I know that my noble friend the Lord Lieutenant would scorn to have recourse to such a measure. As for his advisers, the right hon. gentleman who succeeded me in one of my offices, I mean my right hon. friend the Chancellor of the Irish Exchequer (Mr. William Fitzgerald), he, of course, would not encourage petitions of that kind; he has expressed himself decidedly in favour of the measure against which they are presented. As to the other right hon. gentleman (Mr. Peel) who succeeded me (my other half as I may call him,) he, indeed, is hostile to the Catholic claims. His residence in Ireland during the summer has, I suppose, convinced him of the danger of making any concession, while his right hon. colleague who was born in the country, has always lived in it, and is deeply connected with it, not only sees no danger in complying with the wishes of the Catholics, but thinks that great mischief will ensue if they are not complied with. The right hon. gentleman (Mr. Peel) thinks, that 895 to grant a silk gown to a Catholic, or to permit one to command a company in England as he does in Ireland, would be big with peril to the state. Such are the discoveries he has made during his short residence in Ireland. But, Sir, these clashing opinions only prove the necessity of going into a committee in order that the validity of each may be fully canvassed.
Sir, I am not aware that any reason exists now for not going into the committee which did not exist last year, when this House determined by so large a majority that they would go into a committee; I am sure, as far as Ireland is concerned, no such reason exists. Sir, it must have been obvious to any man who has paid any attention to the events which have occurred within the last few years, and who possessed any knowledge of the state of Ireland, that things could not remain in the state in which they were. I cannot conceive it possible for a man of common observation to entertain such an opinion. I am sure no man in Ireland thinks so, whatever his opinion may be with respect to the granting or refusing the claims of the Catholics. There are, I have no doubt, many respectable, sensible, and well disposed Protestants in Ireland—respectable in rank and talents, who not only think that no further concessions should be made to the Catholics, but who are of opinion, that it would be highly beneficial to the state to renew some of the penal laws. A learned gentleman who generally sits under the gallery (Dr. Duigenan) I believe entertains that opinion, and, if I am not very much mistaken, the Orange societies in general in Ireland think that the legislature has already gone much too far in its concessions to the Catholics. I say then, Sir, that all parties are agreed that it is not possible things can remain in their present state, either you must re-enact the penal statutes, or you must admit the Catholics to the benefits of the constitution—no man can believe that the question can, or will, remain stationary. The progress of the Catholics (as was observed the other night by the learned gentleman opposite, Mr. Plunket, in a speech which was so much and so justly admired) in wealth and knowledge since the Union, has been most rapid, and they are now in a state in which it is, I maintain, impossible that they should continue. Why then, Sir, if it is the opinion of all parties that things cannot 896 remain as they are at present, surely the natural and obvious course for us to pursue is to go into a committee in which we may examine fully what course we ought to pursue, and what measures are best calculated to promote the tranquillity of the empire. When the Union was in agitation I disapproved of the measure, but I am now willing to acknowledge that it has been productive of great benefits to Ireland; it has contributed greatly to increase the wealth and the knowledge of that country, and particularly of its Roman Catholic inhabitants. One of the natural effects of the Union was, by the removal of the Protestant parliament to create a great number of absentees; many Protestants of rank and property have discontinued their residence in Ireland in consequence of that measure, but the spirit and industry of the Catholics had impelled them forward to fill up the vacuum which was thus occasioned. Their wealth and their knowledge has of course increased, and is in a rapidly progressive state; is it then, I again ask, natural to suppose that they will be content to remain, or that it will be possible to keep them in their present state. You must, then, either advance or recede; stand still you cannot. You must either have a re-enactment of the penal laws and a rebellion in Ireland, or you must seriously take the claims of the Roman Catholics into consideration with a view to final and conciliatory adjustment.
Sir; I am decidedly of opinion that we ought to go into this committee. I do not deny that the subject is attended with many and with formidable difficulties, but I think they may be overcome if we set about the task with zeal and sincerity. It is with this feeling, Sir, that I would go into this committee; I would go into it with a spirit of conciliation and universal good will; no man who consents to go into the committee will be pledged to any specific concession, or to any concession which, upon due consideration, he may conceive to be inconsistent with the security of the establishment in church and state. I therefore approve of the plan which my right hon. friend (Mr. Grattan) has proposed to pursue. If the committee should approve of his Resolutions, I am aware that it will require all his knowledge, all his temper, all his ability, all his perseverance, all his authority, to frame his Bill so as to meet the wishes and expectations of all parties. I acknowledge the task to be 897 difficult, but I do not despair of seeing it accomplished. I agree with the right hon. the Chancellor of the Exchequer for Ireland, that it is the duty of parliament to legislate, not to negociate, but when I express my concurrence with that general proposition, I beg I may not be supposed to mean that my right hon. friend, in framing his Bill, is not to have the benefit of consulting with those persons who have been delegated by the Catholics to support their claims, or indeed of consulting with all persons from whom valuable information can be derived. Having obtained that information, it will then become our duty to legislate, and I hope we shall legislate in such a manner as will set this question at rest for ever. I listened with peculiar pleasure to what fell from the learned gentleman (Mr. Plunket) on the subject of securities; because I am sure it will be attended with the most beneficial effects in Ireland. I hail it as a signal to the Catholics that no Protestant, however favourable to their claims, will consent to their being granted without sufficient security being given for the preservation of the establishments.
I have, now, Sir, stated my reasons for wishing to go into this Committee; I cannot see any bad consequence, that can result from it, but I foresee many that may ensue, if we reject this motion and refuse even to examine the subject. If, Sir, the House should unfortunately refuse to accede to this motion, let me beg of gentlemen to consider what will be the state of Ireland, with the two chief advisers of the Lord Lieutenant, entertaining directly opposite sentiments upon this vital question. The Chancellor of the Exchequer for Ireland has made a very animated speech in favour of the motion; he says, that the people will not be satisfied, that tranquillity will not be established, that the country will not be safe, unless the claims of the Roman Catholics are complied with. The other right hon. gentleman, the Chief Secretary, is of opinion that nothing can be more dangerous to the state, than to listen to their petitions. He seems to think that the most effectual way of making the people quiet and happy, is to clap on a perpetual blister, to draw the bad humours of the country together, and keep them in a state of continual irritation. Let us suppose for a moment, Sir, that the opinion of that part of the cabinet which opposes this motion should prevail. That this motion 898 should be rejected, and that after the return of those two right hon. gentlemen to the discharge of their official duties in Ireland, a disturbance should break out in some part of that country—Tipperary for instance, and that a deputation should be sent up to Dublin to communicate with government upon the subject. Well, Sir, we will suppose the deputation arrived at the castle of Dublin, and ushered into the presence of the Chancellor of the Exchequer. They communicate to him the cause of their visit, he receives them with great civility,—but he of course must say, "I am very much concerned to hear that there are disturbances in Tipperary; I foresaw all this, I told the government, I told parliament what would be the consequence if they would not consider the claims of the Catholics, but they would not listen to me—you had better go to the Chief Secretary and consult him; he was one of those whose advice has brought all this about." Well, away go the deputies two or three steps higher to wait upon my other half, the Chief Secretary, who upon hearing their story will exclaim, "Why, you really astonish me, what can the Catholics want? I thought every thing had been settled by the last special commission, but we must consult the Attorney General upon this business." The Attorney General is immediately sent for, but being out of the way the Solicitor General comes to the Castle, and the case is stated to him. My friend Mr. Bushe expresses his concern at the intelligence, but adds,—"You may remember I told you twelve months ago what would happen, if you did not change your system, why do you send to me? you had better consult Mr. Saurin, the Attorney General, upon this business; he is a man after your own heart."
Such, Sir, will be the distracted state of the councils; such will be the situation of Ireland, if the claims of the Catholics are not considered. I really feel for the situation of those right hon. gentlemen, I feel for the situation of the Chancellor of the Exchequer; and I equally feel for that of my other half, the Chief Secretary. When those right hon. gentlemen succeeded me in office, they found a system of reform in progress in almost every branch of the public service. It is well known that when any plans of that kind are attempted, innumerable obstacles are immediately thrown in the way, and the greatest perseverance and closest atten- 899 tion are necessary to ensure their success, but how can the attention of the government be bestowed upon such points when the chief members of it are at Variance, upon the most important subject, which can claim their consideration.—Sir, there is a very great difference between the present period and the time when I was in office.—(Here there was great cheering from Mr. Ryder, Mr. Peel and Mr. Fitzgerald.) When the right hon. gentlemen have done cheering, I will explain what I mean. When I filled the offices alluded to, the cabinet were unanimously of opinion that it was not a proper time to bring forward the Catholic: claims—and the government of Ireland acted under that opinion. Since that period, however, my noble friend (Castlereagh) has changed his; but, at the time, which I speak of, that noble lord was of the same opinion as myself, and of the same opinion as the cabinet, by whose directions I acted. But is he now acting with that cabinet? Is the right hon. gentleman, the Chief Secretary, acting under a cabinet agreed in opinion, or acting upon a settled principle? The case is as different as light from darkness; and I am very glad at the manner in which I have been cheered, as it has given me an opportunity of making this explanation. Reverting, then, to what I have before said, I cannot conceive a more dangerous nor a more unpleasant situation than that in which the government of Ireland will be placed, if the House should not go into the committee. If they do go into the committee, perhaps the right hon. Secretary might have his opinions changed in the progress of it. I think it right, however, as by the gestures and cheers of the right hon. gentlemen they seem inclined to charge me with inconsistency, to state that, when I was in office, my opinion was, that things could not continue as they were; this opinion I expressed to my right hon. friend on the treasury bench (Mr. Ryder), in a memorandum containing the grounds of it, and intreating the cabinet to take the matter into their most serious consideration. I did not presume to point out what should be done, but I most strongly pressed the necessity of not allowing this important question to remain in its present anomalous condition; and if my right hon. friend will take the trouble to examine his official papers, he will find the record, and perceive that I am not quite so inconsistent 900 as the right hon. gentlemen at present seem to think. I did not indeed press my sentiments arrogantly, but I stated them frankly. Things are now, however, much changed from what they were then, and, if I needed proof of that change, I would only refer to the noble lord's opinions, as expressed at the close of the last session, of the last parliament, when my right hon. friend moved the Resolution, now intended to be made the basis of the committee. I have thus undisguisedly, and to the best of my abilities, given my sentiments, and I shall only add, that, if the committee is adopted, I shall willingly devote my time to promote the objects in view, and give every aid in my power to produce a measure which may combine security to the Protestant establishment, with conciliation and concession to the Catholic body.
Mr. William Fizgerald
, in explanation. Sir, if the right hon. gentleman supposes that I am averse to any communication With the Catholic body, he must have adopted such a notion from some very vague and indistinct report of the speech, which I delivered in the Course of the present debate, which I am satisfied he could not have heard. Far from entertaining the opinion imputed to me, I conceive that constant, confidential, and affectionate communication with the Catholics is necessary to promote a beneficial adjustment of the present question. The right hon. gentleman reasons, not from what I have said, but from what I have not said, by the cheer which drew forth some of the right hon. gentleman's remarks. I do not mean to impute to him any dereliction of principles; but I cannot help now saying, that, however great the dissonance of opinion between me and my right hon. colleague, upon which he (Mr. Pole) has observed so freely, it is perfect concord, when compared to the manner in which the right hon. gentleman differs from himself.
Mr. Secretary Peel
.—Sir; the speech which the right hon. gentleman has just delivered, is the most extraordinary one which I ever heard. Sir, I defy the right honourable gentleman to reconcile the opinions, which he has just expressed, upon the Catholic claims, with those which, from his own avowal, at a former period, he was supposed to entertain.
Sir, the right hon. gentleman is surprised that those who have succeeded him, in office, and whom he is pleased to call 901 his halves, should differ so much from each other upon this subject; but greatly as my right hon. friend (Mr. Fitzgerald) and I may differ upon it, we are not more at variance with each other than the right hon. gentleman is with himself. I suspect that we are more apt representatives of the right hon. gentleman than he seems to be aware of, and that not only have I succeeded the right honourable gentleman in one of his official capacities, as my right hon. friend has succeeded him in the other, but the different opinions, which the right hon. gentleman has expressed at different periods, have been also divided between us; those which the right hon. gentleman held, when in office, having fallen to my share, and those, which he has since espoused, to the share of my right hon. friend. In personal unity we cannot represent him, but in discordance of sentiment we are competent to the task.
Sir, the right hon. gentleman says, that we are not to judge of his political opinions by his conduct when in office; that, at that time, the cabinet was united, and that he was in a subordinate capacity; not acting upon his own judgment, but executing the commands of others; he adds, too, that documents would be found, if the offices were ransacked, which would prove that the opinions which he now expresses, could be reconciled with those which he then held. Sir, if this be so, and if the right hon. gentleman did differ from those with whom he was acting, what forbearance has he shewn in this House! He was taunted with arrogating to himself the whole of the government of Ireland; the official acts of that government were imputed, by some of his adversaries, to his impetuosity and indiscretion, yet he submitted with cheerfulness to every imputation of bigotry and intolerance, and not a word escaped him, from which it could be inferred that there was not the most cordial concurrence of sentiment, on every branch of the Catholic question, between himself and the other members of the government. I may admire the right hon. gentlemen for their example of forbearance and discretion, but I cannot help thinking that it would have been better for him, if he did differ with those whose instructions he was called upon to execute, to have resigned his office, rather than have sacrificed his opinions.
Sir, I was desirous, I own, of following the right hon. baronet (Sir J. Newport) in the debate, but yielded precedence to the 902 right hon. gentleman, because, from the former expression of his opinions, on this subject, I concluded that he rose to answer the right hon. baronet. Sir, I find myself mistaken, and, with regard to the right hon. gentleman's own speech, I confess my inability to answer it, but will refer him, for an answer, to a speech of the right hon. gentleman himself.
Unless I am much mistaken, Sir, there was a speech of the right hon. gentleman, delivered last session of parliament, in which he stated, that he had hitherto declined delivering his opinion upon the Catholic claims, as distinct from the conduct of the Catholic committee; but, being called upon, he had no difficulty in confessing, that he did not see the possibility of extending, to the Catholics, the privileges, which their Protestant brethren enjoyed, with safety to the establishment in church and state. To clear himself, however, from any charge of inconsistency, even in the mind of those who remember his former declarations, the right hon. gentleman says, that the present circumstances are very different from those, under which the question had been discussed at former periods. The right hon. gentleman seems to attribute this change to the measures of the Irish government, at the period when he was one of its members, and he says, that, from those measures, alluding to the proceedings against the Catholic convention, three important consequences have resulted, all of which call for a different line of conduct, in the House, at the present period, towards the Catholics of Ireland.
In the first place he says, that the Catholic committee is dissolved.
In the second, that the Catholic body has come generally forward, and has unanimously preferred their petitions to the legislature, for relief from their present disabilities. And,
Thirdly, The Protestants of Ireland have also expressed their sentiments in favour of qualified concessions to the Catholics, and have presented petitions, to that effect, from most of the counties in Ireland.
Sir, I cannot but think that the right hon. gentleman has been rather unfortunate in his deduction of these consequences, from the causes to which he attributes them. In the first place, says the right honourable gentleman, the Catholic committee is dissolved; and, literally speaking, he is correct;—but surely the 903 right hon. gentleman must know, that, though the committee is dissolved, yet every individual member who composed it, was re-appointed by an aggregate meeting of the Catholics, to act on the part of that body, and that they are now pursuing, precisely, the same course, in their new capacity, which they did in their old. The Catholic committee, when a decision in a court of justice had proved its illegality, was undoubtedly changed in its name, and in its form of appointment, and it now skulks behind the law, which its former constitution had violated; but I cannot think that the right hon. gentleman will persist in arguing that this necessary deference to the sentence of a court of law, on the part of the Catholic committee, materially changes the nature of the petition, which is preferred under the auspices of the Catholic board. The second effect of those measures of the Irish government, in which the right hon. gentleman bore a prominent part, and which measures had my warmest approbation, has been, according to the right hon. gentleman, to call forth, from the Catholics, a general expression of their sentiments, and an unanimous application for further privileges. Why, Sir, I never heard, that, at former periods, even preceding the dissolution of the Catholic convention, there was any doubt as to the wish of the Catholics, on this subject, or that the expression of their feelings had been at all partial or equivocal. But the third result is, of all, the most extraordinary.
The Protestants, says the right hon. gentleman, have come forward in the different counties, and have presented to the legislature, Petitions, which the right hon. gentleman is pleased to designate, with the exception of one or two, as favourable to the claims, or at least to the discussion of the claims, of the Catholics.
Does the right hon. gentleman really consider these Petitions to have been presented, in consequence of the conduct of the Irish government in dispersing the Catholic committee, or does he mean to argue, that that body having been dissolved, the Protestants are satisfied, that all jealousies are allayed, and that the claims of the Catholics may now be acceded to, without objection on the part of the Protestants of Ireland. Surely, Sir, the right hon. gentleman must recollect that it is now two years since he addressed his circular letter, pointing out the illegality of delegation, and expressing the 904 determination of the Irish government to visit any meetings, held for that purpose, with the penalties of the law. The right hon. gentleman must recollect that it is considerably more than a year since the Catholic committee dissolved itself, and the Catholic Board was appointed in its room; but that it is only within the last three or four months that the Petition" from the Protestants of Ireland, to which the right hon. gentleman refers, have been resolved upon in the respective counties. Those Petitions, in which the sentiments of the Protestants are expressed, with a moderation which does them the highest credit, but which Petitions I consider to be decidedly against the concessions which are now demanded by the Catholics, arose not out of the conduct of the Irish government, not out of the dispersion of the Catholic convention, but have been called forth by the Resolution, to which the House of Commons came, in the last session of parliament, and by the just apprehensions which the Protestants of Ireland feel for the security of their establishment, were those privileges granted to the Catholics, with which alone they profess themselves to be satisfied; if these be the grounds on which the right hon. gentleman defends himself from the charge of inconsistency, I fear that, on examination, he will not find them tenable.
There is, however, one point in which the right hon. gentleman is right; he is right in supposing that my sentiments are directly adverse to the present motion. I should be reluctant to trouble the House with the expression of them, if I did not think, with my right hon. friend the Chancellor of the Irish Exchequer, that, considering the situations in which we stand, a silent vote, on a question so materially affecting the interests of that country, with which we are officially connected, might be thought unbecoming. I do assure my right hon. friend that it is with real regret that I find myself compelled to avow opinions, so much at variance with those which he has so well expressed, a regret, however, which is small, indeed, when compared with that which I should feel, did I think it possible that our difference on this point, important as it is, could affect our concurrence in other political subjects, or could, in the least, tend to weaken that personal regard and confidence which has ever subsisted between us.
Sir, I must first express some little sur- 905 prise at an argument of my right hon. friend, that every gentleman who voted for the Resolution of the right hon. gentle man (Mr. Canning) in the last session of parliament, is bound, by consistency, to vote for the propositions, which the right hon. gentleman has now submitted. Sir, I own that I should consider myself bound by no such obligation; that, had I had the misfortune to nave voted with the right hon. gentleman last year, I should have been most anxious to follow the hon. gentleman (Mr. Bankes), and declare my determination of opposing the motion of the right hon gentleman. I cannot see a pretence for imputing inconsistency to such a line of conduct. The pledge, which the House gave in the last session of parliament, was not simply that it would consider the Catholic claims; but that it would consider them, with the view, and for the purpose of attaining three distinct objects. There was an implied condition attached to that pledge; first, that the adjustment of the Catholic claims should be final and conciliatory.
Secondly, that the stability of the church establishment should be effectually provided for. And,
Thirdly, that the arrangement, in all, should be one tending to promote concord and satisfaction among all classes of his Majesty's subjects.—Sir, is it probable that, by the discussion of this question now, any one of these objects will be attained? Is it likely that the adjustment will be a final one? If it is an adjustment which will satisfy the Catholics, will it be one, which will secure your church establishment from danger? But, above all, is there the remotest prospect that any arrangement of a final nature can now be made, which the Protestant subjects of the empire can hail with satisfaction? To prove that all classes of his Majesty's subjects will not be satisfied with an arrangement, of which adequate securities for your church establishment shall form a part, I will beg leave to read an extract from the resolutions of one class of his Majesty's subjects, interested in that arrangement, namely, the Catholics of Ireland. This meeting, a meeting at Kilkenny, resolves,—"That this spirit, we fear, will only be the reproduction, or rather the continuance, of that system by which England has thought proper to govern this country for a series of centuries, viz. a system of division, founded upon wretched and mistaken notions of policy. That 906 the government will most probably affect liberality, and suffer a majority to vote for a consideration of our claims, and that they will at the same time consult their real determination, never to grant us our rights, by making the veto, 'securities and arrangements,' the sine quâ non of our emancipation.
"That therefore, lest the government should be supposed to act without a full and entire knowledge of the opinion and feelings of the Catholics, upon that most important subject, and also to put down by anticipation, any such effect as that just now made with equal failure and insidiousness, we feel it our duty thus finally to declare, that we consider the question of veto or arrangement, or securities, to have been set at rest for ever, by the decision of our prelates, and that we should consider the enactment of a law, which should give us emancipation, incorporated with a veto, or arrangements and securities, as a penal law, a law of persecution, and such a law, as when promulgated in Ireland, would be likely not only to add to the agitation and irritation of men's minds, but hazard the safety and salvation of the empire."
Sir, if I were among the wavering friends of the Catholics, I would advise the postponement of this consideration, into which we are required to enter, until the present just jealousies and suspicions of the Protestants might be somewhat allayed. I would give time to the Catholics, to reflect on their past conduct, on the prejudice which their cause has received from the intemperance of some of their advocates, and I would give them the opportunity of gradually receding from those unjust pretensions, which they advanced with precipitation, and which they now insist upon with a vehemence, of which they may yet be wise enough to repent. I would not now ask the House to come to a decision, which, if favourable to the Catholics, will not be likely to pro-mote cordial union between them and their Protestant brethren; if not favourable, will infallibly prejudice future discussions, and will compel us to consider them as appeals to the same tribunal, from its own decision, passed after mature consideration, and after an enquiry entered into, avowedly for the purpose of making a final and conciliatory arrangement.
I cannot understand in what respects the present motion of the right hon. gentleman differs from those, which he has 907 been in the habit of annually submitting to the House, and against which the House has as frequently decided. One objection, indeed, to his former propositions, the right hon. gentleman has attempted to obviate. He has been desired to produce something specific, and has now obeyed the call, by explaining to us the outline of a Bill, which he has it in contemplation to produce. The specific plan is at length announced to us, and it is simply this, that every distinction, arising from religious tenets, is to be done away; every disability and disqualification to be removed; every avenue to office and to power, with the exception of the throne, is to be unbarred. Two words will describe this specific measure, this is the "simple repeal," according to the modern language of the Catholics, or to borrow a phrase from the right hon. gentleman, this is to "greatly emancipate."
The right hon. gentleman is clear and intelligible as to the extent of his concessions; but the securities and safeguards, which are to accompany them, are enveloped in utter mystery. One security, indeed, the right hon. gentleman is willing to grant us, the exclusion of the Catholics from the throne. I was struck with the air of triumph with which the right hon. gentleman rose, after my right hon. friend (Mr. Yorke) had requested that that part of the Bill of Rights should be read, which enacts that a Protestant alone can succeed to the throne of this realm. See, says the right hon. gentleman, how groundless, bow feeble your alarms, why, I will recite, and recognise in my Bill, the principle of that enactment; nay, in the very preamble, you shall find an admission in favour of the established religion, and ample security for the Protestantism of the sovereign.
Sir, we do not want such recitals and recognitions; we want no preamble nor clause in a modern act of parliament to assure us that the Protestant religion is the religion of the state, and that we are absolved from our allegiance to a Catholic sovereign. We do not want to hunt through the statute book, for the laws on which the constitution is founded, nor to be referred, from the Bill of Rights, by a note in the margin, to an act passed in the 53d Geo. 3, c. 5, § 2, commonly called "Mr. Grattan's Act."
But, according to the right hon. gentleman, the Protestants are actuated, in their 908 opposition to the Catholics, by narrow motives of exclusion, or by the bigoted spirit of a sect. I remember the insidious comparison which the right hon. gentleman drew between the petitions of the respective parties. "The Catholics," says the right hon. gentleman, "petition for the ascendancy of the law, the Protestants for the ascendancy of a sect." Of a sect; to what sect do we belong? To the Protestant religion as by law established. To what laws do we adhere? To those, under which this empire has lived and flourished for ages; we are satisfied with them, and let them who ask for the change, be called upon to prove its necessity.
This committee, into which we are requested to enter, is not a committee upon the claims of the Catholics, but a committee to review and revise the British constitution; where the Protestant establishment is to be put on its defence, and to be heard by counsel at the bar.
Sir, in the course of this debate, many compliments have been paid to a right hon. gentleman (Mr. Plunket) but none which the eloquence and abilities which he has displayed in the speech, which he delivered, did not fully justify.
Sir, I concur in the admiration, which has been so generally expressed, of the speech of the right hon. gentleman, but there is one quality, and a rare one, for which I most admire it, I mean for its sincerity. I know, Sir, what popularity the right hon. gentleman might have acquired, had he pursued a different course; the sorry pre-eminence, which he might have attained, had he consented to advocate the cause of unqualified concession. The deputations and processions with which he would have been hailed on his return to Dublin, the addresses he might have received, and the answers he might have returned. He might have shared, with the bishop of Norwich, the honours which were paid to that reverend prelate at the orgies of the Black Abbey of Kilkenny; and he might have heard his name associated with such sentiments and such toasts as these, "Lord Wellington, and may the victories of Irishmen cease to secure their own degradation." "Mr. Cobbett and the free press of England."
Sir, we are told that we are dealing unfairly by the Catholics, in imputing to them, as a body, the line of conduct, which some intemperate agitators amongst them pursue. But, Sir, if they are liable to be implicated and blamed for the conduct of 909 others, why don't they rescue themselves from the imputation, and protest against the conduct of those, whose proceedings have no other effect than that of prejudicing their cause? Sir, if they want a precedent, they can find it in the year 1791. There was then a period when 68 of the most respectable of the Catholic body, seceded from the party with which they had been united; had the boldness to avow their disapprobation of its proceedings, and in loyal and dutiful, but not degrading terms, preferred to the throne, their petition for relief from heavier restrictions than any to which they are now exposed. In resolutions such as these, which I shall have pleasure in reading, they approached their sovereign:
"That grateful for former concessions, we do not presume to point out the measure or extent to which such repeal should be carried, but leave the same to the wisdom and discretion of the legislature, fully confiding in their liberality and benevolence, that it will be as extensive as the circumstances of the times and the general welfare of the empire shall, in their consideration, render prudent and expedient.
"That firmly attached to our most gracious sovereign, and the constitution of the kingdom, and anxiously desirous to promote tranquillity and subjection to the laws, we will studiously avoid all measures which can either directly or indirectly tend to disturb or impede the same, and will rely on the wisdom and benevolence of the legislature, as the source from which we desire to obtain a further relaxation of the above-mentioned laws."
Amongst the names subscribed to this address, are those of lord Fingal, lord Gormanstown, lord Kenmare, Dr. Troy, Sir F. Goold, and others. Sir, I wish most sincerely that the comparison of their present conduct, with that which they then pursued, was more to their advantage.
With regard to the Bill, of which the right hon. gentleman has given us the outline, I hope that the task of exposing its demerits will devolve into abler hands. I cannot, I own, understand the principle, upon which it is founded, nor the reason why the right hon. gentleman, who is disposed to grant so much, should see the necessity of with-holding any thing. The right hon. gentleman proposes to repeal the Test and Corporation Acts, to open the House of Commons and the House of Lords, and every office of every 910 description, to the Catholics; but he has an exception, for which I cannot account, he will exclude them from the throne I think that many of the arguments, which have beet" used to prove the impolicy of their exclusion from the other two branches of the legislature, will equally serve to prove the policy of their admission to the throne. Will the right hon. gentleman conclude, that an irresponsible Protestant king will secure us from the danger, which we apprehend, from responsible Catholic advisers? Are there no offices in the state, from which the right hon. gentleman thinks the Catholic ought to be excluded? Will he permit them to fill the office of Chancellor, to judge of the qualifications of clergymen of the Church of England to Protestant benefices? Are we to have a Catholic keeper of the conscience of a Protestant king? Does the right' hon. gentleman think that the lord lieutenancy of Ireland, with the disposal of the church patronage of that kingdom, should be open to the Catholic, and the head of the Protestant church be presented by a Catholic viceroy?
I know, Sir, what the answer to this is, that the Catholics are merely eligible to the offices in question; but that the crown may, by the exercise of its own discretion, continue the exclusion from them. Sir, we have no right to throw this insidious task upon the crown; if the Catholics ought to be excluded from any office, let them be excluded by the laws of the land, and not by the acts of an individual, however exalted his station. It will create less discontent and dissatisfaction among the Catholics, to continue their present disqualification, than, at the same time that you admit their qualification, to deny them the benefit they expect from it.
But, Sir, as I before observed, many of the arguments, which have been used in favour of a restricted concession to the Catholic, will almost equally apply to the removal of every restriction whatever. The right hon. gentleman, who presented the petition from the Catholics of England, recommended the prayer of it, by desiring us to consider "Who were the persons to whom we refuse a share in the honours of the country? They are those," said the right hon. gentleman, "whose ancestors were assembled at Runnemede, who procured for you the charter of your liberties; they are "hose, whose ancestors conquered in the fields of Cressy and of Agincourt;" Sir, I admit it, but who led them on to 911 victory at Cressy and at Agincourt—a Protestant prince? No, a Catholic prince. You ask whether such men are unfit to be trusted with the privileges which they ask for, because they differ from us in religious doctrine; and why not with equal justice, ask whether a prince, like Edward 3, should be incapable of inheriting the crown of these realms, because he professed the Catholic faith? Was that prince, who decreed that his parliament should assemble annually; who prohibited, by the severest penalties, the admission of bulls and rescripts from the Pope; who limited and defined the law of high treason; was he a prince, of whose love for despotic power, or submission to the papal authority, we ought to be jealous? I have little doubt that the time will come, when such arguments will be used, and used successfully, in favour of the admission of a Catholic prince to the throne, if we admit the eligibility of the Catholic, to office and to parliament. Nor do I understand on what grounds it can be argued, that it is more inconsistent with the principles of the constitution, to admit the Catholics to the throne, than to the other blanches of the legislature. They were excluded from the latter at an earlier period than from the former. In the reign of queen Elizabeth, they were incapacitated from holding office; in the reign of Charles 2, they were excluded from the House of Commons and the House of Lords; but it was not until the period of the Revolution, that a Catholic was rendered incapable of inheriting the crown and government of these realms. An hon. gentleman (Mr. Smith), seemed disposed to argue, that the king, having been declared at the time of the Restoration, head of the church, it must necessarily be thence inferred, that the profession of the Protestant faith, since that period, has been a necessary qualification for the throne; but if this were the law of the land, after the reign of Henry S, where was the necessity, in the time of Charles 2, of making the attempt, by a new enactment, and which attempt was defeated, to provide for the exclusion of the Duke of York from the throne, on account of his religious tenets.
Sir, I am not one of those who think that the removal of the present restrictions upon the Catholics, is an object of little concern to them; it is natural that those who embark in the lottery of life should be desirous to have the chance, at least, of 912 attaining the highest prizes; but let the Catholics recollect, that they are not only unwilling to pay the same price for political privileges, which is exacted from the other subjects of his Majesty, but that they have hitherto refused to submit to the same restrictions, which are imposed, with their own consent, and with that of the Pope, upon the Catholics of other countries, wherein the government is not Catholic; and, when gentlemen refer us to the state of the Catholics in Canada, and to their admission to offices in that country, and in Russia; let them recollect, that the cases are not parallel. That, in Canada, the Protestant sovereign of this country has the appointment of the Catholic bishops of Quebec; and that, when the empress Catharine founded the Catholic church of Mohilou, the Pope granted, as a matter of course, his sanction to the appointment of the bishop, nominated by the empress. Let gentlemen recollect, when they charge us with bigotry and intolerance, that the claims, now advanced by the Catholics, are claims, which would have been rejected, without hesitation, at a time when a Catholic prince was upon the throne of these realms, and when Catholics themselves composed its legislature. I am not now enquiring whether the securities, which have been required of the Catholics, are adequate, or not, for the purpose, for which they are proposed; but I contend that, as they are not unreasonable nor unprecedented, and are yet with-held by the Catholics themselves, that they have not the slightest ground to complain of the injustice of their present disqualifications.
Sir, we are told, because we have granted so much, that we cannot, with consistency, withhold that, which we now refuse to concede. That, having given to the Catholics the elective franchise, we have given them substantial political power; and that it is absurd to allow the Catholic to be represented, and yet not allow him to be a representative. I will not now argue, whether the grant of the elective franchise was a wise one or not, but I can see reasons for that concession which in no way apply to the concession of the further privileges, which are now demanded. We have said to the Catholics, you are in possession of property; you shall have the franchise, which property confers; you shall not be taxed without your own consent; yon shall exert an influence in the state; but we insist on this qualify- 913 cation in your representative, that he shall disavow opinions and tenets, which we conceive to be hostile to the establishment of this country in church and state. And where is the great hardship in this, at least to those who are represented? Does it weaken the exertions of the friends of the Catholics in this House, because they are bound to abjure the Catholic faith? If we admit the Catholics to parliament, shall we find them more eager in their cause, than some of their Protestant friends, at present are? Will the Catholics of Waterford find, in one of their own religious persuasion, a more zealous advocate than the right hon. baronet (sir J. Newport)? Or can the Catholics of Tipperary send to this House a louder champion than the hon. general (Mathew)? and here, Sir, let me thank the hon. general, for the distinguished compliment which he paid to the government, of which I form a part, when he had the goodness to assure the House, that every measure of that government had his unqualified disapprobation.
Sir, there is only one other point to which I will advert. The right hon. gentleman says, that the Catholics have disclaimed all the dangerous tenets which have been imputed to them and that the answer of the universities, and the oaths which the Catholics take, must satisfy every reasonable mind that there is no danger to the state in their present opinions. Sir, I own, that I require more than the mere disclaimer of such doctrines as these, that the Pope has the power of deposing sovereigns, or that faith is not to be kept with heretics. While the supremacy of any earthly prince is admitted, within these realms, of whatever nature that supremacy may be, spiritual or temporal, it ought to be defined, without the possibility of error or misconception. We know that, at present, it is not so, and Catholic writers have told us that, while the spiritual supremacy of the Pope, unexplained and unlimited as it is, is admitted, no great security must be expected from restrictions on the exercise of his temporal authority. But surely it behoves the Catholic prelates to meet in synod, and to remove the possibility of misconception on this point. They must be aware that there is a great jealousy of the exercise of any foreign authority within these realms. There have been instances, in the history of this country, in which the spiritual supremacy of the Pope has been called in, to counte- 914 nance proceedings, which might justify an apprehension that the limits of spiritual authority were not sufficiently defined. Without wishing to revive the remembrance of animosities, which no one can more earnestly wish to bury in oblivion, and for the purpose only of proving the interpretation, which the Catholic prelates themselves have given of the terms 'spiritual supremacy' I will read ah extract from a work, which is a continuation of the history of Hume. The author is recording the proceedings of the Catholics in Ireland, before the power of William the third was established in that country; and when we have before us the last instance, in which that body have held paramount political power within the united kingdom, we are informed that "When bishoprics and benefices in the gift of the crown became vacant, the king (James the second) ordered the profits to be lodged in the Exchequer, and suffered the cures to be totally neglected. The revenues were chiefly employed in the maintenance of Romish bishops and priests, who grew so insolent under this indulgence, that in several places they forcibly seized the Protestant churches. When complaint was made of this outrage, the king promised to do justice to the injured, and in some places actually ordered the churches to be restored. But the Popish clergy refused to comply with this order, alleging that, in spirituals, they owed obedience to no earthly power but the holy see; and James found himself unable, to protect his Protestant subjects against a powerful body, which he durst not disoblige."*
Now, Sir, the right hon. gentleman says, that we have libelled the faith of the Catholics, and have imputed doctrines to them, which they never held; that the Catholics of the present day may, indeed, agree in matters of faith with the Catholics of former days; but then they disclaim the construction which we put upon the tenets of their ancestors. I should be sorry to put the construction upon those tenets which, in the instance which I have quoted, appears to have been given to one of them by the Catholic prelates themselves, and I have referred to that passage as a proof, that some explanation of the extent to which the spiritual authority of the Pope goes, is absolutely called for.
Sir, we are told that we are not to treat* Smollett's Continuation, vol. 1, c. 1, s. 41.915 with, but to legislate for, the Catholics; yet, when the right hon. gentleman is asked what securities he will propose, he answers, that he has not any to propose, and to one he will not consent, viz. to the Veto. But what species of legislation is this? Why is the Veto abandoned? Because the Catholics will not consent to it? And if we abandon it on those grounds, upon what principle can we insist upon domestic nomination, which we have every reason to believe is equally objectionable to the Catholics? There was a time when the Veto was admitted by the Catholic prelates themselves, not to be incompatible with the Catholic religion; they have retracted that admission, but they have not accompanied it with any assurance that domestic nomination is more consistent with it. If you think securities absolutely necessary, and that, without the consent of the Catholic prelates, no effectual security can be obtained, and if these prelates have recently issued a formal declaration that, in the present state of their church, no alteration can take place, at this time, in the mode of their appointment, I should think that every person, excepting those who wish that all privileges should be granted to the Catholics, without any restriction whatever, will see the impossibility of coming to any final and conciliatory adjustment of the Catholic claims at the present moment, and will oppose the motion of the right hon. gentleman.
begun by saying, that he felt himself relieved from any necessity of entering into a detailed refutation of the arguments against emancipation, not only because they had been so often refuted already, but because they had in a great measure lost the hold they once had upon the judgment, and still more upon the feelings of the public.—Indeed, if he were to name the question upon which, so far as his knowledge extended, the progress of opinion in any age or country had been most rapid, most palpable, and most satisfactory, it would undoubtedly be this. If, for instance, we compared the situation in which the Catholics now stand, with that in which they stood only twenty years ago, when in the yea? 1792 not only was the prayer of their petition rejected by a vast majority of the Irish parliament,—(a parliament comprehending some of those that had since been numbered among its most distinguished advocates,)—but the petition itself was 916 thrown off the table, as if it had been too absurd, and too presumptuous, even to be entertained for a single moment,—we should see good reason for being satisfied with the progress of religious liberty in our times, and for looking with increased confidence to the final prevalence of justice and truth. Indeed, it had long since become clear to all thinking men, that the real question no longer was, whether or not the Catholic Claim should be conceded, but how long it should be delayed. A man must have ill observed the signs of the times, he must be ill acquainted with human nature itself, who, after the change that had taken place in the public opinion upon that subject, within the few last years, could flatter himself, if indeed that was his wish, with the hope of a permanent and successful resistance. It was impossible not to have remarked the unpopularity of the question decreasing year by year, and almost day by day, till in the last parliament, a parliament convoked under circumstances of peculiar irritation as to that question, the principle was solemnly and (Mr. W. hoped) irrevocably adopted by the House. And was the opinion of all the great men that had written and spoken, and acted in favour of emancipation nothing? Was it to be believed that a measure which Mr. Pitt, Mr. Fox, and Mr. Burke not only approved and promoted, but thought essential to the prosperity of the empire, and which was still held to be so by the far greater part of the eminent statesmen that remained to us; a measure so sanctioned by this branch of the legislature should not finally prevail?
On most other political questions, on those, at least, that admit of any discussion at all, any person seriously, and honestly trying to form an opinion is dazzled on every side by the splendour of names equally illustrious, and is at last obliged to weigh his authorities, or to rely upon his own judgment for a decision. He finds one opinion in the writings of Mr. Burke, another an opposite one, was entertained by Mr. Fox, and a third comes recommended by the authority of Mr. Pitt. But, on this subject, let him chuse what leader he may, he is inevitably conducted to the same conclusion. Indeed if the question were to be settled by authority, scepticism itself must be confounded by the vast preponderance in one scale. But then, Sir, it is not as authorities that I now appeal to the opinions of these great men, 917 though that is a most important branch of the argument, but as symptoms of what the public opinion must finally become. Has it not almost universally happened that those opinions, particularly upon matters relative to government and policy, which were at first entertained and promulgated by wise, and great, and good men, however contrary to the received notions, have at length completely prevailed, and been adopted even by that class in which they were at first encountered by the most violent and fanatical opposition. And therefore, Sir, I say that it would not only be an unfortunate, but a strange and preposterous thing, if in this instance the ordinary course were to be inverted, and if after that this opinion had gone on for a series of years diffusing itself gradually according to the usual law, its progress should be checked by some new and unexpected cause, and if this edifice which has already been raised to such a height, should suddenly and as it were by magic influence fall down and crumble away, and if the barbarous and half exploded prejudice of the vulgar were to be reared in triumph upon the ruins of all that has been taught us by our philosophers and our statesmen. Some attempt indeed has been made in the course of this debate to deprive the cause of the ornament and support it derives from one of these great names. An hon. gentleman rose upon a former evening chiefly, as I understood, for the purpose of undeceiving the House as to the opinion of Mr. Pitt. Recollecting the sort of hereditary right which that hon. gentleman has to an accurate acquaintance with the character and sentiments of that illustrious person, I confess that when he first announced the object with which he was about to speak, I felt some uneasiness both for the sake of the man and for the sake of the cause. I was half afraid that the hon. gentleman had some fact to relate, or some document to produce, which would force upon me a conviction that Mr. Pitt was a less sincere advocate for Catholic emancipation than during his life-time he had appeared to the world. The hon. gentleman however soon relieved me from my anxiety, and gave me reason to be ashamed of having even for a moment harboured suspicions so derogatory to the character of Mr. Pitt. He had no new facts whatever to produce, and relied entirely upon an unfounded surmise and a hollow argument for changing the opinion of the House as to the 918 known, public, often declared, often recorded sentiments of a person who was so long its most distinguished member. Mr. Pitt, said the hon. gentleman, had no plan, therefore he was not sincere: the hon. gentleman has evidently forgot, or never knew, the view Mr. Pitt took of the question: Mr. Pitt, though a friend to emancipation, though I am persuaded that if he had lived he would have supported, or himself proposed the motion of this night, was also of opinion that an obstacle to the measure existed in the feelings of the King, which during his Majesty's political life was absolutely insurmountable. I am not now enquiring whether this opinion was well or ill-founded; but right or wrong, it was the opinion of Mr. Pitt. He was favourable to the principle, but thought that the time was not come at which the principle could be carried into effect. Here then is the reason why he had no plan. A plan implies details, and the details of a measure must depend upon the particular state of things at the moment. It would therefore have been useless, nay worse than useless, for Mr. Pitt to have taken the trouble to form a plan which, according to his own notions, ought not to be put in execution till the expiration of an indefinite period, at the end of which it might be found altogether inapplicable to the actual situation of the country, and the actual temper of the people.
But be that as it may, the hon. gentleman must pardon me for saying that I do not think the reason he has himself stated for supposing that Mr. Pitt had no plan is quite satisfactory. It is, that somebody somewhere has said, that Mr. Pitt did not communicate any plan to him. Now the value of this conclusion must depend entirely upon the character of the person. If he were Mr. Pitt's most intimate friend, with whom he was in the habit of confidential communication upon all subjects—if, moreover, he were himself favourable to the measure, some probability that Mr. Pitt had no plan would arise from his silence, a probability however completely outweighed by other probabilities, and by positive testimony of various kinds. But if the person were not on the most intimate footing with Mr. Pitt, if he were not the person to whom he habitually disclosed his first and most secret thoughts, if he were a decided enemy to emancipation, if his subtle and scholastic mind teemed with endless objections to every 919 measure that his interest did not engage him to support, then no inference whatever could be drawn from Mr. Pitt's not having stated to him his plan.
All therefore that the hon. gentleman has said upon this subject appears to me to have been said in vain. His own reason for thinking that Mr. Pitt had no plan is utterly inconclusive; and if upon other grounds we are disposed to admit the fact of his having had none, still less does it follow that he was at bottom hostile to the principle of which he uniformly professed himself a friend. We have then still a right to the great name and authority of Mr. Pitt, and I rejoice at it both for the sake of the person and for the sake of the measure, more perhaps for the sake of the person, than for the sake of the measure. For though it is undoubtedly of importance to the cause, that it should be sustained and adorned by the sanction of Mr. Pitt, in conjunction with that of so many other great men, it is of still greater importance to the memory of Mr. Pitt that he should be universally recognized as the sincere and consistent, not, as some of his friends would persuade us, the canting, hypocritical, paltering advocate of emancipation. But, Sir, it has been said, that whatever may be the opinion of certain eminent persons in the higher orders, the prevailing sentiment of the country, particularly in the middle classes, is by no means favourable to emancipation, and that they regard the progress the principle has already made in parliament with uneasiness and alarm. Sir, I am far from denying that this statement has some foundation in truth. I see with regret that a large and respectable part of the community still labour under delusions which ail the powers of reason and discussion have hitherto been unable to dispel, and that in placing the Catholics upon a footing with their Protestant fellow subjects we shall render to the country a service which it is by no means in a state justly to appreciate. But then, Sir" in estimating the value of public opinion either as a guide to our own, or with a view to its ultimate effect upon any great measure, we ought to consider whether it is a growing or a declining opinion, of what materials it is composed, and whether it rests upon a temporary or a permanent foundation: Now it is evident that this opinion or prejudice against the Catholics (call it which you will) is composed of materials which render it impossible that it should 920 last long, or again break out into dangerous activity, and that the opposition and discontent excited by the repeal of these odious absurd laws, will be feeble and transient, whilst the blessings it will diffuse over the whole empire will be great, general, and eternal. This dread of Catholic emancipation, which, I am ready to admit, is too prevalent, is an effect arising from causes that are becoming daily less operative, or that have already in a great measure ceased to exist. It arises, in the first place, from ignorance as to the real state of the Catholics, and the real nature of their claims, an ignorance which has already in a great measure given way to discussion, and which, it cannot be doubted, a few more years will entirely dispel. In the next place, from that to which, I presume, it is no longer irregular to allude, the known opinion of the sovereign. Unfortunately there no longer exists any claim upon his subjects to spare his feelings or to comply with his wishes; but an impulse once given with such force from the highest power in the state, continues to act long after the hand that gave it is withdrawn, and it cannot be doubted that the prejudice existing against the Catholics upon other grounds, is even yet strengthened and confirmed by the authority of a sovereign, who was so long revered as the wise and faithful guardian of the religion and liberty of his people.
And then, Sir, come all those ancient, traditional hereditary feelings, the offspring off times and circumstances so far different from our own, when,—as under queen Mary, whom, from the language of some persons, one would suppose to have been his Majesty's immediate predecessor upon the throne, the Roman Catholic religion, was the religion of persecution and blood; or when, as at a later period, though subdued at home, it was powerful and hostile abroad, the religion under whose banners were marshalled all the enemies to the English name, the engine by which France sought to impose the yoke of a despotic and stipendiary prince upon the neck of a free and rival people. These, Sir, I verily believe, far more than any sound deliberate view of the case, are the causes of public opinion so far as it is unfavourable to the Catholic Claims. But in all this I see nothing stable, nothing permanent, nothing that time, aye, nothing that a very short time, is not certain to remove; nothing that ought to alarm the friends to the measure with the prospect of a long and dangerous resistance.
921 The very different footing upon which the question is now admitted to stand from that upon which it formerly stood, the altered tone of the enemies to emancipation afford no slight or doubtful indication of what we may expect,—some of the arguments on which they were accustomed most to rely, some of their favourite and most effectual weapons, are now laid aside, and deemed useless, even by those that once wielded them with the greatest vigour and success. What, for instance, is become of that famous argument—or, as, if it had not been deemed a famous argument I should rather call it, that miserable mischievous sophism, about the coronation oath, by which they so long perplexed the consciences of the good people of England, and by which it is said that, unfortunately for himself, and unfortunately for the country, they were enabled to secure to themselves the assistance of the illustrious person to whom that oath was administered? Why, except in a few obscure pamphlets, and low inflammatory hand-bills, we have for a long time past heard nothing of its existence; from the debates of this House, and from the writings and discourse of all reasonable men, it has utterly disappeared. A sense of shame too appears to have deterred men from any longer asserting, that the Roman Catholic religion, the religion of some of the wisest and most pious persons that ever adorned the human race, the religion of allies, whom we trust, and of forefathers whom we revere; the religion of some of the greatest and most respected communities, the religion which by its extent and its duration must characterize Christianity to the rest of the world, the religion of those between whom and every privilege they most eagerly and every object they most ardently desire, we have never sought to interpose any obstacle but their own inviolable regard to honour and to duty, that this religion renders its followers incapable of observing that common faith which binds us together in society. A sense of shame, I say, has deterred men from doctrines like these, and they are content to rely upon arguments, which, though when examined they may be found equally inconclusive, are at least not quite so repugnant to good feeling, to reason, and to experience. In the mean time toleration advances, with sure and rapid steps; every discussion adds new, or confirms the old arguments in its favour, and every day adds converts to a cause which never loses a proselyte it has once gained.
922 With all these symptoms of a declining cause I would ask gentlemen, whom I must presume to be actuated not by a blind bigoted hostility to a sect or a measure, but by deliberate assignable motives of religion and state policy, why persevere? I can very well understand how in their view of the case it would be desirable to retain the restrictive code, but how to retain it? Not as a thing to be fought for from day to day under a certainty of its final destruction, but as that which I presume, no man now so much as flatters himself that it can ever become a permanent and enduring system of legislation. Or do they think they shall render good service to the state, and advance the interests of the Protestant faith, if at the price of continuing the agitation of the public mind here, and of exasperating the Catholics of Ireland—that is to say Ireland itself, they contrive to purchase a short respite from an inevitable sentence? Do they flatter themselves that they shall promote the happiness of the empire and the cause of true religion, if by again urging all those topics that are most calculated to excite jealousy and irritation, if by exaggerating any errors of which the Catholics may have been guilty in the conduct of a cause so delicate and so trying to their feelings, they are enabled to re-animate the expiring prejudices of the country, and to delay the measure till it shall have lost every thing that it yet retains of grace, favour and conciliation, perhaps to some period of public difficulty and danger, when it would no longer be, as it would even now, a just subject of exultation and joy, but of terror as to its cause; and of doubt as to its result? Or are the blessings that have already arisen from excluding the Catholics from that career of honour and emolument which is open to their fellow subjects, so great and palpable; is the restrictive code so good a thing in itself; does it so recruit our armies, does it so augment our revenues, does it so recommend us to our Roman Catholic allies; does it so secure us against all chance of having our efforts abroad crippled by dissentions at home; is it so material to our success in the war we are waging in conjunction with the only bigoted Catholics in the world, that we shall seek at any price to protract its existence for a few years? But, Sir, this cannot be the case. The advocates for the Anti-Catholic cause are not so weak nor so short sighted. It is for the perma- 923 nent establishment of their system that they ask, and not for a short delay in its destruction.
And therefore, Sir, it appears to me that this single argument lying in so narrow a compass, and founded upon propositions so evident, is quite conclusive as to the whole question, even to those, who, under different circumstances, would be inclined to oppose the Catholic claim. For, Sir, first I maintain that emancipation cannot be finally and certainly refused; in the next place, that, whatever benefits might be derived from such final and certain refusal, those arising from delay would be slight and precarious; and lastly, that though delay could occasion but little good, it would probably be the source of great and incurable evils. And from this it would follow, even if the measure were far more questionable in its own nature than I can allow, still, that we have reached that point at which it is no longer prudent to resist its progress, and when on the contrary it becomes our duty to shorten, as much as possible, that gloomy, feverish, perilous interval, which always elapses between the time when any claim, whether of civil, or religious liberty, has triumphed in principle and opinion, and that at which it is adopted by the government, and interwoven with the law and constitution of the state.
Sir, I have begun with this argument because it is short, plain, and urgent, arising from the actual state of things and consistent with the greatest variety of opinions, not because I am at all disposed to shrink from the discussion of the question upon its own intrinsic merits, and independently of what may happen to be the disposition of the country at the moment. And therefore I shall now proceed, in as few words as possible, to explain what appears to me to be the true state of this question, and the grounds upon which I shall cordially support the motion of my right hon. friend. And in the first place, though from the natural anxiety of each party to exhibit their own case in the most favourable light, the real truth has not been sufficiently kept in view nor fairly acknowledged, it is quite evident to every person that gives to the subject a fair and dispassionate consideration, that, do what we may, we have only a choice of difficulties. Gentlemen on the one hand have talked of final measures, and settling votes, and of the firm steady con- 924 duct of parliament in making a stand upon its present ground and peremptorily refusing all further concession to the Catholics—and on the other hand we have with just as little reason heard emancipation (as it is called) treated as if it were to put an end to all differences and jealousies betwixt Catholic and Protestant, a "panacea" that would cure all wounds, a charm that would bring together the whole empire in perpetual happiness and union.
Now the fact is, that whichever way we turn, we are met, I will not say, by considerable dangers, but by considerable embarrassment and inconvenience. That in the two islands of which this empire is composed, two different, and for a long time hostile religions should be professed, is in itself an evil. It has already been the source of infinite jealousy and discord, to say nothing of greater misfortunes, and it is too much to promise oneself that under any arrangement that can be adopted, it will not interfere with the general harmony and prosperity of the kingdom. If three or four millions of Roman Catholics, or of any other dissenters (supposing them to agree in one kind of dissent) were distributed indifferently over both countries, it is probable that the feelings which as a sect they must entertain, would from time to time occasion some disagreement between them and the orthodox majority, but confined as they are to one island, which in point of population they may fairly call their own, having the "litoralitoribus contraria" uniting the national to the sectarian feeling, it is impossible not to anticipate dissentions which nothing but prudence in the government and forbearance in the leaders on both sides can prevent from producing the most serious consequences. Both in a religious and in a political point of view it would be fortunate for the whole empire, if both countries professed the reformed faith; and in a purely political point of view, it would perhaps even be fortunate if they were both Catholic, but as we cannot hope for the one and as we cannot so much as wish for the other, what we have to consider is how we can best accommodate our laws to the actual and probable state of things, and how in a situation of some difficulty we can extricate ourselves with the smallest possible quantity of danger and inconvenience.
The two objects then which in any arrangement that may be proposed to us we ought to keep in view, are, the pros- 925 perity of the state, and the security of the established religion. I say the two objects; though I am by no means ignorant that the question may be argued upon higher grounds. Neither arguments nor authorities are wanting in support of a bolder doctrine; namely, that no apprehensions we may entertain as to the security of what we believe to be the true faith, can justify us in imposing disadvantages of any kind upon persons of another religion. But this is not the point of view in which I shall discuss the subject; because, be this principle true or be it false, I am sure it would neither be a prudent nor a successful way of pleading the Catholic cause; to ask those who, belonging to the established church, of course believe it to be the depositary and the source of doctrines true and salutary to mankind, to legislate upon a matter of this sort with a view to temporals only. In order to satisfy them, and they have a right to be satisfied, it ought to be shewn; not only that emancipation will promote the civil happiness of the country, but that it will not sap the foundation of that which they consider as far more valuable than any accession of prosperity. And therefore, Sir, if having succeeded in establishing one of these points; if having proved ever so clearly that by abolishing the restrictive code we should become more wealthy, and more powerful, we failed in proving the other, and were forced to admit that strength and riches must be purchased at the price of endangering the Protestant religion, I for one should at once admit that we had failed in a most important part of our case, and were by no means in a situation in which we could reasonably call for the support of a Protestant parliament. But, Sir, I flatter myself that we are not placed in this painful and embarrassing dilemma, but that the measures which are necessary to the completion of our political prosperity will leave our religious establishments in a state of undiminished security. And it is by that test I am willing, that what I have to urge in support of the motion should be tried.
It is, I apprehend, unnecessary to enter into any argument in order to shew, that to place any number of men under any civil disabilities, is in itself an evil, and that the evil is great in proportion as the number is large, and the disabilities oppressive. It makes them worse men and worse subjects, it fills them with discontent, and, by narrowing the sphere of 926 their exertions, it makes them incapable of doing that service to the state which they would otherwise be able and willing to render. The burthen of proof undoubtedly lies upon those who desire to continue an order of things which at first sight appears so unfavourable to the happiness and prosperity of the country. They are bound to shew that the evil of offending a whole nation and diminishing its useful activity, is less than that which might fairly be expected to arise from admitting the Catholics to a full participation in all civil rights. What then are the steps by which they proceed in order to establish this proposition? Is the exclusion of the Catholics a deduction from a more general principle; namely, that no persons differing from the church can be admitted into the state, without danger to the establishment? Some of the arguments against the Catholic claims would, I think, go that length if they were pushed to their legitimate consequences. But, Sir, this principle, though I am persuaded it lurks in the minds of many of the enemies to emancipation, cannot be openly avowed except by those who are ready at the same time to avow a wish to see the establishment assume a much more exclusive and persecuting form than that in which it is now invested by law. Dissenters are admitted to the most important of all privileges, that of sitting in parliament. It is true, indeed, that it is only by a sort of connivance and relaxation of the law that they are allowed to hold office. But then the uninterrupted relaxation for seventy years of a law which no man now so much as dreams of enforcing, must be considered as having itself become law, and in any sound and practical view of the subject the Protestant dissenters must be looked upon as standing very nearly upon a footing with their orthodox brethren. Why then, Sir, it is something in the particular kind of dissent, something in the nature of the Romish faith itself, which renders it necessary to exclude the Catholics from dignity and power. They, it seems, acknowledge in a foreign bishop an authority utterly inconsistent with the allegiance they owe to their natural, domestic, legitimate sovereign. "This," we are told, "is an influence not confined to spirituals, but extending, as that influence which directs the consciences of men must necessarily extend, over every office and every relation of life, public and private, they must 927 be either bad Catholics or bad subjects, they cannot at once serve two masters, their own church and our state, the king and the pope." Now, Sir, I own, it appears to me, speaking however with all possible deference to better judgments, and more extended information than my own, that the method which some of the advocates of the Catholic claim have taken to answer this objection, is neither the easiest to themselves, nor the most satisfactory to others.
They have endeavoured to shew, that the submission to the see of Rome required by the Roman Catholic church, is not of a nature to interfere with the duties which subjects owe to the government of their own country, even where that government is in the hands of those whom they deem heretics.
I apprehend, however, that this is a matter of some doubt, when viewed as a mere point of doctrine. On the one hand stand the exorbitant power, and still more exorbitant pretensions of the Popes in former ages; the authority of certain general councils recognised by their church, and in whose decrees the ecclesiastical power is raised to an enormous height at the expence of the civil magistrates; and the Ordination Oath administered to the Irish clergy, by which they swear to be bound to St. Peter, the Church of Rome, and their lord the Pope, and to persecute heretics—together with several other facts of that class which the enemies to toleration have not failed, at every opportunity, to place in the most striking point of view. On the other hand, we are assured, that these maxims, though promulgated and acted upon by ambitious pontiffs in an ignorant age, were never duly sanctioned by the authority of the Church; and it must be admitted, that the answers of the Catholic Universities to the questions proposed to them by Mr. Pitt in 1788, the declaration of many most respectable individuals of their body, and even the terms of the Irish Oath as altered and explained by the Pope himself in 1791, seem to afford to the state every security that jealousy itself could require.
Between these conflicting testimonies it is perhaps difficult to decide, and, I must own, that so far as the matter now immediately under our consideration is concerned, I am not very anxious for a decision. For, Sir, it appears to me that this question, though, no doubt, very interesting as forming a part of the history of human 928 opinions, has but a very remote connection with the point upon which we are this night called upon to give a vote. It is a curious question, it is an amusing question, it is a learned question—it is a theological, and, if you please, a philosophical, but it can hardly, in this age, be considered as I a political question. What we have to consider is not what are the opinions which the Catholics avow, or, to speak more correctly, what are the opinions which the Catholics refuse to disavow, but what are those upon which, looking fairly to all the circumstances of the situation in which emancipation would place them, the wealthy and intelligent part of their community, that part of it with which we shall really have to deal—is likely to act. It is as statesmen, desirous indeed of maintaining an established church—but still as statesmen, not as theologicians, that we are to consider this subject. It is to conduct that we are to look, and to doctrine only so far as it influences conduct. For, Sir, there cannot be a grosser or a more mischievous error, or one that shews a more profound ignorance of human nature, than to judge as to the probable conduct of men, by creeds, and confessions, and articles, by the arguments of doctors, and the decisions of councils, or to imagine that because from pride, or prejudice, or timidity, or superstition, they refuse formally to renounce a principle, they are therefore certain, or even desirous to carry it into effect. These things, no doubt, are to be considered and weighed, but not singly, not solely, not with a pedantic exclusion of that living commentary by which their dry literal meaning is always modified and explained—that commentary which consists in the situation of the country, in the disposition of the people, and in the spirit of the age. This is a commentary to which at all times it is essential to attend, and to which in this instance the text itself is altogether secondary and subordinate.
If there is any fact clearly made out by history and experience it is this—that men are not guided uniformly by the doctrines contained in the books that are considered as the depositaries of their faith. The general operation of this principle, no doubt, is mischievous, but if we suffer under the evil, let us not on that account forget the advantage by which it is to a certain degree compensated. Unfortunately men are neither so pure, nor so just, nor so virtuous, nor so tolerating, as 929 true religion would make them, but then on the other hand they are neither so cruel, so absurd, so ferocious, nor so persecuting, as they would become by following literally the maxims of bigotry and superstition. The Catholics recognise in the Pope an authority paramount to that of the king—be it so, though they have denied the fact, and though they are ready to deny it again—but how long is it since that authority has been employed in hostility to the government? Their principles teach them to hate an heretical sovereign—be it so, though the Pope whom we accuse them of deeming infallible has made an express declaration to the contrary; but have they not for half a century ranked among his Majesty's most loyal subjects? They must be desirous to destroy our church, and to raise their own upon its ruins. If by that it is merely meant, that they had rather the Catholic religion was the established religion of the country, than the Protestant, no doubt the proposition is true, and (mutatis mutandis) it is equally true of every other class of dissenters. But what are the symptoms that should lead any man seriously to believe that the educated and wealthy part of the Catholics—those who in every important transaction must take the lead, are foolish enough, and wicked enough, and desperate enough, to wade through all the discord, misery, and slaughter, which the bare attempt to accomplish such a design must occasion. What, I ask, are the overt acts by which they have shewn this disposition? I do not mean what are the overt acts of the century before the last; but what is the submission to ecclesiastical power in matters regarding the state—what is the dangerous correspondence with the Pope, what are the treasons, what are the rebellions, by which the Catholics of the present day have forfeited all claim to that confidence and indulgence which is extended to other sects. For, I say, that until we can produce examples of real practical mischiefs, it is quite idle to talk of I know not what bulls, and canons, and Councils, of which though the letter is still preserved, out of a reverence to antiquity not unnatural in the most ancient church in Christendom, the spirit has long since ceased to animate the Catholic body.
And then, Sir, comes another very important consideration—suppose this dangerous disposition to exist with unabated force in the minds of the Catholics, still, what are the additional means of carrying 930 it into effect which they would acquire by the repeal of the restrictive code?—and how far is that repeal likely to increase or diminish the disposition?
Gentlemen are apt to argue this question as if the Catholics in their present state were absolutely powerless—a sort of Helots, or at best Paraguay Indians, and that we were deliberating whether or not we should now for the first time call them into political existence. But the Catholics have power, great power founded upon the sure, basis of increasing wealth and population, and they have a political existence, established by repeated acts of the legislature acknowledging in every line the justice and necessity of conferring it upon them. The question of prudence therefore is, not whether you will have the Catholics discontented and powerless, but whether you will add something to their power, in order to lessen their discontent. Now, Sir, in order to settle this question it may be well to enquire, oh the one hand, what is the actual amount of discontent existing among the Catholics, and on the other, what is the degree of power that still remains to be conceded to them.
The discontent is great, active, and growing; and cannot be allayed except by concession; the probable accession of political power is small. I say the probable accession, for it is with probabilities, and not with bare possibilities and extreme cases that we are concerned. It would consist of a few Roman Catholic members in the other House, a few more in this, and they not more under Catholic influence than the present members may fairly be supposed to be, who are returned by the votes of Catholic freeholders; and what common sense and humanity seem to require, a few Roman Catholic sheriffs, and other officers of justice. This, together with a few general officers, would be the whole immediate accession of power. In the course of a certain number of years, as the jealousy against them diminished, as they acquired more property, and more knowledge, they would increase also in political influence, they would fill more seats in parliament, rise to the command of armies, and perhaps become ministers of state. But then against this probable increase of power on the one hand, must be set the equally probable increase of a liberal and tolerating spirit on the other. More Catholics would acquire power, but they would be less intensely Catholic in any offensive sense of the word. The 931 blood of the Martyrs, it has often been remarked, was the seed of the church. And if persecution, or disqualification, (which is a branch of persecution, and differs from it only in degree) fails of inducing men to abandon their faith entirely, it is sure to make them cling to it more pertinaciously. It is never indifferent. The Catholics certainly are not persecuted, but the disabilities under which they still labour, are quite sufficient to irritate them, and to keep alive in their minds a spirit of obstinate adherence to the peculiar, and, if you will, mischievous doctrines of their own sect. It is not their common religion, it is their common grievance, that binds them so closely to each other, separates them from their fellow subjects, and invests them with all those qualities that render them an object of alarm. An admission to equal honors, that enlarged intercourse with society which the pursuit of these honours necessarily induces, the contagion of liberal opinion: all these things will rapidly wear away those asperities, and dissipate those prejudices, by which the Catholics are now disadvantageously distinguished from their fellow subjects. All those temptations of office, and power, and dignity, which, it is found by experience, absolutely fail of inducing men formally to renounce the creed which is held by their friends and kinsmen, which has been handed down to them by their forefathers, and which they have perhaps already taught to their children, are all-powerful in leading them tacitly to abandon, or at least to refrain from insisting upon those parts of it that are calculated to disgust or alarm the rest of the world. You would have Catholics invested with dignities, and enjoying power—yes—but what sort of Catholics? Bigotted fanatical Catholics—No; but merely persons differing from you upon certain matters of doctrine, which, in a political point of view, are utterly unimportant. The same degree of talent, and knowledge, and intercourse, with persons of another religion, which would be necessary in a Catholic in order to enable him to rise to any station in which he would enjoy much influence in the country, are hardly compatible in this enlightened age, with bigotry, fanaticism, and a firm practical belief in the dangerous principles as to civil government which are still supposed to make part of the Romish creed. Besides, a bigoted attachment to these tenets, known 932 to exist in any individual (and it can hardly be concealed where it does exist), would be a most effectual bar to his advancement in an empire where Protestant ascendancy would be secured by a Protestant king, and a vast Protestant majority in the government, in the parliament, and in the people.
It would not be a legal, statuteable, and denned, but it would not on that account, be a less just or a less real obstacle. The Catholics themselves would hardly complain of a disadvantage which extended only to a few violent wrongheaded members of their community, and, in practice, those disabilities would be employed with the most salutary effect, to check bigotry, and discourage folly in individuals, which are now most unwisely and most mischievously inflicted upon the whole body, confounding the wise with the foolish, the educated with the ignorant, the loyal with the disaffected, in one indiscriminate sentence of insult and exclusion. A part at least of the alarm which gentlemen feel upon this subject would, I think, subside, if they were more constantly to keep in mind what is the description of Catholics that would principally be affected by the repeal of the restrictive code. It is not the Catholic private soldier, it is the Catholic officer, it is not the Catholic peasant, but it is the Catholic peer, it is not the Catholic constituent, but he that I hope will soon become the Catholic representative, into whom you are to breathe political life by this measure. The soldier, indeed, and the peasant, and the constituent, will be gratified, and elevated by it, and ultimately will derive from it the greatest benefit. But the immediate advantage is to be reaped by the higher orders. It is they that you are called upon to trust with additional power, persons as fit to exercise it as yourselves. Not dupes to an obsolete imposture, not slaves to a foreign hierarchy, but persons in whose minds education and knowledge have obtained a complete victory over fanatical ignorance and barbarous superstition.
If any danger still exists from the doctrines maintained by the Catholics upon the subject of papal supremacy, it is a danger which the repeal of the restrictive code is much more likely to remove than to augment. For, in fact, those doctrines are so absurd in themselves, and accord so little with the spirit of the times, and the political state of the world, that nothing 933 but the obstinacy which unjust restraint never fails to engender in the breast of those upon whom it is imposed, can prevent them from falling kilo utter contempt and oblivion. By admitting the Catholics into your state, you will by so much detach them from the political interests of their own church; suffer them to taste the sweets of civil power, and they will cease to recognize (if indeed they can still be considered as recognizing) that ecclesiastical authority that pretends to be superior to it; let them share equally with yourselves in the favour of their lawful domestic sovereign, and equally with yourselves they will spurn the usurped domination of a foreign priest.
Upon the whole then, I say, that in this balance of evils, we have a much less difficult choice, a much less doubtful alternative presented to us than commonly occurs in the conduct of human affairs. On the one side we have the danger of giving more power to the Catholics. I say, more power, for be it not forgotten that power, great power, they already have and always must have, do what you may—a danger which for the reasons which I have endeavoured, though feebly and imperfectly to state, I conceive to be very small. On the other you have, first, the loss which arises from repressing the spirit of honourable exertion in a very large body of your own subjects, even supposing them to acquiesce patiently under the disqualification. This is what every statesman, and every man of sense, whether reasoning à priori upon the probable effect of such restraints, or founding his opinion upon the effect they have actually had in the country in which they have been tried to such an extent, and with such perseverance, must regard as a great, and almost intolerable grievance. It is that which if necessary is to be deplored, but if unnecessary is to be abominated, and the regret one would naturally feel at its existence is only increased by recollecting what things Ireland has done, and what men Ireland has produced, while palsied by the operation of a system which allows only one fourth of her population to enter upon that career, whether of civil or of military glory, which in our own time has been graced by Mr. Burke, by lord Wellington, and him, whom, though present, I cannot refrain from adding, my right hon. friend who moved this question.
Then, Sir, in the next place, and in the same scale, we must put the dangers that 934 must arise from the growing discontent of a large and powerful body. Sir, this is a point upon which I touch cautiously and unwillingly, and which I had rather leave to the private, but candid consideration, of every gentleman, than urge to the utmost in public debate. For, I am persuaded, that nothing can be more injudicious in the advocates of the Catholic claim, nothing worse for the Catholics themselves, nothing more likely to frustrate the whole benefit of the measure, than to treat it, in what might be considered as, an angry or a threatening tone; and I regard it as one of the most important results of the happy change which the last year has produced in the affairs of Europe, that the destruction of the French army in Russia, and the victories of lord Wellington,— victories gained by an Irishman—have enabled us to offer to Ireland as a boon and a favour, as the result of our unbiassed opinion upon a great question; as the spontaneous effect of political justice and wisdom in the legislature, that, which if it were conceded at a moment when the fleets of Spain, bearing the armies of France, were ready to issue forth from every port in the peninsula, to invade a kingdom without an ally (a crisis which at no remote period seemed fast approaching) would have lost all its immediate effect in composing the differences between the two countries, whilst it seemed to be wrung from the terrors of an unconvinced and reluctant parliament. Thus much, however, I think, may be said without exaggeration, and without offence, that the situation of the Catholics is such as must generate in them feelings unfavourable to the public repose; and it may not unfairly be asked, whether if the discontent prevailing in that body now, is felt as an embarrassment in the government of Ireland, it is not likely to become far more serious, when in the course of a few years, by the operation of obvious and unfailing causes, the Catholics have acquired property in proportion to their population, and along with it, every means that can enable them to obtain, and every stimulus that can urge them to desire, a complete participation in political power. That they are still loyal, I believe,—still disposed to prosecute their object by lawful means alone—but we ought not to forget that disappointment long continued becomes despair, and that discontent unallayed is the parent of disloyalty.
And this, Sir, naturally leads me to say 935 a word or two as to another argument against the Catholic claim, which, I find, has had considerable effect, not only out of doors, but upon the minds of several gentlemen, members of this House. It has been said, that though considered in the abstract and with a view to its own intrinsic merits, the Catholic claim might be entitled to a favourable consideration, yet that the Catholics themselves by their violent precipitate conduct have forfeited all the right they might otherwise have had to indulgence. Sir, if in the discussion of a great and momentous question, especially in parliament, any thing could induce me to depart from that moderation and temper which a regard to decorum imposes upon me, and what, I own, weighs yet more powerfully upon my mind, a regard to the interests of that great cause, which I am humbly and feebly, but earnestly endeavouring to plead, it would be the argument, if argument it can be called, to which I have now alluded.—I do not think, that, generally speaking,. gentlemen have been very happy in the objections they have urged against the measure, either considered as a mere matter of reason, or as a matter of reason and feeling combined, but in this they appear to me to have been more peculiarly unfortunate than in any other instance. For if this argument proves any thing, it proves this—that all restraint and all injustice ought, to last for ever. For what maxim could a tyrant be more desirous to establish than this—than when oppression has produced discontent, discontent becomes an apology for more oppression. Is it not an utter mockery of all reason and justice, to say "the restraints are galling,—your complaints are not ill founded,—we cannot charge you with disaffection, but because you have not always been able to pace in the trammels of the strictest propriety; because you have talked of right where we only admit an expediency; because you have sometimes asked as a matter of justice what you ought to have implored as a matter of favour; because your often-rejected claim has not always been preferred in all the forms of humility and supplication; because you have not gratified our pride, but only convinced our understanding; because remembering that you are oppressed, you have not always forgot that you are strong—therefore you shall have no redress. You shall be made answerable for the absurdities of foolish, and for 936 the violence of mischievous advocates. We will scan every word with jealous accuracy, we will watch every step with hostile vigilance, and if we succeed in detecting a wrong word or a false step, all the claims of justice and policy shall avail you nothing."
Sir, I can respect, though differing widely from, the opinions of those who oppose the Catholic claim because they think it dangerous to church and state. But I cannot extend that respect to the opinions of those who, professing themselves friendly to the principle of emancipation can dispense themselves from the support of it upon such feeble and suspicious grounds—who thinking the measure wise and just in itself, chuse to clog the execution of it with absurd and impossible conditions. They too, it seems, are friends to toleration, they too are desirous to free their fellow subjects from unnecessary restraints, and therefore when the Catholics, under those circumstances that are most calculated to agitate them, under the influence of expectations often raised and often disappointed, and now standing again as they think, upon the very threshold of religious freedom, are perfectly calm and composed; when all the actors upon those irregular theatres of ambition, which our impolicy has opened, and which our mere power will never be able to close, conform their language to the standard of pure taste, and statesmanly discretion, when no foolish person is found to chuse an erroneous principle as the support of a sound conclusion, or to eke out a just claim with an exorbitant pretension; when three millions of people, labouring under disabilities which are grievous to every man in proportion to his property, his talents, his activity, his patriotism, and his desire of honourable distinction, wear a countenance of cheerfulness and content, when the laws that regulate man's moral nature are suspended, then, and not till then, they will vote for concession. Is this justice? Is this wisdom? And one is almost tempted to add, is this sincerity?
But suppose that by some miracle these conditions were fulfilled, suppose this torpor to seize the Catholics, suppose them, I will not say to urge, but to state their requests with all that cautious propriety, with all that discreet languor, which their adversaries seem to require. Why, Sir, what is the language we should then hear, what is the language which we have formerly heard from the same gen- 937 tleman? We should be told, triumphantly told, that emancipation was not a measure required by the state of Ireland, but only the pretence of a faction on this side of the water; Ireland, they would say, is perfectly tranquil under the present system, and would you make such a change quite gratuitously, would you offer redress where there is no grievance, and subvert the present happy order of things in the vague hope of remote advantage? The Catholics in reality care very little about their claim; they only state it pro formâ as it were, and with no expectation whatever that you will grant it. If they were in earnest, if they had any real reliance on the justice of their cause, we should see some symptoms of discontent, and they would urge it with greater eagerness and heat. So let the Catholics do what they may, let them be eager or let them be lukewarm, let them be tranquil or let them be turbulent, their claim is sure to be encountered by an unanswerable argument arising from the tone and temper in which they prefer it.
But after all, Sir, what is this outrageous insolence, what is this unpardonable crime by which they have forfeited those most valuable privileges to which they would otherwise have been entitled? One would really think that they had thrown off their allegiance, engaged in a traitorous correspondence with France, or broken out into open rebellion. But what is the fact? Why, that during the whole time the question has been under discussion, there has been no Catholic rebellion, there has been no Catholic insurrection, there has been no disturbance originating in the Catholics as a body, there has not been so much as a Catholic affray in the streets. The only exception, if an exception it can be called, to the general regularity of their conduct, is that they met in a way which, by a fortunate recollection and dextrous application of a statute intended for another purpose, was discovered to be illegal.—What did they do then,—they complained, but they dispersed—they tried the point of law, which, in a doubtful case, they were well warranted in doing—they tried the point of law, and submitted patiently to the decision of the Protestant lawyers who decided it against them. But then they have made use of violent and menacing language—if it is meant that the language of some of the speeches at the Catholic meetings is violent, I most readily admit the fact; indeed 938 I know not how, without a miracle, it could be otherwise, in meetings from which no Catholic is excluded, where, in the minds of some of the speakers, vanity and turbulence will naturally mix themselves with better motives, which of course, come to be considered as a sort of schools of rhetoric and politics by those that are unfortunately precluded from better opportunities of distinguishing themselves, and where the constant, standing, exclusive subject is a grievance. That violent indiscreet speeches should be made in such assemblies is any thing but surprizing, and the only matter of wonder is that they should not be more indiscreet and more violent, and that the passions of some individuals should not have more deeply infected the aggregate body. If gentlemen mean to wait till no such discourses are held, they had better make up their minds to abandon the whole question at once, which indeed would be a wiser and a fairer course, than to let the privileges of a whole nation depend upon the expressions that happen to fall from a few hasty, impassioned orators. Up to a very late period the language employed by the Catholics in their Resolutions and Petitions was uniformly moderate and judicious. The Resolutions however which passed last spring contain some expressions which it is impossible to defend in point either of prudence or of decorum. But when you have said that you have said all. For even in these expressions there is nothing disloyal, or indicative of disloyalty. They merely shew that the Catholics felt as under their circumstances it is natural to feel, and that they trusted the expression of their feelings to persons who were not guided in their choice of language by the soundest policy or the most correct taste.
In estimating the conduct of the Catholics we ought to bear in mind that they are persons labouring not only under a grievance, but under that by which the sense of grievance is always very much enhanced—great and repeated disappointment. I do not contend, nor in my view of the case is it at all necessary for me to contend, that any positive authorized promise was given to the Catholics at the Union. On the contrary I give implicit credit to the declarations made by my noble friend the Secretary of State for foreign affairs, that no such engagement existed. But it is enough for me if that which I believe no man can or will deny, be true. It is enough for me if the 939 language and opinions of those who were then at the head of affairs, if the very nature and spirit, if I may so express myself, of the measure itself, were calculated to excite in their minds an expectation that the hour of their deliverance was at hand. Another great disappointment—that which gave birth to those expressions to which I have just now alluded, happened at the beginning of the Regency. Sir, I do not mention this circumstance invidiously. It is my purpose to apologize for the Catholics, and not to criminate any other set of men. And no doubt the hope which they then entertained of immediate concession, was the result of some very exaggerated statement of a favourable inclination towards their claim existing in the mind of that person whose favour would contribute the most powerfully to give it effect. But when we recollect how widely that misrepresentation was diffused—so widely that, I believe, there was hardly an individual in this House, that did not more or less be deceived by it, we shall not be surprized if the Catholics, who were the most interested in the event, and who could not be expected nicely and suspiciously to weigh the testimony in favour of that which they must have been so anxious to believe,—lent too ready an ear to these flattering accounts, and if their exasperation at finding them to be false was proportioned to the satisfaction with which they had received them as true: and if in the first moments of their disappointment they should have broken out into some expressions of resentment, the worst consequence of which will be that of giving to their adversaries an opportunity, too favourable to be missed, of misrepresenting their whole conduct and dispositions to the English public.
Sir, many other topics naturally present themselves to one's mind, but I will now conclude, asking pardon for having already trespassed so long upon your time. But I confess I was anxious even at the hazard of wearying the House to explain the view I take of this question, and the more so because I have hitherto contented myself with a silent but sincere vote, although during ten years that I have sat in parliament it has been frequently and eagerly discussed, and although there is no cause in which I am more strongly engaged both by the feelings of my heart and the conviction of my understanding. And, Sir, if this House, concurring in the motion of my right hon. friend, shall this 940 night resolve to do that which is alike required by the justice of the case and by the situation of the country, I shall rejoice, I do not mean to have contributed to that event for I am well aware that I can contribute to it no otherwise than by my vote, but to have borne testimony in favour of a great measure of religious liberty and political wisdom. If on the other hand their decision should be unfavourable, and it should become, as I am persuaded it will become, the source of great and irreparable evils, it will be to me some consolation, suffering under those evils in common with their authors, thus publicly and solemnly to have absolved myself from all participation in their origin.
§ Mr. R. Shaplin Carew
said, he feared he could hardly think himself authorised in trespassing on the indulgence of the House, more particularly as he was fully aware of the anxiety and importance with which every one must look forward to the decision of this question; but, as a native of Ireland, and feeling himself most deeply concerned in what related so essentially to the peace and happiness of his countrymen, he hoped he should not be deemed presumptuous in stating very briefly his sentiments. From every view he had been enabled to take of the subject, and from any experience which a residence in his native country might have afforded him, he was most decidedly of opinion that there was no one question so much calculated to strengthen the resources of Great Britain and to raise Ireland to that rank in the scale of the empire to which her natural advantages entitled her. It could not be for our interest that, when every energy should be exerted in resistance to the attacks of a common enemy, the right arm of the empire should be paralyzed by the incapacities under which the majority of the population of Ireland suffered. Give them but a free participation in the privileges of our glorious constitution—give them but a common cause and a common interest to defend, and, in the hour of danger, Ireland will not be then a vulnerable point. The hearts and the hands of Irishmen never had been, nor ever would be, backward in the defence of our rights. The violent language of the Catholic meetings had been urged as an objection to their claims. Did our ancestors, then, assert their liberties in such cool and temperate language? Was it in human nature not to feel some degree of warmth when the happiness or misery of 941 our country was at stake? He was not one of those, who, on a question involving in its issue the fate of millions, could descend to that cold criticism which would analyze every sentiment and weigh every period. Under this impression he should vote for any measure that had for its object the relief of his Catholic countrymen.
§ Mr. Ryder
Sir; I have had so many opportunities of delivering my sentiments on the subject of the Roman Catholic claims, in former sessions, that I shall not trespass long upon the patience of the House: but as one of those who have uniformly opposed concession to those Claims, I am anxious that the grounds of that opposition be distinctly understood, and freed from those misconceptions which still prevail respecting them, and which have received some countenance from the speech of my honourable friend (Mr. Ward) who spoke last but one.
I have never contended, that, by rejecting their claims at any particular time, the door is closed against the admission of them for ever. On the contrary, I have uniformly expressed my hope and expectation, that changes might take place in the situation of Europe; that the Roman Catholics might, in time, emancipate themselves from that foreign spiritual bondage to which they are unfortunately subjected; and from all the consequences to which that subjection necessarily leads; and that such changes might make those concessions safe, which could not now be yielded without danger; but that as long as the Pope, the head of the Roman Catholic church, exercised the destructive power which he does exercise, as of right, over the Roman Catholic bishops, the bishops over the priesthood, the priesthood over the Roman Catholic population, a power, not confined, as has been erroneously supposed, to mere points of faith, or spiritual doctrine, or speculative tenets, but extending over the most important civil and social concerns of life; amongst others, the right of marriage, of descent, of legitimacy, of representation to personal property, or liability to debts, as resulting from marriage. As long as laws might be made, upon all these subjects, and many other, not less important, connected with them, by a foreign authority, in violation of the laws of the realm, and those laws enforced without the aid of any temporal process, by the penalties of any excom- 942 munication, a punishment affecting not merely the spiritual welfare, but the temporal rights and interests of all those who are exposed to it; so long as this state of things remains, I shall remain, reluctantly, but unalterably, convinced, that the concessions, claimed by the Roman Catholics, cannot be granted without danger, imminent and immediate danger, to the Protestant establishment in Ireland; and with danger, though, perhaps, more remote, not less certain, to the Protestant establishment of this part of the empire.
In this opinion I am supported by some of the most zealous advocates of the Roman Catholic claims; by the right hon. and learned gentleman (Mr. Plunket), and by an hon. baronet (sir John Hippisley); both of whom have distinctly admitted the danger of foreign influence, and the necessity of guarding against it.
A similar admission I understand to have been made by my right hon. friend (Mr. Pole,) who, in the course of his speech, has appeared to call upon me to bear witness, that the opinions, then delivered by him, were consistent with those, which he was known to have entertained while he was in office. I may not understand the appeal made to me correctly; but if I do, I must assure my right hon. friend, that I am not aware of any communication, at any time, from him, which would have led me to form any other conclusion, with respect to the opinions of my right hon. friend, than one directly opposite to that of his speech this night: namely, to this conclusion, that the Roman Catholic claims could not be conceded with safety, because they would grant no effectual securities. Indeed, I am so strongly impressed with this opinion, that when my right hon. friend rose, I expected him to have taken an opposite course of argument from that which he has adopted. It is true, my right hon. friend voted for the Resolution at the end of the last session; but what were the grounds upon which that Resolution was supported?
It was urged, that the sentiments of the Protestants, both here and in Ireland, were changed, and this argument appeared, at that time, to derive some countenance from the absence of petitions from any considerable numbers of the Protestant-body. It has, however, since been proved, that the silence of the country was owing, as I have always contended, not to indifference nor apathy to this great question, "involving, as they believe, the dearest in- 943 terests of their own religion, but to a laudable reluctance, not unnecessarily to agitate the public mind upon questions, of all others, the most likely to excite the worst species of contest—animosity; but to confidence that their representatives, entertaining the same opinion with themselves, would give no encouragement to claims, which could not be safely conceded; and that confidence has been confirmed, year after year, by the uniform conduct of parliament, till the close of the last session.
Since that period, however, the table of the House has been loaded with petitions against those claims. It is said, indeed, that many of them have been obtained by misrepresentation and artifice; that some of them are violent in their language, and do not merit the attention of the House.
I admit, Sir, that implicit faith is not always to be given to petitions; that they are sometimes obtained by undue means: that they do not always speak the real sober sense of those bodies, whose sentiments they profess to represent. I know, however, nothing of these facts which have been alluded to in the course of the debate. It is very possible, that in this, as in all other cases, where great interests are at stake, excess of zeal may, in some instances, have out stepped the bounds of prudence and moderation on both sides of the question. I will not stop to enquire, because, in my view of the subject, it is immaterial whether this or that petition, out of the immense numbers which have been presented to the House, against granting the Roman Catholic claims, may not have been penned with more caution, on the one hand, or what arts have been used, what influence exerted, to impede the progress of these petitions on the other. Making all reasonable allowance for the operation of such causes, it is enough for the House to perceive that these petitions, upon the whole, breathe a spirit of toleration highly honourable to the character of the country, and well worthy that religion which it is their object to uphold; and that the only practical inference to be drawn from them is, what I believe will not be denied, that the general sense of this part of the empire, and a large majority of the Protestants of Ireland, are decidedly hostile to the measure of further concession.
It is said, that the petitions come principally from the clergy; and therefore it has been argued, they are to be laid 944 out of the case, as interested or improper. Sir, it is the first time, in the history of this country, in which the interference of the clergy, upon a question, in their opinion, deeply affecting the interests of their religion, has been characterised either as the one or the other. If, indeed, they have been actuated by unworthy motives, if they have professed sentiments they do not hold, or if they have expressed those sentiments in intemperate and violent language, the reproof may be merited and well timed; but when the charge rests only on general assertion, or declamation, then, by what new code of revolutionary law, is it to be argued, that a minister of the established church is to be censured, not merely for the exercise of a right he enjoys, in common with the rest of his fellow subjects, but for the discharge of a sacred duty, to guard, by his advice, his influence, and his example, against any innovation on the fundamental laws of his country, which he deems to be dangerous to that religion, whose interest he is bound to protect, by ties, from which no human jurisdiction can absolve him. To censure that proceeding, not from the manner in which the right has been exercised, but because it has been exercised at all, savours not a little of that spirit of intolerance and bigotry which has been at various times, too justly imputed to the professors of that religion whom it is sought to admit to a share of political power, hitherto deemed inconsistent with the laws and the constitution.
How far, Sir, the conduct of the Roman Catholics in Ireland has contributed to produce this expression of the public opinion, to increase the jealousies and fears of every class and description of the Protestant community, I will not now enquire, because I am unwilling to enter into any discussion, or even to utter an expression, that can hurt the feelings of a large and respectable part of our fellow subjects, whose general loyalty and good intentions I do not doubt, whatever I may think of the motives, the intentions, and the objects of those who, I regret in common with the right hon. and learned gentleman (Mr. Plunket), have unfortunately gained such an ascendancy amongst them, and even amongst those who, from their character and their rank, have heretofore been considered their natural and acknowledged leaders.
But with a view to the practical question, the motion of the right hon. Gentle- 945 man (Mr. Grattan)—what hope can I, or any man, entertain, from what is known of the avowed sentiments of the Roman Catholic body, that they will consent to grant any effectual securities? When my right hon. friend (Mr. Canning) proposed the resolution which passed in the last session, it was hoped that the disposition to concede, which that resolution indicated, would produce a reciprocal spirit of concession on the part of the Roman Catholics. Has it produced that effect? Or has it not, on the contrary, been followed by the most positive and peremptory declarations, both of the Roman Catholic prelacy and laity, against the grant of any additional securities? I refer to the Resolution of the Roman Catholic body, in Dublin, of the 5th of November, and to that of the Roman Catholic prelates of the 18th of the same month, which were read by my hon. friend (Mr. Bankes) on a preceding evening; and all the recent publications of the Roman Catholics, which have met the public eye, avow the same determination.
Why, then, if these cannot be denied to be the authorized and authentic declarations of the Roman Catholic body—if they will grant you no securities to supply the place of those, which you must repeal, what hope is there of answering any beneficial object, by acceding to the motion of the right hon. gentleman? On former occasions, the right hon. gentleman thought it right to recommend his motion to the adoption of the House, by informing them, not only of the general outline of his plan, but of some, if not of all, the securities, which he hoped, at the time, the Roman Catholics might be prevailed upon to grant. On that principle he, one year, suggested the Veto. Another year, on finding that the Roman Catholics would not hear of the Veto, he suggested a species of domestic nomination as a substitute. The Roman Catholics were equally firm in resisting every species of domestic nomination. And now, defeated in his hopes of proposing any measures which can, by possibility, be deemed an adequate security, by those who think any security necessary, the right hon. gentleman desists from any similar suggestions, but contents himself with moving, as before, for a committee;—contending, that there is, in his opinion, no danger, and, consequently, no need of any securities at all.
The right hon. gentleman is, however, almost single in that opinion. The ne- 946 cessity of securities has been generally admitted and contended for, even by those most anxious to support the motion; and yet only two have been specified—the Veto, by the hon. baronet (sir John Hippisley) and the Domestic Nomination, by the right hon. gentleman (Mr. Plunket); and the attainment of either is acknowledged to be impracticable, even by the right hon. mover himself.
Why, then, Sir, is it not a novel proceeding for the House to consent to go into a committee, and upon a question of such importance, when almost every individual in the House contends that securities must be found; and no one individual has suggested any one security, which there is the slightest chance of obtaining, when the Roman Catholic body considers the demand for securities as an insult to their allegiance? But it is said, that the House will give offence to the Roman Catholic body, by refusing to take their claims into consideration. Yes; but what are we doing at this moment? Is not the House employed in considering their claims? What have we been doing for years past; Is there a single question in the whole range of the foreign or domestic policy of the country, which has occupied so much of the time of the House, session after session, as the consideration of the claims of the Roman Catholics? Hive they not been discussed year after year—sometimes more than once in the same session—in debates protracted for nights together, and with a gravity proportionate to the importance of the subject? There is, therefore, no ground for contending, that you close the door against the consideration of the claims of the Roman Catholics, because you refuse to go into a committee upon those claims.
As little ground is there for the argument, that, by going into a committee, the question will be set at rest. Suppose, what indeed can hardly admit of doubt, that the labours of the committee will end, either in no plan at all, or in fixing on such securities as the Roman Catholics will not grant? Is the question at rest? What is there in the resolutions of a committee, though adopted by the House, to prevent the right hon. gentleman, or any other member, from moving for another committee to reconsider and revise the proceedings of the former? We know by experience, that, though the House has divided, by large majorities, against the appointment of a committee, the right 947 hon. gentleman has not been deterred from submitting to the House the same proposition in the ensuing session. The question cannot be set at rest while the Roman Catholic pays unlimited obedience to a foreign, final, ecclesiastical, jurisdiction, paramount to the lawful government of his country. It is in vain to expect it.
But if the committee can do no good, can it do no mischief? Is it a matter of indifference? Let the House remember the effect of the resolution of the last session. Will any man deny that a general alarm has been excited by it, not merely amongst the lower and more uninformed classes, but amongst the higher orders of the state, who are more removed from the influence of prejudice or passion? Let them take warning by that example. Let them not add to that alarm by proceeding in the same course, under circumstances which preclude all hopes of obtaining any beneficial object. Let them not disregard the voice of the country, so unequivocally expressed, or give their constituents cause to regret their choice. Let them not shew their gratitude, by a division contrary to the wishes and the hopes of the people, and one which runs the risk of rekindling those religious animosities, and of reviving those contending interests, between Protestant and Papist, which, wherever they exist, are most fatal to the prosperity and happiness of a Country.
Let them rather follow the example of that great man, whose words I am now quoting, and whose authority has been most incorrectly referred to, more than once in the course of the debate, particularly by my hon. friend (Mr. Ward), as sanctioning the motion of the right hon. gentleman. It is well known that Mr. Pitt was friendly to the claims of the Roman Catholics, though he refused to agitate the question. But when he resisted as he did a similar motion to that now before the House; did he rest his opposition solely, as has been stated, upon the conscientious scruples of his sovereign? All those who know any thing of Mr. Pitt, must know, that this ground of objection, had it stood alone, would have been with him, conclusive, under the circumstances of that period. But he did not rest his objection on this ground only. He laid equal stress upon the general opinion of the country. He told the House, that he looked at the measure as a measure of peace, of union, and conciliation; as a 948 measure, which, he hoped, might have the effect of softening down religious differences, extinguishing all animosities, and uniting of men, of both religions, in one common zeal for the preservation of the constitution. But that, desirous as he was of pressing it, he never would have proposed it, unless he had a rational prospect of its being carried, with that general concurrence, which would have enabled parliament to gratify one party, without awakening the fears, or exciting the jealousies of the other; because, as he truly stated, if brought forward under other circumstances, it would only tend to revive the animosities which he wished to extinguish, and aggravate the difficulties which he was desirous to remove. He added, that, looking at the opinions of the times, the situation of the public mind, and the sentiments of all descriptions and classes, he should act inconsistently with his duty, and even upon those grounds upon which he had originally thought the measure should be brought forward, if he did not negative a similar motion to that now moved by the right hon. gentleman.
Such were the sentiments and such was the language of Mr. Pitt, in 1805; and yet, in 1805, when he delivered and acted upon that opinion, the table of the House had not been loaded, as it has recently been, with the petitions of the Protestants, on the one hand, nor had the Roman Catholics refused to grant any securities on the other.
Sir; in the firm conviction that the objects in view are now unattainable, I cannot consent to go into a committee, and thereby open a door to all the mischiefs arising from religious animosities, the extent of which no man can calculate or foresee. I cannot consent to it, because I am persuaded, the consequence would be, to excite the hopes of the Roman Catholics, in the same proportion with the jealousies and the fears of the Protestants; instead of gratifying both, to indispose the one and not satisfy the other; and to add, at this moment of exigency, to the greatest of all evils, which can befal a nation, disunion amongst ourselves.
§ Mr. Wellesley Pole,
in explanation, said—Sir, my right hon. friend has misstated (certainly not intentionally) what I said. I did not say that there was a Memorandum among my right hon. friend's official papers, declaring that I was of opinion that all privileges demanded by the Catholics could be granted, with perfect 949 security, to the Protestant establishment. I am in the recollection of the House whether I stated any such thing; what I did say was, and I now repeat it—that I had, a very considerable time ago, in 1811, transmitted a Memorandum to my right hon. friend, in which I gave my opinion that the Catholic question could not remain as it was—that I pressed the cabinet to take the subject into their most serious consideration, and to form upon it, an arrangement, which should be final. I did not presume to dictate what that arrangement should be, but I expressed a decided opinion that an arrangement must be made, and I detailed the reasons which induced me to think so. It was of course for my right hon. friend to take such steps upon the memorandum as he thought fit, but I am certain, if he examines his papers he will find it, and I am surprised that he has forgotten it.
§ Mr. Charles Marsh
said, that the right hon. gentleman who spoke last had talked much of the alarm he felt lest the laws established by the Roman Catholic clergy should interfere with those of government; but if due enquiry had been made, it would be found that they had rather a concurrent than an opponent jurisdiction. The fears expressed lest the Pope should recover his power were equally futile: for what authority could that man exert over others, who could not command himself? A right hon. gentleman (Mr. Peel) had indulged in remarks unjustifiably severe upon the conduct of a right reverend prelate who had distinguished himself in favour of the Catholic cause: a man, the simplicity of whose manners, the integrity of whose heart, and the sagacity of whose understanding, were almost proverbial: a man, venerable from his age, estimable for his virtues, admirable for his learning, and who had ever distinguished himself as a friend to civil and religious liberty. Surely, because, this distinguished, learned, and revered personage had not refused to accept an invitation to dine with individuals to whose opinions he was favourable, he was not to be stigmatized as one who countenanced the drunken orgies of a riotous mob; nor because he coincided in sentiment, was it to be said that he had decended from the elevated dignity that a prelate of the church of England ought to maintain. The last speaker had asked 950 what object could be attained? The Committee of the whole House was only a preliminary step, and it would be no inconsiderable point gained, if the question which, according to his account, bad occupied the attention of parliament, session after session, were at last decided. A select committee would of course afterwards be named to examine into the details of the securities that ought to be required. The opinions he entertained upon this question were not taken up lightly or precipitately, but were the deliberate conviction of his judgment, after weighing all the arguments, uninfluenced by the petitions, with which the table had been on both sides crowded. The Petitions of the Protestants were of course entitled to weight; but if it were true that undue means had been employed to procure them—if publications of an inflammatory nature had been industriously circulated, that weight would certainly be considerably diminished. He would not have attempted to revive religious animosities, over which the veil of oblivion had been gradually drawn by the hand of time. Of all persons the present ministers were those who had most vehemently opposed popular opinion: they had declared, and wisely, that popular clamour should not influence their actions, and he hoped that the present would be an instance of the sincerity of such professions.
observed, in explanation, that he by no means intended any disrespect to the right reverend prelate (bishop of Norwich), he merely expressed his regret at the union of his name with that of a person whose society could reflect no honour upon him.
§ Mr. Whitbread
rose and said: I am anxious, Sir, once more to express to the House my sentiments upon this momentous question: but I shall do so the more briefly, because the side of the question which I espouse has been already soably supported by gentlemen whose arguments up to the present moment remain untouched. Glad I am, Sir, that the hon. gent, over the way (Mr. Marsh), provoked by unfounded insinuations and by daring assertions, felt himself called upon in the warmth of his resentment, to vindicate that distinguished and immaculate prelate, the bishop of Norwich, who had previously received a meed of praise (well bestowed on this, but little approved by the other side of the House), in a 951 speech delivered by a right hon. member, of whose, approbation the most exulted might, indeed, be proud. This applause, doubtless, the right hon. gentleman (Mr. Peel) felt to be but little merited, and in the eulogium which he passed upon the talents of my right hon. and learned friend (Mr. Plunket), he thought proper to compliment the one at the expence of the sincerity of the other. The right hon. gent. confessed that the address delivered the other night by my right hon. and learned friend, was eloquent, argumentative, and sincere; but, added he, if he had courted the sorry pre-eminence conferred upon another, he might have acted differently, and he would have been Waited upon with addresses from deputations, accompanied by shouts and acclamations, and have received the same honours that were paid to the bishop of Norwich. Now, if the sentiments were sincere for which my right hon. and learned friend did not receive this applause, it must be inferred that the right hon. gentleman means to assert that the reverend prelate was not sincere, whose conduct was marked by the approbation so severely censured. The right hon. gentleman has been pleased to explain himself to the House,—without such explanation, the inference was undeniable, and must have been universally drawn.
The speech of my right hon. and learned friend—a speech, the excellence of which, with painful regret, calls to my recollection the golden days when this House contained within its walls a Burke, a Pitt, a Fox, a Sheridan, and a Windham—has left me little indeed to add to the unanswerable arguments which it contained. I feel it necessary, however, to say a few words for the purpose of shewing that I am consistent in the vote which I mean to give, because, according to an hon. gentleman who spoke from the floor (Mr. Bankes), it is impossible that I should be so. He maintains that, notwithstanding his vote this night will be directly adverse to that which he gave in the last session, his conduct will nevertheless be consistent. To me, Sir, this declaration appeared paradoxical, nor did the hon. gentleman satisfactorily explain it in the extraordinary arguments he employed. If aye and no to the same question from the mouth of the hon. gentleman imply no contradiction, aye and aye from my mouth must flatly contradict each other. If the hon. 952 gentleman be consistent in voting against himself, it follows that I must be inconsistent in voting with myself. But let us see, Sir, what the hon. gentleman's reasons are for his singular change. He insists that the Catholics, since the decision of last year, have come to certain preposterous and violent resolutions. Last session he supported the resolution, merely as an experiment. He thought that it would have the effect of tranquillizing and conciliating the Catholics. But in this expectation he was disappointed. According to the hon. gentleman, the most desperate proceedings have taken place. There have been meetings, conventions, delegates, and aggregate bodies, which have passed the most outrageous votes. I should like, Sir, to know whether all these delegates, meetings, and aggregate bodies did not in fact exist, and had not come to these very resolutions long before the hon. gentleman gave his former vote. Then, however, the hon. gentleman was all readiness to concede. He only wanted securities, and every thing would be arranged. Now, a few violent men frighten him out of his senses, and he turns about and runs away from the vote which he originally gave. (Hear, hear!)—Much to his credit, the hon. gentleman is at the head of a body of men who call themselves rational, moderate, economical reformists,—persons who wish to do all things, in order and by degrees. The hon. gent. sees, out of the House, men voting, what he terms, absurd, violent, and preposterous resolutions on the subject of public reform and economy, telling him that they are not satisfied with these puling half-measures that effect nothing; and that they will not listen for an instant to his indecisive policy. In this case, Sir, how does the hon. gentleman proceed? Does he immediately dismiss his Finance Committee? Does he shut up his books and walk home, and say that he will have nothing more to do with them? No such thing, Sir. The hon. gentleman goes on, and persists in what he conceives to be his line of duty. He proceeds in his regular, though slow, siege of public corruption and abuse, completely regardless of the noisy shouts of discontent that assail him without doors, and determined eventually to accomplish his purpose. I do not assert that the hon. gent. is not sincere: his courage and perseverance are to be attributed to his sincerity: he defies all the clamorous addresses, votes and resolutions 953 of unauthorised intemperate men, and proceeds with his plan. Why not adopt such conduct towards the Catholics? I deny, Sir, that they have manifested that outrage and violence which have been attributed to them since the vote given by the hon. gentleman last year: but if they have committed acts of violence, have they not been goaded to them by a sense of their wrongs? And is the hon. gentleman quite sure that these violent resolutions, as he calls them, did really proceed from the friends of the Catholics? Is he quite sure that they do not owe their origin to those who now possess influence, who are now considered magnates,—whose power would be diminished, if this measure were adopted,—whose interest it is to defeat the object which all good Catholics and well-judging Protestants too are anxious to see accomplished?
I am not surprized, Sir, at the great importance which is endeavoured to be attached to the petitions which have been laid on your table against the claims of the Catholics. With me they do not carry that weight which from the numerous signatures, I should be inclined, on almost any other occasion, to attach to them. I know, Sir, and the country knows also, the artful misrepresentations that have been resorted to for the purpose of obtaining them. I am aware of the inflammatory publications that have been industriously circulated: I have heard, and heard of inflammatory discourses and almost threats that have been uttered from the pulpit. I have seen the Charges that have been written by right reverend prelates, and written, I must say, apparently in total ignorance of the subject. Such papers, Sir, have been spread abroad by persons calling themselves the "Society for the Propagation of Christian Knowledge;" and the people have been induced, by every artifice, and in some places even forced, to sign such petitions. The truth, I believe, in my conscience, is, that instead of the Protestants being more adverse than formerly, they are now by reany degrees more favourable to the concession of the claims of the Catholics. The son of a right reverend prelate (Mr. Tomline) who, from peculiar circumstances, may be supposed to speak from some information, has endeavoured to deprive us of the authority of Mr. Pitt in favour of the concession, and this attempt has been preceded by one not more successful on the part of the hon. 954 gentleman's father (the bishop of Lincoln himself) who, in a Charge to the clergy of his diocese, has struggled hard to shew that the opinions of Mr. Fox on the subject of concession to the Catholics have been always misapprehended. This laudable design was to be carried into effect by a garbled quotation from a note in a posthumous work of my ever-lamented friend. This charge was addressed to men who could never have attended the debates in this House—who had never heard Mr. Fox pronounce his eternal and immutable opinions upon this question. If such an attempt had been made here, we should have treated it with merited detestation; but it appears to have been intended for men ignorant of any opinions but those which were dictated to them.
But never, Sir, was there a more unsuccessful attempt than that to deprive the Catholics of the sanction of Mr. Pitt's authority. When the right reverend prelate urged as a reason for doubting his favourable intentions towards them, that he had never confided any plan to my lord Eldon; he might as well have said, that he was also insincere in the opinions he delivered in this House against the Slave Trade, because he never communicated any specific plan for its abolition. And yet, Sir, if any man were to ask me if I considered him insincere on that account, I should at once say it was impossible for those who had felt the effects produced by his eloquence, to doubt his sincerity. I would also say, that it was equally impossible for any person to doubt the sincerity of his opinions in favour of the Catholics, who ever heard him speak in this House on the subject, and when they coupled with his opinions so delivered, the paper circulated by my lord Cornwallis at the close of his administration. I must maintain, therefore, that we have the authority of Mr. Pitt. We have also the authority of Mr. Fox, Mr. Burke, Mr. Windham, and of one whom Ireland owns as one of the most illustrious of her sons, and whom I hope we shall soon see again in this House, Mr. Sheridan, a name of which his native land must always be proud.
Like weeds in a rank soil, which are no sooner cut down than they spring up again, the arguments brought forward against the claims of the Catholics are no sooner refuted, than they are urged again, with increased pertinacity. So it was, Sir, in the question for the abolition of the Slave 955 Trade, until, after a struggle of twenty years, the blessed day arrived when our opponents were at last driven out of the field, and that great measure was accomplished.
One right hon. gentleman opposite (Mr. Ryder) declared himself not averse to concession to the Catholics at some period or other, but disapproves of going into a committee at present. This, he contends, could not be construed by the Catholics into a refusal to take their claims into consideration. What, said the right hon. gentleman, have you not been gravely deliberating on this subject of their claims for these eight or ten years past, and if this committee should be refused, is not any member of the House at liberty to bring forward another motion on the subject to-morrow? But does he think that the speech of my right hon. friend (Mr. Grattan), regularly made every session, with an abortive attempt as regularly made to answer it in the grave and solemn manner of the right honourable gentleman—does he think that sufficient to satisfy the just expectations of Ireland? Does he think that Ireland will go on contentedly if nothing more definite is resolved on in her favour? A right hon. gentleman whom I have always believed to be most sincere in the opinions he delivers in this House (Mr. Yorke) has told us, that the Catholics of the present day continue to be imbued with all the old prejudices of that sect. The bishop of Lincoln, in his episcopal Charge, has thought proper to lay it down as a maxim to his clergy, not only to discourage the growth of Popery by all the means in their power, but also to take every opportunity of discouraging any opinions, which might have a tendency to diminish the fear of Popery, as opinions injurious to the establishment. A more injurious, a more illiberal mode of proceeding than this cannot possibly be devised, nor one which has a stronger tendency to revive the outrages which contending sects exercised upon each other in remoter ages. At one time I thought we were to have the right hon. gentleman in favour of going into the committee. For, said he, if you can shew me any securities which will be effectual for obviating the dangers to be apprehended from this innovation, I will consent to go into the Committee. Nothing could be fairer than such a declaration, 956But when at Heaven's gate St. Peter seemedTo wait him with his keys—A violent cross wind from either coastBlew him transverse ten thousand leagues awayInto the devious air: and there he sawCowls, hoods, and habits with their wearers—————————reliques, and beads,Indulgences, dispenses, pardons, bulls.We fairly lost him in Limbo. No sooner had the right hon. gentleman made this seeming advance, than he at once retreated into his former inflexibility. But yet the right hon. gentleman stated certain things, in the event of which he thought it might be safe to make concessions. The first of these events was the death of Buonaparté. I do not, Sir, impute to the right hon. gentleman any wish that the ruler of France should be taken off by unfair means; but I cannot help expressing my surprise and indignation at seeing in the public prints the most horrible doctrines again advanced on this subject, such as the necessity of marching to peace over the dead body of that man. I never can consent to the "deep damnation of his taking off" or of any man but by fair means; and if concession to the Catholics be contingent on the unfair death of Buonaparté, let their cause be hopeless. Another condition is, that the Catholics should give up the spiritual supremacy of the Pope: and last year the right hon. gentleman wanted an Irish Pope at Ballyshannon. Sir, if there is any thing peculiarly taunting—if there is any thing more likely to provoke sufferers to madness, it is stating terms which are ridiculous, and fixing upon them conditions which it is impossible for them to perform. The right hon. gentleman says their exclusion is their own fault, they have but to conform. This, Sir, was the dreadful mode employed towards the unhappy victims, tortured by the rack of the Inquisition, in order to extort from them confessions of crimes of which they were innocent. To the holiest of the Martyrs it may have been said, "Only declare your disbelief of certain doctrines:" to Servetus, "Only say you believe in the Trinity;" and so to all other sufferers. "You are all foolish people, and your sufferings are all your own fault." The expiring man might say, "I may be released from my agonies, but exquisite as my torments are, I will not consent to be relieved from temporal misery, at the expence of eternal punishment." We say to the Catholic, "You 957 may be a judge, a general, an admiral, a commander in chief. If you are not, the fault is your own. Why don't you renounce your creed?" The answer is ready:—"What shall a man give in exchange for his own soul? I shew you that I do give you security. My forefathers and my brethren have proved it by shedding their blood in your service. I myself am now marching to the perils of war to risk my life in your cause. You cannot be sincere in an offer coupled with such conditions;—my refuge is despair!"
The right hon. member who spoke last, introduced into his speech some of the topics insisted on by the right hon. gentleman (Mr. Yorke), on a former night. He talked of a strange power exercised by the Pope over property, the dissolution of marriage, the bastardizing of children, absolution of allegiance, and so forth. Now, Sir, I ask the right hon. gentleman when this took place? The supremacy of the Pope has been acknowledged in Ireland from the earliest periods of her conversion to Christianity. I ask, when were ever your soldiers absolved from their allegiance? When did ever the Catholic priests order your common soldiers and sailors to desert your standards? And if they issued such orders would they be obeyed? Let me endeavour to set right an error that sufficient pains have not been taken to refute. When we argue upon the subject, we speak as if we were erecting this hierarchy. We forget that the hierarchy has all along existed over a vast and discontented multitude. Whereas the passing of this just measure would continue it over a comparatively contented and happy population.
Before I conclude, Sir, I wish to offer a few words in reference to the Petitions on the table of the House. A gallant officer lately presented a petition from a large number of inhabitants in Ireland, (whose very mutilated appearance bears testimony to his bravery and honour): I allude, Sir, to the Petition from the county of Fermanagh. If I had not known his sentiments upon this question, I should have been astonished how he could attach the importance he did to the multitude of signatures to that Petition. That gallant general had fought and bled in Egypt. He was told by another gallant officer near him, that the successes in Egypt were chiefly owing to the good conduct of Catholic soldiers,—those men, whose weapons, it is said, the Pope can turn against 958 your own bosoms. It was at the head of those brave men that he received the honourable distinction of his wound.
But, Sir, there are other petitions at which, I own, I am still more astonished. There is one signed by a small number of men, whose forefathers were driven from France by religious persecution, and who obtained shelter and protection in this country, together with the free exercise of their religion, not with standing that religion was not, in many respects, conformable with our own. These persons have had the imprudence to interfere, and to obtrude themselves upon us, in the discussion of this great national question. Not observing the signs of the times—not considering how persecution applies to all religions—they have laid a petition on your table, in which they endeavour to persuade the House of Commons, not only, not to grant some of the claims of the Catholics, but to give up nothing to them—to oppose all and every concession. For the honour of the petitioners, for the honour of human nature, this Petition ought not to have been presented. By religious persecution the nation, by whom they were driven out, was weakened and distracted—through the bigotry of Louis the 14th, seas of human blood were spilled. In the day of their distress the ancestors of the petitioners found a safe refuge in this land they have hitherto, I believe, behaved quietly and inoffensively; but assuredly, it behoves them to refrain from sharpening the edge of religious animosities, in a country where they have found assistance and protection from religious persecution.
Sir, there is still another Petition to which I cannot help briefly adverting. A worthy alderman (sir William Curtis) presented the other day, a petition from London of very considerable bulk. The child and the nurse were well proportioned to each other. The worthy alderman told us on that occasion that every person arrived at years of discretion had a right to express his opinion. Very true, Sir. But the hon. baronet might have remembered that there was a petition, of a still greater size than the present one, against the Catholics, which, in the recollection of many who hear me, set the four coiners of London in flames. I ask the hon. baronet whether he thinks it would be prudent to hazard the recurrence of such a calamity? And I am induced to do so, because I have seen, every where, hand-bills in circula- 959 tion containing the most gross and detest able falsehoods. Even at the door of this House, I saw a person this day distributing a printed paper, which I believe he delivered to every member who passed him, pretending to be the opinions of a Catholic on this question, charging my right hon. friend (Mr. Grattan) with insincerity, and stating that the measure proposed would be an insult to the Catholic body. I am convinced that this paper was not the production of a Catholic, but the gross artifice of a furious and bigotted Protestant, as base and detestable as the fabricated Third Part of Penal Statutes against the Catholics.
Sir, a society calling itself the Protestant Union has lately been formed in this city; in principle it is the same—(change but a word,—call it the Protestant Association—and we have an Association that set London in flames). At the head of this new Protestant Association I lament to see the name of a learned, amiable, and benevolent man (Mr. Granville Sharpe) who has lived a long life of virtue and piety, and who, I am fully convinced, is actuated by the purest intentions. An hon. gentleman, the late member for Yorkshire (Mr. Wilberforce) knows, as well as myself, that that worthy man is not influenced, in his opposition to the claims of the Catholics, by the Coronation Oath, or by considerations of political expediency, not by any evil to be apprehended from papal influence or authority, but from having discovered in the Apocalypse, that if ever the Catholic Claims should be granted, the vials of the wrath of Heaven will be poured out upon these kingdoms! Sir, it is mortifying to see the most ridiculous stories that have been gravely circulated, under the sanction of this new Protestant Union, with the excellent person to whom I have alluded, at its head—the conversations of a poor Irish girl respecting her priest—and similar absurdities too farcical to mention.
With respect to securities, Sir, the Catholics have none to give. We took all away. We have every thing in our own hands. We have been doling back to them, little by little, the privileges they now enjoy. The restrictions which remain constitute what are falsely called your securities—for satisfied I am, that if they were removed, the Church and State would be infinitely more secure.
Sir, as kingdoms have never been overturned but by the misconduct of their 960 kings and rulers, so the church of England will never be overturned, but by the misconduct of the prelates at her Head. But, though these are my opinions, other persons may entertain different ones; and I am ready, therefore, to go into a committee, to consider if any securities can be devised. When we go into a committee, the Catholics must be much more satisfied than if we refuse it. With respect to their refusal of the Veto—is it any answer to say, that in 1799, they were willing to give up the Veto? At one time a people are willing to pay for what afterwards, if gratuitously offered, they will spurn at. Were not the Catholics at one period in the exercise of all their rights? And were not the restrictions, under which they labour, imposed for temporary purposes? Give them back, then, I say, that part of their rights, of which they remain deprived, now that the circumstances, which gave rise to the restrictions, are no more.
Before I sit down, I wish to call the attention of the under Secretary of State for the Home Department to a certain subject. In a former part of my speech I took occasion to notice the numerous placards and hand-bills that are distributed in all quarters, and the great endeavours which were making to inflame the minds of the people, and to bring about a revival of all the gross and calumnious charges against the Catholics which it was possible for the malignity of man to invent. Now, in a paper published every three weeks, under the authority of the Secretary of State, called "The Hue and Cry," containing chiefly proclamations for the discovery of robbers and deserters, (and the list is numerous without including the politicians,) an account was lately given of the fire at Sidney College, Cambridge, in which account, after noticing the diabolical nature of the crime, and indulging in some conjectures respecting the incendiary, it is observed, that, "it must not be supposed that there are any Romanists about the College." Another article in the same paper, alluding to the Popish struggle for dominion, concludes in this way: "It is a nuisance, and ought to be put an end to—the blood of every Christian is frozen, at the bare-faced lust of eye and pride of heart of these people." I wish to know, Sir, what the right hon. Under Secretary will say to the appearance of such articles in this publication. I wish to know whether these infamous 961 paragraphs come from the pen of any person employed by the noble viscount at the head of the Home Department. For if this be not contradicted, it would seem, that the Catholics are held up, under the authority of the Secretary of State, as the authors of every thing that is infamous. Really, Sir, such articles remind me of the writings in the time of Bedloe and of Oates; the man who could write in this manner would have been a fit person to have written the inscription on the Monument, which'Pointing to the skies,'Like a tall bully, lifts its head, and lies.'I anticipate, Sir, that we shall have the support of the noble lord opposite (lord Castlereagh), and that a large majority of the House will vote for going into the committee; but even if there should not be that majority, I exhort the Catholics not to despair; for ultimately they will have the court with them; and when it is known that the court is favourable to their claims, the passing of the measure will be as easy as that of the Toleration Bill was last year. Then, I am sure, the Church will readily acquiesce; then, to use the expression of an honourable baronet, those with mitres on their heads, and those with mitres in their heads, will take a different course from the one which they have been pursuing; for even those who have mitres on their heads, with few exceptions, will recollect that they may have them improved by translation. If the favours of the count had taken the direction expected, this great wok would even now have been accomplished.
Sir, if the hopes of the Catholics are now to be destroyed—if the Catholics should now be driven to despair, will they not look back to the promises that were held out to them? Who offered them the cup? Who tempted them to drink? And if they are intoxicated, to whom do they owe their madness? Sir, I hope that this House will take care that they shall neither be deceived nor disappointed; but that it will nobly follow up the Resolution which was last year agreed to by so great a majority. I believe it will be allowed that no Royal Conscience now stands in the way of the claimants; and if that fact is once known, I am convinced that the worthy alderman (Curtis) will not be burthened as he has been, with his enormous petitions. In a committee upon this great and good work, the labours of my much respected friend (Mr. Grattan) 962 may at length be consummated—the Catholic subject may be admitted to places of trust and power, under the crown, which must be worn by a Protestant prince, as the supreme head of our Protestant church establishment. The church of England will derive additional security and safety in the additional security and safety of the empire at large; and will be allowed a respite from the pursuits, which have, for some time past, but too much occupied her—the people of Ireland will be satisfied—and the whole empire will he rendered united, and safe against all the attacks of all our enemies.
§ Mr. Hiley Addington
believed there was not one gentleman in the House, except the hon. member, who could believe that such a paragraph as he had read was issued from his noble relation the Secretary of State's office. There was no authority whatever for this assertion, as far as he knew; from his knowledge of what passed at the office to which he belonged.
§ Mr. Whitbread
asked if this Police Gazette was not published under the authority of that office of the Secretary of State for the Home Department? It was not enough to say they had no cognizance of such a paragraph—they ought to have cognizance of it.
The Hon. Frederick Robinson
said:—Sir; I have never approached the consideration of this question, without feeling the utmost doubt, and difficulty, and diffidence of my own judgment. It has never appeared to me to be a question to be decided by magnificence of declamation, exuberance of wit, or vehemence of invective. Such modes of discussing it appear to me altogether unlikely to lead to any beneficial result. Considering it, however, in the most dispassionate manner, I voted, last year, for the motion of the right hon. gentleman (Mr. Canning), and it is now my intention to adhere to that vote. It then appeared to me that the question had arrived at such a point, that it was absolutely necessary that it should be considered, with a view to some determinate proposition. We have here, for more than ten years, been debating this question upon its abstract principles; and it appears to me infinitely more wise to bring it to some specific point, as the only means of reconciling both parties, to the decision of parliament. I had thought, therefore, last year, that it was advisable to support the right hon. gentleman's motion, and I did 963 so in the true sense and spirit of that motion; for I was fully sensible that, if the final decision of parliament failed to connect the national feelings of both parties, it would fail to be a final and conciliatory adjustment. Such being my feelings last year, I cannot see the force of those reasons, which have induced others to change their line of conduct, upon the present occasion. Nothing, certainly, can be less conciliating than the language of the Catholic board; but it was equally violent when the vote of last year was determined; and I see, in the violence of that board, rather the interference of a faction than the sincere feeling of the Catholic body. With respect to the petitions from this country, they have made no change, in my opinion, upon the merits of this question. I have always supposed that, whenever the question appeared to approach towards its accomplishment, a strong feeling of opposition would exist in this country. I am not surprised at this; for I cannot conceive it possible that so important an arrangement could be effected, in the domestic policy of this country, without exciting a very strong sensation: and I cannot avoid feeling that the apprehensions, entertained by so large and respectable a portion of the community as the petitioners, ought to have great weight in determining the mode and extent of the concessions which, upon present grounds, I am willing to grant. I advert particularly to the petitions from the clergy, which I think entitled to much more respect than they have received; and I cannot agree with the eulogium, which the hon. gentleman (who spoke last) has passed upon part of the speech of an hon. baronet (sir Robert Heron) on a former night. I thought, indeed, that, whilst the hon. baronet, in all the fervour of maiden oratory, alluded to petitioners with mitres on their heads and mitres in their heads, he was both witty and severe, that he only uttered a gross calumny; for, of all classes of the community, none have so fair a claim to approach the House on such an occasion. The members of this House are, indeed, the professors of the Protestant faith; but the clergy are bound to it by more sacred ties, as being, not merely its professors, but its teachers.
Sir, I shall next notice the petitions from Ireland, which have been adverted to us as furnishing a ground for a change of opinion since last year. In that view of the subject I do concur; for it appears 964 to me that a very large proportion of these petitions do not object to the principle of Catholic concession, but only to an unqualified concession, as matter of right. In that view I own I very much concur; but I cannot consider that coincidence of opinion to be an objection to the Committee. If, however, I see no change of circumstances since last year, I ask whether no change has taken place in the circumstances of this country, as connected with this question, since that period, when these restrictions were originally established? I think that a material change has taken place, and that those apprehensions which, at that time, were natural and justifiable, have no rational existence at the present moment. Previous to the period of the Revolution, the great principle of the Protestantism of the throne was not a fixed and fundamental principle of the constitution. Every possible motive combined to keep alive, in the Catholics, not only the constant wish, but the constant hope, of obtaining ascendancy as well as power. They saw, in the prospect of each succeeding reign, a chance, by no means improbable, of regaining all which they had lost. This circumstance, in my opinion, may account for many of those occurrences, which excited the fears and dictated the cautious proceedings of those, who framed the Revolution; and I am by no means surprised that, under the circumstances, which led to that fresh act, its framers did not feel that the Protestantism of the throne was alone sufficient to secure the Protestant establishments of the country; and that, seeing that a Roman Catholic Pretender and his family still claimed a right to the throne, they enforced the restrictions, now in question, as additional securities to the fundamental principle of the Protestantism of the throne. These particular restrictions, however, do not appear to me to be fundamental principles in themselves; and, as the experience of more than a century has confirmed the inviolability of a Protestant throne, and as all chance of a Roman Catholic competitor is now extinct, I think we may safely venture to relax those restrictions which former dangers had rendered expedient.
Whilst, however, I think that much may be done, and that the time for doing it has arrived, I am bound, in honour and fairness, to state, that, if the measure, for the adoption of the House, rested solely upon the principles of the right hon. hon. gen- 965 tleman (Mr. Grattan), I should finally be obliged to vote against it. For, although the considerations which I have stated, dispose me to concede much to the Catholics, I cannot forget that the principle of our constitution is jealousy. It is jealous of the crown, jealous of the aristocracy, jealous of the democracy; and the Roman Catholics have no right to complain, if it is jealous of them; not that I mean to apply this principle of caution to this or that individual, but it is applicable to the weakness of human nature, which leads all men to a love of power, and to the consequent exertion to maintain it. This jealousy, however, has its bounds; and, if the Protestantism of the throne is still allowed to retain that protection, which I think expedient, I shall be most willing to abandon those restrictive guards, for which I cannot see, in the present state of the world, an adequate and imperious necessity. Having thus stated, however imperfectly, the general outline of my view of this great and intricate question, I will only add, that I shall go into the committee with an anxious desire, an earnest hope, and a fond expectation that the result of its deliberations will be a realization of those anticipations, which led to the vote of last year, and which, I trust, will end in really and substantially promoting the harmony and concord of all classes of his Majesty's subjects.
§ Sir Thomas Dyke Acland
.—Sir, I am fully aware that, in delivering my sentiments, at any time, I have much to request from the indulgence of the House; and therefore, more particularly, at so late an hour, and on a subject of so great importance. Feeling, however, that I have the misfortune to differ from many (both in and out of this House) for whose judgment and opinion I entertain the greatest respect, I hope that I may be permitted shortly to explain the grounds of my vote this night.
If I understand rightly the right hon. gentleman's motion, its ultimate object is to exchange the present securities of the established church for others, which may be found fully effectual to its support, and, at the same time, less offensive to a large portion of our fellow subjects; thus to prevent, if possible, that gradual alienation of mind which, being the natural result of their present exclusion, might hereafter render them utterly incapable of moral or political coalescence with us, 966 the Protestant part of the community. Now, Sir, I consider the established church, in full enjoyment of her possessions and endowments, her doctrine, worship, and discipline, to be as essential a part of the British constitution as our monarchy or liberty itself; and that every measure, calculated to injure that establishment, calls for as vigorous a resistance as an attack upon the most fundamental part of our constitution. Were the code of securities, which has existed for the last century, necessarily to be considered as perpetual, as I hope and trust that church will be, I conceive that this House never would have entertained the present question, whether we shall or shall not consider the propriety of devising some new system.
But, I do not find that this code is, by our constitution, deemed so indispensable. I find that, when many of those, who framed the acts of the Revolution, must have still existed, while at least their spirit and principles invigorated our councils, I mean, in the union between England and Scotland, the oaths, which have alone bolted our doors against the Roman Catholics, were positively enacted to be taken by the members of the legislature, only "until the parliament of Great Britain shall otherwise direct;" and this, in the very articles, which, by a carefulness and caution of expression, which precludes even the possibility of doubt or evasion, provide explicitly, as a fundamental and unalterable condition of union,—that the respective church establishments shall be perpetual and immutable, so far as perpetuity and immutability can belong to any thing, which is mortal; The distinction clearly intimates, in my mind, that, in the contemplation of those who framed that union, some time might come in which the excluding oath would be no longer necessary.
Proceeding, onward, I find, that the legislature, by its enactments, of the latter half of this reign, has pointed out the near approach of such a period; that many great statesmen, who, on other points, have stood opposed to each other, in the very front of the battle, have united on this subject, and given the powerful sanction of their concurring testimony to the expediency of some change, and that at no very far distant time.
I find, Sir, that, not many months ago, this point of time was more distinctly marked; and that, by a great majority of 967 the last parliament, the present session, perhaps even the present night, was declared to be a fit occasion for taking this great question into our most serious consideration; and, if I may be allowed, without disrespect, to draw another argument from the nature of the opposition generally made to the present motion, I would observe, that most of the objections rest, not on the perpetual, but on the present necessity of exclusions; thus allowing that the existing species of security is not always necessary; and, consequently, that, whether at this moment it be necessary or not, is a fair subject of consideration; and, when I see that the right hon. mover of the resolutions, in the last parliament, and the right hon. proposer of the present question, have a plan of securities to propose, I do think it fair to them, and due to the petitioners and the country, to give the subject a full, a deliberate, and dispassionate investigation. Beyond this I do not pledge myself to go; but I must say that it is my ardent wish, as it would be most gratifying to me, to find, that, in the altered tone and temper of these times, and (if I may so speak) in the more liberalized spirit and feeling of the Roman Catholics themselves, a foundation has been silently and gradually laid, on which we may venture to erect new bulwarks, as effectual to the support of our venerable establishment, as that rampart of exclusion, which, while it has fenced and protected her from the assaults of her adversaries, has, also, it must be allowed, closed against our Roman Catholic brethren, many avenues of conciliation and return.
It is not for me to trouble the House with my arguments on this great question; but, as I observe, that a very strong objection has been taken, even to its consideration, on the ground of an inveterate hostility, which, it is said, must exist, in the minds of the Roman Catholics, against all, Without the pale of their communion, it may not be unimportant to advert to some facts, which have not been noticed by those gentlemen whose deep and eloquent reasonings have so enlightened this and every other part of the subject, but which strongly indicate better feelings, and a more conciliatory disposition towards us.
I allude, Sir, to facts recorded in the 14th Report of your Commissioners of Irish Education, that the children of Roman Catholic parents are very frequently cent to the charter schools, where they 968 must necessarily be educated in the Protestant faith; that, in many parts of Ireland, they are sent, indifferently, to Protestant and Roman Catholic masters; and, in short, in one instance, where the priest interposed to withdraw the youth of his flock from the heretic teacher, one-fifth remained in disregard of his authority—in a matter too, be it recollected, not less of a spiritual, than a temporal nature.
Again, an instance of the relaxation of prejudice (inherent, as it is said, even in the higher ranks), may be observed in the increasing numbers of Roman Catholic students, who enter at Trinity College, Dublin: and even in the priesthood itself, it will surely be allowed that some abatement of their ancient spirit may be traced in the far more general and unrestricted use of the Scriptures, now permitted to the laity of every rank.
If I might venture to add yet another instance of the declining antipathy of the Roman Catholics to all recognition of another faith, I would take the liberty to mention one, which fell more immediately within my own observation, when I had the good fortune, two years since, to spend some little time in the sister island. Among the many kind and friendly hospitalities which I there received, I had the pleasure of being admitted to the intimacy of a most respectable clergyman of our own establishment, in the south. This family, which was not small, was composed, indifferently, of Protestant and Roman Catholic servants. The parish, in. which he resided, contained a large proportion of Roman Catholics, under the immediate superintendance of a titular bishop, whose name, were I to mention it, would be recognized as one not the least distinguished for a zealous attachment to the high doctrine and discipline of the Romish see. When evening came, and, with it, the hour of family worship, those Roman Catholic servants, with the knowledge, and by the express permission, of their titular bishop, knelt down by the side of their Protestant brethren, and united in one common prayer, from our Liturgy, to one common Father, for common blessings and protection.
Surely this is not bigotry—this is not intolerance—this is not an unrelenting adherence to that rigid line of separation, which the Roman Catholic, in spiritual matters, is said to have eternally drawn betwixt himself and the rest of the world. If there be many such instances (and I 969 have heard that there are such of a still higher order), surely their impression on the mind must be, that they are symptoms of at least an incipient approximation, in the Catholic, to common feelings with ourselves—indications of a disposition of good will, which may ultimately lead to their conciliation, and perhaps even to an actual coalescence with us.
Sir, I feel that I have more than sufficiently troubled both you and the House. I will therefore sit down, with a request, that I may be distinctly understood, in going into the Committee, not to pledge myself, necessarily, to support the measures, which may be there proposed, but simply with the desire to have the subject fully and fairly examined and discussed—with a most earnest and sincere hope, that such examination may and will lead to a final and conciliatory adjustment; but, with a determined resolution not to consent to any measure, which has a tendency to weaken or disturb an establishment, which I believe to be a most integral and sacred part of our constitution, and, at the same time, one of the greatest blessings to the country which that constitution affords.
§ Sir Thomas Sutton
rose and said:—Sir, I should not have ventured to obtrude myself on the notice of the House, on this occasion, had I not thought that, in giving a silent vote upon this important question, I should have ill discharged my duty to my constituents, and to the populous and respectable county, which I have the honour to represent.
Sir, I entirely concur in opinion with the right hon. member, who brought forward this question, as to the truths of the abstract proposition he then laid down-that all civil disqualifications of any class or description of his Majesty's subjects, or indeed of the subjects of any state, are not, in themselves, founded in nature or in justice. No, Sir; they are, like all the ordinances of man, the effects of his necessities and infirmities—they arise from the contingencies of the moment; and, when the causes which produced them are done away, they also should be removed, but with the same care and caution with which they were imposed, and for the same special and solid reason—'Ne quid detrimenti respublica capiat.'
It will be perceived, Sir, from these principles, that my objections, to going into the Committee, are grounded entirely 970 on the consideration of the times and circumstances, under which this motion is brought forward. We are engaged in a desperate conflict with France, the ancient enemy of our church and state; and the supreme head of the Catholic church is a prisoner in France—in the hands and power of Buonaparté, with whom he has recently signed a new concordatum. Sir, can any more cogent or irresistible reason be assigned for declining now to legislate on this subject, than these two facts? We must necessarily legislate in the dark, upon the most important points for the consideration of the Committee. We are entirely uninformed of the nature and terms of this new arrangement;—we are in absolute ignorance, not only of the secret articles, which may have been agreed upon, but also of the general tenor and bearing of the instrument itself. How, then, can the Committee, with safety or with certainty, decide upon what may be granted, or the securities which should be required? We must necessarily do either too little or too much for the occasion; and, on this account, the time is most unfavourable to the views and wishes of the Catholics themselves. But, Sir, the danger also is great, in agitating and deciding upon these points, under the present circumstances. The continental influence of the Pope is, at present, unknown to us. He is the tool and instrument of Buonaparté; and we must expect every advantage to be derived from this influence, against this country, as the craft and policy of such an enemy can suggest. Nor, indeed, could a more fatal and effectual means of dividing and weakening the energies of the United Kingdom be devised, by Buonaparté himself, than our proceeding to the discussions of this question at this time. In so doing, we are, in fact forwarding and facilitating the plans of our foe against us; and this is, in truth, acknowledged by those, who support this motion, in allowing, that the really disaffected party in Ireland are the most violent in their demands for its immediate entertainment.
In my humble opinion, therefore, Sir, this question will be most wisely and safely postponed; and, although I cannot pretend to know whether it may be consistent with the forms and usages of this House, I cannot help most anxiously wishing that a resolution might be entered upon its Journals, that this House would 971 take the subject into its most serious consideration on the establishment of peace. Sir, I think that many beneficial consequences would thus ensue. We should have the whole subject, in all its bearings, fully before us. It would then be discussed without jealousy, without apprehension; and the result must be more satisfactory to the empire at large. I know of no one inconvenience, on this fair understanding, which could arise from the postponement of the question. The Protestants have given an ample pledge of their favourable dispositions to the Catholics, by the removal of disqualifications, which have already taken place. The Catholics have, on the other hand, given an equally solemn pledge, by the acknowledged loyalty of their conduct, and by the zeal, with which they enter into our fleets and armies, and the gallantry, with which they shed their best blood in the common cause of the empire. Then, Sir, when peace shall once more be established, when the irritation and soreness produced by this protracted war shall be done away, when the power and continental influence of the Pope shall be known and ascertained—then, Sir, may this important subject be safely and wisely entered upon—when the Protestant, the Catholic, and the Dissenter, may cordially and heartily unite in the accomplishment of that most important work, a general identification of the interests of every class and description of his Majesty's subjects.
§ Viscount Palmerston
.—Sir, I feel reluctant to obtrude upon the House, at this late hour, but I cannot suppress my anxiety not to give a silent vote upon this question. I shall certainly support the motion of the right hon. gent. but, on a question upon which there are so many shades and gradations of opinion, among those who will generally concur in their vote on the resolution, I am desirous not to be misunderstood as to the extent of opinion, which my vote will express.
I certainly am aware that the pledge of the last parliament is not binding on the present, yet, considering the preponderating majority, by which that pledge was given, I do not see so great an alteration in the composition of the House, as to expect a difference in the decision of the aggregate. But has any thing occurred, since that pledge, which ought to change the opinions of individuals? I think not. Is it in the conduct of the Catholics? Did 972 not the last House make their pledge in the face of declarations, on the part of the Catholics, more violent and intemperate, and more remote from conciliation than any act of theirs since, I had almost said, than any act of theirs, before that time? The House acted wisely in so doing and with becoming dignity. If the question is fit to be entertained, it is so upon public grounds, and on considerations of general expediency; and the House I hope will never allow itself to be deterred from adopting measures, which have such objects in view, by the intemperate conduct of a few turbulent individuals. But the table is covered with petitions from the Protestants of the empire. I should be the last man in the House to say that the opinions of constituents, expressed in such petitions, are not intitled to the greatest deference and respect; but the form of the constitution is representative, and by it the duty and the responsibility of deliberation and decision, rests with the House, and not with the people at large; and honourable members would ill perform their duty, towards those who sent them here, if, when they have, upon full and mature consideration, made up their minds, upon a great and important question like the present, they hesitate to act upon their honest conviction, even though they should unfortunately differ in opinion with those whom they represent in this House.
Although I wish the Catholic claims to be considered, I never will admit those claims to stand upon the ground of right. To maintain that the legislature of a country has not a right to impose such political disabilities upon any class of the community, as it may deem necessary for the welfare and safety of the whole, would be to strike at once, at the fundamental principles, on which civilized government is founded. If I thought the Catholics were asking for their rights, I for one would not go into the committee. What, would it be becoming for the British parliament to say to the Catholics, we allow that what you ask of us are only your just and natural rights, but we will not freely and liberally grant them: we will go into a committee to barter with you, for the concession of these admitted rights, to see under what conditions, with what modifications, and subject to what restrictions these rights can be sanctioned by us? Such conduct would at once be inconsistent and unjust; I wish the few honourable members who 973 maintain this doctrine of right, to weigh well all the consequences, to which it is calculated to lead.
Putting this question, however, entirely upon the ground of expediency, I cannot concur with those who think that they have proved the expediency of continuing the Catholic disabilities now, by shewing that they were necessary in the times, when they were originally imposed. These disabilities are not the rule of the constitution, but an exception from that rule; their necessity, in one century, is no evidence of their expediency in another; and it is as much incumbent upon those, who now contend for their continuance, to shew that they are required, for the present security of the state, as it was upon those, who first framed them, to prove the necessity of their original enactment.
But, what are the dangers which have been anticipated from a repeal of this system? I am happy to find that, in this debate at least, little stress has been laid, by the opposers of the motion, upon the dangers, which would result, from admitting Catholics into the higher tanks of the army and navy. That advanced position they have been pretty nearly compelled to evacuate. Such an alarm indeed seemed founded upon no intelligible grounds. It rests the existence of danger, not upon the nature of the power entrusted, but upon its degree. Upon what rational principle can it be said to be safe to entrust a Catholic with the command of a regiment, but utterly dangerous to place him at the head of a brigade? That the lower orders of the Catholics who, from want of education and their station in life, must necessarily he more easily worked upon by improper influence, may safely he entrusted with arms or the possession of our ships, but that it is dangerous to place the same confidence in men, in the higher ranks of life, who, from the advantages of superior education, more liberal and enlarged ideas, and a higher sense of professional honour, have so much stronger claims to be trusted. In the law too, few persons have, of late, contended that any danger would result from permitting Catholics to aspire to the honours of their profession. That indeed is, of all others, the profession, which it seems the least expedient to allow men to enter, without having a fair career opened to their ambition.
The great stand has been made, upon 974 the admission of Catholics into the two Houses of Parliament; and the danger apprehended is, that they will influence the decision of the Houses in some vote which might, directly or indirectly, affect the Protestant establishments of the empire. Now how does this stand? In the House of Lords their numbers must, of necessity, be too small to have any effect upon the decisions of that body. In the House of Commons, the number would undoubtedly be greater, but would still bear so very small a proportion to the whole, as to render it absolutely impossible for them to carry any such point by themselves. Now I beg to say that I am inclined to think, that Catholics, coming into this House, would, much in the same way that Protestants do, range themselves under the banners of the different political parties, which might exist, within its walls, according as they might be influenced by considerations of personal connection or political feelings; but, supposing, for the sake of argument, that they move in one compact mass, directing all their efforts to the attainment of this particular object; by themselves they would be powerless; they must then bargain with some great Protestant party, and barter their aid in the contest, for the concession of their object, when the victory should be gained. Now I know well that, in a popular constitution like ours, when conflicting parties are nearly balanced, when all the passions of the mind are roused, and the prize to be fought for is nothing less than the direction of the affairs of a great and mighty empire, men may be led to make large sacrifices at the shrine of political ambition. The history of the country, unfortunately, is not without such examples. But whatever may be the errors of individuals, I never can bring myself to believe, that there would, at any time, be found, in this House, a sufficiently powerful and numerous Protestant party, so profligate in principle, and so dead to a sense of every thing, which would be due to themselves and to their country, as to barter away the religious establishment of any part of the empire, for the gratification of political ambition. But supposing again this combination of improbabilities to occur, and such a vote to be extorted from that House, I trust that there would still be found, in the other House of Parliament, in a Protestant sovereign, and, above all, in the indignant feeling of a betrayed people, barriers, amply sufficient, to pro- 975 tect the Protestant establishments of the empire, from profanation by such sacrilegious hands.
I do not think, then, that a case of danger has been sufficiently made out; but if I think there is no real danger in the removal of these disabilities, accompanied by such other "corresponding regulations as the House may ultimately adopt, I do think there is both inconvenience and danger in the continuance of the present anomalous state of things. We have gone too far to stop where we are; if it had been intended, for ever, to debar the Catholics from any share in the honours of the constitution, they have been too largely admitted to its civil privileges; it is not in human nature to be satisfied, when so near the attainment of its wishes. We cannot, under these circumstances, hope to derive those advantages from the Catholics, as members of the community, which otherwise we might expect. We have, in the bosom of the empire, a large mass, considerable by its numbers, by property, by rank, by talent, and activity, but separate in its feelings, distinct in its interests, circumscribed and cut off from the rest of the community, by an impassable line of demarcation. Is this a desirable state of things? can we be said to have, at our command, the full natural resources of the united empire? I do not mean to palliate or defend the conduct of the Catholics; it has been most reprehensible. To their own violence and intemperance they may ascribe many of the difficulties which they still have to encounter. But is the course, which has been so long pursued, with regard to them, wise and beneficial for the country? that is the real question for the House to consider. Is it wise, for instance, to say to any set of men, that they may enter, it is true, the army and the navy; but, whatever may be the bravery and talents they may display, however brilliant the achievements they may perform, they must remain in the inferior ranks of the service? Can we hope, from such men, the full stretch of exertion to which, by proper incentives, they might be led? Is it wise again to admit men to the profession of the law and forbid them to aspire to its honours? Might not the knowledge and habits of business, so acquired, sometimes be perverted to mischievous purposes? might not the activity or ambition, which is cherished in one direction, break out in another? If men feel 976 that they cannot hope to rise to professional honours, may they not be tempted to gratify their love of distinction by becoming the leaders of a faction? I do not say that such things would, but undoubtedly they might be.
Is it wise to say to men of rank and property, who, from old lineage or present possessions have a deep interest in the common weal, that they live indeed in a country where, by the blessings of a free constitution, it is possible for any man, themselves only excepted, by the honest exertions of talents and industry, in the avocations of political life, to make him-self honoured and respected by his countrymen, and to render good service, to the slate; that they alone can never be permitted to enter this career? That they may indeed usefully employ themselves, in the humbler avocations of private life, but that public service they never can perform, public honour they never shall attain? What we have lost by the continuance of this system, it is not for man to know. What we may have lost can more easily be imagined. If it had unfortunately happened that by the circumstances of birth and education, a Nelson, a Wellington, a Burke, a Fox, or a Pitt, had belonged to this class of the community, of what honours and what glory might not the page of British history have been deprived? To what perils and calamities might not this country have been exposed? The question is not whether we would have so large a part of the population Catholic or not. There they are, and we must deal with them as we can. It is in vain to think that by any human pressure, we can stop the spring which gushes from the earth. But it is for us to consider whether we will force it to spend its strength in secret and hidden courses, undermining our fences, and corrupting our soil, or whether we shall, at once, turn the current into the open and spacious channel of honourable and constitutional ambition, converting it into the means of Ifational prosperity and public wealth.
I shall, therefore, go into the committee with an anxious and sincere desire that I its deliberations may lead to some arrangement, which may be final and satisfactory on this subject. But I shall go into the committee free and unfettered by any pledge, and holding myself at liberty to decide for myself upon whatever propositions may there be suggested.
§ Mr. Hurt Davis
, jun. (member for Colchester) rose and said:
Sir, I consider the opinions of the House, with respect to the merits of the question, to be divided into several distinct and separate classes. There are those, who think that the Roman Catholics ask nothing more than they have a perfect right to demand, and who are, therefore, desirous of going into a committee, to grant every thing required of them. Others consider the question as one of expediency rather than of right, and, under this view of the subject, think it political and advisable to grant the claims of the Catholics, under sufficient securities to the church and the constitution. These honourable gentlemen are desirous of going into a committee, at all events, urging that, when the House has come to this determination, it will be seen what securities the Catholics are willing to grant, and if these appear to the House not sufficient, it will then be time to refuse their petition. There appear to be those also who think that, by going into a committee, and by giving the subject every requisite consideration, they should amply prove, to the Catholics, that they are not actuated by any blind prejudices, in refusing to accede to the prayer of their petition, and that, by this ample investigation, they should be able to shew the Catholics themselves the impracticability of the measure so clearly, as to put the question finally at rest.
There is yet another class, differing from all the rest, in the main question under consideration, that of going into a committee. They agree indeed with those, who wish to canvass the claims, rather on the plea of expediency than of right: but from this slight agreement of premises, the conclusion they arrive at is widely different; for they consider the grant, so entirely inexpedient, that, even the agitation of the subject is unadvisable.
To those who conceive the Catholics to be demanding only what they have a right to demand; that their birthright is, and has been, unjustly detained from them; that, in fact, without this emancipation, as it is called, the Catholics are virtually only a species of slaves,—I can only state, that my opinions are directly opposed to theirs. Indeed a right hon. gentleman, whose ability has been so generally complimented, whose argumentative eloquence so astonished the House, on the first night's debate, refused to concur in many of the violent arguments, urged by those, who 978 spoke on the same side of the question with himself. He has refused to concur in the doctrine, that securities are not to be required from the Catholics. On the contrary, he has agreed to the right and necessity of demanding just and strong securities for the establishment, in return for the proposed grant.
This would lead me to consider the opinions of those, who seem inclined to vote for going into a committee; some, without any expectation of being able to carry that vote farther, whilst others are desirous that the claims should be only partially conceded, and who expect that the Catholics may be induced to agree to the establishment of those safeguards necessary to be obtained in the execution of the projected measure. To these gentlemen I appeal for a candid, for a favourable hearing. These I intreat to weigh well the importance of the step they are about to take; to approach with caution, the precipice, near which they stand.
Many of those, desirous of going into a committee, are by no means sanguine in their expectations of a final adjustment. Many there are who think with me, that the Catholics, encouraged by their eloquent advocates in this House, relying on the entire right, which they have been taught to consider as attached to their cause, will refuse to retract any of their demands; will determine to be satisfied with nothing short of the whole. Should this be the case (and I firmly believe that, if ever the House is induced to go into a committee, on this subject, it will prove to be the opinion of the majority of the Catholics) what would be the conduct of those honourable gentlemen to whom I have immediately alluded? Unquestionably they will see the necessity of withholding the grant, which, they before considered, might possibly be made. Finding themselves deceived in their expectations, they would immediately see the propriety of voting against the fulfilment of a measure, for the consideration of which they had before given their suffrage. One advantage certainly might arise out of going into the proposed committee. The country might then see that the Catholics would be satisfied with nothing short of the whole of their demands, so plainly, that the necessity of all future discussion would be obviated, because it would manifestly be useless. This trifling advantage, however, would be infinitely overbalanced by the evils, which would arise out of the measure. The Catholics, who are now eager 979 and sanguine in their expectations, would, on the House going into a committee, be satisfied of their ultimate success. They would have gained one important step, for which they have so long been labouring in vain. Hope, already raised to expectation, would instantly be increased to ideal certainty. They would consider the Rubicon as passed, and retreat, on the part of parliament, impracticable; and if they are now unwilling to concede any favourite point, is it probable that, buoyed up by a partial success, relying on a fancied security, they will suddenly become more humble or more conciliating? If it is now adduced as an argument, in favour of the claims, that it were unsafe to refuse them, with how much greater force would it be urged, when the expectations of the Catholics have been raised to a higher pitch, and consequently when a refusal would rouse sensations doubly bitter!
I am not now addressing myself to those honourable gentlemen, who are willing to go all lengths; who think every thing should be conceded, without security, to the Catholic claimants. To such persons, indeed, every such argument would be an inducement to go into the Committee, in order that expectation might be raised, amongst the Catholics, to the highest pitch; because they know that, in this case, their wishes would be more nearly accomplished, that arguments, at present urged, on the plea of expediency, might then assume the dictatorial tone of stern necessity. They might then say, "Thus far have you gone, recede now at your peril." To such persons therefore, it is naturally seen, that I do not address myself. I raise my voice, humble as it is, to caution those who have not determined to allow unlimited concessions, or those who have not made up their minds on any concession whatever, against running blindly into a measure, the consequences of which they have, perhaps, not fully considered. In avoiding Scylla they should take care lest they be hurried into Charybdis. In endeavouring to conciliate the Catholics they should at least beware of forging a weapon, which might be turned against themselves, the moment they endeavour to stop, thinking concession had gone far enough. They should at least ascertain that the Catholics would be fully satisfied, with the grant proposed, before they commence conceding; for is it to be supposed that men, whose disaffection is, at this moment, said to be apprehended by their 980 friends, if some measure is not brought forward in their favour, would fail to urge their claims, in the same powerful manner, whenever they choose to demand the completion of their wishes? If, therefore, danger is to be apprehended, whenever a claim is refused from this quarter (and all those even who are moderate friends of the Catholics, agree that a stand must be made somewhere) the House will do well to meet it boldly, in the outset. They should stem the torrent near its source, lest, by the prolongation of its course, it should increase in rapidity, in size and in power.
Perhaps it may be urged, that, going into a committee, is, in itself, conceding nothing; that, in fact, it is only considering whether concession should be made or not. But it should be remembered that this step is one, for which the Catholics and their supporters have long been effectually contending. It is the first stone of the building; it is an outwork of the fortification, the taking of which, although it may not ensure the overthrow, at least endangers the security of the citadel. If those, who have not made up their minds for unlimited concession, or if those, who have not determined on any concession to the Catholics, should now vote for going into a committee, the one, in the vague idea of producing a reciprocity of concession, on the part of the Catholics, the other hoping to conciliate them by a more can did examination of their claims, the former may find, too late, that partial concessions are only the stepping-stone to further exactions—the latter, that the encouragement of expectation, when it is not finally realized, instead of conciliation, produces an increase of animosity. I trust, therefore, that the former will not rush into a committee, with so little prospect of arriving at a satisfactory conclusion, whilst the latter will hardly be so infatuated as to assist the plans of their opponents, by agreeing to go into this proposed committee, in the vain and weak hope of satisfying the Catholics, by a mere momentary shew of acquiescence.
§ Mr. Henry Lascelles
.—Sir, the subject, now under discussion, has been so fully debated, for several years, that I shall confine my observations solely to what appears, to me, to be the result. The House is now required to go into a committee, with a view to a conciliatory adjustment of the Catholic claims; but before I can consent to go into a committee, some practi- 981 cal plan must be shewn. Notwithstanding this subject has been so long under consideration, it does not appear, at this moment, that any such plan is in existence. Three propositions, however, seem to be established: namely, that all parties in the House agree that securities ought to be given to our establishments; that the Catholics have distinctly declared, that they will not agree to grant such securities; and that no one individual, in the House, has reasonable ground for concluding, that any satisfactory arrangement can be made, in the committee.
It has been stated in the course of this debate, by an hon. member, whose authority upon this subject is great, that use has been made of the Catholic question in Ireland, by the disaffected, and: those who wish to render it instrumental towards the disunion of the two countries. I must observe, that I should have considered a disclaimer of such proceedings, by the sound part of the Catholics, as indicatory of a conciliatory disposition; I could have wished that such disclaimer had taken place. For my own part, I cannot foresee any circumstance, which can ever induce me to agree to refer the consideration of this great question to a committee, before some specific plan shall be offered, upon which the committee shall act.
I feel the greatest respect for the Catholic body, and shall be as forward as any man in the House, to assist in relieving them from any real grievances of which they may have to complain; so far as I may be enabled to do so without risking essential principles of the constitution; and, in my opinion, the must satisfactory mode of effecting these points, is to discuss them in the shape of bills.
Much has been said upon the subject of the numerous petitions, which have been presented to the House, against the claims of the Catholics, and I own myself astonished at the doctrines now laid down by those very gentlemen, who, only a few months ago, were foremost in declaring, that, when the public mind is agitated, great allowance is to be made for the manner in which petitioners may express themselves; but it now appears that this liberality is meant to attach upon those only who agree with them in sentiment. Not only the petitioners have, upon this occasion, incurred the disapprobation of those honourable gentlemen, but the whole body of the clergy, because they have been found active in conscientiously 982 endeavouring to support and maintain the ecclesiastical establishments of this country.
Impressed as I am with the conviction that no satisfactory result will arise from going into a committee, in the present disposition of the Catholics, as evinced by the resolutions and proceedings, lately adopted and published, by that body; and as no specific plan has been offered, for the adoption of the committee, which seems calculated to satisfy either the Catholics or the Protestants, I feel myself compelled to give my decided opposition to the motion of the right hon. gentleman.
At two o'clock in the morning the House, on the motion of Mr. Ponsonby, adjourned.