§ Sir H. Parnell
rose for the purpose of presenting to the House the Petition from the Roman Catholics of Ireland. It intreated, he said, the favourable attention of the House to their peculiar condition under the pressure of the 4 penal laws, by which they were so severely affected. It stated that they had taken every oath of fidelity and allegiance. They referred to the acts of the Irish legislature for repeated proofs of loyalty; notwithstanding which they remained subject to the severe disabilities enforced against them, in consequence of their conscientious adherence to the religious doctrines of their forefathers. They disclaimed all latent, all sinister motives whatever; and maintained, that any imputation of that nature was repelled by their numbers and character. Their object was direct and avowed;—it was to obtain an equal participation in the civil rights enjoyed by their fellow subjects. The prayer of the petition was, that their case might receive the favourable consideration of the House of Commons. He would not trespass further on the House, were it not that the petition contained another clause of great importance to the discussion which was soon to take place on the subject. By that clause an opening was given for the satisfactory adjustment of that long disputed point relative to ecclesiastical security. The House would agree with him, that the claims set up on the one side to security, and the denial of those claimson the other, had occasioned the frequent failure of the cause of the catholics in parliament. Those claims had been founded on the apprehension of foreign interference in the nomination of the Irish bishops. When plans were suggested for affording a security against this danger, the catholic bishops, in 1808, published a resolution, declaring that, in their opinion, it would be inexpedient to alter the existing mode of nomination; and the laity soon followed their example. But now a complete change had taken place in their sentiments—a change so great, that all must admit that the approaching discussion would take place under circumstances altogether different from any that had hitherto occurred. The Irish bishops no longer adhered to their resolution. On the contrary, they proposed an arrangement which was calculated to meet all the dangers apprehended by those who had hitherto opposed the catholic claims. The clause to which he had just adverted, and which he begged leave to read, contained this proposition, with a distinct avowal of the acquiescence, of the great catholic body in the opinion of the catholic prelates. They stated in the clause, that in thus addressing the legislature, they were naturally 5 desirous of conciliating favour, and obviating the objections which had heretofore been made to a compliance with their wishes; and that they entertained a conscientious conviction that all the important differences existing on the subject might be happily reconciled, by the adoption of the domestic nomination of the catholic bishops, in which the catholic bishops were ready to concur, and which would meet with the most cordial approbation of the catholics at large. He trusted that this declaration would be considered by the House not more important in its substance than in the temperate and proper language in which it was expressed.—It was necessary for him to explain, in some degree, the plan that it was intended to propose. He was able to do so on the authority of a prelate of the catholic church; who stated, that the chief objection which had been long urged in the discussions in parliament respecting the appointment of the catholic bishops, was, that although on a vacancy the Irish prelates recommended an individual to the pope, the pope was not obliged to attend to their recommendation, but might instal any other person, even a foreigner. In order to obviate that objection, the Irish prelates offered to procure from the pope a concordat, that he would not institute any other person as a prelate than the one recommended to him by them, his majesty's liege and sworn subjects. The catholic prelates and the catholics at large offered to bind themselves by oath to choose no one for recommendation to the pope, but a native of the empire, and one whom they conscientiously believed to be loyal in principle. They further proposed, that all the catholic bishops and clergy should swear not to disturb, or attempt to overturn, by fraud or by force, the civil and religious institutions of the empire, or to interfere with the existing settlement of property. They had been assured by eminent persons in the confidence of the pope, that he would not object to sanction these offers, if they were likely to give satisfaction to the legislature, and to secure the desired relief to the catholic body. Here, therefore, was a proposition directly meeting the objection urged, of danger arising, from the foreign influence of the pope, by rendering future nominations in every respect domestic.—He had felt it his duty to state thus much, in the hope that hon. members would take the subject into their most serious consideration, and 6 would possess themselves of every necessary information respecting it, that they might be duly prepared to come to a wise decision on the motion that was soon to be submitted to them by his right hon. friend—He wished to say a word or two on that which might to some appear an inconsistency on the part of the catholics—the continuance of their objection to the Veto. The present was not the time for going into a detailed explanation on this subject. But the catholics objected to the Veto on conscientious principles; conceiving that to accede to it would be, in effect, to give to the Crown the nomination of the bishops; which was contrary to the discipline of the catholic church, and would tend to the final extirpation of the catholic religion. He was enabled further to say, that should the general outline of this plan of domestic nomination be approved of, but should it be thought that it might be rendered more efficient by additional regulations, the catholics would have no objection to accede to any propositions which might be thought necessary to the security of the Protestant institutions, and which would not endanger their own. He would now move for leave to bring up the petition.
congratulated the House and the body of the Catholics, that this long contested question was likely to be met, both on the part of the catholic body, and the members of his majesty's government, with that spirit of conciliation, which he hoped was a favourable omen of the success of the question. He was, as well as the catholics themselves", aware of the fair, candid, and honourable manner in which the noble lord opposite (Castlereagh), had expressed himself both in that House and elsewhere, on the subject of the catholic cause, as well as two more worthy individuals, his colleagues in office. Surely it was not too much then to expect, that the cause at last would be triumphant. For eleven years he had anxiously watched the progress of the catholic claims, a cause in which he was doubly interested, first as as an Irishman, and secondly as a Briton. They had succeeded each year in removing one source or other of objection to their character or their claims. They asked not now emancipation, they merely demanded a fair and dispassionate examination of their claims in a committee. The catholic he was happy to find, was disposed to lay aside all party spirit, and anxious to leave no stone 7 unturned to effect a spirit of conciliation on the part of the Crown, and the warm supporters of the constitution in church end state. He hoped none would be presumptuous enough to disturb this harmony by throwing a firebrand into their debates—that no Patrick Duigenan would be found to tell of the bloody days of king Henry, the bloody queen Mary, the confiscations and persecutions in the time of the commonwealth—that all this trash and inflammable matter, these tales of gossips to frighten children out of their wits, would no longer disgrace their debates, or irritate those whom they ought to be solicitous to soothe. He could not but most fervently hope, that ministers would weigh well the responsibility of their situation, with reference to this question. The eyes of six millions of suffering countrymen, who, to the disgrace of the age in which they lived, were in a state of political degradation, were fixed upon his majesty's government in this crisis. It was time for ministers to tell the people and the country, before the question was decided, the nature and extent of the securities which they would affix to their support of emancipation. This they could only do in a committee. The catholics of Ireland deputed to London two distinguished characters, competent to give every information on the subject of the affairs of the catholic clergy, and the particulars of their connexion with the see of Rome. The characters to whom he alluded were Drs. Murray and Everard, the one titular archbishop of Cashel, and the other of Dublin. They were ready to give every information which any member could require on the subject. On the subject of securities, as they were called, all he would say was, that the general question was universally conceded, if proper securities were provided, for the permanence of the protestant establisment. He had authority to say, that the catholic bishops whom he named, were ready to give that security; they were ready, so far as domestic nomination went, to give every satisfaction on that head; and there could no longer be any excuse for putting so many millions of loyal and peaceable subjects out of the pale of the constitution. He was glad to see the noble lord (Castlereagh) in his place, for, he was sure, he should have his concurrence in stating, that the old bug-bear of foreign interference was completely at an end. If they would only enter into the committee, every thing 8 could at once be adjusted. He stated from authority, that the pope, that cardinals Gonsalvi, Litta, and others were ready to give every assistance in the good work of concession, if we would only here set them the example. If any objectionable points, in the intercourse of the catholics at Rome with the holy see, were pointed out, all parties were ready at once to redress them. His feelings were warm on this subject, because he felt it to be the cause of his injured countrymen, the Roman catholics of Ireland.
§ Mr. Webber
said, that no man was more anxiously disposed than himself to concede every civic right and privilege under the constitution, to the Roman catholics, whenever that concession could be made with safety to the state. He had all his lifetime been in the closest and most cordial habits of intimacy with a great many persons of that community, and he could bear testimony to their public and private worth. But in looking at the great question of Catholic Emancipation, he must abstract it from the narrow consideration of personal character. He would admit, with the most sanguine advocates of the catholics, their loyalty and peaceable demeanour in all ranks of society; but his objections were not founded on the personal characters of the men—they went to the whole system itself. He would now only say, that if it was ever his fate to hear this question discussed in the British parliament, he would previously expect to have the question of securities fully considered and decided. If the general debate were entertained at all, it ought certainly be subsequent to the decision on that point. He had no hesitation to say, as the painful result of his conviction, that the concessions claimed by the Roman catholics would, if granted, effect nothing short of an incipient revolution in the protestant church of Ireland. Such being his painful conviction, he was bound to mention it. The hon. baronet had thought proper to refer to the question of securities, and the manner in which they originated. He begged to state the mode in which he understood that matter had been started. Here the hon. gentleman stated the origin of securities in the year 1799, and traced the temper in which they had been urged. He concluded by saying, that the catholics of Ireland had a right to concede that which was uniformly granted in every other country in Europe.
§ Mr. Blake
rose, not only on the part of 9 his catholic constituents, who signed the general petition, to protest against the opinion of the hon. gentleman who spoke last, but also for the honour and dignity of the Commons House of parliament. The hon. gentleman had said, that if this question was conceded, the protestant church of Ireland would be subverted. It ought to have been unnecessary to remind the hon. gentleman, that the records of parliament were evidence that the principle of the question had been conceded, and that the only remaining question was as to the nature and extent of the ecclesiastical arrangements which should be affixed to the concession. Originally, the catholics of Ireland rejected the sort of securities which were required of them altogether, but more ample and deliberate discussion and investigation had removed their first impression, and brought them round to a more temperate view of the subject. It remained, then, to be considered (both parties being in a temper coolly to look at the subject), what these concessions should be—whether domestic nomination would meet the view of parliament, whether the Veto should be exacted. In saying thus much, it was not his intention to become the defender of any persons, whoever they may be, who agitated Ireland by angry debates on this subject; all he meant to say was, that those acrimonious discussions, so far from furnishing an argument against the question being entertained, rather rendered it imperative upon the House to set at rest a subject that could at any time be converted into a peg on which irritable topics could be hung to the injury of the peace of the community.
The Petition was then brought up and read, setting forth,
"That the petitioners beg leave most respectfully to solicit the favourable attention of the House to the peculiar condition of the Roman Catholics of Ireland, under the severe penal laws now in force against them; if the petitioners appear to the House to persevere with more than common earnestness in their humble solicitations for the abrogation of these laws, and for a free admission to the blessings and benefits of the civil constitution of their country, they trust that their perseverance will be viewed rather as a proof of their just title to the liberty which they seek, and of their sincerity in its pursuit, than as the result of any sentiment hostile to the peace or true interests of this empire; the petitioners should sincerely dread 10 lest their silence might be construed by a faithful but feeling people as an indication of despair, and they would not lightly abandon the pursuit of a laudable and most important object, strengthened as they are by the concurring support of their generous and enlightened fellow-countrymen, as well as by the fullest approbation of their own conscientious feeling; they beg leave humbly to state to the House, that they have publicly and solemnly taken every oath of fidelity and allegiance which the jealous caution of the legislature has from time to time imposed as tests of their political and moral principles; and although they are still set apart (how wounding to every sentiment of honour) as if unworthy of credit, in these their sworn declarations, they can appeal confidently to the sacrifices which they and their forefathers have long made, and which they still make, rather than violate conscience by taking oaths of a spiritual import contrary to their belief, as decisive proofs of their profound reverence for the sacred obligation of an oath; by those awful tests they have bound themselves in the presence of the All-seeing Deity, whom all classes of christians adore, to be faithful, and bear true allegiance to their most gracious sovereign lord king George the third, and him to defend to the utmost of their power against all conspiracies and attempts whatsoever against his person, crown, or dignity, to use their utmost endeavours to disclose and make known to his majesty and his heirs all treasons and traitorous conspiracies which may be formed against him or them, and faithfully to maintain, support, and defend, to the utmost of their power, the succession to the crown in his majesty's family, against all persons whomsoever; that by those oaths they have renounced and abjured obedience and allegiance unto any other person claiming or pretending a right to the crown of this realm; that they have rejected as unchristian and impious to believe the detestable doctrine that it is lawful in any ways to injure any person or persons whomsoever, under pretence of their being heretics, and also that unchristian and impious principle, that no faith is to be kept with heretics; that it is no article of their faith, and they renounce, reject, and abjure the opinion, that princes excommunicated by the pope and council, or by any authority whatsoever, may be deposed or murdered by their subjects or by any person whatsoever; that they do 11 not believe that the pope of Rome, or any other foreign prince, prelate, state, or potentate, hath or ought to have any temporal or civil jurisdiction, power, superiority, or pre-eminence within this realm; that they firmly believe that no act in itself unjust, immoral, or wicked, can ever be justified or excused by or under pretence or colour that it was done for the good of the church, or in obedience to any ecclesiastical power whatsoever; and that it is not an article of the Catholic faith, neither are they thereby required to believe or profess that the pope is infallible, or that they are bound to any order in its own nature immoral, though the pope or any ecclesiastical power should issue or direct such order, but that on the contrary they hold that it would be sinful in them to pay any respect or obedience thereto; that they do not believe that any sin whatsoever committed by them can be forgiven at the mere will of any pope, or of any priest, or of any person or persons whatsoever, but that any person who receives absolution without a sincere sorrow for such sin, and a firm and sincere resolution to avoid future guilt, and to atone to God, so far from obtaining thereby any remission of his sin, incurs the additional guilt of violating a sacrament, and by the same solemn obligations they are bound and firmly pledged to defend to the utmost of their power the settlement and arrangement of property in Ireland, as established by the laws now in being; that they have declared, disavowed, and solemnly abjured and intention to subvert the present church establishment for the purpose of substituting a Catholic establishment in its stead; and they have solemnly sworn that they will not exercise any privilege to which they are or may become entitled to disturb and weaken the Protestant religion or Protestant government in Ireland; the petitioners can, with perfect truth, assure the House, that the political and moral principles asserted by these solemn and special tests are not merely in unison with their fixed principles, but expressly inculcated by the religion which they profess; and they do most humbly trust, that, as professors of doctrines which permit such tests to be taken, they shall appear to the House to be entitled to the full enjoyment of religious freedom under the happy constitution of these realms; frequently has the legislature of Ireland borne testimony to the uniform peaceable demeanor of the 12 Irish Roman Catholics, to their acknowledged merits as good and loyal subjects, to the wisdom and sound policy of admitting them to all the blessings of a free constitution, and of thus binding together all classes of the people by mutual interest and mutual affection, yet may the petitioners represent to the House with sincere regret and deep solicitude, that the Roman Catholics of Ireland still remain subject to severe and humiliating laws, rigidly enforced and universally felt, and inflicting upon them divers injurious and vexatious disabilities, incapacities, privations, and penalties, by reason of their conscientious adherence to the religious doctrines of their forefathers; for more than twenty years the progress of religious freedom has been obstructed, and, whilst other christian nations have hastened to unbind the fetters imposed upon religious dissent, the Roman Catholics of Ireland have remained unrelieved; the penal laws operate for no useful or meritorious purpose, affording no aid to the constitution in church or state, not attaching affection to either, they are efficient only for objects of disunion and disaffection, they separate the Protestant from the Catholic, and withdraw both from the public good, they irritate man against his fellow-creature, alienate the subject from the state, and leave the Roman Catholic community but a precarious and imperfect protection, as the reward of fixed and unbroken allegiance; the petitioners forbear to detail the numerous incapacities and inconveniences inflicted by those laws, directly or indirectly, upon the Roman Catholic community, or to dwell upon the humiliating and ignominious system of exclusion, reproach, and suspicion, which they generate and keep alive; perhaps no other age or nation has ever witnessed severities more vexatious, or inflictions more taunting, than those which they have long endured, and of which but too large a portion still remains; relief from these disabilities and penalties they have sought through every channel that has appeared to them to be legitimate and eligible; they have never conscientiously violated, or sought to violate, the known laws of the land, nor have they pursued their object in any other manner than such as has been usually adhered to, and apparently the best calculated to collect and communicate their united sentiments accurately without tumult, and to obviate all pretext 13 for asserting that the Roman Catholic community at large were indifferent to the pursuit of their freedom; the petitioners can affirm with perfect sincerity, that they have no latent views to realize, no secret or sinister objects to attain, any such imputation must be effectually repelled, as they humbly conceive, by the consideration of their numbers their property, their known principles and character; their object is avowed and direct, earnest yet natural, it extends to an equal participation of the civil rights of the constitution of their country equally with their fellow-subjects of all other religious persuasions, it extends no farther; they would cheerfully concede the enjoyment of, civil and religious liberty to all mankind, they ask no more for themselves; they seek not the possession of offices, but mere eligibility to office, in common with their fellow-citizens, not power or ascendancy over any class of people, but the bare permission to rise from their prostrate posture, and to stand erect in the empire; in thus addressing the legislature, the petitioners are naturally desirous to conciliate all opinions and obviate all objections, and they entertain a conscientious conviction that all impartial opinions may be conciliated, and all rational objections to their emancipation defeated, by the measure of domestic nomination of their bishops, a measure in which their prelates have declared their readiness to concur, and which, if introduced by the proper authority in their church, would meet the most cordial approbation of the Catholic people of Ireland; if, in thus humbly submitting their depressed condition and their earnest hopes to the consideration of the House, the petitioners would dwell upon the great numbers, and the property, of the Roman Catholics of Ireland; already so considerable and so rapidly increasing and to their consequent most important contributions to the exigencies of the state, they would do so, not with a view of exciting unworthy motives for concession, but in the honest hope of suggesting legitimate and rational grounds of constitutional relief; may the petitioners then, with hearts deeply interested in the fate of this their humble supplication, presume to appeal to the wisdom and benignity of the House on behalf of a very numerous, industrious, affectionate, and faithful body of people, the Roman Catholics of Ireland; and to pray that the House may be pleased to take into 14 their favourable consideration the whole of their condition, their numbers, their services, their merits, and their sufferings; and as the petitioners are conscious of the purity of their motives and the integrity of their principles, they therefore humbly pray to be restored to the full and unqualified enjoyment of the rights and privileges of the constitution of their country, to be freed from all penal and disabling, laws in force against them, on account of their religious faith, and that they may thereby become more worthy as well as more capable of promoting the substantial interests of this great empire."
§ On the motion, that the Petition do lie on the table,
§ Sir John Nicholl
rose, merely to protest against two positions that had been laid down in the course of this discussion; one was that of the hon. gentleman, who assumed that the question was now conceded, and that, in fact, nothing remained for consideration but the sort of securities with which the measure should be accompanied. He protested against an assumption that the question was reduced to such a narrow point. In saying this, he begged to be understood as having no religious antipathies; he should as cordially rejoice as any man could at the arrival of the time when those concessions could be made with safety to the established church of the country. When they could be given with safety, then would he be found their advocate. The other opinion against which he protested was, that so fondly and confidently indulged by the hon. baronet and gallant general opposite, that the time had now; arrived when success must crown their endeavours. In this anticipation of success at the ensuing debate, he could by no means participate; on the contrary, his notion on that point was quite the reverse; for, so far from seeing any thing more favourable to the Catholic cause, in the present state and circumstances of the united kingdom and of Europe, from those of a: former period, he thought he saw a variety of reasons for thinking that it by no means stood on a better footing than it did when last discussed. Such was his view, but he would reserve the reasons on which this opinion was grounded until the proper stage of the debate arrived.
The petition was then ordered to lie on the table; as was also a petition to the same purport presented by Mr. W. Smith from the Roman Catholics of Warwick and Staffordshire.