§ Lord Grenville
immediately rose, and 232 called the attention of their lordships to the subject of which he had given notice yesterday. The principal points of his lordship's speech, which occupied upwards of three hours in the delivery, were to the following effect.—I do not mean to offer any objection to the motion which has just been made; but I rise for the purpose of stating, as your lordships all know it is competent for me on this question to do, the circumstances which have led to the present situation of public affairs. I mean to explain, as far as I am acquainted with them, the causes which have brought about the change which has taken place in his majesty's councils. It is now six years since the members of a former administration, of which I formed a part, thought it their duty, under similar circumstances, to ask permission of his majesty to withdraw from their situations. This determination they carried into execution without communicating through any channel to the public the grounds which had induced them to take that step. I participated fully in the motives of forbearance on which that conduct was founded. I am far from now regretting that the change did take place in that manner. But it must be in the recollection of all your lordships, that the motives of the persons who composed the administration to which I have alluded, were made the subject of much comment, and were greatly misrepresented in consequence of that forbearance to which they adhered. On the present occasion, then, when a change of administration has taken place, not by resignation, but in consequence of the exercise of the royal prerogative, it is natural that I, who know the misrepresentations which occurred in a former instance, should wish to avoid similar imputations, by making to your lordships, and thro' you to the country, a full explanation of all the circumstances which have given rise to the existing situation of public affairs. But I have still a much stronger claim to your lordships indulgence in making this statement. It has happened that a libellous publication has already appeared, containing a false and garbled representation of the circumstances to which I allude; and here let me ask the noble lords on the other side, whether they can point out any period of the history of this country in which it ever happened that such a publication was made? I speak of the publication of the minutes of advice given to his majesty by his late ministers. That advice was given to his majesty in writing, and though it was proper that the paper should 233 be transferred to the persons who succeeded to the administration, in order that they might know the grounds upon which their predecessors were dismissed, it was a very extraordinary proceeding in those persons to authorize its publication. If they thought it a fit document for public discussion, either in or out of parliament, there were two ways in which they might have proceeded, in order to promote a constitutional investigation. They might have come down to parliament and stated, that improper advice had been given to the crown, and upon that statement moved an address to his majesty for the production of the paper; or they might have adopted another course. If they found upon their accession to the government, that evil counsels had been given, they might have advised his majesty to lay those counsels before parliament, in order that those from whom they proceeded might receive the punishment they merited. But will the noble lords on the opposite side vindicate the publication of a paper of this important nature in the manner it has taken place? I must again ask them whether they can refer to any instance, in the history of the country in which any similar publication had, from party views or any other motive, ever been made? Under these circumstances, however, I could not refrain from desiring to lay before your lordships the truth of the case on this important subject, which had, in consequence of the publication I have noticed, become the subject of conversation and misrepresentation in every coffee-house. For this purpose, I was induced to ask leave of his majesty to make the statement I am about to lay before your lordships; for without that permission, I should not, most anxiously as I desired to explain every circumstance connected with the important transactions that have taken place, have taken this opportunity of addressing your lordships. But my application to his majesty was received with all that kindness and tenderness to the feelings of others for which his royal mind is so eminently distinguished, and I shall ever entertain the strongest sense of gratitude for the benevolent condescension with which the permission I solicited was granted. Having now stated the grounds on which I think it will appear that an explanation on my part was indispensably called for, it scarcely can he necessary for me to assure your lordships, that whatever I may say in addressing you will be accompanied with every feeling of respect which is due to the sovereign of these 234 realms. I have, my lords, no complaint to make; I have only to state what is necessary for the vindication of my own character —At the period of the change of administration, to which I have already referred, your lordships know that a great and illustrious statesman, (Mr. Pitt), to whom I never can allude but with sentiments of the most unfeigned respect, was at the head of his majesty's government. My lords, in the year 1801, it was the opinion of that illustrious statesman in which opinion I completely concurred, that large further concessions should be made to the catholics of Ireland. It was then thought expedient that a measure for that purpose should be proposed to parliament. That proposed measure not meeting with his majesty's approbation, the consequence was the resignation of the then ministers. The result was different in the present case, for reasons which I shall presently state. I at that period thought it my duty to resign, and chearfully sacrifice all those personal considerations which may be supposed to attach to the situation of one of his majesty's ministers. My lords, I will sacrifice those considerations over and over again, upon the same principle. It is undoubtedly true, that no pledge was given to the catholics of Ireland that further concessions to them should be one of the results of the union; their consent was undoubtedly not purchased by any seal promise. It is well known, however, from the speeches in parliament, upon the great question of the union, and we know that what is said in parliament, somehow or other becomes known to the public, that the understanding upon the subject certainly was, that further concessions to the catholics of Ireland, might, and ought to be a measure consequent upon the union. That such a measure was net only politic and expedient, but absolutely necessary, was the opinion, as I have already stated, of that great and illustrious statesman, Mr. Pitt; it was also the opinion of his great and illustrious rival, Mr. Fox. These eminent statesmen concurred in opinion in three great measures of policy, the establishment of the sinking fund, the abolition of the African slave trade, and the necessity of further concessions to the catholics of Ireland. The first of these measures was adopted on its first proposition; the second, the abolition of the African slave trade, met with much, in my opinion, mistaken opposition, but has at length been carried. The third, that of a system of conciliation and kindness to the catholics of Ireland, remains 235 yet to be carried into execution; but it rests upon grounds of such unavoidable necessity, that I think it is impossible for any man, after weighing on the one hand the objections which have been urged against it, and on the other the advantages which must inevitably flow from it, to resist the corning to this conclusion, that it is a measure which, for the welfare of the country, ought to be speedily adopted. It was in this view that on a former occasion I sacrificed my situation in the government; and that sacrifice I was ready to make again, being convinced that four millions of our fellow subjects in Ireland are to be governed by conciliation and kindness, and not by persecution. In consequence of circumstances which occurred in the situation of public affairs, which it is not necessary here to restate, overtures were repeatedly made to me to take a part in his majesty's councils. My answer to all such overtures was, that my sovereign might always command my services in any frame of government which might be formed, but at the same time I always explicitly declared, that I never would forego my right to state my sentiments on this question in parliament, whenever any occasion should occur which might call for such a statement. A time arrived when the Roman catholics of Ireland thought fit to represent to parliament the state of their grievances. They did me the honour to apply to me to present their Petition. [See vol. 4, p. 97.] I felt that application, my lords, to be an honour, because it was a proof of the opinion those persons entertained of my conduct and sincerity. I complied with their wishes. But here, my lords, it is proper that I should correct a misapprehension which has very generally prevailed on this subject. It is not true, as has been frequently asserted, that the consent of the Roman catholics of Ireland to the union was purchased in consequence of any promise made to them of a measure of complete conciliation; but it is certain, from the debates that took place on the Union, that it was understood that the catholic question should be fully considered, and on this ground I considered myself bound to bring their claims before your lordships. The result of the application which was made to parliament is well known. The majority against the measure, large as it was, could not be considered as precluding its revival at a future period, or as imposing any pledge on parliament not to accede to the catholic claims to the full extent in which they were then made, In a 236 few months after I had the honour to make the application,,the result of which I have mentioned, the country had the misfortune to lose the great stateman who was at the head of the existing administration. His majesty was then pleased to think that, under the circumstances in which the country was placed, I might be of use to him and to the public, and directed me to assist in forming a new government. I did form one, which, from the materials of which it was composed, and the principles on which its members agreed to act together, appeared to me best calculated for promoting the interests of the country. The sentiments of most of the persons who became members of this administration, upon the catholic question, were well known from their public declarations, and particularly in consequence of the discussion which had recently taken place on the subject. When, therefore, we were called to the councils of our sovereign, no man could suppose that we were called in any other manner than that in which ministers ought constitutionally to discharge their duty; namely, to give on all proper occasions to his majesty, conformably to the oath we had taken, full, fair, and upright counsel, and not to withhold that advice from interest, affection or any other motive. I do not make this assertion, my lords, from my own recollection only. Within these few days my sovereign has declared it to be conformable to his recollection also, and authorized me to confirm this statement, not from myself only, but from him. After what had recently happened, it will not be supposed that it could be the desire of the late administration to press the catholic question, or to revive any measure known to be painful to the feelings of a great personage, to whom every respect is due, unless the pressure of unavoidable necessity compelled us to bring it forward. We flattered ourselves, therefore, that from the character of the persons to whom the government of Ireland was entrusted, many causes of dissatisfaction in the people of that country would be diminished. The manner in which the noble person at the head of that government (the duke of Bedford) executed the laws, and the just but conciliating spirit of his administration, gave us reason to hope that the unanimity so much desired in the sister kingdom might at last be accomplished. We had but one wish, the welfare and security of the whole empire; and, by knitting together the hearts of all his majesty's subjects, we cherished the hope that this 237 great object might be attained. We were induced to pursue this conduct, as well because we knew the agitation of the subject might prove painful in a high quarter, as because the recent decision of parliament had rendered it very unlikely that it could be carried, while it was probable that it would revive animosities. One of the first objects of the late administration, therefore, was to prevent, if possible, the revival of the Catholic question. In the first session of parliament our endeavours were successful; but the state of Ireland during the last year was not so satisfactory; disturbances had broken out in several districts, disturbances of that nature which this measure was particularly calculated to prevent. These commotions were, however, composed by the ordinary exercise of the civil administration of the country. Such was the love of justice and lenity which distinguished the noble duke at the head of the government of Ireland, that he carefully avoided resorting to any extraordinary measures in repressing these disturbances, and his system of conciliation had proved succesful. At the time these events occurred in Ireland, the attention of his majesty's government in this country was anxiously directed to the means of raising a great military force, which the total destruction of the power of Prussia had rendered more than ever necessary for the security of the British Empire. No measure could be so well calculated to promote that end as one which would induce the superabundant population of Ireland to enter into the army and navy, and for such a proceeding the great earl of Chatham had set an important example, when, in order to remove the disaffection of the Highlands of Scotland, then nearly in the same situation as Ireland now was, he held out inducements for the population of those districts to enlist in the army. With regard to the state of Ireland, until the wealthy yeomanry could be interested, by having opportunities of providing for the younger branches of their families, similar to these afforded to the same description of persons in this country, it was in vain to expect that they would exert their influence in recruiting for the army. Besides, those persons who have the charge of religious instruction in that country, will never, with any zeal, encourage men to enter into a service where the exercise of then worship is not protected by law. It was to remove these difficulties that the measure which had been lately withdrawn in the house of commons was introduced to the consideration of 238 parliament. With regard to the general question, I hesitate not to declare it to be my opinion, that the Roman Catholics, by pushing forward their petition at the present moment, have acted highly injurious to their own interests, and to the interests of the empire at large. It was therefore my anxious wish, as well as that of those who acted with me, to devise some means by which the discussion of the general question in parliament might have been prevented, and nothing appeared to us better calculated for that purpose than the bill, which was intended to give to all the subjects of his majesty the right of holding every description of military employment. About fourteen years ago, the parliament of Ireland opened to the Roman catholics the army, with the exclusion only of the rank of commander in chief, master-general of the ordnance, and general of the staff. With these exceptions, his majesty was enabled to give commissions in the army to all his catholic subjects in Ireland; and there was no doubt, from the construction of the act, that it opened to them the navy also, in so far as the authority of the Irish parliament could extend to that service. As this act, however, could not extend to the catholics in Great Britain, it operated as an obstruction to the removal of the military force from the one country to the other. So absurd, so incongruous a state of law, never existed in any nation in the world. Instead of asking why it is not put an end to, the question ought rather to be, how it is possible that it could have existed so long? In such a state of things, was it to be wondered that we should endeavour to apply a remedy, and when we were to propose to the catholics in every part of the empire to enter into the army or the navy, we resolved not to make that proposition upon a narrow principle, but to call them to a liberal system of service, and to open to them every rank. Here, however, another point arose, which it was necessary to meet fairly. In the year 1778 the Irish parliament thought proper to open to the Protestant dissenters in Ireland, not only the navy and the army, but all employments whatever. Therefore in 1795, when it fell to the lot of my noble friend, who was then at the head of the Irish government, to propose the admission Of the catholics into the army and the navy, he had no occasion to enter into any consideration as to the situation of the dissenters. In England, however, the case is different; here dissenters are excluded from all public 239 employments unless they take a sacramental test, which is contrary to the principles of their religious faith. If we had adopted the Irish act of 1793 in this country, the catholics would have been admitted to offices from which the Protestants were excluded. Let me ask your lordships, whether such a measure would not have awakened the attention of the protestant dissenters? And what answer could you have given to them, if they asked you to explain the reason of the distinction made between them and the catholics? Regarding the question, then, under all those points of view, I was induced to form the decided opinion that the measure to be submitted to parliament in the form of an act, should, after reciting the danger to which the empire was exposed, also recite the remedy by which all hearts and hands might be united in warding off every attempt of the inveterate foe of this country. I am aware that much may be expected to be said on the manner in which the measure was brought forward. In the first place it may be observed, that it is the duty of all members of parliament to propose those measures which they may conceive to be conducive to the welfare of the country. In the like manner it is the duty of the members of government to submit to his majesty such measures as they may think calculated to promote the interests of the public. If his majesty should not approve of any measure they may suggest, they have then to chuse whether they will abandon that measure, or tender their resignation to their sovereign. I need not tell you, my lords, that in the recent instance which has occurred of this difference of opinion, the former course was that which was adopted. In the other case, in 1801, when a similar measure was proposed to the king, and disapproved by him, the administration of that day thought proper to resign. In the present case, however, the same result was brought about in a different manner. The measure was withdrawn, and it was intended to suffer it to drop entirely; but his majesty had, in the mean time, thought fit to appoint a new administration. I shall, my lords, endeavour to state as briefly as possible the circumstances which gave rise to this event. A misapprehension of the nature and extent of the measure proposed appears to have taken place, and the statement of that misapprehension comes from a quarter to which I give the most implicit credit. In the explanation I am about to make, I only wish to shew that I, and those with 240 whom I acted, had reason to suppose that the nature of the measure was fully understood, which, from my heart and soul, I am convinced it was not. I only mean to justify our characters by stating the reasons which induced us to suppose that no misapprehension existed. In doing this, my lords, it will be necessary for me to recapitulate the different stages of the proceedings which took place. The draft of the Bill was laid before the king for his approbation. That draft contained a recital of the Irish Act with the restriction. It then proposed that the services of catholics should be received without any restriction, and no condition required but the taking of the oath of allegiance. When this draft was submitted to his Majesty, I thought I had done every thing on the subject which my duty required of me. Afterwards, however, I learned that difficulties were stated, and that there was a repugnance in his majesty's mind to the measure. A written answer to this effect was received by his majesty's servants, and to which a representation was returned. I am sure, my lords, there is no man into whose hands that representation may have fallen, but must regard it as a most dutiful and respectful address, such as was fit to be presented to the best of sovereigns by his servants. On that representation his majesty was pleased to give orders that the bill might be submitted to parliament. A dispatch was immediately sent to Ireland, in order that his majesty's consent having been obtained, it might be communicated to the catholics. At the conference which took place in consequence of this proceeding between the government of Ireland and certain persons, who possess great influence with the catholic body, a question was asked, whether the rank of general of the staff, and other employments, from which the catholics were excluded by the act of 1793, were to be laid open to them? The answer given on the part of his majesty's government in Ireland was, that from the words of the dispatch they understood that the catholics were to be allowed to hold every rank in the army and the navy. The lord lieutenant's dispatch, containing the account of this conference, was, as all such dispatches are, communicated to his majesty, and by him returned without any comment. In answer to it, another dispatch was sent to Ireland, for the purpose of giving full information of the nature of the measure to the catholics, which was also laid before his majesty. This dispatch contained copies of the clauses of the bi11, and a re- 241 mark was subjoined, that these clauses laid open the army and navy to the Roman catholics, and enabled the lord lieutenant to answer the question, which had been put on that point in the affirmative. After all that I have stated has taken place, what must be the feelings of men who read in libellous publications assertions openly made of their having deceived his majesty. For God's sake, my lords, let us stand clear of this foul calumny. Let us not be unjustly accused, I will not say of deceiving our amiable and benevolent sovereign, but of obtaining from any man by fraudulent means, his consent to a measure which he disapproved. I have stated what was the understanding of my colleagues on this subject, and, in particular, of a noble viscount, who had a principal share in all the transactions; and a man of a more refined and punctilions sense of honour than lord Howick does not exist. It fell to the lot of that noble lord to receive those official directions which he understood authorised him to submit the measure to the consideration of parliament. Here, indeed, a difference of opinion arose between the person to whom the question was addressed and the person who asked it, as to the impression which the answer ought to have produced. This much however, I can say, that the person who asked the question came away with the impression that the permission solicited was granted. I was waiting almost at the door of the chamber in which the conference took place, and I witnessed the effect of the recent impression on the mind Of lord Howick. He stated to me, that he had obtained permission to introduce the bill, On my entering into the chamber immediately after, I forbore to allude to what was considered a delicate subject, and not a word was said to me respecting the conference Which had just taken place with lord Howick. This conversation occurred on Wednesday the 4th of March: on the Thursday or Friday following, with that perspicuity which is peculiar to him, lord Howick explained to the house of commons the nature of the measure proposed to be adopted. The speech of that noble lord soon became the subject of public conversation, for we know, my lords, that the speeches of members of parliament on important occasions do, by some means or other, get abroad; but, notwithstanding the publicity of that speech, it was not until the Wednesday following that I was informed of any objection having arisen to the measure. On that day we were for the first time informed, that the impression which we supposed to 242 have been so well founded, had been formed erroneously. This naturally gave rise to an anxious desire for explanation on our part; and here permit me to observe, that while they who know nothing of what passed, presume to say that we have been guilty of fraud and concealment, his majesty, who knows all that did take place, has the goodness to declare, that the difference which has arisen was only a difference on principle, and that all that had passed, on every occasion, was strictly honourable. This, my lords, is a declaration of great importance to me, were it only to prove the Sentiments which prevail in the royal breast; but how muds more important is it to me when it serves at the same time to repel the foul calumny with which I have been assailed. In this situation of affairs we adopted a resolution, which, of all these transactions, I confess it would he for me the most difficult to justify, and which nothing but the mistaken impression which we had fallen into could excuse. We determined to withdraw the bill. On the Friday I intimated to his majesty the sacrifice we had resolved to make. At first we intended to reduce the bill to the same provisions as the Irish bill of 1793; but, upon examination, we found that impracticable, as it would then have appeared in a shape to which unanswerable objections would have been made. We then informed his majesty, that we were determined to make a still more complete sacrifice, and to drop the bill altogether. Perhaps it may be thought that we went too far, but after the mistake which had occurred, is was our wish to accommodate, as much as possible, our actions to his majesty's feelings. But when we did allow the bill to fall to the ground, though we did not mean to propose any other measures than those which his majesty approved, we thought it necessary to reserve to ourselves the right of stating our opinion of the great benefits which we were persuaded might be derived front pursuing a different line of policy—of openly avowing these sentiments in the event of the catholic petition being presented—and of submitting to his majesty from time to time, for his decision, such measures as we might think it adviseable to propose. I have placed an emphasis on these words, "for his decision," because you will perceive, my lords, that they are left out in the publication to which I have alluded, evidently for the purpose of making it appear that we meant to force upon his majesty measures contrary to his feelings and his conscience.—I come now, 243 my lords, to state a circumstance which placed his majesty's government in a situation in which it was impossible it could stand, as it would have been divested of all constitutional responsibility. The answer to the representation made to his majesty, expressed regret that such a difference of opinion should have arisen, and required a written declaration that we should propose no farther concessions to the catholics. After all that had passed, a more painful situation could not have arisen. I beg of you, my lords, to consider what are the duties of the king's ministers, and what is the nature of the functions they have to discharge. It is their duty to advise the king, and to give, without favour or affection, that counsel which they think best for the country. What, then, would be the situation of any set of men who should hind themselves by oath to discharge this important office, and at the same time bind themselves by a written promise not to discharge it? It they meant to adhere to the written promise rather than to their oath, they would resolve to advise their sovereign always according to his wishes, but never according to his interests. In no very remote period it may be necessary, for the security of a principal part of the empire, to repeat the advice which has been recently given to his majesty, for the enemy has already pretty plainly shewn against what part of the united kingdom his first attempt will be directed. But I wish to look at this subject in a still larger and more important point of view than even the safety of Ireland, if that be possible. Will the British constitution exist if ministers give a pledge of the nature of that which has been described? And before this question be answered, let it be recollected, that as such a pledge was required of the ministers who have retired, upon every fair construction it must have been given by those Who have come into office. If calamities should befal the other part of the united kingdom, and those ministers should be asked why certain advice respecting its situation was not given, they must answer, that they have given a pledge not to take that subject into their consideration; that Ireland was a corner which had been cut out of the map of the empire they received into their keeping. If this doctrine, my lords, prevails, the cornerstone of our constitution, namely, the maxim that the king can do no wrong, and that his ministers only are responsible, is completely gone. If an opinion should prevail in parliament that ministers ought to have given 244 certain advice, and they should state that they had entered into a pledge not to give it, consider, my lords, where the responsibility then must fall. We should then return to principles which must sap the foundation of the monarchy, to those, I had almost said, diabolical principles, by which the king of this country was once brought to answer to his parliament, and considered responsible for all the transactions of the government. Those who best know me, my lords, can declare, that when I came into the service of my sovereign, it was not a matter of enjoyment, but of duty, and I am now relieved from it, at a time when the difficulties of executing that duty are still of great magnitude. Let not those who have succeeded us imagine that they have succeeded to an easy task. We did not succeed to "a bed of roses," neither have we left "a bed of roses." My noble friend (lord Auckland), has stated to your lordships the growing prosperity of the commerce of the country, which was received with a sort of taunt from a noble lord on the other side. The commerce and the finances of the country we have left somewhat better than we found them. Our foreign relations we have left in a better state than we found them. Let me, however, call the serious and anxious attention of noble lords on the other side to the state of Ireland. If persecution for the sake of differences in religions opinions are again to be revived in this country, can there be a question that it will produce the most dreadful dissensions? and if, my lords, the system acted upon in Ireland by the noble duke who represents his majesty in that country, or the noble lord in the blue ribbon (the earl of Hardwicke) his predecessor, is to be reversed, and a system of persecution, coercion and restraint to be substituted, no human being can foresee the incalculable mischiefs that will result from such a system. When we know that our enemy has fixed upon one point of the British dominions where he thinks invasion practicable, and that that point is Ireland, surely it requires more than ordinary care, more than ordinary measures, to remove the causes of all those unhappy dissensions which have given rise to this hope of the enemy, and which have given rise in that country to those insurrections which have produced such dreadful effects. If they do not consider the state of Ireland with these views, the greatest danger may result to the interests of the empire.
expressed his regret that 245 any thing should have occurred that should render it necessary to state these transactions and, as it were, raise an issue between the sovereign and his servants. But the necessity having occurred, and garbled and fallacious statements having been made, nothing remained but to request his majesty to allow them to state the whole affair exactly as it took place. This permission had been given, and his noble friend near him had done his duty, in placing the matter in its proper light. But, what he was most particularly anxious to press upon the house, was this that there was a real misunderstanding on this business from the beginning, because many persons might be disposed to think it rather extraordinary that there could have been such a misunderstanding. The noble viscount proceeded to state, that from the discussions which took place on this subject, at which he himself had been present, he had understood that there was no intention to extend the measure further than it was carried by the Irish act of 1793. It appeared to him absurd that an officer in the army in Ireland should be liable to a penalty, if holding the same office in this country. Another step followed, which was, that if the privileges of the act of 1793, were to be extended in this country to the Irish catholics, the British catholics Ought to be included. But others, however, understood it otherwise. Lord Howick and his noble friend understood it otherwise, and Mr. Elliot had his doubts, and declined giving any answer to Mr. O'Conner, one of the Irish catholics, who questioned him on that subject, till the doubt should be removed. He then put the question to his noble friend, and learned that it was intended to enable the catholics to become major-generalson the staff, or commanders in chief. That was not, however, the principle of the Irish act of 1793. The dispatch sent to his majesty did not contain any thing that must necessarily imply that the measure would go beyond that of 1793. For though it contained the words, "any military commissions whatsoever;" yet these might not be understood as covering the staff appointments; and what might further tend to lead his majesty to think so was, that these alterations were to be introduced as clauses in the mutiny bill. And what serves further to shew, that the words "military commissions might readily be understood as not including the staff appointments, was that the wards "and appointments" were consider- 246 ed as necessary in the bill. Their lordships would feel, therefore, that the misconception might very naturally have arisen. At a subsequent period dispatches had been sent to his majesty, and ministers had attended him: what passed on these occasions he could not take upon him to say. That the impression of lord Howick was, that his majesty had consented to carry the measure further than that of 1793, he had no doubt. But their lordships, looking at the misconception that had prevailed at the beginning in the cabinet, and he appealed for this to the noble and learned lord on the woolsack, their lordships looking at this would not, he trusted, think it extraordinary that under the particular circumstances of this case there should have been a misconception.— As to the subject of toleration, he should be glad to see any one who would go further in that respect than himself; but he always had, and always would make a distinction between toleration and power. Every subject had a right to toleration; but power was only given as a trust by the supreme power, which ought to withhold it where the granting of it would be attended with danger. He had always opposed any minute concessions, in point of power, to the Catholics, as highly dangerous, because these would not remove their discontents, and might bring destruction on the church establishment. When he had entered into power, he had distinctly stated that he would not compromise his sentiments on this subject, as he thought they were essential to the preservation of our constitution. He would not enter upon this topic at present, but he thought that we ought to stop at the point where the union left us; and while he abhorred as much as any man the raising an outcry on account of religious differences, yet he felt what was due to the constitution and the church establishment of the country. That was the principle on which he acted. He knew that his opinions clashed with those of the wisest and best men whom this country had ever produced, but on this point he had judged for himself, and he could allow no human authority to controul the conviction of his mind. When he came into an administration which, he would say, had most unfortunately for the country been dissolved, his opinions were known. He had distinctly stated these opinions, and that no consideration could induce him to compromise them. He lamented that this difference should have occurred 247 between his majesty and his late servants; but he was satisfied, and he hoped their lordships were satisfied, that there had been an evident misconception on the part of his majesty with regard to the extent to which the bill was carried.
§ Lord Hawkesbury
said, he had never heard the noble viscount with more real satisfaction, than during the speech which he had just finished, because he perceived that his noble friend had not abandoned those principles upon which they had formerly acted. When this measure had been brought forward, he felt considerable satisfaction that his noble friend was a member of administration, because he was convinced that the country had in him in the cabinet a security against the attempt to break down the church establishment. He was fully sensible of the delicacy of the question before the house; he felt the delicacy of the discussion when a question was at issue between a subject and his sovereign. It was not for him to decide whether or not this discussion could have been avoided. Much had been said by the noble baron and the noble viscount of the publications that had taken place on this subject. Of these he knew nothing, and felt as much regret as any person that such statements should have found their way to the public. But he must observe, that previous to his having any knowledge of the transaction, there had been many rumours in circulation, directly contrary to the fact, and proved to be so by the statement of the noble baron himself, which had proceeded, no doubt, from individuals not connected with his majesty's government. Under these circumstances, he had thought it his duty to request the permission of his sovereign, after notice of the noble baron's intention had been given, to communicate the Whole circumstances of the case to his friends, in order, that if this discussion should unfortunately come on, they might be prepared to meet it, and to state on the part of his majesty, what were those principles, both with regard to the honour of the crown and the interests of the empire, that had induced him to adopt the course which he had taken. The catholic subject was not a new one. It had, often been under consideration, and had, about two years since, after the most ample discussion in both houses of parliament, been decided upon by the largest majorities ever known, considering the character and talents of the persons who had brought it forward. The noble baron had stated What would be the 248 effect of the measure, both as to its immediate result, and with reference to its future consequences; but he should beg leave to state what had been the feelings of that illustrious person (Mr. Pitt), whose virtues, character, and unrivalled abilities, were universally admired, beloved, and revered, but who unfortunately was there no more, upon this subject When that distinguished person had come last into office, though he had before withdrawn from his public situation in consequence of this measure, yet knowing the honest conscientious principles that prevailed against it, principles which ought to be upheld in any quarter, but still more in that exalted quarter in which they existed, he had, not in consequence of any pledge demanded of him, but voluntarily, engaged not to bring forward the question. He stated this as a fact known to himself, and not as a reproach to the noble baron; he stated merely what had been the opinion and feeling upon this subject of so high an authority, for which the noble baron must entertain as sincere a respect as himself. He had less difficulty in stating this, because he had always differed from his late right hon. friend upon this question. He agreed entirely with the noble viscount, that if the policy pursued should not be steady on this head, they would be continually fomenting troubles and discontents. Whilst he was ready to admit that no ordinary law should be unchangeable, there were fundamental laws which ought not to be altered, except upon the utmost pressing necessity. The right of petition, the trial by jury, and the independence of the judges, were fundamental principles of the constitution, and a protestant government and establishment were equally so. The same changes that might be wise with respect to other laws, were not to be applied to fundamental laws. They might alter the constitution of the army, the establishment of the navy, the regulations of the revenue, or, as they were at that tine in the course of doing, the administration of justice; but if any such change were to be carried into effect with respect to the national establishment,it would overthrow the constitution. This doctrine might be termed bigotry: but he should prefer to any new lights, the bigotry of 1688; which had effected the revolution, and established the liberties of this Country on the most solid foundation. Before he should comment upon what had been stated by the noble baron, he begged to say a few words upon the subject of the parti- 249 cular measure that had led to the present circumstances. He could not conceive any practical good that could result from it. He had differed with the noble lords opposite on the catholic claims, and on that subject he,could understand their arguments; but it was otherwise with respect to this measure. Had they any reason to think that this measure would have satisfied the catholics, or, that having obtained this, they would not equally desire every thing else? This measure was to give them the sword, but to refuse them every thing beside; and yet he had never conversed with any person upon the subject, who would not rather grant to the catholics what his majesty's ministers by this measure refused them, and refuse what they granted. He was adverse to the measure, because it would grant what was dangerous to give, and what was not calculated to give satisfaction, or to produce content.— He came next to consider the misunderstanding that had taken place upon the subject. In observing upon this part of the statement of the noble baron, and in supplying some particulars which had been omitted by him, he did not feel any inclination to detract from the credit due to the noble baron's statement, or to give a partial colour to the case. If he should be guilty of any inaccuracy, the noble baron would, he trusted, correct him; for in the observations which he proposed to make, he was actuated by a desire of promoting the honour of the crown, the dignity of the king, and, with reference to themselves, of discharging a most scrupulous duty. The noble baron had accurately stated that the measure had originated in the dispatch from the Irish government. That dispatch had been laid before his majesty, and upon an attentive perusal of the contents of that dispatch, he was of the opinion of his noble friend, that all that was desired in the dispatch was the extension of the provisions of the Irish act generally: this was the impression upon his mind on reading the dispatch, and the same impressions seemed to have been felt by Mr. Elliot, who, when asked by the catholic deputies, whether the measure was to remove the limitations of the Irish act, declined an explicit answer, till he should refer the question to the British government. His majesty had, in the first instance, un-equivocally and strongly declared his disapprobation of the measure. In consequence of this disapprobation, a long cabinet minute had been laid before his majesty, detailing, in an able manner, the reasons for the adoption 250 of the measure, with a view to induce him to retract his objection, and to consent to a measure of a limited nature. It was impossible, therefore, that either the noble viscount, or the noble and learned lord, could have supposed that the measure was to go further than to make the provisions of the Irish act general. A. doubt might indeed have been felt, and he had entertained that feeling, whether the measure was only to include Irish catholics or the catholics of the empire. But upon a more attentive perusal of the minute, he, was convinced that it had been. proposed to extend the provisions of the measure to the catholics of the empire. He stated this to prove, that by every argument which had been used to obtain his majesty's consent to the measure, it was clear that the bill proposed was only to extend the provisions of the Irish bill. His majesty was assured, that it was only the same measure to which he had consented in 1793, and that the present measure was only intended to carry into effect that act, according to the principle upon which it had been enacted. That principle had been to give to the catholics the privilege of holding certain commissions in the army, at the same time reserving others; and if the principle of the act of 1793 were to have been the principle of the proposed measure, he contended that the reservation formed as,much a part of that principle, as the admission of certain commissions. This opinion he felt more strongly, from the manner in which the measure had been brought forward, so different from that which had been first proposed. It had been at first intended to carry the principle into effect, by the introduction of clauses for that purpose; but when it was determined on to carry the measure farther than was at first proposed, it was found that a clause in the mutiny bill cooler not make that law general, which had been before limited, and therefore a separate bill had been thought necessary. The result of all he had stated was, that no proposition could be clearer than that the first object was only to make the Irish act of 1793 the general law of the empire. How the misapprehension upon the subject arose it was not for him to decide, and certainly he would be the last man in such a case to assert or suspect that the misapprehension was wilful on either side. He had, however, authority to state, that on the 3d of March a communication had been made to his majesty on the subject, and on the 4th lord Howick 251 had an audience of his majesty at the Queen's Palace. At this interview his majesty had stated his objections to the measure, but he was ready to admit that the noble lord had felt convinced in his own mind, that nothing had fallen from the august personage during his audience that precluded him from opening the measure as he had done to parliament. When, however, the misapprehension that had taken place had been more explicitly stated, the noble baron, and the noble viscount, and the other members of the cabinet, had considered the subject in a long consultation, to ascertain whether the bill could be modified so as to answer the purpose for which it had been intended; the result of which was, that they thought it better to drop the bill altogether, with some observations, of which he proposed to take some notice before he should sit down. In withdrawing the bill, it appeared that they had made two reserves; first, that they should be at liberty to declare their opinions on the general policy of the measure; as well on the withdrawing the bill, as on the event of the catholic petition being presented. The second reserve was, that as a government they should be at liberty to bring the subject from time to time under his majesty's consideration, by recommending such measures0as they might deem proper to be adopted. Where any individual consents to give up any measure, he had no doubt a right to propose conditions; but in this case there were two parties, and though the ministers had a right to propose conditions, the situation of his majesty was not to be forgotten. He Should not say that they had not conscientiously proposed these reserves, but he asked their lordships to consider what would have been the situation of the king, if he had acceded to the proposition? What would have been the effect of such an assent, but to divide the unity of the executive? Would it not be to destroy the constitution, one of the wise maxims of which was, that the king could do no wrong, thereby casting a veil over his sacred character? Would it not have the effect of casting the whole odium upon his majesty of resisting the measure and of giving the whole popularity to his ministers? Was his majesty to wait until the time should arrive, when his ministers might think it convenient to bring the question again forward with more prospect of effect? He was not aware of any other alternative his majesty had when they had refused to withdraw their statement, or to make any promise respecting the future, but 252 that which he had adopted. The noble baron's opinion had certainly been known to his majesty on this subject, but his majesty could not know when he might think fit to bring the matter forward, or whether his opinion upon it might not have derived additional strength from the decision upon the question by the greatest majorities, that had ever been known upon any public question. But when they had given up their half measure, it was rather extraordinary that they should reserve the power of bringing forward the whole question. All that he had authority to state on the part of his majesty was, that the measure which had been brought in was widely different from that which had been sanctioned by his majesty, at first proposed. He could distinctly state, with reference to this subject, that until he had been called upon, in conjunction With his noble and learned friend (lord Eldon), by his majesty, he was ignorant of this transaction. But having been so called upon by his sovereign, he should have shrunk from his duty, if he had not yielded obedience to his commands. He was fully aware of the weight that was to be derived from the support of all the great interests that had given their countenance to the late administration; he was sensible of the splendid talents of the noble baron, and of the great energies that were necessary for the government in the present crisis; but he should have shrunk from his duty, if he had not been ready, at the call of his majesty, to come forward on a question, which he had thought necessary for upholding the dignity of the crown, for maintaining the interests of the country, and for supporting the public establishments, which he looked upon as intimately connected with the prosperity of the empire.
was adverse to the idea of being at issue with his sovereign, but a correct explanation of the transaction was rendered peculiarly necessary on account of the false and scandalous view of it which had been published by persons who must have had access to the minutes of the privy council, of which garbled extracts had been given in order to mislead the public. His noble friend had given that explanation with all that precision, justness, and delicacy, that might naturally have been expected from him. The noble secretary had laboured hard to prove that there had been a misconception on this point. This had not peen denied; but he had not touched on the pledges that had been required, and which 253 it was found impossible to give. The reservation was this: that under different circumstances his majesty's servants might think it their duty to bring the situation of the catholics again under his consideration, and surely it was not difficult to conceive an exigency in which this might be their duty. Occasions might occur in which this might be absolutely necessary for the salvation of the country; and his majesty's servants Would be guilty of a crime, if they should bind themselves by any pledge that should force them to conceal the situation of Ireland under all possible circumstances. This was not a spontaneous measure on the part of his majesty's servants. They could not, from a regard to their oaths, state all the pressure that compelled them to propose it. But it was impossible not to see what mischiefs might arise from the fomenting of religious differences in Ireland. The noble viscount near him said, that toleration did not extend to power. But his view of toleration extended a great deal further. His notion of toleration was, that no one ought unnecessarily to be deprived of the benefits of the constitution. The noble secretary talked of fundamental laws. It was true there must be fundamental laws, but at the same time it was part of their duty to modify those laws, so as to apply to circumstances as they might arise. The catholic population of Ireland ought to give at least 100,000 soldiers to our disposable force, and under the present circumstances, this was a motive certainly to open the army for them. Had he himself, or any other, laid the catholic petition on the table of that house, he would have said, that it would have been extremely impolitic at present to agitate the question; but the bill was a very different thing. It would have served, perhaps, to keep off this very petition; it would have afforded an useful vent for the population of Ireland, and removed many from the scene of discontent, while it would, in a great measure, have taken away the cause. It had been said, that the catholics were not to be entrusted with power; and yet you had entrusted them with power, for a catholic might be colonel of a regiment, and had all the opportunity of rendering the Men disaffected, and doing a great part of the mischief that was apprehended from him if he was so inclined. But there was no such inclination; and, in fact, those notions carried us back two centuries. Then, indeed, there might be grounds for apprehension, and these restrictions might be necessary. But now the 254 case was totally altered. This was the time to prevent the occurrence of the dangers that might result from a strict adherence to these disqualifications. When the danger actually came, the remedy would be far too late. He again disclaimed what was one of the ideas most foreign to his mind, that of being at issue with his sovereign. He was fully sensible of the many favours he had received at the hands of his sovereign; and was grateful for those acts of royal munificence of which he had been the object: he was most sincerely impressed with the conviction on his mind, that his majesty had acted as he had done from the most truly conscientious feeling as to the propriety of the case, when he was graciously pleased to express his disapprobation of the measure. But, at the same time, he must, in duty to his colleagues and himself, declare, that he was convinced that they discharged a most important duty to their country, to their sovereign, and to the constitution of the empire, as well as to their own character, when they withheld their names from a paper of such a nature as that which was then the object of their lordships discussion.
expressed his satisfaction that the discussion had been entered into, and he wished that every person from one end of the island to the other, should be informed of the true state of the question. An illustrious person, now no more (Mr. Pitt), had been alluded to; he joined from the very bottom of his heart in all the praises which had been bestowed on him; and so ardent was his attachment to the opinions of that great man, that he wished to make them the polar star of his life. He would now advert to a part of the conduct of that eminent character. When that distinguished man retired from office in 1800, he had an opinion, that the passing of the catholic question was indispensable. But, on weighing that question more maturely in retirement, and coupling it with the consideration of the honourable, unalterable, and conscientious repugnance of his sovereign, he altered that opinion, and determined never again to press his sovereign on a question, to which he was so conscientiously and invincibly averse. This determination was formed long before Mr. Pitt returned to office, and was communicated to his majesty long before that period, accompanied with Mr. Pitt's assurance to adhere to it equally, whether he should be in or out of office. On this principle Mr. Pitt came into office in 1804. He would ask the noble baron who had opened this 255 discussion, on the other side, whether, if the offer that had been made to him at that time to come into office with Mr. Pitt had been in other respects so agreeable as to have induced him to accept it, he would have insisted on the right of stating his opinions in favour of this catholic measure? The consideration of the question was at all times a consideration of expediency, which should be weighed maturely; but though the oath of office bound each of his majesty's counsellors to advise him to the best of his judgment and discretion in all such cases, there were other considerations also that ought to be included. The conduct of the late ministers, with respect to the bill they had brought forward, was subject to the imputation, that they had either brought it forward lightly, without sufficient occasion, or without sufficient grounds: or, if they had sufficient grounds in bringing it forward, they surrendered it in disregard of their oath of office, which binds them in all cases to give advice to the best of their judgment. As to the pledge demanded by his majesty that he should not be again troubled on this question, that arose from the reservation with which the measure then before parliament was given up. It was one thing to retain former opinions, as individual members of parliament, and another thing to state those opinions as members of parliament in the situation of ministers of the crown, with all the weight and influence annexed to that station. Was it for his majesty to expose himself to be constantly disturbed on a matter, with respect to the refusal of which he had already formed a clear, distinct, honourable, unalterable, and conscientious determination? He did not blame the late ministers for their adherence to their own opinions, but they ought to allow the sovereign whom they praised so much some right to maintain his opinion; and after their attempt to make the conditions that had been stated to him, it was not surprising that he wished to secure himself by requiring a corresponding pledge from them. If any of the disastrous cases which had been supposed with respect to Ireland should arise, it would be an awkward thing indeed if any of his majesty's ministers should be in the situation to get up and say to his majesty, all this has happened by your adhering to your own opinions, and not to my advice. He disliked those suppositions of disastrous cases, those prophecies of ill, thrown out on this occasion by noble lords on the other side, for those who made such prophecies had always a disposition to 256 realise them, or at least a wish to seet hem realised. If men in office held opinions different from those of their sovereign, he did not say they ought to give their opinions up; but if the sovereign could find other servants who would undertake to conduct the government, without requiring this sacrifice, he had certainly the right to appoint and make use of them. These persons might think, that by pursuing other conciliatory measures with respect to Ireland, (for this was not the only conciliatory measure, and none but conciliatory measures would be pursued) that part of the empire might be well and kindly governed without this sacrifice. From the whole of the statement made, he thought that the late ministers, upon their own shewing, had been properly dismissed, after that which they had proposed to his majesty had put him under the necessity of seeking relief from others, who thought, like him, that the measure under consideration ought not to be granted without an essential necessity. This proceeding of his majesty, and the acquiescence of those who were now his majesty's servants, was justified by the conduct of those, Who, though first holding the measure so essential as to be induced to bring it forward, afterwards thought it so little essential as to Concede it to the sovereign, at the same time that they made it a point of duty to maintain their own. opinions generally, independent of the sovereign's wishes.
§ Lord Grenville ,
in answer to the question of the noble viscount, whether he had reserved to himself his own opinion, upon the subject of the Catholics, to act upon it, notwithstanding what he knew to be the opinion of his majesty upon that subject; answered, that he told Mr. Pitt, when solicited by him to take part in the administration before the last, that no consideration under Heaven should induce him to go into the service of the king, although he would join Mr. Pitt as soon as he would any other man —that no consideration under Heaven should induce him to take part in any government upon earth, without reserving his own opinion upon this subject.
thought it unnecessary now to discuss either the bill lately before the other house, or the Catholic question; the real question was, the cause for the dismissal of his majesty's late ministers, and the situation in which his majesty's present ministers were placed on the catholic question. He was ready at any time to vindicate the conduct and the principles of himself and his 257 colleagues; and in answer to the question asked by the noble secretary of state, as to what occasion there was at this time to throw open the staff of the army, and the commissions of the navy, to that class of subjects? he would answer, that the awful and perilous situation of the empire rendered it necessary to conciliate the attachment, and unite the energies and affections of all classes of his majesty's subjects for our common defence. The noble secretary had said, it was not necessary, as the catholics already manned our regiments and fleets, and we should by this measure obtain no addition of their numbers; but little did that man know of human nature, or of soldiers feelings, who conceived that the spirit of an army was not to be materially affected by any proscription, or humiliating distinction attached to any particular class of casts or nations which composed it; or who imagined that it was no daunt to the ardour or skill of the soldier to tell him "you never can by any possibility rise to a high situation in the army." It was to the abandonment of this principle that we might impute the superior skill the French officers had so long maintained, and we should look to the effect of the same policy in the Russian armies, now fighting the battles of this country and of Europe against the common enemy, in Poland, where the Roman catholic religion was the established one. The highest posts in the Russian army were open to merit, regardless of sect; by which means the French could not tempt the Polish catholic to rebellion, because they had no advantage to offer in the way of rank, or preferment, which was not already open to him under his own government. However lightly other ministers had broken their pledges to the catholics, he and his colleagues were not in the habit of giving pledges without the intention of performing them: so neither could they reconcile themselves to the expedient policy now recommended by the noble viscount. They thought the bill proposed a measure at once much less grating to the royal feelings, and calculated to conciliate the catholics, and to prevent the discussion of the petition they were preparing to bring forward. The noble lord then proceeded to vindicate the conduct of himself and his colleagues, in declining to bind themselves by a pledge to refrain in future from giving any advice to his majesty which they thought it their duty to give, either upon this or upon any other topic, as a pledge violatory to the constitution, to their duty, and to their oaths; and he declared that, if 258 their successors had accepted their places under any such restriction, they had abandoned their duty, and with it the security of the most vulnerable part of the empire.
§ The Earl of Carnarvan alluded to an observation, which had been made by some noble lord on the other side in the course of the debate. It had been said, if the bill was necessary, why should it have been withdrawn. In answer to this, he said, first, that, though he should now consider it to be as necessary as it was before, yet that something might have been fairly conceded to the wishes of the sovereign, and to his opinion as to the circumstances of the times. But still he would not hesitate to say, that if a promise such as had been alluded to were given, the persons who entered into such a compromise as involved the breach of a great constitutional principle, would deserve to lose their heads.
§ Lord Hawkesbury
explained, by denying that the present ministers had bound themselves by any such pledge: he said, if his majesty's late ministers thought their own opinions right, they did right to support them; and if they found those opinions positively resisted by his majesty, it was their duty to resign their situations.
§ The Earl of Buckinghamshire rose
to explain the principles that were in the contemplation of government, in 1801, respecting any further concessions to the catholics; which, he said, were nothing more than to pass a bill in the English parliament, adopting the same principle as the bill passed by the Irish parliament, for throwing open the subordinate ranks of the army, under that of staff officers, to catholics: and without which the Irish bill would have no operation out of Ireland. It could have no operation whatever in respect to the navy. Farther than this he never could consent to go. He was well aware, that the impossibility of rising to all the advantages of the military profession must considerably damp the ardour of an officer; and though he could see no great objection, nor mischief, from giving to Catholic officers staff-rank in any other country than Ireland, yet there he conceived it exceedingly dangerous, and nothing could ever shake his opinion upon this point. The Irish parliament never would have consented to such a measure, and this parliament would do well to pause before they ventured to carry concession so much farther than the parliament who well understood the subject.
The Lord Chancellor (Erskine)
said, he considered the subject of the Catholic Ques- 259 tion as completely irrelevant as any other whatever, to the late change in his majesty's councils, although it happened to be the subject which led to such a conjuncture. Although a member of the late government, he was decidedly adverse to the measure, and should not have advised it, because he did not see the political necessity for it which had induced the great majority of his colleagues to recommend it to his majesty, yet he thought they were highly commendable, and only doing their duty in giving his majesty such advice as they in their conscience thought just; as well as in declining to be bound by any pledge to refrain from giving to their sovereign upon this, or any subject, such advice as they conceived to be just. The firmness with which his majesty had maintained his own conscientious opinions, by resisting the bill in the extent to which it went, had also his respectful approbation; but he must say, that his colleagues did right in declining to be bound never again to advise the measure under any possible pressure of circumstances. At the moment when his majesty's late ministers relinquished the bill, in concession to his majesty's scruples, they stood in the same situation as upon their first accession to office. They knew his majesty's feelings. His majesty was aware that their sentiments were in favour of the concession. But their dereliction of the measure at that time, in deference to the royal opinion, was a tacit pledge that they would not again press it, unless under some extraordinary circumstances, which might render it more urgently necessary. Had it pleased his majesty then to await for this experience in the conduct of his ministers, and to see if they again endeavoured to press forward the measure, or submit it to parliament; and if they did it contrary to his majesty's wishes, they would have merited dismissal. The right of his majesty to change his ministers no man could deny; but to have remained in power, or accept office upon any such condition as the pledge alluded to, was, in his opinion, contrary to every principle of ministerial duty, and directly in violation of the constitution. Had the business ended with the abandonment of the bill, by the late administration, the Catholics would only have to say, they had been abandoned by their friends, and would have still cherished the hope of being more fortunate at some future period. But by the dismissal of those friends from the councils of their sovereign, for no other reason than their declining to pledge themselves never 260 again, under any circumstances, to allude to the question, or any thing connected with it upon his majesty's mind, they would be taught to consider, that the principle just declared by the noble earl, of never granting any farther concession to the catholics, was to be a part of the system of government: what the result of such conviction would be, he did not wish even to conjecture.—The question for adjournment to Wednesday se'ennight was then put and agreed to.
The Marquis of Stafford
then rose, and gave notice of his intention to bring forward a question on that day, upon the subject of the dismissal of his majesty's late ministers, and moved, that their lordships be summoned for that day.