|Catholic Emancipation (1829)
|Speech in support of the Roman Catholic Relief Bill given to the House of Lords on 2 April 1829.|
It is now my duty to move your lordships to read this bill a second time, and to explain to your lordships the grounds on which I recommend this measure to your lordships' attention. I may be under the necessity of requesting a larger portion of your time and attention, upon this occasion, than I have hitherto been in the habit of doing; but I assure you, my lords, that it is not my intention to take up one instant of your time with respect to myself, or my own conduct in this transaction, any further than to express my regret, that I should differ in opinion on this subject from so many of those for whom I entertain the highest respect and regard. I must, however, state, that I consider the part which I have taken upon this subject as the performance of a public duty, absolutely incumbent upon me; and I will say, that no private regard, no respect for the opinion of any noble lord, could induce me to depart from the course which I have considered it my duty to adopt. I must likewise say this — that, comparing my own opinions with that of others, upon this subject, I have, during the period I have been in office, had opportunities of forming a judgment upon this subject, which others have not possessed; and they will admit, that I should not have given the opinion I have given, if I was not intimately and firmly persuaded that that opinion was a just one.
My lords, the point which I shall first bring under your lordships' consideration is the state of Ireland. I know that, by some, it has been considered that the state of Ireland has nothing to do with this question — that it is a subject which ought to be left entirely out of our consideration. My lords, they tell us, that Ireland has been disturbed for the last thirty years — that it is a disturbance we have been accustomed to — and that therefore it does not at all alter the circumstances of the case, as they have hitherto appeared to this House. My lords, it is perfectly true that Ireland has been disturbed during the long period I have stated; but within the last year or two political circumstances have, in no small degree, occasioned that agitation. Besides that, my lords, I must say, — although I have no positive legal proof of the fact, — I have every reason to believe, that there has been a considerable organization of the people, for the purposes of mischief. My lords, this organization is, it appears to me, to be proved, not only by the declarations of those who formed and who arranged it, but likewise by the effects which it has produced in the election of churchwardens throughout the country — in the circumstances attending the election for the county of Clare — in the circumstances that preceded and followed that election — in the proceedings of the gentleman who went at the head of a body of men to the north of Ireland — in the simultaneous proceedings of various bodies of men in the south of Ireland, in Templemore, Killenaule, Cahir, Clonmel, and other places — in the proceedings of another gentleman in the king's county; and in the recall of the former gentleman from the north of Ireland by the Roman Catholic Association. In all these circumstances it is quite obvious to me, that there was an organization and direction of the people, proceeding from some superior authority; and this organization has certainly produced a state of society in Ireland which we have not heretofore witnessed, and an aggravation of all the evils which had before afflicted that unfortunate country.
My lords, late in the year a considerable town was attacked in the middle of the night by a body of people who came from the neighbouring mountains — the town of Augher. They attacked it with arms, and were driven from it with arms by the inhabitants of the town. This is a state of things which I feel your lordships will admit ought not to exist in a civilized country. Later in the year still, a similar event occurred in Charleville; and, in the course of last autumn, the Roman Catholic Association deliberated upon the propriety of adopting, and the means of adopting, the measure of ceasing all dealings between Roman Catholics and Protestants. Is it possible to believe that supposing these dealings had ceased — supposing this measure had been carried into execution — as I firmly believe it was in the power of those who deliberated upon it to carry it into execution — is it possible to believe, that those who could thus cease these dealings would not likewise have ceased to carry into execution the contracts into which they had entered? Will any man say, that people in this situation are verging towards that state, in which it would be impossible to expect from them that they would be able to perform the duties of jurymen, or to administer justice between man and man, for the protection of the lives and properties of his majesty's subjects? My lords, this is the state of society to which I have wished to draw your attention, and for which it is necessary that parliament should provide a remedy.
Before I proceed to consider what those remedies should be, I wish just to show your lordships what is the effect of this state of society upon the king's prerogative. My lords, his majesty could not create a peer; and the reason he could not create a peer was this — his majesty's servants could not venture to recommend to him to incur the risks of an election in another part of the country, and the risks which might have attended any accident at that election, which might have occasioned the shedding of blood. Such a disaster must have been productive of an immediate civil war in the country; but not only was that the case, my lords, but I confess that I had the strongest objection to give another triumph to the Roman Catholic Association. Then we are asked "why do you not carry the law into execution?" Why, my lords, in all that I have stated hitherto there was no resistance to the law. The magistrates were terrified, and did nothing; the troops did not happen immediately to be upon the spot, and there was no resistance. There were no troops, except in the case of the procession that went to the north of Ireland. I believe there was no instance of any opposition to the king's troops, and there was no instance in which the law could be carried into execution. When we hear noble lords reproaching the government for not carrying into execution the law in Ireland, as it was carried into execution in England, the observation shows that they do not understand the state of things in Ireland. The truth of the matter is, that in England, when the law was carried into execution, in the year 1819, a large body of persons assembled for an illegal purpose (the Peterloo Massacre); they resisted the order of the magistrates to disperse, and having resisted that order, the magistrates ordered the troops to disperse them; but in this case there were no circumstances of the same kind: no order was given to disperse; no order could be given to disperse — because no magistrates were present; and, if they had been present, there were no troops to disperse them. The truth is, the state of society was such as rendered these events possible every hour; and it was impossible that the magistrates could be at every spot, and at all times, to put an end to these outrages, which really are a disgrace to the country in which they exist. But, my lords, neither the law nor the means in the possession of government enable government to put an end to these things. It was necessary, therefore, to come to parliament.
Now, let us see what chance there was of providing a remedy for this state of things by coming to parliament. My lords, we all recollect perfectly well, that the opinion of the majority in another place is, that the remedy for this state of things in Ireland is a repeal of the disabilities affecting his majesty's Roman Catholic subjects. We might, to be sure, have come and asked parliament to enable us to put down the Roman Catholic Association; but what chance had we of prevailing upon parliament to pass such a bill as that, without being prepared to come forward and state that we were ready to consider the whole condition of Ireland, with a view to apply a remedy to that which parliament had stated to be the cause of the disease. Suppose that parliament had given us the bill to put down the Roman Catholic Association, would such a law as that which has passed this year be a remedy for the state of things which I have already described to your lordships as existing in Ireland? Would it, I ask, do any one thing towards putting down the mischiefs which are the consequences of that organization? Would it do any thing towards giving you the means of getting a better state of things in Ireland, without some further measure to be adopted?
But, my lords, it is said, "if that will not do, let us proceed to blows." What, I suppose, is meant by "proceeding to blows" is coming to civil war. Now, I believe that every government must be prepared to carry into execution the laws of the country by the force placed at its disposition — by the military force, in case that should be necessary; and above all things, to oppose resistance to the law, in case the disaffected or the ill-disposed are inclined to resist the authority or sentence of the law; but as I have already stated to your lordships, there was no resistance of the law; — nay, more, I will go further, and say, I am positively certain, that this state of things existing in Ireland for the last year and a half, bordering upon civil war — being attended by nearly all the evils of civil war — might have continued a considerable time longer, to the great injury and disgrace of the country, and those who managed the state, if they would have taken care to prevent that resistance which might have ended in that state of things being put down. They know as well as I do they are not strong enough to wrestle with the king's government, backed by the law; they know perfectly well they would have been the first victims of that resistance; but knowing this, and knowing, as I do, that they are sensible, able men, and perfectly aware of the materials upon which they have to work, I have not the smallest doubt that the state of things which I have stated to your lordships would have continued for years, and that you would never have had an opportunity of putting it down in the manner some noble lords imagine.
But, my lords, even if I had been certain of possessing such means of putting it down, I should certainly have considered it my duty to avoid resorting to those means. I am one of those who have probably passed a longer period of my life engaged in war than most men, and principally, I may say, in civil war; and I must say this — that if I could avoid, by any sacrifice whatever, even one month of civil war in the country to which I am attached, I would sacrifice my life in order to do it (cheers). I say that there is nothing which destroys property and prosperity, and demoralizes character, to the degree that civil war does: by it the hand of man is raised against his neighbour, against his brother, and against his father; the servant betrays his master, and the whole scene ends in confusion and devastation. Yet, my lords, this is the resource to which we must have looked — these are the means to which we must have applied, in order to have put an end to this state of things, if we had not made the option of bringing forward the measures, for which I hold myself responsible.
But let us look a little further, my lords. If civil war is so bad, when it is occasioned by resistance to the government — if it is so bad in the case I have stated, and so much to be avoided — how much more is it to be avoided when we have to arm the people, in order that we may conquer one part of them by exciting the other part against them? My lords, I am sure there is not a man who hears me, whose blood would not shudder at such a proposition, if it were made to him; and yet that is the recourse to which we should be pushed at last, by continuing the course we have been adopting for the last few years.
However, I entreat your lordships not only to look at it in this view, but likewise to revert a little to what passed on a former similar occasion. My lords I am old enough to remember the rebellion of 1798. I was not employed in Ireland at the time, I was employed in another part of the dominions; but, my lords, if I am not mistaken, the parliament of Ireland at that time went up to the lord lieutenant with a unanimous address, I believe they walked up in a body, beseeching his excellency to take every means to put down that unnatural rebellion, and promising their full support in order to carry that measure into execution. The lord lieutenant did take those measures, and did succeed in putting down that rebellion. Well, my lords, what happened in the very next session? The government proposed to put an end to the Irish parliament, and to form a legislative union between the two kingdoms, for the principal purpose of proposing this very measure (cheers); and in point of fact, the very first measure that was proposed after this legislative union — after those successful endeavours to put down this rebellion — was the very measure with which I am now about to trouble your lordships.
Why, then, I ask, is it possible noble lords can believe that, supposing there was such a contest as that which I have anticipated — is it possible noble lords can believe that such a contest could be carried on, much less brought to a conclusion, without the measure which I now propose being insisted on by one at least, if not both Houses of parliament? I am certain, my lords, when your lordships look at the division of opinion which prevails in both Houses of parliament upon this question, — when you look at the division of opinion which prevails in every family in this country and in Ireland, from the most eminent in station down to the lowest, — when you look at the division of opinion which prevails amongst even the Protestants in Ireland — when your lordships look at these circumstances, I am sure you will perceive the vast difference there would be between a contest carried on now, and that which was carried on at a former period.
My lords, I beg your lordships to recollect that, upon a recent occasion, there was a Protestant Declaration of the sentiments of Ireland. As I said before, the parliament of Ireland, in the year 1798, with the exception of one or two persons, were unanimous; and, on a recent occasion, there were seven marquises, twenty-seven earls, a vast number of peers of other ranks, and not less than two thousand Protestant gentlemen of property in the country, who signed the Declaration, stating the absolute necessity of making these concessions. Under these circumstances it is, that this contest would have been carried on — circumstances totally different from those which existed at that period I before alluded to. But, is it possible to believe that parliament would allow such a contest to go on? Is it possible to believe that parliament, having this state of things before them — that this House, seeing what the opinion of the other House of parliament is — seeing what the opinion of the large number of Protestants in Ireland is — seeing what the opinion of nearly every statesman, for the last forty years, has been on this question — would continue to oppose itself to measures brought forward for its settlement? It appears to me absolutely impossible that we could have gone on longer, without increasing difficulties being brought on the country.
But it is very desirable that your lordships should look a little to what benefit is to be derived, to any one class in the state, by continuing the disabilities, and only taking those coercive measures which will have all the evils which I have stated. We are told, that the benefit will be to preserve the principles of the constitution of 1688 — that the measures of 1688 permanently excluded Roman Catholics from parliament — and that they being so permanently excluded from parliament, it is necessary to have recourse to all those evils, in order to keep up that permanent exclusion. Now, I wish very much that the noble lords would take upon themselves the trouble I have taken to see how the matter stands as to the permanent exclusion of Roman Catholics from parliament. My lords, in the Bill of Rights, there are some things permanently enacted, which I sincerely hope will be permanent; — those are, the liberties of the people; the security for Protestantism of the person on the throne of these kingdoms, and that he shall not be married to a papist. Then there is an Oath of Allegiance and Supremacy to be taken by all those of whom that Oath of Allegiance is required, which is also permanent; but there is no Declaration against Transubstantiation. There is also an Oath of Allegiance, different from that which is required to be taken by a member of parliament. I beg your lordships will observe that, although this Oath of Allegiance was declared to be permanent, it was altered in the reign of William and Mary. This shows what that permanent act was. Then, with respect to the oaths to be taken by members of parliament, I beg your lordships to observe, that these oaths, the Declaration against Transubstantiation, and the sacrifice of the mass, are not in the act of William 3rd but in the act of 30th Charles 2nd. During the reign of Charles 2nd, there were certain oaths imposed, first on Dissenters from the Church of England, by the 13th and 14th Charles 2nd, and to exclude Roman Catholics, by the 25th, and 30th Charles 2nd. At the period of the Revolution, when King William came, he thought proper to extend the basis of his government, and he repealed the oaths affecting the Dissenters from the Church of England, imposed by the 13th and 14th Charles 2nd, and likewise that affirmative part of the Oath of Supremacy, which Dissenters from the Church of England could not take. This is the history of the alteration of these oaths by William 3rd, from the time of Charles 2nd. But, my lords, the remainder of the oath could be taken by Dissenters, but could not be taken by Roman Catholics. The danger, with respect to Roman Catholics, had originated in the time of Charles 2nd, and these oaths still existed in the time of William 3rd; but the oath was altered, because one of the great principles of the Revolution was, to limit the exclusion from the benefits of the constitution as far as it was possible. Therefore we have the great principle of the Revolution, as well as the principle I before stated, which consisted of the Bill of Rights and liberties of the subject. Now, the noble lords state, that what they call the principles of 1688 — that is to say, these oaths excluding Roman Catholics – are equally permanent with the Bill of Rights, by which the Protestantism of the Crown is secured. If noble lords will do me the favour to look at the words of the act — I have it ready — they will find that the difference between the two things is just the difference between that which is permanent and that which is not. The Bill of Rights declares that the Protestantism of the Crown shall last for ever — that the liberties of the people shall be secured for ever; but it is remarkable, that as to these oaths which were enacted on the same occasion, not one word is said about their lasting forever, or as to how long they should last.
Well, then, my lords, what follows? The next act we have is the Act of Union with Scotland; and what does that act say? — Why, that the oaths to be taken by the members of parliament are to be laid down by the 1st of William and Mary until parliament shall otherwise direct. This is what is called a "permanent act of parliament — a permanent provision, for all future periods, to exclude Catholics from seats in parliament!" My lords, I beg to observe, that if the act which excludes Roman Catholics from seats in parliament is permanent, there is another clause - I believe the 10th of chap. 8, 1st of William and Mary - which requires officers of the army and navy to take these very oaths, previous to their acceptance of their commissions. Now, if the act made in the first year of William and Mary, which excludes Roman Catholics from parliament, is permanent, I should like to ask noble lords why the clause in that act is not equally permanent I should like to ask the noble and learned lord on the cross-bench to answer that question. If the oaths were permanent in the one case they were equally so in the other; and yet the noble and learned lord consented to the bill of 1817, which repealed oaths required to be taken by officers of the army and navy ……
Then, if this principle of exclusion — if this principle of the constitution of 1688, as it is called — be not permanent, if it be recognized to be not permanent, not only by the Act of Union with Scotland - in which it is said, that the exclusive oath shall continue until parliament otherwise provide, but also by the later act of Union with Ireland, I would ask your lordships, whether you are not at liberty now to consider the expediency of doing away with it altogether, in order to relieve the country from the inconveniences to which I have already adverted? I would ask your lordships, whether you are not called upon to review the state of the representation of Ireland — whether you are not called upon to see, whether, even supposing that that principle were a permanent one, it be fit that parliament should remain as it has remained for some time, groaning under a popish influence exercised by the priests over the elections in Ireland. I would ask your lordships, I repeat, whether it be not right to make an arrangement, which has for its object, not only the settlement of this question, but at the same time to relieve the country from the inconveniences which I have mentioned. I have already stated the manner in which the organization I have already alluded to works upon all the great interests of the country; but I wish your lordships particularly to attend to the manner in which it works upon the church itself. That part of the Church of England which exists in Ireland is in a very peculiar situation: it is the church of the minority of the people. At the same time, I believe, that a more exemplary, a more pious, and a more learned body of men, than the members of that church do not exist. The clergy of that church certainly enjoy and deserve the affections of those whom they were sent to instruct, to the same degree as their brethren in England enjoy the affections of the people of this country; and I have no doubt that they would, if necessary, shed the last drop of their blood in defence of the doctrines and discipline of their church. But violence, I apprehend, is likely to affect the interests of that church; and I would put it to the House, whether that church can be better protected from violence by a government united in itself, united with parliament, and united in sentiment with the great body of the people — or by a government disunited in opinion, disunited from parliament, and by the two Houses of parliament disunited. I am certain that no man can look at the situation of Ireland, without seeing that the interest of the church, as well as the interest of every class of persons under government, is involved in such a settlement of this question as will bring with it strength to the government, and strength to every department of the state.
Having now, my lords, gone through the general principles which have induced me to consider it desirable to bring forward this measure, I will trouble your lordships for a short time longer, whilst I explain generally the provisions of the bill before the House.
My lords; the bill is in itself very simple. It concedes to the Roman Catholics the power of holding every office in the state, excepting a few connected with the administration of the affairs of the church; and it also concedes to them the power of becoming members of parliament. I believe it goes further, with respect to the concession of offices, than any former measure which has been introduced into the other House of parliament… I have… considered it my duty, in making this act of concession, to make it as large as any reasonable man could expect it to be; seeing clearly, that any thing which remained behind would only give ground for fresh demands, and being convinced, that the settlement of this question would tend to the security of the state, and to the peace and prosperity of the country.
I have already stated to your lordships my opinion respecting the expediency of granting seats in parliament to Roman Catholics; and I do not conceive that the concession of seats in parliament can, in any manner, affect any question relative to the Church of England. In the first place, I beg your lordships to recollect that at the time those acts, to which I have before alluded — the one passed in the 30th of Charles 2nd, and the other at the period of the Revolution — were enacted, it was not the church that was in danger — it was the state. It was the state that was in danger — and from what? It was not because the safety of the church was threatened. No! but it was because the sovereign on the throne was suspected of popery, and because the successor to the throne was actually a papist. Those laws were adopted, because of the existence of a danger which threatened the state, and not of one which threatened the church. On the contrary, at that period, danger to the church was apprehended, not from the Roman Catholics, but from the Dissenters from the Church of England. I would ask of your lordships, all of whom have read the history of those times, whether any danger to the church was apprehended from the Roman Catholics? No! Danger to the church was apprehended from the Dissenters, who had become powerful by the privileges granted to them, under the act of parliament passed at the period of the Revolution. I think, therefore, that it is not necessary for me to enter into any justification of myself for having adopted this measure, on account of any danger which might be apprehended from it to the church. Roman Catholics will come into parliament by this bill, as they went into parliament previous to the act of the 30th of Charles 2nd. They sat in parliament up to that period, and were not obliged to take the Oath of Supremacy. By this bill they will be required to take the Oath of Allegiance, in which a great part of the Oath of Supremacy is included; namely, that part which refers to the jurisdiction of foreign potentates; and I must say, that if the church be in danger, it is better secured by this bill than by the 30th of Charles 2nd, which has continued in force up to the present moment; though the object for which that act was recognized at the period of the Revolution; namely, to keep out the House of Stuart from the throne — has long since ceased to exist by the extinction of that family.
It is the opinion of nearly every considerable man in the country, that the time is now arrived for repealing those laws. Circumstances have been gradually moving to their repeal, ever since the extinction of the House of Stuart; and at last the period is come, when it is quite clear that that repeal cannot with safety be any longer delayed.
But I know that there are many in your lordships' House, and many in the country, who think — and I admit that formerly I was of the same opinion — that the state ought to have some security for the church, against the proceedings of the Roman Catholic clergy, besides the oaths imposed by the act of parliament I have already alluded to. But I confess that, on examining into the question, and looking more minutely than I had before an opportunity of doing, at the various acts of parliament by which the Church of England was constituted, and which form the foundation on which it rests, I can think of no sort of arrangement capable of being carried into execution in this country, which can add to the security of the established church.
Another part of the bill has for its object the putting an end to the order of the Jesuits, and other monastic orders in this country. If your lordships will look at the act passed in the year 1791, you will probably see that at that time it was possible to make laws through which a coach-and-four might be driven (a laugh). My noble and learned friend will excuse me, I hope, for saying, that notwithstanding all the pains which he took to draw up the act of 1791, yet the fact is, — of which there cannot be the smallest doubt, — that large monastic establishments have been regularly formed, not only in Ireland, but also in this country. The measure which I now propose for your lordships' adoption will prevent the increase of such establishments, and, without oppression to any individuals, without injury to any body of men, will gradually put an end to those which have already been formed. There is no man more convinced than I am of the absolute necessity of carrying into execution that part of the present measure, which has for its object the extinction of monastic orders in this country. I entertain no doubt whatever, that if that part of the measure be not carried into execution, your lordships will very soon see this country and Ireland inundated by Jesuits and regular monastic clergy, sent out from other parts of Europe, with means to establish themselves within his majesty's kingdom.
When I recommend this measure to your lordships' attention, you have undoubtedly a right to ask, what are the reasons which I have for believing that it will effect the purpose for which it is intended. My lords, I believe it will answer its object, not only from the example of all Europe, but from what has occurred in a part of this kingdom on a former occasion. If I am not mistaken, at the time of the dispute between the episcopalians and the kirk of Scotland, the state of society in Scotland, was as bad as the state of society in Ireland is at the present moment. Your lordships know, that abroad, in consequence of the diffusion of civil privileges to all classes, the difference between Protestant and Catholic is never heard. I am certain that I can prove to your lordships what I state, when I say, that the state of society in Scotland, previous to the concession of civil privileges to the episcopalians, was as bad as the present state of society in Ireland. I hope your lordships will give me leave to read a petition which has been sent to me this day, and which was presented to parliament at the period when those concessions were about to be made, and your lordships will perceive, that the petition is almost a model of many of the petitions which have been read in your lordships' House, respecting the question under discussion. I am therefore in expectation, that should the present bill pass your lordships' House, there will be no longer occasion for those complaints which have been expressed to your lordships, and that the same happy and peaceful state of things which has for the last century prevailed in Scotland will also prevail in Ireland. I will with your lordships' permission, read the petition I have alluded to, and I think that after you have heard it, you will be of the same opinion as I am with respect to the similarity it bears to many of the petitions which have been presented to your lordships on the subject of the Catholic question. The petition states, that "to grant toleration to that party (the episcopalians), in the present circumstances of the church, must unavoidably shake the foundation of our present happy constitution; overthrow those laws on which it is settled; grievously disturb that peace and tranquillity which the nation has enjoyed since the late Revolution; disquiet the minds of his majesty's best subjects; increase animosity; confirm discord and tumult; weaken and enervate the discipline of the church; open a door to unheard of vices, and to popery as well as to other errors; propagate and cherish disaffection to the government, and bring the nation under the danger of falling back into those errors from which it has recovered itself." The petition in conclusion stated, "that to grant toleration to the episcopalians would be to establish iniquity by law, and they therefore prayed the members of the high court of parliament to uphold, and preserve the laws." I sincerely hope that as the prophecy contained in the petition I have just read has not been fulfilled, a similar prophecy respecting the passing of the present bill, contained in many of the petitions presented to your lordships, will not be fulfilled likewise.
But, my lords, I have other grounds besides those which I have stated for supposing that the proposed measure will answer that object in view. There is no doubt that, after this measure shall be adopted, the Roman Catholics can have no separate interest, as a separate sect; for I am sure that neither your lordships nor the other House of parliament will be disposed to look upon the Roman Catholics, nor upon any thing that respects Ireland, with any other eye than that with which you behold whatever affects the interest of Scotland and of this country. For my own part, I will state, that if I am disappointed in the hopes which I entertain, that tranquillity will result from this measure, I shall have no scruple in coming down and laying before parliament the state of the case, and calling upon parliament to enable government to meet whatever danger may arise. I shall act with the same confidence that parliament will support me then, as I have acted in the present case.
Having now explained to your lordships the grounds on which this measure is brought forward, — the state of Ireland, — the inconvenience attending the continued agitation of the question, — the difficulty, nay, the impossibility, of finding any other remedy for the state of things in Ireland, — the state of public opinion on the question, — the divisions of the government and of the parliament on this question, — the pretences, for so I must call them, which have been urged against the claims of the Catholics, founded on acts passed previous to the Revolution, — having stated likewise the provisions of the measure which I propose as a remedy for all these inconveniences, I will trouble your lordships no further, except by beseeching your lordships to consider the subject with the coolness, moderation, and temper, recommended in his majesty's most gracious Speech from the Throne.