H́nh ảnh trang
PDF
ePub

"The petitions to parliament must of course be altogether unconnected with the New Catholic Association, and must originate with, and be conducted by, general or aggregate meetings, which, as the law now stands, may be continued by adjournment for fourteen days, and no longer.

"It is obvious that it would be impossible to arrange all the petitions necessary to be presented to parliament during the ensuing sessions in the space of 14 days.

"It is deemed advisable to have a petition presented from every parish in Ireland.

"The country should be therefore taken separately by counties. There can, in point of law, be 14 days given to each county separately and distinctly, but the business of petitioning for such county must be conducted by general or aggregate meetings, unconnected with the New Catholic Association, and such general or aggregate meetings can continue to sit for the petitions of each county during fourteen days, according to the provisions of the statute.

"Thus the New Catholic Association will have to attend to details in Catholic affairs, consistent with the duration of our present grievances, and with an acquiescence in our present sufferings.

"The separate or aggregate meetings must and will seek for the redress of grievances, and the alteration of those matters in church and state by which we are oppressed.

"The Committee," said the report, "further beg leave to suggest, that in the management of the future petitions of the Catholics of Ireland, care be taken to have our claims for relief brought before parliament, and kept free from any

extraneous matter, or any details on subjects of any other description, we being convinced that the simple and single object of obtaining unconditional and unqualified relief from our disabilities, should be solely attended to as well by the Catholics themselves, as by their friends in parliament."

The report was received with clamorous applause, and was approved unanimously. The language of some of the speakers was violent in the extreme. Mr. O'Gorman, who had not the excuse of eloquence for his vehemence, in returning thanks for his appointment to the office of secretary, observed, that his majesty's ministers were not lying on a bed of roses. Independently of their internal dissensions, which he hoped God Almighty would increase, their finances were in rather a ticklish situation; England was beginning to get uneasy, and a cloud appeared to be gathering in the North, which there was no knowing how soon it might burst, for Russia had thirteen hundred thousand men in arms. All these cheering prospects, he added, were sufficient to inspire Irishmen with hope. They, who call upon Catholics by the hate they bear to Protestants, to be peaceable, show a consistent spirit, in regarding the anticipated misfortunes of England and of Europe as cheering prospects for them. But it is melancholy to think that men like lord Gormanstown and lord Killeen should submit to be insulted by language, which is not treasonable only because it is so vague as to be almost without meaning; and still more melancholy is it, that any numerous assembly of men of education, should be so devoid of patriotism as to lend to such language even a momentary applause.

CHAP. III.

State of the Question concerning the Roman Catholic Claims-Scheme of Measures proposed with respect to these Claims-Motion of Sir Francis Burdett on the Subject: Debate: Speeches of Mr. Plunkett and Mr. Peel-Resolutions adopted by the House of Commons-Bill for the Relief of the Roman Catholics-Frame of the Bill-Its Progress through the House of Commons-Debates on it-Declaration of the Duke of York on the Subject-Effect of that Declaration-The Bill passes the House of Commons-Discussion on it in the House of Lords-It is rejected by the Lords-Bill for regulating the Exercise of the Elective Franchise in Ireland-Resolution for making a Public Provision for the Catholic Clergy-State of the Public Mind concerning the Roman Catholic Question--Inconsistency between the Frame of the Bill and the Principles of its Supporters.

IN

N all the discussions on the Roman Catholic Association, the advocates of the ministerial measure had carefully separated the question of the conduct of that body from the general question of the Roman Catholic claims. Indeed one of the heaviest grounds of complaint in the minds of many against the Association was, that its intemperance was injurious to the very interests which it was intended to support. The Catholic cause, therefore, was in no degree involved in o prejudiced by the condemnation pronounced on Mr. O'Connell and his associates. On the contrary, it was now deemed to be in a fairer road to success than it had been for several years. The ranks of its friends had been augmented by various deserters from the adverse parliamentary array, among whom perhaps Mr. Brownlow was the most distinguished. But it had acquired a still better ground of hope in the increased and increasing influence and popularity of Mr. Canning, and those other

members of the cabinet who were pledged to its support.

The question was brought forward in the present session, under a form very different from any which it had previously assumed. It was made the subject of three distinct measures. Öne of these was to remove the Catholic disabilities; another was to establish a species of connection between the Catholic ecclesiastics and the state, by making a public provision for the clergy of that church; and the third, in order to prevent the Protestants from being overpowered in elections by the overwhelming majority of the Catholic population, proposed to raise considerably the yearly value of the freehold to which the elective franchise was annexed.

On the 1st of March, sir F. Burdett presented the general pe tition of the Roman Catholics, and moved, in an eloquent and temperate speech, for the appointment of a committee of the whole House, to consider of the state of the laws

affecting his majesty's Roman Catholic subjects. Mr. Croker seconded the motion, and was followed on the same side by Mr. Canning, Mr. S. Wortley, Mr. Plunkett, and Mr. Brougham. They argued the question entirely on general principles. The claim of the Roman Catholics, said Mr. Plunkett, was a claim to be admitted members of a free representative govern ment, and to the benefit of institutions, the advantages of which belonged equally to every subject of that government. He did not say that the right would admit of no exception, or control: for there was nothing in the social fabric concerning which he would venture to make that assertion. Even the enjoyment of natural rights must be qualified, in a state of society, with conditions: still more must this be the case with the artificial rights given by the mere existence of society.

But these conditions ought to be imposed only in the degree which would be the most likely to protect and preserve the rights and privileges of all. Whether the rights enjoyed by individuals were of the character of natural or of chartered rights, they were liable to be withheld on the ground of general expediency. But, then, the expediency must be clearly and unquestionably made out. At the Reformation, the main object was to protect the rights of the throne against the claims of a foreign power, and against the disaffection of those subjects who might reserve their allegiance for that foreign power, to the detriment of the throne, and of the state in general. This being the object, how did our ancestors proceed? There were the claims of the pope, not simply interfering with the interest

of the Roman Catholic religion, which then was the established religion of the state, but extending also the right of disposing of benefices, of naming the clergy, of deposing the monarch, and of absolving the people from their allegiance. The legislature accordingly provided for the absolute integrity and inviolability of the church, and for the spiritual prerogative of the crown, forbidding at the same time the exercise of any other than the established religion. It was now long since any man had heard of any claim of the pope, or any other foreign power, to interfere with the church, or to exercise a right of deposing kings, or absolving their subjects from their allegiance? Those enactments were, therefore, gradually done away. In the reign of Charles the 2nd, our ancestors observed a new danger-a monarch careless about religion, or secretly affected to an unconstitutional one, who was to be followed by a popish successor. Here their providence was as remarkable as before. They provided a remedy, not adapted entirely to meet the evil, but the only one they could obtain; which was, to require certain oaths to be taken by those who were to sit in parliament. That was found insufficient on the accession of James 2nd, who openly maintained the Roman Catholic religion against the constitution and the rights of his people. The legislature then drove the monarch from the throne, and resolved that the sovereign power should be held inviolable and unalterable in Protestant hands. Did he deny that the throne must be Protestant? Was he doing any thing to weaken its Protestant supremacy? No such thing. Was there any mode or

device to make that supremacy of beneficence was introduced,

surer, which the genius of any man could suggest? He was ready to incorporate it with the proposed bill, or to have it introduced as a separate, yet concomitant measure. What were the dangers, which afterwards threatened the establishment? The claims of an exiled family, and the plots and agitations of a disaffected party retained in its interests. He admitted, freely, that the Roman Catholics of that period were suspected justly. What was the course taken by parliament? All the measures against the papists were continued. They were held to be not good subjects, and unfit to be trusted either with honour or power in the state. They were coerced in their persons and property, deprived of their civil rights, sunk and degraded into that wretched state from which they were relieved by the benignity of the last reign. This was a natural course of reasoning, though he did not conceive it to be a very wise one but it showed, that our ancestors adapted their remedies to the evils then existing, and pressing upon their apprehensions. In 1791, a new danger, and an entirely new difficulty, presented themselves. The Roman Catholics had proved themselves truly submissive; they had been uniform in their peaceable conduct and though rebellion had twice raged in Scotland, no movement was made in Ireland in favour of the exiled family. But the Catholics, so sunk and degraded, added nothing to the strength of the state. The landlord found that the lands could not be sufficiently cultivated. The valuable energies of labour were every where paralyzed; a new plan was adopted; and a system

:

which, having been now in practice for the space of forty years, had raised the Roman Catholics of Ireland to a state of affluence, comfort, and respectability; had given them a perfect equality of civil rights; and had caused them to participate in the advantages of the constitution. What was the danger which we had now to dread? Not the pope, not the claims of foreign potentates, not the assumption of a power to dissolve the allegiance of the people, not the interests of an exiled family. The Roman Catholics had perfected the proofs of their obedience, and had been admitted to their civil rights, as good subjects who were entitled to every thing which they could reasonably claim. The danger now to be apprehended was perfectly new, though not inferior to that of a dispute concerning the supremacy or the succession to

the crown. What was now to be feared was, to see four millionstaking them at the lowest-of subjects, having wealth, power, and respectability on their side, and awakened to a full sense of their condition, coming up, year after year, to claim the rights and privileges enjoyed by their fellow subjects, and retiring dejected and disappointed. It was in vain to tell us not to look at the dangers of our own times, but to go back to the Reformation, to the reign of James 2nd, and to the Revolution. The present danger was the greatest, and was the only one for the House to consider. While man would sleep or stop in his career, the course of time was rapidly changing the aspect of all human affairs; and all that a wise government could do, was to keep as close as possible to the wings of time, to

watch his progress, and accommodate their motions to his flight. Arrest his course they could not; but they might vary the forms and aspects of their institutions, so as to reflect his varying aspects and forms. If this were not the spirit which animated them, philosophy would be impertinent, and history no better than an old almanack. The riches of knowledge would serve them no better than the false money of a swindler, put upon them at a value which once circulated, but had long since ceased. Prudence and experience would be no better for protection than dotage and error.

as

But, it was said that the Roman Catholics, though they might have civil rights, were not to expect political power. Was there then nothing of political power in what they possessed? They had the right of electing members to serve in parliament: they acted as magistrates: they served jurors: was not that exercising political power? This country had liberally imparted education to them. Did not that put the means of political power within their reach? Once admit men to enjoy property, personal rights, and their usual consequences, and on what pretence could they be excluded from the institutions by which the whole of those posses sions must be guarded?

It was asked, what have the Roman Catholics to complain of? they are only excluded from the parliament, the bench, and the high offices of state; which meant that they were only excluded from the making and administering of the laws, from all posts of honour and dignity in the state. These were bagatelles, for which, according to the argument, it was not VOL. LXVII.

worth while for the Catholics to contend: Were not these the very nothings for which Englishmen would cheerfully lay down their lives?

The motion was opposed by Mr. Leslie Foster, the Solicitor General, Mr. Bankes, and Mr. Peel. The latter, after commenting on the arguments of sir Francis Burdett and Mr. Plunkett, and contending that the Catholics could not assert any claim of right to the concessions for which they now called, stated with great force and clearness the leading principle, on which he would oppose the measure in every stage. The hon. baronet tells us, said Mr. Peel, that he has never heard what the danger is; and he calls upon the opponents of his motion to point it out. Before I answer this call, I wish to inquire of the hon. baronet what is the object of his present proposition? I presume that the object is, to communicate power to those who are at present excluded from it-to devolve upon them a fair share in the framing, administering, and executing of the laws. Does the hon. baronet mean to give a mere barren capacity, never hereafter to be available? If the two Houses of Parliament mean to pass a measure of this kind, surely there can be nothing more unfair than to throw the odium of refusal of office elsewhere, and to create an unjust impression against the highest personage in the realm. Parliament ought not to give the claimants a ticket of admission, and when it is presented at the door of the constitution, trust to the Crown to shut that door in the face of the party claiming a right to be allowed to enter.

If I were perfectly satisfied that [E]

« TrướcTiếp tục »