Sayfadaki görseller
PDF
ePub

temper; doubtless there may be among the Catholics some misguided men, and some who might conceal unjustifiable views; but was this a sufficient apology for using irritating language to the whole body ? The words “ unlawful assembly, applied to the Catholic meeting in the letter of the Irish secretary, appear to be most injudicious ; even, if strictly applicable, what necessity was there for assuming this phraseology, so remote from the style of conciliation, so unmarked by that superior good manners which ought to distinguish a magnanimous government.

I say I think it had been possible, and as effectual, to have adopted in the letter a tone more monitory and parental; but as to the second part of the letter, namely, that which is retrospective, in that I do not see any sufficient ground for justification ; certainly not in Mr. Hay's letter, and we have no other ground submitted. If the government have any other correspondence, they have withheld it; they have therefore left us no means of acquitting them, except by a letter of Mr. Hay, which, in my mind, does not warrant the denunciation of the Catholic commitée as an illegal assembly. That committee took its last shape in 1809; Lord Fingal was in the chair; Mr. M‘Donnell made the proposition for continuing in the confidence of the Catholics, the nobility, also the persons who had been appointed to manage a former address, together with those who survived of the Catholic delegates of 1793. Mr. Burke proposed to add those who had been appointed to manage the petitions of 1805 and 1807. You suffered this committee to continue to act, to manage petitions which you afterwards received; you suffered it to continue, under different modifications, on the same principle of election since 1804, and now you declare this committee illegal. Lord Fingal was in the chair in 1809, when the present committee took its last form. Do you mcan to send Lord Fingal to prison? What ! the nobleman that has acted for you and for his country with distinguished allegiance, and has defended and tempered the claim, spirit, and efforts of his fellowsubjects.

Mr. Randal M‘Donnell, a most excellent citizen, upright and intelligent, loved and looked up to by his country; is he to go to gaol? If so, why should not Lord Grenville, Lord Donoughmore, and myself accompany these worthy men? We have presented the petitions which they managed. We have communicated with them, and if their association be criminal, we cannot be innocent. I pray you would consider the act of Parliament, by force of whose construction you pronounce this committee illegal ; it was an act which originated in resentment; the Catholics had

succeeded against the hostility of the Irish government; in their act of 1793, that government formed this bill in revenge. It is a bill which belies the common law; it does not merely make, it declares conventions to be illegal. Look at the words: it asserts that conventions are illegal, and, of course, declares that the delegations held at different times in both countries, and among them that great delegation of 1688, the convention that placed William III. and was the cause of placing the House of Hanover on the throne, it declares that an illegal assembly. If you construe this act so as to comprehend the present Catholic committee, I do not see any species of delegation, however small and partial, that may not be held illegal; and in that case, I do not see how it is possible for the Catholics of Ireland to petition as a body; that is to say, to petition with authority, if you do not allow them, or rather if you do not construe that clause in the act which preserves to them the right of petition, so as to allow them a power of appointing men to circulate, manage, and transmit their petition, and to arrange incidental considerations, which are inseparably annexed to it, I do not see how the Catholic body of Ireland can transmit a petition to Parliament. You cannot say to the Catholic, “ You may petition, but you shall petition under difficulties and restraints such as shall render your effort embarrassing and unavailing."

In my judgment, these popular meetings, thus conducted, are not the cause of just alarm. It is well that opportunities should exist for the mind of the people to evaporate. The aspirations of active genius, and the high mettle of young ambition, should not be subjected to eternal control. I see much of public spirit in the Catholics of Ireland ; much, in, deed, of vehemence; but of a vehemence that threatens no evil consequences. The fire should be kept in its proper orb, and it will emit a salutary light and heat, without bursting into conflagration. Nothing has been stated to justify the retrospective operation of the convention act; and if ministers are determined to persevere in their impolitic system, I hold it to be the duty of the House to interpose in favour of the people, and to assert the right of the Irish subject to complain of grievances. It remains for ministers to show, that to destroy the Catholic committee, was necessary, in order to prevent a national convention in that country. It was the undoubted privilege of the subject to be sometimes clamorous and violent in the maintenance of his rights; I will not say it is his right to be foolish also; but I am sure that, with a view to suppress any mischief that may be apprehended, the worst plan is, a harsh exercise of the power and authority of government. Occasional ebullitions of warm feelings do not call for its chastising arm; they are the symptoms of a free spirit, the calentures of a lofty mind, harmless when gently treated.

Without taking up more of your time, to enquire whether the letter of Mr. Pole is warranted by the act of Parliament, whether the secretary of the Lord-lieutenant can, in his own name, command the magistrates, whether the magistrates, under the act, can arrest without an indictment, in a misdemeanor, which is not a breach of the peace. Without going into these questions, but leaving them to be settled by lawyers, I beg to conclude by remarking, that those occurrences, such as we have now before us, and which form the complaint of Mr. Pole's letter, are the natural effects of the present condition of the Catholics. You will be perpetually perplexed and embarrassed. You have disqualified a great portion of your fellow-subjects, who pay your taxes, and fight your battles. You have degraded your equals. It is to no purpose that you suppress the Catholic committee, the spirit by which that committee is actuated will break out in some shape less temperate and forbearing. There is an original evil in your policy; you have sunk the Catholics into an unnatural degradation, and human nature will make eternal efforts to its restitution. In all questions between us and the Catholics, I should suggest to you to recollect that, in the original dispute, we are in the wrong, and if they express themselves with violence, we are the cause of it; we have disqualified a people. Do we complain that the Catholics make speeches in committees? Then let them into Parliament. Do we mean to say that they shall have no seats in Parliament, nor voice any where else? I see in their debates a certain warmth occasionally, but I see much talent also. I know some of the members of their committee, and knowing them, I know them to be incapable of any views inconsistent with the good of the state.

To the Irish Catholic I strenuously recommend temper and forbearance. The time will come, it must come, when you will have him sitting with you, and voting with you, as he is now fighting for you, and ready to die for you! The Irish government, we have heard, has been mild; it has discountenanced bigotry, and has often refused to proclaim certain counties, though solicited. I rejoice at it; my wish is, that the Irish government may return to its lenity, and may abandon the vehemence which seems at present to have inspired its communication.

The motion was opposed by General Loftus, Sir Henry Montgomery, Mr. Yorke, Mr. Fuller, and the Chancellor of the Exchequer (Mr. Percival), who contended, that the body designated in Mr. Hay's letter was clearly within the contemplation of the convention act. He condemned the discussions of the Roman Catholics as highly inflammatory. It was not possible, he said, that any government could tolerate such a body of men, as three or four hundred, meeting and discussing the measures of government in the capital of the country. The conduct of the ministers, in his opinion, had been legal, at well as temperate and dignified.

The House divided : for the motion 43, against it 80; Majority 37. Tellers for the Ayes, Mr. J. W. Ward and Mr. Parnell.

Noes, Mr. Croker and General Loftus.

ROMAN CATHOLICS.

MR, GRATTAN MOVES TO REFER THE ROMAN CATHOLIC PETITION

TO A COMMITTEE OF THE WHOLE HOUSE.

May 31. 1811. ON the 20th of May Mr. Grattan presented to the House the

general petition from His Majesty's Roman Catholic subjects of Ireland; and gave notice, that he would, on the 31st, bring their claims under the consideration of the House. Accordingly, on this day, he desired that their petition should be read; also the resolutions of the House on the 28th of March last, giving the thanks of the House to General Graham, and the army under his command, for the brilliant victory at Barossa; also the resolutions of the House on the 26th of April last, giving the thanks of the House to Lord Wellington, and the army in Portugal; which having been read by the clerk, he said :

Sir, — In wishing that these votes of thanks should be read on this occasion, it was my object that the House should be in accurate possession of its own testimony to the conduct of that race of men, the justice of whose claims to equal rights and capacities we are proceeding to discuss.. We are now going to consider, whether it be just or expedient that the existing system of penal laws to which they are subject, should any longer continue. I call thein penal; for what else is the qualifying law? A law, inflicting penalties in the most objectionable form, that is, under the disguise of an oath; a law, which makes the forfeiture of conscience a recommendation to title and office; a law, that enacts religion to be a crime, and perjury a qualification. This is an occasion in which we are

assembled to try the bulk of the population of Ireland.

We have to try them upon separate charges - upon charges against the religion they profess, and the political principles upon which they have acted. The testimony against them, I am sorry to say, is that of their countrymen, and also of their fellow-subjects. Now, although I will not affirm that it is impossible for the authors of those charges to enjoy a safe conscience; although I will not suspect or deny their morality, yet their testimony, thus directed against their fellow-subjects, is to my mind a strong presumption of their prejudice against those whom they accuse. Let their evidence be ever so good or respectable, their zeal and alacrity to tender it, are to me demonstrations of those prejudices. For what, in fact, does this evidence amount to ? It begins by testifying that an immense body of Christians, subjects of this empire, are worse than

any class or nature of idolaters; that they are not trustworthy in civil life. But if this charge be true, then it can be no less true that the Messiah has failed, that the Christian religion is not of divine origin, since its effect and operation has been to deprave and immoralize mankind. The charge is compounded of the dogmas of the church, and the politics of the court; the spirit of the former being uniformly the spirit of bigotry, that of the latter as uniformly power. Against this evidence, we have long had the indisputable declarations, and the explicit testimony of the six most eminent universities of Europe, disclaiming any doctrine incompatible with the strongest attachment to the civil government of every country. In addition to this, there is our experience of the fact, as proved and established in the long intercourse that has subsisted between Protestant and Catholic, and the long obedience and submission shown by the Catholic to your government. But let us look at the charge in another point of view, and examine upon what ground it rests.

It represents that you, having had possession of Ireland for six hundred years, have so abased the exercise of your authority, have so oppressed and misgoverned the people of that country, that they are unalterably hostile to your interests, and inflexibly rebellious to your control. It represents that you stand self-convicted of a perversion of your power, and practically disqualifies you to be governors, under whose sovereignty Ireland has passed so many centuries of her existence. But, sir, I believe no such thing; I believe the assumption to be groundless ; that it is unjust thus to accuse England; but such is the nature of the accusation against the Catholics; it points less against them than against England and against British connection. Depend upon it, that the original source of a

« ÖncekiDevam »