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MR. GRATTAN MOVES A RESOLUTION,
DECLARING THAT THE HOUSE WILL, IN THE NEXT SESSION, RESOLVE ITSELF INTO A COMMITTEE ON THE SUBJECT OF THE PENAL LAWS.
May 21. 1816.
ON the 15th, Mr. Grattan presented a petition from a number
of Roman Catholic noblemen and gentlemen in Ireland, and gave notice of his intention to submit, at a future day, a motion to the House for the consideration of the Penal Laws; and on this day he spoke nearly as follows:
Mr. GRATTAN observed, that his right honourable friend (Mr. Elliot, who presented the English Catholic petition,) had argued this question so justly, so wisely, and with so much honour to himself and his country, that he had really left him very little to say on the subject. He begged to return his best thanks to the House for the extreme patience with which, on various occasions, they had listened to the repetition of his opinions on the Catholic Claims. Again he had to entreat their candour, which would again be followed by his gratitude. It had been repeatedly urged in hostility to the claims of the Catholics, that those claims ought to be advanced with more temper, and that a greater attachment ought to be exhibited to the existing institutions of the country. It must be most satisfactory to the House to observe, that the Catholics now grounded their hope of obtaining their liberties, or their rights, or their claims, or by whatever name the concessions to them were to be called, on evincing a disposition not merely to acquiesce, but heartily to concur, not in form only, but in act, in such terms as that. House might think necessary for the preservation of the church establishment, and of the Protestant succession to the throne. The known wishes of that House could not indeed fail to make a due impression on their minds; and having considered the whole subject, and the absolute necessity of expressing their attachment, not to the crown only, but to the Protestant succession, the Catholics of Ireland presented a petition, from which he begged leave to read some extracts. [Here he read several passages of the Catholic petition, the tendency of which was to express the anxious wish of the Catholics, that the great measure of emancipation should take place under such circumstances as might render it satisfactory and unobjectionable to all classes of His Majesty's subjects ; inasmuch as, in their opinion, the chief benefit to be derived from it, would be the union in the bonds of concord of the various religious persuasions of the empire; and the removal of those jealousies and apprehensions which at present prevented a cordial co-operation for the public good. They also declared it to be their duty to state, that they were ready to submit and conform to any regulations not incompatible with the principles of their religion, or threatening with danger its pure and permanent exercise; and that while they fully relied on the liberality and justice of the legislature, not to impose any conditions inconsistent with their religious persuasions, they were convinced that an adjustment might take place conciliatory to the Protestant mind, and at the same time compatible with the principles of their faith and discipline.] This petition was signed by above nine hundred persons, many of them of the highest rank. [Here the clerk, by desire of Mr. Grattan, read a number of the names, comprehending a large portion of the Irish nobility.] | The House had desired to have certain declarations on the part of the Catholics, and the Catholics had given him a petition to present to the House in which those declarations were explicitly made. The House had exacted certain terms, and with those terms the Catholics had complied. He held in his hand a letter, for the authenticity of which he could vouch, directed by the Pope to be written by Cardinal Litta to Dr. Poynter, touching the conditions with which the legislature of this country wished to accompany any concession to the Catholics. The letter set forth the forms of these oaths,
little different from those at present taken by the Catholics of Ireland, and though the oath which was to be taken by the bishop was thought in itself a sufficient security, yet his Holiness did not hesitate to permit those to whom it appertained to make out a list of the candidates for a bishopric, which list was to be presented to the King's ministers, in order that if any one of such candidates were disliked, or suspected, his name may be expunged from it. The letter went further, and said, that as soon as the British Government shall promulgate emancipation to the Catholics, his Holiness will send a brief to the Roman Catholic bishops to the above effect, and publish to the universe his grateful sense of the generosity and clemency of the British government, and finally, permit the bishops to observe what was before stated with regard to the oaths and to the mode of elections. Here then, upon the granting of emancipation, was that power given to the Crown which had been so frequently demanded as its condition. He had been often, on
which were very
He would say,
former occasions, asked what plan did he bring, in order that emancipation should be granted ? What plan could he
propose for the security of the Protestant religion, as by law established ? In order to be able to answer such question on the present occasion, he had, with a great deal of pains, possessed himself of good information on the subject. He was acquainted, through a most authentic channel, with the sentiments of the Pope on the great question; and the Pope had expressed himself, that if emancipation was now withheld, the fault was not his. He (the Pope) had very fairly said,
Why will the Parliament not legislate for the Catholics ? I am not indisposed to withhold my assistance.” If then he was asked on the present occasion, where are your securities ?
“ Here are my terms, they are the terms on which you wished heretofore to grant emancipation, and if you now refuse them, you refuse what you so anxiously sought for, and considered as securities.”
He would ask the House how many petitions had been presented to them this session against the claims of the Catholics ? He wished to have all, or any, such petitions read. None could be read. None had been presented. What then was the inference? That the great body of the Protestants were not inimical to the claims of their Catholic brethren." He would not go so far as to say, that there were not many Protestants who still opposed Catholic emancipation, but it would not be presuming too much in him to suppose, that where so many petitions had been presented on a former occasion, all or most of which were against emancipation conditionally, and none on the present, there did not exist any general opposition to it in the minds of the Protestants. There then was no general prejudice to contend against on the part of the Protestants, and there was sufficient authority to shew that they could legislate in respect of concessions for the Catholics. The Catholic bishops had, in 1799, agreed to certain resolutions, which declared that the concessions which were then, and have been since demanded, were not hostile to the discipline of the church. The Pope himself not only declares that such concessions
granted, but has actually granted them, provided the Catholics be emancipated. This, then, would be one good effect of the committee for which he intended to move: it would show to some of the Catholics, that those concessions to which they objected were not only not against the discipline of the church, but accordant with its practice. He would not take up the time of the House by mentioning in detail the grievances which, at present affected Ireland. They might be classed under a very few heads. She had commercial and financial difficulties; but a great deal of her present misfortunes might be traced to religious animosities. The causes of the other evils of Ireland might be removed with perhaps little difficulty. But it would not be easy to remove many of the evils which arose from religious distinctions, and the effect of the penal code, without a particular investigation. To this enquiry he called the House; by it they would reduce those who made religious differences a pretext for disturbance to a mere banditti, because the removal of that pretext would be the result of the enquiry; and having no foreign power to aid them in their wish for disturbance, they would die from jejunity. If the result of the enquiry which the House might enter into, did not satisfy some of the Catholics, it should be recollected, that the duty of the House was to serve, not to satisfy them; and if they succeeded in the former, he trusted they would have firmness and spirit sufficient to act upon that conduct which justice and duty should point out. Most of the evils which at present affected Ireland were not to be attributed to the system pursued by one or another Chief Governor. He by no means wished to attribute them to such cause. The fault lay in the law, which obliged the government of Ireland to act with a marked partiality to one sect. Until this defect in the law was remedied, it would be impossible for any Chief Governor of Ireland to act impartially. The fault, then, of the misgovernment of Ireland, as far as its government was affected by the operation of the penal code, rested with Parliament, who had it in their power to repeal that code. Almost all the evils which affected Ireland, whether they originated in this code or not, were fostered and fomented by it. The United Irishmen had not originated in religious animosities, but their disturbances had, at length, turned into that disordered channel. Thus it ever would be, there was something radically bad in the laws, and as long as it was not remedied, so long would it continue to be the nurse.. of every evil which arose in the state, whether originating with itself or not. A sore on the finger may, though in itself not very dangerous, be turned to mortality. It was the same in the body politic, small evils may thus become the channels through which great miseries might flow on the state. The honourable gentleman then contended, that it was essential to the security of the empire, that the evils which existed in any part of it should be traced to their source, in order to prevent their spreading, or being the causes of others, as pernicious as themselves. He observed that the societies of Orangemen, which caused so much disaffection between Protestant and Catholic in Ireland, had arisen from the effects of the penal code. Another evil which arose from it was, that the people of Ireland, he meant the Catholic population, were not identified with the law. The advantage of that identification would be to unite all in defence and support of privileges which all equally enjoyed; but this advantage, which was contemplated by the Union, was lost by the continued existence of partial laws, which, while they obliged the Catholic to defend the constitution, gave him little or no share in the privileges of that constitution. It was in vain then to expect, that while such partiality existed, the great body of the Catholics could be identified with the laws. So long as this code of laws remained unrepealed, so long would there exist in the state a large body of men of whom the government must necessarily be afraid, and to overawe whom it would be necessary to support a large standing army.
This was a necessary consequence of the penal code, and not its least obnoxious one, as it tended to draw on a military government. It was true the soldiers so employed may not be badly disposed, but as long as the soldiers in any country exceeded a fair proportion of the population, so long is the liberty of the inhabitants held, not by the law, but by the clemency of the army. He had every respect for the army, he applauded them for their unparalleled victories, and for their strict discipline, but still he could never consent that British subjects should hold their liberties at their pleasure. He did not mean to say, that the support of a large standing army was the intention of the continuance of the penal code, but such was its effects. It was necessary that this army should be kept in order, to keep down a proscribed people. It was also necessary
should be paid at a vast expence to the country; and for what was all this expence and this risk of a military government incurred ? To keep such men as the Duke of Norfolk, or the Earl of Fingal, out of Parliament, lest if they got a seat there they should seek by treasonable conspiracies to overturn the constitution. But why should these, or any other Catholic noblemen seek to overturn the constitution when they were admitted to a participation of its privileges ? Or if they were so disposed, how could they effect it? Would it be by applying to France ? No. To Spain? No. We were in peace and amity with those powers. . Was it then to the Pope, they would apply? Such an idea was ridiculous. The Pope had not the power, nor if he had, was he disposed to exert it. Yet it was for this we were obliged to keep up a large standing army, to prevent a few noblemen