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any assembly." Several gentlemen, his political opponents, were among the most warm applauders.]
SATURDAY, 27TH DECEMBER.
MR. O'CONNELL rose to move, upon his notice for the preparing of a petition to parliament for the repeal of the Tithe commutation Bill.
That measure, he said, had been generally complained of throughout the country, and the more it was understood, the more it was likely to meet public disfavour. It was not because there was any want of mischievous provisions in the original tithe system, but because the remedy prescribed was found worse than the disease.
That very respectable gentleman, Mr. Lidwell—than whom there was no individual better qualified to form an opinion upon the merits of the bill-had with much force and effect dernonstrated the evil tendency of the measure ; but though dissatisfied with it, he was not content without also making known the hardships of the tithe system, which reminded him of the familiar story of the soldier who was dissatisfied with the drummer, when fiogging him, whether he hit him high or low.
It was not his (Mr. O'Connell's) wish to lay blame where it was not deserved, but it was hardly possible to cite a stronger proof of incompetency for office than was furnished by the Tithe Commutation Bill, and which was the offspring of Mr. Goulburn's legislative function. Mr. Goulburn was, he believed, an amiable man in private life, but he was of opinion that his upper story was excessively ill-furnished. Indeed, it followed that a man who came to this country for the purpose of perpetuating Catholic exclusion, must necessarily be devoid of those qualities requisite for a legislator or statesman.
Mr. O'Connell then proceeded to review the several sections of the bill.
The twenty-first section of the act provided that if the commissioners thought fit, they might direct a survey of the parish; or if they thought fit, they might not do so; or if there was an old survey of the parish, they might make use of it. The absurdity of such a provision was evident to a man of the meanest capacity : it was no more than if the legislature declared that men might use their own eyes, or spectacles; and provided that, should they have an old pair, they might or might not use them, just as they chose. But such was generally the case with acts of parliament, particularly those originating with the government; and the difficulty of understanding them was always occasioned by the extreme quantity of verbiage with which they were encumbered, and increased by the legal prohibition against punctuation in records, though every man's experience must convince him, that where a long sentence occurs in that way, it is impossible to affix a definite meaning.
This, however, was called the wisdom of our English ancestors, to which modern legislators pertinaciously adhere, instead of adopting a single, distinct proposition, expressed in such terms as every man could understand, and as was practised by every other nation in the world. Of this we have a perfect example in the celebrated “Code Napoleon," it being perfectly intelligible even to those of the most moderate capacity, though they might not agree in the principle. But our anxiety appeared to be, that no man should attempt to explain or understand an act of parliament but a lawyer; and when it chanced to be intelligible, lawyers were found to enshroud it in mystery and doubt.
Those were trivial hardships in the Tithe Commutation Bill, compared to the substantial grievances that he should point out.
It was bad enough that, under the old tithe system, the clergy were in possession of two millions of green acres, and that such an anomaly should exist as the richest Church with the poorest people, who contribute to its support for the accommodation of the few. He (Mr. O'Connell) was anxious that any legislative
upon the subject of tithes should have for its object the diminishing, and not increasing, the burthens upon the people. He should like to see the Church sufficiently but reason. ably provided for, as might be effected by allowing to archbishops the same salary as chief-justices, namely, five thousand five hundred pounds per annum ; to bishops, the salary of judges, four thousand per annum ;
and inferior clergy, four hundred per annum-being the same salary as assistant-barristers and chairmen of counties, who give much more labour for what they receive than do the clergy. His wish would be to see amplo provision made for all, instead of the pauperism. of many, and
the overgrown wealth of a few—such as the Archbishop of Armagh, having from fifteen to twenty thousand per annun.. 'The late primate, a Scotchman, was but from eight to twelve years in his primacy, and yet he managed to carry to England, three hundred thousand pounds !
Now, if this was an age of political economy, and that the English were the wise and thinking people they were represented, he could satisfy them, from example and fact, how they might have been saved enormous sums, paid for the performance of duties which bear no proportion to the salaries. Doctor Troy, Catholic Archbishop of Dublin, performed the duties of his office for thirty years for no more than eight hundred per annum ; yet he maintained his dignity full as respectably, and did five times the work of the prelate, took quite as good care of his Church, made as many converts, and lost as few proselytes as the primate. He died not worth a penny, and still his duty was as well performed as that of him who left hundreds of thousands; but this monstrous extortion had only existed because the people hesitated to speak of it as men—as rational freemen.
Mr. O'Connell then went on to show that the effect, if not the object, of the Tithe Commutation Bill, was to increase them by fifths; for by the sixteenth section it was provided that the average should be nothing less than that of the seven years 1814 to 1821-thus including the years 1814 and 1815, when Napoleon was upon the throne, and up to 1819, when the Bank Restriction Act was first modified that act which created so great a nominal value on agricultural produce. The average, also, was to be regulated, not by what was even paid in those years, but by what was promised ; so that, if it be thus regulated, taking the difference of prices into account, the tithe would be doubled. Instead of the tithe being, as by the old mode, payable once a year, it is, by the new bill
, transformed into a tithe rent payable in May and November, full six months before the tithe could be productive to the farmer ; whereas, by the old mode, the parson accepted of a tithe note, payable in twelve months after harvest; so that, by the new bill, the farmer should pay his tithe eighteen months sooner than by present practice.
According to the old mode, the tithe was considered to interfere too much with the rent; but by the thirty-eighth section of the new act, the tithe was recoverable before rent, and had the priority of all executions;—so that it was not extraordinary
that the people in general should feel dissatisfied with that high flogging. By the fortieth section, if an assessment was not made, then the tithe was to be levied according to the church-rates ; and could any exaction or vexation be more cruel than the increase of church-rates upon the Irish peasantry? The valua.. tion is provided to be made by commissioners, one on the part of the parish, and the other on that of the parson ; but should they not agree, they are authorised to call in an umpire, and, if they cannot agree upon the choice of one, to what court or judge are they to appeal? Why, to Mr. Goulburn-to the Secretary at the Castle !-80 that if it should happen that a secretary had a desire to serve the parson, the commissioner for the church has only to propose some enormous tithe, to which the other commissioner cannot assent, and then the affair is determined by the Secretary !
By the thirty-first section the parish is prevented from canvassing the assessment, when once signed by the commissioners or umpire, if ever 80 fraudulent, unless that within fourteen days they appeal—not to any court of law, but to the Lord Lieutenant ; and the whole expense of preparing the evidence in support of their appeal is to be levied off the parish. The commissioners are also to receive thirty shillings per day each ; but in order to understand the spirit of delusion in which the act is drawn up, it was necessary to look to the thirtieth section, where the Lord Lieutenant is empowered to refer the appeal to the next judge of assize, to make such order upon it as he (the Lord Lieutenant) was authorized to make, either by confirming, abating, or annulling it.
Now, he (Mr. O'Connell) did not mean to say that the inconsistencies of the act were intentional, but it was rather remarkable that a power was given to the judge to annul, commensurate with that given to the Lord Lieutenant, who, it will be seen by the twenty.ninth section, has no power at all for annulling, and consequently neither can the judge. Was the error design or mistake? It was too horrible to suppose the former ; and it by the latter, is it not cruel to have the fate of the country dependent upon men who can commit such blunders ?
That is not all. Every man knows the advantage of a short mode of pleading. At present the parson is liable to the same mode of pleading as all others of his Majesty's subjects ; but by the bill that form is done away with, and in the case of replevin for goods seized for tithe, the parson has merely to plead, without any further explanation than that he seized them
by force and virtue of the statute made and provided in that
Heretofore the clergyman recovered costs, but in the present case he is entitled to double costs, let the case be ever so fair
upon the part of the farmer; and if the clergyman is wrong, he merely pays the common costs; so that, if he is right, even in sixpence of his claim, he receives double costs, and that was styled commutation ; but it was rather of the rights than the burdens of the people, who, if they acted as they should, would leave Mr. Goulburn, the tithe, clergy, and government to the enjoyment of the bill, and seek to breathe an atmosphere untainted by tithe exactions or religious persecution.
To him (Mr. O'Connell) the absurdities and oppressive provisions of the Tithe Bill appeared to have been introduced for the purpose of reconciling the country to the tithe system, by demonstrating that there was still something worse than even that plundering law; and he conceived the evils of the late bill were sufficiently manifest to induce them to petition for its total repeal, instead of amendments : for the greatest evils in legislation have arisen from attempts to cure defects in acts of parliament.
The Tithe Commutation Bill had, however, been of important service : for its enactment had deprived the advocates of the divine right to tithes--of the only argument upon which they relied. They had established, that interference with that species of church property was not sacrilege ; and from the present state of society there was reason to hope that the British people would no longer be deterred by such'unmeaning cant from seeking that reform in church revenues as would leave the clergy leisure to attend to their missions—make them cease to be politicians, and become divines.
Mr. O'Connell concluded by observing that the Tithe Bill had also violated the conditions made as the wages of corruption, paid for the vile votes of those who trafficked upon the independence of their country, and assisted to effect the odious Union. It disregarded the provisions of the Tithe Ajistment Bill, and in every instance had done away with whatever was favourable to this country in that infamous measure ; that swindling act, that had no legal power to operate ; that was void from its formation ; and that was sanctioned by those who assumed a privilege never intended by their constituents or the constitution-an act of legislative fraud and oppression, that, as Mr. Saurin observed, made it “A QUESTION OF PRUDENCE, NOT OF CONSCIENCE, WHEN IT SHOULD BE REPEALED,”