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FOR THE YEAR
HISTORY OF EUROPE.
The Catholic Question-Public Conduct of the leading Members of the Cabinet as to that Measure-Their secret change of PolicyMeeting of Parliament-Speech from the Throne-The Address.
E have recorded, in our pre- the second reading of sir Francis
of the Parliamentary discussions of the Catholic Question during the session of 1828.* That result did not in itself contain any thing calculated to excite, among the Protestant part of the community, apprehensions of an approaching change, and still less of the king's ministers being ready to propose and support such a change, as a cabinet measure. The majority of six, which had carried the resolutions in favour of the Catholics in the House of Commons, was smaller than that which had carried the third reading of Mr. Plunkett's Relief Bill in 1821, and of Mr. Canning's bill in 1822, and
Vide vol. lxx, chap. 4. VOL. LXXI.
majority of forty-five, which had rejected them in the House of Peers, was larger than the majorities on the first and second of these former occasions, and only three votes smaller than that of 1825. The Catholic leaders themselves, indeed, pretended to know, that government was inclined to lend a more willing ear to their demands; but, on the one hand, they did not act as if they believed their own statements, for they immediately proceeded to do their utmost to rouse Ireland into almost open rebellion; and, on the other, there was nothing in the state of the cabinet, nothing in the expressed sentiments of its principal members, nothing in the complex
ion of public feeling, that seemed to justify such a prospect. The ministry continued to be, as for years it had been, divided upon the question; but its head, the duke of Wellington, and Mr. Peel, the most influential of his colleagues, were precisely the men who had distinguished themselves by their opposition to the Catholic demands, on every ground both of right and of expediency. During the discussions of 1828, both of them, along with the lord chancellor, had expressed no inclination to desert the principles which they had uniformly defended, and which had gained for the former two, on this particular question, the unlimited confidence of that large majority of the community which regarded concession to the Catholics as dangerous and unconstitutional. On the 10th May, 1828, Mr. Peel, in his place in parliament, had ranked himself among those "in whose minds no disposition to change existed, but who rather found their original belief strengthened by consideration." He had concluded a speech, in which he had proved the danger and unreasonableness of these demands in every point of view, with stating, that he had now gone over "the grounds on which he had acted, and on which he had avowed his intention of still acting." During the autumn, indeed, the Catholic leaders had produced alarm over Ireland, as they had often done before, and had organized the disaffected into a body ready for confusion and rebellion; but the country had not yet learned that an aptitude to yield to clamour and intimidation was one of the qualities of a wise and energetic government; and the long-tried opponents of
the Catholic claims had just been repeating their settled convictions that for this, and other evils affecting that part of the empire, concession would afford no remedy. The speech of Mr. Dawson at Londonderry, on the 12th August, was the first public symptom of the influence of the Association in terrifying its opponents; but although the sentiments of that gentleman derived additional importance from the relation in which he stood to the Home Secretary, and although they were, therefore, eagerly caught at by the friends of concession, as betokening a change of opinion in more powerful men, yet the vacillations of an Irish member, trembling for his seat, under the remembrance of the Clare election, could lead no one to anticipate sudden defection among those who had less reason to dread, and whose first duty it was to restrain, the Catholic demagogues. Though Mr. Peel's brotherin-law had announced, at a public dinner, his change of opinion, Mr. Peel himself accepted, during the autumn, the public banquets of the gentry and manufacturers of Lancashire, as the champion of the Protestant cause, without allowing a syllable to escape from him, which could raise any suspicion that he was more inclined to surrender the Protestant consti tution than he had been three months before. Above all, the correspondence between the duke of Wellington and Dr. Curtis, which was given to the public in December, justified the most entire confidence on the part of the country, that his grace, and his grace's ministry, entertained no purpose of yielding. The duke had written, in express words, that he " saw no prospect of a settle
ment of the question:" that, in the existing state of excitation, "it was impossible to expect to prevail upon men to consider it dispassionately;" and that, if an ultimate satisfactory arrangement of the question were wished for, it would be desirable for a time, When "to bury it in oblivion.”* the duke of Wellington thus declared, on the 11th December, that he saw no prospect of a settle ment of the question, what man could imagine, that he had already resolved forthwith to force it to a settlement? When he thus represented the excited state of public feeling as opposing an insuperable obstacle to the consideration of concession, who could believe that he and his cabinet had already determined to push concession, in defiance of that very feeling, and amidst excitation
thousand times more violent? When he expressed his opinion, that the question ought to be "buried in oblivion," would it not have been deemed an insult to the understanding, or to the honesty, of his grace to have said, that by these words he meant the instant agitation of the question in parliament, and the agitation of it, too, as a government measure? the year concluded with the recal of the lord lieutenant, because he had used language, and pursued a line of conduct, favourable to the hopes of the Catholics, what man could dream that the next year was to begin with granting all that the Catholics had ever demanded?
Yet so it was; while the country was thus reposing in secure confidence that the leading members of the government were still faithful to their trust, these very men
Vol 1xx. p. [149.
had determined to go over to the
had trusted before, would be trust-worthy still, been made aware of the counsels which these very men were pouring into the royal ear, the public voice would have been heard at the foot of the throne, strengthening the deep-rooted convictions of the monarch himself, and the reluctant consent, which was ultimately wrung from him, in all probability, would never have been obtained. When his consent was once obtained, the public voice might be allowed to raise itself without danger; for he then stood pledged to his ministers, if these ministers, by whatever means, could only command a majority in parliament. It was not till after this consent [B 2]
had been granted, that it began to be whispered abroad, in the end of January, and only a few days before the meeting of parliament, that his majesty's ministers intended to recommend to parliament some concessions to the Catholics. The surprise, which the announcement excited, was only equalled by the indignation and contempt roused by so sudden an abandonment of principle. The Protestant party found that, up to the very moment of the assembling of parliament, they had been allowed to rest in the belief, that the question would not be stirred, or that, if it should be stirred, the influence of the leading members of the cabinet would still stand in its way; while, in truth, their most tried friends had been plotting and planning how they might most successfully secure a triumph to the enemy, and were concealing, at the same time, their intended defection, up to the instant when the contest was to begin. It seems impossible to acquit the duke of Wellington and Mr. Peel of having acted, in this part of the affair, with a disingenuousness which might be perfectly in its place in a miserable political intrigue, but which tainted their character as public men in relation to a question of such vast and vital importance. They knew that they were trusted by the Protestant party as the champions who were to be ready armed, whenever the Catholics should advance against the constitution. If they had grown weary of the service, and were resolved to abandon it for the adverse side, there would have been more manliness and fairness, though less craft, in announcing from the first their own change of sentiment, and their
determination to act with instant vigour against their former friends.
So stood matters, when Parliament met on the 5th of February, and the session was opened by commission, with the following Speech, which was read by the lord chancellor :
“My Lords and Gentlemeni,
"His Majesty commands us to inform you, that he continues to receive from his Allies, and generally from all Princes and States, the assurance of their unabated desire to cultivate the most friendly relations with his Majesty.
"Under the mediation of His Majesty, the preliminaries of a Treaty of Peace between his Imperial Majesty the Emperor of Brazil, and the republic of the united provinces of Rio de la Plata, have been signed and ratified.
"His Majesty has concluded a convention with the king of Spain for the final settlement of the claims of British and Spanish subjects, preferred under the treaty signed at Madrid, on the 12th of March, 1823.
"His Majesty has directed a copy of this convention to be laid before you; and His Majesty relies upon your assistance to enable him to exccute some of its provisions.
"His Majesty laments that his diplomatic relations with Portugal are still necessarily suspended.
Deeply interested in the prosperity of the Portuguese Monarchy, His Majesty has entered into negociations with the head of the House of Braganza, in the hope of terminating a state of affairs which is incompatible with the permanent tranquillity and welfare of Portugal.
"His Majesty commands us to assure you, that he has laboured unremittingly to fulfil the stipula
tions of the treaty of the 6th of July, 1827, and to effect, in concert with his Allies, the pacification of Greece.
"The Morea has been liberated from the presence of the Egyptian and Turkish forces.
"This important object has been accomplished by the successful exertions of the naval forces of His Majesty and of his Allies, which led to a convention with the Pacha of Egypt; and finally, by the skilful disposition and exemplary conduct of the French army, acting by the commands of His Most Christian Majesty, on the behalf of the Alliance.
"The troops of His Most Christian Majesty having completed the task assigned to them by the Allies, have commenced their return to France.
"It is with great satisfaction that His Majesty informs you, that during the whole of these operations, the most cordial union has subsisted between the forces of the three Powers by sea and land.
"His Majesty deplores the continuance of hostilities between the emperor of Russia and the Ottoman Porte.
"His Imperial Majesty, in the prosecution of those hostilities, has considered it necessary to resume the exercise of his belligerent rights in the Mediterranean, and has established a blockade of the Dardanelles.
"From the operation of this blockade, those commercial enterprises of his Majesty's subjects have been exempted, which were undertaken upon the faith of His Majesty's declaration to his parliament respecting the neutrality of the Mediterranean Sea.
"Although it has become indispensable for His Majesty and the
king of France to suspend the cooperation of their forces with those of his Imperial Majesty, in consequence of this resumption of the exercise of his belligerent rights, the best understanding prevails between the three Powers, in their endeavours to accomplish the remaining objects of the treaty of London.
"Gentlemen of the House of Commons,
"We are commanded by His Majesty to acquaint you, that the estimates for the current year will forthwith be laid before you. His Majesty relics on your readiness to grant the necessary supplies, with a just regard to the exigencies of the public service, and to the economy which His Majesty is anxious to enforce in every department of the State.
"His Majesty has the satisfaction to announce to you the continued improvement of the Revenue.
"The progressive increase in that branch of it which is derived from articles of internal consumption is peculiarly gratifying to His Majesty, as affording a decisive indication of the stability of the national resources, and of the increased comfort and prosperity of his people.
"My Lords and Gentlemen, "The state of Ireland has been the object of His Majesty's continued solicitude.
"His Majesty laments that in that part of the United Kingdom an Association should still exist, which is dangerous to the public peace, and inconsistent with the spirit of the Constitution; which keeps alive discord and ill-will amongst His Majesty's subjects; and which must, if permitted to continue, effectually obstruct every effort permanently to improve the condition of Ireland.