« PreviousContinue »
"His Majesty confidently relies on the wisdom and on the support of his parliament; and His Majesty feels assured that you will commit to him such powers as may enable His Majesty to maintain his just authority.
"His Majesty recommends that, when this essential object shall have been accomplished, you should take into your deliberate consideration the whole condition of Ireland, and that you should review the laws which impose civil disabilities on His Majesty's Roman Catholic subjects.
"You will consider whether the removal of those disabilities can be effected consistently with the full and permanent security of our establishments in church and state, with the maintenance of the reformed religion established by law, and of the rights and privileges of the bishops and of the clergy of this realm, and of the churches committed to their charge.
"These are institutions which must ever be held sacred in this Protestant kingdom, and which it is the duty and the determination of his Majesty to preserve inviolate.
"His Majesty most earnestly recommends to you to enter upon the consideration of a subject of such paramount importance, deeply interesting to the best feelings of his people, and involving the tranquillity and concord of the United Kingdom, with the temper and the moderation which will best ensure
the successful issue of your deliberations."
The Address, echoing as usual the royal speech, was moved in the Lords by the marquis of Salisbury, and seconded by the earl of Wicklow; in the Commons it was moved by lord Clive, and seconded by viscount Corry. No division took place in either House; all the other topics adverted to in the speech were swallowed up in the recommendation to prepare for the removal of the Catholic disabilities; and the opinions expressed on that question will find a more fitting place in recording the debates during the progress of the bill which was soon afterwards brought
in. The duke of Wellington expressed a wish, that no discussion should take place, until the whole measure, which his majesty's government had in view, should be fully introduced; but he stated, in reply to a question from the duke of Newcastle, that the measure for the adjustment of the Roman Catholic claims would be brought forward in a substantive shape by his majesty's ministers, without going through a committee. The measure, which it was their intention to propose for the adoption of parliament, would extend to the removal generally of all civil disabilities under which the Roman Catholics laboured, with exceptions solely resting on special grounds; and it would be accompanied by other measures rendered necessary by the removal of these disabilities.
Bill for the Suppression of the Catholic Association-Dissolution of the Association-Mr. Peel resigns his Seat for the University of Oxford-His attempt to be re-elected-Defeated in his attempt--Ministerial proposition for the unconditional removal of Catholic Disabilities--Mr. Peel's Explanations and Defence of the Measure -Discussions in the House of Commons on the Proposition Majority in favour of the Proposition-Political conversions-Introduction and first reading of the Bill for the Removal of Catholic Disabilities.
IN the Royal Speech the sup
the Royal Speech the sup
ciation was alluded to, as a measure which ought to precede any consideration of the civil claims of the Catholics. And assuredly the very first thing to be done was, to vindicate the honour of the laws, which that body had been so long allowed, or rather, by the supineness of government, had been encouraged, to insult. That it ought to be suppressed, had never been a doubtful question; why it had not already been suppressed, was a a question never answered. In pursuance of the recommendation contained in the king's speech, Mr. Peel, on the 10th of February, obtained leave to bring in a bill for putting an end to the existence of the Association. He would not enter, he said, into any investigation of the causes in which that Association might be supposed to have originated; he asked only for that admission which he had already heard amply made on the opposite side of the House, that it was inconsistent with the exercise of the regular government to allow the continued existence of the Catholic Association, and therefore he would be spared the pain of
stating any particular circumstances which might have the effect of creating irritation. Whatever feelings might be entertained on other points, he was sure the House would approve the recommendation in his majesty's speech that they should enable him to maintain his authority, and would acquiesce in a legislative enactment by which the future meetings of the Catholic Association should be prevented. Those who cherished most dearly the hope of seeing a conciliatory arrangement of the Catholic claims speedily carried into effect, must feel, he believed, that the existence of that Association, during the discussions which were about to take place, would in itself oppose an almost insuperable barrier to the accomplishment of the object which they had at heart. The constant discussion of the measures and intentions of government in the Association, would render it totally impossible for the legislature to arrive at any satisfactory adjustment of the question. As to the provisions of the law, by which the suppression might be effected, they ought to be of such a nature as could not be evaded, and as would effectually prevent tricks and
devices being resorted to, in order to keep within the letter, while the spirit of them was infringed. Measures of that House had been defeated, and the intention to defeat them had been signified, even before they were passed. It
was much better that they should do nothing, and he would rather they did nothing, than that what they did should be evaded. By the act of 1825, it had been intended to suppress the Catholic Association, and other assemblies of a similar character, by an express enactment. The provisions of that act, however, were so wide, that they would have interdicted almost any meeting, and it was therefore necessary that some meetings should be excepted from the operations of it. These exceptions consisted for the most part of meetings for the purposes of education, agriculture, commerce, religious worship, &c. It was perfectly notorious how many advantages had been taken of these exceptions, how many meetings for political purposes were assembled under the pretence of objects quite foreign from those the persons assembled had in view,-how repeatedly the technical enactments of that measure had been complied with, while the spirit of it was violated. It was clear, then, that they must enact a law more complete and more binding than the act to which he had referred. The exceptions in the proposed measure must be much less numerous than they were in the last. He was not insensible to the difficulties of framing such an act, as, in the present state of Ireland, could not be evaded, unless, indeed, they were to pass a law, which there would be no difficulty in framing, that should effectually and at once suppress the danger of illegal
meetings; but he very much doubted the propriety of such a measure, for it must declare that every political meeting was illegal ; and if such a law were passed, and every body left to enforce the provisions of it, he confessed that, as Ireland now was, he could not say that they would not be improperly enforced-that they would not be enforced for purposes, to say the least of them, very unjustifiable. In his opinion, the more they departed, in legislating on a subject like this, from the general principles of law, the more they stood in danger of having their enactments evaded. He proposed to meet this danger by the most effectual means that occurred to him, while at the same time he opposed the strongest barrier to individual abuse. It was his intention to commit the enforcement of the law to one person only; to intrust to him, who was fully cognizant of the state of affairs in Ireland, and who was also responsible for the tranquillity of that country, the new powers with which the House were now asked to invest the executive government. He proposed to give to the lord lieutenant, and to him alone, the power of suppressing any association or meeting, which he might think dangerous to the public peace, or inconsistent with the due administration of the law; together with power to interdict the assembly of any meeting, of which previous notice should have been given, and which he should think likely to endanger the public peace, or to prove inconsistent with the due administration of the law. In case it should be necessary to enforce the provisions of the law by which these powers would be conferred, it was pro
posed that the lord lieutenant should be farther empowered to select two magistrates for the purpose of suppressing the meeting, and requiring the people immediately to disperse. It was proposed, moreover, to prohibit any meeting or association, which might be interdicted from assembling, or which might be suppressed under this act, from receiving and placing at their control any monies by the name of rent, or by any other name. This was the general outline of the measure. He thought that moderate penaltics would be sufficient for the infringement of this law; and he considered that it would be by no means necessary to propose any measures of a penal nature. He was decidedly of opinion, too, that the measure ought to be limited. He was perfectly sure that parliament would not only continue these powers, but that they would increase them, if a case of necessity were made out. The late act had been limited to two years; he proposed to limit the present act to one year, and the end of the then next session of parliament.
The bill passed both Houses without opposition; for, although its provisions were necessarily somewhat arbitrary in their nature, the friends of the Catholics voted in its favour as part of a system which was immediately to terminate in emancipation. They all declared, however, that, if it had been introduced as a substantive measure, they would have resisted it; and that they now consented to suppress the Association only on the understanding, that those claims, for the furtherance of which the Association had been created, were to be immediately conceded. In truth, to grant emancipation
would put an end to the Association without any statute; to remove the disabilities would be the only effectual act of suppression. It was not a corporeal being, capable of being grasped by the law. It was the people of Ireland. Its spirit was caused by the grievances of the nation, and its seat was the bosom of seven millions of its population. It was impossible to deny that the present flourishing prospects of the Catholic cause were mainly owing to the labours of the Association in forwarding that cause, it had done good to both parts of the empire, however foolishly individual members might have indulged in absurd proposals, and extravagant, and irritating language; and its suppression by enactments, which involved even the temporary exercise of arbitrary powers, could be justified only by regarding it as the price to be paid for the final and complete triumph of that object for which alone it had existed.
In the course of the discussions, it was strongly pressed upon ministers, why the suppression of this Association had not been sooner accomplished? You justly describe this Association, it was said to them, as a body, whose existence is incompatible with the due operation of the powers of the regular government. You represent Ireland as being in a state of agitation which can be soothed only by granting all that the Catholics demand; and no man can doubt that the Catholic Association, which exists only for purposes of agita tion, is the great fomenter of that dangerous and alarming spirit. You say that it must be put down; you ask extraordinary powers to put it down; by doing so, you grant that it may be put down.
If so, why has it been allowed to go on prospering and unimpeded for years, till, having gained "a giant's stature and a tyrant's strength," it brings you crouching to its fect in trembling obedience to its mandates? In short, you acknowledge, that by a due use of power you might have prevented that state of things, in which, now that it has been allowed to grow up, you scek an apology for deserting the policy to which you have been so long pledged. Above all, you asked and obtained, in 1825, an Act for suppressing this very Association. Yet it is since that time that it has become so formidable. If the powers given by that act were sufficient, why was it not enforced? If they were insufficient, why were more effective powers not demanded? for who would have grudged any powers necessary to put down an usurpation of the regular government of the country?
The Solicitor-general for Ireland answered, that he had attended to the debates of the Associa tion with the closest anxiety; but, after all his vigilance, and all his anxiety, it was the unanimous opinion of his colleagues on the other side of the Channel, that it would have been an useless task to have undertaken a prosecution against any individual for his conduct in the Catholic Association, and that an abortive attempt at prosecution would have been worse than useless, inasmuch as it would have irritated, without putting down, the members of that Association. He could not, upon the present occasion, enter into a detail of all the circumstances, which, in his opinion, rendered it impolitic to attack the Catholic Association he would confine himself to say
ing, that it was a matter of extreme difficulty to draw up a bill of indictment against 7,000,000 of people. He did believe, that baffled and hampered as the legal advisers of the crown were, the wisest plan, which they could pursue, was, to confess the real truth, that it was a matter of extreme difficulty to frame such an indictment. He had voted for the bill of 1825, but since that time there had been a new parliament, and it was by no means certain that the present parliament would repose the same confidence in, or intrust similar powers to a ministry, unless some hopes were held out that the coercive measure was to be immediately followed by one of concession. The Solicitor-general, however, forgot that this very House of Commons had refused, in 1827, to entertain sir Francis Burdett's motion for a committee.
Mr. Huskisson said, that it would have been impossible, in the way of definition and enactment, to have gone further than the act of 1825 went, without interfering improperly with the rights and privileges of the subject generally; and from the period in which that act was passed, down to the period in which he ceased to have a share in his majesty's councils, the government had been most anxious to give full efficacy, as far as was consistent with the liberty of the subject, to such provisions of it as were intended to guard against the mischief of the Catholic Association. When he first saw the mode in which that act was evaded in Ireland, his mind was made up to this conclusion-that there was no mode of terminating the danger arising from that Association without vesting in the government a considerable portion of arbitrary