« PreviousContinue »
On the roth of January (1793) the parliament of Ireland was convened at Dublin by the earl of Westmoreland, lord-lieutenant of that kingdom, the situation of which had for some time past been gradually growing very critical. The sanguine hopes of emancipation which the Catholics, who constituted three-fourths of the whole population of Ireland, had indulged at the time of the military convention at Dungannon in the year 1783 had been quickly extinguished; for it manifestly appeared that the whole body of the Protestants, those who were the most zealous for, as well as those who were most violent against, the cause of parliamentary and political reform, were almost equally hoftile to the Catholic claims. The earl of Charlemont himself had, in the strongest manner, discountenanced them; and the Catholics, in despair, seemed to abandon their project. But on the firft splendid succefs of the revolution in France all their former expectations revived with increase of vigor ; and the liberal and noble principles of government, promulgated by the National Assembly in its memorable Declaration of Rights, infused a kindred spirit into the minds of many who had been previously friends and advocates of reform on a more narrow and contracted fcale.
Ever since the year 1780 the Irish Catholics had chosen from among themselves a general committee of delegates, which fat at Dublin, and whose province it was to watch over the interests of the Catholics as a distinct body; and a numerous association of the friends of liberty, consisting indiscriminately of Protestants and Catholics, had recently been established, under the name of the Society of UNITED IRISHMEN, whose object it was to obtain a complete eman'cipation for the Catholics, and a radical reform of parliament on the principles of universal fuffrage and annual election.
In the preceding feffion of 1792 the government had made some concessions to the Catholics, which only served
to show that they were regaining some degree of political consequence, and to inspire them with the hope. and belief of greater success. By this act all legal obstructions to the intermarriages of Catholics and Protestants were removed. The right of taking apprentices and of keeping schools was restored to them, and they were permitted to practise at the bar. But the grand code of tyranny and oppression still remained in force : and in a report made by a committee of the Society of United Irishmen to the members of it at this period, a most frightful picture is exhibited of the restrictions and disabilities, the pains and the penalties, to which the great body of the Catholics of Ireland were still liable, under the several heads of education, guardianship, mar. riage, felf-defence, exercise of religion, civil franchises, acquisition and enjoyment of property,
The number and extensive scope of the statutes enumer rated in the report were calculated to excite the astonish, ment, no less than the indignation and abhorrence, of every reflecting person--- Statutes," to use the language of the reporters, “ unexampled for their inhumanity and impolicy, under the galling yoke of which the great majority of the Irish nation had long patiently' languished.”- We'recognise," says this excellent report, “ a free state in the right exercised by its inhabitants of framing laws for the se. curity of their liberty and property against all invasion : but with us the order of civil affociation is reversed, and the law becornes the foe, the ruffian that violates the rights and «lestroys the harmony of society,--As to the favored part
of ihe community, your committee (fay they) considering that this black code, worthy of a Turkish divan in its expanded operations over this realm, is utterly subversive of the fundamental principles of the constitution, feel it their duty seriously to inculcate this truth, that our liberties must ever reft on the most precarious foundation, while seven cighths of our fellow-citizens remain palfied in the exercise of those rights which were our common inheritance. No power of
conftitution can be secure unless the body of the people have an equal interest therein.”
Also the general committee of Catholics published (March 1792) a Declaration, in the strongest terms disavowing and abjuring the most obnoxious tenets imputed to the Catholics, and such as could alone, with any plausibility, be pleaded in palliation of the dreadful rigor of the penal code--such as the doctrine of the deposition of princes by the pope ; that no faith is to be kept with heretics--that men may be abfolved from the obligation of their oaths, that the pope poffeffes any civil authority or jurisdiction whatever within the realm ; and even that the pope has any claim to the attribute of infallibility, or the
pardoning fins or moral offences at his will. The Declaration concludes with a most folemn renunciation of all claim or pretence to the lands forfeited by the different acts of Cattiement and attainder; and an equally folemn disclaimer of any intention to subvert the actually subsisting cftablishment either in church or state.
. In another of their publications they thus in pathetic and moving terms invoke the justice and compassion of the legislative power. Behold us before you, chree millions of the people of Ireland, subjects of the same king, inhabitants of the same land, bound together by the fame social contract, good and loyal subjects to his majesty, his crown and government, yet doomed to one unqualified incapacity —to an universal civil proscription. We are excluded from the state, we are excluded from the revenues, we are excluded from every distinction, every privilege, every ollice, every emolument, every civil trust, every corporate right. We are excluded from the navy, from the army, from the magistrature, from the professicis. We are excluded from the palladium of life, liberty, and property--the juries and inquests of our country. From what are we not excluded ? We are excluded from the conftitution.- We most humbly and earnestly supplicate and implore parliament to call this
law or universal exclusion to a severe account, and now at last to demand of it upon what principle it stands of equity, of morality, of justice, or of policy. We demand the feverest scrutiny into our principles, our actions, our words, and our thoughts. Where is that people who, like us, can offer the testimony of an hundred years' patient submission to a code of laws, of which no man living is now an advocate, without sedition, without murmur, without complaint ? Our loyalty had undergone a century of severe persecution for the sake of our religion, and we have come out of the ordeal with our religion and with our loyalty. Why then are we fill left under the ban of our country? We differ, it is true, from the national church in some points of doctrinal faith-« For this,” say these remonstrants, with a just and decent pride, “ we offer no apology. We do not exercise an abject or obscure fuperftition. If we err, our errors have been, and still are, fanctioned by the example of many flourishing, learned, and civilized nations."
Adverting once more in this eloquent statement of their grievances to their total and unmerited exclusion from their rights and privileges of the constitution, they say, « this exclusion is the source of every evil; it makes property insecure, and industry precarious ; it pollutes the tream of justice; it is the cause of daily humiliation. It is the insurmountable barrier, the impassable line of separation which divides the nation, and which, keeping animosity alive, prevents the entire and cordial intermixture of the people : and therefore inevitably it is that some participation in the liberties and franchises of our country becomes the primary and essential object of our ardent and common Tolicitation.”
As a proof of the sincerity and integrity of the public declaration made by them of their principles, the committee of Catholics, in an admirable address to the nation at large, flate, as perfectly coincident with their own, the
opinions of the famous Catholic universities of the Sorbonne, Douay, Louvaine, Alcala, Salamanca, and Valladolid, which had been formally consulted relative to the chief points now at issue, by the committee of English Catholics, at the express desire of the English minister, preparatory to the passing of the English Catholic Bill ;-the university of Louvaine, in particular, expressing its amazement that such questions should, at the end of the eighteenth century, be proposed by any learned body, by the inhabitants of a kingdom that glories in the talents and dirçernment of its natives.
The English cabinet seemed, in consequence of the alarming and agitated state of the country, to be fully convinced that some decisive measures of redress must now be adopted in relation to the Catholics; and lord Westmoreland was instructed thus, in the course of his speech to the two houses at the opening of the present session, to express himself: I have it in particular command from his majesty to recommend it to you to apply yourselves to the 'consideration of such measures as may be the most likely to strengthen and cement a general union of sentiment among all claffes and descriptions of his majesty's Catholic subjects in support of the established constitution. With
The Queries transmitted to the Foreign Universities were as follow : First, Has the pope or cardinals, or any body of men, or any individual of the church of Rome, any civil authority, power, jurisdiction, or preeminence whatever, in the realm of England ?
Secondly, Can the pope or cardinals, or any body of men, or any indivi. dual of the church of Rome, abfolve or dispense with his majesty's subjects from their oath of allegiance on any pretence whatsoever ?
Thirdly, is there any principle in the tenets of the Catholic faith by which Catholics are justified ia not keeping faith with heretics, or other persons differing from them in religious opinions, in any transaction either of a public for private nature ?
It is scarcely necessary to say, that all the universities consulted answered decidedly, and some of them indignantly, in the regative, to all there queries.