« PreviousContinue »
published in letters patent under the great seal, in the fourth year of King William; and in three years thereafter, was passed, in direct violation of it, the famous act for preventing the growth of popery, the foundation and model of the many barbarous enact ments by which that race of men were oppressed for little less than a century thereafter. The history of this act, as recorded by Burnet and other contemporary writers, is edifying, and deserves to be noticed.
The disposition of the King was known to be decidedly tole rant; and his ministers had, of course, adopted his principles. The recent troubles and contests, on the other hand, had excited a great popular prejudice against the Roman Catholics; and the party in opposition resolved to avail themselves of these circum stances, to discredit, and, if possible, to displace the existing admi nistration. With this view they introduced a very severe and preposterous bill against the Catholics, not so much from any real fear or detestation of that body, which had been perfectly quiet and submissive, as in the hope that the court party would oppose it, and thereby subject themselves to the odium of protecting popery. The courtiers, however, were too cunning to be the dupes of this manœuvre; and unluckily attempted to defeat it by another, which succeeded still more unluckily. Instead of opposing the bill in the Lower House, they added to it a variety of cruel and absurd clauses; in consequence of which, they conceived that it would certainly be rejected by the House of Lords, or, at least, sent back with considerable alterations; a measure that, in the. temper which then prevailed between the two Houses, would infallibly have caused it to be withdrawn. In this expectation, however, they were unfortunately deceived. The dread of poi pery, and still more the love of popularity, deterred the members of the Upper House from rejecting the bill, or from taking any steps by which its rejection might have been produced; and in was passed, contrary to the wishes and intentions of the greater part of those who had been engaged in its discussion. This, at least, is the history of the English act, which was avowedly the model of that which was passed for Ireland. By this barbarous act, and the statutes by which it was followed up, Catholics were disabled from purchasing or inheriting land,--from being guardi ans to their own children,--from having arms or horses, from serving on grand juries,--from entering in the inns of court,→ from practising as barristers, solicitors, or physicians, &c. &c.
At the close of the reign of Queen Anne, in short, when the pri vileges and liberties of Englishmen stood on so triumphant a footing, nothing remained to two thirds of the inhabitants of Ireland, by which they could be distinguished from slaves or aliens, but
the right of voting at elections. Of this, too, they were depriv ed under the succeeding sovereign; and the motives of that privation, as they are clearly to be traced in the histories of the time, deserve to be stated no less than those of the act of King William, for the benefit of those who are in the habit of extolling the steady policy or necessary severities of our ancestors.
The Catholics had lain prostrate and unoffending from the hour of the capitulation of Limerick; they were benumbed and confounded by the shock which finally overthrew them; and had neither given any alarm or disturbance to their conquerors by tumults or insurrections, nor been detected in any such correspondence with the exiled monarch, as had unquestionably been maintained between him and the Protestant chieftains of Scotland, They had lain quiet during the rebellion which raged in that country; and there seemed to be no pretext, therefore, for aggravating the condition of their bondage, or for taking away the only privilege which connected them with the constitution of their country. The real key to the transaction, we believe to be the following. Ireland had hitherto been ruled entirely by an English faction; but these foreign rulers came by degrees to be identified with the Protestant natives. The English,' as Mr Burke observes, as they began to be domiciliated, began also to recollect that they had a country-what was at first strictly an English interest, by faint and almost insensible degrees, but at length openly and avowedly, became an independent Irish interest.' This new and independent power, however, was naturally viewed with great jealousy by the agents of the English government; and it seems to have been the great aim of the faction, of which Primate Boulter was the head, to counteract and depress it. Holding the greater part of the property, and being permanently connected with the internal prosperity of the island, there was reason to dread that this new Irish interest would seek to unite itself with the great body of the Catholic population, and, by their means, obtain a decisive superiority over the foreign agents and their dependants, who had hitherto governed at their discretion. The only resource, therefore, appeared to be to deprive the Catholics of all power and influence whatsoever, and thus to render them both more averse to coalesce with any Protestant interest, and incapable of making any addition of strength by their coalition. This was effected by taking away their elective franchise, and thus disconnecting them in every way from the constitution of the country, and annihilating them altogether in a political capacity.
It is needless to pursue any further the history of Catholic humiliation, or to trace with any minuteness the steps by which it has of late been in some measure retrieved. The question is
about the propriety of removing the existing restraints and disqualifications; and, after having given this short sketch of the origin and principles of the original system, it is only necessary to state precisely what parts of it remain. The Catholics of Ire land, then, are liable, by the subsisting laws, to the following disabilities. They cannot sit in either of the Houses of Parlia ment. They cannot be appointed to any of the following officesChief Governor or Governors of this kingdom, Chancellor, or Keeper or Commissioner of the Seal, Lord High Treasurer, Chief Justice of K. B. or C. P., Lord Chief Baron of Exchequer, Chancellor of the Exchequer, Judge in four Courts, or of Admiralty, Master of the Rolls, Secretary of State, Keeper of the Privy Seal, Vice-Treasurer, or his Deputy, Teller or Cashier of Exchequer, Auditor-General, Governor or Custos Rotulorum of Counties, Chief Governor's Secretary, Privy Councillor, King's Counsel, Sergeants, Attorney, or Solicitor-General, Master in Chancery, Provost or Fellow of Trinity College, Dublin, Postmaster-General, Master and Lieutenant-General of Ordnance, Commander in Chief, Generals on the Staff, Sheriffs and SubSheriffs, nor to the office of Mayor, Bailiff, Recorder, Burgess, or any other office in a City or Corporation, unless the Lord Lieutenant shall grant a written dispensation to that purpose. No Catholic can be a guardian to a Protestant; and no Catholic priest can be a guardian at all. Catholics are only allowed to have arms under certain restrictions; and no Catholic can be employed as a fowler, or have for sale, or otherwise, any arms or warlike stores. No Catholic can present to an ecclesiastical living, although dissenters, and even Jews, have been found entitled to this privilege. The pecuniary qualification of Catholic jurors is made higher than that of Protestants; and no relaxation of the ancient rigorous code is permitted, except to lose who shall take the oath and declaration prescribed by 13. and 14. Geo. III.
Such is the state of Catholics by law; and by practice and systematic usage, it is rendered still more grievous. There is scarcely an instance of the Lord Lieutenant having granted his license to admit them into corporations; and, in practice and effect, they are still as effectually excluded from serving on juries, as if that privilege had not been yielded to them.
The great practical question that remains, therefore, is, whether those disabilities ought now to be removed or continued?— and this, again, depends evidently upon a comparative view of the advantages and disadvantages which are likely to be produced by their removal.
The advantages stand out in the sight of every one; and scarce
ly require to be enumerated. The first is, that it would restore to the service of their country a great multitude of persons, whose talents and exertions are now lost, by their exclusion from rewards and honours. The situations to which no Catholic can aspire, are, it will be confessed, the most important in the. country; and those which it is of the most consequence to have occupied by talents and virtues. The Catholics, however, form at least two thirds of the Irish population; and not much less, perhaps, than one sixth of the British nation. The evil, then, would be great and flagrant, if it consisted merely in this, that our chance of finding able statesmen and valiant commanders was lessened by one fourth, in consequence of the choice being thus narrowed and restrained; one fourth part of the prizes are thus withdrawn from the lottery, and one whole limb of the empire paralyzed for every noble exertion. This, however, is but a very partial and inadequate view of the evil that results from this system of exclusion. It is not merely of the Chathams and Wolfes, the Nelsons and Foxes, which that system condemns to inaction and obscurity, that the nation is deprived, but of all that vast harvest of ascending talent and liberal exertion which would be reaped from those whom their example would call into competition. The high prizes of office and command can come but to a few, but the hope and excitement which they produce, extend to innumerable multitudes; and the public receives the reward of its prudent munificence, not so much in the eminent services of the individuals who monopolize its distinctions, as in the general zeal and activity which is excited by the spectacle of their promotion. By the exclusion of one fourth part of its subjects from the honours of the state, the public is defrauded not only of one fourth of the illustrious characters who would have advanced its interest in these high stations, but of an equal proportion of the subordinate, but important and indispensable services that would have been performed by those who were ambitious of such distinctions.
The second great advantage of the emancipation would be, that it would regain the affections, and secure the allegiance, of four millions of people, who must necessarily be discontented as long as it is withheld, and from whose impatience and resentment the most serious evils, and the most tremendous dangers, may otherwise be apprehended. This is a consideration which is paramount to every other; and the antagonists of the cause, while they feel its force, have laboured to counteract its effects by more suggestions than can well be reconciled to each other. In the first place, they have denied that there is any considerable discontent, or tendency to disaffection, among the body of Irish
Catholics. The answer to this, however, is to be found in facts that admit of no dispute or controversy. In the rebellions and insurrections which have agitated that unhappy country for the last twelve years ;-in the military law, under which a great part of it suffered for no less a time, and in the great military force which it is still necessary to maintain;-in the constant jealousy and precaution of the government ;-in the late insurrection bill, and the public avowal then made by the great advocate of Irish loyalty, of the existence of a French party in the heart of the kingdom;-finally, in the arguments and assertions of the adversaries of emancipation themselves, when it suits them, to change their ground, and to insist on the jacobinism, cruelty and disaffection which are inherent in the profession of popery.
Taking for granted, then, the fact of Catholic discontent, which is but too notorious, the opponents of emancipation must contend, that it is a very unreasonable discontent, and that it would not be cured by the remedy which is now suggested. The truth of the latter proposition depends evidently upon the first. If the disabilities to which the Catholics are liable, are not actual and sufficient causes for their discontent, it is certainly reasonable to conclude, that it will not be cured by removing those disabilities. But, on the other hand, if it can be shewn that those very disabilities, which are confessedly the ostensible grounds of complaint, are also quite sufficient to account for it in reality, then, it seems to follow, with equal certainty, that it may be effectually cured by their removal. At first sight, indeed, it may not appear very natural or probable, that the exclusion of two or three hundred opulent individuals from Parliament, and from the high offices of the civil and military departments, should operate as a source of general irritation and discontent with the great body of the peasantry and mechanics: And it has been asked, what sort of interest the potatoe fed tenant of a cabin could be supposed to have in the nomination of Lords Lieutenant and Masters of the Ordnance? A very little consideration, however, will show the fallacy of this mode of reasoning. In the first place, all who are actually excluded, and all who think they are excluded by this system, must necessarily be very much irritated and discontented; and, as their influence must naturally be very great over their inferiors of the same persuasion, it would not be wonderful, if the whole body were to be infected with those feelings, from that principle alone. But the original impression of disappointment and injustice comes infinitely lower down than to those who, from rank or qualification, might have aspired immediately to the forbidden honours. Every youth, whom ambition or vanity inspires with the hope of distinction, arrogates to himself those honours