Page images

in imagination, and resents all peremptory exclusion, perhaps yet more fiercely than him to whom their possession would be less a distinction. Every brave cadet who gets an ensign's commission in a regiment of militia;-every poor scholar who gains a prize at a provincial academy;-every attorney's apprentice who corrects the blunders of his instructor, looks forward to honours and dignities at the close of his career, as well as to emolument during its continuance; and is cheered, in his obscurest labours, by the prospect of emerging, at last, to power and distinction. It will scarcely be believed, by those who have not made the inquiry, how much these dreams of future glory contribute to lighten and exalt the humblest toils, in which talent or vanity can serve their apprenticeship; and how beneficially they bind those restless qualities to the constitutional establishments, in which they have their original. To the whole body of Catholics, however, this land of golden promise is proscribed. Whatever may be their talents or pretensions, they must drudge on, with no other reward but sordid emolument; or, if they indulge in visions of honour and elevation, must necessarily connect those pleasing ideas with anticipations of political change and revolution. In this way it is conceived to be manifest, that the whole active and energetic part of the Catholics must consider themselves as directly injured and affronted by the exclusions to which they are liable; and, as the inferior mass of the population scarcely ever acts but from the impulse of the higher, nothing more seems to be requisite to account for the general dissatisfaction of the Catholics with their present condition.

Independent of this altogether, it is to be considered, that those who are excluded, are so excluded on account of those principles, and that profession of faith which they bold in common with the rest, and by their attachment to which they are all united in one interest. It is natural for the lowest Catholics to think that their condition would be amended, if persons of their persuasion were freely admitted to the legislature,-the bench,-the magistracy, -and army. At all events, it is impossible that they should not feel that the condition of the whole body would be more honourable; and this is a feeling which operates more powerfully, even in the very lowest classes of society, than legislators always seem to have been aware of.

Of all the feelings in which resentment and dislike, either individual or general, can take its origin, the most common, most prolific, and most powerful, is that of insult and unmerited contempt. The love of estimation is rooted so firmly in human nature, that there is scarcely an individual so debased as not to be more affected by an affront than an injury; and much more likely to resent unmerited scorn than un


provoked malignity. Now, the exclusion of Catholics from all offices and situations of honour and dignity, and that solely on account of their being Catholics, cannot fail to be felt by them as an insult and opprobrium on their faith, and to remind them, that they are a degraded and inferior people. In whatever situation a Catholic may be placed individually, he must still feel that he belongs to a despised and humiliated order, and must be prone to all those movements of resentment and dissatisfaction which belong to those who are undeservedly dishonoured. It is this feeling, we are persuaded, far more than the actual hardships and privations to which they are subjected, that has generated among the Catholics that spirit of disaffection which it would be in vain to deny or dissemble; and that impatience for the removal of their remaining badges of inferiority, which has sometimes appeared more turbulent than the object could justify. It is a feeling which necessarily arises in such a situation, and which has often been known to produce effects at least as formidable as any which have yet been either experienced, or anticipated from Catholic combinations. We formerly alluded to the early and obstinate dissensions of the patricians and plebeians of antient Rome, which originated in this very feeling. But a more recent and impressive illustration may be found in the history of the French revolution. All rational people are now agreed, that the true cause of that monstrous commotion was the obstinate exclusion of the lower orders from places of distinction and authority. The roturier and the noble were pretty nearly equal with regard to all the substantial rights which affected person or property; and it was the latter, much more frequently than the former, that felt the effects of what was ar bitrary and oppressive in the constitution of the monarchy. The roturier, however, was excluded, in a great degree, from high military command, or civil office of the first distinction,-and this alone proved sufficient to produce a spirit of general discontent and disaffection, which speedily overthrew the whole frame of the society. The immediate effects of the exclusion could reach but to a few ;-but the sense of injustice and partiality communicated itself to the whole body. The lowest individual felt his share of the contumely which it inflicted on his order, and resented and rebelled against those ancient arrangements which withheld from that order its full share of the honours and distinctions of the nation. What the roturier was in France, the Catholic is in Ireland;-and, if his conduct should ultimately be the same, it will not be without a precedent, nor those who provoke it, without a warning.

There is nothing overcharged in this parallel; on the contrary, we believe, that it does not represent the degraded state of the


Irish Catholics with sufficient force and effect. The lower orders in France, we believe, laboured under fewer disabilities than the Catholics of Ireland; and those disabilities they owed to their birth, of which they were generally ashamed, and not to their religion to which it was their duty to procure respect and honour. They paid no tythes to a sect they disapproved-they had no recollection of having been sharers in the privileges they envied— and, if they were liable to slights and insults from those who enjoyed all the proud distinctions of office, still those were almost uniformly tempered by the forbearance and good-breeding which naturally belonged to nobility;-finally, they had never been opposed in open hostility to their superiors, nor mingled the remembrance of antient enmity and merciless victory with the grudgings of their present inequality. If that vast insurrection, therefore, the consequences of which have shaken the world to its foundations, be held to be sufficiently accounted for by referring to the disabilities and exclusions of the tiers etat, after it came to hanker after the offices from which it was debarred, there seems to be no difficulty in accounting for the general discontent and impatience of the Irish Catholics, and no great hazard in predicting similar consequences from the continued rejection of their claims.

This conclusion we should think ourselves warranted to draw, from the mere consideration of the law as it stands with regard to this body; but, if we take into view the well authenticated accounts of the feelings and practices to which the law has given occasion, we shall be disposed to wonder how any hesitation should ever have been expressed as to its adoption. Throughout Ireland, a Protestant alone is qualified with the appellation of 'an honest man;' and, in common speech, the Catholics are still designated by terms of contempt and abhorrence. In some places, the passing bell is rung out in a brisk and merry measure when one of them dies. The obnoxious Magistracy which superintended the floggings and executions which attended the suppression of the rebellion, is still continued in office; and the bloodhounds of the Orange faction are still caressed in the courts of the Castle. Catholics, as we have already noticed, are systematically excluded from serving on juries; and instances are by no means wanting, where the protestantism of the jury has been sufficiently distinguishable on the face of their verdict. In some counties, a general combination has actually been entered into, to drive all Catholics from among them, by menaces and actual violence, and the magistracy, from fear, or from baser motives, have remained quiet spectators of an outrage so enormous. This last statement we should have declined to make upon any thing that could appear questionable authority; but when we find it contained

contained in an address by a Protestant peer, the resident governor of the county to which he alludes, and delivered by him to the magistrates of that county, assembled by his summons for the express purpose of taking it into consideration, we conceive that little doubt can be entertained of its accuracy, and are convinced it is of importance that such truths should be generally known. Lord Gossford, the chief magistrate of the county of Armagh, is said, in a published speech, which has never been disavowed or disputed, to have addressed the following statement to the magistrates of that county.

"It is no secret, that a persecution, accompanied by all the cir⚫cumstances of ferocious cruelty, which have, in all ages, distinguished that dreadful calamity, is now raging in this county; 'neither age nor sex, nor acknowledged innocence, as to any 'guilt in the late disturbance, is sufficient to excite mercy, much less to afford protection. The only crime which the wretched objects of this ruthless persecution are charged with, is a 'crime indeed of easy proof-it is simply a profession of the RD'man Catholic faith, or an intimate connexion with a person professing that faith. A lawless banditti have constituted themselves judges of this species of delinquency, and the sentence they have denounced is equally concise and terrible;--it is nothing less than a confiscation of all property, and immediate banishment. It would be extremely painful, and surely unnecessary, to detail the ⚫ horrors that attend the execution of so rude and tremendous a proscription; which certainly exceeds, in the comparative num ber of those it consigns to ruin and misery, every example that ancient and modern history can supply. For, where have we heard, or in what story of human cruelty have we read, of more than half the inhabitants of a populous county, deprived at one blow of the means, as well as the fruits of their industry; and driven, in the midst of an inclement season, to seek a shelter for themselves and their helpless families, where chance may guide < them? This is no exaggerated picture of the horrid scenes now acting in this county. Those horrors are now acting with impunity: the spirit of impartial justice (without which law is nothing more than an instrument of tyranny,) has, for a time, disappeared in this county; and the supineness of the Magistrates of Armagh, is become the common topic of conversation in every corner of this kingdom. I know my own heart, and I should despise myself, if, under any intimidation, I could close my eyes against such scenes as present themselves on every side, or my ears ⚫ against the complaints of a persecuted people. '*


* We have not been able to learn exactly the date of this address ;—


If such be the actual state of the Catholics of Ireland, we' think we may very safely assume our first proposition as com pletely established, viz. that their discontent and tendency to disaffection is sufficiently accounted for by the privations, disabilities and hardships to which they are subjected. If this be the case, however, we do not very well see how it is possible to hesitate upon the second proposition,-that the removal of these disabilities and hardships could effectually eradicate that spirit of disaffection. It is no doubt true, that some of the most grievous and intolerable of those hardships are not directly imposed by the law, and might not cease, perhaps, immediately upon its abolition. But they originate, unquestionably, in habits and feelings which the law originally suggested, and still encourages and foments. When any order of men is directly degraded by the law, and placed, though even in matters of inconfiderable moment, in a contemptible or humiliated pofition, the confequence infallibly will be, that they will become objects of contempt and diftrust in all things, and will be habitually fubjected to the infults and oppreffions of those who are placed above them. The multitude of men is naturally difpofed to domineer and infult their inferiors. If the law gives them this license in any degree, they are fure to abuse it; if it countenance their infolence in any thing, it will be unable to check it in any other; and the fanction which it affords to a certain measure of oppreffion, will be made the warrant and pretext for unmeasured ufurpation. In all cafes, indeed, of inequality of conditions, the laws only lay the foundation, on which ufage erects the fuperftructure; they fet the example, on which practice improves ; and only give the first local impulfe to that vaft undulation which embraces the whole expanfe of fociety.

If this, however, be the true theory of the origin of thofe habits and feelings from which the Catholics fuffer still more than from their legal difabilities, there seems to be no reason for doubting that it would hold equally in regard to their cessation. If their root is the law, they mult wither and die away when that root is extirpated. It is evidently impoffible, indeed, to conceive that Catholics fhould be regarded by the country with diftruft or contempt, if they were openly treated with refpect and confi


we copy it from p. 19 of an account of the proceedings at a general meeting of Catholics in April 1807; and, as it is there quoted to illuftrate the actual condition of that body, we prefume that it was but recently delivered;—at all events, it evidently refers to a period fubfequent to the late rebellions.

« PreviousContinue »