« PreviousContinue »
did not restrain the King from consenting to the repeal of the great mass of the penal and disqualifying statutes in 1778, 1782, and 1793, by what casuistry can it be shown, that it should now restrain him from repealing the miserable remnant of that disgraceful code, and, instead of a system fantastically compounded of fair sketches of liberality, and fragments of decayed oppression, ruling all his people by one consistent code of indulgence and justice?
With these few observations, we leave the subject of the coronation oath to the candid consideration of our readers; and regret to find, that the length to which we have already extended this article, will oblige us to bestow even less room on the remaining topics of discussion. We are glad, indeed, to be excused, on any terms, from the disgusting task of exposing the wretched bigotry, or pitiful drivelling, of those who have endeavoured to terrify us with the prospect of the rekindling of the fires of Smithfield,the downfall of the Established Church, and the reimposition of St Peter's pence, as the necessary consequences of admitting our Catholic fellow-subjects to a fair participation of our civil privileges. It may be observed, however, in general, that all those alarmists proceed upon one very extraordinary supposition, viz. that if Catholics were once admitted to an equality of civil rights, they would speedily succeed in converting the greater part of our Protestant population to their own faith. The Catholics are not at present so much as a fifth part of the whole population; and certainly they do not possess, even in proportion to their numbers, a greater share of wealth, talent or authority, than their Protestant brethren. Unless, therefore, it be supposed that they are to multiply to such an extent as to constitute the absolute majority of the nation, it is evidently quite inconceivable that they should ever be able, either to subvert our church establishment, or in any other way to infringe on the bulwarks of our constitution. The whole basis of the argument, therefore, on the part of those who profess to see danger in their emancipation, obviously rests on the supposition, that, if once emancipated, they will be enabled to convert the rest of the people to their own absurd faith. Now this, it must be admitted, is rather a humiliating supposition, on the part of those who boast of the superior reasonableness of their own system: nor was it to be expected, that the posterity of those great divines, who so triumphantly exposed the errors of Popery in the days of its greatest power and reputation, should now admit that its advocates, if put on a level with them in respect of temporals, would certainly reason back the greater part of their flocks to those exploded and discredited errors. The truth is, however, that the apprehen
If there be any truth, however, in what we have now been saying;-if the emancipation of the Catholics would tend, in any confiderable degree, to make that country more fecure and pacific; -if it would reconcile and attach to government any confiderable number of those who are now alienated or difaffected, is there any man who will not fy that this is an advantage, of the most incalculable importance to the empire at large, and one against which, it is fcarcely to be conceived, that any other confideration fhould, at the prefent crifis, be liftened to? The hazard to which we are expofed, at this inftant, is too dreadful to admit of any he fitation as to the courfe which we ought to purfue. The Catholics of Ireland, in their prefent ftate, are likely to join an invading enemy in great numbers. If they fo join him, it is evidently very doubtful whether Ireland can be faved from conqueft; and if Ireland be loft, it seems moft probable that England cannot long be preferved. The emancipation of the Catholics would infallibly reconcile many, and abate the animofity of all; it would difarm the agitators of their most powerful and plaufible pretext; and, if accompanied by a fyftem of genuine conciliation, could fcarcely fail to compofe all differences, and unite the whole popu lation in defence of the rights and privileges which they would then poffefs in common. In this fituation, it must be admitted, that the difadvantages of the measure must be fhown to be strong and terrible indeed, before they can juftify us in withholding it, or determine us to endure all the evils and dangers to which we must be fubject till it is adopted. We fhall now endeavour, therefore, to determine what are thefe difadvantages.
Before entering upon this fubject, it is worth while, however, to remark, that the greater part of them feem only to have occurred to the various authors and orators, by whom they have lately been brought forward, fince the recent change of adminiftration may have fuggefted the prudence and popularity of fuch an expofition. While the late miniftry were in power, and it was generally underflood that a difpofition to relieve the Catholics prevailed among those who had the chief management of affairs, a moft fingular and cautious filence was obferved, upon the topics which are now fo loudly refounded; and the measure that has fince been fo clamorously abufed, was announced and brought forward with a greater appearance of acquiefence and approbation, both in Parliament and out of it, than any meafure of equal importance which has lately been propofed or adopted in this country. The watchmen of the church, as they have fince ingenuously confessed, fumbered at their pofts;-the guardians of the conftitution were lulled into perfect fecurity ;-and the keeper of the King's confcience could difcover nothing that afforded the remoteft reafon.
for alarm. It was the custom to talk, in good company, of thè approaching emancipation of the Catholics; and the good-natured men of all parties began to discover, that if it was cautiously fet about, there was no great harm to be apprehended.
All at once, certain confcientious fcruples fuggefted themselves in a certain quarter; and, while the public reckoned confidently on the bill in question being carried almoft without a debate or a divifion, it was fuddenly withdrawn; and the miniftry, who had had the temerity to introduce it, were difplaced in a body. Upon this unexpected occurrence, it is marvellous to confider the fudden illumination which broke in upon the minds of all the loyal and orthodox pamphleteers of this intellectual kingdom. It was inftantaneously discovered that the measure in question was big with danger to the civil and religious liberties of the nation; that is was the immediate forerunner of popery, perfecution and Antichrift; and that, befides inferring the guilt of fubornation of perjury in the most aggravated of all imaginable cafes, it paved the way for the fubjugation of this country by Irish rebels and foreign Catholics in alliance. Such a diabolical contrivance, in fhort, had not been heard of fince the days of Guy Fawkes and his lantern; and clergy and laity were called to join in thanksgivings to his Majefty for the escape which his firmnefs had procured for us. The beauty of all this was, that the project and arguments which drew forth thofe animated ftrains from fo many eloquent mouths, had lain upon the breakfaft tables of thofe orthodox and difinterefted perfons for feveral weeks before, and had been perused and laid afide by them, without exciting the fmalleft emotion of alarm or indignation. It was not till it was difcovered that there was to be a change of miniftry on account of them, that they germinated into thofe fine flowers of loyalty and zeal, from which the nation has fince derived fuch incalculable benefit. We have taken fome pains to procure all the pamphlets which have been publifhed on this intereiting fubject; and, fo far as we have been able to ascertain, there does not appear to have been more than two or three written previous to that event, which made it fo prudent and profitable to multiply their number. Up to that very hour, there never was a meafure, we believe, of the fame magnitude, which excited fo little difcuffion, or met with fo little oppofition among the tribe of political writers; and, if it had not been for the change of miniftry, we are perfectly certain that we fhould never have feen nor heard of one hundredth part of thote profound performances, in which the impolicy of the Catholic emancipation is fo fatisfactorily demonftrated. The origin of these productions, however, has, to be fure, in ftrict reafoning, o neceffry connexion with their intrinfic merit; and, though it
is not ufual to find the best arguments only brought forward to fupport an unexpected decifion, any more than to find the bravest troops employed only in plundering after an unexpected victory, it is ftill proper to confider the real value of what has been urged upon a queftion of fuch infinite importance, without allowing ourfelves to be prejudiced by any confideration of the quarter from which it proceeds, or the circumstances in which it has been brought forward.
The leading objection to the Catholic emancipation is, that it would import a violation of the King's coronation oath, by which his Majefty has fworn, to maintain the Protestant reformed religion as eftablished by law, and to preferve to the bishops and clergy of the realm, and to the churches committed to their charge, all fuch rights and privileges as by law do or fhall apper'tain unto them.' A great deal has been said about this oath; in our humble apprehenfion very little to the purpofe,-as nothing, we conceive, can be clearer, than that the Catholic petition might be granted, without infringing one tittle on the letter or the spirit of it: but, as the fubject, though of no difficulty, is of very great importance, we fhall beg leave to state, in a few words, the leading reafons by which we apprehend that the objection founded upon it may be got over.
In the first place, we conceive it to be quite plain, that the oath has no reference at all to the conduct of the King as a branch of the legislature, but was intended merely to restrain him in the exercife of his prerogative, or of fuch functions as he might difcharge as an individual. It was intended to bind him, by religious sanctions, to observe the law; but by no means to tie up his hands from consenting to such new laws as his Parliament should choose to propose to him. It was intended to guard against the usurpations and outrages of another Mary or James, and not to cripple the salutary powers of the whole legislature. This is perfectly evident from the very nature of the contrivance; and it is expressly stated and enforced, both in the debates by which the terms of the oath were settled, and by those that took place shortly after on a proposal to modify some parts of it. See Grey, Vol. VIII. & IX.
In the second place, it is to be remembered, that this is a promissory oath imposed by Parliament upon the Sovereign; and that it is of the nature of all obligations of this sort, that they may be released and discharged by the party by whom, or for whose behalf, they were imposed. If the Parliament of Great Britain, therefore, propose any law to the King which might appear to contradict the tenor of this promissory engagement, it is plain, that, by that very proposition, they release him from the engagement,
engagement, and discharge at once all obligation that might be founded upon it.
These considerations would evidently take away the objection founded on the coronation oath, even if the measures objected to were admitted to be in contradiction to its provisions. It is most material, however, to observe, in the third place, that to relieve all Catholics from civil disabilities, and to make them capable of every civil function in the kingdom, would not infringe on one article of that oath upon any known or intelligible rule of construction. The oath is, to maintain the Protestant religion, and the rights of the Protestant church. Now, are the Catholics asking that the Protestant religion shall be disowned, or the Protestant establishment supplanted? Do they pretend, in the smallest degree, to trench upon the rights and privileges of that establishment, or even to claim for their own faith any emolument or honour whatsoever? Their claim relates not to ecclesiastical matters at all—it concerns their civil rights and capacities only ;and imports, merely, that they shall not be excluded on account of their religion from any situation in the civil or military department for which they are otherwise qualified. Is it possible to say, that the Protestant religion would not be maintained, nor the Protestant churches secured in their lawful rights, if Catholic gentlemen were admitted to Parliament, and to high as well as to low appointments in the law and the army? As long as the Protestant religion is the only one that receives honours and emoluments by the law of the land, and as long as those honours and emoluments remain unimpaired, it is evident that the Protestant religion is maintained in the most comprehensive sense of that term; and that the King's obligation to maintain it, is not in the least affected by his consenting to any arrangement which Parliament may make as to the civil privileges and capacities of any class of his subjects.
But, in the fourth place, we must remark, that even if it were possible, in any case, to admit of such a strained interpretation of the oath in question, it is established, by historical facts, that it never was, and never can be adopted in the present instance. The King, in the first clause of his coronation oath, swears to 'govern according to the statutes in Parliament agreed on, and to the laws and customs of this realm;' and in the clause relating to religion, he binds himself to maintain the Protestant ' reformed religion as established by law.' Now, there are only two ways of interpreting these obligations. The laws here referred to, must either mean the laws which may be successively enacted by the legislature,or the laws which had been enacted, and were actually in force when the coronation oath was framed.