FROM THE UNION OF GREAT BRITAIN AND IRELAND TO THE EMANCIPATION OF THE CATHOLICS.
AFTER THE UNION—DEATH OF LORD CLARE— ROBERT EMMET’S EMEUTE.
The plan of this brief compendium of Irish history obliges us to sketch for some years farther on, the political and religious annals of the Irish people. Having described in what manner their distinctive political nationality was at length lost, it only remains to show how their religious liberties were finally recovered.
The first striking effect of the Union was to introduce Catholic Emancipation into the category of imperial difficulties, and to assign it the very first place on the list. By a singular retribution, the Pitt administration with its 200 of a House of Commons majority, its absolute control of the Lords, and its seventeen years’ prescription in its favour, fell upon this very question, after they had used it to carry the Union, within a few weeks of the consummation of that Union. The cause of this crisis was the invincible obstinacy of the King, who had taken into his head, at the time of Lord Fitzwilliam’s recall from Ireland, that his coronation oath bound him in conscience to resist the Catholic claims. The suggestion of this obstacle was originally Lord Clare’s; and though Lord Kenyon and Lord Stowell had declared it unfounded in law, Lord Loughborough and Lord Eldon were unfortunately of a different opinion. With George III. the idea became a monomaniac certainty, and there is no reason to doubt that he would have preferred abdication to its abandonment.
The King was not for several months aware how far his Prune Minister had gone on the Catholic question in Ireland. But those who were weary of Pitt’s ascendancy, were, of course, interested in giving him this important information. The minister himself, wrapped in his austere self-reliance, did not volunteer explanations even to his Sovereign, and the King broke silence very unexpectedly, a few days after the first meeting of the Imperial Parliament (January 22nd, 1801). Stepping up to Mr. Dundas at the levee, he began in his usual manner, “What’s this? what’s this? this, that this young Lord (Castlereagh) has brought over from Ireland to throw at my head? The most Jacobinical thing I ever heard of! Any man who proposes such a thing is my personal enemy.” Mr. Dundas replied respectfully but firmly, and immediately communicated the conversation to Mr. Pitt. The King’s remarks had been overheard by the bystanders, so that either the minister or the Sovereign had now to give way. Pitt, at first, was resolute; the King then offered to impose silence on himself as regarded the whole subject, provided Mr. Pitt would agree to do likewise, but the haughty minister refused, and tendered his resignation. On the 5th of February, within five weeks of the consummation of the Union, this tender was most reluctantly and regretfully accepted. Lord Grenville, Mr. Dundas, and others of his principal colleagues went out of office with him; Lord Cornwallis and Lord Castlereagh following their example. Of the new Cabinet, Addington, the Speaker, was Premier, with Lord Hardwicke as Lord-Lieutenant of Ireland. By the enemies of Pitt this was looked upon as a mere administration ad interim; as a concerted arrangement to enable him to evade an unfavourable peace—that of Amiens—which he saw coming; but it is only fair to say, that the private letters of the period, since published, do not sanction any such imputation. It is, however, to be observed, per contra, that three weeks after his formal resignation, he had no hesitation in assuring the King, who had just recovered from one of his attacks brought on by this crisis, that he would never again urge the Catholic claims on his Majesty’s notice. On this understanding he returned to office in the spring of 1804; to this compact he adhered till his death, in January, 1806.
In Ireland, the events immediately consequent upon the Union, were such as might have been expected. Many of those who had been instrumental in carrying it, were disappointed and discontented with their new situation in the empire. Of these, the most conspicuous and the least to be pitied, was Lord Clare. That haughty, domineering spirit, accustomed to dictate with almost absolute power to the Privy Counsellors and peerage of Ireland, experienced nothing but mortification in the Imperial House of Lords. The part he hoped to play on that wider stage he found impossible to assume; he confronted there in the aged Thurlow and the astute Loughborough, law lords as absolute as himself, who soon made him conscious that, though a main agent of the Union, he was only a stranger in the united legislature. The Duke of Bedford reminded him that “the Union had not transferred his dictatorial powers to the Imperial Parliament;” other noble Lords were hardly less severe. Pitt was cold, and Grenville ceremonious; and in the arrangements of the Addington ministry he was not even consulted. He returned to Ireland before the first year of the Union closed, in a state of mind and temper which preyed upon his health. Before the second session of the Imperial Parliament assembled, he had been borne to the grave amid the revilings and hootings of the multitude. Dublin, true to its ancient disposition, which led the townsfolk of the twelfth century to bury the ancestor of Dermid McMurrogh with the carcass of a dog, filled the grave of the once splendid Lord Chancellor with every description of garbage.
On the other hand, Lord Castlereagh, younger, suppler, and more accommodating to English prejudices, rose from one Cabinet office to another, until at length, in fifteen years from the Union, he directed the destinies of the Empire, as absolutely, as he had moulded the fate of Ireland. To Castlereagh and the Wellesley family, the Union was in truth, an era of honour and advancement. The sons of the spendthrift amateur, Lord Mornington, were reserved to rule India, and lead the armies of Europe; while the son of Flood’s colleague in the Reform convention of 1783, was destined to give law to Christendom, at the Congress of Vienna.
A career very different in all respects from those just mentioned, closed in the second year of Dublin’s widowhood as a metropolis. It was the career of a young man of four-and-twenty, who snatched at immortal fame and obtained it, in the very agony of a public, but not for him, a shameful death. This was Robert, youngest brother of Thomas Addis Emmet, whose emeute of 1803 would long since have sunk to the level of other city riots, but for the matchless dying speech of which it was the prelude and the occasion. This young gentleman was in his 20th year when expelled with nineteen others from Trinity College, in 1798, by order of the visitors, Lord Clare and Dr. Duigenan. His reputation as a scholar and debater was already established within the college walls, and the highest expectations were naturally entertained of him, by his friends. One of his early college companions —Thomas Moore—who lived to know all the leading men of his age, declares that of all he had ever known, he would place among “the highest of the few” who combined in “the greatest degree pure moral worth with intellectual power”—Robert Emmet. After the expatriation of his brother, young Emmet visited him at Fort-George, and proceeded from thence to the Continent. During the year the Union was consummated he visited Spain, and travelled through Holland, France, and Switzerland, till the peace of Amiens. Subsequently he joined his brother’s family in Paris, and was taken into the full confidence of the exiles, then in direct communication with Buonaparte and Talleyrand. It was not concealed from the Irish by either the First Consul, or his minister, that the peace with England was likely to have a speedy termination; and, accordingly, they were not unprepared for the new declaration of war between the two countries, which was officially made at London and Paris, in May, 1803—little more than twelve months after the proclamation of the peace of Amiens.
It was in expectation of this rupture, and a consequent invasion of Ireland, that Robert Emmet returned to Dublin, in October, 1802, to endeavour to re-establish in some degree the old organization of the United Irishmen. In the same expectation, McNevin, Corbet, and others of the Irish in France, formed themselves, by permission of the First Consul, into a legion, under command of Tone’s trusty aid-de-camp, McSheehey; while Thomas Addis Emmet and Arthur O’Conor remained at Paris, the plenipotentiaries of their countrymen. On the rupture with England Buonaparte took up the Irish negotiation with much earnestness; he even suggested to the exiles the colours and the motto under which they were to fight, when once landed on their own soil. The flag on a tricolour ground, was to have a green centre, bearing the letters R.I.—Republique Irlandaise. The legend at large was to be: L’independence de l’Irlande—Liberte de Conscience; a motto which certainly told the whole story. The First Consul also suggested the formation of an Irish Committee at Paris, and the preparation of statements of Irish grievances for the Moniteur, and the semi-official papers.
Robert Emmet seems to have been confidently of opinion soon after his return to Dublin, that nineteen out of the thirty-two counties would rise; and, perhaps, if a sufficient French force had landed, his opinion might have been justified by the fact. So did not think, however, John Keogh, Valentine Lawless (Lord Cloncurry), and other close observers of the state of the country. But Emmet was enthusiastic, and he inspired his own spirit into many. Mr. Long, a merchant, placed 1,400 pounds sterling at his disposal; he had himself, in consequence of the recent death of his father, stock to the amount of 1,500 pounds converted into cash, and with these funds he entered actively on his preliminary preparations. His chief confidants and assistants were Thomas Russell and Mathew Dowdall, formerly prisoners at Fort-George, but now permitted to return; William Putnam McCabe, the most adventurous of all the party, a perfect Proteus in disguise; Gray, a Wexford attorney; Colonel Lumm of Kildare, an old friend of Lord Edward Fitzgerald; Mr. Long, before mentioned; Hamilton, an Enniskillen barrister, married to Russell’s niece; James Hope of Templepatrick, and Michael Dwyer, the Wicklow outlaw, who had remained since ’98 uncaptured in the mountains.
In the month of March, when the renewal of hostilities with France was decided on in England, the preparations of the conspirators were pushed forward with redoubled energy. The still wilder conspiracy headed by Colonel Despard in London, the previous winter, the secret and the fate of which was well known to the Dublin leaders —Dowdall being Despard’s agent—did not in the least intimidate Emmet or his friends. Despard suffered death in February, with nine of his followers, but his Irish confederates only went on with their arrangements with a more reckless resolution. Their plan was the plan of O’Moore and McGuire, to surprise the Castle, seize the authorities and secure the capital; but the Dublin of 1803 was in many respects very different from the Dublin of 1641. The discontent, however, arising from the recent loss of the Parliament might have turned the city scale in Emmet’s favour, had its first stroke been successful. The emissaries at work in the Leinster and Ulster counties gave besides sanguine reports of success, so that, judging by the information in his possession, an older and cooler head than Robert Emmet’s might well have been misled into the expectation of nineteen counties rising if the signal could only be given from Dublin Castle. If the blow could be withheld till August, there was every reason to expect a French invasion of England, which would drain away all the regular army, and leave the people merely the militia and the volunteers to contend against. But all the Dublin arrangements exploded in the melancholy emeute of the 23rd of July, 1803, in which the Chief-Justice, Lord Kilwarden, passing through the disturbed quarter of the city at the time, was cruelly murdered; for which, and for his cause, Emmet suffered death on the same spot on the 20th of September following. For the same cause, the equally pure-minded and chivalrous Thomas Russell was executed at Downpatrick; Kearney, Roche, Redmond and Howley also suffered death at Dublin; Alien, Putnam, McCabe, and Dowdall escaped to France, where the former became an officer of rank in the army of Napoleon; Michael Dwyer, who Lad surrendered on condition of being allowed to emigrate to’ North America, died in exile in Australia, in 1825. Others of Emmet’s known or suspected friends, after undergoing two, three, and even four years’ imprisonment, were finally discharged without trial. Mr. Long, his generous banker, and James Hope, his faithful emissary, were both permitted to end; their days in Ireland.
The trial of Robert Emmet, from the wonderful death-speech delivered at it, is perfectly well known. But in justice to a man of genius equal if not superior to his own—an Irishman, whose memory is national property, as well as Emmet’s, it must here be observed, that the latter never delivered, and had no justification to deliver the vulgar diatribe against Plunkett, his prosecutor, now constantly printed in the common and incorrect versions of that speech. Plunkett, as Attorney-General, in 1803, had no option but to prosecute for the crown; he was a politician of a totally different school from that of Emmet; he shared all Burke and Grattan’s horror of French revolutionary principles. In the fervour of his accusatory oration he may have gone too far; he may have, and in reading it now, it is clear to us that he did press too hard upon the prisoner in the dock. He might have performed his awful office with more sorrow and less vehemence, for there was no doubt about Ms jury. But withal, he gave no fair grounds for any such retort as is falsely attributed to Emmet, the very style of which proves its falsity. It is now well known that the apostrophe in the death-speech, commencing “you viper,” alleged to have been addressed to Plunkett, was the interpolation many years afterwards of that literary Ishmaelite—Walter Cox of the Hibernian Magazine,—who through such base means endeavoured to aim a blow at Plunkett’s reputation. The personal reputation of the younger Emmet, the least known to his countrymen of all the United Irish leaders, except by the crowning act of his death, is safe beyond the reach of calumny, or party zeal, or time’s changes. It is embalmed in the verse of Moore and Southey, and the precious prose of Washington Irvine. Men of genius in England and America have done honour to his memory; in the annals of his own country his name deserves to stand with those youthful chiefs, equally renowned, and equally ready to seal their patriotism with their blood—Sir Cahir O’Doherty and Hugh Roe O’Donnell.
ADMINISTRATION OF LORD HARDWICKE (1801 TO 1806), AND OF THE DUKE OF BEDFORD (1806 TO 1808).
During the five years in which Lord Hardwicke was Viceroy of Ireland, the habeas corpus remained suspended, and the Insurrection Act continued in force. These were the years in which the power of Napoleon made the most astonishing strides; the years in which he remodelled the German Empire, placed on his head the iron crown of Lombardy, on his sister’s that of Etruria, and on his brother’s that of Holland; when the Consulate gave place to the Empire, and Dukedoms and Principalities were freely distributed among the marshals of the Grand Army. During all these years, Napoleon harassed England with menaces of invasion, and excited Ireland with corresponding hopes of intervention. The more far-seeing United Irishmen, however, had so little faith in these demonstrations that Emmet and McNevin emigrated to the United States, leaving behind them in the ranks of the French Army, those of their compatriots who, either from habit or preference, had become attached to a military life. It must however be borne in mind, for it is essential to the understanding of England’s policy towards Ireland, in the first twelve or fourteen years after the Union, that the wild hope of a French invasion never forsook the hearts of a large portion of the Irish people, so long as Napoleon Buonaparte continued at the head of the government of France. During the whole of that period the British government were kept in constant apprehension for Ireland; under this feeling they kept up and increased the local militia; strengthened garrisons, and replenished magazines; constructed a chain of Martello towers round the entire coast, and maintained in full rigour the Insurrection Act. They refused, indeed, to the Munster magistrates in 1803, and subsequently, the power of summary convictions which they possessed in ’98; but they sent special Commissions of their own into the suspected counties, who sentenced to death with as little remorse as if they had been so many hydrophobic dogs. Ten, twelve, and even twenty capital executions was no uncommon result of a single sitting of one of those murderous commissions, over which Lord Norbury presided; but it must be added that there were other judges, who observed not only the decencies of everyday life, but who interpreted the law in mercy as well as in justice. They were a minority, it is true, but there were some such, nevertheless.
The session of the Imperial Parliament of 1803-‘4, was chiefly remarkable for its war speeches and war budget. In Ireland 50,000 men of the regular militia were under arms and under pay; 70,000 volunteers were enrolled, battalioned, and ready to be called out in case of emergency, to which it was proposed to add 25,000 sea-fencibles. General Fox, who it was alleged had neglected taking proper precaution at the time of Robert Emmet’s emeute, was replaced by Lord Cathcart, as Commander-in-Chief. The public reports at least of this officer, were highly laudatory of the discipline and conduct of the Irish militia.
In May, 1804, Mr. Pitt returned to power, as Chancellor of the Exchequer and Prime Minister, when the whole Pitt policy towards Ireland, France, and America, was of course resumed; a policy which continued to be acted on during the short remainder of the life of its celebrated author.
The year 1805 may be called the first year of the revival of public spirit and public opinion after the Union. In that year Grattan had allowed himself to be persuaded by Fox, into entering the Imperial Parliament, and his old friend Lord Fitzwilliam found a constituency for him, in his Yorkshire borough of Malton. About the same time, Pitt, or his colleagues, induced Plunkett to enter the same great assembly, providing him with a constituency at Midhurst, in Sussex. But they did not succeed—if they ever attempted—to match Plunkett with Grattan. Those great men were warm and close friends in the Imperial as they had been in the Irish Parliament; very dissimilar in their genius, they were both decided anti-Jacobins; both strenuous advocates of the Catholic claims, and both proud and fond of their original country. Grattan had more poetry, and Plunkett more science; but the heart of the man of colder exterior opened and swelled out, in one of the noblest tributes ever paid by one great orator to another, when Plunkett introduced in 1821, in the Imperial Parliament, his allusion to his illustrious friend, then recently deceased.
Preparatory to the meeting of Parliament in 1805, the members of the old Catholic Committee, who had not met for any such purpose for several years, assembled in Dublin, and prepared a petition which they authorized their chairman, Lord Fingall, to place in such hands as he might choose, for presentation in both Houses. His lordship on reaching London waited on Mr. Pitt, and entreated him to take charge of the petition; but he found that the Prime Minister had promised the King one thing and the Catholics another, and, therefore, declined acceding to his request. He then gave the petition into the charge of Lord Grenville and Mr. Fox, and by them the subject was brought accordingly before the Lords and Commons. This debate in the Commons was remarkable in many respects, but most of all for Grattan’s debut. A lively curiosity to hear one of whom so much had been said in his own country, pervaded the whole House, as Grattan rose. His grotesque little figure, his eccentric action, and his strangely cadenced sentences rather surprised than attracted attention, but as he warmed with the march of ideas, men of both parties warmed to the genial and enlarged philosophy, embodied in the interfused rhetoric and logic of the orator; Pitt was seen to beat time with his hand to every curiously proportioned period, and at length both sides of the House broke into hearty acknowledgments of the genius of the new member for Malton. But as yet their cheers were not followed by their votes; the division against going into Committee was 336 to 124.
In sustaining Fox’s motion, Sir John Cox Hippesley had suggested “the Veto” as a safeguard against the encroachments of Rome, which the Irish bishops would not be disposed to refuse. Archbishop Troy, and Dr. Moylan, Bishop of Cork, gave considerable praise to this speech, and partly at their request it was published in pamphlet form. This brought up directly a discussion among the Catholics, which lasted until 1810, was renewed in 1813, and not finally set at rest till the passage of the bill of 1829, without any such safeguard. Sir John C. Hippesley had modelled his proposal, he said, on the liberties of the Gallican Church. “Her privileges,” he added, “depended on two prominent maxims: 1st. That the Pope had no authority to order or interfere in anything in which the civil rights of the kingdom were concerned. 2nd. That notwithstanding the Pope’s supremacy was acknowledged in cases purely spiritual, yet, in other respects, his power was limited by the decrees of the ancient councils of the realm.” The Irish Church, therefore, was to be similarly administered, to obviate the objections of the opponents of complete civil emancipation.
In February, 1806, on the death of Pitt, Mr. Fox came into power, with an uncertain majority and a powerful opposition. In April, the Duke of Bedford arrived, as Viceroy, at Dublin, and the Catholics presented, through Mr. Keogh, a mild address, expressive of their hopes that “the glorious development” of their emancipation would be reserved for the new government. The Duke returned an evasive answer in public, but privately, both at Dublin and London, the Catholics were assured that, as soon as the new Premier could convert the King—as soon as he was in a position to act—he would make their cause his own. No doubt Fox, who had great nobleness of soul, intended to do so; but on the 13th of September of the same year, he followed his great rival, Pitt, to the vaults of Westminster Abbey. A few months only had intervened between the death of the rivals.
Lords Grey and Grenville, during the next recess, having formed a new administration, instructed their Irish Secretary, Mr. Elliot, to put himself in communication with the Catholics, in relation to a measure making them eligible to naval and military offices. The Catholics accepted this proposal with pleasure, but at the opening of the session of 1807, in a deputation to the Irish government, again urged the question of complete emancipation. The bill in relation to the army and navy had, originally, the King’s acquiescence; but early in March, after it had passed the Commons, George III. changed his mind—if the expression may be used of him —at that time. He declared he had not considered it at first so important as he afterwards found it; he intimated that it could not receive his sanction; he went farther —he required a written pledge from Lords Grey and Grenville never again to bring forward such a measure, “nor ever to propose anything connected with the Catholic question.” This unconstitutional pledge they refused to give, hurried the bill into law, and resigned. Mr. Spencer Perceval was then sent for, and what was called “the No-Popery Cabinet,” in which Mr. Canning and Lord Castlereagh were the principal Secretaries of State, was formed. Thus, for the second time in six years, had the Catholic question made and unmade cabinets.
The Catholics were a good deal dispirited in 1805, by the overwhelming majority by which their petition of that year was refused to be referred to a committee. In 1806, they contented themselves with simply addressing the Duke of Bedford, on his arrival at Dublin. In 1807, the “No-Popery Cabinet,” by the result of the elections, was placed in possession of an immense majority—a fact which excluded all prospects of another change of government. But the Committee were too long accustomed to disappointments to despair even under these reverses. Early in the next session their petition was presented by Mr. Grattan in the Commons, and Lord Donoughmore in the Lords. The majority against going into committee was, in the Commons, 153; in the Lords, 87. Similar motions in the session of 1808, made by the same parties, were rejected by majorities somewhat reduced, and the question, on the whole, might be said to have recovered some of its former vantage ground, in despite of the bitter, pertinacious resistance of Mr. Perceval, in the one House, and the Duke of Portland, in the other.
The short-lived administration of Mr. Fox, though it was said to include “all the talents,” had been full of nothing but disappointment to his Irish supporters. The Duke of Bedford was, indeed, a great improvement on Lord Hardwicke, and Mr. Ponsonby on Lord Redesdale, as Chancellor, and the liberation of the political prisoners confined since 1803 did honour to the new administration. But there the measures of justice so credulously expected, both as to persons and interests, ended. Curran, whose professional claims to advancement were far beyond those of dozens of men who had been, during the past ten years, lifted over his head, was neglected, and very naturally dissatisfied; Grattan, never well adapted for a courtier, could not obtain even minor appointments for his oldest and staunchest adherents; while the Catholics found their Whig friends, now that they were in office, as anxious to exact the hard conditions of the Veto as Castlereagh himself.
In truth, the Catholic body at this period, and for a few years subsequently, was deplorably disorganized. The young generation of Catholic lawyers who had grown up since the Relief Act of ’93 threw the profession open to them, were men of another stamp from the old generation of Catholic merchants, who had grown up under the Relief Act of 1778. In the ten years before the Union, the Catholic middle class was headed by men of business; in the period we have now reached, their principal spokesmen came from “the Four Courts.” John Keogh, the ablest, wisest and firmest of the former generation, was now passing into the decline of life, was frequently absent from the Committee, and when present, frequently overruled by younger and more ardent men. In 1808, his absence, from illness, was regretted by Mr. O’Connell in an eloquent speech addressed to the Committee on the necessity of united action and incessant petitions. “Had he been present,” said the young barrister, “his powers of reasoning would have frightened away the captious objections” to that course, “and the Catholics of Ireland would again have to thank their old and useful servant for the preservation of their honour and the support of their interests.” It was a strange anomaly, and one which continued for some years longer, that the statesmen of the Catholic body should be all Protestants. A more generous or tolerant spirit than Grattan’s never existed; a clearer or more fearless intellect than Plunkett’s was not to be found; nobler and more disinterested friends than Ponsonby, Curran, Burroughs and Wallace, no people ever had; but still they were friends from without; men of another religion, or of no particular religion, advising and guiding an eminently religious people in their struggle for religious liberty. This could not always last; it was not natural, it was not desirable that it should last, though some years more were to pass away before Catholic Emancipation was to be accomplished by the union, the energy and the strategy of the Catholics themselves.
ADMINISTRATION OF THE DUKE OF RICHMOND (1807 TO 1813).
Charles, fourth Duke of Richmond, succeeded the Duke of Bedford, as Viceroy, in April, 1807, with Lord Manners as Lord Chancellor, John Foster, Chancellor of the Exchequer—for the separate exchequer of Ireland continued to exist till 1820—and Sir Arthur Wellesley as Chief Secretary. Of these names, the two last were already familiar to their countrymen, in connection with the history of their own Parliament; but the new Chief Secretary had lately returned home covered with Indian laurels, and full of the promise of other honours and victories to come.
The spirit of this administration was repressive, anti-Catholic and high Tory. To maintain and strengthen British power, to keep the Catholics quiet, to get possession of the Irish representation and convert it into a means of support for the Tory party in England, these were the leading objects of the seven years’ administration of the Duke of Richmond. Long afterwards, when the Chief Secretary of 1807 had become “the most high, mighty and noble prince,” whom all England and nearly all Europe delighted to honour, he defended the Irish administration of which he had formed a part, for its habitual use of corrupt means and influence, in arguments which do more credit to his frankness than his morality. He had “to turn the moral weakness of individuals to good account,” such was his argument. He stoutly denied that “the whole nation is, or ever was corrupt;” but as “almost every man of mark has his price,” the Chief Secretary was obliged to use corrupt influences “to command a majority in favour of order;” however the particular kinds of influence employed might go against his grain, he had, as he contended, no other alternative but to employ them.
With the exception of a two months’ campaign in Denmark —July to September, 1807—Sir Arthur Wellesley continued to fill the office of Chief Secretary, until his departure for the Peninsula, in July, 1808. Even then he was expressly requested to retain the nominal office, with power to appoint a deputy, and receive meanwhile the very handsome salary of 8,000 pounds sterling a year. In the wonderful military events, in which during the next seven years Sir Arthur was to play a leading part, the comparatively unimportant particulars of his Irish Secretariate have been long since forgotten. We have already described the general spirit of that administration: it is only just to add, that the dispassionate and resolute secretary, though he never shrank from his share of the jobbery done daily at the Castle, repressed with as much firmness the over-zeal of those he calls “red-hot Protestants,” as he showed in resisting, at that period, what he considered the unconstitutional pretensions of the Catholics. An instance of the impartiality to which he was capable of rising, when influenced by partisans or religious prejudices, is afforded by his letter dissuading the Wexford yeomanry from celebrating the anniversary of the battle of Vinegar Hill. He regarded such a celebration as certain “to exasperate party spirit,” and “to hurt the feelings of others;” he, therefore, in the name of the Lord-Lieutenant, strongly discouraged it, and the intention was accordingly abandoned. It is to be regretted that the same judicious rule was not at the same tune enforced by government as to the celebration of the much more obsolete and much more invidious anniversaries of Aughrim and the Boyne.
The general election which followed the death of Fox, in November, 1806, was the first great trial of political strength under the Union. As was right and proper, Mr. Grattan, no longer indebted for a seat to an English patron, however liberal, was returned at the head of the poll for the city of Dublin. His associate, however, the banker, La Touche, was defeated; the second member elect being Mr. Robert Shaw, the Orange candidate. The Catholic electors to a man, under the vigorous prompting of John Keogh and his friends, polled their votes for their Protestant advocate; they did more, they subscribed the sum of 4,000 pounds sterling to pay the expenses of the contest, but this sum Mrs. Grattan induced the treasurer to return to the subscribers. Ever watchful for her husband’s honour, that admirable woman, as ardent a patriot as himself, refused the generous tender of the Catholics of Dublin. Although his several elections had cost Mr. Grattan above 54,000 pounds—more than the whole national grant of 1782—she would not, in this case, that any one else should bear the cost of his last triumph in the widowed capital of his own country.
The great issue tried in this election of 1807, in those of 1812, 1818, and 1826, was still the Catholic question. All other Irish, and most other imperial domestic questions were subordinate to this. In one shape or another, it came up in every session of Parliament. It entered into the calculations of every statesman of every party; it continued to make and unmake cabinets; in the press and in every society, it was the principal topic of discussion. While tracing, therefore, its progress, from year to year, we do but follow the main stream of national history; all other branches come back again to this centre, or exhaust themselves in secondary and forgotten results.
The Catholics themselves, deprived in Ireland of a Parliament on which they could act directly, were driven more and more Into permanent association, as the only means of operating a change in the Imperial legislature. The value of a legal, popular, systematic, and continuous combination of “the people” acting within the law, by means of meetings, resolutions, correspondence, and petitions, was not made suddenly, nor by all the party interested, at one and the same time. On the minds of the more sagacious, however, an impression, favourable to such organized action, grew deeper year by year, and at last settled into a certainty which was justified by success.
In May, 1809, the Catholic Committee had been reconstructed, and its numbers enlarged. In a series of resolutions it was agreed that the Catholic lords, the surviving delegates of 1793, the committee which managed the petitions of 1805 and 1807, and such persons “as shall distinctly appear to them to possess the confidence of the Catholic body,” do form henceforth the General Committee. It was proposed by O’Connell, to avoid “the Convention Act,” “that the noblemen and gentlemen aforesaid are not representatives of the Catholic body, or any portion thereof.” The Committee were authorized to collect funds for defraying expenses; a Treasurer was chosen, and a permanent Secretary, Mr. Edward Hay, the historian of the Wexford rebellion—an active and intelligent officer. The new Committee acted with great judgment in 1810, but in 1811 Lord Fingal and his friends projected a General Assembly of the leading Catholics, contrary to the Convention Act, and to the resolution just cited. O’Connell was opposed to this proposition; yet the assembly met, and were dispersed by the authorities. The Chairman, Lord Fingal, and Drs. Sheridan and Kirwan, Secretaries, were arrested. Lord Fingal, however, was not prosecuted, but the Secretaries were, and one of them expiated by two years’ imprisonment his violation of the act. To get rid of the very pretext of illegality, the Catholic Committee dissolved, but only to reappear under a less vulnerable form, as “the Catholic Board.”
It is from the year 1810 that we must date the rise, among the Catholics themselves, of a distinctive line of policy, suited to the circumstances of the present century, and the first appearance of a group of public men, capable of maintaining and enforcing that policy. Not that the ancient leaders of that body were found deficient, in former times, either in foresight or determination; but new times called for new men; the Irish Catholics were now to seek their emancipation from the imperial government; new tactics and new combinations were necessary to success; and, in brief, instead of being liberated from their bonds at the good will and pleasure of benevolent Protestants, it was now to be tested whether they were capable of contributing to their own emancipation,—whether they were willing and able to assist their friends and to punish their enemies.
Though the Irish Catholics could not legally meet in convention any more than their Protestant fellow-countrymen, there was nothing to prevent them assembling voluntarily, from every part of the kingdom, without claim to delegation. With whom the happy idea of “the aggregate meetings” originated is not certainly known, but to O’Connell and the younger set of leading spirits this was a machinery capable of being worked with good effect. No longer confined to a select Committee, composed mainly of a few aged and cautious, though distinguished persons, the fearless “agitators,” as they now began to be called, stood face to face with the body of the people themselves. The disused theatre in Fishamble Street was their habitual place of meeting in Dublin, and there, in 1811 and 1812, the orators met to criticise the conduct of the Duke of Richmond—to denounce Mr. Wellesley Pole—to attack Secretaries of State and Prime Ministers—to return thanks to Lords Grey and Grenville for refusing to give the unconstitutional anti-Catholic pledge required by the King, and to memorial the Prince Regent. From those meetings, especially in the year 1812, the leadership of O’Connell must be dated. After seven years of wearisome probation, after enduring seven years the envy and the calumny of many who, as they were his fellow-labourers, should have been his friends; after demonstrating for seven years that his judgment and his courage were equal to his eloquence, the successful Kerry barrister, then in his thirty-seventh year, was at length generally recognized as “the counsellor” of his co-religionists —as the veritable “Man of the People.” Dangers, delays and difficulties lay thick and dark in the future, but from the year, when in Dublin, Cork and Limerick, the voice of the famous advocate was recognized as the voice of the Catholics of Ireland, their cause was taken out of the category of merely ministerial measures, and exhibited in its true light as a great national contest, entered into by the people themselves for complete civil and religious freedom.
Sir Arthur Wellesley had been succeeded in 1810 in the Secretaryship by his brother, Mr. Wellesley Pole, who chiefly signalized his administration by a circular against conventions, and the prosecution of Sheridan and Kirwan, in 1811. He was in turn succeeded by a much more able and memorable person—Mr., afterwards Sir Robert Peel. The names of Peel and Wellington come thus into juxtaposition in Irish politics in 1812, as they will be found hi juxtaposition on the same subject twenty and thirty years later.
Early in the session of 1812, Mr. Perceval, the Premier, had been assassinated in the lobby of the House of Commons, by Bellingham, and a new political crisis was precipitated on the country. In the government which followed, Lord Liverpool became the chief, with Castlereagh and Canning as members of his administration. In the general election which followed, Mr. Grattan was again returned for Dublin, and Mr. Plunkett was elected for Trinity College, but Mr. Curran was defeated at Newry, and Mr. Christopher Hely Hutchinson, the liberal candidate, at Cork. Upon the whole, however, the result was favourable to the Catholic cause, and the question was certain to have several additional Irish supporters in the new House of Commons.
In the administrative changes that followed, Mr. Peel, though only in his twenty-fourth year, was appointed to the important post of Chief Secretary, The son of the first baronet of the name—this youthful statesman had first been elected for Cashel, almost as soon as he came of age, in 1809. He continued Chief Secretary for six years, from the twenty-fourth to the thirtieth year of his age. He distinguished himself in the House of Commons almost as soon as he entered it, and the predictions of his future premiership were not, even then, confined to members of his own family. No English statesman, since the death of William Pitt, has wielded so great a power in Irish affairs as Sir Robert Peel, and it is, therefore, important to consider, under what influence, and by what maxims he regulated his public conduct during the time he filled the most important administrative office in that country.
Sir Robert Peel brought to the Irish government, notwithstanding his Oxford education and the advantages of foreign travel which he had enjoyed, prejudices the most illiberal, on the subject of all others on which a statesman should be most free from prejudice—religion. An anti-Catholic of the school of Mr. Perceval and Lord Eldon, he at once constituted himself the principal opponent of Grattan’s annual motion in favour of Catholic Emancipation. That older men, born in the evil time, should be bigots and defenders of the Penal Code, was hardly wonderful, but a young statesman, exhibiting at that late day, such studied and active hostility to so large a body of his fellow subjects, naturally drew upon his head the execrations of all those whose enfranchisement he so stubbornly resisted. Even his great abilities were most absurdly denied, under this passionate feeling of wrong and injustice. His Constabulary and his Stipendiary Magistracy were resisted, ridiculed, and denounced, as outrages on the liberty of the subject, and assaults on the independence of the bench. The term Peeler became synonymous with spy, informer, and traitor, and the Chief Secretary was detested not only for the illiberal sentiments he had expressed, but for the machinery of order he had established. After half a century’s experience, we may safely say, that the Irish Constabulary have shown themselves to be a most valuable police, and as little deserving of popular ill-will as any such body can ever expect to be, but they were judged very differently during the Secretaryship of their founder; for, at that time, being new and intrusive, they may, no doubt, have deserved many of the hard and bitter things which were generally said of them.
The first session of the new Parliament in the year 1813— the last of the Duke of Richmond’s Viceroyalty—was remarkable for the most important debate which had yet arisen on the Catholic question. In the previous year, a motion of Canning’s, in favour of “a final and conciliatory adjustment,” which was carried by an unexpected majority of 235 to 106, encouraged Grattan to prepare a detailed Emancipation Bill, instead of making his usual annual motion of referring the Catholic petitions to the consideration of the Committee. This bill recited the establishment of the Protestant succession to the crown, and the establishment of the Protestant religion in the State. It then proceeded to provide that Roman Catholics might sit and vote in Parliament; might hold all offices, civil and military, except the offices of Chancellor or Keeper of the Great Seal in England, or Lord-Lieutenant, Lord Deputy, or Chancellor of Ireland; another section threw open to Roman Catholics all lay corporations, while a proviso excluded them either from holding or bestowing benefices in the Established Church. Such was the Emancipation Act of 1813, proposed by Grattan; an act far less comprehensive than that introduced by the same statesman in 1795, into the Parliament of Ireland, but still, in many of its provisions, a long stride in advance.
Restricted and conditioned as this measure was, it still did not meet the objections of the opponents of the question, in giving the crown a Veto in the appointment of the bishops. Sir John Hippesley’s pernicious suggestion—reviving a very old traditional policy—was embodied by Canning in one set of amendments, and by Castlereagh in another. Canning’s amendments, as summarised by the eminent Catholic jurist, Charles Butler, were to this effect:—
“He first appointed a certain number of Commissioners, who were to profess the Catholic religion, and to be lay peers of Great Britain or Scotland, possessing a freehold estate of one thousand pounds a year; to be filled up, from time to time, by his Majesty, his heirs, or successors. The Commissioners were to take an oath for the faithful discharge of their office, and the observance of secrecy in all matters not thereby required to be disclosed, with power to appoint a Secretary with salary (proposed to be five hundred pounds a year), payable out of the consolidated fund. The Secretary was to take an oath similar to that of the Commissioners.
“It was then provided, that every person elected to the discharge of Roman Catholic episcopal functions in Great Britain or Scotland should, previously to the discharge of his office, notify his then election to the Secretary; that the Secretary should notify it to the Commissioners, and they to the Privy Council, with a certificate ‘that they did not know or believe anything of the person nominated, which tended to impeach his loyalty or peaceable conduct;’ unless they had knowledge of the contrary, in which case they should refuse their certificate. Persons obtaining such a certificate were rendered capable of exercising episcopal functions within the United Kingdom; if they exercised them without a certificate, they were to be considered guilty of a misdemeanor, and liable to be sent out of the kingdom.
“Similar provisions respecting Ireland were then introduced.”
“The second set of clauses,” says Mr. Butler, “was suggested by Lord Castlereagh, and provided that the Commissioners under the preceding clauses—with the addition, as to Great Britain, of the Lord Chancellor, or Lord Keeper, or first Commissioner of the Great Seal for the time being, and of one of his Majesty’s principal Secretaries of State, being a Protestant, or such other Protestant member of his Privy Council as his Majesty should appoint—and with a similar addition in respect to Ireland—and with the further addition, as to Great Britain, of the person then exercising episcopal functions among the Catholics in London—and, in respect to Ireland, of the titular Roman Catholic Archbishops of Armagh and Dublin,—should be Commissioners for the purposes thereinafter mentioned.
“The Commissioners thus appointed were to take an oath for the discharge of their office, and observance of secrecy, similar to the former, and employ the same Secretary, and three of them were to form a quorum.
“The bill then provided, that subjects of his Majesty, receiving any bull, dispensation, or other instrument, from the See of Rome, or any person in foreign parts, acting under the authority of that See, should, within six weeks, send a copy of it, signed with his name, to the Secretary of the Commissioners, who should transmit the same to them.
“But with a proviso, that if the person receiving the same should deliver to the Secretary of the Commission, within the time before prescribed, a writing under his hand, certifying the fact of his having received such a bull, dispensation, or other instrument, and accompanying his certificate with an oath, declaring that ‘it related, wholly and exclusively, to spiritual concerns, and that it did not contain, or refer to, any matter or thing which did or could, directly or indirectly, affect or interfere with the duty and allegiance which he owed to his Majesty’s sacred person and government, or with the temporal, civil, or social rights, properties, or duties of any other of his Majesty’s subjects, then the Commissioners were, in their discretion, to receive such certificate and oath, in lieu of the copy of the bull, dispensation, or other instrument.
“Persons conforming to these provisions were to be exempted from all pains and penalties, to which they would be liable under the existing statutes; otherwise, they were to be deemed guilty of a high misdemeanor; and in lieu of the pains and penalties, under the former statutes, be liable to be sent out of the kingdom.
“The third set of clauses provided that, within a time to be specified, the Commissioners were to meet and appoint their Secretary, and give notice of it to his Majesty’s principal Secretaries of State in Great Britain and Ireland; and the provisions of the act were to be in force from that time.”
On the second reading, in May, the Committee of Parliament, on motion of the Speaker, then on the floor, struck out the clause enabling Catholics “to sit and vote in either House of Parliament,” by a majority of four votes: 251 against 247. Mr. Ponsonby immediately rose, and, observing that, as “the bill without the clause,” was unworthy both of the Catholics and its authors, he moved the chairman do leave the chair. The committee rose, without a division, and the Emancipation Bill of 1813 was abandoned.
Unhappily, the contest in relation to the Veto, which had originated in the House of Commons, was extended to the Catholic body at large. Several of the noblemen, members of the board, were not averse to granting some such power as was claimed to the crown; some of the professional class, more anxious to be emancipated than particular as to the means, favoured the same view. The bishops at the time of the Union, were known to have entertained the idea, and Sir John Hippesley had published their letters, which certainly did not discourage his proposal. But the second order of the clergy, the immense majority of the laity, and all the new prelates, called to preside over vacant sees, in the first decade of the century, were strongly opposed to any such connexion with the head of the State. Of this party, Mr. O’Connell was the uncompromising organ, and, perhaps, it was his course on this very subject of the Veto, more than anything else, which established his pretensions to be considered the leader of the Catholic body. Under the prompting of the majority, the Catholic prelates met and passed a resolution declaring that they could not accept the bill of 1813 as a satisfactory settlement. This resolution they formally communicated to the Catholic Board, who voted them, on O’Connell’s motion, enthusiastic thanks. The minority of the Board were silent rather than satisfied, and their dissatisfaction was shown rather by their absence from the Board meetings than by open opposition.
Mr. O’Connell’s position, from this period forward, may be best understood from the tone in which he was spoken of in the debates of Parliament. At the beginning of the session of 1815, we find the Chief Secretary (Mr. Peel) stating that he “possesses more influence than any other person” with the Irish Catholics, and that no meeting of that body was considered complete unless a vote of thanks to Mr. O’Connell was among the resolutions.
O’CONNELL’S LEADERSHIP—1813 TO 1821.
While the Veto controversy was carried into the press and the Parliamentary debates, the extraordinary events of the last years of Napoleon’s reign became of such extreme interest as to cast into the shade all questions of domestic policy. The Parliamentary fortunes of the Catholic question varied with the fortunes of the war, and the remoteness of external danger. Thus, in 1815, Sir Henry Parnell’s motion for a committee was rejected by a majority of 228 to 147; in 1816, on Mr. Grattan’s similar motion, the vote was 172 to 141; in 1817, Mr. Grattan was again defeated by 245 to 221; in this session an act exempting officers in the army and navy from forswearing Transubstantiation passed and became law. The internal condition of the Catholic body, both in England and Ireland, during all those years, was far from enviable. In England there were Cisalpine and Ultramontane factions; in Ireland, Vetoists and anti-Vetoists. The learned and amiable Charles Butler—among jurists, the ornament of his order, was fiercely opposed to the no less learned Dr. Milner, author of “The End of Controversy,” and “Letters to a Prebendary.” In Ireland, a very young barrister, who had hardly seen the second anniversary of his majority, electrified the aggregate meetings with a new Franco-Irish order of eloquence, naturally enough employed in the maintenance of Gallican ideas of church government. This was Richard Lalor Shiel, the author of two or three successful tragedies, and the man, next to O’Connell, who wielded the largest tribunitian power over the Irish populace during the whole of the subsequent agitation. Educated at Stoneyhurst, he imbibed from refugee professors French idioms and a French standard of taste, while, strangely enough, O’Connell, to whom he was at first opposed, and of whom he became afterwards the first lieutenant, educated in France by British refugees, acquired the cumbrous English style of the Douay Bible and the Rheims Testament. The contrast between the two men was every way extreme; physically, mentally, and politically; but it is pleasant to know that their differences never degenerated into distrust, envy or malice; that, in fact, Daniel O’Connell had throughout all his after life no more steadfast personal friend than Richard Lalor Shiel.
In the progress of the Catholic agitation, the next memorable incident was O’Connell’s direct attack on the Prince Regent. That powerful personage, the de facto Sovereign of the realm, had long amused the Irish Catholics with promises and pledges of being favourable to their cause. At an aggregate meeting, in June, 1812, Mr. O’Connell maintained that there were four distinct pledges of this description in existence: 1. One given in 1806, through the Duke of Bedford, then Lord-Lieutenant, to induce the Catholics to withhold their petitions for a time. 2. Another given the same year in the Prince’s name by Mr. Ponsonby, then Chancellor. 3. A pledge given to Lord Kenmare, in writing, when at Cheltenham. 4. A verbal pledge given to Lord Fingal, in the presence of Lords Clifford and Petre, and reduced to writing and signed by these three noblemen, soon after quitting the Prince’s presence. Over the meeting at which this indictment was preferred, Lord Fingal presided, and the celebrated “witchery” resolutions, referring to the influence then exercised on the Prince by Lady Hertford, were proposed by his lordship’s son, Lord Killeen. It may, therefore, be fairly assumed, that the existence of the fourth pledge was proved, the first and second were never denied, and as to the third—that given to Lord Kenmare—the only correction ever made was, that the Prince’s message was delivered verbally, by his Private Secretary, Colonel McMahon, and not in writing. Lord Kenmare, who died in the autumn of 1812, could not be induced, from a motive of delicacy, to reduce his recollection of this message to writing, but he never denied that he had received it, and O’Connell, therefore, during the following years, always held the Prince accountable for this, as for his other promises. Much difference of opinion arose as to the wisdom of attacking a person in the position of the Prince; but O’Connell, fully persuaded of the utter worthlessness of the declarations made in that quarter, decided for himself that the bold course was the wise course. The effect already was various. The English Whigs, the Prince’s early and constant friends, who had followed him to lengths that honour could hardly sanction, and who had experienced his hollow-heartedness when lately called to govern during his father’s illness; they, of course, were not sorry to see him held up to odium in Ireland, as a dishonoured gentleman and a false friend. The Irish Whigs, of whom Lord Moira and Mr. Ponsonby were the leaders, and to whom Mr. Grattan might be said to be attached rather than to belong, saw the rupture with regret, but considered it inevitable. Among “the Prince’s friends” the attacks upon him in the Dublin meetings were regarded as little short of treason; while by himself, it is well known the “witchery” resolutions of 1812 were neither forgotten nor forgiven.
The political position of the Holy See, at this period, was such as to induce and enable an indirect English influence to be exercised, through that channel, upon the Irish Catholic movement. Pope Pius VII., a prisoner in France, had delegated to several persons at Rome certain vicarious powers, to be exercised in his name, in case of necessity; of these, more than one had followed him into exile, so that the position of his representative devolved at length upon Monsignor Quarrantotti, who, early in 1814, addressed a rescript to Dr. Poynter, vicar-apostolic of the London district, commendatory of the Bill of 1813, including the Veto, and the Ecclesiastical Commission proposed by Canning and Castlereagh. Against these dangerous concessions, as they considered them, the Irish Catholics despatched their remonstrances to Rome, through the agency of the celebrated Wexford Franciscan, Father Richard Hayes; but this clergyman, having spoken with too great freedom, was arrested, and suffered several months’ confinement in the Eternal City. A subsequent embassy of Dr. Murray, coadjutor to the Archbishop of Dublin, on behalf of his brother prelates, was attended with no greater advantage, though the envoy himself was more properly treated. On his return to Ireland, at a meeting held to hear his report, several strong resolutions were unanimously adopted, of which the spirit may be judged from the following—the concluding one of the series—”Though we sincerely venerate the supreme Pontiff as visible head of the Church, we do not conceive that our apprehensions for the safety of the Roman Catholic Church in Ireland can or ought to be removed by any determination of His Holiness, adopted or intended to be adopted, not only without our concurrence, but in direct opposition to our repeated resolutions and the very energetic memorial presented on our behalf, and so ably supported by our Deputy, the Most Reverend Dr. Murray; who, in that quality, was more competent to inform His Holiness of the real state and interests of the Roman Catholic Church in Ireland than any other with whom he is said to have consulted.”
The resolutions were transmitted to Rome, signed by the two Archbishops present, by Dr. Everard, the coadjutor of the Archbishop of Cashel, by Dr. Murray, the coadjutor of the Archbishop of Dublin, by the Bishops of Meath, Cloyne, Clonfert, Kerry, Waterford, Derry, Achonry, Killala, Killaloe, Kilmore, Ferns, Limerick, Elphin, Cork, Down and Conor, Ossory, Raphoe, Clogher, Dromore, Kildare and Leighlin, Ardagh, and the Warden of Galway. Dr. Murray, and Dr. Murphy, Bishop of Cork, were commissioned to carry this new remonstrance to Rome, and the greatest anxiety was felt for the result of their mission.
A strange result of this new embroglio in the Catholic cause was, that it put the people on the defensive for their religious liberties, not so much against England as against Home. The unlucky Italian Monsignor who had volunteered his sanction of the Veto, fared scarcely better at the popular gatherings than Lord Castlereagh, or Mr. Peel. “Monsieur Forty-eight,” as he was nicknamed, in reference to some strange story of his ancestor taking his name from a lucky lottery ticket of that number, was declared to be no better than a common Orangeman, and if the bitter denunciations uttered against him, on the Liffey and the Shannon, had only been translated into Italian, the courtly Prelate must have been exceedingly amazed at the democratic fury of a Catholic population, as orthodox as himself, but much more jealous of State interference with things spiritual. The second order of the clergy were hardly behind the laity, in the fervour of their opposition to the rescript of 1814. Then—entire body, secular and regular, residing in and about Dublin, published a very strong protest against it, headed by Dr. Blake, afterwards Bishop of Dromore, in which it was denounced as “pregnant with mischief” and entirely “non-obligatory upon the Catholic Church in Ireland.” The several ecclesiastical provinces followed up these declarations with a surprising unanimity, and although a Vetoistical address to His Holiness was despatched by the Cisalpine club in England, the Irish ideas of Church government triumphed at Rome. Drs. Murray and Milner were received with his habitual kindness by Pius VII.; the illustrious Cardinal Gonsalvi was appointed by the Pope to draw up an explanatory rescript, and Monsignor Quarrantotti was removed from his official position. The firmness manifested at that critical period by the Irish church has since been acknowledged with many encomiums by all the successors of Pope Pius VII.
The Irish government under the new Viceroy, Lord Whitworth (the former ambassador to Napoleon), conceiving that the time had come, in the summer of 1814, to suppress the Catholic Board, a proclamation forbidding his Majesty’s subjects to attend future meetings of that body issued from Dublin Castle, on the 3rd of June. The leaders of the body, after consultation at Mr. O’Connell’s residence, decided to bow to this proclamation and to meet no more as a Board; but this did not prevent them, in the following winter, from holding a new series of Aggregate meetings, far more formidable, in some respects, than the deliberative meetings which had been suppressed. In the vigorous and somewhat aggressive tone taken at these meetings, Lord Fingal, the chief of the Catholic peerage, did not concur, and he accordingly withdrew for some years from the agitation, Mr. Shiel, the Bellews, Mr. Ball, Mr. Wyse of Waterford, and a few others, following his example. With O’Connell remained the O’Conor Don, Messrs. Finlay and Lidwell (Protestants), Purcell O’Gorman, and other popular persons. But the cause sustained a heavy blow in the temporary retirement of Lord Fingal and his friends, and an attempt to form a “Catholic Association,” in 1815, without their co-operation, signally failed.
During the next five years, the fortunes of the great Irish question fluctuated with the exigencies of Imperial parties. The second American war had closed, if not gloriously, at least without considerable loss to England; Napoleon had exchanged Elba for St. Helena: Wellington was the Achilles of the Empire, and Castlereagh its Ulysses. Yet it was not in the nature of those free Islanders, the danger and pressure of foreign war removed, to remain always indifferent to the two great questions of domestic policy—Catholic Emancipation and Parliamentary Reform. In the session of 1816, a motion of Sir John Newport’s to inquire into the state of Ireland, was successfully resisted by Sir Robert Peel, but the condition and state of public feeling in England could not be as well ignored by a Parliament sitting in London. In returning from the opening of the Houses in January, 1817, the Regent was hooted in the street, and his carriage riddled with stones. A reward of 1,000 pounds, issued for the apprehension of the ringleaders, only gave additional eclat to the fact, without leading to the apprehension of the assailants.
The personal unpopularity of the Regent seems to have increased, in proportion as death removed from him all those who stood nearest to the throne. In November, 1817, his oldest child, the Princess Charlotte, married to Leopold, since King of Belgium, died in childbed; in 1818, the aged Queen Charlotte died; in January, 1820, the old King, in the eighty-second year of his age, departed this life. Immediately afterwards the former Princess of Wales, long separated from her profligate husband, returned from the Continent to claim her rightful position as Queen Consort. The disgraceful accusations brought against her, the trial before the House of Lords which followed, the courage and eloquence of her counsel, Brougham and Denman, the eagerness with which the people made her cause their own, are all well remembered events, and all beside the purpose of this history. The unfortunate lady died after a short illness, on the 7th of August, 1821; the same month in which Ms Majesty—George IV. —departed on that Irish journey, so satirized in the undying verse of Moore and Byron.
Two other deaths, far more affecting than any among the mortalities of royalty, marked the period at which we have arrived. These were the death of Curran in 1817, and the death of Grattan, in 1820.
Curran, after his failure to be returned for Newry, in 1812, had never again attempted public life. He remained in his office of Master of the Rolls, but his health began to fail sensibly. During the summers of 1816 and ’17, he sought for recreation in Scotland, England and France, but the charm which travel could not give—the charm of a cheerful spirit—was wanting. In October, 1817, his friend, Charles Phillips, was suddenly called to his bed-side at Brompton, near London, and found him with one side of his face and body paralyzed cold. “And this was all,” says his friend, “that remained of Curran—the light of society—the glory of the forum— the Fabricius of the senate—the idol of his country.” Yes! even to less than this, was he soon to sink. On the evening of the 14th of October, he expired, in the 68th year of his age, leaving a public reputation as free from blemish as ever did any man who had acted a leading part, in times like those through which he had passed. He was interred in London, but twenty years afterwards, the committee of the Glasnevin Cemetery, near Dublin, obtained permission of his representatives to remove his ashes to their grounds, where they now finally repose. A tomb modelled from the tomb of Scipio covers the grave, bearing the simple but sufficient inscription—CURRAN. Thus was fulfilled the words he had uttered long before—”The last duties will be paid by that country on which they are devolved; nor will it be for charity that a little earth will be given to my bones. Tenderly will those duties be paid, as the debt of well-earned affection, and of gratitude not ashamed of her tears.”
Grattan’s last days were characteristic of his whole life. As the session of 1820 progressed, though suffering from his last struggle with disease, he was stirred by an irresistible desire to make his way to London, and present once more the petition of the Catholics. Since the defeat of his Relief Bill of 1813, there had been some estrangement between him and the more advanced section of the agitators, headed by O’Connell. This he was anxious, perhaps, to heal or to overcome. He thought, moreover, that even if he should die in the effort, it would be, as he said himself, “a good end.” Amid—
“The trees which a nation had given, and which bowed
As if each brought a new civic crown to his head,”
he consulted with the Catholic delegates early in May. O’Connell was the spokesman, and the scene may yet be rendered immortal by some great national artist. All present felt that the aged patriot was dying, but still he would go once more to London, to fall, as he said, “at his post.” In leaving Ireland he gave to his oldest friends directions for his funeral—that he might be buried in the little churchyard of Moyanna, on the estate the people gave him in 1782! He reached London, by slow stages, at the end of May, and proposed to be in his place in the House on the 4th of June. But this gratification was not permitted him: on the morning of the 4th, at six o’clock, he called his son to his bed-side, and ordered him to bring him a paper containing his last political opinions. “Add to it,” he said, with all his old love of antithesis, “that I die with a love of liberty in my heart, and this declaration in favour of my country, in my hand.”
So worthily ended the mortal career of Henry Grattan. He was interred by the side of his old friend, Charles James Pox, in Westminster Abbey; the mourners included the highest imperial statesmen, and the Catholic orphan children; his eulogium was pronounced in the House of Commons by William Conyngham Plunkett, and in the Irish capital by Daniel O’Connell.
RETROSPECT OF THE STATE OF RELIGION AND LEARNING DURING THE REIGN OF GEORGE III.
Before relating the decisive events in the contest for Catholic Emancipation, which marked the reign of George IV. we may be permitted to cast a glance backward over the religious and secular state of Ireland, during the sixty years’ reign of George III.
The relative position of the great religious denominations underwent a slow but important revolution during this long reign. In the last days of George II., a Chief-Justice was bold enough to declare that “the laws did not presume a Papist to exist in the kingdom;” but under the sway of his successor, though much against that successor’s will, they advanced from one constitutional victory to another, till they stood, in the person of the Earl Marshal, on the very steps of the throne. In the towns and cities, the Catholic laity, once admitted to commerce and the professions, rose rapidly to wealth and honour. A Dublin Papist was at the head of the wine trade; another was the wealthiest grazier in the kingdom; a third, at Cork, was the largest provision merchant. With wealth came social ambition, and the heirs of these enfranchised merchants were by a natural consequence the judges and legislators of the next generation.
The ecclesiastical organization of Ireland, as described in 1800 by the bishops in answer to queries of the Chief Secretary, was simple and inexpensive. The four archbishops and twenty bishops, were sustained by having certain parishes attached to their cathedrals, in commendam: other Cathedraticum there seems to have been none. Armagh had then 350 parish priests, Tuam 206, Cashel 314, and Dublin 156: in all 1126. The number of curates or coadjutors was at least equal to that of the parish priests; while of regulars then returned the number did not exceed 450. This large body of religious—24 prelates, nearly 3,000 clergy—exclusive of female religious—were then, and have ever since been, sustained by the voluntary contributions of the laity, paid chiefly at the two great festivals of Christmas and Easter, or by customary offerings made at the close of the ceremonies of marriages, baptisms, and death. Though the income of some of the churches was considerable, in the great majority of cases the amount received barely sufficed to fulfil the injunction of St. Patrick to his disciples, that “the lamp should take but that wherewith it was fed.”
The Presbyterian clergy, though in some respects more dependent on their congregations than the Catholics were, did not always, nor in all cases, depend on the voluntary principle for their maintenance. The Irish Supply Bill contained an annual item before the Union of 7,700 pounds for the Antrim Synod, and some other dissenting bodies. The Regium Donum was not, indeed, general; but that it might be made so, was one of the inducements held out to many of that clergy to secure their countenance for the Legislative Union.
The Established Church continued, of course, to monopolize University honours, and to enjoy its princely revenues and all political advantages. Trinity College continued annually to farm its 200,000 acres at a rental averaging 100,000 pounds sterling. Its wealth, and the uses to which it is put, are thus described by a recent writer: “Some of Trinity’s senior fellows enjoy higher incomes than Cabinet ministers; many of her tutors have revenues above those of cardinals; and junior fellows, of a few days’ standing, frequently decline some of her thirty-one church livings with benefices which would shame the poverty of scores of continental, not to say Irish, Catholic archbishops. Even eminent judges hold her professorships; some of her chairs are vacated for the Episcopal bench only; and majors and field officers would acquire increased pay by being promoted to the rank of head porter, first menial, in Trinity College. Apart from her princely fellowships and professorships, her seventy Foundation, and sixteen non-Foundation Scholarships, her thirty Sizarships, and her fourteen valuable Studentships, she has at her disposal an aggregate, by bequests, benefactions, and various endowments, of 117 permanent exhibitions, amounting to upwards of 2,000 pounds per annum.” The splendour of the highest Protestant dignitaries may be inferred from what has been said formerly of the Bishop of Derry, of the Era of Independence. The state maintained by the chief bishop—Primate Robinson, who ruled Armagh from 1765 to 1795—is thus described by Mr. Cumberland in his Memoirs. “I accompanied him,” says Cumberland, “on Sunday forenoon to his cathedral. We went in his chariot of six horses attended by three footmen behind, whilst my wife and daughters, with Sir William Robinson, the primate’s elder brother, followed in my father’s coach, which he lent me for the journey. At our approach the great western door was thrown open, and my friend (in person one of the finest men that could be seen) entered, like another Archbishop Laud, in high prelatical state, preceded by his officers and ministers of the church, conducting him in files to the robing chamber, and back again to the throne. It may well be conceived with what invidious eyes the barely tolerated Papists of the city of Saint Patrick must have looked on all this pageantry, and their feelings were no doubt those in some degree of all their co-religionists throughout the kingdom.”
The Irish Establishment, during the reign of George III., numbered among its prelates and clergy many able and amiable men. At the period of the Union, the two most distinguished were Dr. O’Beirne, Bishop of Meath, an ex-priest, and Dr. Young, Bishop of Clonfert, a former fellow of Trinity College. As a Bible scholar, Dr. Young ranked deservedly high, but as a variously accomplished writer, Dr. O’Beirne was the first man of his order. His political papers, though occasionally disfigured with the bigotry natural to an apostate, are full of a vigorous sagacity; his contributions to general literature, such as his paper on Tanistry, in Vallency’s Collectanea, show how much greater things still he was capable of. It is not a little striking that the most eminent bishop, as well as the most celebrated Anglican preacher of that age, in Ireland (Dean Kirwan), should both have been ordained as Catholic priests.
The national literature which we have noted a century earlier, as changing gradually its tongue, was now mainly, indeed we might almost say solely, expressed in English. It is true the songs of “Carolan the Blind,” were sung in Gaelic by the Longford firesides, where the author of “the Deserted Village” listened to their exquisite melody, moulding his young ear to a sense of harmony full as exquisite; but the glory of the Gaelic muse was past. He, too, unpromising as was his exterior, was to be one of the bright harbingers of another great era of Hiberno-English literature. When, within two generations, out of the same exceedingly restricted class of educated Irishmen and women, we count the names of Goldsmith, Samuel Madden, Arthur Murphy, Henry Brooke, Charles Macklin, Sheridan, Burke, Edmund Malone, Maria Edgeworth, Lady Morgan, “Psyche” Tighe, and Thomas Moore, it is impossible not to entertain a very high opinion of the mental resources of that population, if only they were fairly wrought and kindly valued by the world.
One memorable incident of literary history—the Ossianic outbreak of 1760—aided powerfully though indirectly in the revival of the study of the ancient Celtic history of Scotland and Ireland. Something was done then, by the Royal Irish Academy, to meet that storm of Anglo-Norman incredulity and indignation; much more has been done since, to place the original records of the Three Kingdoms on a sound critical basis. The dogmatism of the unbelievers in the existence of a genuine body of ancient Celtic literature has been rebuked; and the folly of the theorists who, upon imaginary grounds, constructed pretentious systems, has been exposed. The exact originals of MacPherson’s odes have not been found, after a century of research, and may be given up, as non-existent; but the better opinion seems now to be, by those who have studied the fragments of undoubted antiquity attributed to the son of the warrior Fion, that whatever the modern translator may have invented, he certainly did not invent Ossian.
To the stage, within the same range of time, Ireland gave some celebrated names: Quinn, Barry, Sheridan, Mrs. Woffington, Mrs. Jordan, and Miss O’Neill; and to painting, one pre-eminent name—the eccentric, honest, and original, James Barry.
But of all the arts, that in which the Irish of the Georgian era won the highest and most various triumphs was the art of Oratory, What is now usually spoken of as “the Irish School of Eloquence,” may be considered to have taken its rise from the growth of the Patriot party in Parliament, in the last years of George II. Every contemporary account agrees in placing its first great name—Anthony Malone—on the same level with Chatham and Mansfield. There were great men before Malone, as before Agamemnon; such as Sir Toby Butler, Baron Rice, and Patrick Darcy; but he was the first of our later succession of masters. After him came Flood and John Hely Hutchinson; then Grattan and Curran; then Plunkett and Bushe; then O’Connell and Shiel. In England, at the same time, Burke, Barre, Sheridan, and Sir Phillip Francis, upheld the reputation of Irish oratory; a reputation generously acknowledged by all parties, as it was illustrated in the ranks of all. The Tories, within our own recollection, applauded as heartily the Irish wit and fervour of Canning, Croker, and North, as the Whigs did the exhibition of similar qualities in their Emancipation allies.
Nothing can be less correct, than to pronounce judgment on the Irish School, either of praise or blame, in sweeping general terms. Though a certain family resemblance may be traced among its great masters, no two of them will be found nearly alike. There are no echoes, no servile imitators, among them. In vigorous argumentation and severe simplicity, Plunkett resembled Flood, but the temperament of the two men—and Oratory is nearly as much a matter of temperament as of intellect—was widely different. Flood’s movement was dramatic, while Plunkett’s was mathematical. In structural arrangement, Shiel, occasionally—very occasionally—reminds us of Grattan; but if he has not the wonderful condensation of thought, neither has he the frequent antithetical abuses of that great orator. Burke and Sheridan are as distinguishable as any other two of their contemporaries; Curran stands alone; O’Connell never had a model, and never had an imitator who rose above mimicry. Every combination of powers, every description of excellence, and every variety of style and character, may be found among the masterpieces of this great school. Of their works many will live for ever. Most of Burke’s, many of Grattan’s, and one or two of Curran’s have reached us in such preservation as promises immortality. Selections from Flood, Sheridan, Canning, Plunkett and O’Connell will survive; Shiel will be more fortunate for he was more artistic, and more watchful of his own fame. His exquisite finish will do, for him, what the higher efforts of men, more indifferent to the audience of posterity, will have forfeited for them.
It is to be observed, farther, that the inspiration of all these men was drawn from the very hearts of the people among whom they grew. With one or two exceptions, sons of humble peasants, of actors, of at most middle class men, they were true, through every change of personal position, to the general interests of the people—to the common weal. From generous thoughts and a lofty scorn of falsehood, fanaticism and tyranny, they took their inspiration; and as they were true to human nature, so will mankind, through successive ages, dwell fondly on their works and guard lovingly their tombs.
THE IRISH ABROAD, DURING THE REIGN OF GEORGE III.
The fond tenacity with which the large numbers of the Irish people who have established themselves in foreign states have always clung to their native country; the active sympathy they have personally shown for their relatives at home; the repeated efforts they have made to assist the Irish in Ireland, in all their public undertakings, requires that, as an element in O’Connell’s final and successful struggle for Catholic Emancipation, we should take a summary view of the position of “the Irish abroad.”
While the emigrants of that country to America naturally pursued the paths of peace, those who, from choice or necessity, found their way to the European Continent, were, with few exceptions, employed mainly in two departments—war and diplomacy. An Irish Abbe, liked the celebrated preacher, McCarthy—or an Irish merchant firm, such as the house of the same name at Bordeaux, might be met with, but most of those who attained any distinction did so by the sword or the pen, in the field or the cabinet.
In France, under the revolutionary governments from ’91 to ’99, the Irish were, with their old-world notions of God and the Devil, wholly out of place; but under the Consulate and the Empire, they rose to many employments of the second class, and a few of the very first. From the ranks of the expatriated of ’98, Buonaparte promoted Arthur O’Conor and William Corbet to the rank of General; Ware, Alien, Byrne, the younger Tone, and Keating, to that of Colonel. As individuals, the Emperor was certainly a benefactor to many Irishmen; but, as a nation, it was one of then: most foolish delusions, to expect in him a deliverer. On the restoration of the Bourbons, the Irish officers who had acquired distinction under Napoleon adhered generally to his fortunes, and tendered their resignations; in their place, a new group of Franco-Irish descendants of the old Brigades-men, began to show themselves in the salons of Paris, and the Bureaus of the Ministers. The last swords drawn for “the legitimate branch” in ’91, was by Count Dillon and his friend Count Wall; their last defender, in 1830, was General Wall, of the same family.
Though the Irish in France, especially those resident at Paris, exercised the greatest influence in favour of their original country—an influence which met all travelled Englishmen, wherever the French language was understood—their compatriots in Spain and Austria had also contributed their share to range Continental opinion on the side of Ireland. Three times, during the century, Spain was represented at London by men of Irish birth, or Irish origin. The British merchant who found Alexander O’Reilly Governor of Cadiz, or the diplomatist who met him as Spanish ambassador, at the Court of Louis XVI., could hardly look with uninstructed eyes, upon the lot of his humblest namesake in Cavan. This family, indeed, produced a succession of eminent men, both in Spain and Austria. “It is strange,” observed Napoleon to those around him, on his second entry into Vienna, in 1809, “that on each occasion—in November, 1805, as this day —on arriving in the Austrian capital, I find myself in treaty and in intercourse with the respectable Count O’Reilly.” Napoleon had other reasons for remembering this officer; it was his dragoon regiment which saved the remnant of the Austrians, at Austerlitz. In the Austrian army list at that period, when she was the ally of England, there were above forty Irish names, from the grading of Colonel up to that of Field-Marshal. In almost every field of the Peninsula, Wellington and Anglesea learned the value of George the Second’s imprecation on the Penal Code, which deprived him of such soldiers as conquered at Fontenoy. It cannot be doubted that even the constant repetition of the names of the Blakes, O’Donnells, and Sarsfields, in the bulletins sent home to England, tended to enforce reflections of that description on the statesmen and the nation, and to inspirit and sustain the struggling Catholics. A powerful argument for throwing open the British army and navy to men of all religions, was drawn from these foreign experiences; and, if such men were worthy to hold military commissions, why not also to sit in Parliament, and on the Bench?
The fortunes of the Irish in America, though less brilliant for the few, were more advantageous as to the many. They were, during the war of the revolution, and the war of 1812, a very considerable element in the American republic. It was a violent exaggeration to say, as Lord Mountjoy did in moving for the repeal of the Penal laws, “that England lost America by Ireland;” but it is very certain that Washington placed great weight on the active aid of the gallant Pennsylvania, Maryland, and Southern Irish troops, and the sturdy Scotch-Irish of New Hampshire. Franklin, in his visit to Ireland, before the rupture, and Jefferson in his correspondence, always enumerates the Irish, as one element of reliance, in the contest between the Colonies and the Empire.
In the immediate cause of the war of 1812, this people were peculiarly interested. If the doctrines of “the right of search” and “once a subject always a subject,” were to prevail, no Irish emigrant could hope to become —or having become, could hope to enjoy the protection of—an American citizen. It was, therefore, natural that men of that origin should take a deep interest in the war, and it seems something more than a fortuitous circumstance, when we find in the chairman of the Senatorial Committee of 1812, which authorized the President to raise the necessary levies—an Irish emigrant, John Smilie, and in the Secretary-at-war, who acted under the powers thus granted, the son of an Irish emigrant, John Caldwell Calhoun. On the Canadian frontier, during the war which followed, we find in posts of importance, Brady, Mullany, McComb, Croghan and Reilly; on the lakes, Commodore McDonough, and on the ocean, Commodores Shaw and Stewart—all Irish. On the Mississippi, another son of Irish emigrant parents, with his favourite lieutenants, Carroll, Coffee, and Butler, brought the war to a close by their brilliant defence of New Orleans. The moral of that victory was not lost upon England; the life of Andrew Jackson, with a dedication “to the People of Ireland” was published at London and Dublin, by the most generally popular writer of that day—William Cobbett.
In the cause of South American independence, the Irish under O’Higgins and McKenna in Chili, and under Bolivar and San Martin in Colombia and Peru, were largely engaged, and honourably distinguished. Colonel O’Conor, nephew to Arthur, was San Martin’s chief of the staff; General Devereux, with his Irish legion, rendered distinguished services to Bolivar and Don Bernardo. O’Higgins was hailed as the Liberator of Chili. During that long ten years’ struggle, which ended with the evacuation of Carraccas in 1823, Irish names are conspicuous on almost every field of action. Bolivar’s generous heart was warmly attached to persons of that nation. “The doctor who constantly attends him,” says the English General, Miller, “is Dr. Moore, an Irishman, who had followed the Liberator from Venezuela to Peru. He is a man of great skill in his profession, and devotedly attached to the person of the Liberator. Bolivar’s first aide-de-camp, Colonel O’Leary, is a nephew of the celebrated Father O’Leary. In 1818, he embarked, at the age of seventeen, in the cause of South American independence, in which he has served with high distinction, having been present at almost every general action fought in Colombia, and has received several wounds. He has been often employed on diplomatic missions, and in charges of great responsibility, in which he has always acquitted himself with great ability.”
That these achievements of the Irish abroad produced a favourable influence on the situation of the Irish at home, we know from many collateral sources; we know it also from the fact, that when O’Connell succeeded in founding a really national organization, subscriptions and words of encouragement poured in on him, not only from France, Spain, and Austria, but from North and South America, not only from the Irish residents in those countries, but from their native inhabitants—soldiers and statesmen—of the first consideration. The services and virtues of her distinguished children in foreign climes, stood to the mother country instead of treaties and alliances.
O’CONNELL’S LEADERSHIP—THE CATHOLIC ASSOCIATION— 1821 TO 1826.
At the beginning of the year 1821, O’Connell, during the intervals of Ms laborious occupations in court and on circuit, addressed a series of stirring letters to “the People of Ireland,” remarkable as containing some of the best and most trenchant of his political writings. His object was to induce the postponement of the annual petition for Emancipation, and the substitution instead of a general agitation for Parliamentary reform, in conjunction with the English reformers. Against this conclusion—which he ridiculed “as the fashion for January, 1821″—Mr. Shiel published a bitter, clever, rhetorical reply, to which O’Connell at once sent forth a severe and rather contemptuous rejoinder. Shiel was quite content to have Mr. Plunkett continue Grattan’s annual motion, with all its “conditions” and “securities.” O’Connell declared he had no hope in petitions except from a reformed Parliament, and he, therefore, was opposed to such motions altogether, especially as put by Mr. Plunkett, and the other advocates of a Veto. Another session was lost in this controversy, and when Parliament rose, it was announced that George IV. was coming to Ireland “on a mission of Conciliation.”
On this announcement, Mr. O’Connell advised that the Catholics should take advantage of his Majesty’s presence to assemble and consider the state of their affairs; but a protest against “connecting in any manner the King’s visit with Catholic affairs,” was circulated by Lords Fingal, Netterville, Gormanstown, and Killeen, Messrs. Baggott, Shiel, Wyse, and other Commoners. O’Connell yielded, as he often did, for the sake of unanimity. The King’s visit led to many meetings and arrangements, in some of which his advice was taken, while in others he was outvoted or overruled. Nothing could exceed the patience he exhibited at this period of his life, when his natural impetuous temperament was still far from being subdued by the frosts of age.
Many liberal Protestants at this period—the King’s brief visit—were so moved with admiration of the judicious and proper conduct of the Catholic leaders, that a new but short-lived organization, called “the Conciliation Committee,” was formed. The ultra Orange zealots, however, were not to be restrained even by the presence of the Sovereign for whom they professed so much devotion. In the midst of the preparations for his landing, they celebrated, with all its offensive accompaniments, the 12th of July, and at the Dublin dinner to the King—though after he had left the room—they gave their charter toast of “the glorious, pious, and immortal memory.” The Committee of Conciliation soon dwindled away, and, like the visit of George IV., left no good result behind.
The year 1822 was most remarkable, at its commencement, for the arrival of the Marquis of Wellesley, as Lord-Lieutenant, and at its close, for the assault committed on him in the theatre by the Dublin Orangemen. Though the Marquis had declined to interfere in preventing the annual Orange celebration, he was well known to be friendly to the Catholics; their advocate, Mr. Plunkett, was his Attorney General; and many of their leaders were cordially welcomed at the Castle. These proofs were sufficient for the secret tribunals which sat upon his conduct, and when his Lordship presented himself, on the night of the 14th of December, at the theatre, he was assailed by an organized mob, one of whom flung a heavy piece of wood, and another a quart bottle, towards the state box. Three Orangemen, mechanics, were arrested and tried for the offence, but acquitted on a technical defect of evidence; a general feeling of indignation was excited among all classes in consequence, and it is questionable if Orangeism, in Dublin, ever recovered the disgust occasioned by that dastardly outrage.
The great and fortunate event, however, for the Catholics, was the foundation of their new Association, which was finally resolved upon at an Aggregate Meeting held in “Townsend Street Chapel,” on the 10th of May, 1823. This meeting had been called by an imposing requisition signed with singular unanimity by all the principal Catholic gentlemen. Lord Killeen presided. Mr. O’Connell moved the formation of the Association; Sir Thomas Esmonde seconded the motion; Mr. Shiel—lately and sincerely reconciled to O’Connell—sustained it. The plan was simple and popular. The Association was to consist of members paying a guinea a year, and associates paying a shilling; a standing committee was to form the government; the regular meetings were to be weekly—every Saturday; and the business to consist of organization, correspondence, public discussions, and petitions. It was, in effect, to be a sort of extern and unauthorized Parliament, acting always within the Constitution, with a view to the modification of the existing laws, by means not prohibited in those laws themselves. It was a design, subtle in conception, but simple in form; a natural design for a lawyer-liberator to form; and for a people strongly prepossessed in his favour to adopt; but one, at the same time, which would require a rare combination of circumstances to sustain for any great length of time, under a leader less expert, inventive, and resolute.
The Parliamentary position of the Catholic question, at the moment of the formation of the Association, had undergone another strange alteration. Lord Castlereagh, having attained the highest honours of the empire, died by his own hand the previous year. Lord Liverpool remained Premier, Lord Eldon Chancellor, Mr. Canning became Foreign Secretary, with Mr. Peel, Home Secretary, the Duke of Wellington continuing Master-General of the Ordnance. To this cabinet, so largely anti-Catholic, the chosen organ of the Irish Catholics, Mr. Plunkett, was necessarily associated as Irish Attorney General. His situation, therefore, was in the session of 1823 one of great difficulty; this Sir Francis Burdett and the radical reformers at once perceived, and in the debates which followed, pressed him unmercifully. They quoted against him his own language denouncing cabinet compromises on so vital a question, in 1813, and to show their indignation, when he rose to reply, they left the House in a body. His speech, as always, was most able, but the House, when he sat down, broke into an uproar of confusion. Party spirit ran exceedingly high; the possibility of advancing the question during the session was doubtful, and a motion to adjourn prevailed. A fortnight later, at the first meeting of the Catholic Association, a very cordial vote of thanks to Plunkett was carried by acclamation.
The new Catholic organization was labouring hard to merit popular favour. Within the year of its organization we find the Saturday meetings engaged with such questions as church rates; secret societies; correspondence with members of both Houses; voting public thanks to Mr. Brougham; the penal laws relating to the rights of sepulture; the purchase of a Catholic cemetery near Dublin; the commutation of tithes; the admission of Catholic freemen into corporations; the extension of the Association into every county in Ireland, and other more incidental subjects. The business-like air of the weekly meetings, at this early period, is remarkable: they were certainly anything but mere occasions for rhetorical display. But though little could be objected against, and so much might be said in favour of the labours of the Association, it was not till nearly twelve months after its organization, when O’Connell proposed and carried his system of monthly penny subscriptions to the “Catholic Rent,” that it took a firm and far-reaching hold on the common people, and began to excite the serious apprehensions of the oligarchical factions in Ireland and England.
This bold, and at this time much ridiculed step, infused new life and a system hitherto unknown into the Catholic population. The parish collectors, corresponding directly with Dublin, established a local agency, co-extensive with the kingdom; the smallest contributor felt himself personally embarked in the contest; and the movement became, in consequence, what it had not been before, an eminently popular one. During the next six months the receipts from penny subscriptions exceeded 100 pounds sterling per month, representing 24,000 subscribers; during the next year they averaged above 500 pounds a week, representing nearly half a million enrolled Associates!
With the additional means at the disposal of the Finance Committee of the Association, its power rose rapidly. A morning and an evening journal were at its command in Dublin; many thousands of pounds were expended in defending the people in the courts, and prosecuting their Orange and other enemies. Annual subsidies, of 5,000 pounds each, were voted for the Catholic Poor schools, and the education of missionary priests for America; the expenses of Parliamentary and electioneering agents were also heavy. But for all these purposes “the Catholic Rent,” of a penny per month from each associate, was found amply sufficient.
At the close of 1824, the government, really alarmed at the formidable proportions assumed by the agitation, caused criminal informations to be filed against Mr. O’Connell, for an alleged seditious allusion to the example of Bolivar, the liberator of South America; but the Dublin grand jury ignored the bills of indictment founded on these informations. Early in the following session, however, a bill to suppress “Unlawful Associations in Ireland,” was introduced by Mr. Goulburn, who had succeeded Sir Robert Peel as Chief Secretary, and was supported by Plunkett—a confirmed enemy of all extra-legal combinations. It was aimed directly at the Catholic Association, and passed both Houses; but O’Connell found means “to drive,” as he said, “a coach and six through it.” The existing Association dissolved on the passage of the act; another, called “the New Catholic Association,” was formed for “charitable and other purposes,” and the agitators proceeded with their organization, with one word added to then—title, and immensely additional eclat and success.
In Parliament, the measure thus defeated was followed by another, the long-promised Relief Bill. It passed in the Commons in May, accompanied by two clauses, or as they were called, “wings,” most unsatisfactory to the Catholic body. One clause disfranchised the whole class of electors known as the “forty-shilling freeholders;” the other provided a scale of state maintenance for the Catholic clergy. A bishop was to have 1,000 pounds per annum; a dean 300 pounds; a parish priest 200 pounds; a curate 60 pounds. This measure was thrown out by the House of Lords, greatly to the satisfaction, at least, of the Irish Catholics. It was during this debate in the Upper House that the Duke of York, presumptive heir to the throne, made what was called his “ether speech”—from his habit of dosing himself with that stimulant on trying occasions. In this speech he declared, that so “help him God,” he would never, never consent to acknowledge the claims put forward by the Catholics. Before two years were over, death had removed him to the presence of that Awful Being whose name he had so rashly invoked, and his brother, the Duke of Clarence, assumed his position, as next in succession to the throne.
The Catholic delegates, Lord Killeen, Sir Thomas Esmonde, Lawless, and Shiel, were in London at the time the Duke of York made his memorable declaration. If, on the one hand, they were regarded with dislike amounting to hatred, on the other, they were welcomed with cordiality by all the leaders of the liberal party. The venerable Earl Fitzwilliam emerged from his retirement to do them honour; the gifted and energetic Brougham entertained them with all hospitality; at Norfolk House they were banqueted in the room in which George III. was born: the millionaire-demagogue Burdett, the courtly, liberal Lord Grey, and the flower of the Catholic nobility, were invited to meet them. The delegates were naturally cheered and gratified; they felt, they must have felt, that their cause had a grasp upon Imperial attention, which nothing but concession could ever loosen.
Committees of both Houses, to inquire into the state of Ireland, had sat during a great part of this Session, and among the witnesses were the principal delegates, with Drs. Murray, Curtis, Kelly, and Doyle. The evidence of the latter—the eminent Prelate of Kildare and Leighlin—attracted most attention. His readiness of resource, clearness of statement, and wide range of information, inspired many of his questioners with a feeling of respect, such as they had never before entertained for any of his order. His writings had already made him honourably distinguished among literary men; his examination before the Committees made him equally so among statesmen. From that period he could reckon the Marquises of Anglesea and Wellesley, Lord Lansdowne and Mr. Brougham, among his correspondents and friends, and, what he valued even more, among the friends of his cause. Mr. O’Connell, on the other hand, certainly lost ground in Ireland by his London journey. He had, unquestionably, given his assent to both “wings,” in 1825, as he did to the remaining one in 1828, and thereby greatly injured his own popularity. His frank and full recantation of his error, on his return, soon restored him to the favour of the multitude, and enabled him to employ, with the best effect, the enormous influence which he showed he possessed at the general elections of 1826. By him mainly the Beresfords were beaten in Waterford, the Fosters in Louth, and the Leslies in Monaghan. The independence of Limerick city, of Tipperary, Cork, Kilkenny, Longford, and other important constituencies, was secured. The parish machinery of the Association was found invaluable for the purpose of bringing up the electors, and the people’s treasury was fortunately able to protect to some extent the fearless voter, who, in despite of his landlord, voted according to the dictates of his own heart.
The effect of these elections on the empire at large was very great. When, early in the following spring, Lord Liverpool, after fifteen years’ possession of power, died unexpectedly, George IV. sent for Canning and gave him carte blanche to form a cabinet without excepting the question of Emancipation. That high spirited and really liberal statesman associated with himself a ministry, three-fourths of whom were in favour of granting the Catholic claims. This was in the month of April; but to the consternation of those whose hopes were now so justly raised, the gifted Premier held office only four months; his lamented death causing another “crisis,” and one more postponement of “the Catholic question.”
O’CONNELL’S LEADERSHIP—THE CLARE ELECTION—EMANCIPATION OF THE CATHOLICS.
A very little reflection will enable us to judge, even at this day, the magnitude of the contest in which O’Connell was the great popular leader, during the reign of George IV. In Great Britain, a very considerable section of the ancient peerage and gentry, with the Earl Marshal at their head, were to be restored to political existence, by the act of Emancipation; a missionary, and barely tolerated clergy were to be clothed, in their own country, with the commonest rights of British subjects —protection to life and property. In Ireland, seven-eighths of the people, one-third of the gentry, the whole of the Catholic clergy, the numerous and distinguished array of the Catholic bar, and all the Catholic townsmen, taxed but unrepresented in the corporate bodies, were to enter on a new civil and social condition, on the passage of the act. In the colonies, except Canada, where that church was protected by treaty, the change of Imperial policy towards Catholics was to be felt in every relation of life, civil, military, and ecclesiastical, by all persons professing that religion. Some years ago, a bishop of Southern Africa declared, that, until O’Connell’s time, it was impossible for Catholics to obtain any consideration from the officials at the Cape of Good Hope. Could there be a more striking illustration of the magnitude of the movement, which, rising in the latitude of Ireland, flung its outermost wave of influence on the shores of the Indian ocean?
The adverse hosts to be encountered in this great contest, included a large majority of the rank and wealth of both kingdoms. The King, who had been a Whig in his youth, had grown into a Tory in his old age; the House of Lords were strongly hostile to the measure, as were also the universities, both in England and Ireland; the Tory party, in and out of Parliament; the Orange organization in Ireland; the civil and military authorities generally, with the great bulk of the rural magistracy and the municipal authorities. The power to overcome this power should be indeed formidable, well organized and wisely directed.
The Lord Lieutenant selected by Mr. Canning, was the Marquis of Anglesea, a frank soldier, as little accustomed to play the politician as any man of his order and distinction could be. He came to Ireland, in many respects the very opposite of Lord Wellesley; no orator certainly, and so far as he had spoken formerly, an enemy rather than a friend to the Catholics. But he had not been three months in office when he began to modify his views; he was the first to prohibit, in Dublin, the annual Orange outrage on the 12th of July, and by subsequent, though slow degrees, he became fully convinced that the Catholic claims could be settled only by Concession. Lord Francis Leveson Gower, afterwards Earl of Ellesmere, accompanied the Marquis as Chief Secretary.
The accession to office of a prime minister friendly to the Catholics, was the signal for a new attempt to raise that “No-Popery” cry which had already given twenty years of political supremacy to Mr. Perceval and Lord Liverpool. In Ireland, this feeling appeared under the guise of what was called “the New Reformation,” which, during the summer of 1827, raged with all the proverbial violence of the odium theologicum from Cork to Derry. Priests and parsons, laymen and lawyers, took part in this general politico-religious controversy, in which every possible subject of difference between Catholic and Protestant was publicly discussed. Archbishop Magee of Dublin, the Rev. Sir Harcourt Lees, son of a former English placeman at the Castle, and the Rev. Mr. Pope, were the clerical leaders in this crusade; Exeter-Hall sent over to assist them the Honourable and Reverend Baptist Noel, Mr. Wolff, and Captain Gordon, a descendant of the hero of the London riot of 1798. At Derry, Dublin, Carlow, and Cork, the challenged agreed to defend their doctrines. Father Maginn, Maguire, Maher, McSweeney, and some others accepted these challenges; Messrs. O’Connell, Shiel, and other laymen, assisted, and the oral discussion of theological and historical questions became as common as town talk in every Irish community. Whether, in any case, these debates conduced to conversion is doubtful; but they certainly supplied the Catholic laity with a body of facts and arguments very necessary at that time, and which hardly any other occasion could have presented. The Right Rev. Dr. Doyle, however, considered them far from beneficial to the cause of true religion; and though he tolerated a first discussion in his diocese, he positively forbade a second. The Archbishop of Armagh and other prelates issued their mandates to the clergy to refrain from these oral disputes, and the practice fell into disuse.
The notoriety of “the Second Reformation” was chiefly due to the ostentatious patronage of it by the lay chiefs of the Irish oligarchy. Mr. Synge, in Clare, Lord Lorton, and Mr. McClintock at Dundalk, were indefatigable in their evangelizing exertions. The Earl of Roden—to show his entire dependence on the translated Bible—threw all his other books into a fish pond on his estate. Lord Farnham was even more conspicuous in the revival; he spared neither patronage nor writs of ejectment to convert his tenantry. The reports of conversions upon his lordship’s estates, and throughout his county, attracted so much notice, that Drs. Curtis, Crolly, Magauran, O’Reilly, and McHale, met on the 9th of December, 1826, at Cavan, to inquire into the facts. They found, while there had been much exaggeration on the part of the reformers, that some hundreds of the peasantry had, by various powerful temptations, been led to change their former religion. The bishops received back some of the converts, and a jubilee established among them completed their reconversion. The Hon. Mr. Noel and Captain Gordon posted to Cavan, with a challenge to discussion for their lordships; of course, their challenge was not accepted. Thomas Moore’s inimitable satire was the most effective weapon against such fanatics.
The energetic literature of the Catholic agitation attracted much more attention than its oral polemics. Joined to a bright army of Catholic writers, including Dr. Doyle, Thomas Moore, Thomas Furlong, and Charles Butler, there was the powerful phalanx of the Edinburgh Review led by Jeffrey and Sidney Smith, and the English liberal press, headed by William Cobbett. Thomas Campbell, the Poet of Hope, always and everywhere the friend of freedom, threw open his New Monthly, to Shiel, and William Henry Curran, whose sketches of the Irish Bar and Bench, of Dublin politics, and the county elections of 1826, will live as long as any periodical papers of the day. The indefatigable Shiel, writing French as fluently as English, contributed besides to the Gazette de France a series of papers, which were read with great interest on the Continent. These articles were the precursors of many others, which made the Catholic question at length an European question. An incident quite unimportant in itself, gave additional zest to these French articles. The Duke de Montebello, with two of his friends, Messrs. Duvergier and Thayer, visited Ireland in 1826. Duvergier wrote a series of very interesting letters on the “State of Ireland,” which, at the time, went through several editions. At a Catholic meeting at Ballinasloe, the Duke had some compliments paid him, which he gracefully acknowledged, expressing his wishes for the success of their cause. This simple act excited a great deal of criticism in England. The Paris press was roused in consequence, and the French Catholics, becoming more and more interested, voted an address and subscription to the Catholic Association. The Bavarian Catholics followed their example, and similar communications were received from Spain and Italy.
But the movement abroad did not end in Europe. An address from British India contained a contribution of three thousand pounds sterling. From the West Indies and Canada, generous assistance was rendered.
In the United States sympathetic feeling was most active. New York felt almost as much interested in the cause as Dublin. In 1826 and 1827, associations of “Friends of Ireland” were formed at New York, Boston, Washington, Norfolk, Charleston, Augusta, Louisville, and Bardstown. Addresses in English and French were prepared for these societies, chiefly by Dr. McNevin, at New York, and Bishop England, at Charleston. The American, like the French press, became interested in the subject, and eloquent allusions were made to it in Congress. On the 20th of January, 1828, the veteran McNevin wrote to Mr. O’Connell—”Public opinion in America is deep, and strong, and universal, in your behalf. This predilection prevails over the broad bosom of our extensive continent. Associations similar to ours are everywhere starting into existence—in our largest and wealthiest cities—in our hamlets and our villages—in our most remote sections; and at this moment, the propriety of convening, at Washington, delegates of the friends of Ireland, of all the states, is under serious deliberation. A fund will erelong be derived from American patriotism in the United States, which will astonish your haughtiest opponents.”
The Parliamentary fortunes of the great question were at the same time brightening. The elections of 1826, had, upon the whole, given a large increase of strength to its advocates. In England and Scotland, under the influence of the “No-Popery” cry, they had lost some ground, but in Ireland they had had an immense triumph. The death of the generous-hearted Canning, hastened as it was by anti-Catholic intrigues, gave a momentary check to the progress of liberal ideas; but they were retarded only to acquire a fresh impulse destined to bear them, in the next few years, farther than they had before advanced in an entire century.
The ad interim administration of Lord Goderich gave way, by its own internal discords, in January, 1828, to the Wellington and Peel administration. The Duke was Premier, the Baronet leader of the House of Commons; with Mr. Huskisson, Lord Palmerston, in the cabinet; Lord Anglesea remained as Lord Lieutenant. But this coalition with the friends of Canning was not destined to outlive the session of 1828; the lieutenants of the late Premier were doomed, for some time longer, to suffer for their devotion to his principles.
This session of 1828, is—in the history of religious liberty—the most important and interesting in the annals of the British Parliament. Almost at its opening, the extraordinary spectacle was exhibited of a petition signed by 800,000 Irish Catholics, praying for the repeal of “the Corporation and Test Acts,” enacted on the restoration of Charles II., against the non-Conformists. Monster petitions, both for and against the repeal of these acts, as well as for and against Catholic emancipation, soon became of common occurrence. Protestants of all sects petitioned for, but still more petitioned against equal rights for Catholics; while Catholics petitioned for the rights of Protestant dissenters. It is a spectacle to look back upon with admiration and instruction; exhibiting as it does, so much of a truly tolerant spirit in Christians of all creeds, worthy of all honour and imitation.
In April, “the Corporation and Test Acts” were repealed; in May, the Canningites seceded from the Duke’s government, and one of the gentlemen brought in to fill a vacant seat in the Cabinet—Mr. Vesey Fitzgerald, member for Clare— issued his address to his electors, asking a renewal of their confidence. Out of this event grew another, which finally and successfully brought to an issue the century-old Catholic question.
The Catholic Association, on the accession of the Wellington-Peel Cabinet, had publicly pledged itself to oppose every man who would accept office under these statesmen. The memory of both as ex-secretaries—but especially Peel’s—was odious in Ireland. When, however, the Duke had sustained, and ensured thereby the passage of the repeal of “the Corporation and Test Acts,” Mr. O’Connell, at the suggestion of Lord John Russell the mover of the repeal, endeavoured to get his angry and uncompromising resolution against the Duke’s government rescinded. Powerful as he was, however, the Association refused to go with him, and the resolution remained. So it happened that when Mr. Fitzgerald presented himself to the electors of Clare, as the colleague of Peel and Wellington, the Association at once endeavoured to bring out an opposition candidate. They pitched with this view on Major McNamara, a liberal Protestant of the county, at the head of one of its oldest families, and personally popular; but this gentleman, after keeping them several days in suspense, till the time of nomination was close at hand, positively declined to stand against his friend, Mr. Fitzgerald, to the great dismay of the associated Catholics.
In their emergency, an idea, so bold and original, that it was at first received with general incredulity by the external public, was started. It was remembered by Sir David De Roose, a personal friend of O’Connell’s, that the late sagacious John Keogh had often declared the Emancipation question would never be brought to an issue till some Catholic member elect stood at the bar of the House of Commons demanding his seat. A trusted few were at first consulted on the daring proposition, that O’Connell himself, in despite of the legal exclusion of all men of his religion, should come forward for Clare. Many were the consultations, and diverse the judgments delivered on this proposal, but at length, on the reception of information from the county itself, which gave strong assurance of success, the hero of the adventure decided for himself. The bold course was again selected as the wise course, and the spirit-stirring address of “the arch-Agitator” to the electors, was at once issued from Dublin. “Your county,” he began by saying, “wants a representative. I respectfully solicit your suffrages, to raise me to that station.
“Of my qualification to fill that station, I leave you to judge. The habits of public speaking, and many, many years of public business, render me, perhaps, equally suited with most men to attend to the interests of Ireland in Parliament.
“You will be told I am not qualified to be elected; the assertion, my friends, is untrue. I am qualified to be elected, and to be your representative. It is true that as a Catholic I cannot, and of course never will, take the oaths at present prescribed to members of Parliament; but the authority which created these oaths (the Parliament), can abrogate them: and I entertain a confident hope that, if you elect me, the most bigoted of our enemies will see the necessity of removing from the chosen representative of the people an obstacle which would prevent him from doing his duty to his king and to his country.”
This address was followed instantly by the departure of all the most effective agitators to the scene of the great contest. Shiel went down as conducting agent for the candidate; Lawless left his Belfast newspaper, and Father Maguire his Leitrim flock; Messrs. Steele and O’Gorman Mahon, both proprietors in the county, were already in the field, and O’Connell himself soon followed. On the other hand, the leading county families, the O’Briens, McNamaras, Vandeleurs, Fitzgeralds and others, declared for their old favourite, Mr. Fitzgerald. He was personally much liked in the county; the son of a venerable anti-Unionist, the well-remembered Prime Sergeant, and a man besides of superior abilities. The county itself was no easy one to contest; its immense constituency (the 40-shilling freeholders had not yet been abolished), were scattered over a mountain and valley region, more than fifty miles long by above thirty wide. They were almost everywhere to be addressed in both languages—English and Irish—and when the canvass was over, they were still to be brought under the very eyes of the landlords, upon the breath of whose lips their subsistence depended, to vote the overthrow and conquest of those absolute masters. The little county town of Ennis, situated on the river Fergus, about 110 miles south-west of Dublin, was the centre of attraction or of apprehension, and the hills that rise on either side of the little prosaic river soon swarmed with an unwonted population, who had resolved, subsist how they might, to see the election out. It is hardly an exaggeration to say that the eyes of the empire were turned, during those days of June, on the ancient patrimony of King Brian. “I fear the Clare election will end ill,” wrote the Viceroy to the leader of the House of Commons. “This business,” wrote the Lord Chancellor (Eldon), “must bring the Roman Catholic question to a crisis and a conclusion.” “May the God of truth and justice protect and prosper you,” was the public invocation for O’Connell’s success, by the bishop of Kildare and Leighlin. “It was foreseen,” said Sir Robert Peel, long afterwards, “that the Clare election would be the turning point of the Catholic question.” In all its aspects, and to all sorts of men, this, then, was no ordinary election, but a national event of the utmost religious and political consequence. Thirty thousand people welcomed O’Connell into Ennis, and universal sobriety and order characterized the proceedings. The troops called out to overawe the peasantry, infected by the prevailing good humour, joined in their cheers. The nomination, the polling, and the declaration, have been described by the graphic pen of Shiel. At the close of the poll the numbers were—O’Connell, 2,057; Fitzgerald, 1,075; so Daniel O’Connell was declared duly elected, amidst the most extraordinary manifestations of popular enthusiasm. Mr. Fitzgerald, who gracefully bowed to the popular verdict, sat down, and wrote his famous despatch to Sir Robert Peel: “All the great interests,” he said, “my dear Peel, broke down, and the desertion has been universal. Such a scene as we have had! Such a tremendous prospect as is open before us!”
This “tremendous prospect,” disclosed at the hustings of Ennis, was followed up by demonstrations which bore a strongly revolutionary character. Mr. O’Connell, on his return to Dublin, was accompanied by a levee en masse, all along the route, of a highly imposing description. Mr. Lawless, on his return to Belfast, was escorted through Meath and Monaghan by a multitude estimated at 100,000 men, whom only the most powerful persuasions of the Catholic clergy, and the appeals of the well-known liberal commander of the district, General Thornton, induced to disperse. Troops from England were ordered over in considerable numbers, but whole companies, composed of Irish Catholics, signalized their landing at Waterford and Dublin by cheers for O’Connell. Reports of the continued hostility of the government suggested desperate councils. Mr. Ford, a Catholic solicitor, openly proposed, in the Association, exclusive dealing and a run on the banks for specie, while Mr. John Claudius Beresford, and other leading Orangemen, publicly predicted a revival of the scenes and results of 1798.
The Clare election was, indeed, decisive; Lord Anglesea, who landed fully resolved to make no terms with those he had regarded from a distance as no better than rebels, became now one of their warmest partisans. His favourite counsellor was Lord Cloncurry, the early friend of Emmet and O’Conor; the true friend to the last of every national interest. For a public letter to Bishop Curtis, towards the close of 1828, in which he advises the Catholics to stand firm, he was immediately recalled from the government; but his former and his actual chief, within three months from the date of his recall, was equally obliged to surrender to the Association. The great duke was, or affected to be, really alarmed for the integrity of the empire, from the menacing aspect of events in Ireland. A call of Parliament was accordingly made for an early day, and, on the 5th of March, Mr. Peel moved a committee of the whole House, to go into a “consideration of the civil disabilities of his Majesty’s Roman Catholic subjects.” This motion, after two days’ debate, was carried by a majority of 188. On the 10th of March the Relief Bill was read for the first time, and passed without opposition, such being the arrangement entered into while in committee. But in five days all the bigotry of the land had been aroused; nine hundred and fifty-seven petitions had already been presented against it; that from the city of London was signed by more than “an hundred thousand freeholders.” On the 17th of March it passed to a second reading, and on the 30th to a third, with large majorities in each stage of debate. Out of 320 members who voted on the final reading, 178 were in its favour. On the 31st of March it was carried to the Lords by Mr. Peel, and read a first time; two days later, on the 2nd of April, it was read a second time, on motion of the Duke of Wellington; a bitterly contested debate of three days followed; on the 10th, it was read a third time, and passed by a majority of 104. Three days later the bill received the royal assent, and became law.
The only drawbacks on this—great measure of long-withheld justice, were, that it disfranchised the “forty-shilling freeholders” throughout Ireland, and condemned Mr. O’Connell, by the insertion of the single word “hereafter,” to go back to Clare for re-election. In this there was little difficulty for him, but much petty spleen in the framers of the measure.
While the Relief Bill was still under discussion, Mr. O’Connell presented himself, with his counsel, at the bar of the House of Commons, to claim his seat as member for Clare. The pleadings in the case were adjourned from day to day, during the months of March, April, and May. A committee of the House, of which Lord John Russell was Chairman, having been appointed in the meantime to consider the petition of Thomas Mahon and others, against the validity of the election, reported that Mr. O’Connell had been duly elected. On the 15th of May, introduced by Lords Ebrington and Duncannon, the new member entered the House, and advanced to the table to be sworn by the Clerk. On the oath of abjuration being tendered to him, he read over audibly these words—”that the sacrifice of the mass, and the invocation of the blessed Virgin Mary, and other saints, as now practised in the Church of Rome, are impious and idolatrous:” at the subsequent passage, relative to the falsely imputed Catholic “doctrine of the dispensing power” of the Pope, he again read aloud, and paused. Then slightly raising his voice, he bowed, and added, “I decline, Mr. Clerk, to take this oath. Part of it I know to be false; another part I do not believe to be true.”
He was subsequently heard at the bar, in his own person, in explanation of his refusal to take the oath, and, according to custom, withdrew. The House then entered into a very animated discussion on the Solicitor General’s motion “that Mr. O’Connell, having been returned a member of this House before the passing of the Act for the Relief of the Roman Catholics, he is not entitled to sit or vote in this House unless he first takes the oath of supremacy.” For this motion the vote on a division was 190 against 116: majority, 74. So Mr. O’Connell had again to seek the suffrages of the electors of Clare.
A strange, but well authenticated incident, struck with a somewhat superstitious awe both Protestants and Catholics, in a corner of Ireland the most remote from Clare, but not the least interested in the result of its memorable election. A lofty column on the walls of Deny bore the effigy of Bishop Walker, who fell at the Boyne, armed with a sword, typical of his martial inclinations, rather than of his religious calling. Many long years, by day and night, had his sword, sacred to liberty or ascendancy, according to the eyes with which the spectator regarded it, turned its steadfast point to the broad estuary of Lough Foyle. Neither wintry storms nor summer rains had loosened it in the grasp of the warlike churchman’s effigy, until, on the 13th day of April, 1829—the day the royal signature was given to the Act of Emancipation —the sword of Walker fell with a prophetic crash upon the ramparts of Derry, and was shattered to pieces. So, we may now say, without bitterness and almost without reproach, so may fall and shiver to pieces, every code, in every land beneath the sun, which impiously attempts to shackle conscience, or endows an exclusive caste with the rights and franchises which belong to an entire People!
Source: Project Gutenberg