« ZurückWeiter »
formation on which they can depend in making up their minds on the part they shall take on one of the most important measures that has come under the discussion of our public councils, since the period of the Revolution.
In doing this I am fully prepared to meet the cry of bigotry and religious intolerance which is sure to be raised against me, with the contempt this stale cant of the faction deserves. It would force a smile from Heraclitus to hear the advocates, and still more the members of the only sect that tolerates no religion but its own, and the head of which, in pronouncing on a late conduct of the Belgian Bishops, has declared that "the toleration of several religions is contrary to the discipline of the Catholic church,"-raise a cry against bigotry and religious intolerance. The imputation, as it affects the principal subject at present in discussion in this question of Emancipation, is refuted by the declarations of the Roman Catholic agitators themselves, with Mr. O'Connell at their head. This gentleman, who now guides the councils and directs the conduct both of priest and people, announced to one of his aggregate meetings, that he « did not consider the question of securities, or of the interference of the crown with their clergy, as a religious question-If it were he should at once leave it to their bishops; but he considered it to be infinitely interesting as a political measure ;" and if he, and the whole host of the orators and writers, who reverence him as their leader, reprobate with such indignation" all changes in the constitution of their clergy," it is that "as they are at present constituted they compose the Divine hierarchy to which they look up as the last undestroyed monument of the national grandeur, as well as faith, and the sacred pledge of the restoration of the ancient rights of the Irish nation."
Is not this speaking intelligibly? Is there any ambiguity in this language? And can any conscientious member of either house, when this warning voice that resounds from one end of Ireland to the other, has reached his ear, think that he is not imperatively called on to enquire how that hierarchy is constituted, and what returns are expected from it, what returns it makes, for all the adulatory court that is paid to it by the leaders and chiefs of the Catholic lay agitators, with whom as I have already said, they are now united in an indissoluble league-a league that gives new energies to the confederacy for subverting the obtrusive Church, and thereby paving the way to a separation from the hated country by which it has been forced on the Island of Saints.
In tracing, as I propose to do, the steps that have led to the formation of this league, I shall have to take a painful and mortifying retrospect the peace and the dearest interests of a powerful
nation, endangered by the meanest instruments-a series of such low intrigues, conducted through such obscure channels, as in any other country of civilised Europe, could never have emerged into danger to the state-a patch-work conspiracy between the Popish bar and the Popish crosier; between craft and dupery, knavery and folly, despicable in itself, and beneath the attention of the statesman and the legislature, but raised into such consequence by the peculiar circumstances of this ill-fated country, and the fac tious co-operation of those who in England countenance and encourage it, as to menace the renewal of all the calamities produced by a similar league, in one of the most disastrous periods of our history.
If, indeed, we could hope that the principles on which the present administration was formed on the death of Mr. Percival, still predominated in the cabinet-If the men, among whom the Prince Regent sought refuge from the tyranny that was attempted to be exercised on his conscience and his feelings on that occasion, remained steady to the trust he reposed in them; if they were resoJute to support him in conforming himself, as he has so laudably done on all other occasions, to what he knows to have been his Royal Father's determination on this Catholic question, we should have little to fear from such a conspiracy, however supported by that faction in parliament that bonds in unnatural union men of great natural and permanent interests in the country with political adventurers, making a trade of parliament, and toiling from session to session through all the drudgery of opposition, in the desperate hope of gaining at length the emoluments of office.
When in the late arduous contest in which they were engaged, these ministers acted with cordial unanimity; when they stood together firm and unbroken on the principles of Mr. Pitt's administration, and persevered in unshaken opposition to the innovating spirit of the day, they with one hand chained down the demon of domestic faction, and with the other smote to the ground the giant. power that, on the ruin of England, meditated what no longer appeared to be the visionary scheme of universal empire, and menaced the independence of mankind. But deeply have we to regret that we cannot place our hopes on the same unanimity, on a question that comes before these ministers in as revolutionary a shape as any of those that engaged their unwearied vigilance, till their labours were crowned by the treaty of Paris. We have the misfortune to find that his Royal Highness cannot depend on
The spirited author of Faction Unmasked, has observed, that in the last century and the century before the last, the Irish Catholics were misled by foolish leaders; in the present century they are misled by knavish ones.
them for the harmony and concert he had a right to expect, on a question that was known to form at the time one of the great rallying points for all his friends, and that so vitally affects every principle on which his family was called to the throne of these realms. Nor are there wanting those amongst the most loyal and well-affected, who loudly express their dread that there is not that stubborn steadiness of principle, that unbending firmness, that high-braced nerve of character which the occasion requires in those of the Regent's ministers, who are most deeply convinced of the danger of yielding to the councils of their colleagues on this mea
The avowal of these fears, which the enemies of emancipation entertain on this subject, will be received with triumph by its friends and supporters. But I would recommend to them not to be too sanguine in their hopes from this division in the cabinet. The people of Ireland, to whatever description of her inhabitants any of the members of that cabinet may think fit to apply the term, are not the only people concerned in the decision of this question. Deeply indeed are the people of England interested in the event of it. As Englishmen they cannot, as Englishmen they will not, be indifferent spectators of the game of factious dema gogues on one side of the channel, and intriguing politicians on the other, when they know that all they most venerate is at stake. There is no part of their character that stands more eminently prominent, than their veneration for their religion. They cherish it in their inmost hearts, not more because they believe it to be more conformable to the Gospel, more pure in its doctrines, and in the morals that flow from them, than all the other systems of Christianity that prevail on the earth, than because it is the foundation, even in the avowal of Mr. Burke, when not under the influence of early predilections, of their whole constitution, with every part of which he acknowledges it holds an indissoluble union. They cherish it in their inmost hearts, as the sanctuary to which their ancestors committed that constitution, when they confederated to oppose the restoration of the Religion of Rome as its most dangerous enemy; when they gave it its last polish and perfection, and, as they hoped, stability, by purging it of all the leaven of that religion, and by excluding its professors from all share, not in its protection, but in its moulding and management; not in the privilege of enjoying security of person and property, which it provides for all who live within its circle, but of acquiring the means of corrupting or destroying it, in subserviency to the power from whose encroachments it had been at all times in danger. They will no more tamely submit, now that they are Protestants, to innovations that would change the funda
mental laws on which it was made to rest at the period of the Revolution, and by which it had been fenced and secured, as it was conceived, for ever, than their ancestors, when in communion with the Church of Rome, would submit to change the fundamental laws of the constitution as they then enjoyed it, for the gratification of the head of that church, and for the admission and admixture of laws altogether different in spirit and tendency from their own.
Great and serious would be the responsibility incurred by the minister, who in taking his part on this momentous question, should shut his eyes to the extremes to which the feelings I have been describing may carry the people of England, I will not say when their deep rooted prejudices, but when that almost instinctive perception of what endangers the constitution transmitted to them by their fathers as their most precious inheritance, and the permanency of which, in that plainness and directness of understanding that has at all times characterised them, they know must depend on the permanency of the union between church and state, comes to operate in its fullest energy through all their classes and descriptions.
It is not consistent with the prudential character, with the discerning mind and enlightened foresight of the distinguished minister, whose avowed sentiments on this question chiefly excite the fears of the loyal and the hopes of the disaffected, to be insensible to these weighty considerations. We do not yet despair of his pausing, and seriously reflecting on the danger of slighting them; he has, besides, much of personal character to lose; his merits have been fully tried as well by the crucible of enmity, as by the assay of friendship; and he will play no desperate game of experiments to forfeit "the golden opinions they have bought for him." He will not run the risk of destroying that peace in his native country, which he has so eminently contributed to restore to Europe, by what his detractors will represent as early religious prejudices, or by what he may himself deem to be acting consistently. There is not a part of the united empire that has not a right to expect from him, that he will fully and accurately inform himself how far the views and the conduct of the Roman Catholic clergy of Ireland may differ in the present day, from what they appeared to him to be, when he negociated with them in the establishment at Maynooth; on the provision to be made for them by government; and on the interference of the crown in the appointment of their bishops.
In the History of the League, the progress of which I am now to trace, that distinguished minister will find ample documents to satisfy his mind on that subject. In that history he will find the
strongest motives that can have weight with so able and upright a statesman, to reconsider his opinions on the pretensions of the Roman Catholics of Ireland, and how far he can be justified in persevering to countenance their claims.
To have the whole question fairly before us, we must go back to the first relaxation of the Popery code, by the statutes for allowing Roman Catholics to take the oath of allegiance, and to have a more secure and permanent interest in the landed property of the country. At that time the liberal intercourse between the Protestant and Roman Catholic clergy, together with the general demeanor of the latter, seemed to promise that they would be amongst the foremost to evince their gratitude to the government, under the auspices of which these statutes had passed, and that they would set the example of increasing loyalty to their flocks. There were then no public indications of the existence of a party dividing the Catholic body, and forming associations and committees for promoting dissensions among themselves. There were no appearances that could justify a suspicion of the existence of the confederacy which the mercer, John Keogh, made a boast of having formed a short time before the last rebellion, between the bishops and lower clergy, and the people of Ireland, in opposition to the Catholic aristocracy, and exciting a spirit of alienation, instead of gratitude; of resistance, instead of attachment, to the government. From every thing that appeared, the bishops and every order of their clergy were cordially disposed to court the favour of the castle. They were forward to recommend themselves to its protection, and in return for that protection, to encourage a spirit of loyalty to the king, and obedience to the laws among the great body of the people.
The mission undertaken by Keogh through the four provinces, having for his associates Tone and Broughal, for the purpose of forming the confederacy above mentioned, proved that the members of the Back lane committee, then boasting to represent the Catholics of Ireland, were fully aware that such were the dispositions of the divine hierarchy at that period. To labor to change those dispositions was a leading feature in the instructions given by the committee to the new delegates, whom they gave directions to have appointed throughout the kingdom. "Every endeavour" they said, "should be used to cultivate and improve the friendship of our clergy. The clergy and laity, having but one interest,
The author is indebted for many of the observations on the original formation of the League between the Catholic agitators and their bishops, to A Letter to the Earl of Fingal, published in 1813.