delight even by persons (if there be any such) who care little about the issue of the discussion ; while the grave and sober argument of some of their opponents may teach the vulgar advocates of emancipation, that the question is not so clear of difficulties as they imagine, and that there may be greater dangers in a headlong impetuosity, than they have penetration enough to discover. When Lord Morpeth brought forward his motion on the state of Ireland and the claims of the catholics, Mr Canning rose after Sir John Nichol, and spoke as follows:–“In approaching the discussion of this great question, I am aware that I labour under many disadvantages. The feelings and passions of men are so warmly interested on the one side or other, that to engage in the discussion without adopting, in some measure, the views and language of a partizan, is, I am perfectly sensible, to incur the risk of disappointing both parties and pleasing neither. But this disadvantage I am not afraid to encounter. If I know my own heart, I come to the present question uninfluenced by any selfish motives, by any objects either of power or popularity. I wish merely to do my duty. I seek not the triumph of either party, but I look to the tranquillity, the security, and the happiness of the whole. “Much has been said, in the various debates that have taken place on this subject, of promises made, or understandings entered into, at the time of the Union. Promises, I know of none; nor do I believe that any were made. An understanding there certainly was, not expressed by any act of the legislature, but fairly to be collected from the language of almost every man who spoke in favour of the Union in either house of parliament;-that, whereas the separate resident legislature of

Ireland, surrounded and agitated by local passions and prejudices, was incompetent to discuss, impartially and dispassionately, the subject of the catholic claims, the imperial parliament, after the accomplishment of the Union, being removed from the influence of those local feelings, and from the sphere of those prejudices which obstructed a temperate discussion in Ireland, might safely and conveniently entertain the question, and might come to a rational and enlightened decision upon it. - “ That time arrived. The Union being accomplished, the question was open to discussion in the united parliament; when an obstacle arose, to the nature of which it would not be fitting to do more than allude; but of which I believe it may be said, without hazard of contradiction, that, however it might * for a time the consummation of their wishes, there is no virtuous and loyal catholic who does not deeply deplore its removal. “Is it at this moment, when the expectations, well or ill founded, under which the Union was brought about, might be realized,—when the claims of the catholics might at length, without impediment, be submitted to parliamentary consideration—is it at this moment that my right honourable and learned friend (Sir John Nichol) would break the word of promise to the hopes of the catholics, and shut the door against their expectations for ever ? I do not say that the claims of the catho

lics can this day be granted. I do not

say with my noble friend (Lord Morpeth) that this is the moment for taking them into consideration. I agree, indeed, with my noble friend as to the great and urgent importance of the subject; but I rather think my noble friend does not agree with me as to the magnitude of the difficulties that encompass it. But whatever doubt I may entertain as to the view which my noble friend has taken of the subject, however much I may be disposed to question whether he has considered it

in all its details, and in all its bearings,

I must own, that my right honourable and learned friend (Sir J. Nichol) has done so much to simplify the question, —that if, of the two, I must agree with the one or the other, I could not refuse my noble friend the preference. If the only option were, whether we should go on at once to the extremest limit too, or should presently retrace our steps, retract former relaxations, and re-enact former disabilities, I could have no hesitation as to the alternative for which I should give my vote. “But in the view which I take of this great question, it is not quite so simple in its nature. It cannot, I think, be considered without reference to times and circumstances. It is not to be decided on abstract principles alone. Those principles must be modified in their application by a view of the actual state of Ireland;—of the relation in which Ireland now stands to the whole of the British empire;—and of the situation of that empire, as affected by the present circumstances of the world. r “When I look to the present state of Ireland, with a great and growing population,--a population growing, not in numbers only, but in wealth and intelligence ; and aspiring, from what they have already tasted of freedom, to a more enlarged and equal enjoyment of privileges from which they are still excluded ;-when I consider that to this situation, they have been gradually raised, from a condition wherein no class of people had ever before been placed by the laws of a Christian country, I cannot think it probable, that in this situation they should

long contentedly continue. Neither can I think it wise, if it were practicable, to determine upon permanently shutting them out from the pale of the Constitution. “It is admitted, that since the period of their humiliation, the catholics have disclaimed many of the tenets which were once imputed to them, and which formed the justification of that system of depression under which they were formerly holden. But my right honourable and learned friend . takes what appears to me rather an unfair advantage of the good behaviour of the catholics, and attributes it exclusively to the beneficial operation of the restrictive laws. He does not distinctly avow indeed the intention of restoring those laws; but such, as I have already said, is the course and tendency of his reasoning ; and no man who follows the argument to its legitimate consequences, can doubt that this is in fact the implied doctrine of those who think with my right honourable and learned friend. The more the catholic was restricted, says my right honourable and learned friend, the more quiet he became. This may possibly be true; but it is a truth, which, if we took it as the guide of our policy, might lead us a i. too far. It seems somewhat a-kin to the old adage, that “dead men tell no tales;” for it must be granted, that the man in whom the best powers and faculties of life, civil freedom, and all the social passions, were extinguished, was likely to be quiet enough. “But does my right honourable and learned friend really think that such a system was politic 2 or that whatever it might have been, when justified, or supposed to be justified, by necessity, it would be politic to revive or to persevere in it now * Would he again place the catholic in a situation in which he should not have the right of

[ocr errors]

bequeathing his own property; of educating his own children ; of exercising any of the rights—f will not say of a freeman, but of a manumitted slave * Would he thus undo the work of beneficence which has so honourably distinguished the present reign For during the present reign it is, and . the latter half of it, that the catholic has been raised from so abject a situation to his present comparatively improved, but imperfect enjoyment of civil privileges. Or does my right honourable and learned friend only think that these wise and salutary regulations, though abolished, ought not to be forgotten ? that though we

have partially, perhaps improvidently,

removed the weight of the chain from the limbs of the catholic, we ought to leave a link or two behind, to remind him that he was once in fetters ? “But without defending, in all their disgusting detail, those numerous pemalties and disabilities under which the catholics formerly laboured, my right honourable and learned friend contents himself with asking, whether what was once so essentially necessary to the security of the state, and so conducive to its tranquillity, can now be safely cancelled as useless For my own part, I answer that I cannot see, even in the circumstances of the past times, a sufficient apology for the past system. I cannot conceive any state of society in which such restrictions could be absolutely justified. I could not, in any state ..? things which my imagination can suggest, in a civilized country, among citizens of the same soil, approve of such means of producing tranquillity. 1 could not give my voice for the policy of propping up the state by dissociating half its subjects from the charities of human life; from the ties of kindred; from the confidence of familiarity and friendship; from all that endears society to man, and connects him, through his

family, with his country. I think such a system must at all times have been as mischievous in politics as detestable in morality, however effectually it may have tranquillized the population which it proscribed. “But excuses, though not justifications, might perhaps exist in a former state of things, which do not exist now. The system itself might be defended by . which do not apply to the fragments of that system, broken down and scattered as it has been in these latter times by the silent progress of events, and by the growing liberality of the legislature. The onus lies, says my right honourable and learned friend, on those who call for innovation, to show that there is ground for innovating, and that we can innovate with safety. The onus lies, it may be answered, on those who recommend the preserving, with such perverse partiality, the disjointed frame of a machine, according to their own confession no longer efficient for the purposes of coercion and consequent tranquillity. Would they preserve what they admit and regret to be mutilated, and inoperative, as matter of example, or of warning, to future ages 2 or as matter of pride and credit to the legislative contrivance of our ancestors: Are they anxious that posterity may be enabled to conjecture, from its remains, how formidable the force of the whole complicated instrument must have been when it existed in all its terrible perfection, and was worked with an unsparing hand 3 “My right honourable and learned friend and I differ in nothing so much as in this, that he views and has argued this question as if it were solely a religious question, whereas I feel it my duty to argue it in this House upon political grounds alone. My right honourable and learned friend has indeed declared (and seemed to take credit for the candour of the declaration) that he would not go into the doctrine of transubstantiation, or the adoration of saints, or other mysterious points of the popish faith. But why did he not go into them 2 Because he in effect took them for granted; and argued from them without submitting to the inconvenience of proving §e. I am sure I cannot undertake to follow my right honourable and learned friend, for the pur. ose of either confuting or confirming #. construction of the objectionable tenets of the Romish church ; nor does it appear to me necessary or useful to enter into that disquisition. It would be better suited to a convocation of divines, than to an assembly of legislators. When the legislature selected those points—transubstantiation and the like—as tests, and as the foundations of their provisions against the admission of papists into the state, it was surely not in the spirit of religious controversy, not as intending to dispute with priests and bishops upon the mysteries of their faith. It was not intended by those who originated the catholic disqualifications, to decide on abstract points of theology. They took these articles of religious creed as the signs of political opinion; as the distinguishing characteristics of a faction in the state, acting under a foreign influence, connected with a banished dynasty, and hostile to the government and the constitution of their country. They were the marks by which the criminal was designated, not the crime for which he was punished. “In tracing the history of the penal laws, and of the long †: of Ire. land, some gentlemen are fond of going back to remote and almost forgotten periods; to periods when Ireland was treated as a conquered country, and groaned under all those injuries and oppressions which grew, not out of religious schism, but out of political and

military subjugation. I do not think it necessary to go so far back either to recount the wrongs of Ireland, or to suggest the remedy for them. As reasonable would it be to refer to the Norman conquest for grievances applicable to this country, and to complain at this time of the day of the tyranny of the curfew. But part of the way I must go back, to find the origin and object of the restrictions now under consideration. I must go back as far as the Reformation. “Blessed as that great event was in its general consequences to mankind, and eminently so to this country, by purifying religion of the gross corruptions and abuses which had been engrafted upon it, and introducing among us that enlightened and rational system of religious worship which we now happily ‘. yet, like all great and violent changes in the state of human affairs, it was not productive of unmixed good, but brought with it a portion of inevitable evil. Itstrengthened the religious principle, but it weakened throughout Europe, for a time, the principle of patriotism; in some cases superseding it, in others coming in conflict with it. The sects into which the nations of Europe were divided by this event, were influenced by the zeal of religious controversy, more than by the love of country. The attachment of catholics and protestants to their respective persuasions, was often too strong for those ties of duty and affection which bind men to their native clime. In Germany the reformcd religion had to *f; against catholic supremacy. In this country, where the doctrines of the Reformation early prevailed, the Catholics continued to feel a community of interest with the catholics of other nations, outweighing that which connected them with their protestant fellow-subjects, the children of the same soil. Under these circumstances, it might perhaps be necessary for the safety of the state, that the dominant sect should place the others under restrictions and disqualifications which should exclude them from all share in the government, and from all influence as well as pewer. But it would surely be idle to contend that a transitory dissension required, or could justify, a permanent and irremovable system of coercion. And it would be false in oint of history, as well as in reasoning, to affirm that the religious struggles, which naturally grew out of such an event as the Reformation, must be considered as common to all times, and as arising out of causes inseparable from our nature. “It is true that in this country, and still more in Ireland, from circumstances peculiar to these kingdoms, religious dissensions raged unabated for a longer period than in many other parts of the world. But are there no instances in which difference of faith has been found compatible with strict olitical union ? Within a few years, } believe within thirty years, after the first dawn of the Reformation, and while the rest of Europe was yet convulsed with the divisions arising out of it, the cantons of Switzerland took the sage and generous resolution to bury . religious animosities, and to live together as Christians, without regard to difference of sect. In four of these cantons the reformed religion

was adopted; in six the Roman ca

tholic continued to prevail; in the remainder, protestants and catholics were mixed in equal proportions; and in the diets, in which the general affairs of the union were discussed, the two religions amicably concurred in the settlement of their common political interests. From about the middle of the 16th to the beginning of the 18th century, when there was a slight interruption to their harmony, (which

interruption lasted, however, only for a period of six months,) and from thence to the time when their independence was swallowed up in the alldevouring gulf of the French Revolution, did the cantons of Switzerland continue to maintain, with this perfect religious independence, a perfect and cordial political connexion. “It may be objected, that however this might have been the case with States .# such trifling magnitude as the Swiss cantons, there would be a difficulty in making the application of the same principle to greater states. But what if the same might be shown of another and a larger country What if it had existed in France itself? Let not my right honourable and learned friend suppose that I am speaking of revolutionary France; or that I, at least, am one of those whom he has described as borrowing their opinions upon this subject from the new philosophy which gave birth to that tremendous and desolating revolution.— I flatter myself that I am known too well to my right honourable and learned friend, as I would fain presume that I may be to this House, to be under the necessity of defending myself against such an imputation. I speak of France in her ancient, in her most glorious times; not only when she was a monarchy, but when reigned over by the monarch whose name is the most splendid in her history, and the most cherished in the affections of mankind. I speak of the edict of Nantes issued by Henry IV. After sixty years of almost uninterrupted struggle between the two conflicting religions; a struggle of open and avowed war, stained with transactions the most disgraceful to human nature; transactions, the memory of which was calculated to keep alive in the breasts of the protestants a jealous suspicion of treachery, and an ardent desire of

« ForrigeFortsett »