Sidebilder
PDF
ePub

veral individuals, and in future, perhaps, to the great detriment of the whole of their body. Now that our people should be persecuted in Spain for their attachment to this country, and persecuted in this country for their supposed enmity to us, in such a jarring reconciliation of contradictory distresses, is a thing at once so dreadful and ridiculous, that no malice short of diabolical, would wish to continue any human creatures in such a situation. But honest men will not forget either their merit or their sufferings. There are men, (and many, I trust, there are) who, out of love to their country and their kind, would torture their invention to find excuses for the mistakes of their brethren ; and who, to stifle dissension, would construe even doubtful appearances with the utmost favour: such men will never persuade themselves to be ingenious and refined in discovering disaffection and treason in the manifest palpable signs of suffering loyalty. Persecution is so unnatural to them that they gladly snatch the

very first opportunity of laying aside all the tricks and devices of penal politics, and of returning home, after all their irksome and vexatious wanderings, to our natural family mansion, to the grand social principle that unites all men, in all descriptions, under the shadow of an equal and impartial justice.

Men of another sort, I mean the bigoted enemies to liberty, may, perhaps in their politics make no account of the good or ill affection of the Catholics of England, who are but an handful of people, (enough 10 torment, but not enough to fear,) perhaps not so many, of both sexes and of all ages, as fifty thousand. But, gentlemen, it is pos. sible you may not know that the people of that persuasion in Ireland amount at least to sixteen or seventeen hundred thousand souls. I do not at all exaggerate the number. A nation to be persecuted! Whilst we were masters of the sea, embodied with America, and in alliance with half the powers of the continent, we might perhaps, in that remote coroer of Europe, afford to tyrannize with impunity; but there is a revolution in our affairs which makes it prudent to be just. In our late awkward contest with Ireland about trade, had religion been thrown in, to ferment and embitter the mass of discontents, the consequences might have been truly dreadful; but, very happily, that cause of quarrel was previously quieted by the wisdom of the act I am commending.

Even in England, where I admit the danger from the discontent of that persuasion to be less than in Ireland, yet, even here, had we listened to the counsels of fanaticism and folly, we might have wounded ourselves very deeply, and wounded ourselves in a very tender part. You are apprised that the Catholics of England consist mostly of your

best manufacturers; had the legislature chosen, instead of returning their declarations of duty with correspondent good will, to drive them to despair, there is a country at their very door to which they would be invited--a country in all respects as good as ours, and with the finest cities in the world ready built to receive them. And thus the bigotry of a free country, and in an enlightened age, would have repeopled the cities of Flanders, which, in the darkness of two hundred years ago, had been desolated by the superstition of a cruel tyrant. Our manufactures were the growth of the persecutions in the Low Countries. What a spectacle would it be to Europe to see us at this time of day, balancing the account of tyranny with those very countries, and, by our persecutions, driving back trade and manufacture, as a sort of vagabonds, to their original settlement !

But I trust we shall be saved this last of disgraces.

So far as to the effect of the act on the interests of this nation. With regard to the interests of mankind at large, I am sure the benefit was very considerable. Long before this act, indeed, the spirit of toleration began to gain ground in Europe. In Holland, tko third part of the people are Catholics, they live at ease, and are a sound part of the state. In many parts of Germany, Protestants and Papists partake the same cities, the same councils, and even the same churches. The unbounded liberality of the King of Prussia's conduct on this occasion is known to all the world, and it is of a piece with the other grand maxims of his reign. The magnanimity of the imperial court,

breaking through the narrow principles of its predecessors, has indulged its Protestants subjects, not only with property, with worship, with liberal education, but with honours and trusts both civil and military. A worthy Protestant gentleman of this country now fills, and fills with credit, an high office in the Austrian Netherlands. Even the Lutheran obstinacy of Sweden has thawed at length, and opened a toleration to all religions. I know myself, that in France the Protestants begin to be at rest. The army, which in that country is everything, is open to them; and some of the military rewards and decorations, which the laws deny, are supplied by others, to make the service acceptable and honourable. The first minister of finance in that country, is a Protestant. Two years' war without a tax, is amongst the first-fruits of their liberality. Tarnished as the glory of that nation is, and far as it has waded into the shades of an eclipse, some beams of its former illumination still play upon its surface; and what is done in England is still looked to, as argument, and as example. It is certainly true, that no law of this country ever met with such universal applause abroad, or was

so likely to produce the perfection of that tolerating spirit, which, as
I observed, has been long gaining ground in Europe; for abroad, it
was universally thought that we had done, what I am sorry to say,
we had not; they thought we had granted a full toleration. That
opinion was however so far from hurting the Protestant cause, that
I declare, with the most serious solemnity, my firm belief, that. no
one thing done for these fifty years past, was so likely to prove
deeply beneficial to our religion at large as Sir George Saville's acte
In its effects it was an act for tolerating and protecting Protestant-
ism throughout Europe," and I hope, that those who were taking
steps for the quiet and settlement of our Protestant brethren in other
countries, will even yet rather consider the steady equity of the
greater and better part of the people of Great Britain, than the vanity
and violence of a few.
I perceive, gentlemen, by the manner of all about

me,
that

you look with horror on the wicked clamour which has been raised on this subject; and that instead of an apology for what was done, you rather demand from me an account, why the execution of the scheme of toleration was not made more answerable to the large and liberal grounds on which it was taken up. The question is natural and proper; and I remember that a great and learned magistrate; distinguished for his strong and systematic understanding, and who at that time was a member of the House of Commons, made the same objection to the proceeding. The statutes, as they now stand, are without doubt, perfectly absurd. But I beg leave to explain the cause of this gross imperfection, in the tolerating plan, as well and as shortly as I am able. It was universally thought that the session ought not to pass over without doing something in this business. To revise the whole body of the penal statutes was conceived to be an object too big for the time. The penal statute therefore which was chosen for repeal (chosen to show our disposition to conciliate, not to perfect a toleration) was this act of ludicrous cruelty, of which I have just given you the history. It is an act which, though not by a great deal so fierce and bloody as some of the rest, was infinitely more ready in the execution. It was the act which gave the greatest encouragement to those pests of society, mercenary informers, and interested disturbers of household peace; and it was observed with truth, that the prosecutions, either carried to conviction or compounded, for many years, had been all commenced upon that act. It was said, that whilst we were deliberating on a more perfect scheme, the spirit of the age would never come up to the execution of the statutes which remained; especially as more steps,

and a co-operation of more minds and powers, were required

towards a mischievous use of them, than for the execution of the act to be repealed; that it was better to unravel this texture from below than from above, beginning with the latest, which, in general practice, is the severest evil. It was alleged, that this slow proceeding would be attended with the advantage of a progressive experience; and that the people would grow reconciled to toleration, when they should find by the effects, that justice was not so irreconcileable an enemy to convenience as they had imagined.

These, gentlemen, were the reasons why we left this good work in the rude unfinished state in which good works are commonly left, through the tame circumspection with which a timid prudence so frequently enervates beneficence. In doing good we are generally cold, and languid, and sluggish, and of all things afraid of being too much in the right. But the works of malice and injustice are quite iu another style. They are finished with a bold masterly hand, touched as they are with the spirit of those vehement passions that call forth all our energies whenever we oppress and persecute.

Thus this matter was left for the time, with a full determination in parliament, not to suffer other and worse statutes to remain for the purpose of counteracting the benefits proposed by the repeal of one penal law; for nobody then dreamed of defending what was done as a benefit on the ground of its being no benefit at all. We were not then ripe for so mean a subterfuge.

I do not wish to go over the horrid scene that was afterwards acted. Would to God it could be expunged for ever from the annals of this country! But, since it must subsist for our shame, let it subsist for our instruction. In the year 1780 there were found in this nation men deluded enough (for I give the whole to their delusion) on pretences of zeal and piety, without any sort of provocation whatsoever, real or pretended, to make a desperate attempt, which would have consumed all the glory and power of this country in the flames of London, and buried all law, order, and religion, under the ruins of the metropolis of the Protestant world. Whether all this mischief done, or in the direct train of doing, was in their original scheme, I cannot say; I hope it was not; but this would have been the unavoidable consequence of their proceedings, had not the flames they had lighted up in their fury been extinguished in their blood.

At the time that this horrid scene was acting, or avenging, as well as for some time before, and ever since, the wicked instigators of this unhappy multitude, guilty, with every aggravation, of all their crimes, and screened in a cowardly darkness from their punishment, continued,

without interruption, pity, or remorse, to blow up the blind rage of the populace, with a continued blast of pestilential libels, which infected and poisoned the very air we breathed in.

The main drift of all the libels and all the riots was to force parliaa. ment (to persuade us was hopeless) into an act of national perfidy, which has no example. For, gentlemen, it is proper you should all know what infamy we escaped by refusing that repeal, for a refusal of which it seems I, among others, stand somewhere or other accused. When we took away, on the motives which I had the honour of stating to you, a few of the innumerable penalties upon an oppressed and injured people, the relief was not absolute, but given on a stipulation and compact between them and us ; for we bound down the Roman Catholics with the most solemn oaths, to bear true allegiance to this government; to abjure all sort of temporal power in any other; and to renounce, under the same solemn obligations, the doctrines of systematic perfidy, with which they stood (I conceive very unjustly), charged. Now our modest petitioners came up to us, most humbly praying nothing more than that we should break our faith, without any one cause whatsoever of forfeiture assigned; and when the subjects of this kingdom had, on their part, fully performed their engagement, we should refuse on our part the benefit we had stipulated on the performance of those very conditions that were prescribed by our own authority, and taken on the sanction of our public faith; that is to say, when we had inveigled them with fair promises within our door, we were to shut it on them; and, adding mockery to outrage, to tell them, “Now we have got you fast; your consciences are bound. to a power resolved on your destruction. We have made you swear that your religion obliges you to keep your faith : fools as you are ! we will now let you see that our religion enjoins us to keep no faith. with you.” They who would advisedly call upon us to do such things must certainly have thought us not only a convention of treacherous tyrants, but a gang of the lowest and dirtiest wretches that ever disgraced humanity. Had we done this, we should have indeed proved that there were some in the world whom no faith could bind, and we should have convicted ourselves of that odious principle of which Papists stood accused by those very savages, who wished us, on that accusation, to deliver them over to their fury.

In this audacious tumult, when our very name and character as gentlemen was to be cancelled for ever along with the faith and honour of the nation, I, who had exerted myself very little on the quiet passing of the bill, thought it necessary then to come forward. I was not alone; but, though some distinguished members on all sides, and

« ForrigeFortsett »