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tended, that we are a people originally and fundamentally different from yourselves, and that our interests are for ever irreconcileable, because some hundred years ago our ancestors were conquered by yours. We deny the conclusion; we deny the fact; it is false. In addressing ourselves to you, we speak to the children of our ancestors, as we also are the children of your forefathers; nature has triumphed over law; we are now mixed in blood; we are blended in connexion; we all are Irishmen. *•. We desire to partake in the constitution, and
. * therefore we do not desire to destroy it. Parliament is now in possession of our case-our grievances- 5-our sorrows-our obstructions—our solicitudes--our hopes. We have told you the desire of our hearts. We do not ask to be relieved from this or that incapacity ; not the abolition of this or that odious distinction; not even, perhaps, to be, in the fullness of time, and in the accomplishment of the great comprehensive scheme of Legislation, finally incorporated with you in the enjoyment of the same constitution. Even beyond that mark, we have an ultimate, and if possible an object of more intense desire. We look for an union of affections; a gradual, and, therefore, a total obliteration of all the animosities, (on our part they are long extinct) and all the prejudices which have kept us disjoined. We come to you, a great accession to the Protestant interest, with hearts and minds suitable to such an end. We do not come as jealous and suspicious rivals, to gavel the constitution, but with fraternal minds to participate in the great incorporate inheritance of freedom, to be held according to the laws and customs of the realm, and by our immediate fealty and allegiance to the King And so may you receive us,
And we shall ever pray.
September, 13th, 1792. AT A MEETING OF THE SUB.COMMITTEE OF THE
CATHOLICS, RANDAL M‘DONNELL, Esq. in the Chair, The Sub-commiteee having seen, with great concern, a variety of publications, censuring the Circular Letter lately issued by them, said to be signed Edward Byrne, and erroneously stated to be illegal and unconstitutional, have thought it their duty to submit that letter to the inspection of the Hon. Simon Butler, and Beresford Burston, Esq., two gentlemen of the first eminence in the profession, and who have the honour to be of his Majesty's council. The case and opinions of those Gentlemen, which follow, will
demonstrate, that the Committee have taken no step whatever, which the laws and Constitution do not fully warrant.
The Catholics of Ireland, labouring under laws by which they are deprived of every share in the legislature, rendered incapable of serving their country in any office, civil or military, and deprived of an equal participation with their fellow subjects of other persuasions, in the benefit of the trial by jury, are desirous of laying their grievances before the King and Parliament, and supplicating redress.
As the most effectual method of collecting the sense of the Catholic body, and laying it before the King and Parliament, a General Committee from that body was formed, for the purpose of making application to the Legislature, from time to time, on the subject of their grievances, and praying that redress, to which their loyalty and attachment to their Sovereign and obedience to the laws justly entitled them.
In the last session of Parliament the General Committee, as individuals, did, on behalf of themselves and their brethren, present a petition to Parliament, praying relief, which petition was, with circumstances of unprecedented severity, rejected, and as one of the many causes of said rejection, it was alleged that the persons whose names were affixed to said petition were a faction, unconnected with and incompetent to speak the sense of the Catholics of Ireland. In order to obviate every such objection in future, the General Committee framed a plan, which is sent herewith, for the purpose of procuring the attendance of such persons from each county as were best acquainted with the sentiments, and could best declare the voice of the Catholics of Ireland, who should be by them deputed as delegates to the General Committee, with instructions to support in the said Committee, as the voice of the Catholics, by whom they were deputed, “That an humble representation be made to their gracious Sovereign, and to Parliament, of the many severe laws which oppress his Majesty's faithful subjects, the Catholics of Ireland, although no cause, founded in wisdom or policy, is assigned for their continuance, imploring it as essential to their protection, and to secure an impartial distribution of justice in their favour, that they may be restored to the elective franchise, and an equal participation in the benefits of the trial by jury.”
Charges and insinuations of a very heavy nature have been thrown out and menaces used by many bodies of men and individuals, to prevent the carrying the above plan into execution, under a pretence that it is contrary to law, and that the meeting projected therein would be a Popish Congress, formed for the purpose of overawing the Legislature.
The General Committee, abhorring and utterly renouncing such imputation, and desiring to regulate their conduct in strict conformity to law, request your opinion upon the following queries :
1. Have his Majesty's subjects of Ireland, professing the Roman Catholic religion, a right to petition his Majesty and the Legislature for the redress of grievances, equally with Protestants; and if not, wherein do they differ?
2. If they have this right, may they lawfully choose delegates for the purpose of framing such petition and presenting the same, in a peaceable and respectful manner; and if they may not, by what law or statute are they forbidden to do so ?
3. is a meeting for the purpose of choosing such delegates, an unlawful assembly; and if not an unlawful assembly, has any magistrate or other person, by or under pretence of the Riot Act, or any other, and what statute, a right to disperse the said meeting?
4. What is the legal mode of presenting petitions to the Legislature in Ireland; and is there any and what statute upon that point in this country?
5. Is the plan sent herewith agreeable to law; if not, wherein is it contrary thereto, and to what penalties would persons become subject, who should carry, or attempt to carry the same into effect ?
Counsel will please to state the authorities upon which he grounds his opinion.
ANSWER TO THE FIRST QUESTION. I am clearly and decidedly of opinion, that all and every his Majesty's subjects of this kingdom, of every persuasion, Roman Catholic as well as Protestant, have an unalienable right to petition, in a peaceable manner, the King or either House of Parliament, for redress of grievances, be those grievances real or imaginary.- 1st Blacks. Comm. 143.
ANSWER TO THE SECOND QUESTION. I am clearly and decidedly of opinion, that Roman Catholics have, equally with Protestants, a right to choose delegates for the purpose of framing such petition, and presenting the same in a peaceable and respectful manner to the Legislature, and that they are not forbidden so to do by any law or statute whatsoever.—Delegation has always been considered not only as the most effectual mode of obtaining the general sense, but also as the best security against tumult and disturbance.
ANSWER TO THE THIRD QUESTION. I am also clearly and decidedly of opinion, that a peaceable meeting for the purpose of choosing such delegates, is a lawful assembly, and that no magistrate or other person, by or under
pretence of the Riot Act or any other statute, has a right to disperse such meeting. The assembly which may be dispersed under authority of the Riot Act, must be unlawful, riotous, tumultuous, and in disturbance of the public peace. The Act is inoperative upon an assembly that is lawful--and I feel no difficulty in declaring my opinion, that an obstruction of the peaceable exercise of an unalienable right of the subject is a misdemeanor of the greatest magnitude, and that any person charged with the guilt thereof, be his rank or station what it may, is indictable, and, if found guilty by his country, liable to be fined and imprisoned ; and I also feel no difficulty in declaring my opinion, that publications charging the General Committee with exciting, in the instance before us, unlawful assemblies for seditious purposes are libels, and as such are indictable and actionable.
ANSWER TO THE FOURTH QUESTION. By the English statute of the 1st William and Mary, st. 2. ch.2., commonly called the Bill of Rights, and which being a law declaratory of the rights of the subject, is therefore of force in Ireland, it is declared that all subjects have a right to petition the king, and that all commitments and prosecutions for such petitioning are illegal." Notwithstanding the Bill of Rights is general, and does not specify any regulations or restrictions, yet the Court of King's Bench in England, in the case of the King against Lord George Gordon, (Douglas 571,) thought proper to deliver an opinion, that it did not repeal the English Act of the 13th Car. 2. st. 1. ch. 5., which enacted, “ that no petition to the King, or either House of Parliament, for any alteration in church or state, shall be signed by above twenty persons, unless the matter thereof be approved by three justices of the peace, or the major part of the grand jury, in the country; and in London, by the Lord Mayor, Aldermen, and Common Council : nor shall any petition be presented by more than ten persons at a time.” Under the above authority, therefore, the right of petitioning in England is subject to the regulations and restrictions laid upon it by that act of Charles II. But as neither the act of Charles, nor any one similar to it, is in force in Ireland, the right of the Irish subjects to petition their legislature is not subject to any regulation or restriction whatsoever, save only that due care must be taken, lest, under the pretence of petitioning, the subject be guilty of any riot or tumult. I am therefore of opinion, that no particular mode of presenting petitions to the legislature of Ireland is pointed out by any law or statute of force in this kingdom. It is to be observed, that in the last session of Parliament, a great concourse of people assembled in the Park, framed a petition, and deputed a very
large number of their body to present it to the House of Lords ; the Lord Chancellor, in observing upon the petition, did not charge the petitioners with any illegality, either in assembling to frame, or in presenting the petition, but on the contrary, his lordship was pleased to commend them for the peaceable manner in which they deported themselves. The success which attended the petition, is in the recollection of most people.
ANSWER TO THE FIFTH QUESTION. I am also clearly and decidedly of opinion, that the plan is in every respect agreeable to law, and that persons peaceably carrying, or attempting to carry the same into effect, would not thereby incur any penalty whatsoever. The plan is, indeed, unexceptionable ; while it serves effectually to obtain the general sense of the great Catholic body of Ireland, it provides every precaution against tumult and disturbance.
SIMON BUTLER. Sept. 3, 1792.
1. His Majesty's subjects of Ireland professing the Roman Catholic religion, have, in my opinion, å right to petition his Majesty, and the two Houses of Parliament, or any of them, for the redress of grievances equally with Protestants.
2. As they have this right, it follows, as I conceive, that, where the grievance complained of affects the whole body, they have also a right to collect the sense of every individual of that body; but as the assembling them all for that purpose would be inconvenient, imprudent, and, perhaps, dangerous, I think the sense of the whole may be collected from a smaller number delegated by them for that purpose, who may frame and present such petition ; and I know of no principle of the common law,
1 nor of any statute, by which they are forbidden to do so,-it being always supposed that these proceedings are carried on in a peaceable and respectful manner.
3. I do not apprehend that a number of Roman Catholics meeting in a private, peaceable, and quiet manner, for the sole purpose of declaring their sense of the alleged grievances, and their desire of petitioning the legislature for redress, and of choosing out of themselves, one or more to assist in framing and presenting such petition, can be considered as an unlawful assembly; and I do not think that any magistrate, or other person, by, or under pretence of, the Riot Act, or any other act that I am acquainted with, would have a right to disperse such meeting
4. I do not know of any statute in this kingdom which regulates the mode of presenting petitions to the Legislature of this