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Chapter XIII, of Cassells Illustrated History of England, Volume 7 page 5

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" The minister might ask parliament for power to suspend the habeas corpus act, and to place all Ireland under military law. To ask for less would be ridiculous; because the act against unlawful assemblies had failed, and, on account of its helplessness, was suffered to expire. Now would parliament grant such extensive powers to any government merely that the government might be enabled to debar his majesty's Roman catholic subjects a little longer from enjoying equal political privileges with protestants? The issue was very doubtful - perhaps it was not doubtful at all. Parliament would never grant such powers. But, assuming that the powers were given, what must follow? - a general insurrection, to be put down after much bloodshed and suffering, and then a return to that state of sullen discontent which would render Ireland ten times more than she had ever been, a millstone round the neck of Great Britain; and by-and-by, when military law ceased, and the same measure of personal liberty was granted to Irishmen which the natives of England and Scotland enjoyed, a renewal of agitation, only in a more hostile spirit, and the necessity of either reverting again and again to measures of coercion, or of yielding at last what, upon every principle of humanity and common sense, ought not to have been thus far withheld. But the minister, if the existing parliament refused to give him the powers which he asked, might dissolve, and go to the country with a strong protestant cry; and this cry might serve his purpose in England and Scotland. Doubtless; but what would occur in Ireland? - the return of Roman catholic members in the proportion of four to one over protestants, and the virtual disfranchisement thereby of four-fifths of the Irish people. Would Ireland submit quietly to any law carried against herself in a house of commons so constituted? Was it not much more probable that a dissolution would only lead to the same results which had been shown to be inevitable in the event of the existing parliament acquiescing in the ministers' views? And was there not, at all events, a chance that the electors, even, of England and Scotland, might refuse to abet a policy so pregnant with danger to themselves and to the commonwealth? But why move at all? Mr. O'Connell had been elected by the priests and rabble of Clare to represent them in parliament. Let him retain this empty honour; or, better still, let him be summoned by a call of the house to the bar, and, on his refusal to take the oaths, issue a new writ, and go to a new election. In the first place, Mr. O'Connell could not be forced to attend to a call of the house, ' such call being obligatory only on members chosen at a general election; and in the next, if he did attend, what then? As soon as the new writ was issued, he would take the field again as a candidate, and again be elected; and so the game would continue to be played, till a dissolution occurred, when all those consequences of which we have elsewhere spoken would inevitably come to pass."

Two courses were now open to the duke of Wellington and Sir Robert Peel - to resign, in order that emancipation might be carried by the statesmen who had always been its advocates, and who might therefore carry it without any violation of consistency or of their own political principles. It was for not adopting this course that they were exposed to all the odium which they so long endured. But the question was, whether lord Grey or lord Lansdowne could have carried catholic emancipation even with the aid of the duke of Wellington and Mr. Peel in opposition - could overcome the repugnance of the sovereign and the resistance of the house of lords. It was their decided conviction that they could not, especially with due regard to the safety of the established church. But being convinced that the time had come when the question ought to be settled, the duke examined the second course that was open to him, and embraced it. It was this: that postponing all other considerations to what he believed to be a great public duty, he should himself, as prime minister, endeavour to settle the question.

Sir Robert Peel has been even more severely censured than the duke of Wellington for the part he took on this memorable occasion. He wrote a long letter to the duke, in which he earnestly protested against taking charge of the Emancipation Bill in the house of commons, offering, at the same time, to give it his earnest support. He had also offered to resign, as a means of removing one obstacle to the adjustment which the interests of the country demanded. The letter concluded as follows: " I do not merely volunteer my retirement at whatever may be the most convenient time, I do not merely give you the promise that out of office (be the sacrifices that I foresee, private and public, what they may) I will cordially cooperate with you in the settlement of this question, and cordially support your government; but I add to this my decided and deliberate opinion that it will tend to the satisfactory adjustment of the question if the originating of it in the house of commons and the general superintendence of its progress be committed to other hands than mine." And in his " Memoirs " he remarks: " Twenty years have elapsed since the above letter was written. I read it now with the full testimony of my own heart and conscience to the perfect sincerity of the advice which I then gave, and the declarations which I then made; with the same testimony, also, to the fact that that letter was written with a clear foresight of the penalties to which the course I resolved to take would expose me - the rage of party, the rejection by the university of Oxford, the alienation of private friends, the interruption of family affections. Other penalties, such as the loss of office and of royal favour, I would not condescend to notice if they were not the heaviest in the estimation of vulgar and low- minded men, incapable of appreciating higher motives of public conduct. My judgment may be erroneous. From the deep interest I have in the result (though now only so far as future fame is concerned), it cannot be impartial; yet, surely, I do not err in believing that when the various circumstances on which my decision was taken are calmly and dispassionately considered - the state of political parties - the recent discussions in parliament - the result of the Clare election, and the prospects which it opened - the earnest representations and emphatic warnings of the chief governor of Ireland - the evils, rapidly increasing, of divided counsels in the cabinet, and of conflicting decisions in the two houses of parliament - the necessity for some systematic and vigorous course of policy in respect to Ireland - the impossibility, even if it were wise, that that policy should be one of coercion - surely, I do not err in believing that I shall not hereafter be condemned for having heedlessly and precipitously, still less for having dishonestly and treacherously, counselled the attempt to adjust the long-litigated question, that had for so many years precluded the cordial co-operation of public men, and had left Ireland the arena for fierce political conflicts, annually renewed, without the means of authoritative interposition on the part of the crown. The following memorandum, which accompanied my letter of the 11th of August, is the commentary upon that which had been sent by the duke and returned by me. The latter has no doubt been preserved by the duke. The general tenor of the suggestions which it contained may be inferred from my remarks upon them."

Such was the stern logic of facts, such the imperative requirements of events, which compelled one of the most firm-minded and courageous men of his age, and one of the most decided and strong-willed of conservative statesmen, to succumb to the power of popular agitation. The Clare election was the harsh prelude to catholic emancipation and civil equality.

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Pictures for Chapter XIII, of Cassells Illustrated History of England, Volume 7 page 5

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