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Chapter XIV, of Cassells Illustrated History of England, Volume 7 page 3


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In the meantime, the Catholic Association was pursuing its work with increasing vigour and determination. It resolved thenceforth to support no candidate who should not pledge himself to oppose every government that did not make emancipation a cabinet measure. Provincial meetings were held in Clonmel, Kilkenny, and Mullingar; the chair at the last place being occupied by the marquis of Westmeath. Between the two extreme parties there were many moderate men, of high social position, anxious for something like a compromise. Some of these were in confidential communication with lord Anglesey's government, and it was thought desirable to establish a liberal platform, with a view to moderate the violence of catholics and Brunswickers. It was with this object that Mr, Pierce Mahony got up the celebrated " Leinster declaration," so called from the signature of Ireland's only duke. But the experiment served only to reveal the weakness of the moderate party, for after lying for signature in Latouche's bank for two months, only forty-two names were attached to it within that period. When, however, the struggle between the two parties was on the point of having a bloody issue, the alarm spread through the ranks of moderate men on both sides, and the document rapidly received signatures. The declaration set forth that the disqualifying laws which affected Roman catholics were productive of consequences prejudicial in the highest degree to the interests of Ireland - the primary cause of her poverty - the source of political discontents and religious animosities - destructive alike of social happiness and national prosperity. Unless the legislature should speedily apply a remedy to those evils, they must in their rapid progression assume such a character as would, perhaps, render their removal impossible. It was stated, therefore, to be a matter of paramount importance that the whole subject should be taken into immediate consideration by parliament, " with a view to such a final conciliatory adjustment as may be conducive to the peace and strength of the United Kingdom, to the stability of our national institutions, and to the general satisfaction and concord of all classes of his majesty's subjects."

As winter approached the state of things assumed a more portentous aspect. The leading agitators were themselves dismayed when they looked down the precipice to the edge of which they had brought the nation. They were therefore exceedingly anxious that the liberal protestants should take an active part as mediators, in order, if possible, to avert a disastrous collision. A good occasion was offered by the visit of lord Morpeth to Ireland. This enlightened and accomplished nobleman, always the friend of civil and religious liberty, destined to preside over the government of Ireland, as viceroy, when the régime of civil equality was fully established, and to be the congenial interpreter of its spirit - was then invited to a great banquet, which was attended by all the leading friends of civil and religious liberty in and about Dublin, protestant and catholic. The duke of Leinster was in the chair, and Mr. Sheil appealed to him, in the most eloquent terms, by all that was patriotic and glorious in the history of his ancestors the Geraldines - which for seven hundred years formed a great part of the history of Ireland, and who were in past times considered more Irish than the Irish themselves - to put himself at the head of the liberal party, to take the helm, and steer the vessel through the breakers that threatened to engulf it.

Dr. Curtis, the Roman catholic primate, was an old friend of the duke of Wellington, whom he had known during the war in the Peninsula, and with whom he had kept up a confidential correspondence on the subject of the catholic claims, on the state of the country, on the disposition of the Roman catholics in the army, and other matters of the kind. Many of the duke's letters to the venerable archbishop have been recently found among the papers of the latter, and are now in possession of Mr. William J. Fitzpatrick, J.P., author of the " Life and Times of the Right Reverend Dr. Doyle." On the 11th of December the duke wrote to Dr. Curtis as follows:

" My dear Sir, - I have received your letter of the 4th instant, and I assure you that you do me justice in believing that I am sincerely anxious to witness the settlement of the Roman catholic question, which, by benefiting the state, would confer a benefit on every individual belonging to it. But I confess that I see no prospect of such a settlement. Party has been mixed up with the consideration of the question to such a degree, and such violence pervades every discussion of it, that it is impossible to expect to prevail upon men to consider it dispassionately. If we could bury it in oblivion for a short time, and employ that time diligently in the consideration of its difficulties on all sides (for they are very great), I should not despair of seeing a satisfactory remedy. - Believe me, my dear sir, ever your most faithful humble servant, "Wellington."

After the reports that had gone abroad, to the effect that the government were about to settle the question, and that they had even prepared a bill on the subject, this letter from the prime minister to the Roman catholic primate was most disappointing. Besides, it was absurd to expect that the subject could be buried in oblivion. The duke, no doubt, had in his mind the difficulty with the king, and the excitement of protestant feeling in England, which was exasperated by the violence of the debates in the Catholic Association, and the tone of menace and defiance which that body had assumed. This obstacle was not lessened by the letter in question, the purport of which was communicated to Mr. O'Connell, and also to the lord- lieutenant. The latter wrote an admirable letter in reply, which led to serious consequences. On the 22nd of December Dr. Curtis sent him the duke's letter, and a copy of his own answer to it. He acknowledged that it conveyed information which he had not himself received, though entitled, from his position, to receive it first. He then frankly offered his opinion as to the course which it behoved the catholics to pursue. He was perfectly convinced that the final and cordial settlement of the question could alone give peace, harmony, and prosperity to all classes of his majesty's subjects. He advised that the duke of Wellington should by every means be propitiated; for if any man could carry the measure, it was he. All personal and offensive insinuations should therefore be suppressed, and ample allowance should be made for the difficulties of his situation. " Difficult," said lord Anglesey, "it certainly is; for he has to overcome the very strong prejudices and the interested motives of many persons of the highest influence, as well as allay the real alarm of many of the more ignorant protestants." As to burying in oblivion the question for a short time, the viceroy considered the thing utterly impossible, and, if possible, not at all desirable. He recommended, on the contrary, that all constitutional means should be used to forward the cause, coupled with the utmost forbearance, and the most submissive obedience to the law. Personality offered no advantage. It offended those who could assist, and confirmed predisposed aversion. " Let the catholic," said his lordship, " trust to the justice of his cause, and to the growing liberality of mankind. Unfortunately, he has lost some friends, and fortified enemies, during the last six months, by unwearied and unnecessary violence. Brute force, he should be assured, can effect nothing. It is the legislature that must decide this great question, and my anxiety is that it should be met by the parliament under the most favourable circumstances, and that the opposers of catholic emancipation shall be disarmed by the patient forbearance as well as by the unwearied perseverance of its advocates."

This letter, though marked " private and confidential," was, like the duke's letter to the same prelate, made public, and became the subject of comment in the association and in the press, which tended still more to embarrass the question, by irritating the king and the duke, and furnishing exciting topics to the enemies of the catholic cause. The marquis of Anglesey, indeed, from the time he went to Ireland, held the strongest language to the government as to the necessity of carrying the measure. At a subsequent period he expressed a wish that his opinions should be made fully known to the king and his ministers, because they could then better judge of his fitness for carrying into effect the measures they might decide upon adopting. On the 31st of July he wrote: - "I will exert myself to keep the country quiet, and put down rebellion under any circumstances; but I will not consent to govern this country much longer under the existing law."

There was a radical difference in spirit between the viceroy and the premier. The former sympathised warmly with the Roman catholics in their struggles for civil equality, feeling deeply the justice of their cause. The duke, on the other hand, yielded only to necessity, and thought of concession not as a matter of principle, but of expediency; he yielded, not because it was right to do so, but because it was preferable to having a civil war. The feeling of Mr. Peel was somewhat similar; it was with him, also, a choice of evils, and he chose the least. This difference of sentiment produced much dissatisfaction in the cabinet. Messrs. Steele and O'Gorman Mahon were both magistrates, and yet they were actively engaged in exciting the people to the very highest pitch, and urging them to defy the constituted authorities. On a day when a riot was expected at Ennis, county Clare, and the high sheriff made preparations to prevent it, both these gentlemen appeared there, decorated with the order of "Liberators," and followed by a mob. Mr. O'Gorman Mahon held very improper language to the high sheriff, in presence of the troops. All this was certified by sixteen magistrates, and by the commanding officer; yet lord Anglesey, with the advice of the lord chancellor, decided on not depriving them of the commission of the peace. This conduct greatly disappointed the duke of Wellington, and, on the 11th of November, he wrote a strong letter to him, in which he said: " I cannot express to you adequately the extent of the difficulties which these and other occurrences in Ireland create in all discussions with his majesty. He feels that in Ireland the public peace is violated every day with impunity by those whose duty it is to preserve it; that a formidable conspiracy exists; and that the supposed conspirators - those whose language and conduct point them out as the principal agitators of the country - are admitted to the presence of his majesty's representative, and equally well received with the king's most loyal subjects." The duke also, as we have already observed, strongly censured the conduct of the viceroy and the lord- chancellor for visiting lord Cloncurry, a member of the association, remarking, " The doubts which are entertained respecting the loyalty of the Roman Catholic Association, the language which has been held there respecting the king himself, his royal family, the members of his government, your colleagues in office, and respecting nearly every respectable member of society, and the unanimously- expressed detestation of the violence of the association, might be deemed reasons for omitting to encourage any of its members by the countenance or favour of the king's representative."

Lord Anglesey replied to these sharp rebukes with great spirit. " Up to this moment," he said, " I have been left entirely in ignorance, not only as to your intentions with regard to this country, but also as to your sentiments regarding my policy. They are now developed, and I shall know how to act." He then entered into details of all the occurrences alluded to, in order to show " how entirely his majesty had been misinformed." Having done so, he added; " If those who arraign my conduct will obtain information from an uninterested source, I feel the most perfect confidence that I shall obtain the applause of my sovereign, and the good will and good opinion of his majesty's ministers with whom I serve." He denied that the government had lost its power, that the association had usurped its functions, or that the laws were set at defiance. He asserted, on the contrary, that the law was in full vigour; and if it authorised, or expediency demanded, the suppression of the Catholic Association and of the Brunswick clubs, and the disarming of the yeomanry at the same time, he would undertake to effect it almost without the loss of a life. But he did not think such a course expedient, and ha deprecated the teasing system of attacking every minor offence, of which the issue upon trial would be doubtful, and which would produce irritation, without effecting a salutary lesson and permanent good. He had no object, he said, in holding his post but that of pleasing his king and serving his country; and if, in his zealous and unwearied efforts to effect the latter object, he had incurred the displeasure ol the king and lost the confidence of his tenants, he ought not to remain in Ireland. He was therefore ready to depart whenever they found it convenient to recall him. The duke became testy under this resistance and antagonism. In replying to the last letter, he becomes more personal in his accusations. "I might," said the premier, " at an earlier period have expressed the pain I felt at the attendance of gentlemen of your household, and even of your family, at the Roman Catholic Association. I could not but feel that such attendance must expose your government to misconstruction. I was silent because it was painful to mention such things; but I have always felt that if these impressions upon the king's mind should remain - and I must say that recent transactions have given fresh cause for them - I could not avoid mentioning them to you in a private communication, and to let you know the embarrassment which they occasion."

The viceroy rejoined with unabated spirit, replying to all the fresh matter introduced by the duke in a lofty tone of self-justification. There is caustic irony in the following allusion to the king, as an apology for his conciliatory policy: - " I have, in fact, been most anxious to imitate, so far as my humble faculties would permit, the example of his majesty himself during his visit to Ireland, and have scrupulously attended to the king's benign and paternal admonition, when his majesty quitted the kingdom, to inculcate good fellowship and cordiality among all classes, and to promote conciliation." It is dangerous to use the argumentum aa hominem with a king - still more so to make his conduct the object of sarcastic allusions; and it was evident that lord Anglesey could not long remain in the position of a representative of his majesty. There was certainly an animosity against him in the highest quarters, which appeared in the construction put upon the accidental dropping in of his son and some of his household, from curiosity, to witness, as they thought unnoticed, the debates of the association - a circumstance which he had long ago explained, and with which he thought it particularly unfair that he should be now upbraided.

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