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Chapter XIV, of Cassells Illustrated History of England, Volume 7 page 4


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This memorable controversy between the prime minister and the lord lieutenant of Ireland, exhibiting a painful conflict of opinion and feeling between the two personages more particularly charged with the government of the country in the midst of a dangerous crisis, was brought to a close by a letter from the duke of Wellington, on the 28th of December. The following is a copy: -

" London, December 28, 1828.

"My dear Lord Anglesey, - I have been very sensible, since I received your last letter, that the correspondence which that letter terminated had left us in a relation towards each other which ought not to exist between the lord-lieutenant and the king's minister, and could not continue to exist without great inconvenience and injury to the king's service. I refrained from acting upon this feeling till I should be able to consult with my colleagues, and 1 took the earliest opportunity which the return to town of those who were absent afforded to obtain their opinion, which concurred with my own. Under these circumstances, having taken the king's pleasure upon the subject, his majesty has desired me to inform you that he intends to relieve you from the government of Ireland. I will shortly notify the arrangements which will become necessary in consequence.

" Believe me, ever yours most sincerely, (Signed) " Wellington.

" His excellency the marquis of Anglesey, K.G."

The marquis answered that he had received his letter, informing him of the king's intention to release him from the government of Ireland, and that he held himself in readiness to obey his majesty's commands the moment he received them. He did receive them, on the 10th of January, in a formal letter of recall from the home secretary.

The removal of this popular and " chivalrous " viceroy caused universal expressions of grief among the Roman catholic party. In the association, O'Connell and Sheil spoke in the most glowing terms of his character and his administration. He quitted Ireland on the 19th of January, 1829, followed from the castle gates to the pier at Kingstown by an immense concourse of people. "It was a magnificent display," says a historian of the time - " full of cordial feeling, of enthusiasm, and - gratitude. Alas! for the fickleness of human affairs! We shall shortly witness the same nobleman again lord-lieutenant, and then one of the most unpopular of men!" In a letter to Dr. Curtis, lord Anglesey, gave an extraordinary parting advice for a chief ruler of Ireland - a Agitate - agitate - agitate! " He was succeeded by the duke of Northumberland - a tory magnate of great wealth, but of no great vigour of intellect or energy of character - a man not at all likely to trouble his chief with controversy about anything. His appointment, however, brought back the conservative aristocracy to the castle, and had a soothing effect on the protestant mind, while his administration was mild towards the other party.

While these matters were going on in Ireland, Mr. Peel was applying his mind, in the most earnest manner, to the removal of the difficulties that stood in the way of emancipation.

The chief difficulty was the king. At the commencement of the month of January, 1829, his majesty had not yet signified his consent that the whole subject of Ireland, including the catholic question, should be taken into consideration by his confidential servants. In his interview with the duke of Wellington in the course of the autumn, the king had manifested much uneasiness and irritation, and had hitherto shown no disposition to relax the opposition which (of late years, at least) he had manifested to the consideration by his government of the claims of the Roman catholics. In the u Life of Lord Eldon," by Mr. Twiss, are published the memoranda of conversations between the king and lord Eldon, in the months of March and April, 1829, in the course of which the king expresses himself very strongly on this subject, declaring that it was with the utmost pain and reluctance that he had acted upon the advice which he received from his ministers. His majesty is reported by lord Eldon to have said that "he was miserable and wretched, and that his situation was dreadful;" "that if he gave his consent to the Roman Catholic Relief Bill, he would go to the Baths abroad, and from them to Hanover; that he would return no more to England, and that his subjects might get a catholic king in the duke of Clarence." Lord Eldon, in the report of his conversation with the king on the 28th of March, which lasted four hours, observes: " His majesty employed a very considerable portion of his time in stating all that he represented to have passed when Mr. Canning was made minister, and expressly stated that Mr. Canning would never - and that he engaged that he would never - allow him to be troubled about the Roman catholic question. He blamed all the ministers who had retired upon Canning's appointment, representing, in substance, that their retirement, and not he, had made Canning minister."

In all the communications which Mr. Peel had with the king on this subject, his determination to maintain the existing laws was most strongly expressed. In November, 182-4, the king wrote, " The sentiments of the king upon catholic emancipation are those of his revered and excellent father; and from these sentiments the king never can, and never will, deviate. " All subsequent declarations of opinion on his part were to the same effect; and the events which were passing in Ireland, " the systematic agitation, the intemperate conduct of some of the Roman catholic leaders, the violent and abusive speeches of others, the acts of the association, assuming the functions of government, and, as it appeared to the king, the passiveness and want of energy in the Irish executive, irritated his majesty, and indisposed him the more to recede from his declared resolution to maintain inviolate the existing law."

In the early part of January, 1829, the duke of Wellington had an interview with the archbishop of Canterbury, the bishop of London, and the bishop of Durham, for the purpose of laying before them the state of affairs in Ireland, in the hope of convincing them that the interests of the church required the settlement of the catholic question. It was thought that a favourable opinion expressed by them would have had great influence on the mind of the king; but the duke's arguments utterly failed to convince them. They informed him that they could not lend their sanction to the proposed course of proceeding, but must offer a decided opposition to the removal of Roman catholic disabilities. On New Year's Day the bishop of Oxford wrote to Mr. Peel, that he had just returned from Addington, and that he found the three bishops decidedly hostile to all concessions, refusing to consent to them in any form. He considered that matter, therefore, as settled. Mr. Peel now began to feel that the difficulties in the way of emancipation were almost insuperable. There was the declared opinion of the king, of the house of lords, and of the church, all decidedly hostile to the proposed measure. What the home secretary chiefly apprehended at that moment was, that the king, hearing the result of the duke's conference with the bishops, would make some public and formal declaration of his resolution to maintain, as a matter of conscience and religious obligation, the existing laws; and would then take a position in reference to the catholic question similar to that in which his father had stood, and which it might be almost impossible for him, however urgent the necessity, afterwards to abandon.

"Up to this period," afterwards wrote Sir Robert Peel, in his "Memoirs," "I had cherished the hope that the duke of Wellington might be enabled to overcome the difficulties which were opposed to his undertaking, and that I might be allowed to retire from office, and, in a private station, to lend every assistance in my power during the progress of the contemplated measure through parliament. I had proposed my retirement from office much more from a sincere belief that, by the sacrifice of office, my co-operation with the duke of Wellington would be more effectual, than from any other consideration.... I could not but perceive, in the course of my constant intercourse with him, that the duke of Wellington began to despair of success. He well knew there would be nothing in the resignation of office half so painful to my feelings as the separation from him at a period of serious difficulty. From the moment of his appointment to the chief place in the government, not a day had passed without the most unreserved communication, personally or in writing; not a point had arisen on which, as my correspondence with the duke will amply testify, there had not been the most complete and cordial concurrence of opinion."

The meeting of parliament was approaching, and it was necessary to come to some final decision. Sir Robert Peel had a thorough conviction that if the duke of Wellington should fail in overcoming the king's objections, no other man could succeed. It might have been thought that the high and established character of earl Grey, his great abilities, and great political experience, would have enabled him to surmount these various difficulties. In addition to these high qualifications, he had the advantage of having been the strenuous and consistent advocate of the Roman catholic cause; the advantage also of having stood aloof from the administrations of Mr. Canning and lord Ripon, and of having strong claims on the esteem and respect of all parties, without being fettered by the trammels of any. Sir Robert Peel had, however, the strongest reasons for the conviction that lord Grey could not have succeeded in an undertaking which, in the supposed case of his accession to power, would have been abandoned as hopeless by the duke of Wellington, and abandoned on the ground that the sovereign would not adopt the advice of his servants. The result of the whole is thus summed up by Sir Robert Peel: - " Being convinced that the catholic question must be settled, and without delay; being resolved that no act of mine should obstruct or retard its settlement; impressed with the strongest feelings of attachment to the duke of Wellington, of admiration of his upright conduct and intentions as prime minister, of deep interest in the success of an undertaking on which he had entered from the purest motives and the highest sense of public duty, I determined not to insist upon retirement from office, but to make to the duke the voluntary offer of that official co-operation, should he consider it indispensable, which he scrupled, from the influence of kind and considerate feelings, to require from me."

The home secretary once more submitted his views to the duke, in a memorandum dated January 12th, that was written with a view to be submitted to the king, in which he put the inevitable alternative of a cabinet united in the determination to carry catholic emancipation, or a cabinet constructed on exclusively protestant principles; and he came to the conclusion that no cabinet so constructed could possibly carry on the general administration of the country. The state of the house of commons appeared to him to be an insuperable obstacle to the successful issue of that experiment. Since the year 1807 there had been five parliaments, and in the course of each of these, with one exception, the house of commons had come to a decision in favour of the consideration of the catholic question. The present parliament had decided in the same manner. A dissolution, were it practicable, would not result in an election more favourable to the protestant interest, if an exclusively protestant government were formed. Even should there be an increase of anti-catholic members in England, it would not compensate for the increased excitement in Ireland, and the violent and vexatious opposition that would be given by fifty or sixty Irish members^ returned by the Catholic Association and the priests- Then there would be the difficulty about preserving the peace in Ireland. During the last autumn, out of the regular infantry force in the United Kingdom, amounting to about ^30.v000 men, 25,000 were stationed either in Ireland or on the west coast of England, with a view to the maintenance of tranquillity in Ireland, this country being then at peace with all the world. What would be the consequence should England be involved in a war with some foreign power? Various other considerations were urged, upon which Mr. Peel founded his advice to the king, which was - that he should not grant the catholic claims, or any part of them, precipitately and unadvisedly - but that he should, in the first instance, remove the barrier which prevented the consideration of the catholic question by the cabinet, and permit his confidential servants to consider it in all its relations, on the same principles on which they consider any other question of public policy, in the hope that some plan of adjustment could be proposed, on the authority and responsibility of a government likely to command the assent of parliament, and to unite in its support a powerful weight of protestant opinion, from a conviction that it is a settlement equitable towards Roman catholics, and safe as it concerns the protestant establishment.

The paper was communicated to the king by the duke of Wellington, who wrote, on the 17th of January, that he entirely concurred in the sentiments and opinions contained in it; and referring to Mr. Peel's request to be allowed to retire from the government, the duke said: - " I tell you fairly, I do not see the smallest chance of getting the better of these difficulties, if you should not continue in office. Even if I should be able to obtain the king's consent to enter upon the course which it will probably be found the wisest to adopt - which it is almost certain that I shall not if I should not have your assistance in office - the difficulties in parliament will be augmented tenfold in consequence of your secession, while the means of getting the better of them will be diminished in the same proportion. I entreat you, then, to reconsider the subject, and to give us and the country the benefit of your advice and assistance in this most difficult and important crisis."

The duke brought this letter to Mr. Peel, who read it in his presence, and then at once told him that he would not press his retirement, but would remain in office, and would propose, with the king's consent, the measures contemplated by the government for the settlement-, of the catholic question. Immediately after this decision was taken, he attended a meeting of the cabinet, and announced his determination to his colleagues. One of these, lord Ellenborough, could not refrain from writing to express his admiration of his conduct, dictated by true statesmanlike wisdom; adding, that he had acted nobly by the government, and in a manner which no member of it would forget. On the day that the king got the paper, those of the ministers who had uniformly voted against the catholic question had each a separate interview with the king, and individually expressed their concurrence in the course Mr. Peel recommended. The ministers were - the duke of Wellington, lord Lyndhurst, lord Bathurst, Mr. Goulburn, and Mr. Herries. The king, after this interview, intimated his consent that the cabinet should consider the whole state of Ireland, and submit their views to him, not pledging himself, however, to adopt them, even if they should concur unanimously in the course to be pursued. The king was not convinced by Mr. Peel's arguments. He admitted it to be a good statement, but denied that it was an argumentative one.

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