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Papal Aggression page 2


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Various alterations were subsequently made in the bill, to prevent its interfering unnecessarily with the Roman Catholic bishops in Ireland. The second reading was moved on the 14th of March; a lengthened debate ensued, in the course of which Sir Robert Peel delivered his maiden speech. The right honourable baronet supported the bill with powerful arguments drawn from his diplomatic experience in Switzerland, where he said he had remained a passive observer, witnessing, not without emotion and sympathy, "the mighty struggle of liberty against despotism and intolerance." This first oratorical effort of the son and successor of the illustrious statesman who so long occupied the most prominent place in the House of Commons, was hailed with general and cordial applause. Mr. Cardwell refused his assent to the second reading. He deprecated a little civil war about religious matters, believing that, by supporting the measure, he would affront Protestant England, and do much to render Ireland ungovernable. Lord Palmerston supported the bill, because churches were like corporate bodies, encroaching; because it would supply an omission in the Act of 1829; and as the Church of Rome obeyed that Act, she would also obey this. Sir James Graham, on the contrary, expressed his conviction that the passing of this bill would be a repeal of the Emancipation Act, and then the Dissenters must look about them. Synods were to be proscribed; but if laymen and Dissenting ministers could meet, why should Roman Catholic bishops be interdicted P Step by step we should be led by this measure to the destruction, he feared, not only of religious, but of civil liberty. "We were in this dilemma - that if the measure were cut down, it would be contemptible; if made effectual, we must embark in a course of legislation which would conduct us to a penal code with all its horrors; impotence would be disgraceful; and vigour would be pregnant with danger - a danger, as regarded Ireland, of civil war." Lord John Russell, in replying to the attacks upon the measure, admitted that the bill did not meet every danger we might have to encounter. But he said, " If the spirit lately shown be not checked, if further aggression should take place, if it should be attempted to deprive the people of Ireland of the benefits of mixed education, or if those who serve the Crown are to be menaced with the withdrawal of religious consolations, then other measures might be necessary. He could never consent to identify religious liberty with Papal aggression." Mr. Roebuck ridiculed the alarm about the Pope as a" foreign prince." As a prince, he said, he was nothing; he was without power or an acre of land he could call his own. His power was mere spiritual influence, which no Act of Parliament could restrain. The Attorney-General argued that the effect of the establishment of the Roman canon law in this country would be, that the Court of Chancery would have to enforce the jurisdiction of the bishops. Sir John Young, as an Irish Protestant member, condemned the bill, which would lead to a religious war in Ireland, engendering bitter and lasting animosity, without adding strength to the cause of Protestantism. Mr. H. Grattan denounced the bill as "the reactionary policy of a transition ministry." Mr. A. Beresford Hope considered it " disgraceful to the magnanimity of this country, and discreditable to the civilisation of the Anglo-Saxon race." Mr. Hume regarded it as one of the most unfortunate circumstances of his long parliamentary life. Sir F. Thesiger would vote for the second reading of the bill, because some legislation on the subject was absolutely necessary, though he foresaw how easily the law could be evaded. Mr. Gladstone ably criticised the bill, and concluded as follows: - "For three hundred years the Roman Catholic laity and secular clergy - the moderate party - had been struggling, with the sanction of the British Government, for this very measure, the appointment of diocesan bishops, which the extreme party - the regulars and cardinals at the Court of Rome - had been all along struggling to resist. The present legislation would drive the Roman Catholics back upon the Pope, and, teazing them with a miniature penal law, would alienate and estrange them. Religious freedom was a principle which had not been adopted in haste, and had not triumphed till after half a century of agonising struggles; and he trusted we were not now going to repeat Penelope's process without her purpose, and undo a great work which had been accomplished with so much difficulty."

Mr. Disraeli expressed his sentiments, and those of his party, upon the general question and the particular measure. He denied that the Pope was without power. He was a prince of very great, if not the greatest power, his army being a million of priests; and was such a power to be treated as a Wesleyan Conference, or like an association of Scotch Dissenters? Sir George Grey having replied to the objections of Mr. Gladstone and others, the House divided, when the second reading was carried by a still greater majority than the first, the numbers being - for the bill, 438; against it, 95: majority, 343.

Considering that Sir James Graham, Mr. Gladstone, and all the leading Peelites, as well as Mr. Roebuck, Mr. Bright, and the advanced Liberals, joined the Roman Catholics on this occasion, the minority was surprisingly small, showing how deep and wide-spread was the national feeling evoked by the Papal aggression. Several amendments were moved in committee; but they were nearly all rejected by large majorities. On the 27th of June, Sir E. Thesiger proposed certain amendments with a view of rendering the measure more stringent, when about 70 Roman Catholic members retired from the House in a body. Lord John Russell, alluding to this " significant and ostentatious retirement," said it would not save them from the responsibility, as it would cause the passing of the amendments. They were accordingly carried against the Government. On the 4th of July, the day fixed for the third reading, Lord John Russell moved that those amendments should be struck out. One of them was that it should be penal to publish the Pope's Bulls, as well as to assume territorial titles; and another, to enable common informers to sue for penalties. There was a division on each of these clauses. The question was then put by the Speaker, " that this bill do now pass." Another long debate was expected; but no one rising at the moment, the division was abruptly taken, with the following result: - For the third reading, 263; against it, 46: majority, 217.

On the 21st of July the bill was introduced, by the Marquis of Lansdowne, into the Upper House. The debate there was chiefly remarkable for the speech of Lord Beaumont, a Roman Catholic peer, who gave hię earnest support to the bill as a great national protest, which the necessity of the case had rendered unavoidable. No man who spoke on the subject in either House described more accurately the policy against which he protested. In reply to the statement that the Pope had sacrificed some portion of his authority in substituting a regular hierarchy for vicars apostolic, he showed whom the appointment of the Most Rev. Dr. Cullen, that the Pope had assumed an arbitrary power in Ireland, which he was prepared also to exercise in England, by the absolute appointment of all the Roman Catholic prelates. These recent proceedings of the Court of Rome were evidently intended for the purpose of drawing over to Ultramontane opinions all the educated and free-minded Roman Catholics, who, in this country, had declared their adhesion to liberal institutions. The further purpose of those proceedings, he fully believed, was to influence popular education, and, amongst other things, to destroy the greatest boon ever conferred on Ireland - the Queen's Colleges.

The Duke of Wellington remarked that "the Pope had appointed an Archbishop of Westminster; had attempted to exercise authority over the very spot on which the English Parliament was assembled. And under the sanction of this proceeding, Cardinal Wiseman made an attack upon the rights of the Dean and Chapter of Westminster. That this was contrary to the true spirit of the laws of England, no man acquainted with them could doubt, for throughout the whole of our statutes affecting religion, we had carefully abstained from disturbing the great principles of the Reformation. If, in their legislation on this subject, they did what was necessary for protecting the religious liberties of the people, and no more, they might rely upon the cordial support of England, and of the better portion of Ireland; he should, therefore, give his vote, without hesitation, in favour of the motion that the bill be then read a second time."

Lord Lyndhurst supported the bill in an elaborate and able speech. " The late Pope," he said, " in a letter to the Bishops of Belgium, declared ' liberty of conscience ' to be an 4 absurd and erroneous maxim - a wild notion, ' which he rejected with disdain. Their principles were immutable. Now, as much as 300 years ago, their aim was domination - hesitating when it was politic, blinking when it was necessary, advancing when they might with safety. The provisions of the Relief Act had been totally disregarded in Ireland. Titles had been assumed, the Jesuits recalled, and twenty monasteries of men established. The national election of a Roman Catholic primate had been overruled by the Pope, a synod established, and the Queen's Colleges, when they could not be sapped and perverted, had been condemned. Such were the evidences of the unchanging designs of that Church." Here then, Lord Lyndhurst said, he would make his stand. In adhering to the principles of the bill he acted on a maxim, principiis obsta; for while retracting nothing which he had conceded to toleration, not one step would he yield to ascendancy or domination. The Earl of St. Germains looked with dismay to the effect of the bill on Ireland; they might put down rebellion, but how were they to contend with "The unconquerable will, And study of revenge, immortal hate, And courage never to submit or yield?"

The second reading was carried in this House also by an overwhelming majority, the numbers being - for the bill, 265; against it, 38. On the 29th of July it was read a third time and passed, and shortly afterwards received the Royal assent, after occupying nearly the whole of the session. So far as the assumption of titles is concerned, and the actual establishment and working of the Roman Catholic hierarchy, the act has undoubtedly proved a dead letter; but it is not to be inferred from this fact that it has not substantially answered its purpose in materially restraining aggression and keeping our jurisprudence clear of the Roman canon law. Cardinal Wiseman and his suffragans in England, on the whole, wisely pursued a moderate and conciliatory course. But a very different course might have been pursued, had not the national feeling been so strongly expressed and been legally embodied in the Ecclesiastical Titles' Act.

Lord John Russell's Administration had been for some time in a tottering state. Early in the session of 1851, the Government was defeated on a motion by Mr. Locke King, for leave to bring in a bill to make the franchise in counties in England and Wales the same as in boroughs; that is, the occupation of a tenement of the annual value of £10. The motion was carried against the Government by a majority of forty-eight. The Budget came on shortly after, and gave so much dissatisfaction, that there was a general conviction on the public mind that the Cabinet could not hold together much longer. It was felt that the times required a strong Government; but this had become gradually one of the weakest. The announcement of its resignation, therefore, excited no surprise; but the anxiety to learn what would be the new Ministerial arrangements was evinced by the crowded state of the House of Commons on Friday, the 21st of February. On the order for going into Committee of Ways and Means being read, the Prime Minister rose, and requested that it might be postponed till the 24th. On the 24th both Houses were full. In the Upper House, Lord Lansdowne stated that in consequence of divisions which had recently taken place in the House of Commons, the Ministers had unanimously resigned; that Lord Stanley had been sent for by the Queen, and a proposal was made to him to construct a government, for which he was not then prepared. Lord Stanley gave an account of his gracious reception by Her Majesty, but reserved his reasons for declining to undertake the task. In the Lower House, on the same evening, Lord John Russell stated that Her Majesty had sent for Lord Stanley, who had declined to form an administration, and that Her Majesty had then asked him to undertake the task of re-constructing one, which he said he had agreed to do. He asked the House to adjourn to the 28th, and when that day arrived, matters were still in a state of confusion. Lord John Russell had failed to re-construct his cabinet; Lord Aberdeen and Sir James Graham had refused to concur in forming an administration. Lord Stanley had also failed in a similar attempt, and the Queen was at last obliged to send for the Duke of Wellington, in order to have the benefit of his advice. The Marquis of Lansdowne stated that for his part there was one sacrifice which he could never be called upon to make, and that was the sacrifice of dignity which would attend the prolonged attempt to carry on the Government without the support of Parliament. From explanations given by Lord Aberdeen, Lord Stanley, Sir James Graham, and Lord John Russell himself, it appeared that the attempts to re-construct the Cabinet, or to form a new one, arose from two difficulties in the way of any coalition between the leaders of existing parties - free trade, and the Ecclesiastical Titles, Bill. There could be no union between the Whigs and the Peelites on account of the latter, nor between the Peelites and the Protectionists on account of, the former. Lord Stanley remarked that the Peelites, with all their ability and official aptitude, seemed to exercise their talents solely to render any ministry impossible. A partly Protectionist Administration was out of the question, as it would have to contend against a large majority in the House of Commons. In this dilemma the Queen sent for the Duke of Wellington, and he advised Her Majesty that the best course she could adopt under the circumstances was to recall her late advisers; and Lord John Russell's Cabinet resumed their offices accordingly in exactly the same position that they had been before the resignation.

The year 1851 will be for ever memorable in our history by the Great Exhibition in Hyde Park. The idea originated with the Prince Consort, who took a lively interest in everything that tended to promote industrial progress, and to improve the public taste. As President of the Society of Arts, his attention had been attracted to the "Expositions" at Paris, under the guidance of the Minister of the Department of Commerce and Industry; and his Royal Highness thought that an Exhibition of the same kind in London, open to competitors from all nations, would be useful in a variety of ways, especially in uniting together the people of various countries by the bonds of mutual interest and sympathy. The proposal was embraced with alacrity by the English public.

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