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The Irish Government page 3

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This Mr. Plunket pronounced to be unconstitutional, though not in the strict sense illegal; the association was a representative and a tax-levying body. He denied that any portion of the subjects of this realm had a right to give their suffrages to others, had a right to select persons to speak their sentiments, to debate upon their grievances, and to devise measures for their removal. This was the privilege alone of the commons of the United Kingdom. He would not allow that species of power to anybody not subjected to proper control. But to whom were those individuals accountable? Where was their responsibility? Who was to check them? Who was to stop their progress? By whom were they to be tried or rebuked, if found acting mischievously? People not acquainted with Ireland were not aware of the nature of this formidable instrument of power, greater than the power of the sword. Individuals connected with it went into every house and every family. They mixed in all the relations of private life, and afterwards detailed what they heard with the utmost freedom. The attorney-general could not conceive a more deadly instrument of tyranny than it was, when it interfered with the administration of justice. Claiming to represent six millions of the people of Ireland, it denounced as a public enemy, and arraigned at the bar of justice, any individual it chose to accuse of acting contrary to the popular interest. Thus the grand inquest of the people were the accusers, and there was an unlimited supply of money to carry on the prosecution. The consequence was, that magistrates were intimidated, feeling that there was no alternative but to yield, or be overwhelmed by the tide of fierce, popular passions.

The association found able defenders in Sir Henry Parnell, Mr. Brougham, and Sir James Mackintosh, who argued to the following effect: - It is the exclusion of the Roman catholics from parliament which is the sole cause of the existence of the association; and how can the house of commons, after having, in 1821, solemnly recognised their right to seats in this house, interfere now to put down an association the object of which is to obtain that very act of justice? Emancipate the catholics, and the association will at once die a natural death. Refuse that concession, and how can you persecute those who support it? The proceedings of the association have no real danger belonging to them; there is no treason or insurrection connected with them, no obstruction to government, no injury to life or property. The outcry is wholly artificial, and kept up studiously by the party who wished to stop the emancipation. Even if the Catholic Association had been the dangerous body which it is said to be, the character of its leaders, and especially of Mr. O'Connell, is a sufficient guarantee against their being betrayed into dangerous excesses. It has already effected the union of the entire catholic body; it has directed public attention to their numerous grievances; it has called forth the talents of a large portion of the public press in their support; and by inducing this very debate, it will go far to open the eyes of the English people to the injustice towards Ireland to which they have so long been a party. Why, then, interfere to suppress an association the sole design of which is to effect an object which this house has solemnly approved, to terminate a great and crying injustice, to bring about a great and healing act of justice? The object of the bill is to put down an association which is doing nothing illegal, and which, is an object of dread from the justice of its cause, and the reality of the grievances of which it complains. Excited as the people of Ireland are from the knowledge of the grievances they have so long endured, it is desirable that they should be under the control of leaders who may direct their energies to legal and beneficial objects. Deprived of such control, six millions of people, banded together for thirty years by a sense of common wrongs, and trained by hidden societies in all the practical courses of secret assassination and open insurrection, if any fixed determination to make a great popular effort should seize possession of their minds, in vain would the catholic nobility, the catholic lawyers, and even the catholic clergy exert their utmost endeavours to check them, and universal ruin must be the inevitable result of such popular efforts. These millions, they said, are increasing at the rate of duplication in twenty-five or thirty years. Is it not plain, therefore, that it is not only expedient, but has become a matter of absolute necessity, to break up the secret government which has so long directed the energies of the Irish people to violence and outrage, and attach them, by equal rule and reciprocity of advantages, to the laws and the union of England? And what is the object of the association but to avert these terrible disasters, and bring about, by open, fair, and legal means, this blessed consummation? This, they asserted, is the first of a course of measures that inevitably will end in general confusion and rebellion. Ministers will come down to the house with a new case of the violation of the constitution, and call for a coercion act. This will lead to new acts, evasion, and violence on the part of the catholics, and so on, till they are trained by degrees to involve themselves in open insurrection. The union between the two islands had hitherto existed only on paper. Ireland was still, in feeling and in fact, a country foreign to England. The people form a clear notion of' a distinct Irish and English nation, and the moment this bill passed into law they would regard it as a belligerent act, on the part of the English nation, against the Irish nation; and it would thereafter become impossible to negotiate a peace between the two countries.

It was thus the advocates of emancipation in the house of commons endeavoured to reason with the government. The bill, however, was passed. After a debate of four nights, the second reading was carried by the large majority of one hundred and fifty-five, the numbers being two hundred and seventy-eight to one hundred and twenty-three. In the house of lords the numbers were nearly four to one in favour of the measure, which was quickly passed into law. As soon as this fact was made known in Ireland, Mr. O'Connell moved that the society be dissolved. This was no sooner done than a new society was formed; and when the attorney-general returned to Ireland he found it in active operation. It was in reference to this proceeding O'Connell boasted that he could drive a coach-and-six through an act of parliament. It was declared that the new Catholic Association should not assume, or in any manner exercise, the power of acting for the purpose of obtaining redress of grievances in church or state, or any alteration in the law, or for the purpose of carrying on or assisting in the prosecution or defence of causes civil or criminal. Nothing could be more inoffensive or agreeable than its objects, which were to promote peace, harmony, and tranquillity; to encourage a liberal and enlightened system of education; to ascertain the population of Ireland, and the comparative numbers of different persuasions; to devise means of erecting suitable catholic places of worship; to encourage Irish agriculture and manufactures, and to publish refutations of the charges against the catholics. Such was the new platform; but the speeches were of the same defiant and belligerent strain as before. The speakers still prayed that God Almighty would increase the dissensions and differences of the government, and rejoiced in the inspiring prospect of a cloud bursting on England from the north, where Russia had 1,300,000 men in arms.

On the 1st of March Sir Francis Burdett presented a catholic petition, and in a speech of great eloquence and force moved for the appointment of a committee to inquire into the grievances of which it complained. The question thus brought before the house of commons ' was one on which the cabinet was divided. Canning had come down to the house from a sick bed, and on a crutch, to give his support to the motion. Plunket delivered one of his most powerful speeches on the same side. Peel took upon himself the heavy task of replying to both. He was supported by Mr. Leslie Foster. Brougham closed the debate; and the motion was carried by a majority of thirteen, amid loud cheers. Resolutions were adopted, and a bill founded upon them passed the commons, but it was lost in the upper house, where it was thrown out, on the 19th of May, by a majority of sixty-five. It was on that occasion that the duke of York, then heir presumptive to the throne, made the celebrated declaration against all concession to the catholics, which excited against him intense animosity in Ireland. At the conclusion of a vehement speech, he said: - "If I have expressed myself warmly, especially in the latter part of what I have said, I must appeal to your lordships' generosity. I feel the subject most forcibly; but it affects me the more deeply when I recollect that to its agitation must be ascribed that severe illness and ten years of misery which had clouded the existence of my beloved father. I shall therefore conclude with assuring your lordships that I have uttered my honest and conscientious sentiments, founded upon principles I have imbibed from my earliest youth, to the justice of which I have subscribed after careful consideration in maturer years; and these are the principles to which I will adhere, and which I will maintain, and that up to the latest moment of my existence, whatever may be my situation of life, so help me God!"

It was not protestants only that were alarmed at the democratic movement which was guided by O'Connell. The Roman catholic peers, both in England and Ireland, shared their apprehensions. Lord Redesdale, writing to lord Eldon, said: - " I learn that lord Fingall and others, catholics of English blood, are alarmed at the present state of things, and they may well be alarmed. If a revolution were to happen in Ireland, it would be in the end an Irish revolution, and no catholic of English blood would fare better than a protestant of English blood. So said Lord Castlehaven, an Irish catholic of English blood, one hundred and seventy years ago, and so said a Roman catholic, confidentially to me, above twenty years ago. The question is not simply protestant and catholic, but English and Irish; and the great motive of action will be hatred of the Sassenach, inflamed by the priests." Apprehensions of this kind were not lessened by the memorable speech of Mr. Canning, delivered on the 15th of February, in which he gave a narrative of his labours and sacrifices in the catholic cause, and complained of the exactions and ingratitude of its leaders. Having shown how he stood by the cause in the worst of times, he proceeded: - "Sir, I have always refused to act in obedience to the dictates of the catholic leaders; I would never put myself into their hands, and I never will.... Much as I have wished to serve the catholic cause, I have seen that the service of the catholic leaders is no easy service. They are hard taskmasters, and the advocate who would satisfy them must deliver himself up to them, bound hand and foot.... But to be taunted with a want of feeling for the catholics, to be accused of compromising their interests, conscious as I am - as I cannot but be - of being entitled to their gratitude for a long course of active services, and for the sacrifice to their cause of interests of my own - this is a sort of treatment which would rouse even tameness itself to assert its honour, and vindicate its claims. I have shown that in the year 1812 I refused office rather than enter into an administration pledged against the catholic question. I did this at a time when office would have been dearer to me than at any other period of my political life; when I would have given ten years of life for two years of office, not for any sordid or selfish purpose of personal aggrandisement, but for far other and higher views. But is this the only sacrifice I have made to the catholic cause? The house will perhaps bear with me a little longer, while I answer this question by another fact. From the earliest dawn of my public life - aye, from the first visions of youthful ambition - that ambition had been directed to one object above all others. Before that object all others vanished into comparative insignificance. It was desirable to me beyond all the blandishments of power, beyond all the rewards and favours of the crown. That object was to represent in this house the university in which I was educated. I had a fair chance of accomplishing this object when the catholic question crossed my way. I was warned, fairly and kindly warned, that my adoption of that cause would blast my prospect. I adhered to the catholic cause, and forfeited all my long-cherished hopes and expectations. And yet I am told that I have made no sacrifice! that I have postponed the cause of the catholics to views and interests of my own! Sir, the representation of the university has fallen into worthier hands. I rejoice with my right honourable friend near me (Mr. Peel) in the high honour which he has obtained. Long may he enjoy the distinction, and long may it prove a source of reciprocal pride to our parent university and to himself! Never till this hour have I stated, either in public or in private, the extent of this irretrievable sacrifice; but I have not felt it the less deeply. It is past, and I shall speak of it no more."

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