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

The Catholic Disabilities - Motion of Sir Francis Burdett - The Marquis Wellesley succeeded by Lord Anglesey in the Government of Ireland - The Act for the Suppression of the Catholic Association- Impolicy of Coercion - Fourteen Days' Meetings - Progress of Liberal Opinion in Parliament - Mr. O'Connell, his Character and Career; Grattan's Attack upon him - Mr. Vesey Fitzgerald - The Clare Election - Mr. Sheil - The Priest of Corrofin - O'Connell at Ennis - The Nomination - The Battle of the Priests and Landlords - The Triumphant Return of O'Connell - Profound Sensation in England- Mr. Peel's Reflections on the Event - Disaffection of Catholic Soldiers- Apprehensions of Insurrection - The Duke of Wellington and Sir Robert Peel determine on Concession.
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On the 8th of May the catholic claims were again brought forward by Sir Francis Burdett, who moved for a committee of the whole house, " with a view to such a final and conciliatory adjustment as may be conducive to the peace and strength of the United Kingdom, to the stability of the protestant establishment, and to the general satisfaction and concord of all classes of his majesty's subjects." The debate, which was animated and interesting, continued for three days. On a division, the motion for a committee was carried by 272 against 266, giving a majority of six only. But in the preceding session a similar motion had been lost by a majority of four. On the 16th of the same month, Sir Francis moved that the resolution be communicated to the lords in a free conference, and that their concurrence should be requested. This being agreed to, the conference was held, and the resolution was reported to the lords, who took it into consideration on the 9th of June. The debate, which lasted two days, was opened by the marquis of Lansdowne. The duke of Wellington opposed the resolution, which was lost by a majority of 181 to 137.

The state of opinion among the members of the government from the early part of this year may be traced in the memoirs of Sir Robert Peel, which comprise the confidential correspondence on the subject. The marquis of Wellesley had retired from the government of Ireland, and was succeeded by the marquis of Anglesey. The former nobleman would have given more satisfaction to the Irish Roman catholics; but he was overruled, as they believed, by Mr. Goulbourn, his chief secretary. His popularity and the confidence reposed in him were much increased by the fact that the marchioness was a Roman catholic, which, however, proportionally rendered him an object of suspicion to the Orange party. The noble marquis was regarded fry Mr. Peel with the most sincere respect and esteem, which were cordially reciprocated. In a letter dated January 30th, 1828, lord Wellesley wrote to him thus: - u Your most acceptable letter of the 29th instant enables me to offer to you now those assurances of gratitude, respect, and esteem which, to my sincere concern, have been so long delayed. Although these sentiments have not before reached you in the manner which would have been most suitable to the subject, I trust that you have not been unacquainted with the real impressions which your kindness and high character have fixed in my mind, and which it is always a matter of the most genuine satisfaction to me to declare. I am very anxious to communicate with you in the same unreserved confidence so long subsisting between us on the state of Ireland."

The main subject for consideration at that moment was the policy of continuing the act for the suppression of the Catholic Association, which was to expire at the end of the session of 1828. In connection with this subject, a letter from lord Anglesey came under consideration. It contained his first impressions of the state of affairs there. "Do keep matters quiet in parliament," he said, u if possible. The less that is said of catholic and protestant the better. It would be presumptuous to form an opinion, or even a sanguine hope, in so short a time, yet I cannot but think there is much reciprocal inclination to get rid of the bugbear, and soften down asperities. I am by no means sure that even the most violent would not be glad of an excuse for being less violent. Even at the association, they are as a loss to keep up the extreme irritation they had accomplished; and if they find they are not violently opposed, and that there is no disposition on the part of government to coercion, I do believe they will dwindle into moderation. If, however, we have a mind to have a good blaze again, we may at once command it by re-enacting the expiring bill, and when we have improved it and rendered it perfect, we shall find that it will not be acted upon. In short, I shall back Messrs. O'Connell's and Sheil's, and others' evasions against the crown lawyers' laws."

Mr. Lamb wrote to Mr. Peel to the same effect The act, he said, had failed in fulfilling its main object, as well as every other advantageous purpose. To re-enact it would irritate all parties, and expose the ministry to odium. He alluded to sources of dissension that were springing up in the Roman catholic body, particularly the jealousy excited in the Roman catholic prelates by the power which the association had assumed over the parochial clergy. On the whole, his advice was against renewing the statute. On the 12th of April, lord Anglesey wrote a memorandum on the subject, in which he pointed out the impolicy of any coercive measure, which, to be effective, must interfere with the right of public meeting, and make a dangerous inroad on the constitution, at the same time displaying the weakness of the government, which is shown in nothing more than passing strong measures which there was not vigour to enforce. His information led him to believe that the higher orders of the Roman catholic clergy had long felt great jealousy of the ascendancy that the leaders of the association had assumed over the lower priesthood. Besides, many of the most respectable of the catholic landlords were irritated at their tenantry for continuing to pay the catholic rent, contrary to their injunctions; and sooner or later he believed the poorer contributors must consider the impost as onerous, arbitrary, and oppressive. These matters he regarded as seeds of dissolution, which would be more than neutralised by any coercive attempt to put down the association. He felt confident that no material mischief could result from allowing the act quietly to expire, supported as the government was by "the powerful aid of that excellent establishment, the constabulary force, already working the greatest benefit, and capable of still further improvement, and protected as this force was by an efficient army, ably commanded."

In answer to some queries submitted to the attorney- general, Mr. Joy, he stated that when the old association was suppressed, the balance of catholic rent in the treasury was 14,000. He showed how the existing act had been evaded, and how useless it was to attempt to prevent the agitation by any coercive measure. They held " fourteen days' meetings," and it was amusing to read the notices convening those meetings, which always ran thus: - "A fourteen days' meeting will be held, pursuant to act of parliament " - as if the act had enjoined and required such meetings. Then there were aggregate meetings, and other " separate meetings," which were manifestly a continuation of the association. The same members attended, and the same routine was adopted. They also held simultaneous parochial meetings, by which the people were gathered into a solid and perilous confederacy.

Referring to the debate on the motion of Sir Francis Burdett, Mr. Peel noticed the progress that public opinion had made in parliament, and the weight of authority against him, which led the house of commons, for the first time since the general election, to decide in favour of emancipation. Among the speakers for the motion were Sir Francis Burdett, Mr. Doherty, solicitor-general for Ireland, lord Francis Egerton, Sir John Newport, Mr. Wilmot Horton, Sir James Mackintosh, Mr. Brownlow, Mr. William Lamb, chief secretary for Ireland, Mr. Charles Grant, president of the board of trade, Mr. North, Mr. Huskisson, and Mr, Brougham. The speakers against the motion were Sir Charles Wetherell, Sir N. Tindal, Sir Robert Inglis, Mr. William Duncomb, Mr. G. Bankes, Mr. G. Moore, Mr. Leslie Foster, and Mr. Peel. The latter gentleman observes that any one acquainted with the house of commons would readily admit that the great preponderance of talent and of influence on future decisions was ranged on the side of emancipation. Mr. Brownlow, who had been a distinguished leader of the Orange party in Ireland, had changed his opinion on the subject, though representing an Orange constituency; many of the younger members followed his example, and Mr. Peel remarked "that it very rarely if ever happened that the list of speakers against concession was reinforced by a young member of even ordinary ability."

Mr. Lamb retired with Mr. Huskisson, sending in his resignation to the duke of Wellington, indignant at " a most cruel and audacious outrage " which he had received, declaring to Mr. Peel that as the changes effected by the duke entirely altered the aspect of affairs, and subverted the principle upon which he understood the government had been formed in January, he felt it impossible to continue in office with any regard to consistency; but he could not retire without expressing his high esteem for the character of the home secretary, and the perfect reliance he had always felt, and should always feel, upon that gentleman's honour and integrity. Mr. Lamb was succeeded as chief secretary by lord Francis Gower, afterwards lord Ellesmere. Among the offices vacated in consequence of the recent schism in the government, was that of president of the board of trade, which was accepted by Mr. Vesey Fitzgerald, one of the members for the County Clare. He was consequently obliged to offer himself for re-election to his constituents, and this led to the memorable contest which decided the question of catholic emancipation.

This contest excited universal interest. Mr. O'Connell, the Roman catholic candidate, was not unknown in England. He had come to London as the leading member of a deputation to urge the concession of catholic emancipation upon the government and the legislature, when he met a number of the leading statesmen of the day at the house of the duke of Norfolk. He had been examined by a committee of the lords, together with the right Rev. Dr. Doyle, in i825, on which occasion the ability he displayed, his extensive and accurate knowledge, his quickness in answering, and the clearness with which he conveyed information, excited the admiration of all parties. In the appeal case of Scully versus Scully he pleaded before lord Eldon. It was the first time he had appeared in his forensic character in this country. No sooner had he risen to address their lordships, than it was buzzed about the precincts of Westminster, and persons of all descriptions crowded in with anxious curiosity to witness the display, including several peers and members of parliament. He addressed their lordships for nearly two hours, during which the lord chancellor paid him great attention, though he had only thirty-three hours before carried the house of lords with him in rejecting the bill by which the great advocate would have been admitted to the full privileges of citizenship. Referring to this subject, lord Eldon wrote in his diary, " Mr. O'Connell pleaded as a barrister before me in the house of lords on Thursday. His demeanour was very proper, but he did not strike me as shining so much in argument as might be expected from a man who has made so much noise in his harangues in a seditious association." Lord Eldon's opinion was evidently tinged by the recollection of the "seditious harangues." It is a curious fact that the leading counsel on that occasion on the same side was Sir Charles Wetherell, then solicitor-general. The English admired the rich tones of O'Connell's voice, his clear and distinct articulation, his legal ingenuity, and the readiness with which he adapted himself to the tribunal before which he pleaded. One of the best speeches he ever made was delivered at the great meeting of the British Catholic Association, the duke of Norfolk presiding, He astonished his auditory on that occasion. In fact, he was regarded as a lion in London. He won golden opinions wherever he went, by his blandness, vivacity, and wit in private, and his lofty bearing in public. His commanding figure, his massive chest, and his broad, good-humoured face, with thought and determination distinctly marked in his physiognomy, showed that he had the physique of a great leader of the masses, while he proved himself amongst his colleagues not more powerful in body than in mind and will. The confidence reposed in him in Ireland was unbounded. He was indeed the most remarkable of all the men who had ever advocated the catholic claims; the only one of their great champions fit to be a popular leader. Curran and Grattan were feeble and attenuated in body, and laboured under physical deficiencies, if the impulsive genius of the one or the fastidious pride of the other would have permitted them to be demagogues; O'Connell had all the qualities necessary for that character in perfection - " unflinching boldness, audacious assertion, restless motion, soaring ambition, untiring energy, exquisite tact, instinctive sagacity, a calculating, methodising mind, and a despotic will." He was by no means scrupulous in matters of veracity, and he was famous for his powers of vituperation; but, as he was accustomed to say himself, he was u the best abused man in Ireland." It was very seldom that his name was missed from the leaders of conservative journals, and he was the great object of attack at the meetings of the Brunswick clubs, which were called into existence to resist the Catholic Association. But of all his assailants, none dealt him more terrible blows than the venerable Henry Grattan, the hero of 1782. " Examine their leader," he exclaimed, "Mr. O'Connell. He assumes a right to direct the catholics of Ireland. He advises, he harangues, and he excites; he does not attempt to allay the passions of a warm and jealous people. Full of inflammatory matter, his declamations breathe everything but harmony; venting against Great Britain the most disgusting calumny, falsehood, and treachery, equalled only by his impudence, describing her as the most stupid, the most dishonest nation that ever existed. A man that could make the speeches he has made, utter the sentiments he has uttered, abuse the characters he has abused, praise the characters he has praised, violate the promises he has violated, propose such votes and such censures as he has proposed, can have little regard for private honour or for public character; he cannot comprehend the spirit of liberty, and he is unfitted to receive it. He betrays such a scattered understanding and barbarous mind, that if he got liberty, he would immediately lose it. His speaking is extravagant diction, a vulgar boast, a swaggering sentence, affected bombast, and ludicrous composition; his liberty is not liberal, his politics are not reason, his reading is not learning, his learning is not knowledge; his rhetoric is gaudy hyperbole, garnished with faded flowers - such as a drabbled girl would pick up in Covent Garden - stuck in with the taste of a kitchen maid. This man can bring forth nothing good. The womb of his mind is of such sinful mould that it can never produce anything that is not deformed. He barks, and barks, and even when the filthy slaverer has exhausted his poison and returns to his kennel, he there still barks and howls within unseen."

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

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