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CATHOLIC EMANCIPATION PROPOSED.
Premier that, in the autumn of 1799, the Irish Government had informed him that the project of Union could not be carried through the Irish Parliament without the assistance of the Roman Catholic interest, and that this was dependent on an assurance that the Union would tend to a satisfactory settlement of their claims. A Cabinet Council was called to consider this communication, and Castlereagh invited to attend it. The result was, that the opinion of the Cabinet was favourable to a measure of relief; that some doubts were entertained as to the possibility of admitting Catholics into certain of the higher offices; and that Ministers apprehended considerable repugnance to
the measure in many quarters, and particularly in the highest; but that, so far as the sentiments of the Cabinet were concerned, the Lord Lieutenant need not hesitate in calling forth the Catholic support in whatever degree he found it
practicable to obtain it. Lord Castlereagh goes on to say : “I certainly did not then hear any direct objections stated against the principle of the measure by any one of the Ministers then present. You will, I have no doubt, recollect that, so far from any serious hesitation being entertained in respect to the principle, it was even discussed whether an immediate declaration on the subject to the Catholics would not be advisable, and whether an assurance should not be distinctly given them in the event of the Union being accomplished, of their objects being submitted with the countenance of Government, to the united Parliament upon a peace. This idea was laid aside principally upon a consideration that such a declaration might alienate the Protestants in both coun
THE GOVERNMENT COMPACT.
tries from the Union, in a greater degree than it was calculated to assist the measure through the Catholics ; and accordingly the instructions I was directed to convey to Lord Cornwallis were to the following effect : That he was fully warranted in “soliciting” every support the Catholics could give, and that, should circumstances render it absolutely necessary, he was again to address the Cabinet on the propriety of giving them a direct assurance.” Here, then, was a promise given, and a consideration received. The Government had clearly entered into a compact with the Catholics; and the latter having performed their portion of it, had a right to demand an equal loyalty from the former. Nor until this was done, could the great work they had undertaken be considered as complete. The Union must remain a mockery until the Roman Catholics were placed on equal terms with their Protestant fellow-subjects. Places and pensions might satisfy the hirelings of Government and the tools of “the Castle"; but something larger and more liberal was needed to content a people. It was true that no time had been definitely stated for the crowning of the column. But could any time be more appropriate than the hour of Union ? Could any time be more expedient than when England was in arms against a formidable foe, and Ireland in danger of invasion ? An act of justice, generosity, and grace, conferred at once and in no carping spirit, would knit more firmly the bonds of Union, and bind the Irish to the Throne by the ties of gratitude and affection.
This was the view which Pitt and Lord Grenville took of the situation; and they addressed themselves
A SCHEME OF CATHOLIC RELIEF.
to the preparation of the measure, or rather the series of measures, by which their promise might be fulfilled in its entirety. They designed to attach the Catholic clergy to the State, by making them dependent upon the public funds for a portion of their income. They were of opinion that Catholics should be admitted to office, as well as to the privilege of sitting in Parliament; and that instead of the sacramental test, then notoriously evaded, and insufficient for any effectual purpose, a political test should be imposed indiscriminately on all persons sitting in Parliament, or holding state or corporation offices, as well as on all ministers of religion, of whatever description, all teachers of schools, and the like. test,” says Lord Grenville, * " was to be directly levelled against the Jacobin principles; was to disclaim in express terms the sovereignty of the people; and was to contain an oath of allegiance and fidelity to the King's Government of the realm, and to the established constitution both in Church and State.” How much of this comprehensive and large-minded scheme was due to Lord Grenville, and how much to Pitt, we cannot determine ; but it was worthy of both of them, and had it been realised would probably have saved England from the chronic inconvenience, not to say danger, of a disaffected Ireland.
It was approved by the Cabinet; and, in the month of September, made known to the Chancellor, Lord Loughborough,—the crafty and supple Wedderburn,—who saw in it the means of ingratiating himself with
* Courts and Cabinets of George the 3rd,' iii. 128, 129.
the King. He at once communicated it to him, and the narrow but conscientious intellect of George the 3rd did not fail to discern in it a supposed inconsistency with the obligations of his Coronation Oath. He had already been predisposed against it by the suggestions of the Archbishop of Armagh and the astute Chancellor. When, therefore, on the 31st of January (1801), Pitt submitted the proposals of the Cabinet in a long and masterly ultimatum, adding that, unless allowed to introduce them into Parliament with the royal assent and the full authority of the Government, he would wish to be released from his official situation, the King, in reply, put forward his Coronation Oath as an unalterable barrier to their acceptance, but suggested, as a compromise, that the subject should be dropped on both sides. Such a compromise was necessarily inadmissible. Pitt made an absolute tender of his resignation, and the King could no longer refuse it.
As his Majesty's repugnance to the Catholic claims was well-known to the Minister, he must have foreseen that the collapse of his Government would be the result of his pressing them. It may be asked, therefore, why he committed himself to such a course. Some writers have sought an explanation in the state of his health, and in the disastrous failure of his war policy. They hint that he desired the conduct of peace negotiations with France to pass into other hands. Our own belief is, that Pitt, but for the energetic action of Lord Grenville, would willingly have postponed the promised settlement. He was in the enjoyment of almost absolute power. The Opposition, however strong in talent, was
THE ADDINGTON MINISTRY.
numerically so feeble as to be incapable of the effective discharge of the duties of an Opposition. In most matters his strong will had prevailed even over the King's obstinacy. A statesman so avaricious of authority and so absorbed in official work as Pitt, would not voluntarily throw up a position of such unequalled magnificence. But he was overborne by Grenville's resolution; and probably he believed that, though compelled to resign, his exclusion from office would be but temporary. Was he not indispensable ? Recalled to power, he would either be free to set aside the Catholic question to be dealt with by another generation, or he would be able to extort from the King a reluctant assent to the proposed settlement. *
The formation of a new Government was entrusted to the Speaker, Henry Addington, a son of Dr. Addington, and a protégé of the Pitt family. Pitt encouraged him to undertake the task by a promise of his cordial support. But as most of the Ministers, great and small, retired along with Pitt, the new Premier was compelled to fall back upon men of inferior calibre. In Macaulay's words, he had no other resource than to call up the rear
* The King's feelings on the subject were very strong. Lord Malmesbury states in his Diary (Feb. 26th, 1801), that he saw the King at Windsor about the 6th or 7th, when he read the Coronation Oath to his family, asked if they understood it, and remarked, “If I violate it, I am no longer legal sovereign of this country, but it falls to the House of Savoy,”—a fiction suggested to him, perhaps, by Lord Loughborough. General Garth relates that, on one occasion, after having had the Oath read over to him, he exclaimed, “I would rather beg my bread from door to door throughout Europe than consent to any such measure.”—PELLEW, ' Life of Lord Sidmouth,' i. 285.