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terrupted, not indeed, by the returning spirit of union and good feeling, but by a power which had hitherto been little apprehended by the Roman Catholics. Their discussions and dissensions had for some time back attracted the attention of government. Though little as yet in connection with the people, the Catholic committee even then was considered as formidable. The committee of 1809 had been constituted with great care and caution. The discussion at that period on the convention act, had suggested the necessity of avoiding any appearance of delegation ; though by an express clause it was provided that nothing therein contained, should prevent the rights of his majesty's subjects to petition his majesty or the Parliament. In the last resolutions of the meeting from which the Catholic committee had originated, this clause is especially referred to, but as if anticipating the jealousy of government, the same resolution declared, that the noblemen and gentlemen aforesaid, are not representatives of the Catholic body or any portion thereof. This salutary precaution was, however, forgotten in the meeting which took place at the Farming Repository in the following July. A considerable alteration was adopted. The last resolution appoints a committee to be composed of the thirty-six wiembers for Dublin, and ten gentlemen from each county in Ireland. This committee was embodied for the purpose of drawing up an address to the king, a remonstrance to the British nation, and a petition to Parliament, to be presented at the beginning of next session. It was still imagined by this specific statement of the purposes for which it was formed, that it would stand within the limits of the law and thus preclude the possibility of any interference on the part of government. But the Catholics had calculated without much knowledge of the motive or characters of those men with whom they had to deal. The attack was directed, not against any infringement of the law, but against the existence of the committee itself.
The convention act passed in 1793, had been originally framed by Lord Clare with a view to break up the organization of the United Irishmen. It had now lain dormant for eighteen
years, and the Catholics had been permitted without interruption by every successive administration during that period, to collect and express the will of their body, in the manner most agreeable to themselves. Their internal differences did not interfere with the public tranquillity, and had hitherto been rather a source of gratification, than uneasiness to that party, whose policy it was to divide and weaken their body, but under the Richmond administration, their proceedings were watched with a much stricter scrutiny.
The eye of O'Connell was however directed to all these proceedings, he was watching them with an intensity of interest, which was in a short time to manifest itself openly, and to carry alarm and dismay into the Protestant camp. The meeting which was held in the exhibition room William Street, in 1809, at which Mr. O'Connell took so prominent a part, was the meeting for establishing the general committee of 1809. The grounds on which the meeting founded the necessity of renewing the struggles for the party, were thus well expressed:—We are now unhappily and experimentally convinced, that no principle of justice, no force of reasoning is sufficient to counteract a malignant influence, which threatens the empire with general contamination and consequent destruction. Public delinquents and defrauders would put to hazard the existence of the reigning family, and the integrity of the empire, rather than restore the people to the privileges of the constitution, which would produce such wholesome reform of abuses as must deprive themselves of the opportunity of undue influence and peculation.”
The part which Mr. O'Connell took in the formation of this committee, is a remarkable instance of his caution and foresight. It was mentioned at the passing of the Relief Bill of 1793, an act was passed to prevent delegates or representatives from meeting to petition Parliament. The act had long lain useless; but O'Connell knew the hands it was placed in too well to believe that it would not be had recourse to. On forty-two noblemen and gentlemen being appointed to prepare a petition to Parliament, it was proposed by Mr. O'Connell,
and “resolved unanimously, that the noblemen and gentlemen aforesaid are not representatives of the Catholic body, or any portion thereof."
This wise resolution was, unfortunately not kept. A meeting was afterwards held, which appoin!ed a committee to consist of thirty-six members for Dublin, and ten gentlemen from each county in Ireland, for the purpose of preparing an address to the king, a remonstrance to the British nation, and a petition to Parliament. In consequence of this, a circular letter was addressed by Mr. Wellesley Pole, Secretary for Ireland, to the sheriffs and magistrates, requiring them to put the Convention Act in execution, by arresting any person who may have given notice of an election, or may have joined in the choosing of a delegate. Lord Fingal, and some other members of the committee, having met in defiance of the threat, were arrested and brought to trial. The question was tried before a Dublin packed jury, in the persons of Dr. Sheridan and Mr. Kirwan. They owed their rescue chiefly to the man who had recommended them to avoid the danger. Mr. O'Connell was counsel in this case, but not at that time, being a leading counsel, he confined himself merely to the cross-examination of the witnesses, but it was well known that the whole plan of the defence was arranged by him, and to his masterly management was it in a great degree attributed that the accused were acquitted-- Roman Catholics acquitted by Protestants ! Such an event was new and unexpected in Ireland, and created vast astonishment. The victory was, however, marred by an attempt to carry it too far, for the victor, as is often the case, marred the victory in the very instant of its acquisition by his own folly, and warm and ardent as we may be in the sentiments which we entertain of the general conduct of Mr. O'Connell in the management of the Catholic affairs, we can not still wholly avert our view from those errors which he committed, and to which, perhaps, he was led by a too sanguine and enthusiastic a disposition, flushed at the time with victory, and anxious to follow up the success which he had already obtained.
The verdict of the jury had returned to the Catholics their right of delegation, and in the moment of their triumph, pardonable, perhaps in men accustomed only to disappointment: they were hurried onward to a new contest and certain defeat. The warrants for the apprehension of the Catholic leaders, had been signed by Lord Chief Justice Downes, and the verdict of the jury having determined such arrests to be illegal, it was considered, that the commission of; the illegal act ought to be punished in the person of the offending party. Accordingly a counter prosecution was set on foot against Chief Justice Downes, in which Mr. O'Connell's natural foresight and prudence for a time forsook him. The prosecution might have been easily and honourably got rid of a compromise extorted from the fears, or at least sanctioned with the approbation of the ruling powers, would have established the then unquestioned privileges of the Catholic and not rashly put at hazard by evil precedent, the very highest privileges of the citizen. It was, however, ruled otherwise, O'Connell had drawn the sword, and he considered it tantamount to a defeat, to sheath it without striking a blow. He pushed on the attack with vigour. He considered the existence of his party was involved in the safety of the individual all constitutional considerations disappeared in the defence, for the point in struggle was the credit of a faction. What reasonable man, who measures life by living things, and reads facts, not theories, could for an instant doubt of the result? The case was tried a second time in the person of the chief justice. Judgement was given against the Catholics. The judgement was intended to be appealed against, but the Catholics lost their spirits not even the thundering eloquence of O'Connell, could rouse them, and the demurrers were not even argued. Thus the victory, which they had first obtained, was reversed. The committee was scattered, delegation was annihilated, and a common liberty sacrificed by the indiscretion of individuals, to the chicane and corruption of an arrogant and offending party.
The disorganised state into which the Catholic body was thrown by their defeat in their prosecution of Chief Justice Downes, for a time affected the whole proceedings of the Catholics. O'Connell however recovered them from their stupefaction. He was not one to let a great and noble cause die a violent death, when by his energies he could resuscitate it, and gradually restore it to its pristine vigour. In vain did the Protestant press assail him, in vain did the hirelings of a bloated Protestant aristocracy, try to wound him in his professional, as well as in his private character. He looked down upon them from his stronghold with contempt, he saw their venomed shafts fall hurtless to the ground, and conscious of his invulnerability, the fiercer the atack, the more daring and bold was he in his defence. His enemies quailed before him, and whilst some fell prostrate at his feet, others sought their safety in flight, carrying with them on their recreant hacks, the infliction of the punishment which he had so lavishly bestowed upon them. The General Committee had indeed separated, and delegation, even for the purposes of petition, had been declared highly penal, but the spirit, which brought that body originally together, and had given shape and form to these elements, when there was much less affinity between them, still survived, and soon built up a new structure from the fragments of the old. In the erection of this new edifice, Mr. O'Connell was the chief architect; he collected together the separated parts, he brought them into a state of uniformity and symmetry.' Out of a voluntary assemblage of the former members, deprecating however with the greatest caution every thing which could be construed into a representative character, arose a new association under an altered title, the body remaining virtually the same: the ministers had accomplished nothing than the changing of one appellation from the other. The Catholic Committee had become the Catholic Board.
Scarcely however had Mr. O'Connell succeeded in adjusting the disjointed members, than a new source of discomfiture presented itself, which threatened him with a total frustration of his plans. By his dexterity and good management, the Catholics had foiled the minister, and would have rapidly foiled, like the minister, all other enemies, who opposed them, had it not been for their friends and for themselves. O'Connell placed himself the foremost in the ranks of the antevetoists,