« PreviousContinue »
victions that for this, and other evils affecting that part of the empire concession would afford no remedy. The speech of Mr. Dawson at Londonderry, on the 12th of August was the first public symptom of the influence of the Association in terrifying its opponents, but although the sentiments of that gentleman derived additional importance from the relation in which he stood to the Home Secretary, and although they were, therefore eagerly caught by the friends of concession, as betokening a change of opinion in more powerful men, yet the vacillations of an Irish member trembling for his seat, under the remembrance of the Clare election, could lead no one to anticipate sudden defection among those, who had less reason to dread, and whose first duty it was to restrain the Catholic demagogues. Though Mr. Peel's brother-in-law had announced, at a public dinner, his change of opinion, Mr. Peel himself accepted, during the autumn, the public banquets of the gentry and manufacturers of Lancashire, as the champion of the Protestant cause, without allowing a syllable to escape from him, which could raise any suspicion that he was more inclined to surrender the Protestant constitution, than he had been three months before.
Above all, the correspondence between the Duke of Wel lington and Dr. Curtis, which was given to the public in December, justified the most entire confidence on the part of the country, that his Grace and his Grace's Ministry entertained po purpose of yielding. The Duke had written, in express words, that he “ saw no prospect of a settlement of the question :" that, in the existing state of excitation, “it was impossible to expect to prevail upon men to consider it dispassionately;" and that, if an ultimate satisfactory arrangement of the question were wishea for, it would be desirable for a time to bury it in oblivion.” When the Duke of Wellington thus declared, on the 11th of December, that he saw no prospect of a settlement of the question, what man could imagine, that he had already resolved forthwith to force it to a settlement? Who thus represented the excited state of
When the year
public feeling, as opposing an insuperable obstacle to the consideration of concesion, who could believe that he and his cabinet had already determined to push concession, in defiance, of that very feeling, and amidst excitation a thousand times more violent? When he expressed his opinion that the question ought to be “buried in oblivion," would it not bave been deemed an insult to the understanding or to the honesty · of his Grace, to have said, that by these words, he meant the instant agitation of the question in Parliament and the agitation of it, too, as a government measure ? concluded with the recall of the Lord Lieutenant, because he had used language, and pursued a line of conduct, favourable to the hopes of the Catholics, what man could dream that the next year was to begin with granting all that the Catholics had ever demanded ?
Yet so it was; while the country was thus reposing in secure confidence, that the leading members of the Government were still faithful to their trust; these very men had determined to go over to the Catholics, and in secresy, and silence, were arranging their plans, to overwhelm every attempt at resistance, by the power of ministerial influence. The consent of the King was the first thing to be obtained, and it was likewise the most difficult. His Majesty's opinion against the justice and expediency of concession were deeply rooted; the subject itself was one, on the consideration of which, he did not willingly enter. What were the arguments employed for his Majesty's conversion can be learned only from the argument by which Ministers subsequently attempted to justify in Parliament their own change of policy; but while the operations of the Minister upon the royal mind were going on, no whisper was allowed to go abroad regarding the measure that was in contemplation. There was skilful management in this, if there was not much fairness. Had the people, instead of being lulled into the confidence that those whom they had trusted before, would be trust-worthy still, been made aware of the counsels which these very men were pouring into the royal ear, the public voice would have been
heard at the foot of the throne, strengthening the deep-rooted convictions of the Monarch himself, and the reluctant consent, which was ultimately wrung from him, in all probability, would never have been obtained. When his consent was once ob tained, the public voice might be allowed to raise itself without danger, for he then stood pledged to his Ministers, if those Ministers, by whatever means could only command a majority in Parliament. It was not till after this consent had been granted, that it began to be whispered abroad in the end of January, and only a few days before the meeting of Parliament that his Majesty's Minister's intended to recommend to Parliament, some concessions to the Catholics.
The surprise, which this announcement excited was only equalled by the indignation and contempt roused by so sudden an abandonment of principle. The Protestant party found that up to the very moment of the assembling of Parliament, they had been allowed to rest in the belief, that the question would not be stirred, the influence of the leading Members of the Cabinet would still stand in its way, while in truth their most tried friends had been plotting and planning, how they might most successfully secure a triumph to the enemy, and were concealing at the same time their intended defection up to the instant, when the contest was to begin. It seems impossible to acquit the Duke of Wellington and Mr. Peel, of having acted in this part of the affair with a disingenuousness which might be perfectly in its place in a miserable political intrigue, but which tainted their character as public men in relation to a question of such vast and vital importance. They knew they were trusted by the Protestant party as the champions who were to be ready armed, whenever the Cathor lics should advance against the constitution. If they had grown weary of the service, and were resolved to abandon it for the adverse side, there would have been more manliness and fairness, though less craft in announcing from the first, their own change of sentiment, and their determination to act with instant vigour against their former friends. Thus matters stood, when Parliament met on the 5th of February, and in the
Address from the Throne, his Majesty is made to say that he laments, that in that part of the United Kingdom (Irelana) an Association should still exist, which is dangerous to the public peace, and inconsistent with the spirit of the Constitution, which keeps alive discord and ill-will amongst his Májesty's subjects, and which must, if permitted to continue, effectually obstruct every effort permanently to improve the condition of Ireland.
His Majesty further recommends, that when this essential object shall have been accomplished, you shall take into your deliberate consideration the whole condition of Ireland, and that you should revise the laws which impose civil disabilities on his Majesty's Roman Catholic subjects.
In pursuance of this recommendation contained in the King's Speech, Mr. Peel on the 10th of February obtained leave to bring in a Bill for putting an end to the existence of the Association. The Bill passed both Houses without opposition, for although its provisions were necessarily somewhat arbitrary in their nature, and called down the anathemas of Mr. O'Connell upon the heads of the Ministers, yet the friends of the Catholics voted in its favour as part of a system which was immediately to terminate in emancipation. They all declared, however, that if it had been introduced as a substantive measure, they would have resisted it, and that they now consented to suppress the Association, only on the understanding that those claims for the furtherance of which the Association had been created, were to be immediately conceded. In truth, to grant emancipation would put an end to the Association without any statute, to remove the disabilities would be the only effectual Act of suppression. O'Connell however told the Ministers, that the Association was not a corporeal being, capable of being grasped by the law. It was the people of Ireland, and he was at the head of that people. Its spirit was caused by the grievances of the nation, and 'ts seat was the bosom of seven millions of its population. It was impossible to deny, and Ministers confessed it, that the present flourishing prospect of the Catholic Cause, was mainly owing
to the gigantico efforts of Mr. O'Connell, who appeared to move the whole machinery of it with a sovereign power, unequalled by any, which a subject ever possessed before. In forwarding that cause, he had done good to both parts of the empire, however foolishly individual Members might have indulged in absurd proposals ; and extravagant, and irritating language ; and its suppression by enactments, which involved even the temporary exercise of arbitrary powers, could be justified only by regarding it as the price to be paid for the final and complete triumph of that object, for which alone it had existed.
In the course of the discussions, it was strongly pressed upon Ministers, why the suppression of this Association had not been sooner accomplished ? You justly describe this Association, it was said to them, as a body, whose existence is incompatible with the due operation of the power of the regular government. You represent Ireland as being in a state of agitation which can be soothed only by granting all that the Catholics demand ; and no man can doubt that the Catholic Association, which exists only for purpose of agitation, is the great fomenter of that dangerous and alarming spirit. You say that it must be put down; you ask extraordinary powers to put it down ; by doing so, you grant that it may be put down. If so why has it been allowed to go on prosperous and unimpeded for years, till, having gained “ a giant stature and a tyrant's strength,” it brings you crouching to its feet, in trembling obedience to its mandates? In short, you acknowledge, that by a due use of power you might have prevented that state of things, in which, now that it has been allowed to grow up, you seek an apology for deserting the policy to which you have been so long pledged. Above all, you ask and obtained in 1825, an Act for suppressing this very Association Yet it is since that time that it has become so formidable. If the powers given by that Act were sufficient, why was it not enforced? If they were insufficient, why were more effective powers not demanded ? for who would have