« PreviousContinue »
to all bills for relieving his Catholic subjects, and to turn out whatever minister advised him on the subject.
The Monarch's letters begin with one to Lord Kenyon, in the following words. Thecomposition, so greatly admired by Dr Phillpotts, we say nothing of; but we much question the fairness, if not the constitutionality, of secretly consulting a Chief-Justice and an Attorney-General, instead of a Cabinet Minister, upon the policy to be pursued on a great question of state. “ No. 1.-TO THE LORD KENYON.
" Queen's House, March 7, 1795. « The question that has been so improperly patronised by the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland in favour of the Papists, though certainly very properly silenced here, yet it seems not to have been viewed in what seems to me the strongest point of view—its militating against the Coronation Oath and many existing statutes. I have, therefore, stated the accompanying queries on paper, to which I desire the Lord Kenyon will, after due consideration, state his opinion in the same manner, and should be glad if he would also acquire the sentiments of the Attorney-General on this most serious subject. GEORGE R.”
In answer to the questions accompanying this note, Lord Kenyon, with the concurrence of the Attorney-General, afterwards Lord Eldon, stated, in substance, that the passing a law in favour of the Catholics was a perfectly lawful measure, and that no oath bound, or could bind, the King to refuse his consent to any such law. The letter of Mr Pitt, dated January 31, 1801, is a most plain and able exposition of his sentiments upon the subject, in general, of the Catholic claims, and we deem its insertion here next to a duty :
« Downing-street, Saturday, Jan. 31, 1801. « Mr Pitt would have felt it, at all events, his duty, previous to the meeting of Parliament, to submit to your Majesty the result of the best consideration which your confidential servants could give to the important questions respecting the Catholics and Dissenters, which must naturally be agitated in consequence of the Union. The knowledge of your Majesty's general indisposition to any change of the laws on this subject, would have made this a painful task to him; and it is become much more so, by learning from some of his colleagues, and from other quarters, within these few days, the extent to which your Majesty entertains, and has declared, that sentiment.
" He trusts your Majesty will believe that every principle of duty, gratitude, and attachment, must make him look to your Majesty's ease and satisfaction, in preference to all considerations, but those arising from a sense of what, in his honest opinion, is due to the real interest of your Majesty and your dominions. Under the impression of that opinion, he has concurred in what appeared to be the prevailing sentiments of the majority of the Cabinet—that the admission of the Catholics and Dissenters to offices, and of the Catholics to Parliament, (from which latter the Dissenters are now excluded) would, under certain conditions to be specified, be highly advisable, with a view to the tranquillity and improvement of Ireland, and to the general interest of the United Kingdom.
“ For himself, he is, on full consideration, convinced that the measure would be attended with no danger to the Established Church, or to the Protestant interest in Great Britain or Ireland : that, now the Union has taken place, and with the new provisions which make part of the plan, it could never give any such weight in office, or in Parliament, either to Catholics or Dissenters, as could give them any new means (if they were so disposed) of attacking the Establishment :—that the grounds, on which the laws of exclusion now remaining were founded, have long been narrowed, and are since the Union removed;—that those principles, formerly held by the Catholics, which made them be considered as politically dangerous, have been for a course of time gradually declining, and, among the higher orders particularly, they have ceased to prevail. That the obnoxious tenets are disclaimed in the most positive manner by the oaths, which have been required in Great Britain, and still more by one of those required in Ireland, as the condition of the indulgences already granted, and which might equally be made the condition of any new ones. That if such an oath, containing among other provisions) a denial of the power of absolution from its obligations, is not a security from Catholics, the sacramental test is not more so. That the political circumstances under which the exclusive laws originated, arising either from the conflicting power of hostile and nearly balanced sects, from the apprehension of a Popish queen or successor, a disputed succession, and a foreign Pretender, and a division in Europe between Catholic and Protestant powers, are no longer applicable to the present state of things. That with respect to those of the Dissenters, who, it is feared, entertain principles dangerous to the Constitution, a distinct political test, pointed against the doctrine of modern Jacobinism, would be a much more just and more effectual security than that which now exists, which may operate to the exclusion of conscientious persons well affected to the state, and is no guard against those of an opposite description, That with respect to the Catholics of Ireland, another most important additional security, and one of which the effect would continually increase, might be provided, by gradually attaching the popish clergy to the government, and for this purpose making them dependent for a part of their provision (under proper regulations) on the State, and by also subjecting them to superintendence and control :-That, besides these provisions, the general interests of the Established Church, and the security of the constitution and government, might be effectually strengthened by requiring the political test, before referred to, from the preachers of all Catholic or Dissenting congregations, and from the teachers of schools of every denomination.
“ It is on these principles Mr Pitt humbly conceives a new security might be obtained for the civil and ecclesiastical constitution of this country, more applicable to its present circumstances, more free from objection, and more effectual in itself, than any which now exists, and which would at the same time admit of extending such indulgences as must conciliate the higher orders of the Catholics, and by furạishing to a large class of your Majesty's Irish subjects a proof of the good-will of the united Parliament, afford the best chance of giving full effect to the great object of the Union—that of tranquillising Ireland, and attaching it to this country.
“ It is with inexpressible regret, after all he now knows of your Majesty's sentiments, that Mr Pitt troubles your Majesty, thus at large, with the general grounds of his opinion, and finds himself obliged to add, that this opinion is unalterably fixed in his mind. It must therefore ultimately guide his political conduct, if it should be your Majesty's pleasure, that, after thus presuming to open himself fully to your Majesty, he should remain in that responsible situation, in which your Majesty has so long condescended graciously and favourably to accept his services. It will afford him, indeed, a great relief and satisfaction, if he may be allowed to hope that your Majesty will deign maturely to weigh what he has now humbly submitted, and to call for any explanation which any parts of it may appear to require.
“ In the interval which your Majesty may wish for consideration, he will not, on his part, importune your Majesty with any unnecessary reference to the subject; and will feel it his duty to abstain himself from all agitation of this subject in Parliament, and to prevent it, as far as depends on him, on the part of others. If, on the result of such consideration, your Majesty's objections to the measure proposed should not be removed, or sufficiently diminished to admit of its being brought forward with your Majesty's full concurrence, and with the whole weight of government, it must be personally Mr Pitt's first wish to be released from a situation, which he is conscious that, under such circumstances, he could not continue to fill but with the greatest disadvantage.
“ At the same time, after the gracious intimation which has been recently conveyed to him, of your Majesty's sentiments on this point, he will be acquitted of presumption in adding, that if the chief difficulties of the present crisis should not then be surmounted, or very materially diminished, and if your Majesty should continue to think that his humble exertions could, in any degree, contribute to conducting them to a favourable issue, there is no personal difficulty to which he will not rather submit, than withdraw himself at such a moment from your Majesty's service. He would even, in such a case, continue for such a short further interval as might be necessary, to oppose the agitation or discussion of the question, as far as he can consistently with the line, to which he feels bound uniformly to adhere, of reserving to himself a full latitude on the principle itself, and objecting only to the time, and to the temper and circumstances of the moment. But he must entreat that, on this supposition, it may be distinctly understood, that he can remain in office no longer than till the issue (which he trusts on every account will be a speedy one) of the crisis now depending, shall admit of your Majesty's more easily forming a new arrangement; and that he will then receive your Majesty's permission to carry with him into a private situation that affectionate and grateful attachment, which your Majesty's goodness, for a long course of years, has impressed on his mind—and that unabated zeal for the ease and honour of your Majesty's Government, and for the public service, which he trusts will always govern his conduct.
“ He has only to intreat your Majesty's pardon for troubling you on one other point, and taking the liberty of most respectfully, but explicitly, submitting to your Majesty the indispensable necessity of effectually discountenancing, in the whole of the interval, all attempts to make use of your Majesty's name, to influence the opinion of any indiriduals, or descriptions of men, on any part of this subject.”
In answer to this frank and manly statement, we have a letter from his late Majesty, not very much distinguished, either by these qualities, or by any signal cogency of reasoning or felicity of expression. We cite it as the document which Dr Phillpotts, of course, has found to be more efficacious towards conviction than the argument of the Minister :“ B.—THE KING'S ANSWER TO A.
“ Queen's House, Feb. 1, 1801. “ I should not do justice to the warm impulse of my heart, if I entered on the subject most unpleasant to my mind, without first expressing, that the cordial affection that I have for Mr Pitt, as well as high opinion of his talents and integrity, greatly add to my uneasiness on this occasion ; but a sense of religious as well as political duty has made me, from the moment I mounted the throne, consider the Oath that the wisdom of our forefathers has enjoined the kings of this realm to take at their coronation, and enforced by the obligation of instantly following it in the course of the ceremony, with taking the Sacrament, as so binding a religions obligation on me to maintain the fundamental maxims on which our constitution is placed, namely, the Church of England being the established one, and that those who hold employments in the state, must be members of it, and consequently obliged not only to take oaths against Popery, but to receive the Holy Communion agreeably to the rites of the Church of England.
“ This principle of duty must, therefore, prevent me from discussing any proposition tending to destroy this groundwork of our happy constitution, and much more so that now mentioned by Mr Pitt, which is no less than the complete overthrow of the whole fabric.
“ When the Irish propositions were transmitted to me by a joint message from both Houses of the British Parliament, I told the lords and gentlemen sent on that occasion, that I would with pleasure, and without delay, forward them to Ireland ; but that, as individuals, I could not help acquainting them, that my inclination to an union with Ireland was principally founded on a trust, that the uniting the Established Churches of the two kingdoms would for er shut the door to any farther measures with respect to the Roman Catholics.
“ These two instances must show Mr Pitt, that my opinions are not those formed on the moment, but such as I have imbibed for forty years, and from which I never can depart ; but, Mr Pitt once acquainted with my sentiments, his assuring me that he will stave off the only question whereon I fear, from his letter, we can never agree—for the advantage and comfort of continuing to have his advice and exertions in public affairs, I will certainly abstain from talking on this subject, which is the one nearest my heart. I cannot help, if others pretend to guess at my opinions, which I have never disguised; but if those who unfortunately differ with me will keep this subject at rest, I will, on my part, most correctly on my part, be silent also; but this restraint I shall put on myself from affection for Mr Pitt, but further I cannot go, for I cannot sacrifice my duty to any consideration.
“ Though I do not pretend to have the power of changing Mr Pitt's opinion, when thus unfortunately fixed, yet I shall hope his sense of duty will prevent his retiring from his present situation to the end of my life, for I can with great truth assert, that I shall, from public and private considerations, feel great regret, if I shall ever find myself obliged, at any time, from a sense of religious and political duty, to yield to his entreaties of retiring from his seat at the Board of Treasury.”
Now, it is quite impossible, that one having all his faculties about him could write this, with the regard to truth which the late King has been so much praised for. He says, that from the moment he mounted the throne,—that is, since 1760,- he had held the same opinions, and felt the same scruples upon the Coronation Oath. The purpose of this statement is, to introduce the assertion that his present opinions are " such as he had im“ bibed for forty years.” Were they so ? Then, to say nothing of the forty Indemnity bills which he had made laws, how did he, how came he to pass the Irish acts of 1778 and 1793, which took off infinitely more restrictions from the Catholics than they left behind them? The supposition would be absurd as well as indecent, that his Majesty intended to deceive Mr Pitt upon a matter of recent history and public notoriety; and the inference, therefore, is unavoidable, that the King's mind was not in its pristine vigour when he penned this letter.
Mr Pitt's letter justly and plainly, though respectfully, required the King not to use his personal influence against the question, as long as he continued his minister; of course, meaning to state, that he could not submit to be the responsible Minister of a Prince whose weight was thrown into the scale of what he himself deemed a pernicious policy. The King's answer on this point is not satisfactory; and it produced the following excellent reply: