The Age of George III
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Taken from Norman Gash, The Age of Peel (London, Edward Arnold, 1973), with the kind permission of Professor Gash. Copyright of this document, of course, remains with him.
To fill one of the vacancies left by the resignation of Huskisson and his followers from Wellington's government in May 1828, Vesey Fitzgerald was promoted to the Presidency of the Board of Trade. This necessitated his re-election for his constituency of Co. Clare. Since he was one of the better Irish landlords, on friendly terms with the Roman Catholic Church, and a supporter of Catholic Emancipation, there seemed little danger. It was in fact because of the difficulty of finding any candidate likely to defeat him that in the end O'Connell was persuaded to announce on 24 June that he would offer himself as candidate.
Your county wants a representative. I respectfully solicit your suffrages, to raise me to that station.
Of my qualification to fill that station, I leave you to judge. The habits of public speaking, and many, many years of public business, render me, perhaps equally suited with most men to attend to the interests of Ireland in Parliament.
You will be told I am not qualified to be elected: the assertion, my friends, is untrue. I am qualified to be elected, and to be your representative. It is true that as a Catholic, I cannot, and of course never will, take the oaths at present prescribed to members of Parliament; but the authority which created these oaths (the Parliament), can abrogate them: and I entertain a confident hope that, if you elect me, the most bigotted of our enemies will see the necessity of removing from the chosen representative of the people, an obstacle which would prevent him from doing his duty to his King and to his country.
The oath at present required by law is, 'that the sacrifice of the Mass, and the invocation of the blessed Virgin Mary, and other saints, as now practised in the church of Rome, are impious and idolatrous.' Of course, I will never stain my soul with such an oath: I leave that to my honourable opponent, Mr Vesey Fitzgerald; he has often taken that horrible oath; he is ready to take it again, and asks your votes to enable him so to swear. I would rather be torn limb from limb than take it. Electors of the county of Clare! choose between me, who abominates that oath, and Mr Vesey Fitzgerald, who has sworn it full twenty times! Return me to Parliament, and it is probable that such a blasphemous oath will be abolished for ever. As your representative, I will try the question with the friends in Parliament of Mr Vesey Fitzgerald. - They may send me to prison. - I am ready to go there to promote the cause of the Catholics, and of universal liberty. The discussion which the attempt to exclude your representative from the House of Commons must excite, will create a sensation all over Europe, and produce such a burst of contemptuous indignation against British bigotry, in every enlightened country in the world, that the voice of all the great and good in England, Scotland, and Ireland, being joined to the universal shout of the nations of the earth, will overpower every opposition, and render it impossible for Peel and Wellington any longer to close the doors of the constitution against the Catholics of Ireland.
Electors of the county of Clare! Mr Vesey Fitzgerald claims as his only merit, that he is a friend to the Catholics - why, I am a Catholic myself; and if he be sincerely our friend, let him vote for me, and raise before the British empire the Catholic question in my humble person, in the way most propitious to my final success. But no, fellow countrymen, no; he will make no sacrifice to that cause, he will call himself your friend, and act the part of your worst and most unrelenting enemy.
If you return me to Parliament, I pledge myself to vote for every measure favourable to radical reform in the representative system, so that the House of Commons may truly, as our Catholic ancestors intended it should do, represent all the people.
To vote for the repeal of the Vestry bill, the sub-letting act, and the Grand Jury laws.
To vote for the diminution and more equal distribution of the overgrown wealth of the established church in Ireland, so that the surplus may be restored to the sustentation of the poor, the aged, and the infirm.
To vote for every measure of retrenchment and reduction of the national expenditure, so as to relieve the people from the burdens of taxation, and to bring the question of the repeal of the Union, at the earliest possible period, before the consideration of the legislature.
Electors of the county of Clare! choose between me and Mr Vesey Fitzgerald; choose between him who has so long cultivated his own interest, and one who seeks only to advance yours; choose between the sworn libeller of the Catholic faith, and one who has devoted his early life to your cause; who has consumed his manhood in a struggle for your liberties, and who has ever lived, and is ready to die for the integrity, the honour, the purity, of the Catholic faith, and the promotion of Irish freedom and happiness.
Your faithful servant,
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