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The Duke of Wellington's speeches on Catholic Emancipation (1)

9 and 10 June 1828

These documents are taken from: The Speeches of the Duke of Wellington in Parliament, collected and arranged by the late Colonel Gurwood, C.B., K.C.T.S., (London, John Murray, Albemarle Street, 1854)


June 9, 1828

ROMAN CATHOLIC DISABILITIES.

The Marquis of LANSDOWNE moved the adoption of a resolution similar to that recently communicated to their Lordships by the House of Commons, in favour of a final and conciliatory adjustment on the subject of the laws affecting His Majesty's Roman Catholic subjects. His Lordship, among other topics, adverted to one to which importance had been attached in former discussions on this subject, and which had produced considerable impression not only on the minds of many noble Lords, but on the mind of the noble Duke at the head of the Government; namely, that, Ireland being a country in which most of the property was held by confiscation, it was requisite to deal with that country upon principles different to those by which any other country might be dealt with. Evidence had, however, been since produced before Committees of both Houses of Parliament which afforded abundant proof that no possible danger could be apprehended on that subject.

After some discussion the debate was adjourned to the following day.

June 10, 1828.

Lord COLCHESTER opposed Lord LANSDOWNE'S motion. The experience of other Protestant Governments showed that the Roman Catholics could only be governed by such laws as at present existed in this country, or by means of Concordats with the Pope.

The LORD CHANCELLOR [Lord Lyndhurst] was opposed to concession. The securities which the Roman Catholics appeared willing to give for the safety of our Protestant constitution were quite inadequate, and could not with safety be accepted.

Lord PLUNKETT maintained that they were most ample, and that Mr. Pitt, by whom they had been fully considered, was satisfied with them. The Earl of ELDON thought it impossible for their Lordships to agree to this resolution so long as they retained any regard for the safety of our Protestant institutions. Clear and distinct securities for these institutions were absolutely necessary, and had never yet been offered: Mr. Pitt's opinion he could affirm from his own knowledge had been misrepresented.

The Marquis WELLESLEY expressed his earnest and entire concurrence in the resolution before the House. In the high position he had occupied in the Government of Ireland, the result of his careful watching of all the circumstances in which that unhappy country was placed had been, that the effect of the laws, which it was the remote object of this resolution to repeal, was, not to secure, but rather to endanger, the existing institutions both of Church and State. He would concur with his noble relative (the Duke of Wellington) in requiring securities from the Roman Catholic body, on repealing the existing disabling statutes ; but at present the dangers and difficulties of the case were mainly identified with the so-called securities of those very statutes. The sooner these were parted with the better.

THE DUKE OF WELLINGTON spoke in the following terms

My Lords, I rise with much reluctance, and under extreme difficulty, to address your Lordships on this most important subject. I feel particular concern in being under the necessity of following my noble relative and of stating that I differ in opinion from him for whom I feel such a sincere affection and regard, and for whose opinions I entertain so much deference and respect. I cannot, however, concur in the view he has taken of this subject; but I shall proceed to state my own opinions, hoping that in the end the views of my noble relative and myself will not be found to differ greatly from each other. I wish as much as he can do to see this question brought to an amicable conclusion; but I must say I do not see the means of bringing it to that conclusion by this resolution. I agree with my noble and learned friend (Lord Eldon) that we must see clear and distinct securities given to the State before I can give my vote in the affirmative of this question. My noble relative has said that he too insists upon securities, but that at present the difficulties and dangers consist in the state of things and in the securities which now exist. I say what now exists has given and will continue to give security to the State. I do not mean to say that difficulties and inconveniences do not attend the existing state of things; I know that such difficulties and inconveniences exist, and I should know glad if they were removed; but before I can consent to put an end to the securities which exist I must see something affording equal security established in their stead.

I am very glad that this debate has been conducted in a tone of the greatest good temper, and there is nothing I shall say that will tend to disturb that good temper. I cannot avoid adverting, however, to something that has passed in the course of this debate. The noble Marquis (Lansdowne) who introduced this motion to your Lordships adverted to something I said on a former occasion, so long back as nine years ago [May 17, 1819]; indeed the only occasion on which I have ever addressed your Lordships on this subject. In alluding to the existing state of things in Ireland I referred to transactions of a former period. These could not, and cannot, be left out of the question; and I expressed my apprehension that any mistake which we might make might lead to fresh confiscations. I believe that when I spoke on that occasion I stated, as I state now, that it was my most anxious wish that there should be some amicable settlement. I did apprehend, my Lords, that such consequences might occur, if we were brought to make concessions before securities were given to the State; but I never said otherwise than that I wished for an amicable settlement of this question. I must say, my Lords, that I, for one, have never seen any particular objection to these concessions on the ground of the doctrines of the Roman Catholics. My Lords, I have never objected to the Roman Catholics on the ground that they believe in transubstantiation, or in purgatory, or in any other of those peculiar doctrines by which they are distinguished,—doctrines with which a Most Reverend Prelate (Canterbury) conceived it to be his duty to find fault. But I have objected to the admission to offices of trust and power of persons believing in those doctrines, because the conduct and opinions of those persons was considered in other respects to be inconsistent with the principles of the Constitution and the safety of the State.

I consider this question, as the noble Marquis considers it, to be a question entirely of expediency. This understanding of the question is an answer to all that the noble and learned Lord (Eldon) has said with respect to civil power and political rights. The noble and learned Lord will admit that the question turning upon ' expediency,' the claim of 'right' cannot come under consideration. The question, then, is one merely of expediency; and I ground my opposition not on any doctrinal points, but on the Church government of the Roman Catholic religion. My Lords, I do not intend on the present occasion to enter into any detail, because I do not wish to say anything invidious, or which might hurt the feelings of any man; but I must nevertheless observe, that nobody can have looked into the transactions in Ireland for the last hundred and fifty years without at the same time seeing that the Roman Catholic Church has acted on the principle of a combination; that this combination has been the instrument by which all the evil that has been done has been effected; and that to this cause the existing state of things in Ireland is to be attributed. My Lords, the noble Marquis has talked of the aristocracy being powerless, and of the people being powerful, but under the influence of their priests and demagogues; and he has attributed this condition of things to the state of the law rather than to the combination to which I have referred. I do not think that the state of the law can account for this condition of things; but the combination to which I have referred certainly will. We are then told, be the cause of the evil what it may, that Catholic emancipation is the remedy. My Lords, I am afraid that if, in addition to Catholic emancipation, we were to give up to the Roman Catholics in Ireland the Church establishment in Ireland, we should not have found a remedy for the evil produced by this combination, unless we could find the means of connecting the Roman Catholic Church with the Government of the country. But, my Lords, we are told that there are securities. I am willing to admit, my Lords, that from the moment that this question was first discussed in this country, from the time of the Union to the present day, those who agitated it in Parliament have always stated that securities ought to be required; it is also perfectly true that the Right Honourable gentleman under whose auspices the Union was brought about, and who supported this question, stated, in the very letter alluded to by the noble and learned Lord (Lord Plunket), and I believe also in Parliament, that provision must be made to secure the State, including, of course, the Church of England as established by law, its rights, privileges, and churches; its union with the State; the King's supremacy, and the denial of the claim of any other person whatever to any power or authority within this realm. But I likewise know that that Right Honourable gentleman never stated in the Cabinet, or elsewhere, what, in his opinion, ought to be the nature of those securities. I have talked with those who were very intimately acquainted with that Right Honourable gentleman, and who have held frequent conversations with him on that subject, and I have never yet been able to hear what securities they were that he had in contemplation.

My noble and learned friend on the woolsack has given us a history of the securities which have been proposed for consideration ; and I will not follow him, or destroy the effect of what he said, upon that part of the subject. But I beg leave to remind the noble Marquis and the noble and learned Lord on the crossbench (Lord Plunket) of a fact which they cannot deny, that the Catholics themselves have all along objected to all securities. But the noble and learned Lord tells us that we ought not to attend to what we hear in Ireland on this subject. Now, though he may know that this is the case, I do not see how we, in this country, and in this House, are to get at this knowledge; or, indeed, how the people of England are to become acquainted with it. These things may be known to the noble and learned Lord, but I do not see what we can do but believe what we hear; and he cannot, therefore, be surprised that we, who feel strongly on this subject, should wish to feel secure as to the safety of the Church and the State, before we venture to proceed on such an experiment as this. My Lords, I am very much afraid that the Roman Catholic religion in its natural state is not very favourable to Civil Government in any part of Europe; and I must beg your Lordships to observe, that in all the countries of Europe the Sovereigns have, at different periods, found it necessary, as has been stated by my noble and learned friend (Lord Colchester) on the cross bench to-night, to call upon the Pope to assist them in the government of their people. The Roman Catholic sovereigns in Europe, as much as three hundred years ago, obtained a Concordat, a treaty or instrument, or whatever it might be called, from the Pope, by which they acquired that power which it was necessary for the Civil Government to have over the clergy of the country; and besides this, these treaties all contained the means of establishing that superintendence and control over the communication between the Pope and the clergy of the country, without which it would have been impossible for the civil power to exist. The Protestant sovereigns who, subsequent to the French Revolution, obtained the possession of territories which theretofore had been in the possession of Catholic sovereigns, and of which the population was of the Roman Catholic persuasion, found themselves obliged to obtain a Bull from the Pope, giving them the means of restraining the clergy of the Catholic Church, and of controlling its communication with Rome; and I must therefore say, that we, who look with some jealousy at the Catholic subjects of the King in Ireland, have some reason for feeling that jealousy; and ought not to be accused of bigotry, or of acting upon surmises, when the fact really is, that it has been found that, till some connexion is formed between the Government and that Church in any country in which the Roman Catholic religion exists, the Government cannot be carried on.

That which I have been describing with respect to other countries is also the case in respect to the Emperor of Russia, as has been stated by the noble Marquis (Lansdowne). The Roman Catholic subjects of that Potentate are governed by means of a Concordat, the Emperor having found it necessary, in spite of all his power, to apply to the Pope for his assistance. This being the case, are we then to be told that we entertain a more than necessary apprehension of the consequences we expect to arise from any alteration in Ireland? I, my Lords, with many others, have recently read the ingenious publication of Mr. Gally Knight; and I certainly was astonished to find that that gentleman appears to support the opinion, that this course, which has been adopted by the Emperor of Russia, and elsewhere on the Continent, ought to be carried into effect in this free country. But against this I see two very sufficient reasons :­

In the first place, our Church is an Episcopal Church; in the second place, the sovereign of England is the head of the Church; and as that head, we are bound to him by the oath of supremacy, by which oath we not only acknowledge his claim to that title, but we abjure the claim to jurisdiction, pre-eminence, or authority, by any other power. I am very desirous, my Lords, that this House should examine in detail some of these Concordats, and then see how far they can agree with the particular circumstances in which this country is placed, and which, it is said, call for such a proceeding on our part. And I am more particularly desirous that my noble relative should attend to this portion of the subject, on account of some observations that fell from him. I happen to have in my possession a Concordat of the Pope, that was procured by His Majesty as King of Hanover, with respect to his Hanoverian subjects. This instrument, my Lords, is neither more nor less than a Bull issued by the Pope. By this Bull, the Kingdom of Hanover is divided into two dioceses, the one to the right, and the other to the left of the Weser. By this Bull, the Pope makes over to the Bishops all the jurisdiction of the ancient Metropolitans, including that of the Ordinary; and, in short, every jurisdiction that can, by any possibility, belong to a bishop. The King, likewise, agrees to pay certain salaries to the bishops, deans, and chapters, till His Majesty shall be able to provide them with lands to the same amount; the parochial clergy are to be paid by fees; the bishops are to be elected by the chapters, from lists of the natives of the country, to be submitted to His Majesty, from which lists His Majesty is to strike out those names not approved of by His Majesty, leaving, however, a sufficient number for a choice; and the choice is to be confirmed by the Pope. There can be no doubt, whatever construction may be put on it, that this Concordat is, in fact, neither more nor less than the introduction of the Roman Catholic religion into the kingdom of Hanover.

The same thing has, likewise, been done by the King of the Netherlands in the Low Countries, a Catholic bishop having been admitted into the town of Amsterdam. Upon the whole, I do not blame these Sovereigns; they have done what they considered they ought for the good government of their dominions, respectively. But what I want the House to advert to, now that it is in possession of these facts, is this, that it is impossible for England to make any such arrangement as this with the Pope; yet, that some arrangement to secure the influence of the Government over the conduct of the Roman Catholic clergy, and its superintendence and control over their communications with Rome, will be necessary, before the concession of power is made to the Roman Catholics of Ireland, is obvious, when it is considered what power a British subject enjoys, and how uncontrolled, excepting by the law, in comparison with the subject of any other country, watched and controlled as the latter is by the officers of the Government and of the police.

That no other arrangement can be made, I will not take upon myself to say; I will not say that an arrangement cannot take place, under which the King shall have the power to control the appointment of the hierarchy, and their intercourse with the See of Rome, and which shall connect the Roman Catholic Church in Ireland with the Government. But I will say, that it will be impossible for Parliament, under the present constitution of the country, to allow the King or the Pope to appoint Roman Catholic bishops to dioceses in Ireland, under any arrangement whatever, by way of Concordat, treaty, Bull, or anything of that description. I was anxious to draw your Lordships' attention to this particular part of the subject, because it has appeared to me that it has been but very little understood. If we are to do anything, it must be by legislation, notwithstanding that existing laws have not been carried into execution, and have hitherto afforded us but little security ; if we are again to legislate it must be done fearlessly.

My Lords, I felt anxious not to have addressed your Lordships at all on this subject, and I should have avoided troubling you, if I had not been personally alluded to, and had not thought that many expected that I should address you. I am now anxious to impress on your Lordships' attention, how desirable it is that a discussion on this question should not be renewed, as it cannot lead to any practical result in the existing state of the public mind, and must only tend to distract us, without our being able to come to any decided conclusion.

There is also one fact respecting the state of things in Ireland to which I should wish to call your Lordships' attention before I sit down. From the year 1781 to the year 1791, during which period many troublesome questions with respect to that country were discussed, the Roman Catholic question was, in fact, never heard of; and so little was the question thought about, that, when my noble and learned friend (Lord Redesdale) brought into the House of Commons at that period a Bill respecting the Roman Catholics of England, it was a remarkable fact that the then Lord Lieutenant of Ireland was not only not consulted on the subject, but actually did not know of this Bill till it was brought into Parliament; so little did the Catholics of Ireland disturb the public mind at that moment! If the public mind was suffered to rest; if the agitators of Ireland would only be quiet; if the difficulties of this question were not aggravated by these perpetual discussions; and if men could have time to reflect upon the state of this question, they might become more satisfied, and it might then become more possible to discover the means of doing something.

The Marquis of LANSDOWNE replied. The House divided: Non-contents,182 ; Contents, 137. Majority against the resolution, 45.

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See also Gleig's Life of Wellington (1862)
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