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The Duke of Wellington's speeches on Catholic Emancipation (23)

10 April 1829

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)


Roman Catholic Disabilities Relief Act

THE DUKE OF WELLINGTON moved the Order of the Day for the third reading of the Roman Catholic Disabilities Relief Bill.

The Earl of ELDON said that he could not consent to an Act which he conceived would stamp him as a violator of his solemn oath, a traitor to his Church, and a traitor to the Constitution.

The Duke of NEWCASTLE considered that the grounds alleged for this measure were perfectly futile.

The Duke of CUMBERLAND had, in the outset, stated his willingness to the noble Duke (Wellington) to consider as favourably as possible the arguments in favour of the Bill, but he had heard nothing to justify the noble Duke's measure.

The Duke of SUSSEX supported the Bill, and expressed his feeling that the victory which the noble Duke (Wellington) had obtained in this instance, would far eclipse any that he had gained on the tented field. The laurels which the noble Duke had so long worn as the fruits of conquest, would be hereafter exchanged for the olive of peace; and his reward would consist, not only in the approbation of his own conscience, and the happiness which that consciousness bestowed, but in the lively gratitude of millions rendered happy and content, and restored to their place in society by his intrepid patriotism, and devotion to the interests of mankind.

THE DUKE OF WELLING TON spoke in the following terms:

My Lords, at this late hour of the night I shall detain your Lordships but a few moments, while I make a few observations in reply to some of the arguments which have been urged against this measure in the course of this discussion; and in doing so I beg to claim the attention of the noble and learned Lord on the cross bench (Earl of Eldon). I had hoped that that noble and learned Lord (who has been the great opponent of this measure) would have come down this evening with some legal arguments in answer to those which have been so ably urged by my noble and learned friend on the Woolsack, and by my noble and learned friend who sits opposite (Lord Plunkett). But, instead of doing that, the noble and learned Earl has again occupied the time of the House with personal attacks upon me and my Right Honourable friend in the other House of Parliament; and he has repeated the charge against us, that, in bringing forward this measure, we have taken the country by surprise. My Lords, I conceive that the noble and learned Earl should have borne in mind that we could not, as the responsible advisers of the Crown, have brought forward this measure until we had known the King's sentiments upon it, and we could not declare those sentiments to the country until the precise moment when they were and ought to be made known, namely, in the King's Speech. I therefore positively deny the charge which the noble and learned Earl has preferred against us upon that head. I say that the public were not taken by surprise in this or by this measure. I say that the public were informed of the nature of this measure at the earliest possible period that they could be informed of it, by the King's Speech; and nearly two months now have elapsed since that announcement was made, a period amply sufficient for the consideration of the question. Why, my Lords, the very number of petitions which have been presented against this measure, the petitions which have been presented by the noble and learned Earl on the cross bench, by another noble Lord, whom I do not see this evening in his place, and by many other noble Lords now present, against this measure, amounting, I believe, to nearly two thousand in the whole, sufficiently attest the fact that the public have not been taken by surprise on this question. I rejoice, my Lords, that those petitions have been presented. I consider them, after the endeavours which have been made to impress the people with a notion that the Government intended to introduce a measure in favour of Popery and arbitrary power, I consider them, notwithstanding that such efforts have been made to get them up, an advantage; and I rejoice that they have been presented, because they demonstrate the truth of my position, that the public have not been taken by surprise by the introduction of this measure. The noble and learned Earl has found fault with the manner in which he says this question has been hurried through this House. I certainly feel that your Lordships' consideration has never before been given more deliberately to any measure than it has been devoted to the Bill now before us. It appears to me that to no question has more attention been given than to the present one, and no question, I think, has been more fully or fairly discussed. It is quite true that I am anxious that this Bill should be carried before the Easter holidays; it is quite true that I am desirous that Parliament should now, as soon as possible, pass this measure, because I am anxious to put an end to the agitation which prevails on the subject, I will not say in the country, but in this city. I am undoubtedly anxious that this Bill should be carried, in order that the agitation which prevails in the metropolis may be allowed to subside.

The noble and learned Earl entered into a long discussion of the oath of supremacy; but I should like to know whether this Bill will bring into the country a single Roman Catholic more than if the oath of supremacy had not been altered with regard to them? The noble and learned Earl cannot say that it will; and let me ask him what does this Bill? It admits into this House five or six Peers, and a certain number of members into the other House, who cannot take the oath of supremacy. I beg your Lordships to look back to the history of the country, and to observe how long the Protestant religion existed when Peers had seats in this House without taking the oath of supremacy, and with no other security than the oath of allegiance. The Acts of 25th Charles II. and 30th of Charles II. were not established from any fear of Popish members, but from a just dread of what might be done by a Popish sovereign and a Popish successor. Is there any danger of a Popish sovereign or of a Popish successor now? If not, then I say that there is no danger proved from the substitution of the oath of allegiance in this Bill for the oath of supremacy as it has hitherto existed. The noble and learned Earl has talked a great deal now, and on former occasions, about securities; and if this Bill did, or was likely to do, any mischief, I should say, too, that securities ought to be given. I have already stated the dangers that would result from those very securities; and I beg to be informed what security we should have against the securities contained in the measures referred to by the noble and learned Earl. It seems to me that these securities, as he terms them, would create the greatest possible danger to the Church Establishment. The Bill upon the table leaves the Established Church and the Roman Catholic religion in the state in which at this moment they stand; and all it does is, for the reasons stated, to admit Roman Catholics into both Houses of Parliament. Next, the noble and learned Earl talks of the perils arising from Popery, of the Act of Philip and Mary, and he speaks of this Bill as if it were just as great a usurpation as that Act. The pastoral letter of Dr. Troy, the usurpation of power as regards marriage, and various other matters of the same kind, also occupied his attention, which have no more to do with this question than they have to do with the establishment of the religion of Scotland. The fact is, that these are all usurpations upon the Church of England, and they will be treated as usurpations; as to the question of marriage, for instance; if a man does not choose to submit himself to the decision of the Roman Catholic Bishop, or the Pope, the sentence of the Bishop, or of the Pope, cannot be carried into execution. Nay, I will venture to assert, in opposition to the noble and learned Earl, that a sentence by a Roman Catholic Bishop, supported by the decision of the Pope, could not stand for a moment against the determination of the Ecclesiastical Court, and all the terrors of excommunication would be of no avail in the most insignificant court of law in the kingdom. Therefore, when the noble and learned Earl tells us of the power of the Pope, it is about on a par with his talking of the power of the common law against the Catholic Association. When he sat upon the Woolsack in 1825 he did not say, 'Trust to the common law, that will be sufficient; let things go on as they are, for they will last our time, and, if a change be necessary, let us leave it to our successors.' This language has been held too long already, and too much attention to it has brought us into the very situation of difficulty in which we now find ourselves. On this I rest the Bill, that it is impossible to govern Ireland without it. The noble Lord complains that we do not tell him what our case is; but before I proceed to that point, I wish to notice another which I have omitted. He not only disapproves of this Bill, but he says that he approves of another measure brought in by the Right Honourable Gentleman who first moved this question, Mr. Pitt. I wish he would declare positively, aye or no, whether he did formerly approve of the plan of securities of Mr. Pitt, and whether he approves of them now. Does he sanction the formation of an establishment for the Roman Catholic clergy in Ireland? It is perfectly true that such a plan is not included in my measure, and I gave my reasons for not including it.

I now come to the complaint, that I have not disclosed my case and given my reasons for bringing forward this Bill. I thought I
had stated, as clearly and as fully as I could, what was the present condition of Ireland, to which it had been reduced by a series
of misgovernments, — misgovernments that no man can deny. I am not surprised that the noble Duke should not be aware of that condition ; but the noble and learned Earl, from his official situation, must have known both of its growth and existence; and that he, of all men, should say that he is without information, is one of the most extraordinary circumstances I ever remember. There can be no doubt that evils arising from misgovernment do exist in that country to a degree unparalleled in the history of any civilized country, and I know of no remedy but that extremity I adverted to on a former occasion, or the measure we are now about to carry. When I am asked what prospect we have of success, I answer, that I certainly am sanguine that the amelioration of the country will be the consequence of this Bill. It has already been stated by a noble Lord, that the higher and richer order of people will have an interest in tranquility: they will therefore aid in preserving it, and set an example to the lower and poorer order, of harmony and satisfaction. That is all we desire: if they set the example, the country will be quiet; if not, I cannot pretend to say that the measure will nevertheless answer. This I will say, that, if this measure does not answer, I will come down to the House with the statement of the case, and ask the House to adopt other plans which I may think will tend to the security, happiness, and prosperity of the country.

I have, on former occasions, expressed my great concern that, in consequence of considering it my duty to bring forward these Bills, I have been separated from many of my friends, and particularly, let me add, from the noble and learned Lord. I find this night that I have also the misfortune to have lost the confidence of another noble Lord, an illustrious personage (H.R.H. the Duke of Cumberland). I confess that, knowing the zeal, anxiety, and intensity of feeling of that illustrious personage on this question when he was pleased once to express, at an early period of these discussions, his approbation of my conduct, I did not suspect that the duty I might have to perform would unfortunately deprive me of his support. I did hope that I might possibly regain his confidence, but I must regret, after what has passed, not only that I have lost it, but that I am not likely to recover it. All I can say is this, that I have neither committed an action, nor uttered a word upon this subject, that I did not consider it my duty to His Majesty and to the public to do and to say. But I must likewise add this, that, in proportion to my regret at not having had the support of some of my friends, is my gratitude to those who have relied upon me and given me their assistance. I have likewise to return my thanks to the noble Lords opposite, with whom having no political connection, I had no right to expect the cordial and handsome support they have given me. I cannot sit down, my Lords, without congratulating the House and the country that this measure has now arrived almost at its final stage in this House, and I confidently trust that ere long we shall behold its beneficial effects displayed in the establishment of the peace, the happiness, and the prosperity of the country.

The House divided : Contents, 213 ; Non-contents, 109. Majority, 104. Bill read a third time and passed.

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See also Gleig's Life of Wellington (1862)
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