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The Duke of Wellington's speeches on Catholic Emancipation (5)

16 February 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)


LORD COLCHESTER, on presenting a petition against the Catholic claims, called upon the Ministry for a full explanation of the measure which they intended to bring forward, and expressed his belief that there was no ground for the fears regarding Ireland which they appeared to entertain.

THE DUKE OF WELLINGTON spoke in the following terms:

My Lords, On the first day of the Session I had the honour of stating to your Lordships the general purport of the measures which His Majesty's servants, by His Majesty's authority, intend to bring before Parliament, and I must beg leave, my Lords, on the present occasion to decline going any farther. I must beg to decline informing the noble Lord whether there is to be one Bill or more than one Bill, and in which House of Parliament the measure in question is to originate. My Lords, the measure will be brought on the responsibility of His Majesty's Ministers. We are already responsible for the advice we have given to His Majesty, and for the recommendation which was contained on this subject in His Majesty's Speech from the throne; and we shall be responsible, at least in character, my Lords, for the success of the measure we recommend, and which we hope will be adopted by this and the other House of Parliament, and become law.

My Lords, whatever respect may be due, as it certainly is, to the noble Lord, I must assert, as to the charge so positively made, that this measure was recommended under the influence of personal fears and apprehensions, that there is no foundation whatever for it, looking at the existing state of our relations and the general circumstances of the empire. There is no ground for any such fear, my Lords, at present, either in the condition of this country or in that of any other countries. I must distinctly assert that, if there has been any period within the last twenty years at which there was a total absence of danger, I do not inquire from what cause, but if ever there was a period during that interval when there has been no occasion for fear, that period is the present. I will not now say what reasons I have for forming this opinion, but I will prove my assertion in the sequel if necessary. It is however perfectly true that it was not fear nor any such motive, my Lords, which induced His Majesty's Ministers to bring forward these measures, but a clear and forcible conviction that it was absolutely necessary that the subject should be taken into consideration by both Houses of Parliament with a view to the settlement of the question.

At the same time, my Lords, I can assure you in acting on this conviction we have undertaken no easy, no agreeable task. I will not speak, my Lords, of my own sacrifices, for they are trifling compared to those which my noble friends around me have been called on to make, but it is not a little sacrifice, my Lords, to feel myself obliged to differ in opinion from the noble Lord himself on this question. I can assure your Lordships that this difference is most disagreeable to my feelings. But my sacrifices are as nothing compared to those made by my noble friends, and particularly as compared to the sacrifices which have been made by my Right Honourable friend (Mr. Peel) in another place. I cannot conceive any sacrifice equal to that which he has made in bringing his mind to the necessity of determining on lending his assistance to carry the measure referred to. It is obvious, my Lords, that nothing but what he considers to be an imperious sense of duty, arising out of the knowledge of the inconveniences and dangers resulting from the existing, state of things in this country and in Ireland, has induced him to lend his assistance in forwarding those measures which, in concert with his colleagues, he hopes to carry into effect.

Under these circumstances I would entreat your Lordships to pause until the question shall come regularly before you. When the measure shall have been so submitted to your consideration you will see whether it is likely to be attended with the dangerous consequences which some persons are disposed to think will result from it; you will see whether there be any proof offered of the real existence of such dangers, and you will finally see whether the carrying of these measures will not place the Constitution of these realms on a better footing than it has been since the Union with Ireland. I will not now enter into the discussion as to whether the consequence of the adoption of the measure for the settlement of the Catholic question will be injurious to that throne, the security and inviolability of which I am prepared to maintain if necessary with the sacrifice of my head, or whether it be likely to produce the effects apprehended by the noble Baron on the cross bench (Lord Colchester); but this I will say, that the questions which have been so propounded ought never to have been put by him.

In conclusion, my Lords, I will take leave to add that the existence of the dangers which some noble Lords seem to apprehend from the settlement of this question they are not able to substantiate; and I pledge myself that whenever the measure comes before your Lordships I shall be prepared to prove that the Protestant institutions of this country are exposed to greater dangers at present than they possibly can be by the adoption of the measures recommended by His Majesty's Ministers, and which, when they shall have been introduced to your Lordships, will be found to give general satisfaction.

The Earl of ELDON complained that, though the anxiety of the country on the subject must naturally be expected to be great, yet their Lordships had heard nothing; from the noble Duke on the opening of Parliament giving the least clue to the nature of the intended measures.

THE DUKE OF WELLINGTON said:

I beg my noble and learned friend's pardon. I would wish to remind him that upon the occasion alluded to, I expressly indicated the measures which His Majesty's Ministers had determined to pursue. I then stated, in answer to a question from a noble Lord, that it was the intention of His Majesty's Ministers to bring forward a measure or measures that should have for their object the settlement of what is called the Catholic Question, including the general removal of all disabilities, with certain exceptions founded on special cases; and that the measure would be attended by other measures that might be rendered necessary by the removal of those disabilities. These are the words, or words to the same effect, which I used on that occasion; I then declined, and I still beg to decline, giving any further explanation on the subject.

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See also Gleig's Life of Wellington (1862)
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