Page images

for the purpose of ascertaining, with precision, the sentiments of the catholic clergy, respecting the real nature and extent of the papal power, and some other weighty points. The answers returned to these queries, by those learned bodies, appeared to me, at the time, as they do now, perfectly satisfactory, and in the same light they were considered by most dis passionate men. Notwith standing all this, a concealed jealousy of catholics still lurks about by far too many of us ; a jealousy, in my opinion, as unworthy of a frank and enlightened people, as it is injurious and cruel towards those who are ihe objects of it. For, surely, my lords, if there be one position more incontrovertibly true than another, it is this; if an indivi. dual, or a boly of men, will give to the government under which they live, such a security, upon oath, as that government itself prescribes; if, moreover, they maintain po opinions destructive of moral obligation, or subversive of civil society; their speculative opinions, of a religions nature, can never, with justice or with reason, be urged as excluding them from civil and military situations. The catholics, my lords, give this security, and having given it, the legislature itself has declared that they ought to bo considered as good and loyal subjects; as such, therefore, in my view of the subject, they are unquestionably entitled to the privileges which they claim. When I speak of merely speculative opinions of religion, I wish to be un. derstood as meaning such opinions as begin in the uyderstanding and rest there, and have no practical influence whatsoever upon our conduct in life. With this limitation, I am not sensible that there is any fallacy in the argument which I have made use of; if there be any, I shall be happy to have it pointed out; as I cannot possibly have any motive in view, but what, from my heart, I believe to be the truth. Should an unfortunate and deepTooted prejudice prevail so far as to make us say, decidedly and openly, that we will not believe a catholic, even upon his oath, there is an end, my lor:ls, of the discussion at once. But the argument, if argument it can be called, proves a great deal too much, and for this plain Areason; no ubligalion more binding than that of an appeal

to the Supreme Being by an oatli, has hitberto been derised in civil society. He, therefore, who can justly be supposed capable of setting at nouglit such an obligation, upou any pretence wliaisoever, is not only unworthy of the privileges here contended for, but unfit for all social intercourse of every kind : retabo sub iisdem sit trabibus. Ilarsh and horrid as the expression must sound in your lordships' ears, he ought to be exterminated from the face of the earth ; or at least he should be banished for life to Botany Bay, and even when arrived there, he should be driven back into the sea; for there is no den of thieves, no gang of robbers, no banditti, so thoroughly profligate, and at the same time so devoid of common understanding, as to admit that man a member of their community, upon whose fidelity to his engagements 1.5 reliance can be placed even for a single hour. I come now to the second objection, my answer to which will be very short. Civil and military appointments are, it seems, matters of favour, not of right, and, therefore, the catholics have no just cause to complain that they are excluded from thein. I can hardly, my lords, conceive any man in earnest who regards this distinction as applicable to the present case ; because no one pleads for an abstract right to these situations, but for a capacity of holding them. No one contenils for the absolute possession of civil and military of. ffces, but for equal eligibility to them; and having en. deavoured to prove that all men are equally eligible, who give to the government under which they live such a se. curity, upon oath, for their conduct as subjects, as that government itself prescribes, and who maintain no opis pions destructive of moral obligation, or subversive of civil society, I shall only add here, that they are so con. sidered to be in almost all the governments of Europe, and over the whole continent of America ; and I shall be sorry to see England the last to follow so good an example. * But it is inexpedient,” we are told,“ to repeal statutes which are passed with inuch deliberation, and are considlered by many as the bulwarks of the constirution in church and state.” How long, my lords, it may be thought expedient, or necessary, that the remaining part of these restrictive disqualifying statutes should be enforced against the catholics, or at what precise period their operations shall end, is a question, not for a divine, but for lawyers and statesmen to decide. I'may, howa ever, be permitted to observe, that under anygovernment, however' free, though peculiar circumstances may perhaps call for statutes of a very strict, and even of a very severe nature, for a limited period of time, yet no wise

statesman would, I imagine, wish those statutes to remain, unrepealed a moment after the circumstances which occasioned them cease to exist. Those who are acquainted with the history of the statutes here alluded to, and of the times in which they passed, will anticipate my application of this remark; the application of it is, indeed, made for me by a very eminent lawyer, and a very cordial friend to the ecclesiastical as well as to the civil consitution of this realm. This able writer observes, more than once, in his Commentaries, that " whenever the period shall arrive when the power of the pope is weak and insignificant, and there is no pretender to the throne, ihen will be the time to gra'it full indulgence to the catholics." That time, my lor.Is, is now come; there is non jiret nder to the throne; and, with res ect to the papal power, not a single person present apprehends, I am thoroughly persuaded, any danger from it. In respect to that once gigantic power, magni stat nominis umbra, aud nothing more. Where then can be the objection to granting the petition of the catholics of Ireland? a peu tition founded on the immutable principles of reason and of justice ; a petition also which worldly policy loudly calls upon us to accede to in the present very serious crisis ; a crisis which demands thic union of the wise and brave, of every description, and of every denomination; that cordial union, I mean, which is most assuredly the best support, and indeed the only secure bulwark, of every government upon earth. It is unnecessary to add, that an union of this kind can be obtained only by confidence and conciliation. But if worldly policy did not thus loudly call upon us, a principle of gratitude should lead us to pay all the attention in our power to these numerous, loyal, and respectable petitioners, to whom we are, in a great measure, indebted for the noblest monument of wisdom and brineficence combined, which modern times have seen. I mean the union of Ireland with England; an union which, wi hont 'their cordial co-operation, could never have been effected. I reply to these observations, which appear to me to carry sume weight with them, there are who maintain that, if there were no other objection, the words of the coronation oath present an insuperable bar to the claims of the catholics of Ireland. Of all the arguments, my lords, which either principle or prejudice VOL. III.-1808.

2 G

has suggested, or which imagination has started, there is not one which appears to me to rest upon so weak a foun. dation, as that which is built upen the words of the coronation oath. This oath, as your lordships well know, underwent some alteration at the period of the revolution in 1688, at which period that great prince, William the Third, entered into the following solemn erigagement when he a-cended the throne of this kingdom: "I will maintain the laws of God, the true profession of the gospel, and the reformed protestant church, established by law; and I will preserve to the bishops arid clergy of this realm, and to the churches commiited to their charge, al! such rights and privileges, as hy law do or shall appertain unto them, or any of them.”, If, my lords, even intelligent and honest men were not sometimes disposed to adopt any mode of reasoning, however weak, which coinodes with their preconceived ideas upon a subject, it would be no easy matter to find out, upon what principle of fair construction, the words which I have just repeat. ed from the coronation oath, can be thought to militate against the claims of the catholics of Ireland. It will not,

I trust, he said, for I am sure it cannot be proved, that it is either repugnant to the laws of God, or to the unconfined and benevolent tendency of the gospel, or to those

liberal and enlightened principles upon which the Reform..ation was founded, to admit to situations of honour, or

of profit, in the state, men of talents and of virtue, to whom no objection can possibly be made, but their spe-. culative opinions, of merely a religious nature. Nor ca:1 I conceive in what manner the rights and privileges of the bishops and clergy of tbis realm, or of the church committed to their charge, can be affected, by granting civil and military appointments to men, cordially devot. ed to the civil consiiiution, and who liave solemnly declared, upon oath, that it is neither their intention nor their wish to injure or disturb the ecclesiastical. For my own part, my lords, as an individual clergyman of the church of England, sincerely attached to the established church, and proud of the situation which I hold in it, I should be exceedingly sorry if I could think for a moment that I possessed any rigbts or privileges incompatible, with the juit claims of so many excellent subjects and conscientions : fellow-christians. Be it however admitted, my lørds, that the words of the coronation oath will bear the con

[ocr errors]

struction which has been put upon them; I wish to ask - where was the objection drawn from this oath, when, in

1782, so many indulgences were wisely and jusily grant. ed to the catholics of Ireland; indulgences, precisely of the same kind, though differing in degree from those which are now petitioned for? But I forbear to push this : argument any further ; various considerations restrain me: and perlaps enough has been said, to prove that i he words of the coronation oath have been unadvisedly and inconclusively brought forward, during the discussion of that important question which bas engaged the attention of the public for more than three years. I will now detain your lordships no longer; indeed, I should not have přesumed to intrude so long upon your patience, had I not thought it incumbent upon me to assign the best reasons in my power for differing so widely from those around me, whose judgment I respect, though I cannot implicitiy bow to it against the clearest conviction of my understandlig, and the best feelings of my heart. · The Bishop of Hereford hoped to prove to his right reverend friend, whose talents and virtue he very highly respected, that he was not actuated by any intoleraut spi. rit in resisting the motion now before their lordships, as tending to take away some of the indispensable guards of the protestant religion and establishment. God forbid' he should wish to interfere with the free exercise of the religion of any sect or class ! Enlightened toleration was the distinguishing characteristic of the British church : but the catholics marle no complaint of being disturbed in the free exercise of their religion, or of suffering in their persons or property on that account. He thought it aba surd and unjust to visit on the catholics of this day, the errors of their ancestors. He admitted the talents and virtues of a Fenelon, and of many other professors of the Roman-catholic faith. There were many catholics in our days equally distinguished. He did not think any speculative opinion disqualified a man from discharging his duty to the state. But he could not consent to open to the catholics the highest yffices of the state. He thought no limits ought to be set to toleration ; but he thought the restraint on the high offices onght not to be withdrawn.

The Bishop of Bangor laid it down as an incontrovert. ible opinion, that the state had a right to constitute a sstate religion, and to protect that religion by confining

« PreviousContinue »