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'instance was at least unnecessary. Such prudent reserve could not long be maintained; for, having accepted the post of Anti-Catholic Leader, he was soon compelled to offer a more unqualified opposition to the cause of Emancipation, and to hold more decisive language upon it, in order to satisfy the zeal and expectations of his followers. It would probably be unjust to Sir Robert Peel to accuse him of insincerity,-of having shaped his course from motives of personal ambition, with a view to the attainment of political power; but it is very difficult to comprehend how a man so unfettered by bigotry and prejudice, so deep a thinker on all great political questions, and so careful an observer of the signs of the times, should have continued for fourteen years to conduct and encourage an unremitting opposition to a policy supported by the ablest men of all parties, and which was evidently progressing with irresistible force.
In the great debate of 1813 Mr. Peel, almost unsupported, confronted all the eloquence, wit, and wisdom which that House of Commons contained-all the then existing and most of the future parliamentary celebrities of the country. He observes in this volume, that one of the most decisive considerations in favour of Catholic Emancipation, arose from the fact that every young man of promise who entered public life, whether as a Tory or as a Whig, began by repudiating the extravagant pretensions of the Ultra-Protestant party. Hence the longer the contest continued, the more indispensably necessary Peel became to the party he led, and the more deeply he committed himself on the question. But about this time the Catholic cause began to retrograde, in consequence of the violent dissensions which raged amongst the Catholics themselves, and the fresh disturbances of which Ireland became the theatre; both these causes combined to disgust and estrange many of their friends, and to increase the rancorous hostility of their opponents. Still year after year the Catholic question was brought forward in Parliament, sometimes in one shape and sometimes in another, with vicissitudes of success and failure, till in the year 1821, for the first time a relief bill was carried through the House of Commons, but afterwards lost in the House of Lords. During those successive years of debates and divisions, though the Catholic question was evidently advancing, it seemed to be still very far from approaching its consummation. Nineteen years had elapsed since it had been first brought under the consideration of Parliament; and in that long period, besides many
Lord Morpeth's Motion for a Committee to consider the State of Ireland.
collateral discussions, there had been thirty-three debates on the main question. Notwithstanding the vast superiority of eloquence and argument manifested on the side of Emancipation, the prejudices of its opponents were still undiminished. The Roman Catholics were divided in their counsels, and dispirited by frequent failures. The question, though nominally open,' was practically vetoed, while George IV. was determined to employ all his authority and influence to obstruct its further progress. There appeared, therefore, no immediate or stringent reason why Peel should falter in his course, or why that resistance should not be successfully and indefinitely maintained.
This state of affairs continued till 1824, when O'Connell took the management of the cause into his own hands, and began the great system of organised agitation, which he afterwards worked with such consummate skill and such prodigious success. However blind ordinary men might have been to the effects which the machinery now brought into play was calculated to produce, it must ever be unaccountable that such a man as Sir Robert Peel should have been insensible to them; and it would have been far more interesting, if instead of an apology for his course in 1829, his explanation had embraced the period between 1824 to 1827-from the establishment of the Catholic Association and the 'rent,' till the death of Lord Liverpool and the formation of Mr. Canning's Administration; for although in that interval events had occurred of the utmost importance and very analogous to those which somewhat later were mainly instrumental to Peel's conversion those events, by his own account, made no impression on his mind at the time of their occurrence, and effected no change in his opinions. A curious passage in the Memoir illustrates this state of affairs:
'It may be asked why, considering the number of distinguished men concurring in opinion on the Catholic question, was not an united Government formed on the principle of concession? The answer, I presume, is, because the want of mutual confidence among statesmen of different parties concurring on the particular question, or actual disagreement on other questions of scarcely inferior importance, precluded the hope of engaging them to act in cordial concert and co-operation in the general direction of public affairs. The fact is that shortly after the death of Mr. Perceval an attempt was made, apparently under favourable circumstances, to form a Government united on the principle of a conciliatory adjustment of the claims of the Roman Catholics.
'I speak of the proposals made by Lord Wellesley on the 1st of June, 1812, to Lord Grey and Lord Grenville. That attempt was not successful. Whatever were the causes of its failure, they are
not, I apprehend, imputable in the slightest degree to those who had taken a part hostile to concession. I have, however, no other information on this subject than that which is derived from the letters and minutes of conversation published at the time.
'I have made this digression-not one, however, irrelevant to the subject because there is, I think, a tendency to underrate the difficulties which for many years stood in the way of the formation of a Government united on the principle either of concession or of resistance, and because that tendency will probably increase with the lapse of time.' (Memoir, p. 62.)
Mr. Canning, therefore, upon Lord Liverpool's death, consented to reconstruct the Ministry upon the principle of the Catholic question continuing to be open, which was tantamount to the prolongation of the contest without any definitive result. Having pledged himself to the King to this effect, he hoped and expected that the Tory party might still be kept together, and that all his remaining colleagues would continue to hold office under him. This hope was, however, speedily, and we think cruelly, disappointed; but it was neither the first nor the last time that the Tory party abandoned the leader who had placed genius and patriotism at their service. They unanimously, but separately and without concert, resolved to abandon him; Peel himself being foremost in taking this course, but imparting, with many amicable expressions, his resolution to Canning himself, upon the express ground (and on no other) of the irreconcileable difference between them on the Catholic question.
'For eighteen years,' he said, in the debate which took place on that occasion, he had offered an uncompromising resistance to the extension of political privileges to the Roman Catholics: his opposition was founded on principle; he thought the continuance of those bars was necessary for the maintenance of the Constitution and the safety of the Established Church.... And cherishing at that moment the same opinions he had always done.... and after the active and prominent part in support of those opinions which he had always taken as a Minister of the Crown, he did not think he could, consistently with his honour as a public man, agree to an arrangement which would be beneficial to himself, but would likewise, if he retained office, materially forward the success of a question to which he could never agree, and to which he had always offered, and always must offer, the most open and decided resistance. If his opinion on that question had been changed, he would have felt bound to have accepted office under his Right Honourable friend's adminis
Here we have a decisive and unqualified declaration of his unchanged opinions as to the danger of emancipation, and the
expediency of opposing it; and nothing can be more remarkable than to compare this speech with his justification of his conduct. in 1828 and 1829. In 1827 the Waterford and Louth elections had taken place; and though he grounds his conversion principally on the Clare election, its symptoms and its effects, every word that he says upon the latter election is equally applicable to the two former; and it is exceedingly difficult to understand by what process of reasoning he remained unconvinced and unshaken after Waterford, while after Clare he thought the 'struggle could no longer be advantageously maintained,' and that the danger to the establishments he wished to defend could only be averted by conceding to the Catholics that admission to political privileges which two years before he had pronounced incompatible with the safety of the Constitution and of the Established Church.
The Clare election,' he says, 'supplied the manifest proof of an abnormal and unhealthy condition of the public mind in Ireland-the manifest proof that the sense of a common grievance and the sympathies of a common interest were beginning to loosen the ties which connect different classes of men in friendly relations to each otherto weaken the force of local and personal attachments, and to unite the scattered elements of society into a homogeneous and disciplined mass, yielding willing obedience to the assumed authority of superior intelligence hostile to the law and the Government which adminis'A prudent Minister, before he determines against all concession against any yielding or compromise of former opinions - must well consider what it is that he has to resist, and what are his powers of resistance. In the case of the Clare election, and of its natural consequences, what was the evil to be apprehended? Not force not violence not any act of which law could take cogniThe real danger was in the peaceable and legitimate exercise of a franchise according to the will and conscience of the holder. The actual transfer was the least of the evil; the process by which it was to be effected. . . . the fifty-pound freeholders, the gentry to a man, polling one way, their alienated tenantry another-all the great interests of the county broken down-the universal desertion the agitator and the priest laughing to scorn the baffled landlord— the local heavings and throes on every casual vacancy in a countythe universal convulsion at a general election;-this was the danger to be apprehended-these were the evils to be resisted.' (Memoir, p. 116.)
The very state of things, the danger of which was so clearly seen by Mr. Peel in 1829, had actually occurred at Waterford and Louth in 1826. The Catholics had by their own exertions broken down some of the most important of the barriers which excluded them from political power; yet Mr. Peel seemed blind to this fact, and to all the consequences which so forcibly struck
him two years later. In 1827 he dwelt upon the danger to the Church and the State from concession; in 1829 he could not see how Ireland was to be governed, and the Church and State to be preserved, except by concession, and the settlement of this long vexed question.
Nothing is more characteristic of the insuperable difficulties and endless contradictions to which the Duke of Wellington's cabinet was exposed by leaving the Catholic question open and unsettled either way, than the relations of the Home Secretary with the Irish administration. Lord Anglesey, who had gone to Dublin as Lord-Lieutenant of Ireland, was in favour of Emancipation. Mr. William Lamb, afterwards Lord Melbourne, the Chief Secretary, was in favour of Emancipation; Lord Francis Egerton, who succeeded him, was the author of the pro-Catholic motion of 1825; yet these men were placed in the breach, and called upon to defend the authority of the Crown and of the law against O'Connell and the Catholic Association, at a time when their own convictions were notoriously in favour of a surrender of the fortress. The Irish correspondence, which is the most curious portion of the documentary evidence in this volume, discloses in every page the incurable inconsistency of such a position, and it must long have been obvious to a Minister having this evidence before him, that a contest carried on by so divided an army could only end by a capitulation.
In the last act of this momentous drama Peel played an honourable, patriotic, and unselfish part, and made all the atonement in his power for his previous errors. He submitted to the mortification of yielding to agitation what he had refused to reason, and he braved the resentment of his own friends and followers heedless of the consequences to himself. The Duke of Wellington, it is true, shared the obloquy with him; but it was upon Peel, who was considered more emphatically their leader, that the rage and resentment of the anti-Catholics more especially fell. The authority of the Duke was so great, and his followers were so accustomed to look up to him with profound deference and submission, that they would not regard him as the prime mover in this detested measure; and yet it was the Duke who had given the first public indication of a disposition to surrender in a speech in the House of Lords on the 9th of June, 1828, in which he said, "If the agitators of 'Ireland would only leave the public mind at rest, the people 'would become more satisfied, and I certainly think that it 'would then be possible to do something.' This declaration, it must be remembered, was made before the Clare election.