« AnteriorContinuar »
ment with their lives and fortunes against all such invaders and all his enemies*.
No particular notice was taken of these loyal proceedings: but some expressions of general goodwill towards the catholics were known to have fallen from the lord lieutenant, and both the language and demeanour of persons in power, in their regard, were courteous and conciliatory;―persecution was still severely felt, but it was sensibly alleviated.
GEORGE THE THIRD.
It is not a little remarkable, that though such signal acts of legislative beneficence were passed in the reign of his late majesty, in favour of all his catholic subjects, and so great a progress made towards their emancipation, several penal acts of great severity were successively passed against the Irish catholics during the first half of his reign †: the act of its twenty-first and twenty-second year, deserves particular attention, from a circumstance attending it, which is of extreme importance, but which appears to have unaccountably escaped the observation both of protestants, and, what is more astonishing, of catholics, until their attention was called to it by sir Henry Parnell. We shall notice, it in that gentleman's own words:
* Smollet's History of England.
+ 15 & 16 Geo. III, c. 21, s. 15; 21 & 22 Geo. III, c. 32, s. 2; 21 & 22 Geo. III, c. 48, s. 3; 25 Geo. III, c. 48, s. 11
Though this clause of the 21 & 22 of Geo. 3, "c. 48, has attracted very little public attention, it was of no less import that that, of being the first legal exclusion of catholics from sitting in the "Irish parliament. They had been excluded de 'facto by their voluntary submission to the Eng"lish act of 3 William and Mary, but not de 'jure till this act of 21 & 22 Geo. 3, which made "the act of 3 William and Mary, just mentioned, binding in Ireland.
"This circumstance, which has always been "overlooked, even by the catholics themselves, proves how readily they have been inclined at "all times to submit to the authority of govern"ment: and it also proves how unfounded those arguments are, which maintain that the exclusion "of the catholics of Ireland from parliament, is a principle on which the family of his majesty was placed upon the throne. It completely overturns "the system of erroneous reasoning concerning "the coronation oath, which of late has been so "common; and, so far as the meaning of this "oath is at issue, it reduces the question to this "simple point, whether the king can conscien
tiously place the catholics of Ireland in the same "condition, with respect to sitting in parliament, in "which they had continued till the twenty-second year of his own reign?"
By an act passed in the twelfth year of the reign of his late majesty, catholics were to be at liberty to take a lease for sixty-one years of any quantity of bog, not exceeding fifty acres plantation mea
sure, and half an acre of arable land, as a site for a house, or for delving for gravel or limestone. This was certainly an extraordinary boon; the provisions which accompanied it, are not less extraordinary 1st, the bog was to be four feet deep from the surface; 2d, the lease was not to contain less than ten plantation acres; 3d, it was not to be within one mile of a city or market town; 4th, and if one half at least of the bog should not be reclaimed within twenty-one years from the commencement of the lease, the lessor might re-enter and avoid the lease.
But English wisdom and liberality now begin to dawn!
It was in the year 1774, that the FIRST ACT was passed which had any real conicliatory or friendly tendency towards the Irish catholics. It was intituled, "An act to enable his majesty's subjects, "of whatever persuasion, to testify their allegiance "to him *.' It prescribed the form of an oath of allegiance, and made it lawful for the catholics to take it before his majesty's judges and justices of the peace; but it did not enjoin them to take the oath under any penalties, or accompany the taking of it with any advantages. It contained the usual expression of pure and undivided allegiance, and was therefore generally taken.
Before this time, Mr. Charles O'Conor, the celebrated Irish scholar and antiquarian, Dr. Curry, the author of the invaluable "Review of the Civil "Wars of Ireland," and Mr. Wise of Waterford, 13 & 14 Geo. III, c. 35.
had succeeded in establishing a general committee of the catholic body, formed of the principal catholic nobility and gentry, and of delegates from the principal parishes. To these three gentlemen, and principally to Mr. O'Conor, the emancipation of the catholics is primarily owing. The formation of the board gave consistency and stability to their councils and measures, and produced a general co-operation of the body.
The effect was soon discernible: a petition, framed by Mr. Edmund Burke, was presented to his majesty, and in 1778 an act* passed, which enabled roman-catholics, who should take the oath of allegiance prescribed by the former act, to hold leases for nine hundred and ninety-nine years, or determinable upon any lives, not exceeding five. The lands of catholics were made devisable and transferrible, and catholics were rendered capable of holding and enjoying those which might descend or be devised or transferred to them. In 1782, an act passed for the further relief of the catholics it contained many provisions in their favour, particularly one, which discharged from all penalties, such catholic ecclesiastics as should register their names and abodes in the manner it prescribed. Another act of the same year allowed persons professing the popish religion to teach schools +.
"Of the numerous individuals," says sir Henry
Parnell," who at this time distinguished them"selves for their exertions in favour of the catholics, there was no one to whom they were under greater obligations than to the late Mr. Burke. "He wrote for them the petition which was pre"sented to the king in 1774. In the English "house of commons, in 1778, he was the first to "declare the necessity of concessions being made "to them; he said that Ireland was now the "chief dependence of the British crown, and that
it particularly behoved that country to admit the "Irish nation to the privileges of British citizens;' "and in the year 1782, he wrote his celebrated "letter to lord Kenmare, in which he so ably ex66 poses the folly, injustice, and tyranny of the penal laws."
From this period to the year 1790, the catholic question was not agitated in parliament; but in the mean time two events happened, which materially assisted the catholic cause; -the fear of an invasion from France, and the establishment of the national independence of Ireland. The first produced the embodying of volunteer corps throughout all the kingdom, and these were composed indiscriminately of catholics and protestants.
Insensibly they became an armed association for compelling Great Britain to grant to Ireland the independence of her legislature. In this important attempt the protestants took the lead; and it was evident that the victory would belong to the party, to which the catholics should attach themselves. • History of the Penal Laws, p. 84