Page images

to meet for the purpose of stating their grievances and suing for redress; they must, therefore, either acquiesce without effort, or act by delegation, a mode not forbidden to any of his Majesty's subjects, and more emphatically allowable to the Catholics, inasmuch as they have no representatives in Parliament to whom they may apply. If this mode be forbidden them, they have no other whereby they can act with effect, and the obvious and certain consequence is, that they are, in fact, debarred from the common birthright of every subject, the great unalienable, indefeasible privilege, THE RIGHT TO PETITION THE LEGISLATURE FOR REDRESS OF GRIEVANCES.

Let it be determined who act most unconstitutionally: those who, selecting the discreetest members of their body, come humbly before the Throne and before Parliament, submitting their sufferings, and supplicating relief, or those who attempt to step in between the crown and the subject, the legislature and the people, and, erecting themselves into a kind of fourth estate, labor, as far as in them lies, to abrogate and destroy that sacred privilege inherent in the vitals of the Constitution, THE RIGHT


It is asserted that the restoration of the right of franchise would throw into the hands of the Catholics the whole power of the state. Let it be remembered that the crown is unalterably Protestant; the Catholics in the House of Peers are so few in number, that danger from them is not to be apprehended, and that number can only be augmented at the will of the crown; that the number of Catholics who can at first have influence on the popular branch must be extremely small; that the increase to that number must principally accrue through the favor of the Protestants, in whose hands a great proportion of the landed property and all the boroughs and corporations are deposited ; the whole patronage of the church, the law, the army, the revenue, through all their departments, are at the disposal of the Government of this country, which is Protestant; that this gradual and slow progress must wear away those relics of distinctions and dregs of animosities which yet remain, and which are fostered and cherished by the spirit of monopoly on the one hand, and the sense of depression on the other; that it is the continuance of those unjust exclusions which alone prevents the Protestants and Catholics of Ireland from becoming one people

in sentiment and in interest. To all this, let there be added the certainty of the immediate interference of England, so powerful and so near, should the Catholics attempt to assume, as is asserted, “the whole power of the state.”

But the great test, experience, is the best proof of the futility of such an apprehension. The Catholics of Ireland were once in full possession of all privileges and franchises, including those of sitting and voting in Parliament; their numbers were then much greater, comparatively, than they now are; they possessed a very large proportion of the property of this country, at that time unbroken in upon by the force of penal laws, by the conformity of many of their ancient families, and by the legalized plunder of reiterated bills of discovery. In that situation, in the plenitude of their power, they were unable to prevent the passing of those very penal laws which have gradually deprived tlrem of their property, of their civil rights, and more particularly of the elective franchise. Is it then likely, is it possible, that the restoration of those rights would enable them, in their weakness and depression, to extort what in their vigor and full possession they found themselves unable to retain ?

But it is said that the Catholics should be « content with the “ most perfect toleration of their religion, the fullest security “ of their property, and the most complete personal liberty.” With regard to toleration, persecution may be negative as well as positive. The deprivation of political rights, because of the exercise of any religion, is for so much a persecution of that religion. Of the security of their property enough has been already said to explain how Catholics stand in that respect; but, if it were otherwise, security of property and personal liberty are rights without a respect to which society could not be supported. Protection and allegiance are duties corresponding and inseparable. By their peaceable demeanor as good subjects, the Catholics have executed their part of the contract, and that Government, to whose support they contribute, is bound, in return, to defend them. And it is humbly submitted whether it be not a strong and striking proof of the abject state of the Catholics of Ireland, that it should be held out to them as ground for acquiescence and contentment, that they cannot be robbed without redress, or imprisoned with impunity; or, in other words, that without any alleged delinquency on their part, they are

VOL. 1-55

treated as outlaws in their native land. Even the security and toleration which it is alleged they possess, they hold but by sufferance; for, unconnected as the Catholics are with the legislature, they can have no influence; and it is again submitted to the feelings of our Protestant brethren, whether they would be content to hold their religion, liberty, and property, by so precarious a tenure, as the humanity of men who owe them no responsibility, over whose conduct they had no control, and whose interests, or whose passions, might be gratified by an invasion of their dearest rights.

The Committee have hitherto confined themselves to the abstract merits of their case, but they have other arguments to allege. By the treaty of Limerick, in 1691, at least a very considerable part of the Catholics of Ireland, on condition of their surrendering to the Generals of King William, that city, and above one third of this kingdom, then in their hands, and which they were in a condition well to have maintained, were secured in “all and every their estates of freehold and inheritance; and “all the rights, titles, interests, privileges, and immunities, “ which they and every or any of them held, enjoyed, or were “rightfully and lawfully entitled to in the reign of King Charles “ II, or at any time since.” And this treaty was confirmed with as much solemnity as any in the records of history, by the Lords Justices of Ireland, by King William and Queen Mary, and finally by Parliament, whereby the public faith was pledged in the strongest and most binding manner. Yet, notwithstanding this solemn and sacred obligation, a multiplicity of cruel, unjust, and tyrannical laws, have, from time to time, been enacted, many of which are still in full force and vigor, abolishing and restraining the rights and privileges of all Catholics, indiscriminately and without distinction, and more particularly depriving them of the elective franchise. And this glaring infraction of the law of nations, and of the first principles of natural justice, a violation which should call down the vengeance of Heaven on the heads of those guilty thereof, was perpetrated in an hour of full and perfect security, as a wanton act of power, and without any delinquency, alleged or proved, on the part of the Catholics, to afford a pretext for so infamous and notorious a dereliction of every thing like public principle or national honor. And the Committee are well warranted in asserting this, inas

much as the Catholics have, in the surrender of Limerick and their arms, and by their peaceable and dutiful deportment as good and loyal subjects from that hour to the present, faithfully and religiously observed, on their part, a treaty so solemnly entered into and so speedily and so unprovokedly violated on the part of their adversaries.

And now that the General Committee have fairly and fully exposed the conduct, the motives, and the principles of the Catholics of Ireland, they conclude, with a most sincere and earnest entreaty to every member of their communion, carefully to abstain from any act which, however remotely, can tend to riot or disorder. After a century of unvarying good conduct, through the most severe oppression, the Committee relies that the Catholics will not now tarnish their character by any act of intemperance when the hour of their emancipation rapidly approaches. Professing their sincere attachment to the Constitution, as established in the three estates of King, Lords, and Commons, into which Constitution it is their highest ambition to be admitted, the cause of the Catholics is respectfully committed to the justice, humanity, and public spirit, of their countrymen.



DUBLIN, March 17, 1792.


Whereas certain opinions and principles, inimical to good order and government, have been attributed to the Catholics, the existence of which we utterly deny; and whereas it is, at this time, peculiarly necessary to remove such imputations, and to give the most full and ample satisfaction to our Protestant brethren, that we hold no principle, whatsoever, incompatible with our duty as men or as subjects, or repugnant to liberty, whether political, civil, or religious:

Now, we, the Catholics of Ireland, for the removal of all such imputations, and in deference to the opinion of many respectable bodies of men and individuals among our Protestant brethren, do hereby, in the face of our country, of all Europe, and before God, make this our deliberate and solemn declaration:

1st. We abjure, disavow, and condemn the opinion, that Princes, excommunicated by the Pope and Council, or by any ecclesiastical authority whatsoever, may, therefore, be deposed or murdered by their subjects, or any other persons. We hold such doctrine in detestation, as wicked and impious: and we declare that we do not believe, that either the Pope, with, or without a General Council, or any Prelate or Priest, or any ecclesiastical power whatsoever, can absolve the subjects of this Kingdom, or any of them, from their allegiance to his Majesty King George III, who is, by authority of Parliament, the lawful King of this realm.

2d. We abjure, condemn, and detest, as unchristian and impious, the principle that it is lawful to murder, destroy, or any

« PreviousContinue »