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3d. Is a meeting for the purpose of choosing such delegates, an unlawful assembly; and if not an unlawful assembly, has any Magistrate or other person, by or under pretence of the riot act, or any other, and what statute, a right to disperse said meeting?
4th. What is the legal mode of presenting petitions to the Legislature in Ireland ; and is there any, and what statute upon that point, in this country?
5th. Is the plan sent, herewith, agrecable to law? if not, wherein is it contrary thereto, and to what penalties would persons become subject, who should carry, or attempt to carry, the same into effect?
Counsel will please to state the authorities upon which he grounds his opinion.
Answer to the 1st Question. I am clearly and decidedly of opinion, that all and every his Majesty's subjects, of this Kingdom, of every persuasion, Roman Catholic as well as Protestant, have an unalienable right to petition, in a peaceable manner, the King, or either House of Parliament, for redress of grievances, be those grievances real or imaginary.- 1st Black. Comm. 143.
Answer to the 2d Question. I am clearly and decidedly of opinion, that Roman Catholics have, equally with Protestants, a right to choose delegates for the purpose of framing such petition, and presenting the same in a peaceable and respectful manner to the Legislature, and that they are not forbidden so to do by any law or statute whatsoever.Delegation has always been considered not only as the most effectual mode of obtaining the general sense, but also as the best security against tumult and disturbance.
Answer to the 3d Question. I am also clearly and decidedly of opinion, that a peaceable meeting for the purpose of choosing such delegates, is a lawful assembly, and that no magistrate or other person, by or under pretence of the riot act or any other statute, has a right to dis.
perse such meeting.–The assembly which may be dispersed under authority of the riot act, must be unlawful, riotous, tumultuous, and in disturbance of the public peace. The act is inoperative upon an assembly that is lawful; and I feel no difficulty in declaring my opinion, that an obstruction of the peaceable exercise of an unalienable right of the subject, is a misdemeanor of the greatest magnitude, and that any person charged with the guilt thereof, be his rank or station what it may, is indictable, and, if found guilty by his country, liable to be fined and imprisoned ; and I also feel no difficulty in declaring my opinion, that publications charging the General Committee with exciting, in the instance before us, unlawful assemblies for seditious purposes, are libels, and, as such, are indictable and actionable.
Answer to the 4th Question. By the English statute of the 1st William and Mary, st. 2. ch. II. commonly called the Bill of Rights, and which being a law declaratory of the rights of the subject, is, therefore, of force in Ireland, it is declared “that all subjects have a right to petition the King, and that all commitments and prosecutions for such petitioning are illegal." Notwithstanding the Bill of Rights is general, and does not specify any regulations or restrictions, yet the Court of King's Bench in England, in the case of the King against Lord George Gordon, Douglass 571, thought proper to deliver an opinion, that it did not repeal the English act of the 13th Car. II. st. 1, ch. 5, which enacted, “that no petition to the King, or either House of Parliament, for any alteration in church or state, shall be signed by above twenty persons, unless the matter thereof be approved by three justices of the peace, or the major part of the grand jury, in the county; and in London, by the Lord Mayor, Aldermen, and Common Council. Nor shall any petition be presented by more than ten persons at a time.” Under the above authority, therefore, the right of petitioning in England is subject to the regulations and restrictions laid upon it by that act of Charles II. But as neither the act of Charles, nor any one similar to it, is in force in Ireland, the right of the Irish subject to petition their legislature is not subject to any regulation or restriction whatsoever, save only that due care must be taken, lest, under the pre
tence of petitioning, the subject be guilty of any riot or tumult. I am, therefore, of opinion, that no particular mode of presenting petitions to the Legislature of Ireland is pointed out by any law or statute of force in this kingdom. It is to be observed, that in the last sessions of Parliament, a great concourse of people assembled in the Park, framed a petition, and deputed a very large number of their body to present it to the House of Lords ; the Lord Chancellor, in observing upon the petition, did not charge the petitioners with any illegality, either in assembling to frame, or in presenting the petition, but, on the contrary, his Lordship was pleased to commend them for the peaceable manner in which they deported themselves. The success which attended the petition is in the recollection of most people.
Answer to the 5th Question. I am also clearly and decidedly of opinion, that THE PLAN IS IN EVERY RESPECT AGREEABLE TO LAW,
and that persons peaceably carrying, or attempting to carry the same into effect, would not thereby incur any penalty whatsoever. The plan is, indeed, unexceptionable; while it serves effectually to obtain the general sense of the great Catholic body of Ireland, it provides every precaution against tumult and disturbance.
SIMON BUTLER. September 3, 1792.
I. His Majesty's subjects of Ireland professing the Roman Catholic religion, have, in my opinion, a right to petition his Majesty and the two Houses of Parliament, or any of them, for the redress of grievances, equally with Protestants.
II. As they have this right, it follows, as I conceive, that, where the grievance complained of affects the whole body, they have also a right to collect the sense of every individual of that body; but as the assembling them all for that purpose would be inconvenient, imprudent, and perhaps dangerous, I think the sense of the whole may be collected from a smaller number, delegated by them for that purpose, who may frame and present such petition; and I know of no principle of the common law, nor of any statute, by which they are forbidden to do so; it being always supposed that these proceedings are carried on in a peaceable and respectful manner.
III. I do not apprehend that a number of Roman Catholics, meeting in a private, peaceable, and quiet manner, for the sole purpose of declaring their sense of the alleged grievances, and their desire of petitioning the Legislature for redress, and of choosing out of themselves, one or more, to assist in framing and presenting such petition, can be considered as an unlawful assembly; and I do not think that any magistrate, or other person, by, or under pretence of, the Riot Act, or any other act that I am acquainted with, would have a right to disperse such meeting
IV. I do not know of any statute in this kingdom which regulates the mode of presenting petitions to the Legislature of this kingdom. The English statute of the 13th Car. II. st. V. ch. 2d. has not been enacted here, that I know of; but the general law of the land requires that the petition should be presented in the most respectful and peaceable manner. The intended petition, as I apprehend, should be entitled the petition of his Majesty's subjects of Ireland professing the Roman Catholic religion; and should be signed by a few of the Roman Catholics of each county and principal city in Ireland, on behalf of themselves and their Roman Catholic brethren of that county or city. According to the forms of Parliament here, the petition must be presented to each House, by a member of that House. In presenting the petition to his Majesty, which may be either to himself in person, or through the medium of the Lord Lieytenant, it would, I think, be prudent to follow the directions of the English statute abovementioned, and that not more than ten persons should present it.
V. From what I have already said, I must be of opinion, that the plan sent herewith to me, is not contrary to law; and I cannot conceive that persons carrying, or attemping to carry, it into effect, peaceably and quietly, would become subject to any penalties.
I have grounded my opinion upon the conception I have formed of the law and Constitution of this kingdom, from that general rescarch which my profession has led me to make into their principles; I have not, therefore, any authorities to state.
BERESFORD BURSTON. 13th September, 1792.
PETITION OF THE CATHOLICS OF IRELAND.
January 2, 1793. Mr. Byre, Mr. Keogh, Mr. Devereux, Mr. Bellew, and Sir Thomas French, the gentlemen delegated by the Catholics of Ireland, attended the levee at St. James's, and had the honor to present the humble petition of that body to his Majesty, who was pleased to receive it most graciously.
The delegates were introduced by the Right Hon. Henry Dundas, Secretary of State for the Home Department.
The following is a correct copy of the petition :
To the King's most excellent Majesty:
The humble petition of the undersigned Catholics, on behalf of themselves and the rest of his Catholic subjects of the kingdom of Ireland.
Most Gracious SOVEREIGN : Wc, your Majesty's most dutiful and loyal subjects of your kingdom of Ireland, professing the Catholic religion, presume to approach your Majesty, who are the common father of all your people, and humbly to submit to your consideration the manifold incapacities and oppressive disqualifications under which we labor.
For, may it please your Majesty, after a century of uninterrupted loyalty, in which time five foreign wars and two domestic rebellions have occurred; after having taken every oath of allegiance and fidelity to your Majesty, and given, and being still ready to give, every pledge which can be devised for their peaceable demeanor and unconditional submission to the laws, the Catholics of Ireland stand obnoxious to a long catalogue of statutes, inflicting on dutiful and meritorious subjects pains and penalties of an extent and severity, which scarce any degree of delinquency can warrant, and prolonged to a period when no necessity can be alleged to justify their continuance.
In the first place, we beg leave, with all humility, to represent to your Majesty, that, notwithstanding the lowest depart