« PreviousContinue »
ourselves, but has, from time immemorial, been handed down to us from our ancestors.
We derive no small consolation, most gracious Sovereign, from considering, that the most severe and rigorous of the laws against us had been enacted before the accession of your Majesty's most illustrious House to the Throne of these kingdoms: we therefore indulge the more sanguine hopes, thaï the mitigation of them, and the establishment of peace, industry, and universal happiness, amongst all your loyal subjects, may be one of the blessings of your Majesty's reign. And though we might plead in favour of such relaxation, the express words of a solemn treaty, entered into with us, by your Majesty's royal predecessor, King William, (which has been forfeited by no disobedience on our part), yet we neither wish nor desire, to receive any thing, but as a mere act of your Majesty's clemency, and of the indulgence and equity of your Parliament.
That this act of truly loyal beneficence and justice may be added to the other instances of your Majesty's august virtues, and that the deliverance of a faithful and distressed people may be one of those distinguishing acts of your reign, which shall transmit its memory to the love, gratitude, and veneration, of our latest posterity, is the humble prayer of, &c. &c.*
In the year 1778 t, an act passed “ for the re“ lief of his Majesty's subjects of this kingdom,
professing the Popish religion.” The preamble of which contains a confirmation of every thing that has been already advanced, concerning the loyalty of the Catholics, and a declaration on the part of the king and parliament, respecting the policy of admitting the Catholics into a full participation of the blessings of the constitution, which is a complete recognition of their right to enjoy
* This petition is from the pen of Mr. Burke.
them. It states, “ And whereas, from their uni“ form peaceable behaviour for a long series of “ years, it appears reasonable and expedient to re“ lax the same (the laws of Anne); and it must “ tend not only to the cultivation and improve“ment of this kingdom, but to the prosperity and
strength of all his Majesty's dominions, that his
subjects of all denominations, should enjoy the “ blessings of a free constitution, and should be “ bound to each other by mutual interest and mutual “ affection, &c.”
By this act, Papists, provided they take the oath and declaration of 13 and 14 G. III. c. 35. are admitted to the following privileges, — They may take lạnd on leases not exceeding 999 years, or determinable upon any number of lives not exceeding five.
The lands of Papists are to be descendible, devisable, and transferable, as fully as if the same were in the seizure of any other of his Majesty's subjects.
Papists are rendered capable to hold and enjoy all estates which may descend, be devised or transferred to them.
No maintenance is to be hereafter granted to a conforming child of a Papist, out of the personal property of such Papist, except out of such leases as may be taken under this act.
And the conformity of the eldest son is not to alter hereafter the Popish parent's estate.
In the year 1782, another act passed “ for the “ further relief of his Majesty's subjects of this “k ingdom, professing the Popish religion.
The preamble of this act states : “Whereas, all
* 21st and 22d Geo. III. c. 21.
"such of his Majesty's subjects in this kingdom, “ of whatever persuasion, as have heretofore taken “ and subscribed, or shall hereafter take and sub“scribe the oath of allegiance and declaration pre“scribed by an act passed in the 13th and 14th
year of his present Majesty's reign, entitled an “act to enable his Majesty's subjects, of whatever
persuasion, to testify their allegiance to him, “ought to be considered as good and loyal sub“ jects to his Majesty, his crown and government: " and whereas a continuance of several of the laws “ formerly enacted, and still in force in this king“dom, against persons professing the Popish re
ligion, is therefore unnecessary, in respect to “ those who have taken, or shall take the said oath, " and is injurious to the real wealth and prosperity “ of Ireland, therefore, &c.”
By this act Catholics, provided they take this oath, may purchase or take lands, or any interest therein, except advowsons or boroughs, returning members of parliament, and dispose of the same by will or otherwise ; and Popish ecclesiastics, on the same condition, and registering their name and abode, with the register of the diocese, are discharged from all penalties.
This act repeals so much of 8 Anne, as subjects a Papist to fine and imprisonment, on his refusal to testify on oath before two justices of the peace, when and where he heard the Popish mass celebrated, and the names of the persons celebrating it; and so much of 7 W. III. c. 5. as subjects any. Papist, who shall have in his possession any horse of the value of 5l. or more, to the penalties therein mentioned ; and so much of 8 Anne, as enables the lord lieutenant to seize any horse belonging to a Papist, upon a prospect of invasion
or rebellion. It also repeals so much of 9 G. II. c. 6. as enables grand juries to reimburse such persons as have been robbed by privateers in time of war, for their losses, and to levy the same on the goods of Papists only; and so much of 6 G. I. c. 10. as subjects Papists, who shall not provide a Protestant watchman to watch in their turn, to certain penalties; and so much of 2 Anne, c. 6. as subjects Papists, who took any house, or came to dwell in Limerick, after the year 1703, or within the town of Galway, to certain penalties.
In the same year was likewise passed an act to allow persons, professing the Popish religion, to teach school in this kingdom, and for regulating the education of Papists, and also to repeal parts of certain laws relative to the guardianship of their children. *
The preamble states “ Whereas several of the “ laws made in this kingdom, relative to the edu“cation of Papists, or persons professing the Popish “ religion, are considered as too severe, and have “ not answered the desired effect."
This act repeals so much of 7 W. III. c. 4. and 8 of Anne, c. 3. as subjects Catholics, who shall publicly teach school, or privately instruct youth, to the like penalties as any Popish regular convict, provided they take the oaths of 13 and 14 of G. III. c. 35; and it enables Catholics, except ecclesiastics, to be guardians.
Of the numerous individuals, who at this time distinguished themselves 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
* 21st and 22d Geo. III. c. 62.
which was présented 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 citi“ zens * ;” and in the year 1782, he wrote his celebrated letter to Lord Kenmare, in which he so ably exposes the folly, injustice, and tyranny of the penal laws.
It certainly is a fact of no small importance in favour of the wisdom of unlimited concession to the Catholics, that this great statesman, the advo. cate for existing establishments, and who was the first and most formidable opponent to the progress of the jacobinical principles of France, should have advised it, and incessantly forwarded it by his powerful talents and extensive influence.
But the Catholics were indebted, not only to the labours of their friends, but also to the great revolution which was going on at this period in America, for the success of the first concessions that were made to them. This soon appeared very evident; an attempt was made by Mr. James Fitzgerald, a few months before the introduction of the act of 17 & 18 Geo. III. to obtain for them a power to take leases of lands for 61 years, and this attempt failed. But soon, afterwards, when the intelligence arrived of the defeat of the British forces in America, the same parliament, on the recommendation of the government, passed an act for enabling them to take land on leases for 999 years.
*8 Eng. Deb. p. 185, 1st April, 1778.