Page images

man, it may be unjust or improper to impute to him aninclination to indulge, on a serious subject, in irony or derision; but if he intended this probability should stand as an objection to conceding the R. Catholic claims, his remarks, in whatever vein they were uttered, bear every character of sarcasm and burlesque.

From the consideration of this statute, we pass to some of those Acts, to which the great epochs of the constitution gave birth, and which are conceived of fundamental and essential importance. The Rt. Rev. Prelate first seizes upon the Bill of Rights; which the Chief Justice dismisses with this respectful observation, on the appositeness of the choice.

I am not aware what clause in the Bill of Rights are supposed to be broken in upon by what is suggested as likely to be proposed.”

Next follows the Act of Settlement, which is complimented, with the declaration, that by it the subject was left just where it was found.

“This statute of William III. has done no more, as far as it respects the present question, than the former statutes had done.”

On the subject of the Act of Union, and that settling the Coronation Oath, we are referred to a previous communication made by Lord Kenyon to the King, which discloses his opinion in the following terms.

“To overthrow any part of the Church Establishment. as I have now stated it, would as it seems, militate against the Coronation Oath, as settled in the Statute, William and Mary, and the Act of Union, and contravene an essential and fundamental part of the Act of Union.”

How far the notion of such an overthrow entered into the projected measures of Mr Pitt, or operated upon the apprehension of Lord Kenron, it is unnecessary to waste a remark. If the Chief Justice's opinion on the subject, with which we are at present concerned, be considered ambiguous, the following observation will put it out of dispute.

"So long as the King's Supremacy, and the main fabric of the Act of Uniformity, the doctrine, discipline, and government of the Church of England, are preserved as the national church, and the provision for its Ministers kept as an appropriated fund, it seems that any ease given to sectarists would not militate against the Coronation Oath or the Act of Union.”

The King's civil Supremacy every R. Catholic is as forward to acknowledge, and upon the same test, as any member of the temporalty. The acknowledgement of the ecclesiastical supremacy is not made by the Dissenters, and cannot be required in reason of any subject, who is not admitted to some office of power, trust, or emolument, in the spiritualty. It will be, therefore, still as effectually preserved by the oath of supremacy,as it has ever been; since the epoch of the Reformation, when it was acknowledged by an express act of the legislature. After this statement, if further explanation be deemed necessary to evince, that the Chief Justice discovered no objection to concession, in the act with which it was supposed at variance; by the following extracts every doubt upon the subject is laid at rest.

“Though the Test Act appears to be a very wise law, and in point of sound policy not to be departed from, yet it seems that it might be repealed, or altered without any breach of the Coronation Oath, or Act of Union. The temporary Rules of Indemnity, which have so frequently passed, have in effect, from time to time, dispensed with it in some degree.”

And with immediate reference to the very subject of the R. Catholic petition ;

“The petition expresses apprehension of proscription, persecution, and oppreseion. All grounds of apprehension, if such there really are, may be safely removed, if the late benefits, which the petition admits, have not removed them, without endangering the established church, or violating the coronation oath.”

How much farther than this, (I put it to any person of common candor ;) would decency permit his Majesty's legal adviser to go, who did not presume to take all power of decision out of his Sovereign's hands? However, consequently, the Chief Justice might have been opposed, on grounds of political expediency to the concession of the R. Catholic claims ; his opinion, delivered under his hand, puts it out of dispute, that he discovered no legal objection to the measure, in those Acts, on an imaginary violation of which his late Majesty's ecclesiastical counselor took upon himself to influence his Sovereign's decision. And in this conclusion, Lord Kenyon represents the other law-officer to whose opinion the question was subjected, as having fully concurred.

3. In regarding the measure, in the last place, with a view to the political considerations, which may recommend or dissuade it; the following statement of the views of Mr Pitt, is at-once so succint, comprehensive and luminous, as to render all comment upon it superfluous, if not presumptuous. I shall, however, as it redounds to the honor of its immortal author, premise in his own words, that it originated in “ a sense of what in his honest opinion was due to the real interest of his Majesty and his dominions ;” to the accomplishment of that paramount object, he sacrificed all considerations of personal interest ; having declined “to continue in office any longer than till the issue of the crisis, admitted of his Majesty's forming a new arrangement,” for committing the administration into other hands.

“Under the impression of that opinion, he has concurred in what appeared to be the prevailing sentiments of the majority of the Cabinet—that the admission of the Catholics and Dissenters to offices, and of the Catholics to Parliament ( from which latter the Dissenters are now excluded), would, under certain conditions to be specitied, be highly advisable, with a view to the tranquillity and improvement of Ireland, and to the general interests of the united kingdom.”

“For himself he is, on full consideration, convinced that the measure would be attended with no danger to the Established Church, or to the Protestant interest in Great Britain or Ireland ;—that now the union has taken place, and with the new provisions which make part of the plan, it could never give any such weight in office, or in Parliament, either to Catholics or Dissenters, as could give them any new means (if they were so disposed) of attacking the establishment :—that the grounds, on which the laws of exclusion now remaining were founded, have long been narrowed, and are since the union removed; that those principles, formerly held by the Catholics, which made them be considered as politically dangerous, have been for a course of time gradually declining, and, among the higher orders particularly, they have ceased to prevail ;—that the obnoxious tenets are disclaimed, in the most positive manner by the oaths, which have been required in Great Britain, and still more by one of those required in Ireland, as the condition of the indulgences already granted, and which mightequally be made the condition of any new ones ;—that if such an oath, containing (among other provisions) a denial of the power of absolution from its obligations, is not a security from Catholics, the sacramental test is not more so ;—that the political circumstances under which the exclusive laws originated, arising either from


the conflicting power of hostile and nearly balanced sects, from the apprehension of a Popish queen or snccessor, a disputed suécession and a foreign pretender, and a division in Europe between Catholic and Protestant powers, are no longer applicable to the present state of things; that with respect to those of the Dissenters, who, it is feared, entertain principles dangerous to the constitution, a distinct political test, pointed against the doctrine of modern jacobinism, would be a much more just and more effectual security than that which now exists, which may operate to the exclusion of conscientious persons well affected to the state, and is no guard against those of an opposite des cription ;-that with respect to the Catholics of Ireland, another most important additional security, and one of which the effect would continually increase, might be provided, by gradually attaching the Popish clergy to the Government, and, for this purpose, making them dependent for a part of their provision (under proper regulations) on the State, and by also subjecting them to superintendence and control ;-hat, besides these provisions, the general in- , terests of the established church, and the security of the . Constitution and Government, might be effectually strengthened by requiring the political test, before referred to, from the preachers of all Catholic or Dissenting congregations, and from the teachers of schools of every denomination.”

If “the political circumstances," on which this great measure is dependent, induced those conclusions, when this great statesman directed to it his intellectual powers; how irresistably do they compel the same consequence, in the state which matters have attained, since he has been removed from the scene! Nor can any one who devotes his aitention to this subject remain unconscious, that, from the treaty of Westphalia and the Triple Alliance, under which the exclusive arrangements that press upon the Romanists were introduced, tho whole system of external policy, by which this measure is affected, progressively altered. Palpable,

« PreviousContinue »