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The Duke of Wellington's speeches on Catholic Emancipation (13)

13 March 1829

These documents are taken from: The Speeches of the Duke of Wellington in Parliament, collected and arranged by the late Colonel Gurwood, C.B., K.C.T.S., (London, John Murray, Albemarle Street, 1854)


The Earl of ELDON moved for a return of such persons as from 1st January, 1815, had taken the oaths prescribed for the safety of our Protestant Constitution by the Acts of 31 and 33 George III. The return would show that these oaths had been very generally neglected, and so exhibit the degree of security to be expected from the oaths proposed by the measure on the subject of Roman Catholic disabilities, which the Ministry were now bringing forward.

The LORD CHANCELLOR deprecated the unfairness of indulging in insinuations on a measure not before the house.

Lord PLUNKETT would move, as an amendment, that the return should include the names of such persons also as had taken the oaths required of Protestants by various Acts of Parliament.

THE DUKE OF WELLINGTON spoke in the following terms:

It is necessary that I should make one or two observations upon the motion of my noble and learned friend. It is certainly true that a very large number of persons in this country have not taken the oaths prescribed by the Act of 1791; and that a very large number of persons in Ireland have not fulfilled the obligations of the Act of 1793. It is likewise true, as stated by the noble and learned Lord opposite, that many persons have not taken the oaths prescribed by the Act of George I. The question is, whether it is necessary or desirable to expose to injury the persons who have thus neglected to qualify themselves. I would suggest to my noble and learned friend (Lord Eldon), and to my noble and learned friend opposite (Lord Plunkett), to waive their respective motions. I think the best course to pursue will be to pass a Bill of Indemnity for those persons who have not performed the duty enjoined by those Acts: there can exist no good ground for exposing those persons to injury. I therefore recommend to my noble friend, instead of persisting in his present motion, to introduce an Act of Indemnity.

My noble and learned friend has stated that benefits were granted under the Acts of 1791 and 1793, and that the security required by the State in return for those benefits had not been given, inasmuch as these oaths had not been taken. This cannot be the case under the Bill now under consideration in the other House of Parliament. That Bill requires that a Roman Catholic taking his seat in Parliament, or before appointment to office, shall take the oath. It besides requires from all those enjoying benefits under former Acts that they shall take the oath prescribed in this Bill. It is for these reasons that I suggest the expediency of both noble and learned Lords withdrawing their motions, and uniting their aid in bringing forward a Bill of Indemnity for those who have neglected to perform the obligations enjoined by the statutes which they have cited. This appears to me a far better mode of proceeding than that of exposing the names unnecessarily of a great number of persons, most of whom, I am convinced, are unconscious of their negligence.

Having said thus much on the question now under discussion before your Lordships, I would beg leave to advert shortly to the terms which have been used by my noble and learned friend in adverting to what fell from my noble friend on the Woolsack. My noble friend (Lord Eldon) appears irritated with my noble friend on the Woolsack for having applied to him the term 'insinuations;' but I would just beg leave to remind my noble friend (Lord Eldon) what must be in the recollection of your Lordships, that from the first day of this Session there has been an admission of the expediency of avoiding all ex parte discussion on a subject that will in a short time be substantively and formally brought under your Lordships' consideration. We are all aware of the convenience of such a course, and have deprecated a departure from it. We all agree that it would be far more convenient to delay any remarks upon the measure until (should the present Bill pass through the other House) it comes as a matured measure fairly submitted to the consideration of your Lordships. But the discussion upon this question has been anticipated here, not quite regularly or fairly, by describing it as an attempt to establish Popery, to introduce arbitrary power, as an attempt to subvert the Constitution, to compel His Majesty to violate the Coronation Oath, and to overthrow the established religion of the country.

These insinuations, which, if the noble and learned Lord prefers it, I will call assertions, have been, as your Lordships are aware, repeated night after night in this House. I say that they are mere assertions; but whether assertions or insinuations, I am prepared to prove, when the proper time shall arrive for doing so, that they are unfounded. Meanwhile, I would suggest that it would be better that these topics should be left out of discussion until the subject to which such constant reference is made comes regularly under your Lordships' notice. Until the question which is to be brought forward pursuant to the gracious recommendation from the Throne shall be submitted fairly to the House, such assertions as I have adverted to should be laid aside. The law for the suppression of the Association has likewise been brought under discussion upon this occasion; and my noble and learned friend has again asserted that the exercise of the powers of the common law was sufficient to put down that body, but that Government were under the necessity of paving the way for their other measures by the adoption of some measure in respect to the Association. If the powers of the common law were sufficient, I ask my noble and learned friend how it has happened that the Roman Catholic Association has lasted for so many years, he sitting on the Woolsack, and being a distinguished member of His Majesty's councils? The origin of the Act of 1825 to put down the Roman Catholic Association was a most able despatch from Ireland, the first paragraph of which contained an assertion that, according to the opinion of the law officers in Ireland, the Roman Catholic Association was not originally an illegal assembly in its institution or form. If this assembly was illegal according to the common law of the land, how came it that my noble and learned friend passed unnoticed this assertion, which was the foundation of the measure of 1825? But if the common law was sufficient to put down the Association in 1828-1829, how did it happen that my noble and learned friend agreed to the law of 1825? How came he to assist in concocting that measure as a member of His Majesty's councils at that time? If the common law was sufficient, how does it happen that for some years, even after the law of 1825 was passed and enacted, the common law was not put in execution under the auspices of my noble friend, he being at the time, and for some time afterwards, Lord Chancellor; and the Association having in fact continued to exist up to this moment ? In truth, my Lords, the common law, with the assistance of the Act of 1825, was found insufficient to put down the Association, and it is for this reason that we have found ourselves under the necessity of coming to Parliament, to ask Parliament to invest the Lord Lieutenant with extraordinary powers to enable him to deal with such assemblies.

It has been said, and among others by a Right Reverend Prelate, that there is sufficient power in the country to enable the Officers of the Crown to put down the Association. It is true there is ample military power in the country to put it down. No doubt there is; but surely military power is not the description of force which the noble and learned Lord, or any one, would desire to see put in operation for the suppression of such an Association, but that power and authority which belong to the law, and which may be carried into execution by ordinary means. I ask the Right Reverend Prelate and my noble friend whether military force is what they would recommend any Government in this country to employ to enforce the law? I am sure that it is not the power which my noble and learned friend meant when he talked of the common law; that he would not have recourse to such an expedient, when he asserted that ordinary means were sufficient.

I do not feel it necessary to follow this discussion further; and have only to repeat to my noble friends the suggestion that I have already made, to withdraw their motions, and to accomplish their end by bringing in a Bill of Indemnity.

Original motion and amendment withdrawn.

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See also Gleig's Life of Wellington (1862)
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