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The Duke of Wellington's speeches on Catholic Emancipation (18)

4 April 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 GUILFORD condemned the measure as one of most dangerous tendency, by bringing forward which the Ministers had forfeited all claim for consistency; and particularly did he regret that the great man whose former services gave him so powerful a claim on the gratitude of the country should now be found lending himself to the designs of the sworn foes of our Protestant institutions.

The Earl of ELDON considered that the Ministry would never have acted with the secresy [sic] they had done, and have taken the country by surprise, if their measures were good in themselves. They ought to have taken the sense of the country upon them, by a general election.

THE DUKE OF WELLINGTON spoke in the following terms:

I am anxious, my Lords, to trouble your Lordships on this occasion with a few observations in answer to some of the remarks which have been made upon the conduct of my colleagues in the Government and of myself. In doing so it is not my intention, my Lords, to detain your Lordships longer than will be absolutely necessary for the purpose of explaining that part of my conduct which I think requires explanation.

The first point is one which fell from several noble Lords, but principally from a Most Reverend Prelate (Canterbury), in the early part of the debate. That Most Reverend Prelate made the observation that we ought to have put into execution the laws against the Roman Catholic Association, but that we have yielded to its menaces. I must remind your Lordships that I stated last year, as well as on other occasions, that it was extremely desirable, before anything was done for Ireland, that a certain period of tranquility should elapse. If that opinion was just, it may seem that I ought to have proceeded against the Association before I introduced this measure. But I must say that, although I endeavoured to find the means of prosecuting this Association, I was bound, when my opinion was that this measure was essential for the interests of the country, to bring it forward at once; and it was not my duty to refrain from bringing it forward because the conduct of those persons was not what I approved of. Moreover I considered it my duty to propose, in the first instance, a proper measure to put down this Catholic Association, which measure having been passed has been found to answer its object; and there is now, and there has been for some little time, tranquility in Ireland. The next point is that which has been repeatedly assumed by many of your Lordships in the course of the discussion, but particularly by the Right Reverend Prelates who have spoken, that the Church of Ireland (or, as I have recently been reminded, the Church of England in Ireland) is in danger. I call on those who apprehend that danger to state clearly whether that danger, on this particular occasion, is more to be expected as resulting from legislation or from violence. If they say it is resulting from legislation, I answer that their apprehensions are puerile. It is impossible to suppose that a small number of persons admitted into this House, and a small number admitted into the other House, while we have a Protestant Sovereign on the Throne, should be productive of legislative danger to the Church of England in Ireland. I beg to observe, with respect to the point relating to the Union of the two countries, that a fundamental article of the Union is the junction of the two Churches, called the United Church of England and Ireland. It is impossible, therefore, that any mischief can occur to the Church of Ireland without a breach in the Union of the two countries. There is another point to which I beg leave to advert for a moment. Although it is true that we do admit into Parliament members of the Roman Catholic persuasion, yet at the same time, by another measure brought forward with it, and on which we equally rely, we propose regulations which will have the effect of destroying the influence of the Catholic priesthood in the election of Members of Parliament. We have carefully examined the measure, and we expect that it will give additional security to all the interests of the State.

Another subject to which I wish to advert is a charge brought against several of my colleagues, and also against myself, by the noble Earl on the cross-bench (Guildford), of a want of consistency in our conduct. My Lords, I admit that many of my colleagues, as well as myself, did, on former occasions, vote against a measure of a similar description with this; and, my Lords, I must say that my colleagues and myself felt, when we adopted this measure, that we should be sacrificing ourselves and our popularity to that which we felt to be our duty to our Sovereign and our country. We knew very well that if we put ourselves at the head of the Protestant cry of 'No Popery,' we should be much more popular even than those who have excited that very cry against us. But we felt that, in so doing, we should have left on the interests of the country a burden which must end in bearing them down; and further, that we should have deserved the hate and execration of our countrymen. The noble Earl on the cross-bench has adverted particularly to me, and has mentioned in terms of civility the services which he says I have rendered to the country; but I must tell the noble Earl that, be those services what they may, I rendered them through good repute and through bad repute, and that I was never prevented from rendering them by any cry which was excited against me at the moment. Then I am accused, and by a noble and learned friend of mine (Eldon), of having acted with great secresy respecting this measure. Now I beg to tell my noble and learned friend, — and I am sorry that, in the course of these discussions, anything has passed which has been unpleasant to my noble and learned friend, — I beg to tell him, I say, that he has done that to me in the course of this discussion which he complains of others having done to him; in other words, he has, in the language of a Right Honourable friend of his and mine (Mr. Peel), thrown a large paving-stone instead of throwing a small pebblestone.

I say that if my noble and learned friend accuses me of acting with secresy on this question, he does not deal with me altogether fairly. He knows, as well as I do, how the Cabinet was constructed on this question; and I ask him, had I any right to say a single word to any man whatsoever upon this measure, until the Person most interested in the kingdom upon it had given his consent to my speaking out? I say, that before my noble and learned friend had accused me of secresy, and of improper secresy too, he ought to have known the precise day upon which I received the permission of the highest Personage in the country; and he ought not to have accused me of improper conduct until he had known the day on which I had leave to open my mouth upon this measure. There is another point also on which the noble Earl accused me of misconduct, and that is, that I did not at once dissolve the Parliament. Now I must say that I think noble Lords are mistaken in the notion of the benefits which they conceive that they would derive from a dissolution of Parliament at this crisis. I believe that many of them are not aware of the consequences and of the inconveniences of a dissolution of Parliament at any time. But when I know, as I did know, and as I do know, the state of the elective franchise in Ireland — when I recollected the number of men it took to watch one election which took place in Ireland in the course of last summer — when I knew the consequences which a dissolution would produce on the return to the House of Commons, to say nothing of the risks which must have been incurred at each election, of collisions that might have led to something little short of civil war — I say that, knowing all these things, I should have been wanting in duty to my Sovereign and to my country if I had advised His Majesty to dissolve his Parliament.

My Lords, I shall not detain the House any further, except to observe that I could not allow the House to come to a vote on this subject, without justifying myself on the various points adverted to in the course of the debate. I can assure your Lordships that I have not intended to say anything unpleasant to the feelings of others. I have only been anxious to vindicate myself and my colleagues from some unfair and unfounded imputations which have been made against us.

The House divided: Contents, 217; Non-Contents, 112. Majority in favour of the second reading, 105.

Bill read a second time.

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See also Gleig's Life of Wellington (1862)
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