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The Duke of Wellington's speeches on Catholic Emancipation (3)

10 February 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)

February 10, 1820.


The Earl of LONGFORD, upon presenting some petitions against the Catholic claims, complained that the country had been taken by surprise by the Ministerial measure; and as residing in one of the most disturbed parts of Ireland, from personal knowledge he could say that the state of that country was by no means so bad as the Ministry to serve their own purposes had represented.

THE DUKE OF WELLINGTON spoke in the following terms:

My Lords, I cannot avoid troubling your Lordships with a few observations on what fell from my noble relative [1], particularly at the latter part of the remarks he addressed to your Lordships. I shall take care to avoid all discussion of the question of what is called Catholic Emancipation till I submit to your Lordships those measures which it will be the duty of His Majesty's Government in a short time to propose; but I must say a few words, my Lords, on what fell from my noble relative at the close of his address to your Lordships. My Lords, I ask my noble relative, who has discussed this question so much at large and so minutely, and who is, as well as many other noble Lords, well acquainted with the situation of Ireland, I ask him if he has any measure to propose, if he has ever contemplated any measure which would be a remedy for the various evils under which that country labors? In the opinion of my noble relative something must be done to afford her relief. The noble Lord comes from a part of that country in which he says discord and ill-will chiefly prevail. Has he matured any plans then for allaying those evils of which he distinctly admits the existence? I understand he has not. Now, when he blames us for having humbly submitted to His Majesty our advice that it was desirable that the question should be recommended to the consideration of Parliament, has he considered what he himself or what anybody else could propose on this subject, except that Parliament should entertain the proposition suggested in the King's Speech? When my noble friend thus censures His Majesty's Government, I think he should have been prepared with such a measure, unless he thought these discords and disorders might safely be disregarded.

My Lords, my noble relative complains as if I had concealed my sentiments and designs and had taken Parliament by surprise. Now I must beg my noble relative's pardon if I deny this charge by reminding him that I am not guilty, in the first place, of any concealment of my sentiments, for I have repeatedly stated in this House my anxious wish to see the Catholic question settled. In making those declarations your Lordships will remember that I stated my resolution (though this may be, if your Lordships will so have it, mere matter of taste), and it had long been my determination, never to vote for Catholic Emancipation if it were not brought before Parliament for consideration by the Government, acting as a Government; for without such support I considered that the measure would have no probability of success. My noble relative ought to know that ever since 1810 the Government of this country has been formed on a principle which prevented them from bringing this subject under the consideration of Parliament. The first thing I had to do was to obtain the consent of that personage [i.e. the King] who is more interested by his station, more interested by his duty, and more interested by his obligations, than any other individual in this kingdom in having the question settled; it was necessary that I should obtain the consent of that illustrious individual before the Ministers of the Government could consider the question as a Government measure. Would it have been proper in me, my Lords, to have taken any measures to bring the subject so under consideration, or to have uttered a word on the subject to others, till I had obtained that illustrious personage's consent? I call on my noble relative to answer this question. When he blames me on this subject, because since last July or August, when I had formed my opinions, I kept silence, talking to no man on the subject, except with permission of the individual I have alluded to, and not till I had obtained his consent to form a Government on the principle of taking this question into consideration, my noble relative ought, in fairness, my Lords, to place himself in my situation; he ought to see what was expected of me, and then, so far from blaming me for acting as I have done, he would perceive, I think, that if I had acted otherwise I should have been highly reprehensible. When this preliminary question had been decided, — when I received the permission I allude to, enabling me to make a declaration, on my not having made which the accusation of surprise can alone be founded, the commencement of the present Session was so near that it was impossible to make known what had thus occurred, earlier, or in any other manner lihan by the Speech from the throne.

I thank my noble relative, however, for having given me this opportunity to state these circumstances to your Lordships. The facts are precisely as I have stated them to be, and were the reasons why I never stated before any of these circumstances whatever. A noble Baron (Farnham) now sitting near my noble relative reproached me on a former occasion with the publication of a certain letter of mine. With the publication of that letter I had nothing to do, and the writing it, I must confess, had been better let alone. Indeed I shall take care not to write such a letter again to such an individual; but as to the publication of that letter having deceived anybody, or that it is of a tenor at all different from what I have now stated to the House, I totally deny.

[1] Lord Longford was the Duke's brother-in-law; Lady Wellington's brother. [back]

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See also Gleig's Life of Wellington (1862)
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