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If we call over the muster-roll of the great parliamentary interests, upon whose numerous squadrons an anti-Catholic government must depend for its ministerial existence; and if, in order to infer the future conduct of those important interests from the past, (and we know no other mode of calculating upon it,) we take a retrospect of the measures they supported or opposed ; of their strenuous support of the worst; of their reluctant acquiescence in those of a less objectionable character; and of their violent opposition to the best, we shall come to the melancholy conclusion, that the formidable list of Mannerses, Clintons, Percys, Cecils, Seymours, Lowthers, Gordons, Murrays, and Beresfords, is a sufficient guarantee that everything like improvement at home, everything like sympathy for the cause of liberty abroad, will meet with determined hostility from ministers who have invoked the aid of these persons, and who hold office at their mercy.
But the Catholic Question, considered of itself, and independent of deductions which may be drawn from the intentions of Government upon that, to their intentions upon any other given measure of policy or legislation, has at the present conjuncture assumed an importance which we may venture to say entitles the disposition of our Prime Minister towards it, to settle at once the question of the degree of support or confidence to be given to, or reposed in his administration.
Let us examine, then, the question of what those dispositions are. We must do this historically. The Duke of Wellington, after having been all his life the constant opponent of Catholic emancipation, some weeks after his appointment to office, turned out the only men in his cabinet upon whom the Catholics could rely for anything like efficient support ; and a few days after, at a period when the crazy bark of his administration was by no means prepared (we doubt whether it is so yet) for a political tempest, made an ambiguous jesuitical speech upon the Catholic Question, a speech carefully constructed with sedulous attention to the exclusion of anything like an opinion; and so happily executed was this performance, that both parties, each putting their own construction upon the sentences, thus left as bona vacantia for any one who could fit them with a meaning, claimed his Grace as their own. The substantial object of the speech was ob. tained. The remainder of the Session passed off quietly, but the greater wonders which it effected were reserved for the period of the
The friends of the Catholics were so persuaded of the reality, of those intentions and dispositions on the part of the Prime Minister,intentions and dispositions which they had attributed to him, for no better assignable reason than because he had professed to have no intentions or dispositions at all ;-so confident were they in the accuracy of their commentary upon his ambiguous text,--a commentary so fanciful as to put us in mind of nothing so forcibly as of Puff's explanation of the voluminous meaning of Lord Burleigh's nod ;-50 sure did they make themselves that the minister was actually engaged in the good work, that scarcely a week of that period passed
by but some one or other of these true believers astonished our weak minds by a detail of the progress of his Grace towards the accomplishment of his design. He was pictured to us as engaged in discussing delicate points of ecclesiastical policy with Irish Catholic prelates ; quieting the fears of bishops, whose inflexibility was not confirmed by their arrival at the summit of episcopal expectation; remonstrating firmly, but respectfully, against conscientious scruples in the “highest quarters ; "-sending the Duke of Buckingham and Mr. Wilmot Horton to negotiate with no less a personage than the Pope himself, while the Solicitor-General was engaged in turning the ingenious pamphlet of the latter gentleman into an Act of Parliament. Signs and wonders like these-signs and wonders little short of the miracles of Prince Hohenlohe himself, were every day presenting themselves to our astounded senses. But, at last, the curtain was drawn up, and disclosed, perhaps sooner than was intended or desired by those behind it, the real nature of the drama which was in preparation. The celebrated letter of the Duke of Wellington was intended, we doubt not, by its celebrated composer, to keep up that patient, forbearing and expectant confidence, the existence of which it was so much his interest to prolong. The attempt we must consider as eminently unfortunate. The letter, an imitation of the speech, when compared to it as a specimen of the jesuitical proficiency of the author, was a very inferior performance. It disclosed a great deal too much. At the first glance, indeed, the appearance of the letter was not such as at once to put to flight all the agreeable hallucinations in which the Catholics had been indulging. But if we examine its contents more closely, and advert to the statement of the difficulties of the question which are there presented to us by his Grace, and the singularly comical expedient by which he proposes to surmount them ; and, moreover, take his acts and conduct as a commentary upon his expressions, so far from being led to believe that the statesman, who could put such sentiments upon paper as the result of his meditations, had really at heart the final settlement of the question, and with that object had been giving up his mind to the consideration of the means of attaining it, we find it a hard matter to persuade ourselves that either a final settlement of the question, the difficulties in its way, or the method of surmounting those difficulties, have ever seriously occupied his mind at all, What difficulties? and what an expedient? Party feeling and violence in discussion, forsooth, are the difficulties! These are the impediments which are said to paralyze the exertions of “ an upright and straightforward statesman;" a man of courage and decision ;" of Prime Minister at the head of “a firm and united administration," whose mind is made up upon the merits of the question, and who is “ anxious to witness a settlement, which, by benefiting the state, would confer a benefit upon every individual belonging to it ”!-and delay!-a further time for a “diligent consideration" of those difficulties, is the much sought after expedient! when every day, every hour of that delay necessarily and inevitably increases that very violence and agitation of which he affects to complain. We say affects to complain; for what conclusion are we to come to as to his sincerity, when his Grace alleges “party spirit and violence peryad
ing every discussion of the question” as a much to be lamented difficulty; while he himself has been contemplating ever since the summer, and has at last carried into effect, a measure, which, beyond any event which has happened within this last twelvemonth, has tended to increase that very party feeling and violence which he laments as insuperable obstacles to Catholic Emancipation ! Instead of being engaged in the deep meditations and profound schemes which the romantic imaginations of our confident politicians had assigned as the benevolent occupations of a vigorous mind, bending all its energies towards effecting the restoration of the Catholics to the rights of British subjects, the Duke, as far as we have any evidence of his Grace's autumnal avocations, has been compassing and imagining, by all possible subtle devices, the recal of that nobleman, the permanency of whose administration as Lord Lieutenant of Ireland was the best chance for the preservation of the tranquillity of that unhappy country ;-studying and contriving how to purge his administration of the only remaining minister whose high sense of honour and political integrity would not admit those considerations which are ever uppermost in the thoughts of low and narrow minded politicians, as an excuse for the delay of a measure which is the foundation upon which alone it is possible to build reasonable hopes of the tranquillity of Ireland; and as if anything were wanting to confirm our opinion as to his sincerity, appointing the Duke of Northumberland as the successor of Lord Anglesea. If, indeed, the recal of that Nobleman had arisen from any other error or disqualification than that of his being the honest, and, therefore, (in the Prime Minister's opinion,) the too importunate advocate of the Catholics, which we have good reason to know that it did not, why then not at least endeavour to appoint some one else with similar opinions upon that important subject? Why, in making the first offer of the vacant post, has he gone amongst the ranks of the best known and most powerful of the anti-Catholics ? Or, are we still to feed our hopes and cherish our expectations by the supposition that the selection of the Duke of Northumberland was the result of a determination of the Prime Minister to appoint the whole anti-Catholic aristocracy, one after the other, to the viceroyalty, for the purpose of conversion ? Should this chance to be the object of his Grace, however ingenious the scheme, we fear that, for his first experiment, the choice has been peculiarly unfortunate.
We wonder whether his Grace can lead himself to imagine that it will be practicable any longer to keep up the delusion that the friends of the Catholics can have the least disposition, when such has been the result of the employment of his leisure hours, to entrust him with further time for a similar " diligent consideration" of the difficulties of the question ; or can flatter themselves with the hope that, when he proposes to “ bury the question in oblivion for a time,” he has any other view than to get rid of those discussions and those parliamentary difficulties which might endanger himself and his colleagues in the peaceful occupation and enjoyment of their official dignities. The anxiety to carry on the game of dissimulation, which he still manifests, would induce us to believe, that, in some quarters at least, he does not despair of its success. Neutrality, or at least the neutrality of his cabinet, may, for ought we care, be professed by the Prime Minister ; it is the plea urged by those politicians who, while they adhere to or support his administration, still call themselves friends to the Catholics.
We shall not now stop to enquire whether the “principles of Lord Liverpool's government" (a phrase which we have so often heard repeated, and of which we have as often been unable to ascertain the precise meaning—but which, whether it have a meaning or not, has been used by the Duke of Wellington to denote the principles of his own) were, or were not principles of neutrality;--or whether, indeed, neutrality properly so called ever did or ever could exist upon this vital question in any cabinet. Even admitting for the sake of argument that such a neutrality ever effectually existed, we confess that, in the present state of Ireland, such a thing as a neutral cabinet appears to us utterly impossible.
The aspect of the Catholic question has changed since the day when it occupied the attention of a few politicians for a few hours in the course of the year. What was then the subject of an occasional debate in the Houses of Parliament, or of an occasional dinner or meeting of politicians “out of doors,” now is the incessant occupation and employment of a WHOLE PEOPLE, who are bent heart and soul upon the attainment of an object of paramount importance. The question is not now to be argued upon abstract theories of political justice or expediency, or upon speculative contemplations of future dangers or advantages; but upon the actual state of Ireland. The administration must be called upon to declare whether they will or will not leave seven millions of the subjects of Great Britain waiting upon the very brink of rebellion for the first favourable opportunity which will enable them to effect their own emancipation by the dismemberment of the Empire ; whether they will continue, or not, to trust the peace of the kingdom, not to the law not to the magistrate, but to the frail security of the discretion and forbearance of political leaders directing and controlling a discontented and irritated people; whether they will or will not leave the Catholic Association de facto exercising the functions of government, and only waiting for a fitter day to declare that henceforth it will do so de jure. We cannot believe it possible that men, with heads upon their shoulders should choose the former of these alternatives. A minister or a party may possibly think it right to put an end to this imminent danger, by the adoption of “ vigorous measures ;" by exciting the irritated feelings of the Irish Catholics to such a pitch of exasperation as to drive them into rebellion at a time when the English government is best prepared for it, rather than consent to lay the foundation of the union, peace, and tranquillity of the British Empire, by admitting within the pale of its constitution, seven millions of its subjects, whom an iniquitous and senseless law excludes from the rights and privileges of Englishmen.
We believe, and indeed for the sake of the party we hope, that there are many of those politicians who are calling aloud for the adoption of what they term “vigorous measures" directed against the Catholics and their leaders, who do not thereby intend civil war, massacre, and extermination; who do not contemplate a renewal of the scenes which succeeded the rebellion, and a re-enactment of the penal laws. There are some who do.—But of the former class we would ask what is it they mean? If they mean any measures short of those which would bring on an immediate appeal to the sabre and the bayonet-an appeal which we are every day told (as our fathers were told with similar confidence before the memorable appeal which terminated in the independence of the United States) could only be decided one way; they would be measures which could only tend to aggravate the irritation in Ireland and to increase the power and activity of their antagonists. Such measures would plainly leave matters worse, both as regards the tranquillity and the allegiance of Ireland.
To leave the tranquillity and allegiance of Ireland thus at the mercy of events and in the custody of its present guardians, we have ventured to state our belief cannot be the wish or intention of any government. But if we should be mistaken in this; if it should be possible that it is the present wish and intention of His Majesty's ministers to leave things as they are, can these intentions hold? For our part, we are persuaded that, composed and supported as the present administration is, they cannot. A minister of this nation, especially one who has chosen for his colleagues men of little talent, of little weight or estimation in the country, must be content to obey the party who support him, and by their opinions and inclinations we may pretty accurately anticipate his measures. But why, if he has already made his choice; if he has selected the party adverse to the Catholics and bent upon the adoption of “vigorous measures against them,—and he has, no doubt, selected them as being the party whose superior parliamentary influence is, in his opinion, most likely to uphold his administration, why, it may be asked, does he still persevere in attempting to keep up the illusion of a favourable disposition towards the settlement of the Catholic question ? The fact is, that strong as the aristocratic party who support the Duke of Wellington may render him as to numerical force,-sure as he may think himself of parliamentary majorities, he feels himself unprepared to encounter, at the present moment, an opposition so formidable in point of numbers, rank, influence, and talent, as that which a discovery of his hostility to the introduction of any measure for the relief of the Catholics could not fail to array against him. In the last Session of Parliament the Prime Minister and his colleagues had an easy task; it is, indeed, easy to conquer—to “march on victorious,' when we “meet no enemy to fight withal.” But the idea that, in the face of an active and united opposition, the operations of an English administration, possessed as we are of legislative and deliberative assemblies, can be conveniently carried on by a minister who has no powers of debate,-although it is a pleasant conceit in which some sapient panegyrists of our taciturn Premier have chosen to indulge themselves,-it is an idea not likely to find a place in the imagination of his Grace; whose estimation, however, we are ready to admit, of his own qualifications for the situation he fills is not