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they were not considerable, as he permitted the petition to be generally signed both by the clergy and laity of his district.
By the petition, the catholics profess full and undivided allegiance to his majesty : this expression was particularly used to meet the charge, which, as we have mentioned in the preceding chapter, was brought against them by the bishop of Peterborough, of dividing their allegiance between his majesty
and the pope.
CH A P. LXXXIX.
PROCEEDINGS IN THE HOUSE OF COMMONS ON THE
BILL FOR CATHOLIC EMANCIPATION.
28th February. On the 28th of February, lord Nugent presented to the house of commons the petition of the British catholics. He observed that it was signed by 8,000 persons :—that, among them, were seven peers, fourteen baronets, seven of their own bishops, and a considerable body of their own clergy. He remarked that there were but four baronies remain. ing, which had belonged to barons, who signed magna charta ; and that the representative of all the four,--the duke of Norfolk,-had signed the petition then presented to the house.
He stated that the oath of supremacy was the main obstacle to the admission of roman-catholics to the same privileges as those which were enjoyed by their fellow-subjects,—the declarations against transubstantiation and the invocation of the saints being subsidiary to it :-that the belief of the supremacy of the pope was the only distinctive tenet of the catholics, which was supposed to carry with it any real danger to the state, and on that account, to justify the continuance of the penal code. But all belief of the supremacy, either temporal or ecclesiastical, of the pope, so far as it vested him with civil power, or with a right to interfere with civil concerns, was now disclaimed by the petitioners, and by the catholic body at large.
He shortly suggested some other topics, which should recommend the petition to the attention of the house, and obtain for it a favourable hearing :he finally moved that the petition should be brought up:
Mr. Plunkett then presented to the house the petition of the Irish catholics :- After an animated and affecting eulogy of Mr. Grattan, in which every part of the house expressed a corresponding feeling, he made a similar motion. Both petitions were ordered to be laid on the table, and printed.
Having resumed his seat, Mr. Plunkett arose, to bring forward a motion upon the petition which he had presented. After some preliminary observations, he observed that the catholics, a very numerous portion of his majesty's subjects, were then before the house ; they called for concessions which justice required, the constitution admitted, and policy warranted. The question was of deep and vital importance to the country : the penal code was either a great public mischief, or a great public good. To meet such a question with objections to the plan of the proposed measure, to its form, or to its details, was not fair, manly, or candid. The question could not be viewed by any one as indifferent : it ought to be fairly met. It could not be forgotten by any candid or generous mind, that no portion of the people had been more distinguished for zeal or valour in the defence of their country than the catholics. They had fought the battles of the nation; they had shed their blood with a pertinacity of self-devotion for the liberties and privileges of the British constitution, which showed that they were worthy to enjoy them.He believed that there was great anxiety to concede the claims of the catholics, and that nothing but conviction that an imperious necessity made resistance to them an absolute duty, would induce the house to reject them.
He noticed the negative nature of all the oaths and declarations, the refusal of which subjected the catholics to the disabilities under which they labour: that none of the oaths or declarations contained any profession of attachment to the religion of the country: so that a person might be an infidel ; might believe in Jupiter, in Osiris, in all the host of heaven, in all the creeping things of the earth, still, if he disclaimed the belief of transubstantiation, the invocation of the Virgin Mary and the saints, and the spiritual supremacy of the bishop of Rome, he was entitled, as much as the most ortho" dox protestant, to the full enjoyment of all the blessings of the constitution.
He noticed the epithets, by which the catholic doctrines were described on the oaths and declarations:- he said, that it was a proceeding contrary to the spirit of religion, an outrage on the doctrines of christianity, an insult upon reason, and an offence against piety to suppose that we were called upon to give foul names to those, who did not agree with ourselves, upon such subjects. You say, the catholic is an idolator : yet, before he enters upon any office, you make him swear, as a qualification for it, that he is an idolator : yet, you permit these idolators to build schools for teaching their idolatry; you tolerate the catholic religion, that is, -as you term it,-idolatry, in every portion
your dominions; in Canada you have established it ;-and
have formed alliances with idolators, in every part of the world.
Mr. Plunkett then took higher ground:- it was, he said, a principle of the constitution to admit, and justice as well as policy required the state to admit, every person, performing the duties of a liege subject, into all the franchises and privileges of a subject, unless particular circumstances and events made limitations of them necessary :-it was also a principle of the constitution, that, when the causes, which produce this necessity, cease to exist, the limitations should cease with them.
Then,—are the roman-catholics liege subjects ? All agree that they are. Why are they not entitled to all the rights of liege subjects? Because they
believe the spiritual supremacy of the pope.
Is it a principle of the constitution to deprive of their civil rights all, who believe in this supremacy? Certainly there was no such principle before the reign of Henry the eighth, or rather before that of queen Elizabeth, when the legislature acknowledged the spiritual supremacy of the crown. Did it then become a principle of the constitution ? No; but various circumstances then combining to make those, who denied the supremacy, generally suspected of disloyalty, the denial of the supremacy became, in the eye of the state, presumptive proof of disloyalty, and to guard against disloyalty was always a principle of the constitution. Afterwards, the crown was settled in the protestant line : to that settlement, roman-catholics were supposed to be universally averse; and this, their universal aversion to the protestant line, was deemed by the state to be another presumptive proof of their universal disloyalty. Still, it was not the religion of the catholics, it was the disloyalty supposed to be attached to their religion, it was their supposed aversion to the protestant line, that brought them within that principle of the constitution, which abridges those persons
of their rights, from whom the constitution fears danger.
The moment their disloyalty ceased to be suspected, and their attachment to the protestant line was acknowledged, that moment the principle, by which their rights were abridged, ceased to apply to them, and, in the view of the constitution, they were restored to their rights.—This, he illustrated by several historical facts, particularly by the pro