Abbildungen der Seite


Catholic Emancipation Antiquity and Power of the Papal Church

Treaty of Limerick-Catholic Penal Code of Ireland-Opinions of Penn, Montesquieu, Burke, and Blackstone, concerning it_Its Amelioration-Catholic Association of 1823—The Hour and the Man-Daniel O'Connell elected for Clare--Alarm in Downing Street-Duke of Wellington's Decision-Passage of the Emancipation Bill-Services of O'Connell and Shiel-The latter as an Orator.

The subject-matter of this chapter will be, the Catholic Penal Code, and its repeal by act of Parliament, in 1829.

The antiquity and power of the Roman Hierarchy, and the sway it now holds over 150,000,000 of people, diffused through all quarters of the globe, is one of the most extraordinary facts in the history of the Christian era. Whether the combined efforts of Protestanism to overthrow it, during the next three centuries, will be more successful than during the three since the Reformation, time only can show. In his review of Ranke's History of the Popes, speaking of the Catholic Church, Macaulay says: "She saw the commencement of all the

governments, and of all the ecclesiastical establishments, that exist in the world and we feel no assurance that she is not destined to see teu end of them all. She was great and respected before the Saxon had set foot on Britain—before the Frank had passed the Rhine-when Grecian eloquence still flourished at Antioch-when idols were still worshiped in the temple of Mecca. And she may still exist in undiminished vigor when some traveler from New England shall, in the midst


[ocr errors]

of a vast solitude, take his stand on a broken arch of London Bridge, to sketch the ruins of St. Paul's.

Amongst the adherents to the Papal faith, none have shown a steadier attachment to it, through all vicissitudes, than the Catholics of Ireland. For centuries it has been the dominant, and at times almost exclusive, religion of that country. Persecutions the most bigoted and bloody have not abated the zeal and tenacity with which the Irish have practiced and clung to their hereditary creed. The battle of the Boyne, in 1690, was followed by the Treaty of Limerick, by which William of Orange guaranteed in the most solemn terms religious toleration to his Irish Catholic subjects. The treaty was to be binding upon him, his heirs, and successors. But, a fear of the return of the banished Catholic princes of the house of Stuart, mingled with a propagandist zeal to convert Ireland to the doctrines of the Reformation, induced England to disregard the stipulations of the Treaty of Limerick. Partly by the direct legisla of the British Parliament, and partly through the medium of the Pale, a quasi Legislature of Ireland, the Catholic Penal Code was introduced into that country. Like other branches of British law, it was a piece of patchwork, the contribution of many reigns. It received its worst features within twenty years after the Treaty of Limerick. I will give a summary of its main provisions.

FIRST, as to persons professing the Catholic religion. No Papist could take the real estate of his ancestor, either by descent or purchase; nor purchase any real estate, nor take a lease for more than thirty-one years; and if the profits of such lease exceeded a certain rate, the land went to any Protestant informer. The conveyance of real estate in trust for a Papist was void ; nor could he inherit any, nor be in a line of entail, but the estate descended to the next Protestant heir, as if the Papist were dead. A Papist who turned Protestant succeeded to the family estate ; and an increase of jointure was allowed to Papist wives on their turning Protestant; whilst, on the other

hand, a Protestant who turned Papist, or procured another to turn, was guilty of high treason. Papist fathers were debarred, on a penalty of £500, from being guardians of their children; and a Papist minor, who avowed himself a Protestant, was immediately delivered to a Protestant guardian. No Papist could marry a Protestant, and the priest celebrating the marriage was to be hanged. Papists could not be barristers; and being Protestants, if they married Papists they were to be treated as Papists. It was a felony for a Papist to teach a school; to say or hear mass subjected him to fine and a year's imprisonment; to aid in sending another abroad, to be educated in the Popish religion, subjected the parties to a fine, and disabled them to sue in law or equity, to be executors and administrators, to take any legacy or gift, to hold any office, and to a forfeiture of all their chattels, and all real estate for life. No Papist could hold office, civil or military, sit in Parliament, or vote at elections. Protestants, robbed by privateers in a war with a Popish prince were to be indemnified by levies on the property of Catholics alone.

Second, as to Popish recusants, i. e., persons not attending the Established Church. Such Papists could hold no office, nor keep arms, nor come within ten miles of London, on pain of £100, nor travel above five miles from home without license, on pain of forfeiting all goods, nor come to court on pain of £100, nor bring any action at law or equity; and to marry, baptize, or bury such an one subjected the offending priest to .heavy penalties. A recusant married woman forfeited twothirds of her dower or jointure, nor could she be the executrix of her deceased husband, nor have any part of his goods; and during coverture she fight be imprisoned, unless her husband redeemed her at the rate of £10 per month. All other recusant females must renounce Popery or quit the realm ; and if they did not leave in a reasonable time, or afterwards returned, they could be put to death.

Third as to Popish priests. Severe penalties were inflicted on them for discharging their ecclesiastical functions anywhere, and if done in England they were liable to perpetual imprisonment. Any such priest who was born in England, and, having left, should come in from abroad, was guilty of treason, and all who harbored him might be punished with death. Rewards were given for discovering Popish clergy, and any person refusing to disclose what he knew of their saying mass, or teaching pupils, might be imprisoned a year. A Popish priest who turned Protestant was entitled to £30 per annum. Besides this, they were subject to all the penalties and disabilities of lay Papists.


FOURTH. Papists were excluded from grand juries; in all trials growing out of the Penal Code, the juries were to be Protestants; and in any trial on statutes for strengthening the Protestant interest, a Papist migbt be peremptorily challenged.

In surveying the lineaments of such a Code, the blood of a statue might glow with indignation, or chill with horror. It was inflicted on Catholic Ireland by Protestant England, in the name of that Church which claims to be the pillar and ground of the Christian faith. Well might the mild William Penn be aroused to denounce it as inhuman, when pleading before the House of Commons for toleration to the Quakers. Well might the sagacious Montesquieu characterize it as cold-blooded tyranny. Well might the philosophic Burke describe it " machine of wise and elaborate contrivance, noted for its vicious perfection; and as admirably fitted for the oppression, impoverishment, and degradation of a people, and the debasement in them of human nature itself, as ever proceeded from the perverted ingenuity of man.” Even Bla

Even Blackstone, who usually selected his choicest eulogies for the darkest features of the Eng. glish law, was forced to say of this Code: “These laws are seldom exerted to their utmost rigor; and, indeed, if they were, it would be very difficult to excuse them." Yes, though in the times when the “No-Popery” cry was at its hight, these

as a

laws were rigorously enforced, yet, as the mellowing light of civilization increased, the more cruel lay a dead letter on the statute book. But the whole hung over the head of the Catholic, like the sword of Damocles, ready to drop at the breath of any persecuting zealot or malicious informer.

This Code was essentially ameliorated in 1779, and again in 1793. Among other concessions, the electivef ranchise was extended to Catholics, though they were still excluded from Parliament. But, he who would bring himself within the pale of these ameliorations, must submit to many degrading and annoying requisitions, in the form of registrations, oaths, subscriptions, declarations, &c. In a word, down to 1829, when it was finally repealed, many of the worst features of the Code remained, making it an offense for seven-eighths of the people of Ireland to worship God according to the dictates of their consciences; subjecting them to degrading tests or heavy penalties for exercising precious civil and social rights; goading them with athousand petty and provoking annoyances, till they had come to be regarded as heathens while bowing at Christian altars, and aliens to a Government under which they were born, and to whose support they were compelled to contribute their blood in war, and their money in peace. To all this, one may enter his protest, while holding at arm's length the Catholic ritual. To worship God according to the dictates of his own conscience, without human molestation or earthly fear, is the divine right of every man, whether he be Irish Catholic or English Protestant, Massachusetts freeman or Louisiana slave.

Notwithstanding the important amendments made in the Catholic Code, in 1779 and 1793, its remaining disabilities and penalties hung over Ireland like a dark cloud, shutting the sun of civil and religious freedom. In the latter

year, an association was organized in Dublin, to agitate and petition for Repeal. Though ultimately rent in pieces by internal commotions, it was the germ of all subsequent organizations for the same objects. During the succeeding thirty years, this ques

« ZurückWeiter »