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conciliation and union, it would tend, on the contrary, to disappoint all the prospects of advantage which under other circumstances would be derived from it ? Even those gentlemen who have argued the most strongly in favour of this measure have candidly confessed that, in the present state of men's minds it is not likely to be carried. I am sure I shall not be contradicted when I say that ever since the union this subject has in a very considerable degree attracted public attention, and that of late, notwithstanding the other events which have occupied the public mind, it has been the subject of much conversation both in public and private, particularly since the Catholic petition has been presented, and since the honourable gentleman has given notice of his present motion ; and I should disguise my real sentiments if I did not say that at present the prevailing sentiment is strongly against this . measure : What circumstances may occur to overcome that sentiment it is not for me to predict or conjecture.
In speaking of the probability of carrying this question at this time, I cannot but advert to what fell from the honourable gentleman who opened the debate this day respecting the decision which took place last night in another place. I know perfectly well that no man can mention the decision of another branch of the legislature for the purpose of influencing, much less of controlling, the decision of this House. I know there are many instances where differences of opinion have prevailed between this and the other House of Parliament, in which the sentiments of this House, in concurrence with the public opinion properly expressed, have ultimately prevailed. I am as far as any man, Sir, from wishing not to hold high the undoubted privileges of this House ; but if I am right in my general view of this subject, I think the determination to which I am alluding ought not to be laid out of our consideration, because it goes to the very essence of the measure itself, I mean as far as relates to the practical advantages that are to be derived from it. Supposing, then, that we were all agreed as to the propriety of granting the prayer of this petition, is it not our duty to consider what bad effects might be produced by the marked difference which would then subsist between this House and the other branch of the legislature upon this subject? If carried at all it ought, as I have already stated, to be carried with general concurrence; and when an endeavour
is made to carry a measure, the object of which is to conciliate one part of his Majesty's subjects, care must be taken not to shock the feelings of a much larger class of the community. Under such circumstances, when such an opinion has been given by another branch of the legislature, we are bound to take it into our consideration in deciding upon the line of conduct we ought to adopt, because this is a subject in which no man can act wisely or prudently who acts entirely from his own views, or his own feelings. It is his duty to his country, to the Catholics, and to the community, to look at it in a combined point of view, to consider all the probable effects which the carrying of it (if it were practicable) with such a strong sentiment prevailing against it, or which the failing to carry it may produce. Upon this part of the subject there is one point on which I wish to say a few words.
It has been urged by some gentlemen that we ought to go into a committee, whatever we may resolve to do at last; and some of the minor grievances under which the Catholics are said to labour have been pointed out, upon which it is said there can be no difference of opinion on the propriety of granting them relief-such as the circumstance of Catholics engaged in a military life coming over to this country, and who are thereby exposed to the operations of the Test Act, to which they are not
Another circumstance which has been mentioned is that the Catholics in the Army are not only not to be allowed to have mass performed, but they are compelled to attend Protestant worship. Sir, I contend that these points are much too important to induce us to go into a committee upon a petition which embraces the whole of this important subject, and which excites the hopes and fears of all the subjects of the United Kingdom. I again repeat that I do lament that this subject has now been brought forward; I lament for the sake of the Catholics themselves ; I lament for the general interests of the country, that gentlemen have thought proper to agitate this subject at this moment. That gentlemen have a perfect right to exercise their judgment upon this subject I do not deny; I do not complain of their conduct; I only lament that they have felt it their duty to bring it forward at this period, and under the present circumstances; when, if they were to succeed, the consequences would not be such as we all desire, and, if they fail, they may be such as we must all regret.
And now, Sir, let me ask the honourable gentleman, who has brought forward the present motion, and who fairly avows that his object is that everything should be conceded to the Catholics ; let me ask the honourable gentlemen who supported the motion last night with such a splendour of eloquence, what effect this is likely to produce upon the Catholics themselves ? When the honourable member, or the honourable mover of the question, talks of the effect of disappointing hopes that have been raised, I trust they have over-rated and exaggerated it. But one of these gentlemen did state that, amongst the possible causes of a religious feeling having mixed and operated in the late rebellion, might be enumerated the hope held out by Lord Fitzwilliam, that the claims of the Catholics would be taken into consideration. They allege the disappointment of that hope as one of the causes that might have tended to produce the rebellion. If that be their conviction, what must they think who wish to go into a committee upon the petition, and yet are of opinion that they still reserve to themselves the freedom of rejecting it altogether, or of rejecting it in its most important parts ? I submit this to the consideration of the House shortly, but distinctly ; it rests upon grounds so obvious and so strong, that it will be taking up your time unnecessarily to debate upon them. I submit this with a wish that the measure when brought forward will be carried with a general concurrence. But the circumstances which have hitherto rendered it impossible for me to urge and press it, make it impossible for me to urge and press it now; feeling as I do, that to press it and to fail, or to press it and even carry it with such strong opposition are alternatives, both of them so mischievous, that it will be difficult to decide between them. Seeing, Sir, what are the opinions of the times, what is the situation of men's minds, and the sentiments of all descriptions and classes of the other branch of the legislature, and even the prevailing opinion of this House, I feel that I should act contrary to a sense of my duty, and even inconsistently with the original ground upon which I thought the measure ought to be brought forward, if I countenanced it under the present circumstances, or if I hesitated in giving my decided negative to the House going into a committee.
CHARLES JAMES FOX Fox has been called, not without reason, the greatest leader of Opposition that this country ever saw. So brief a period of his public career was spent in office that he must be considered rather as a Parliamentary critic than as an active statesman. But, of course, brilliant debater as he was, he was also much more. He surveyed the whole European and Colonial situation. He treated all questions from the widest point of view. Nor did he, like Pitt, confine himself .. to the purpose of persuading the House of Commons. Accustomed to be in a minority there, he addressed himself also to ? the public out of doors, seeking to mould opinion, and to exercise an influence upon the tendencies of the age. He always appealed to principles, to human sentiment, to propositions of more general scope and purport than were required for the particular business in hand. By his eloquence and his arguments he wielded a double power. It was the fusion of reason and imagination that procured for him his greatest triumphs. If he was never at a loss for a word, it is equally true that he never indulged in idle declamation. He was a master of debate in its highest sense, of the reasons and illustrations which have most effect upon educated and intelligent
Elected to the House of Commons before he was of age, he plunged into politics on the Tory side, and surpassed all competitors in the vehemence of his denunciatory rhetoric. But he very soon developed an independence of judgment which led to his dismissal from the Treasury, where he had been a junior colleague of Lord North, and he became an independent member with a fiery spirit which no ties of political allegiance could control. No one could say that he always acted in accordance with his own interests. Variable as his
course was, he betrayed no one who trusted him, and conciliated enemies without losing friends. His belief in liberty was never shaken, and he opposed to the menaces of power a dauntless resolution which nothing could disturb. He had no fear of being misunderstood. Believing that the interests of his country were bound up with the freedom of the Colonies, and the maintenance of peace, he did not hesitate to resist the coercion of America and the war with France. His theory of the French Revolution rests upon some solid evidence as well as upon some plausible conjecture. It is at least a tenable hypothesis that if Austria and Russia had not interfered with France, a limited monarchy might have been established in that country, there might have been no reign of terror, and no declaration of hostility to the other Governments of Europe. The experiment was not tried. But Fox did not cease from his efforts to promote peace until he found that they produced the opposite effect to what he intended. He held that despotism was the cause of revolutionary excess, and that the only preservative against revolution was reform.
Although it is hard to distinguish between specimens of such great and varied excellence, the best examples of his eloquence are probably his speech on peace with France in 1800, his speech on the removal of Catholic disabilities in 1805, and his speech on the erection of a monument to Pitt in the same year.
Peace with France
House of Commons. Feb. 3rd, 1800 PREFATORY NOTE.—This was the last effort which Fox made for peace
before the Treaty of Amiens. MR. SPEAKER, at so late an hour of the night, I am sure you will do me the justice to believe that I do not mean to go at length into the discussion of this great question. Exhausted as the attention of the House must be, and unaccustomed as I have been of late to attend in my place, nothing but the deep sense of my duty could have induced me to trouble you at all, and particularly to request your indulgence at such an hour.