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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
 
Of the Injustice of Disqualification of Catholics
By Henry Grattan (1746–1820)
 
From the Speech of May 31st, 1811

WHATEVER belongs to the authority of God, or to the laws of nature, is necessarily beyond the province and sphere of human institution and government. The Roman Catholic, when you disqualify him on the ground of his religion, may with great justice tell you that you are not his God, that he cannot mold or fashion his faith by your decrees. You may inflict penalties, and he may suffer them in silence; but if Parliament assume the prerogative of Heaven, and enact laws to impose upon the people a different religion, the people will not obey such laws. If you pass an act to impose a tax or regulate a duty, the people can go to the roll to learn what are the provisions of the law. But whenever you take upon yourselves to legislate for God, though there may be truth in your enactments, you have no authority to enforce them. In such a case, the people will not go to the roll of Parliament, but to the Bible, the testament of God’s will, to ascertain his law and their duty. When once man goes out of his sphere, and says he will legislate for God, he in fact makes himself God. But this I do not charge upon the Parliament, because in none of the Penal Acts has the Parliament imposed a religious creed. It is not to be traced in the qualification oath, nor in the declaration required. The qualifying oath, as to the great number of offices and seats in Parliament, scrupulously evades religious distinctions; a Dissenter of any class may take it, a Deist, an atheist, may likewise take it. The Catholics are alone excepted; and for what reason? Certainly not because the internal character of the Catholic religion is inherently vicious; not because it necessarily incapacitates those who profess it to make laws for their fellow-citizens. If a Deist be fit to sit in Parliament, it can hardly be urged that a Christian is unfit. If an atheist be competent to legislate for his country, surely this privilege cannot be denied to the believer in the divinity of our Savior. But let me ask you if you have forgotten what was the faith of your ancestors, or if you are prepared to assert that the men who procured your liberties are unfit to make your laws? Or do you forget the tempests by which the Dissenting classes of the community were at a former period agitated, or in what manner you fixed the rule of peace over that wild scene of anarchy and commotion? If we attend to the present condition and habits of these classes, do we not find their controversies subsisting in full vigor? and can it be said that their jarring sentiments and clashing interests are productive of any disorder in the State; or that the Methodist himself, in all his noisy familiarity with his Maker, is a dangerous or disloyal subject? Upon what principle can it be argued that the application of a similar policy would not conciliate the Catholics, and promote the general interests of the empire? I can trace the continuance of their incapacities to nothing else than a political combination; a combination that condemned the Catholic religion, not as a heresy, but as a symptom of a civil alienation. By this doctrine, the religion is not so much an evil in itself as a perpetual token of political disaffection. In the spirit of this liberal interpretation, you once decreed to take away their arms, and on another occasion ordered all Papists to be removed from London. In the whole subsequent course of administration, the religion has continued to be esteemed the infallible symptom of a propensity to rebel. Known or suspected Papists were once the objects of the severest jealousy and the bitterest enactments. Some of these statutes have been repealed, and the jealousy has since somewhat abated; but the same suspicions, although in a less degree, pervade your councils. Your imaginations are still infected with apprehensions of the proneness of the Catholics to make cause with a foreign foe. A treaty has lately been made with the King of the Two Sicilies. May I ask: Is his religion the evidence of the warmth of his attachment to your alliance? Does it enter into your calculation as one of the motives that must incline him to our friendship, in preference to the friendship of the State professing his own faith? A similar treaty has been recently entered into with the Prince Regent of Portugal, professing the Roman Catholic religion; and one million granted last year and two millions this session, for the defense of Portugal. Nay, even in the treaty with the Prince Regent of Portugal, there is an article which stipulates that we shall not make peace with France unless Portugal shall be restored to the house of Braganza. And has the Prince of Brazil’s religion been considered evidence of his connection with the enemy? You have not one ally who is not Catholic; and will you continue to disqualify Irish Catholics, who fight with you and your allies, because their religion is evidence of disaffection?  1
  But if the Catholic religion be this evidence of repugnance, is Protestantism the proof of affection to the Crown and government of England? For an answer, let us look at America. In vain did you send your armies there; in vain did you appeal to the ties of common origin and common religion. America joined with France, and adopted a connection with a Catholic government. Turn to Prussia, and behold whether her religion has had any effect on her political character. Did the faith of Denmark prevent the attack on Copenhagen? It is admitted on all sides that the Catholics have demonstrated their allegiance in as strong a manner as the willing expenditure of blood and treasure can evince. And remember that the French go not near so far in their defense of Catholicism, as you in your hatred of it in your own subjects and your reverence for it in your allies. They have not scrupled to pull down the ancient fabrics of superstition in the countries subjected to their arms. Upon a review of these facts, I am justified in assuming that there is nothing inherent in Catholicism which either proves disaffection, or disqualifies for public trusts. The immediate inference is that they have as much right as any dissentient sect to the enjoyment of civil privileges and a participation of equal rights; that they are as fit morally and politically to hold offices in the State or seats in Parliament. Those who dispute the conclusion will find it their duty to controvert the reasoning on which it is founded. I do not believe the Church is in any danger; but if it is, I am sure that we are in a wrong way to secure it. If our laws will battle against Providence, there can be no doubt of the issue of the conflict between the ordinances of God and the decrees of man: transient must be the struggle, rapid the event. Let us suppose an extreme case, but applicable to the present point: Suppose the Thames were to inundate its banks, and suddenly swelling, enter this House during our deliberations (an event which I greatly deprecate, from my private friendship with many members who might happen to be present, and my sense of the great exertions which many of them have made for the public interest), and a motion of adjournment being made, should be opposed, and an address to Providence moved that it would be graciously pleased to turn back the overflow and direct the waters into another channel. This, it will be said, would be absurd; but consider whether you are acting upon a principle of greater intrinsic wisdom, when after provoking the resentments you arm and martialize the ambition of men, under the vain assurance that Providence will work a miracle in the constitution of human nature, and dispose it to pay injustice with affection, oppression with cordial support. This is in fact the true character of your expectations; nothing less than that the Author of the Universe should subvert his laws to ratify your statutes, and disturb the settled course of nature to confirm the weak, the base expedients of man. What says the Decalogue? Honor thy father. What says the penal law? Take away his estate! Again, says the Decalogue, Do not steal. The law, on the contrary, proclaims, You may rob a Catholic!  2
 
 
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