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Charles-street, London, Feb. 21, 1782.
AM obliged to your lordship for your communication of the heads of Mr. Gardiner's bill. I had received it, in an earlier stage of its progress, from Mr. Braughall; and I am still in that gentleman's debt, as I have not made him the proper return for the favour he has done
Business, to which I was more immediately called, and in which my sentiments had the weight of one vote, occupied me every moment since I received his letter. This first morning, which I can call my own, I give with great cheerfulness to the subject on which your lordship has done me the honour of desiring my opinion. I have read the heads of the bill, with the amendments. Your lordship is too well acquainted with men, and with affairs, to imagine that any true judgment can be formed on the value of a great measure of policy from the perusal of a piece of paper. At present I am much in the dark with regard to the state of the country, which the intended law is to be applied to.* It is not
• The sketch of the bill sent to Mr. Burke, along with the repeal of some acts, re-affirmed many others in the penal code. It was altered afterwards, and the clauses re-affirming the incapacities left out ; but they all still exist and are in full force.
easy for me to determine whether or no it was wise (for the sake of expunging the black letter of laws, which, menacing as they were in the language, were every day fading into disuse) solemnly to re-affirm the principles, and to re-enact the provisions of a code of statutes, by which you are totally excluded from THE PRIVILEGES OF THE COMMONWEALTH, from the highest to the lowest, from the most material of the civil professions, from the army, and even from education, where alone education is to be had.
Whether this scheme of indulgence, grounded at once on contempt and jealousy, has a tendency gradually to produce something better and more liberal, I cannot tell, for want of having the actual map of the country. If this should be the
case, it was right in you to accept it, such as it is. But if this should be one of the experiments, which have sometimes been made before the temper of the nation was ripe for a real reformation, I think it may possibly have ill effects, by disposing the penal matter in a more systematick order, and thereby fixing a permanent bar against any relief that is truly substantial. The whole merit or demerit of the measure depends upon the plans and dispositions of those by whom the act was made, concurring with the general temper of the Protestants of Ireland, and their aptitude to admit in time of some part of that equality, without which you never can be feLLOW-CITIZENS.--Of all this I. am wholly ignorant. All my correspondence with men of publick importance in Ireland has for some time totally ceased. On the first bill for the relief of the ROMAN CATHOLICKS of Ireland, I was, without any call of mine, consulted both 'on your side of the water and on this. On the present occasion, I have not heard a word from any man in office; and know as little of the intentions of the British government, as I know of the temper of the Irish parliament. I do not find that any opposition was made by the principal persons of the minority in the house of commons, or that any is apprehended from them in the house of lords. The whole of the difficulty seems to lie with the principal men in government, under whose protection this bill is supposed to be brought in. This violent opposition and cordial support, coming from one and the same quarter, appears to me some
thing mysterious, and hinders me from being able to make any clear judgment of the 'merit of the present measure, as compared with the actual state of the country, and the general views of government, without which one can say nothing that may not be very erroneous.
To look at the bill, in the abstract, it is neither more nor less than a renewed act of UNIVERSAL, UNMITIGATED, INDISPENSABLE, EXCEPTIONLESS DISQUALIFICATION.
One would imagine, that a bill, inflicting such a multitude of incapacities, had followed on the heels of a conquest, made by a very fierce enemy, under the impression of recent animosity and resentment. No man, on reading that bill, could imagine he was reading an act of amnesty and indulgence, following a recital of the good behaviour of those who are the objects of it; which recital stood at the head of the bill, as it was first introduced : but, I suppose for its incongruity with the body of the piece, was afterwards omitted. This I say on memory. It however still recites the oath, and that Catholicks ought to be considered as good and loyal subjects to his majesty, his crown and government. Then follows an universal exclusion of those good and LOYAL subjects from every (even the lowest) office of trust and profit; from any vote at an election ; from any privilege in a town corporate ; from being even a freeman of such a corporation ; from serving on grand juries ; from a vote at a
vote at a vestry; from having a gun in his house; from being a barrister, attorney, or solicitor, &c. &c. &c.
This has surely much more the air of a table of prosciption, than an act of grace. What must we suppose the laws concerning those good subjects to have been, of which this is a relaxation ? I know well that there is a cant language current, about the difference between an exclusion from employments even to the most rigorous extent, and an exclusion from the natural benefits arising from a man's own industry. I allow, that under some circumstances, the difference is very material in point of justice, and that there are considerations which may render it adviseable for a wise government to keep the leading parts of every branch of civil and military administration in hands of the best trust: but a total exclusion from the commonwealth is a very different
thing. When a government subsists (as governments formerly did) on an estate of its own, with but few and inconsiderable revenues drawn from the subject, then the few officers which existed in such establishments were naturally at the disposal of that government which paid the salaries out of its own coffers; there an exclusive preference could hardly merit the name of proscription. Almost the whole produce of a man's industry at that time remained in his own purse to maintain his family. But times alter, and the whole estate of government is from private contribution. When a very great portion of the labour of individuals goes to the state, and is by the state again refunded to individuals, through the medium of offices, and in this circuitous progress from the private to the publick, and from the publick again to the private fund, the families from whom the revenue is taken are indemnified, and an equitable balance between the government and the subject is established. But if a great body of the people who contribute to this state lottery, are excluded from all the prizes, the stopping the circulation with regard to them may be a most cruel hardship, amounting in effect to being double and treble taxed; and it will be felt as such to the very quick by all the families high and low of those hundreds of thousands, who are denied their chance in the returned fruits of their own industry. This is the thing meant by those who look upon the publick revenue only as a spoil; and will naturally wish to have as few as possible concerned in the divison of the booty. If a state should be so unhappy as to think it cannot subsist without such a barbarous proscription, the persons so proscribed ought to be indemnified by the remission of a large part of their taxes, by an immunity from the offices of publick burden, and by an exemption from being pressed into any military ur naval service.
Common sense ànd common justice dictate this at least, as some sort of compensation to a people for their slavery. How many families are incapable of existing, if the little offices of the revenue, and little military commissions are denied them! To deny them at home, and to make the happiness of acquiring some of them somewhere else, felony, or high treason, is a piece of cruelty, in which, till very lately, I did