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THE RIGHT HONOURABLE
RICHARD LALOR SHEIL.
Duke of Wellington, Premier-Birmingham unrepresented
Secession of the Canningites—Declaration of the Premier in the Lords—Refusal to abate agitation-Mr. Vesey Fitzgerald -Return of O'Connell for Clare—Revival of the old Catholic Association-Universal organization-Fears of civil warMilitary marchings.
In consequence of a disagreement between Mr. Tierney and Mr. Herries, the Goderich Cabinet was early in January dissolved, and the Duke of Welling: ton was called on by the King to form a new administration. Upon what principles did the great soldier propose that the Government should be carried on?
What policy, asked Mr. Sheil, did he intend to pursue? “Can the spirit which animates the people be subdued ? Is the feeling which exists in Ireland but a spark which, with his Wellington boot, he can tread out? Let him look at the spectacle which this country presents. We are one-third of the population of the empire. We are completely organized, and stand in a solid square. We march with a steady and uniform tread; the tramp of seven millions moving together can be heard afar off. Europe listens.”*
On the 19th January, the list of the new Cabinet was published. It was found to contain four of Mr. Canning's friends, namely, Lord Dudley, Mr. Huskisson, Lord Palmerston, and Mr. Grant. These, with Lords Melville and Ellenborough, were favourable to the removal of religious disabilities; the other seven, says Lord Eldon, in a private letter written at the time (Peel, Aberdeen, Lyndhurst, Bathurst, Goulburn, Herries, and the Premier himself), were “as yet for Protestants, but some very loose.”+ In the Irish executive, no alteration took place. The com
* Speech, 12th January, 1828. + Letter to Lady F. Banks, 25th January, 1828. Life, vol. ij., p. 27.
position of the Government was thus brought back as nearly as possible to what it had been under Lord Liverpool, twelve months before. The subject of Catholic claims was left an open question, and while the leader of the Lords voted in one way, the leader of the Commons was allowed to vote in the other. But Mr. Huskisson was at best but a pale copy of the illustrious chief who once filled the place which he now occupied. On matters of commercial policy, he was indeed regarded as a personal guarantee for adherence to the principles of progress; but by the importunate assailants of religious exclusion he was regarded as little more than a hostage deserving of individual consideration and respect, but wholly powerless to abate the violence of the re-kindling
There seemed to be no reason for anticipating from a ministry so constituted any measure of wil. ling concession. What might be extorted from their reluctant sense of necessity, remained to be tried. A series of resolutions pledging the Association to oppose the return to Parliament of every supporter of the Wellington Cabinet was, after much discussion, carried at a meeting of that body on the 24th January. O'Connell argued in its favour, while Sheil opposed it as premature; we shall presently see
how their relative positions in this respect became reversed.
On the 2nd May, Mr. O'Connell moved that the resolution of the 24th January should be rescinded in consequence of the assent given by the Duke of Wellington to the repeal of the Test Act. He was supported by Mr. Barrett, Mr. Conway, and others; and opposed by Mr. Sheil, Mr. O'Gorman, and Mr. Lawless, who argued that though the original resolution might have been unwise, it would expose them to the imputation of subserviency to power, if rescinded without any recantation on the part of the Duke.
On the 8th of May, the Catholic question was once more brought forward by Sir F. Burdett, supported by Mr. Brougham, Sir J. Mackintosh, Lord F. L. Gower, and others. It was opposed by Mr. Peel, Sir C. Wetherell, and others of less note, and was carried, in a House of 538 members, by a majority of six. Though less disheartening than the result of the division in the previous year, the narrowness of this majority too plainly indicated that so long as the influence of Government continued to be neutralized or hostile, no chance existed of any measure of relief being carried.
The Cabinet of the Duke had been formed by a
coalition between the Canningites and the Tories of Lord Eldon's school, and it necessarily implied the recognition of various open questions. Of these the most important, doubtless, was Catholic Emancipation; yet it was not upon it that the coalition was destined to be broken up. Electoral Reform, which had hitherto been regarded as of little moment in a party sense, had gradually been making way amongst the middle and upper classes of society. Lord John Russell and Lord Althorp headed an increasing minority in the Commons, who demanded the suppression of the rotten boroughs, and the transfer of the representation to the rising commercial towns. Many of the Conservative Whigs, and nearly all Mr. Canning's friends, foresaw the consequences that must ensue by a prolonged resistance to all change of this description; and when, by the decision of election committees, Penrhyn and East Retford had been sentenced to disfranchisement on account of their gross corruption, it was felt that, in the re-distribution of seats thus forfeited, two at least should be given to some great manufacturing town. As leader of the Commons, Mr. Huskisson pledged himself that this should be done; the bill disfranchising Penrhyn, and allocating two seats in future to