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a conscientious adherence to their religious principles, they belonged to a class thus legally degraded. How often would they substantially feel the effects of this degradation? How many of their hopes would it destroy? How many of their projects would it ruin? Surely a petition to the legislature from any portion of his majesty's subjects, for the removal of such a woe, is entitled to the sympathy and aid of every other portion of the community.
WE are sometimes told, that however the repeal of the laws complained of by the roman-catholics would benefit them, it would confer no real benefit on the state; and that, as no alteration of law should take place, unless it promotes the general welfare of the state, the laws complained of should remain in force.
But we beg leave to submit to the consideration of our countrymen, that the whole kingdom would be essentially served by the repeal of the penal laws remaining in force against his majesty's romancatholic subjects. On this head the writer of these pages requests your particular attention.
Two-thirds of the population of Ireland, and no inconsiderable proportion of the population of England, is composed of roman-catholics. It is obvious that the feelings of this large proportion of the community are wounded, in the highest degree, by the
and that they consider themselves highly injured, insulted, and degraded by them. Now, must it not be beneficial to the state, that this extensive feeling of insult, injury, and degradation, should be healed? Do not wisdom and sound policy make it the interest of the state, that every circumstance which leads this injured, insulted, and degraded, but numerous portion of the community, to think that any new order of things must end their injury, insult, and degradation, and is, therefore, desirable, should be removed as soon as possible? Surely the removal of it must be as advantageous to the state, as it will be advantageous and gratifying to the persons individually benefited by it.
But this is not the only circumstance which would make the repeal of the penal laws a general benefit to the state. Again we request you to consider the immense number of his majesty's roman-catholic subjects, and the great proportion which it bears to the rest of the community. What a proportion of genius, of talent, of energy, of every thing else, by which individuals are enabled to distinguish themselves, and benefit and elevate their country, must fall to their share!-But all this, for the present, is lost to you, in consequence of the penal codes. Is the subtraction of this prodigious mass of probable genius, talent, and wisdom, from the general stock, no detriment to the state? Surely it is a national loss. Thus while the penal code harasses the individual object of its infliction, it contracts and
paralyzes, to an amazing degree, the strength, powers, and energies of the whole community.
Ir is alleged, that the roman-catholics of this kingdom enjoy the most full and liberal toleration; and that toleration is the utmost favour, to which any non-conformist to the religion established by law can reasonably aspire.
To this, we beg leave to answer, that toleration, rightly understood, is all we ask for by our petition. But what is toleration, when the word is rightly understood? If, after a government has adopted a particular religion, decreed its mode of worship to be observed in its churches, and provided for its functionaries, from the funds of the state, it leaves the non-conformist in complete possession of all his civil rights and liberties, the non-conformist enjoys a full and complete toleration. But whenever the government of a country represses other forms of religion, by subjecting those who profess them to any deprivation or abridgment of civil right or liberty, toleration is at an end, and persecution begins.
This is too plain a position to admit of contradiction: the only question, therefore, is, Whether the pains and penalties to which the roman-catholics are still subject by the laws in force against them, deprive them of any civil right or liberty?
far the Corporation Act, which excludes us from corporations, and the Test Act, which excludes us from civil and military offices, can be justly said to deprive us of a civil right. I prefer placing the question on these acts, because by their own confession, it is the strongest hold of our adversaries, and because, in the discussion of that question, thus propounded, I shall advocate the cause of the protestant dissenters as much as our own.
Our common adversaries contend, that the exclusion of non-conformists, by the Test and Corporation Acts, from honourable and lucrative offices, is not a punishment, and therefore is not intolerance.
But before the enactment of those statutes, were not all the subjects of this realm equally eligible, by the common law of the land, to every honourable and every lucrative office which the state could confer? Is not eligibility to office a civil right? Does it not, therefore, necessarily follow, that every statute which deprived non-conformists of their right or eligibility to office, deprived them of a civil right, and was therefore penal? If roman-catholics had been in possession of these offices, and deprived of them in consequence of their adherence to their religion by the statutes in question; some persons might have contended for the wisdom of the statutes, but none could have contended that they were not highly penal. But whatever difference there may be in the degree of penal infliction, there is none in the penal quality of those statutes, which deprive
persons of offices, and those which deprive them of their prior legal eligibility to them. The right of possessing an office, the right of succeeding to it, and the right of eligibility to it, are equally civil rights. There is no difference in this respect between offices and landed property-the right to possess an estate, to succeed to it, and to acquire it, are equally civil rights. The justice or policy of these laws is not now under our consideration-the simple question before us is, Whether eligibility to offices and election into corporations, were not by the common law the civil right of every Englishman, and whether his being deprived of it was not a penal infliction? It is impossible to deny it. This infliction reaches every description of non-conformists to the established church; their religion, therefore, is not tolerated-it is persecuted. On the policy, the justice, or degree of that persecution, there may a difference of opinion; but that, in some degree at least, it is a persecution, it seems impossible to deny. Thus we seem to arrive at this unquestionable conclusion, that, in point of fact, all non-conformists are persecuted. The difference between roman-catholics and other non-conformists, is, that roman-catholics are subject to pains and disabilities which do not affect any other description of non-conformists. The roman-catholics, therefore, are the most persecuted of all.
Here then we close with our adversaries; we seek not to interfere with the established church, with her