Corpus of Electronic Texts Edition
A Philosophical Survey of the South of Ireland [...] (Author: Thomas Campbell)

Letter 27


Of all the events which the sight of this city recals to our memory, the most conspicuous is that treaty, concluded in 1691, which put an end to the wars of Ireland, and an everlasting barrier to the hopes of the Stuart race. But though this treaty, better known by the title of the Conditions of Limerick, put an end to the wars, it did not put an end to the woes of Ireland. For, however honourable to the besieged these conditions might have been held, they were at the best but hard ones, and hard as they were, the Romanists were not long allowed to enjoy any benefit from them.

By the first article of these conditions, it was stipulated that the Roman Catholics should enjoy such privileges, in the exercise of their religion, as they did enjoy in the reign of king Charles II. And their Majesties promise, as soon as their affairs will permit them, to summon a parliament in this kingdom, to procure them such farther


security, as may preserve them from any disturbance on account of their religion.

This, and the other articles, were reilgiously adhered to by King William, in contempt of the invectives against them from the pulpit, which he prohibited, and of the clamours of the press, which he could not silence. But this phlegmatic prince had imbibed toleration in his native country.

To see the reasons why different maxims were adopted by his successor Anne, we must recur to the history of her reign. This retrospect will shew a Queen without issue, and a great part of these nations looking wistfully to her brother, as the natural, and therefore, as they conceived, rightful heir to the crown. It will shew this nation once devoted to the declining cause of James, because a papist, still suspected of a readiness to risk all for his son. It will not, however, discover any plot contrived, or act attempted, by the papists at this period. The factions of whig and tory were embittered against each other; and their tempers flaming with animosity, breathed nothing but mutual vengeance. The triumphant party, under perpetual alarms of a popish successor, in providing for self-defence, mistook rigour for


justice, and persecution for expedience. In this ferment of zeal, the articles of Limerick were repealed, if not violated.

Did the same causes still subsist to ruffle the surface of men's minds, as well might we bid the storm to cease, or the sea to be calm, as speak peace to their passions. But after so long a sunshine in the political sky, succeeding the coruscations of that meteor, the Pretender, we may now examine the matter upon the principles of reason and candour.

All hopes of a popish revolution being removed from the mind of every rational papist, all fears should be removed from every rational protestant. The benefit of a treaty, unforfeited by any infraction on their parts, should be restored to them; national justice cries aloud for it, and self-interest recommends it. I shall confine myself to the last of these considerations.

No great improvement of this country can be rationally expected, when the body of the people derive no advantage from that improvement, and when the penal statutes amount not only to a discouragement, but a prohibition of industry. Even the best laws cannot operate in favour of agriculture, when


five to one of those who should be employed in it, can have no interest in the ground they till. Property, stable property, is what alone can make the sleep of a labouring man sweet.

By one law of the penal code, if a papist have a horse worth fifty, or five hundred, pounds, a protestant may become the proprietor, upon paying him down five. By another of the same code, a son may say to his father, Sir, if you don't give me what money I want, I'll turn discoverer, and in spite of you and my elder brother too, on whom, at marriage, you settled your estate, I shall become heir. It is needless to comment upon the spirit of such laws —the very recital chills with horror.

Let it not be argued that these laws are seldom put in execution. Is property, is parental authority to depend upon the courtesy of an avaricious malignant neighbour, or the gratitude of a profligate abandoned child? But where30 sons are not


found impious enough to turn discoverers, there are not wanting some who are so base as to avail themselves of a flaw in the title of a Papist.

But granting that these advantages are rarely taken, the idea of security is of more influence, than security itself without the idea. Damocles was perhaps safe enough under the suspended sword of Dionysius, but the apprehension of danger scared away those visions of happiness, which he had seen in the envied pomp of tyranny.

Is not intolerance the worst badge of popery? Are they not virtually Papists, who oppose the principles of toleration? Are they not inimical to their country, who would stifle liberty of conscience? What introduced so many good arts in a short space of time into England, but the intolerance of France? What, but toleration, at once peopled the fens of


Holland, and rendered it an emporium of trade, the dread of its neighbours, and the wonder of the universe? What but intolerance has wasted Spain, Italy, and many other countries? Now France is become tolerant, and therefore the most thriving nation in Christendom.

When I thus argue for the rights of human nature, as a friend to the community at large, and consequently to the crown of England, they tell me that this is very well in theory, but that no Englishman can conceive the virulence of Irish popery. My general reply to which is, that popery is the same every where, and if it has a worse aspect here, than elsewhere, that is owing to the more general ignorance of its professors.

We keep the Irish dark and ignorant, and then we wonder how they can be so enthralled by superstition; we make them poor and unhappy, and then we wonder that they are so prone to tumult and disorder; we tie up their hands, so that they have no inducements to industry, and then we wonder that they are so lazy and indolent.


It is in vain to say that these severe laws restrain the Catholics within the bounds of allegiance, and clip those wings, which, if fully fledged, would be hatching new rebellions: for the very contrary seems to be their tendency; they are a restraint, not from doing evil, but from doing good; they keep alive an habitual hostility, and prepare the people's minds for the most desperate enterprizes. No wonder that it should be part of the Irish character, that they are careless of their lives, when they have so little worth living for.

Ingenuity itself could not have devised a more effectual method of cherishing popish disaffection, than that very code made to annihilate it. For what is it, that the protestant proprietor so horribly dreads? Is it not the claims of the old great families, and quondam proprietors of his estate, upon the almost impossible contingency of a revolution? By depressing all papists equally, he preserves unabated the influence and ascendancy of the old great families; he keeps their claim of right alive in their blood, without any barrier between himself and them. Whereas by giving the papist


a right to purchase, the plebeian, but industrious Catholic may soon become seized of an estate, once forfeited by some Popish Baron; and then, having a common interest with the protestant purchaser, he will be as violent an enemy to the old Popish claimant as the Protestant himself. The Papist becomes a guarantee to the Protestant, and as staunch a supporter of the present establishment; because that establishment alone secures him his civil rights. So that, come what will of his religious orthodoxy, his civil orthodoxy is secure.

Thus far the prosperity of the kingdom, and the happiness of human nature, demand that Papists should be indulged in this Popish country, but no farther. They never should be allowed to hold any civil employments, or to have votes as freeholders; and entirely to remove all apprehensions of leading men among them acquiring an influence in the state, it may be provided, that their purchases shall be subject to the Gavel Act, i. e. to an equal division among the natural heirs of the purchaser.

If the Catholics of Ireland could be withdrawn from their blind allegiance to the


Pope, there could not be the slightest pretext for refusing them an unrestrained exercise of their religion. How far this is possible, even in their present state of superstition, you may in some measure guess from the following fact, which to me seems well authenticated.

A few years since, Dillon, the Archbishop of Narbonne, originally of this country, interested himself in behalf of the Papists of Ireland. He endeavoured to engage, in their service, the leading members of both houses of Parliament; and to prepare the way, he prevailed on the Titular Primate to convene a council of the Bishops, to devise some mode of giving government the most convincing test of their loyalty.

An oath of allegiance was agreed to unanimously. But an express abjuration of the Pope's supremacy in temporals being insisted upon by the Narbonne party, it was rejected by a third part of the members.

What makes this decision the more remarkable is, the Bishops, who voted for a renunciation of the authority of the Pope in temporals, had been all elected out of the secular clergy; whereas those who


were against it, had been originally regulars, the Pope's body-guards.

From this circumstance one would conclude, that a great majority of the Popish clergy, and consequently of the people, are disposed to give government every possible assurance of a dutiful demeanor. The sense of these people can only be collected from that of their priests, by whom they are governed. And why a man may not be a Romanist, without being a Papist, in Ireland as well as in France, I can see no reason. We know, that the Gallican church has been long emancipated from the thraldom of the Roman pontiff. However, the good intentions of the Archbishop turned out ineffectual, for he could not find any member, in either house, hardy enough to move for a repeal of these laws.

In an Act passed a session or two since, a test has been drawn up, which the principal gentlemen of the South have taken, through the influence of the titular Archbishop of Cashel; who is of a noble family, and has written a pamphlet to recommend it: notwithstanding the oath is said to be condemned by the Pope, as one clause of


it is by construction forced to imply that the king de facto is also the king de jure. This has staggered many who would be willing to give any test of their allegiance, that could not be suspected of an approbation of revolution principles.

This very scrupulosity is an argument in their favour, evincing that they have a due sense of the sacred obligation of an oath, and that they do not adopt that cursed Jesuitical doctrine, that faith is not to be kept with heretics. For, if the case were otherwise, instead of labouring under those penalties inflicted upon them, they might avail themselves of the temporal advantages of the oath, and yet violate it without remorse.

As things now stand, the conversion of the Irish Catholics is what zeal may hope for, but knowledge never can expect. Of the inefficacy of the penal laws for that purpose long experience may convince the most sceptical. It is now above seventy years since they were enacted. Yet in all that time little more than four thousand converts have been made out of a million and a half of people seventy times told.


How then is this stubborn error to be vanquished? Or rather how is the mischief arising from it to be mitigated? Is it by keeping its votaries in endless night? Is it by steeping them in poverty to the very lips? Whilst they are thus poor, they must necessarily be intellectually dark; and whilst they grope in darkness will they not, like other blind, stretch out their hands to those, who, though they scarcely see farther than themselves, will nevertheless audaciously profess the trade of leading them? No zeal for religion, no argument of reason, can produce a real conversion of any ignorant person. For what artillery in all the magazines of wisdom can make any impression on ignorance, intrenched over the head in prejudice, and guarded by such watchful centinels as the Romish clergy.

But the happiness of a date does not depend upon uniformity of opinion; that is established on another and a broader foundation, the common interest of the subject. When the Catholic has got an interest in the state, one might as well suppose, that a voluntary agent should act against the strongest motive, as that he will act against


his own interest. The more comfortable his existence becomes, the more strongly will that attachment be riveted. Property, acquired by honest industry, will produce quite another sort of subjects from that which is inherited by blood, under the old Brehon laws. The industrious application of talents in the gaining a competency, or establishing a property, will civilize and reclaim them from their savage customs, barbarous manners, and uncertain life. Fixed property, which every man may attain, will become an hostage to the state, an inviolable pledge of loyalty. Add to this—
Property will necessarily introduce and diffuse knowledge, which will enlarge the mind, and make it susceptible of rational impressions. Some daring spirits will of course emerge from the profound abyss, whose example and conversation will have greater influence over their own persuasion, than all the penal laws that policy can devise. Even a little scepticism might open the way to candid disquisition and free enquiry, and thus soften the rigours, and smooth the asperities of Popery. At present,


there are few leading people among the Romanists but interested priests, whose maintenance depends upon the number of their followers.

An avowed and general recantation of profession is not, therefore, to be expected; yet a generation or two may produce a general renunciation of sentiment. And though Popery can never become Protestantism, the professors of Popery may nevertheless become Protestants in principle. They may be brought to see, that God is no respecter of persons, but that in every nation he that doth righteousness, and he only, is righteous and accepted of him.

The same religion is now established in France, that was at the massacre of St. Bartholomew; but does it breathe the same spirit now, that it did then? Will any man, who knows the world, say that such a scene could, now, be acted over again in Paris? Even the writings of Voltaire have not been without their advantage; ‘Do not,’ says he, ‘deprive yourselves of useful subjects, useful in your manufactures, your marine, your agriculture. What though their creed be somewhat different from yours, you


want their labour and not their catechism.’ In France, Popery is still nominally the same, but it is virtually reformed.

It is not necessary for the peace and prosperity of a nation that all the individuals, of any persuasion, should be adepts in the reason of religion: sufficient is it, for those purposes, if the first classes are well, and middle classes tolerably informed. An army is not the less sufficient because the centinel and pioneer do not possess all the knowledge of their general officers.

Let us, then, indulge the prejudices of these people for the present. By allowing them to acquire landed property, a more enlightened generation will spring up, who will bring about the wished-for revolution of principle. They who are authorised, by the verities of their religion, to place persecution among the beatitudes, will not readily forego those countervailing rewards, which, their artful teachers assure them, are reserved for their obstinate perseverance. But, taught moderation by our example, they will, in due time, see not only the temporal, but the spiritual advantages of our happy constitution.