During the debate, in the Irish House of Commons on 27 February 1793, on the passage of a Bill to extend the franchise to Roman Catholics the Speaker John Foster gave a lengthy reply opposing the measure. The Bill however passed into law.
John Foster lived in Collon in County Louth.
In his reply he stated:-
"In ever thing which had hitherto been granted to them [Roman Catholics], he had concurred. He would allow them property, with equal security for that property; civil liberty, with equal security for that civil liberty, and every thing which could tend to their ease, their happiness, and personal welfare; but he would draw a line round the constitution, within which he would not admit them, while their principles were, he would not say hostile, but certainly not as friendly to the constitution as those of Protestants. It was impossible while church and state were so intimately connected, that Roman Catholics avowedly averse to the one, could be as friendly to the other, or attached to a constitution founded on both, and one principle whereof was the inseparable union of both. He would say that the plain, natural and inevitable consequence of admiting them within the pale of the constitution, would be the destruction of the church establishment;
'.... Admited then to every trust and power in the state, legislative and executive, do you think they would not feel their clergy degraded, while they remained subordinate?. Would they rest content, when there was no inequality between the Protestant and Catholic laity, that there should be a degrading and mortifying inequality between the Protestant and Catholic clergy?. He was not arguing on wild methaphysical speculations; he argued from human nature, from the common workings of the feelings and passions of men; from what Protestants would do and had done, and what he himself would do, were he a Catholic, in the same situation. Catholics would never bear to see the clergy of the minority, while the Protestant would then be, exalted by dignities and supported in affluence and splendour, while theirs had neither honours nor maintenance; they could not be content to see the clergy, who administered to them the duties of their religion, sunk in poverty, while the clergy of a church, to whom they had long been obliged to contribute, without profiting by their labours, were enjoying all the benefits of a wealthy establishment; subordination to Protestant power, had alone hitherto induced men to pay tithe for the support of a clergy, whose spiritual assistance they rejected .
Having .... argued on the unfitness of the inferior Catholics to exercise the elective franchise at present, without injuring the purity of election, he stated another danger to the constitution from this admission, that they must be advocates for the worst species of reform, that of individual voting, which every gentleman on every side of the House reprobated. The Protestant was superior in property, inferior in number; the Catholic the reverse; and the latter must be blind indeed to his own interest, if he did not endeavour to procure the reform which would give the influence to numbers and take it from property. But there is one consideration not yet adverted to; you are trustees for your constituents, they are Protestants, have you the power to destroy their rights, by overwhelming them without their consent: for his part he received his seat in this House, and the trust which he brought with it, from Protestants, under a Protestant king, a Protestant constitution, and a Protestant ascendancy, and, by the blessing of God, he never would give up their rights till they should desire him. Consult your constituents before you venture on such an act; will you give to the petitioners, for their three millions of men, a full participation of all that the one million enjoys, and not see that you are overpowering the rights of the one million?
I have shewn you that you are not bound to give franchise as a right, that you cannot grant it as a favour, without hazarding the overthrow of the Protestant church; the Hanover succession, and our connection with Great Britain; that even if you could do it without such hazard, the mass of the Catholic body is unfit to exercise it with safety or advantage; that such a grant will make every Catholic an advocate for the worst species of reform, where numbers, and not property are to influence; that if these arguments have no weight, still you are but trustees for you constituents, and cannot surrender their right without their especial leave, which you have not obtained.
(Source: The Parliamentary Register or History of the Proceedings and Debates of the House of Commons of Ireland, The Fourth Session of the Fifth Parliament in the Reign of his present Majesty; Which met at Dublin on the 10th of January, and ended the 16th of August, 1793., vol.XIII, online at www.books.google.com)
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