The introduction of Catholic Emancipation was seen as a very historic moment for the Irish Catholic and its forefront campaigner Daniel O’Connell. Its success has been pinpointed to the fact that the British Government were very weak and had to introduce the policy as they feared the Irish would uprise against them. However other historians take in that there are many other reasons, not alone the Weakness of the British Government that helped the passing of Cat Eman such as D O’Connell’s great leadership, and his movement the Catholic Association.
The weakness of the British Government was a major contributor to the success of O’Connell’s campaign for Catholic Emancipation. The Tories were the party in power at this time in Britain. They had always been divided over the issue and their leader Lord Liverpool had done an excellent job in ‘papering over the cracks’ by having an ‘open policy.’ It meant that the party avoided a major split. When Lord Liverpool had to step down, the new PM faced these same problems to a bigger extent. Canning became the new PM yet he quickly realised he couldn’t followed Liverpool’s open policy as he had been the leading supporter of Cat Eman. for the Tories. His appointment caused an immediate split when Peel and Wellington walked out. Canning however only lasted a few months, with the next PM Goderich being removed by the King not long after his appointment due to the fact he tried to establish pro-Catholic coalition government with the Whigs and Radicals. The party remained split and the ‘Canningites’ left government when the King appointed Wellington who was against Cat Eman. All these divisions in the British Government made the chance of Cat Eman all the more likely.
The government was faced with the election of O’Connell in Clare in 1829. They were alarmed at how much support the Irish was giving O’Connell and that they would want him to take his seat in Westminster. They felt they had a choice of using force or introducing the policy to solve the solution. Using force was out of the question, as Wellington knew the government would not get the whole support of Parliament. Wellington was afraid that if they didn’t introduce Cat Eman then the Irish will revolt causing the Union to disintegrate. He quickly realised that they could break the Union in 2 ways:
The Irish Catholics could rise up in popular rebellion if O’Connell did not take his seat on religious ground. Dublin Castle informed Wellington that they believed that rebellion on a national scale was a real possibility.
The other way was if Catholics took inspiration from the Clare By-Election that O’Connell won, and they started to contest seats on a large scale at the next election. It was a major possibility that they could take up 80% of the seats. Yet as they couldn’t take their seat in Westminster because of their religion then Irish representation would be limited, where they then could form their own parliament in Dublin, breaking the Union!
This was a scary fact for Wellington and Peel. The Union was very important to them and Britain and to save it, they felt they had only one choice but to give in and introduce Catholic Emancipation. The King was in tears as he gave the Royal Assent after pressure from Wellington “God knows what pain it costs me to write these words.” Catholic Emancipation was finally conceded, with bad grace through fear rather than an act of justice. If the Tories had not have been so weak, then Cat Eman would not have slipped through the cracks and become an official Act.
Many others believe that the weakness of the British Government was the reason Catholic Emancipation was conceded in 1829. The Tories had always been strong under Lord Liverpool as he kept his party together even though they had different views on whether or not Cat Eman should be introduced. Canning followed Liverpool in becoming the next PM, yet as he was the main supporter of Cat Eman, the Ultras led by Peel and Wellington left the Tories as they completely disagreed with their new leader who could not continue Liverpool’s Open Policy. This was the first split, in which started the downfall of the Tories. Goderich followed as the next PM after Canning’s few months; however he himself lasted very shortly after the King appointed Ultra Wellington. This appointment left the ‘Canningites’ no option but to leave government. This severely shook the Tory party, as they were badly split up.
The issue of Catholic Emancipation was rising higher and higher while the Tory party was splitting. When O’Connell won the Clare by-election, it was a major shock as Wellington knew he had to act quickly or the Union could be broken. Pressure mounted, when he and Peel realised there was no other option but to introduce Cat Eman to save the union. The Ultras were outraged, they couldn’t believe what their leaders were doing, and the King was distraught yet gave his royal assent from Wellington’s continued pressure. The Bill finally became and Act must to the dismay of the Ultra Tories and the King.
D O’Connell’s Leadership
“The winning of my country’s freedom is not worth the shedding of a single drop of human blood.” (O’Connell.)
Many believe that without O’Connell and his great leadership, that Catholic Emancipation would not have been pushed towards the British Government to the extent they had to introduce it. The statement sums up O’Connell’s attitude. He did not believe in violence and throughout his political life he stayed inside the law. However from the start he made it clear he would push the legal system to the limit:-Brinkmanship!
He was the backbone of the campaign and many feel that without him, the campaign would not have been a success. He formed the Catholic Assoication in 1823 in where his line was “to adopt all such legal and constitutional measures as may be most useful to obtain Catholic Emancipation.” “It was O’Connell’s superb instinct for distilling the essentials of a political situation, together with his knowledge of the legal constraints and the potential for constitutional agitation, that created the new movement.”
Between May 1834 – May 1824 O’Connell was able to transform the Association from a tiny body into a large national movement. He did this a number of ways:
Expanding the range of issues, grievances and questions dealt with the association, O’Connell realised this targeted a big section of the community and made them feel they had a reason to join.
O’Connell politicised every issue and changed the nature of the demand for Emancipation from one seeking an equality of privilege for a section of Catholics, to a demand for the liberation of the whole catholic people from their grievances – whether agrarian, judicial, religious, or political.
He set about providing a framework for the political action of catholic masses as they responded to the publicising of their grievances. For this he pulled in the Catholic Church and priests.
The final element O’Connell used was the ‘catholic rent.’ 1d. per month was collected by the local priests. Debates on how to spend the money and the actual collecting of the rent, helped create the first mass Irish political ‘party’ along democratic lines.
O’Connell himself possessed a unique quality in that he was a great orator. He used this skill in holding mass meetings, where thousands turned up to listen to him demand equality for Catholics. His speeches set the tone for the political campaign and inspired many to join the Catholic Association. To add pressure to Parliament he used petitions and ‘grievance letters’ which highlighted the problems and made sure Westminster knew how unhappy the Irish Catholic was.
In 1828 after the revolt of the 40-shilling freeholders, O’Connell realised that he could contest an election. With this confidence he stood for the Clare by-election, knowing that if he got elected that his refusal to take the oath of supremacy would exclude him from Parliament, and the question would be brought to a sharp and decisive issue. Five days after the poll began, O’Connell was declared elected. This triumph of O’Connell convinced the Roman Catholics of their strength, which worried those in power in Britain. They now had to deal with the issue or else feared the worst. O’Connell had done the unbelievable and beat the British at their own game – democratically! If it wasn’t for him, the issue would not have had national support or added pressure to the British. Oliver Mac Donagh described O’Connell as “…a pioneer…of mass constitutional politics and popular democracy.”
Others believe that Catholic Emancipation would have not had a chance in passing Parliament without the great leadership of Daniel O’Connell.
O’Connell used several methods to bring the issue to the forefront. He set up the Catholic Association where he wanted to “take the strongest measures the law will allow to enforce our cause on the attention of parliament.” He made the Catholic Association a major success, while introducing the Catholic Rent where members would pay 1d. a month. This made people feel they were connected and in the heart of it all, where it then continued to grow from strength to strength! O’Connell recruited new members by his speeches, where thousands would attend. This show of popularity and the revolt of the 40 shilling freeholders made him stand for the Clare by-election in 1828. This was very historic as he was the first ever Catholic to be elected, yet he couldn’t take his seat in Westminster due to the oath of supremacy. This raised the issue to a bigger extent where the British could not ignore the question, and finally conceding in 1829.
The Catholic Association
Formed on the 8th Feb 1823 by D O’Connell, the Catholic Association was set up. This was a big factor in O’Connell’s campaign for the passing of Catholic Emancipation and played a pivotal role. Mac Donagh claimed “The Catholic Association spearheaded constitutional developments especially the process of parliament becoming responsive to organised public opinion.”
The aim of the new Association was “to adopt al such legal and constitutional measures as may be most useful to obtain Catholic Emancipation.” O’Connell set about with a new strategy so as many people could join and it could become as widespread as possible:
-He expanded the range of issues, grievances and questions dealt with by the association. This made the ordinary peasant feel as they had a voice and opinion, not only on Catholic Emancipation but agrarian, judicial, and religious issues. ‘The power of common grievance’ was used to build a nationwide organisation.
-O’Connell set about in providing a framework for the political action of the Catholic masses as they responded to the publicising of their grievance. For this he turned to the Catholic Church. He had priests admitted as members without having to pay the subscription. This showed that this national movement had ‘respected organisers’. The common person highly respected their priests, so it made it acceptable to join the Association.
-The final strategy was the Catholic Rent. Regular small contributions from the people crystallised O’Connell’s policy on issues and grievances and on the admission of Catholic priests created an effective channel of communication for the national movement now emerging. Those paying the Catholic Rent felt they belonged to the movement they had paid into making the question of Catholic Emancipation expected among them.
The central vehicle of the association was the newspaper. Newspapers carried reports of the proceedings of the Dublin organisation and of the meetings around the country. With the help of Priests this news quickly spread, and all those involved soon knew what was happening regularly at Headquarters.
Pamphlets, placards, posters and handbills were distributed by the association throughout the country – again spreading the issue so many people would hear about it and in the end offer their support.
Political meetings were held at Parish, County, Provincial and National level and proved to the British that they were very serious in the question of Catholic Emancipation and that it was very important to them.
This well organised national movement was the one of the first in the world, so it was no surprise the British Government soon felt the pressure on the question of Cat Eman that they had to give in, or else face the angry Irish Catholic.
Others believe the Catholic Association played a pivotal role in the success of O’Connell’s campaign. The aim of the Association in Becket’s view was “not only to win political rights for Roman Catholics but also to defend and forward their interests in all spheres of life.” It spearheaded constitutional developments especially the process of parliament becoming responsive to organised public opinion. People from all over Ireland flocked and joined the Catholic Association.
They felt for the first time they belonged to a genuine well organised national movement that was addressing a serious issue. O’Connell made sure his supporters and members didn’t dwindle away by expanding the range of issues that affected the everyday person – whether agrarian, judicial, religious, administrative or political. In building a nationwide organisation he used the ‘power of common grievance.’ He also got the Catholic Church involved where they spread the word of the Catholic Association at mass and responding to the grievances. The Catholic Rent introduced as part of the Catholic Association’s strategy made the people feel like they belonged to the movement and they finally became very close with it. This national movement earned its reward in 1829 when Catholic Emancipation was conceded. The hard backbone work of the Irish Catholic in raising the issue paid off!
The Revolt of the 40-sh freeholders
The courageous action of the 40-sh freeholders were seen as a turning point as it gave O’Connell inspiration to stand in the by-election in Clare. The 40-sh freeholders were those under the rule of Landlords yet as their property were over 40-sh they had the privilege to vote. Many however voted not under their conscience but under the pressure that they would be evicted. O’Connell didn’t have faith in them that they would vote for pro-Emancipation candidates in elections. However they proved him wrong. They took inspiration from O’Connell and under the guidance of the clergy, they had begun to acquire a sense of strength and solidarity, which was clearly revealed in the general election of 1826.
The Catholic Association called on all voters to support candidates favourable to Emancipation; concentrating its efforts on four counties (Louth, Monaghan, Waterford and Westmeath) in each of which it succeeded in returning at least 1 member. The success in Waterford was seen as a major success as the Beresford family who had ruled the seat for generations had to withdraw as they realised they were losing. This showed the support for the pro-emancipation candidates and how the 40-sh freeholders were uprising against their landlords. O’Connell was pleasantly surprised and after some hesitation he found himself standing for the Clare by-election. He hoped that the 40-sh freeholders would continue the revolt and support him. He was elected five days after the poll had started. The triumph of O’Connell convinced the Roman Catholics of their strength. They had rose up against the establishment and had proven that they were a force to be recognized with.