O'Connell's Election

Justin McCarthy
Chapter X | Start of Chapter

O'Connell resolved on taking a bold step. A vacancy occurred in the County of Clare in consequence of the representative having received a Ministerial office, and being compelled to resign his seat in the House of Commons and offer himself to his constituents for re-election. O'Connell announced himself as a candidate for the vacant seat, and the mere announcement created consternation throughout the kingdom. The existing Acts of Parliament did not prohibit a Roman Catholic from offering himself as a candidate for Parliament, nor was there any positive enactment which prevented him from being elected. But no candidate, even if elected, could have a seat in the House unless he took the oath which was framed for the purpose of excluding Catholics. The Clare election was a memorable event in the history of Ireland. O'Connell was chosen by a great majority of the electors. He presented himself at the table of the House of Commons. The oath was tendered to him, which he positively refused to take. He was ordered to withdraw, the seat was declared vacant, and a new election had to follow. O'Connell was again elected by a large majority. Then the Government found that it had to deal with a crisis the like of which had never before troubled an English Administration.

These events had been making a deep impression on Sir Robert Peel, who was then Home Secretary, and on other eminent political leaders. The Government had to choose between Catholic Emancipation and another rebellion in Ireland. We can read in the letters of Peel how the conviction grew upon him that the claims for Catholic Emancipation were rightful, and how the Duke of Wellington, then at the head of the Administration, was brought to the same conclusion. The Duke of Wellington declared at last that he had seen too much of war, and did not intend to add a civil war to his other records. The great difficulty was in prevailing on the King to accept this view, but at last George IV. was induced to put himself entirely into the hands of his Ministers and allow them to carry out their own policy.