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A History of the Nineteenth Century, Year by Year

Wetherell was at once dismissed



[Sidenote: O'Connell]

[Sidenote: Robert Peel]

Domestic affairs in England at this turn furnished an all-absorbing topic. In the Cabinet, Huskisson's strong stand on the rotten borough question, with his desire to accord Parliamentary representation to the working people of Birmingham, had caused his expulsion from the Duke of Wellington's councils. His resignation was followed by that of the former members of the Canning Cabinet. Among those chosen to supply their place was Vesey Fitzgerald, member for County Clare in Ireland. His acceptance of office compelled him to go back to his constituents. It was then that Daniel O'Connell, the great leader of the Catholic Association in Ireland, saw his chance to strike a blow for Catholic emancipation. Though disqualified from sitting in the Commons as a Catholic, O'Connell ran against Fitzgerald. From the first Fitzgerald's cause was hopeless. The great landowners, to be sure, supported his cause with all their wealth and influence, but the small freeholders, to a man, voted against him. After a five days' poll, Fitzgerald withdrew from the contest. The result was that the hitherto irresistible influence of England's territorial aristocracy lay shattered. The Protestant conservatives of England were filled with consternation. Every debate in Parliament showed that the Catholic party was daily gaining strength, while the

resistance of the government became weaker. It was clear that something must be done. At this crisis Robert Peel, hitherto the champion of the Protestant party in the House of Commons and Cabinet, became convinced of the necessity of yielding. He lost no time in imparting this conviction to the Duke of Wellington, his chief, and therewith offered his resignation. Wellington had learned a lesson from the events that followed Huskisson's withdrawal. He refused to let Peel go. Reluctantly he became a party to Peel's change of views. As late as December 11, Wellington wrote a letter to the Catholic primate of Ireland, deferring all hope of Catholic emancipation to the distant future. Before the year closed, however, Wellington, armed with the arguments of Peel, wrung from the King the Crown's consent to concede Catholic emancipation without delay. Peel, as the author of this radical measure, consented to take charge of the bill in Parliament.


[Sidenote: Wellington's change of front]

At the opening of Parliament in England, the concessions of the government in regard to Catholic emancipation were revealed in the royal speech, delivered by commission. The great Tory party, thus taken unawares, was furious. The Protestant clergy opposed the bill with all their influence and clamored for a dissolution of Parliament. In the excited state of public feeling, an immediate appeal to the country would undoubtedly have wrecked the bill. Unable to carry out such a plan, the Tory opposition showed itself ready to unite with any party in order to defeat the measure and wreak vengeance on its framers. Within the Cabinet itself, Wellington's change brought him bitter opposition. When the bill was brought into Parliament in March, the Attorney-General, Sir C. Wetherell, not content with refusing to draw the bill, sprang up to explain his position.

[Sidenote: Wetherell's attack]

"Am I, then," he exclaimed, "to blame for refusing to do that, in the subordinate office of Attorney-General, which a more eminent adviser of the Crown, only two years ago, declared he would not consent to do? I dare them to attack me! I have no speech to eat up. I have not to say that a thing is black one day and white another. I would rather remain as I am, the humble member for Plympton, than be guilty of such treachery, such contradiction, such unexplained conversion, such miserable and contemptible apostasy.... They might have turned me out of office, but I would not be made such a dirty tool as to draw _that_ bill. I have therefore declined to have anything to do with it." Of course, Wetherell was at once dismissed.

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