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1778. THE ENGLISH ROMAN CATHOLICS.' 249
"trust that this has been shown more decisively by our irreproachable conduct for many years past, under circum"stances of public discountenance and displeasure, than it "can be manifested by any declaration whatever." A few days afterwards Sir George Savile, seconded by Dunning, brought in a Bill to relieve the Roman Catholics from some at least of the penalties upon them. The objects of the proposed repeal were these: — The punishment of priests or Jesuits who should be found to teach or officiate in the services of their Church; such acts being felony in foreigners and high treason in natives of the realm. The forfeitures of Popish heirs who had received their education abroad, and whose estates went to the next Protestant heir. The power given to the son or other nearest relative, being aProtestant, to take possession of his father's or kinsman's estate during the life of the rightful owner. And the debarring of Roman Catholics from the power of acquiring legal property by any other means than by descent. Some of these penalties, said Dunning, had now ceased to be necessary, and others were at all times a disgrace to human nature. They were imposed (this, indeed, is the only palliation for them) in the reign of William, when the people had so lately escaped the danger, and were still impressed with the dread, of Popery. It might be said in their defence that in general they had not been put in execution, but in some instances they had; and Sir George Savile declared himself cognisant of cases in which Romanists were living, not only under terror, but even under pecuniary payments to informers, in consequence of the powers that the law conferred.
The period of proposing the repeal of these penalties was no doubt happily chosen. All men felt that this was no time to make new malcontents. All men, in Parliament at least, felt that rigours such as these were utterly unjustifiable. Thurlow, then still Attorney-General, and other zealous friends of the Church, gave the measure their support. Henry Dundas, the Lord Advocate of Scotland, who was already rising into fame as a speaker and a statesman, regretted only that the measure would afford no relief in his own country. The Act now sought to be repealed having passed before the Union did not apply to Scotland; the Scotch, however, had a statute passed by their own Parliament in nearly the same terms as the English; and for the repeal of this Scottish Act, Dundas promised to move in another Session. With such support the Bill passed, it may be said, unanimously through both Houses. Almost the only whisper of opposition came from a zealous Whig, Bishop HinchclifFe of Peterborough.
From the unanimity on this occasion within the walls of Parliament it would scarcely have been supposed that forty years were still to pass before the Roman Catholics attained the enjoyment of equal civil rights — or that this question would, beyond any other, prove to be the stumbling block of successive Ministries, the battle-cry of successive elections. While the measure of relief was still in progress there was little or no ferment out of doors. But the year had not closed before it was apparent that the animosity against the Papists had not died away — it was only sleeping. With no misconduct whatever on their part, real or imputed, a few zealots found it easy to rouse the feeling and renew the cry. It was in Scotland that the ferment rose, both the soonest and the highest, because it was to Scotland only that the still expected measure would apply. The Synod of Glasgow and some others passed Resolutions for opposing any Bill in favour of the Roman Catholics to the north of Tweed. At Edinburgh, and several other Scottish towns, Associations were formed for the defence of the Protestant interest. To produce and keep alive the popular impression neither the press nor yet the pulpit were neglected. The members of the obnoxious persuasion in the capital of Scotland could not keep their houses without terror, nor yet walk the streets without insult. The same system of insult and threat was soon extended to all those who were supposed to favour them. Thus the cry was loud against Dr. Robertson, the
LORD GEORGE GORDON.
justly esteemed historian. And why? Because to his other merits he added that of toleration.
To the annals of the two next years it will belong to tell how from Scotland these ferments spread to England; how from threats and murmurs they ripened into riots. Meanwhile it may be noticed that, though the malcontents were many, they were long without a leader. No man with the slightest claim to be a statesman would afford them the slightest countenance. At length they found a congenial tool and mouth- piece in one who had to]recommend him at least rank and youth and earnestness of purpose. This was Lord George Gordon, a younger son of the Duke of that name. He was born in 1750, and George the Second was his godfather. His life was not a long one, since he died at the age of forty - two, yet within that space few men have ever run through more fantastic vicissitudes. He began his career as a Midshipman; he ended his career as a Jew. At this time, however, he was a Christian; and scarce allowed any others, besides Protestants, to be so. He had entered Parliament in 1774, as Member for the small borough of Luggershall, and though silent for some Sessions, and even apparently during the progress of the Roman Catholic Relief Bill, he began shortly afterwards to be noted for vehement No Popery harangues. Showing little talent he excited little attention in the House, but his zeal was sufficient to win him the confidence of the multitude whose prejudices he espoused.
In these prejudices, as in most other popular delusions, we may no doubt discover, or think that we discover, some foundation of truth. We may be willing to acknowledge that they proceeded from a just attachment to the Reformed faith and established Churches of the country. But we must deplore, as a foul stain on our national character, the errors and excesses to which, in the ensuing years, that attachment gave rise.
We left Washington at the close of 1777 contending against difficulties and privations of no ordinary kind. On his urgent and renewed representation, the Congress at length decided that a Committee, consisting in part of Members of their own body, should proceed to'his camp at Valley Forge. These gentlemen beheld his distress with their own eyes. Yet still the practical succours of the Government were doled out with a slow and niggard hand. On the 20th of March we find the Commander-in-chief write to one of his Generals as follows:— "By death and desertion we have "lost a good many men since we came to this ground, and "have encountered every species of hardship that cold, wet, "and hunger, and want of clothes were capable of produ"cing. Notwithstanding, and contrary to my expectations, "we have been able to keep the soldiers from munity or dispersion. They have two or three times been days together "without provisions; and once six days without any of the "meat kind. Could the poor horses tell their tale, it would "be in a strain still more lamentable, as numbers have actually died from pure want. But as our prospects begin to "brighten, my complaints shall cease."
Under circumstances of such discouragement, and slighted as Washington's advice as to promotions had now begun to be, it is not surprising that the greatest dissatisfaction should have prevailed among his officers. Four days later he thus reports: — "As it is not improper for Congress to "have some idea of the present temper of the army, it may "not be amiss to remark in this place that, since the month "of August last, between two and three hundred officers "have resigned their commissions, and many others were "with difficulty dissuaded from it."
The military business at the seat of Government was at this period directed by a new Board of War, which had been formed early in the winter, and which had for President, General Gates, flushed with his success at Saratoga, and constant in his enmity to Washington. There was now in progress a secret intrigue to deprive, if possible, the latter of the chief command, and confer it either on Gates himself, or on Charles Lee. For it is remarkable that there was no native American whom Washington's gainsayers could oppose to him with any prospect of success. This intrigue has been called "Conway's Cabal," from the name of one of those most forward in it. Brigadier Thomas Conway was an officer of Washington's army. In October 1777 Washington heard that it was the intention of Congress to promote this person to the rank of Major General. Hereupon Washington addressed a letter to one of the leading Members, Richard Henry Lee, representing that Conway was the youngest Brigadier in the service; that to put him over the heads of all the elder would offend them grievously; that Conway's merits existed in his own imagination more than in reality; and, finally, that Washington himself could not hope to be of any further service if such insuperable difficulties were thrown in his way. Mr. Lee replied in these words: "No "such appointment has been made, nor do I believe it will "whilst it is likely to produce the evil consequences you sug"gest." Yet, notwithstanding this denial, the appointment was made only a few weeks afterwards.
Thus promoted, Conway became an active instrument of the cabal which has subsequently borne hisname. He leagued himself with several other ambitious officers and scheming Members of Congress; several, above all, from the New England States. It is striking to observe the impression produced by these intrigues on the ingenuous mind of La Fayette. Thus he writes to Washington:— "When I was "in Europe I thought that here almost every man was a lover "of liberty. You can conceive my astonishment when I saw "that Toryism was as apparently professed as Whiggism it