It would have been obvious, therefore, to a man of less foresight than Peel, that to give the Catholics in Ireland the full right of vote and representation would be to speak the doom of the Irish Church. The doom might be delayed, as it was in fact delayed until our own times; but it was certain to come. What Peel failed to understand was that the English Church system rested on a totally different basis; and that it was so far acknowledged and supported as a Church by the great majority of the English people. Therefore, for many years, Peel persuaded himself that he could not in conscience, as a Protestant, yield to the Catholic claims. Such, as we have seen, was the position taken up by George III., and for a time, taken up and stubbornly maintained by George IV. But then Peel's was a very different intellect from that of George III. or George IV. Peel was a thorough statesman, and he could not shut his eyes to facts, or disguise from himself the meaning of those facts, as it showed itself to all intelligent and enlightened minds. It began to be gradually borne in upon him that the concession of the Catholic claims was inevitable. The Marquis of Wellesley, elder brother of the Duke of Wellington, had been appointed Lord-Lieutenant of Ireland, partly because he was supposed to be the sort of man who could make head against the Catholic claims; and the. Marquis of Wellesley had not been long in Dublin Castle before he became convinced that the claims of the Catholics would have to be conceded. He resigned his post as Irish Viceroy when the Duke of Wellington, on taking the office of Prime Minister, announced that Catholic Emancipation was not to be a Cabinet measure.
He was succeeded in the Irish Viceroyalty by the Marquis of Anglesey, who had been a distinguished soldier in the wars against Napoleon, and rendered brilliant services on the field of Waterloo. Lord Anglesey was known to be opposed to Catholic Emancipation, and had actually spoken vehemently against that and all other Irish claims when he was a member of Parliament. But Lord Anglesey had not been long in office before he, too, recognised the absolute necessity of conceding political equality to the Irish Catholics. The question came up in a manner which compelled the Government to give immediate attention to it. In the vehemence of the popular commotion caused by O'Connell and the Catholic Association, an Act had been passed for a limited number of years for the suppression of the Catholic Association and all other unlawful associations in Ireland, thus putting on a show of fair play by including the operations of Orange societies within its scope, but really directed, and with the knowledge of every one, against O'Connell and the Catholics. This Act was shortly about to expire, and the question was whether it could be renewed, and what was to happen if it were not renewed. Lord Anglesey pressed these questions on the notice of the Government, announcing his conviction that the Catholics could not much longer be kept in subjection without civil disturbance, and declaring himself to be an advocate of peace, not indeed at any price, but certainly at the price of Catholic Emancipation. All this must have profoundly impressed the mind of Peel.
In the early part of 1828 an important resolution was brought forward in the House of Commons by Sir Francis Burdett, then in the front of the Reform movement, calling on the House to consider the state of the laws affecting the King's Roman Catholic subjects in Great Britain and Ireland "with a view to such a final and conciliatory settlement as may be conducive to the peace and strength of the United Kingdom, to the stability of the Protestant Establishment, and to the general satisfaction and concord of all classes of His Majesty's subjects." This resolution was actually carried by two hundred and seventy-two votes against two hundred and sixty-six. Peel was particularly impressed by one passage in the speech of Brougham in support of the resolution. Brougham's observation was that no single member of those who had opposed the motion of Sir Francis Burdett had affirmed the proposition that things could remain as they were, and that it was impossible to conceal or deny the great progress which this question had made in Parliament and the much greater progress which it had made out of doors. One can easily understand how a statement like this, the truth of which could not be challenged for a moment, must have helped to bring conviction to the mind of Peel. Of course a mere fanatic or a mere dreamer would not have been moved from a previous opinion by any such consideration.
What would it be to him if the majority of the House of Commons, if the majority of the public out of doors, were opposed to his own personal opinions on the subject? "So much the worse," our fanatic or dreamer would say, "for the House of Commons and for the public, in the end; they will find out that I am in the right and that they are in the wrong; and they will have to put up with the results of their obstinacy." But of course Peel was neither a fanatic nor a dreamer; he was above all things a clear-headed practical statesman, and had no inclination whatever to fight against the stars in their courses, especially when he began to have the conviction brought home to him that the stars in their courses were fighting on the right side. Peel not merely counted but weighed the votes in that debate. He observes in one of his letters that "without depreciating the abilities or authority of those who concurred with me in resisting the motion" - for it has to be observed that Peel as yet had not seen his way to vote for the motion - any one acquainted with the House of Commons at that time would readily admit that the great preponderance of talent and of influence on the future decisions of the House of Commons was ranged on the other side. The Government at all events went so far, instructed by events, as to give up the idea of asking Parliament for a renewal of the Act against the Catholic Association. Of course Peel followed closely the events preceding the Clare election and the result of the vote. He knew that Vesey Fitzgerald, the defeated candidate for Clare, was one of the most popular men in Ireland. Fitzgerald had represented Clare for many years, and had always supported by his speeches and his votes the claim of the Catholics for political emancipation. He was a son of the man who fought stoutly against the Act of Union by the side of Henry Grattan and Sir John Parnell. Certainly a better man could not have been found to contest on the Government side the candidature of O'Connell; yet he was hopelessly defeated. In fact a great constitutional crisis had arisen, and even Lord Eldon unbent so far as to admit that the result of the Clare election must be to bring the Catholic question to a conclusion before long, a conclusion of which he highly disapproved, as was only natural for him, but which he felt it was not in the power of himself or any other man or set of men to prevent. When a man like Lord Eldon could thus far stifle his most inveterate prejudices and passions and could see the results which were destined to come, it is not likely indeed that a man of Peel's intellect and clearsightedness could close his eyes against the lessons of the crisis.