In the meanwhile Peel was continually pressed by Lord Anglesey to come to some decision on the subject. There was a tremendous difficulty in front, and Anglesey saw but one way out of it. What he felt is well expressed in a letter which he wrote in order that it might be formally submitted to the Duke of Wellington and to Sir Robert Peel. In speaking of the Catholics he said: "I believe their success inevitable, and that no power under heaven can arrest its progress. There may be rebellion, you may put to death thousands, you may suppress it, but it will only be to put off the day of compromise." Lord Anglesey over and over again in reply to the arguments of those who were accustomed to ask, as Lord Melbourne later on used to ask, "Can't you let things stay as they are?" points out that as far as the Catholic claims are concerned things will not stay as they are, that no power of horse, foot and artillery can compel them to stay as they are. In Lord Anglesey's opinion rebellion was certain to come if the Catholic claims were thrust aside, and he further believed that even if one rebellion were put down another and another would come on till Catholic Emancipation had been granted. At one crisis of the movement we find Peel, from his published correspondence, asking himself the question which we record here at full length because of its momentous nature, and because also of the light it throws on the statesmanlike and practical manner in which the mind of Peel grasped the whole situation, and the kind of dramatic instinct which belonged to him, and without which there can be no genuine statesmanship, the dramatic instinct which enables a man to enter into the feelings of his opponents, and to realise the meaning of their cause as it presents itself to them.
Peel asks himself "whether it may not be possible that the fever of political and religious excitement which was quickening the pulse and fluttering the bosom of the whole Catholic population - which had inspired the serf of Clare with the resolution and the energy of a free man - which had in the twinkling of an eye made all considerations of personal gratitude, ancient family connection, local preferences, the fear of worldly injury, the hope of worldly advantage subordinate to the one absorbing sense of religious obligation and public duty - whether, I say, it might not be possible that the contagion of that feverish excitement might spread beyond the barriers which under ordinary circumstances the habits' of military obedience and the strictness of military discipline oppose to all such external influences?" It need hardly be said that the British army was at this time, as it is now, largely recruited from the Irish Catholic population, and was it absolutely certain that the Irish Catholics in uniform could be relied upon at such a crisis to shoot down their fellow-Irishmen and fellow-Catholics, who were engaged in the defence of the Irish and the Catholic cause ? Peel shook his head over this difficulty, and felt satisfied that only a man in a fool's paradise could feel quite sure that Irishmen in the army could all be relied upon for such a sacrifice of their religion and their country. Peel, of course, was not a soldier, but Lord Anglesey, who was a brilliant soldier of long experience, was even more doubtful than Peel as to the possibility of keeping the Irish Catholic soldiers under the British flag if an insurrection, caused by the rejection of the Catholic claims, were to break out in Ireland. At a time much later than that of Peel we have seen how, in the war between France and Austria, large numbers of Venetian soldiers in the Austrian service crossed over on the very battle-field to the ranks of France rather than fight for those who held them in subjection, against those who promised to set them free; and in that case there was no religious question to intensify the patriotic fervour of the Venetian soldier. When we read the words in which Peel speaks of O'Connell's candidature for Clare as having inspired the serf of Clare with the resolution and the energy of a free man, we must remember, in order to appreciate the firm composure of Peel's judgment, that it was the fashion of nearly all Tory politicians at the time to treat O'Connell and his agitation with utter contempt. The theory, even of many enlightened Englishmen just then, was that O'Connell was simply a self-seeking and noisy impostor who had succeeded somehow in setting the whole Catholic population in Ireland mad.
This sort of idea is indeed a favourite theory amongst men of strong prejudice and weak intellect when any great constitutional crisis arises which is distasteful to them and to their friends. It had been applied to the French Revolution until the revolution became too strong to be disposed of any longer by the theory of an insane population and half a dozen self-seeking and crafty demagogues. Peel's intellect was not one which could be long deluded by the demagogue and the Bedlamite theory. What was it, he asked himself, which had inspired the serf of Clare with the resolution and the energy of a free man? Was it not the serf's conviction that he had a great national and religious cause to fight for, and if needs were to die for? Peel's mind was gradually and rapidly coming round to Lord Anglesey's view of the crisis; and it was not long before he had reached the settled conviction that Parliament must grant Catholic Emancipation. Here, again, we have to observe how different was the character of Peel from that of other statesmen who had at other times anything like a similar crisis to encounter. It has happened more than once in English history since the days of the Catholic question, that a statesman having combated successfully a certain political movement for session after session has at last been forced to the conclusion that the movement was growing too strong to be resisted much longer, and that as it was destined to be successful he might as well have the honour of its success as any other. There is an instance in modern English history of a statesman who having thus been forced to make up his mind to the inevitable success of a movement which he had hitherto opposed with all his might and main, came to think that after all he might as well take advantage of the crisis by putting himself at the head of the movement, and carrying it to a parliamentary success. Peel never could be a statesman of this light-minded order; he now felt convinced that Catholic Emancipation must be carried, and his one great concern was in the question, Who is the best man to carry it ? He decided that for many reasons he himself was not that man. He was strongly of opinion that the difficulties in the way of passing such a measure through the House of Commons and through the House of Lords would be enormously increased if the measure were to be introduced by one on whom the Tories of both Houses had long relied as the strongest bulwark against the Catholic agitation. He had many personal objections to the undertaking of a task which would of necessity compel him to enter into negotiations with the Catholic leaders and to discuss possible compromises; but these personal objections would have counted for little with him if he could persuade himself that he was the most suitable person to conduct such negotiations, and to consider suggested compromises.