On the day just before that which Peel had appointed for his statement in the House, he was summoned, with the Duke of Wellington and the Lord Chancellor, to attend the Sovereign. Then the King bluntly declared that he would not tolerate any alteration in the Oath of Supremacy. There was a long argument on the subject. The Duke and Peel and the Lord Chancellor, Lord Lyndhurst, endeavoured to get the King to understand that without some alteration in the Oath of Supremacy it would be perfectly impossible to do anything for the Catholics, because the Oath of Supremacy as then framed was one that no Catholic elected to the House of Commons could possibly consent to take. The King was not moved by the argument, probably he did not listen to much of it, very likely was thinking of something else for most of the time, and he could only go back to his former declaration, that he would not allow the slightest alteration in the Oath of Supremacy, and would, therefore, refuse his consent to the whole scheme which the memorandum had set forth. The Ministers took the announcement with composure but firmly maintained their advice. Then the King blandly asked them what course they proposed to take; the three Ministers answered that they proposed to ask his Majesty for permission to announce to the House of Lords and to the House of Commons that they had ceased to hold office, and were no longer responsible for the policy of the country. George did not seem to have expected quite so prompt and decisive a reply; but he retained his outward composure - it must be remembered that he was in his own estimation and by his own professions the first gentleman in Europe - and he graciously said that he supposed he had no right to blame them for the course they felt bound to take.
Right Hon Sir Robert Peel, Bart., M.P. (1788 1850).
He carried his graciousness still further, for, in the words of one of the Ministers, "the King took leave of us with great composure and great kindness, gave to each of us a salute on each cheek, and accepted our resignation of office." Satire itself could hardly burlesque that scene. Thackeray has made delicious fun of it in one of his lectures. Fancy the worn-out old Royal rake pressing a kiss on each cheek of the Duke and the Lord Chancellor and Sir Robert Peel and dismissing them as it were with his paternal blessing !
As soon as the dismissed Ministers had gone the King found that the difficulties of the crisis had only begun for him. It was absolutely impossible for him to get any responsible statesman to form a Ministry. He was at all events relieved of all trouble so far as Lord Grey was concerned, for even if he could so far have controlled his personal feelings as to overcome his dislike to Lord Grey, it would be utterly out of the question to think of inviting Lord Grey to form a Government which was not to admit the claims of the Catholics. Even George IV., with all his self-conceit and all his lack of sense, could not think of facing the country with the announcement that he had no longer any Ministers, and that he proposed to govern the country by despotic right. Even George knew that things had not yet come to such a pass with the people of England that they would stand an announcement of that kind. There was nothing for it but to give in, and the King gave in. He wrote to the Duke of Wellington telling him of his submission, and asking the Duke to urge Peel and Peel's colleagues to remain in office and bring in their scheme of Irish policy. The Constitution had conquered and the Sovereign was down. Peel brought in his measure of Catholic Emancipation and it was carried through both Houses of Parliament without much of a struggle. The Clare election had in fact proved a peaceful revolution. It has to be added that the measure when carried into law proved to be stinting and ungenerous in its concessions.
It was constructed, to a large extent, on that principle of "checks and balances" about which so much was heard at a later period of English political life. The "checks and balances" idea was to take away a good deal with one hand, while giving something considerable with the other. The Bill abolished some old existing franchises in Ireland which, in the coming condition of things, might have proved too favourable to the Irish Catholics. The object to be gained was no doubt to put difficulties in the way of any triumph for the Catholics like that of the Clare election at any future day. Peel, we may be sure, would have made the measure more simple and complete if he had had his way; but he had to take into consideration the Tories and the House of Lords, and he did not think it wise to venture upon anything which might seem like an absolute surrender, even to the claims of justice, when those claims were put forward by Irish Roman Catholics. O'Connell in especial was ungenerously dealt with. After the passing of the Act he had to go back to Clare and to be elected all over again, just as if his previous elections had not been the moving occasion of the whole political crisis. Of course O'Connell had no trouble in getting re-elected; but there was something lamentable in the policy which only allowed him to come into Parliament when it was no longer humanly possible to keep him out. O'Connell took his seat in the House of Commons unchallenged, and with his entrance into Parliament a new chapter in history opened.
Joseph Mallord William Turner, R.A. (1775-1851).
Houses Of Parliament.