Meeting of Catholics No223 02sep1848
[FOR THE COURIER.]
To the Editor of the Head Quarters.
Had the Loyalist been still in existence, and made a wanton attack on the proceedings of that meeting, I should neither feel surprise nor deem it necessary to make any reply, but the Head Quarters is a journal too respectable to be treated with silent contempt. The man whose character stands well in a community has little to fear from the calumny of an open enemy; but when an avowed friend gives it publicity, with apparent sorrow, he has reason to feel that his reputation will suffer unless he can furnish satisfactory evidence of his innocence. So, in like manner, might unfavorable impressions be formed of the course lately pursued by the Catholics of this City, from the misrepresentations made by you, who, “under every circumstance, fearlessly endeavoured to do justice to your Roman Catholic fellow-subjects,” unless it can be shown that you have failed in your attempt to give “reasons for the faith that is within you” and this is the duty I have now undertaken to perform.
“In the first place,” you say, “the law of the land places in the hands of the High Sheriff in the respective Counties, a discretionary power as respects summoning jurors, which is to be used at his peril, and which may be challenged if it is suspected that this power has been improperly exercised. If the law in this respect be wrong it is the duty of those who feel themselves aggrieved to take steps to have it altered; but so long as this power remains in the hands of the Sheriff, and is the law, it is idle to protest against its being carried into effect.” No one, I presume has found fault with the law; nor did the Catholics of Saint John make any idle protest against its being carried into effect; but in strict accordance with the provisions of that law they did protest against the Sheriff’s improper exercise of the power which it has given him to be used at his peril. You had no grounds for insinuating that an idle protest had been made against the law being carried into effect; and I am therefore inclined to the belief that your endeavour to deceive the public on this point is not very strong evidence of your desire “to do justice to your Roman Catholic fellow subjects.
It is true, I admit, that “the only ground of challenge complained of by the framers of the resolutions under consideration, was urged and argued at length before the learned Judge who tried to cause, and the discretion exercised by the Sheriff deliberately confirmed by the Court”; and it is also true that “the only question which can now arise, is whether the decision on that point be correct.” Yes, this is indeed, the only question now to be considered; and it is because your arguments in favour of that decision have not been sufficiently conclusive to bring conviction to my mind that I feel called upon to give my reasons for dissenting from your views on the matter. In the confidence generally entertained in the decisions of the learned judge I fully concur; and I feel persuaded that the framers of the resolutions which censured the conduct of the Sheriff and the Executive Council, omitted making any direct charge against His Honor, through feelings of respect for his private character. But surely it does not necessarily follow that the learned Judge cannot err in his decisions. Upright Judges, learned to the law, have done so before, even in cases where religious bias could have no influence. It is not, however, necessary to confine the argument to the character or the legal knowledge of the Judge. As you yourself justly remark there are rules of common sense to guide us in forming an opinion on the matter; but whether you were governed by such rules in the conclusions you have arrived at, is another matter.
I could have almost imagined you sincere in stating that you had the desire to do justice to your Roman Catholic fellow-subjects, had you not given such unequivocal proof of the contrary by endeavouring to reduce them to the level of a body of Orangemen, of whom you express a very unfavorable opinion. Had you urged that the exclusion of Orangemen from the panel justified the exclusion of Ribbonmen also, I could easily see the force of your argument; but I cannot conceive what would justify the exclusion of Catholics, who are equally opposed to both parties and to every party that is calculated to disturb the public peace, unless, indeed, the exclusion of all Protestants also, and the forming of a jury of infidels, which, I should be sorry to suppose could be obtained in any part of this Province. Your mere statement that Catholics are and must be party men, will not, I should hope, be taken as proof, so long as convincing evidence of the contrary can be adduced. It is a well known fact that party men are denounced by the clergy of the Catholic Church, which excludes from her communion Ribbonmen, and all other secret society men. It is also well known that party men are not excluded from communion with any other church; and yet, strange to say, Catholics are to be excluded from the Jury panel, on the ground that they themselves are party men. The Catholics of the Province should indeed consider themselves under weighty obligations to yourself and those Honorable friends whose views you so peculiarly represent, for the emphatic and unequivocal manner in which you have arrayed the whole Catholic body in rank and file as a party association against the Orange societies, for which you also affect to entertain feelings of unmitigated hostility. You of course could not have penned your lengthy and apparently well-considered article without duly weighing the responsibility, and before risking the chance of successful contradiction, you must have prepared yourself with sound and convincing authorities to support your position. You charge that we are a communion of party men, and, as a matter of irresistible inference, that the Catholic Church, with its bishops and clergy, is a mere party organization for the highly creditable vocation of opposing Orangemen! Are you aware, Sir, of the extent of this wanton insult you have thus so deliberately offered to the feelings of a large and respectable community of Christians? Where are your authorities for you unwarrantable assertion? You may deny that you made such a charge, or you may attempt to explain away the inference; but it will require no mean exercise of your powers of sophistry to convince the Catholic people that you were not pandering to the worst spirit of party when you perpetrated your uncalled-for, unfounded, and, I will add, malicious attack upon their religion. Had you troubled yourself to extend your inquiries into the spirit of our church, you would not have thus ventured to indulge your ill-concealed spleen; the mild spirit of meekness and Christian forbearance which you would have found the prevailing characteristics of our religion, if it should not challenge your admiration, would, I should hope, at least have checked your disposition to misrepresent us at this expense of your charity.
You are of course aware that a Commission was issued by our Government for holding the Court at Woodstock on 28th June; the number of defendants and the great amount of evidence to be examined, rendered it more than probable that the trials would run into the 12th July, – the riot for which defendants were to be tried occurred on the same day to the last year, and was, as you admit, provoked by Orangemen, although commenced by foolish Catholics. The time, therefore, for holding the Court was, in all conscience, sufficiently [near] the period of the riot to gratify the feelings of your most zealous party men; but, Sir, you also know that the return of this season of party celebrations has in many parts of this Province too frequently revived feelings of animosity, and been productive of scenes of riot and disturbance. I would therefore ask you, who I presume are anxious that during the reign of our present efficient Executive, the public should have implicit confidence in the strictly impartial administration the Criminal Law, had not the defendants reasonable grounds to doubt their chances for a dispassionate and impartial trial before a jury panel from which all duly qualified Catholics had been purposely excluded, in a locality reeking with party animosity against defendants, and at a period when unexampled preparations were to progress for an Orange demonstration and gathering at Woodstock? Yet this was the season selected by our Protective rules for instituting this important investigation. In consequence, however, of the indiscreet course of the High Sheriff, the Court intended for the 28th June was adjourned by Mr. Justice Parker the eve of the 12 July. The cause of this adjournment was not occasioned by any acts of the defendants, but solely by the illegal conduct of the Sheriff in selecting his jurors from a particular locality where it was notorious a spirit of prejudice existed against the defendants. I might inquire was this course pursued by the inferior officer to correspond with the spirit of the time selected by his Honorable superiors, whose discreetness in the matter I shall not stop to question. But let their Honors look to it. However the blunt honest voice of the Common Law scattered the illegal materials collected for the Court, and the Sheriff’s proceedings were pronounced illegal by the Judge, who notwithstanding, directed the same officer to produce a new jury for proceeding with the trials in the evening of 11th July! Were I inclined to animadversion, I might hazard the uncharitable opinion that this taunting season was pitched upon for the trial as a rebuke to the defendants for presuming to question the illegal conduct of a Government official. The trials having been thus postponed to this extraordinary time, was it a matter of such deep surprise that the Executive, which had issued and which had the control of their commission, should be applied to by defendants, and asked upon solid and cogent grounds to appoint a more fitting time for administering the law, and thus to avert the indecent prostitution of justice? You tell us in a passing remark that the Executive had no right to interfere with the time appointed by the Judge for holding the Court – had you troubled yourself to enquire, you must have known that instant application was made to induce the Judge to appoint some less exciting time for opening the adjourned Court, but to no avail. The learned Judge stated that he sat under a Commission sent down by the Government, [ ] it was his duty to obey – that a postponement [ ] the Court was a matter for the consideration [ ] Government. Your remark, therefore, as to the inability of the Executive to interfere, is “idle,” for it is evident they had full power and authority at their discretion to regulate the holding of the Court under their Commission at such time as might be deemed most subservient to the ends of public justice. The grounds and reasons urged upon them to induce them to exercise their undoubted discretionary power were, I contend, sound and substantial, although they did not prove to successful as those advanced on the opposite side by the party which, you tell us, represents more than three-fourths of the property in Carleton County.
You and your friends may profess to scoff at the Public Meeting lately held here to consider these matters: you are at liberty so to do. Our community can afford to endure the petty annoyance caused by your harmless shafts. The meeting has appealed to the Royal prerogative for the redress of a great public wrong, and in so doing they have dignified their proceedings by declining to solicit the intercession of the members of our Executive. The unconstitutional innovations, so dangerous to the full enjoyment of religious freedom, which have been winked at by those in high places, will not fail to arouse men to a sense of their political interests, and I trust that our Catholic people will, hereafter do their duty to the Province by lending their aid to the reforming spirit of the age, and assist in sweeping from around the Provincial helm to the mass of inconsistency by which it is a present controlled.
Your apparent regret for our false step need give you no anxiety. It requires no effort to conjecture whether your regret is more occasioned by the political uneasiness already anticipated by your friends, or for the misfortune we are likely to entail upon ourselves. The purely unsuspecting observer will of course attribute to you the less selfish motive; but the unscrupulous canvassers of the day will, I fear, claim their privilege of pronouncing your effort as the expected tribute of consolation to your anxious friends. But be this as it may; you may rest assured that the Catholic population of the Province are becoming fully alive to their rights as British subjects. They disclaim all connection or sympathy with the unhallowed spirit of party, and yielding to no other portion of Her Majesty’’ subjects in proper respect and dutiful loyalty to our Sovereign, they will not shrink from vindicating their full claims to the unrestricted enjoyment of all privileges to which, in common with their fellow-subjects, they are entitled under the Constitution and laws of the country.