NBC – 1848.08.26 – Aggregate Meeting of Roman Catholics – #222 – F12
(From the Fredericton Head Quarters, Aug. 23.)
AGGREGATE MEETING OF ROMAN CATHOLICS IN SAINT JOHN. – In this day’s paper we have copied from the Courier the proceedings had at a recent aggregate meeting of Roman Catholics in the City of Saint John, at which a number of Resolutions were adopted, and a Petition to His Excellency the Lieutenant Governor agreed to, which we cannot but regard with feelings of disappointment and disapprobation.
We have, under every circumstance, fearlessly endeavoured to do justice to our Roman Catholic fellow subjects, and have little reason to fear being accused of a leaning towards Orangeism, or a desire to pander to party spirit, when we express our regret that the Roman Catholics in St. John should have felt it their duty to pursue the course which in this instance they have adopted. The principal object in calling the meeting appears to have been for the purpose of protesting against the exclusion of Roman Catholics from the Jury Panel at the late trial of the rioters on the 12th of July, 1847, which commenced at Woodstock on the 11th July last – which exclusion the meeting appears to have regarded as a gross insult to the whole Roman Catholic population throughout the Province. On this point we are completely at issue with the framers of the Resolutions, and have no hesitation in giving a few of the reasons for the faith that is within us. In the first place, 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. We are by no means prepared to say that the law in this respect cannot be amended; on the contrary, we are inclined to believe that there may [be] cases arise where the Sheriff, if so disposed, could exercise his power in the selection of jurors in a way prejudicial to the interests of one party, without the opposite party having it in his power to bring the true cause of such conduct under the notice of the Court; but be that as it may, the argument would not hold good with respect to the Woodstock panel. 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 the cause, and the discretion exercised by the Sheriff deliberately confirmed by the Court. The only question which can now arise is, whether the decision on that point be correct. We may say, without fear of contradiction, that it would take strong and convincing arguments to shake the confidence which the public of this Province generally feel in the decision of the upright and learned Judge before whom the point was twice raised and twice decided in favour of the Sheriff; but, apart from the confidence which we, in common with a vast majority of our fellow subjects throughout the Province, feel in the strict legality of the decision, there are rules of common sense to guide us in forming an opinion of the matter which appear to us to go strongly to support the equity of the conclusion arrived at by the Court. Let us revert for a moment to the facts of the case as respects the County of Carleton, and see if the Roman Catholics were the only “Religionists” excluded from the panel, as is alleged in the petition. The whole Orange body, which we are reluctantly obliged to confess, embraces more than one half of the whole adult population of that County, and represents more than three-fourths of the whole property within its bounds, were also excluded; and if the Roman Catholic population were insulted by this exclusion, the Orange portion of the Protestant population shared equally in the disgrace. – We contend, however, that neither party were insulted or even neglected. There was an issue to be tried in which the whole population of this Province were as much interested as Roman Catholics or Orangemen, and that issue grew out of a riot which may have been provoked by Orangemen, but was beyond any doubt perpetrated by a body exclusively belonging to the Roman Catholic persuasion. On the rule that no man should be a judge in his own cause, both Protestant Orangemen and Roman Catholics were excluded from the Jury, and, in our opinion, wisely excluded; for if it be true that, as against Orangemen, Roman Catholics are not to be considered party men, as these petitioners allege, then the strongest and only argument of general application against Orange Societies falls to the ground. It was from a firm conviction that the formation of Orange Societies lead, and almost forced Roman Catholics to unite for mutual defence against a united and previously organized enemy, that we have constantly deprecated the introduction of such Societies into this Province. But if Orangemen be offensive only to a certain class of Roman Catholics who may have other views than the simple desire to maintain the free exercise of their own religious liberty, then we have mistaken our ground, and subjected ourselves to a world of abuse, and incurred the censure of some of our best friends to support a false position. But such is not the case. Roman Catholics as against Orangemen are and must be party men. It is impossible that they should not feel for and sympathise with their brethren in as great, and perhaps a greater degree, than the sworn brethren of Orange Lodges arrayed against them. The very fact of this riot having occurred at all is a proof of this position; for if the Orange procession at Woodstock had not been offensive to Roman Catholics, generally, in that quarter of the Province, we should have found among those opposed to the rioters some Roman Catholics who did not disapprove of such an organization. Every circumstance connected with the riot – every thing which has come to our knowledge, connected of the decision of the Court; and even the very meeting under consideration would not have been held unless Roman Catholics generally considered themselves interested in the issue; and we cannot but regret that they did not place their application for pardon to the unfortunate prisoners on some other grounds.
The only additional remark which we feel it our duty to make on this movement, is, that the charge of disingenuousness preferred against the Executive Council, appears to us to rest on still more futile grounds, if that were possible, than those sought to be established against the Sheriff and the Judge. The time for holding the Court appears to be the sole ground for this charge; but it must be recollected that the time when the trials actually took place, was not the time appointed by the Commission issued to the Judge for holding the Court. By the proceedings taken by the Counsel of the accused parties, the Court was adjourned for a number of days, and whatever weight might have been attacked to a plea of intimidating the Jury by the extraordinary assemblage of Orangemen in Woodstock at the time of the trials, that plea was solely for the consideration of the Court, and the Executive authority had no right to interfere in the matter. We have no means of knowing the advantages which the framers of the Resolutions expected to derive from urging this charge upon the consideration of His Excellency, but it appears to us that such advantages, whatever they may be, will be more than counterbalanced by the appearance of an attempt at intimidation, which, whether intended or not, must deter any Government from complying with the prayer of a petition resting on grounds which will so easily bear that construction. We are truly sorry for the fate of some of the prisoners, who we believe to be honest, well meaning, although, in this instance, misguided men, and we may also add, that whatever might have been its effect on the Executive Government – we have but little doubt that a Petition founded on proper grounds, praying that the Royal prerogative might be interposed to restore them to their families, would have been well supported by Protestants as well as Roman Catholics throughout the country. As matters now stand we fear that another bolt has been added to those which at present excludes them from society and their friends; and it will be fortunate if the evil stop even there, for we have no reason to doubt that the wary, politic, and watchful promoters of Orangeism will use both the Resolutions and the Petition to mark more distinctly the line which divides Roman Catholic and Protestant, and widen the breach which they have already made. It is, if possible, to neutralize, in some degree, this policy, which we consider hurtful to the true interests of the Province, that we have devoted so much of our space to the consideration of this subject.