Origin of the "Catholic Rent"

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Origin of the "Catholic Rent"

18 February 1824

The Catholic Association founded by Daniel O'Connell in May 1823 aimed to bring about "emancipation"—the admission of Catholics to seats in parliament and to the highest government offices. The new central body in Dublin had a rocky start; there was difficulty in securing a quorum at some of its early meetings. But early in 1824 the association instituted an "associate membership" that required the payment of only a penny a month (the "Catholic rent"), and as this document indicates, a plan was devised for the systematic collection of this small monthly subscription throughout Ireland. This plan became the vehicle through which a mass movement embracing the Catholic peasantry was soon created.

SEE ALSO Catholic Emancipation Campaign; O'Connell, Daniel; Politics: 1800 to 1921—Challenges to the Union; Roman Catholic Church: 1690 to 1829

The committee appointed to devise the best mode of raising a general subscription throughout Ireland beg leave respectfully to submit the following report.

The Catholics of Ireland have long been engaged in a painful and anxious struggle to attain, by peaceful and constitutional means, those civil rights to which every subject of these realms is, upon principle, and of justice entitled, and of which our forefathers were basely and perfidiously deprived, in defiance of the sacred claims of conscience and in open and indecent violation of the faith of treaties.

Your committee are impressed with the melancholy conviction that at no former period of this protracted struggle had the Catholic people of Ireland so little reason to entertain hope of immediate success. A strange combination of events has occurred to cloud our prospects and to render the expectation of redress remote and doubtful. . . .

The combination of all these untoward circumstances has almost extinguished hope; and were it forbidden to despair of the sacred cause of liberty and religion, your committee would feel it a duty to recommend a silent submission to events over which we possess, alas, no control, and a tacit acquiescence in an evil system which we want the power, or at least lawful and constitutional means, to crush, and to await, in the sullen silence of unconcealed discontent, for a more favourable opportunity and better organised resources to prove to Britain and the world—that we are men and deserve to be free.

But your committee can never recommend such a course. They do not dare to despair. They know that their cause is just and holy. It is the cause of religion and liberty. It is the cause of their country and of their God. It never can be abandoned by the Catholics of Ireland. . . .

But in order effectually to exert the energies of the Irish people, pecuniary resources are absolutely necessary. Your committee have a just and entire confidence that such resources can be procured with facility, and that it requires nothing more than a reasonable portion of exertion on the part of a few individuals to secure abundant pecuniary means to answer every legitimate object.

The purposes for which pecuniary resources are wanting should be clearly defined and distinctly understood. They should be useful in their objects and strictly legal and constitutional in all their details.

Your committee respectfully submit that the following purposes are of obvious and paramount utility; and that no doubt does or can exist of their being perfectly legal.

1st. To forward petitions to parliament, not only on the subject of Catholic emancipation but for the redress of all local or general grievances affecting the Irish people.

Under this head should be included a salary for a permanent parliamentary agent in London.

Your committee conceive that a sum of £5,000 per ann[um] would cover all the expenses under this first head.

2ndly. To procure legal redress for all such Catholics, assailed or injured by Orange violence, as are unable to obtain it for themselves, to prevent, by due course of law, Orange processions and public insults, to bring before the high courts of criminal justice all such magistrates as should participate in or countenance the illegal proceedings, processions, etc., of the Orange faction, and to arrest, by the powerful arm of the law, that career of violence by which principally in the north, but occasionally in the south, so many Catholics have been murdered by Orangemen, many of whom are intrusted with arms by the government for far different purposes—and, in fine, to prosecute the Orange murderers where we cannot prevent the murders.

There is also another head of legal relief of great importance. It is to procure for the Catholics the actual enjoyment of all such rights in the several corporations in Ireland to which they are by law entitled, and which have for thirty years past been perseveringly withheld from them by interested bigotry.

To this important object your committee would in the first years devote £I5,000 per annum.

3rdly. To encourage and support a liberal and enlightened press, as well in Dublin as in London—a press which could readily refute the arguments of our enemies and expose the falsehood of their calumnies upon us and our religion—a press which would publish and explain the real principles of the Catholics, and by the irresistible force of truth, either silence or at least confound our calumniators.

For the last two centuries the British press, in all its exclusive ramifications, from the ponderous folio down to the most paltry ballad, has teemed with the most unfounded calumnies and the grossest falsehoods on the subject of the religion and principles of the Catholics. The popular writers of the present day, even those who support our claims to emancipation, affect an air of candour by joining our worst enemies in traducing our most sacred religion.

It is time that this grievous mischief should be checked; and your committee conceive that a less sum than £15,000 per annum ought not to be dedicated to this most useful purpose.

4thly. To procure for the various schools in the country cheap publications by means of which the Catholic children may attain knowledge without having their religion interfered with, or their social virtue checked by anything unchristian or uncharitable. The money given by parliament for this purpose is shamefully misapplied; and the necessity of a resource of this description is daily felt by the Catholic prelates and pastors, who have the greatest anxiety to promote the education of their flocks but are unable to afford sufficient sums of money for that purpose.

Your committee would in the first instance expend £5,000 per annum to remedy this evil; they would recommend that all the savings on the foregoing heads of expenditure (which they trust will be considerable) should be applied then to advance education.

Your committee would respectfully submit the propriety of aiding the resources of the Irish and other Catholics in North America, to procure for them a sufficient number of priests. The number of Catholics in the United States is great and daily increasing. The want of Catholic clergymen is felt as an extreme evil; and it is thought that a sum of £5,000 a year could not be better applied than in remedying in some measure this deficiency.

Besides, the Catholics in Great Britain are multiplying almost beyond hope. The French Revolution supplied the English Catholics with clergymen for many years. That resource is now gone; and it would be suited to the charity and piety of the Irish people to supply their haughty and erratic neighbours with the means of instruction in that ancient faith which, since the first days of Christianity, always was, and still is, and while the world lasts, will be the genuine source of every Christian and social virtue.

Having detailed these five distinct objects, your committee beg leave to state that as they conceive that after exhausting those purposes, there ought to remain a sum of at least £5,000 per annum at the disposal of the Association—they would recommend that such sum should be allowed to accumulate in the public funds, and that out of such accumulation the Catholic Association should from time to time be at liberty to dedicate, in fair and reasonable proportions, in contributions towards erecting schools, building Catholic churches, and erecting and furnishing dwelling-houses for the clergy in the poorer parishes, and ameliorating in other respects the condition of the Catholic clergy in Ireland.

Your committee confidently hope that if the plan which they are about to suggest be adopted, such accumulation will greatly exceed £5,000 per annum and may be five times that sum, and thereby afford means of doing great and permanent good to the most estimable, laborious, learned, and pious clergy with which it has ever pleased the eternal wisdom to bless a faithful and suffering people.

The basis of our plan is founded on the extent of the Catholic population of Ireland. We may expect a good deal of assistance from the liberal portion of our Protestant fellow countrymen, but our reliance for success must be placed upon the numbers and patriotism of the Catholic people of Ireland. . . .

The detail of the plan of your committee is this. They purpose—

1st. That a monthly subscription should be raised throughout Ireland, to be denominated "the monthly Catholic rent."

2nd. That the Association should forthwith appoint two of its members [as] a secretary and [an] assistant in order to collect such subscriptions throughout Ireland.

3rd. That such secretary and assistant should immediately open an account with each parish in Ireland and enter therein the particulars of all monies subscribed by such parish[es].

4th. That the Association should adopt the most speedy means of nominating, in conjunction with the inhabitants of each parish, and if possible with the privity of the Catholic clergyman, a number of persons not to exceed twelve, nor less than three, in order to collect the subscriptions.

5th. That monthly returns be procured from such persons or from as many of them as possible, and that a monthly report, in writing, of the progress made in each parish be given in by the [parochial] secretary for the subscriptions to the secretary of the Catholics of Ireland, to be by him laid before the Association.

6th. That care be taken to publish in, or at least as near, each Catholic chapel as may be permitted by the clergy, the particulars of the sums subscribed in such parish[es], with the names of each subscriber, unless where the individuals shall choose to insert the subscription under the head[ing of] anonymous.

7th. That accounts of subscriptions, debtor and creditor, be published annually for the satisfaction of the subscribers and the public at large.

8th. That all subscriptions be paid, as soon as transmitted to Dublin, into the hands of the treasurer to the association.

9th. That an efficient committee of 21 members be appointed to superintend and manage the collection and expenditure of the subscription money, to be styled and to act as a committee of accounts.

10th. That no monies be expended without an express vote of the Association upon a notice regularly given.

11th. That the amount expected from each individual shall not exceed one penny per month, but that each individual shall be at liberty to give any greater monthly sum he pleases, not exceeding in the entire two shillings per month.

12th. That the guinea paid by each member of the Association on his admission be deemed and taken as part of the entire of the contribution of the individual to the subscription thus proposed, and that each member be requested to allocate his guinea to some particular parish.

13th. That each subscriber be at liberty to allocate his subscription either to the fund generally or to any particular object heretofore specified, and that such allocation be in every respect, strictly and without any deviation, attended to.

14th. That Daniel O'Connell, Esq., be appointed secretary for subscriptions, and James Sugrue, Esq., [act as] his assistant.

Your committee submit that if only one million of the six millions of Catholics which this country contains will contribute the small sum of one farthing a week each, the resources of the Association will exceed the estimate of expenditures heretofore detailed. They cannot doubt the readiness with which the subscription will be raised if proper means are taken to apply for it universally.

Your committee cannot conclude without expressing their decided conviction that if this plan shall be carried into complete operation, all the difficulties in the way of our emancipation will be speedily removed—and we shall have the glory as well as the advantage of carrying into effect the Christian principle of liberty of conscience.

Daniel O'Connell, Chairman.

Dublin Evening Post, 19 February 1824.