Roman Catholic Emancipation (or Relief) Acts

Roman Catholic Emancipation (Or Relief) Acts.

After the Reformation, both in England and in Scotland, Roman Catholics were subjected to many legal penal regulations and restrictions. As late as 1780, the law of England — which, however, was not always rigidly enforced — made it felony in a foreign Roman Catholic priest and high treason in a native to teach the doctrines or perform the rites of his Church. Roman Catholics could not acquire land by purchase. If educated abroad in the Roman Catholic faith, they were declared incapable of succeeding to real property, which went to the next Protestant heir. A son or other nearest relation being a Protestant was empowered to take possession of the estate of his Roman Catholic father or other kinsman during his life. A Roman Catholic could not be guardian even of Roman Catholic children, he was excluded from the legal profession; and it was a capital offense for a Roman Catholic priest to celebrate a marriage between a Protestant and a Roman Catholic. In 1780 it was proposed to repeal some of the severest disqualifications in the case of those who would submit to the following test. This test included an oath of allegiance to the sovereign, an abjuration of the Pretender, and a declaration of disbelief inl the several doctrines that it is lawful to put heretics to death, that no faith is to be kept with heretics, that princes may be deposed or put to death, and that the pope is entitled to any temporal jurisdiction within the realm. This bill eventually passed into law in England. In 1791 a bill was passed affording further relief to such Roman Catholics as would sign a protest against the temporal power of the pope and his authority to release from civil obligations. In the following year, by the statute 33 Geo. III, c. 44, the severest of the penal restrictions were removed from the Scottish Roman Catholics upon taking a prescribed oath and declaration. The agitation in Ireland caused by these restrictions led to the Irish rebellion of 1798, while the union of 1800 was brought about by means of pledges regarding the removal of the disabilities in question. The agitation upon the subject increased; and at last the duke of Wellington was brought to the conviction that the security of the empire would be imperilled by further resistance of the Roman Catholic claims, and in 1829 a measure was introduced by the duke's ministry for Catholic emancipation. An act having been first passed for the suppression of the Roman Catholic Association — which had already voted its own dissolution — the celebrated Roman Catholic Relief Bill was introduced by Mr. Peel in the House of Commons on March 5, and, passing both houses, received the royal assent April 13. By this act (10 Geo. IV, c. 7) an oath is substituted for the oaths of allegiance, supremacy, and abjuration, on taking which Roman Catholics may sit or vote in either house of Parliament, and be admitted to most offices from which they were formerly excluded. Restrictions which existed on Roman Catholic bequests were removed by 2 and 3 Will. 4, c. 115, as regards Great Britain, and by 7 and 8 Vict. c. 60, with relation to Ireland. Later acts abolished a few minor disabilities.

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