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Wellington and the “Open Question”: The Issue of Catholic Emancipation, 1821–1829

Abstract

For all the recognition of the immense importance of Catholic Emancipation, both in itself and for what it is supposed to have led to (most notably, parliamentary reform), significant questions still surround it. Why, after Daniel O'Connell's victory in County Clare in June 1828 precipitated a crisis, did that crisis drag on for more than six months of perpetual wavering and mixed signals from the British government? Why was a cabinet not summoned? Why did the prime minister so long refuse either to confide in or to remove the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland? Finally, what was the likely effect of these months of shuffling and confusion in shaping the course of politics in the years to come?

The Duke of Wellington is central to answering such questions. Before 1828, Wellington was a key player whose doubts and fears were broadly representative of those that reshaped the positions of many of emancipation's most powerful opponents and brought them around to the necessity of accepting the measure. In 1828 and 1829 as prime minister, Wellington made decisions that were critical in determining how the measure would be carried. Some of those decisions had an important bearing on how emancipation was received in the country and therefore on the political divisions that followed.

The explanation usually given for the government's failure to act is that the king refused to permit it and would not allow the cabinet to consider the matter. In January, when the king asked Wellington to form a government, he had stipulated and the duke had agreed that Catholic Emancipation should not be a government measure.

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R. W. Davis , “Wellington, the Constitution, and Catholic Emancipation,” Parliamentary History, vol. 15, no. 2 (1996): 209–14

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Albion
  • ISSN: 0095-1390
  • EISSN: -
  • URL: /core/journals/albion
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