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Published online by Cambridge University Press:  06 April 2002


IN late-1800, after the passing of the Union, Lord Cornwallis wrote a carefully argued paper on Catholic emancipation in which he posed the chilling question:

What then have we done? We have united ourselves to a people whom we ought in policy to have destroyed.

That Cornwallis, one of the leading proponents of both the Union and Catholic emancipation, should have put the question in such stark terms is revealing. For him, Union without emancipation was worthless; the government would not secure the loyalty of the country, and there would never be a genuine uniting of the peoples on the two islands. The lord-lieutenant's analysis summed up the challenge facing the government towards the end of 1800: how to reconcile the claims of the Catholics with the fears of the Protestants before the beginning of the united kingdom on 1 January. This was a critical issue, because over the previous two years the government had tried to make the Union appear all things to all men, and all creeds. For some, the Union was supported because it seemed to be the best mechanism for securing Catholic emancipation; for others it was welcomed as a way of closing the door on the Catholics for ever. The political crisis of 1801 was a direct result of this confusion and culminated in both the collapse of the ministry and the end of Cornwallis's hopes of making the Union complete.

Research Article
Copyright © Royal Historical Society2000

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