Hidden Glasgow

Sir Robert Peel

Sir Robert Peel,
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to this happy change Peel, by principle and example, contributed in no small degree. The period from the time in which he took his seat in the House of Commons down to the moment of his untimely death, was one of amazing changes in the domestic legislation of this country. During that time the penal laws against the Roman Catholics were expunged from the statute-book; parliamentary reform opened the doors of the Constitution to greater masses of our countrymen; commerce was relieved, and the homes of the people were gladdened by the abolition of the obnoxious Corn Laws. And to all these, Sir Robert Peel, by patient labour, unwearied energy, and judicious administration, contributed in no small degree. The occasion of his great speech on Catholic Emancipation was one of the most memorable days in the history of the House of Commons that the century had seen. At ten o’clock in the morning the crowd began to assemble at the House of Commons, although they knew that the public would not be admitted till six, when the House would begin its sitting. The House of Lords went through its business as expeditiously as possible, early in the afternoon, in order that peers might have an opportunity of witnessing a political combat which would become historic in the annals of Britain’s great constitutional assembly. Peel began his memorable speech in favour of the Bill, deeply impressed with the magnitude of the measure and the objections that might be raised against it. He solemnly stated that the time had now come when the concessions could be granted with perfect safety to the Established Protestant religion of the country, and to the strengthening and consolidation of the nation’s dignity and power. The concessions he proposed admitted the Roman Catholics to Parliament, and to the highest military and civil offices, except those connected with church patronage, with education, and with the administration of the ecclesiastical law, on taking an oath of allegiance to king and country. The discussion was brilliant on both sides, and the excitement great. When the result of the voting was announced it showed that the Government had gained their measure by a majority of 104 votes. It may interest the young people who read these pages, and who yet know little of the strange freaks which the whirligig of political fortune takes, that at the time of this memorable debate both Benjamin Disraeli and William Ewart Gladstone were coming into notice, the former as one of the bitterest of the Whigs, and the latter as one of the keenest of the Tories.

January, 1837, was a month long to be remembered in the academic and the political annals of Glasgow. The students of our venerable and distinguished university had elected Sir Robert Peel to the office of Lord Rector, an office which was the highest in their power to bestow, and one which has been occupied by some of the most illustrious men which our country has produced. Lord Jeffrey, Lord Macaulay, Campbell the poet, Lord Palmerston, Disraeli, Lord Lytton, and other distinguished men have held the office, and Sir Robert Peel himself said, on the occasion of his installation, that of all the honours bestowed upon him he was proudest of this. On the 11th of January, 1837, he came to the city to deliver his inaugural address to the students of the university, which had done him such an honour, and for three days thereafter the illustrious statesman was feted in a manner which has seldom in the same circumstances fallen to the lot of any public man. The address was delivered before a crowded assembly in the Common Hall of the old university in High Street, the Duke of Montrose being present as Chancellor. Principal Macfarlane presided, and amongst the professors was the


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