Lucas, Frederick (1812–55), journalist and politician, was born 30 March 1812 at Westminster, second son of Samuel Hayhurst Lucas, a quaker and London corn merchant. His elder brother, Samuel Lucas (1811–65), became a noted journalist and social and educational reformer and married the sister of the radical MP John Bright (1811–89). Frederick was educated in a quaker school at Darlington (1819–27) and at the newly founded University College, London (as a dissenter, he could not then have attended Oxford or Cambridge). Like most British quakers, he supported catholic emancipation and often spoke on the subject at the university's Literary and Philosophical Society.
Conversion to catholicism His studies led to a period of religious scepticism (though he remained formally a member of the Society of Friends) during which he became a lifelong friend of John Stuart Mill. Lucas converted to catholicism on 22 December 1838. In 1840 he married Elizabeth Skidmore, the daughter of William Ashby, of Staines, Middlesex; she had converted to catholicism through Lucas's influence. They had two sons, the elder of whom died in infancy.
Lucas spoke of his faith in catholicism as having developed within a week after reading an apologetic work at the suggestion of a Jesuit priest; it has, however, been suggested that the process took place over two years of discussion with Thomas Chisholm Anstey. Lucas subsequently published an open letter to the Society of Friends explaining his resignation; he argued that the ‘inner light’ experienced by quakers was displayed by such catholic mystics as Teresa of Avila, and that the quaker quest for a religion inspired directly by God represented a dissatisfaction with the anarchic principle of protestantism and was best fulfilled by a return to catholic authority and unity. Lucas's own version of catholicism, however, drew more on continental-style devotionalism than on the subdued, introverted piety of the English ‘old catholic’ elite, which might be thought to bear more resemblance to quakerism; he was proud to share the pieties of the poor and denounced the ‘old catholics’ for being embarrassed by specifically catholic images and beliefs (particularly when they criticised him for placing an image of the Virgin Mary in a very prominent position on the editorial page of his newspaper).
Journalist and catholic activist On 16 May 1840 Lucas founded the Tablet, the first catholic weekly newspaper in England, with the backing of two catholic leather merchants, the Keasley brothers; the first issue published an uncompromising ‘Confession of our political faith’ and a letter of congratulations from Daniel O'Connell (qv). In February 1841 the Keasley brothers' business failed and the printer, a Conservative protestant called Cox, assumed control of the paper. After a pitched battle around the editorial office, in which Lucas came off victorious with the aid of a squad of Irish dock labourers, Cox established his own Tablet under the editorship of Michael Joseph Quin (qv) of the Dublin Review, while Lucas continued to produce his paper as the True Tablet. Cox's Tablet received clandestine support from Bishop Nicholas Wiseman, whom Lucas had alienated by his attacks on such catholic aristocrats as John Talbot, earl of Shrewsbury; Lucas, however, was victorious (largely through the public support he received from O'Connell), and the Tablet reverted to its original title in 1843 after its Cox–Quin rival ceased publication.
Lucas's increasingly bad relations with Wiseman reflected a wider ideological dispute. Having come to catholicism from dissent and political radicalism, Lucas entirely lacked the reverence for the anglican tradition felt by most Oxford Movement converts; throughout his career he loudly and publicly insisted that to call the Church of England a church and to describe its leaders as bishops was a miserable compromise with heresy, adding that the nearer such figures as J. H. Newman (qv) and E. B. Pusey approached to the catholic church, the more surely they would be damned if they failed to enter it. He did, however, develop friendly relations with Newman and, to a much greater extent, with his younger and more intransigent associates W. G. Ward and Frederick Oakeley after their conversion. Lucas came extremely close to preaching that all non-catholics would be damned (his brother – who later converted to catholicism and wrote his biography – recalled asking him about this and being given the double-edged answer that he would be an exception as he was so good). This did not stem from simple bigotry; Lucas had been greatly influenced by Thomas Carlyle and William Cobbett, who used an idealised portrayal of medieval catholic paternalism to criticise the elites of their own day for maintaining ancient privileges while disclaiming their corresponding social duties and disclaiming human fellowship with the teeming poor. Lucas believed in a hierarchical society but denounced the British aristocracy – catholic and protestant – for failing to perform their aristocratic duties, and was rapidly labelled a communist. In 1844 he took a leading role in introducing to Britain the Society of St Vincent de Paul – which he saw as embodying this ideal of Christian charity based on mutual devotion linking classes.
Views on Ireland Lucas believed that a just and moral society should be supervised and influenced by the catholic church, but that in order to perform this function the church must remain independent of state control. He believed that the catholic church in the UK should not seek financial support from the British state, and he later went so far as to declare that Maynooth should renounce the financial grant which it received from the state and rely entirely on voluntary contributions. He was an outspoken admirer of Archbishop John MacHale (qv), whose resistance to the national school system he endorsed, while denouncing Archbishop Daniel Murray (qv) of Dublin and his episcopal allies for their willingness to work the legislation on charitable bequests of Sir Robert Peel (qv) and to accept the so-called godless colleges.
Lucas believed that catholics should keep aloof from both British parties; that the Whigs were in fact as hostile to catholicism as the Tories, and that catholics who joined with or held office under them were either deliberately corrupt or cringingly subordinate. Given these views, his increasing alienation from British catholic elites, and his fierce commitment to the well-being of the poor (including the increasing numbers of Irish catholic immigrants in Britain), it is understandable that he came to identify with the Irish, with Daniel O'Connell, and even with the Young Irelanders to an extent virtually unparalleled among English catholics. However, Lucas initially opposed repeal of the union in the belief that it could be made beneficial to both parties through the advancement of catholic interests by Irish MPs at Westminster. He commented that if the union had not taken place Irish catholics would inevitably have been emancipated but those in Britain might have been excluded indefinitely. On visiting Ireland in January 1843 on business, however, he was horrified to witness poverty more stark and widespread than anything he had seen in Britain. Soon afterwards he announced his support for repeal, adding that the Irish would be morally justified in rebelling if they had any chance of success. He published an outspoken reply in the Tablet to the ‘Philalethes’ letters by Charles Edward Trevelyan (qv) on the repeal campaign, which had denounced it as an enormous bluff.
Lucas admired the Young Irelanders' advocacy of a long campaign of disciplined study and education. He introduced John Mitchel (qv) and Charles Gavan Duffy (qv) to Thomas Carlyle (bringing about a friendship which, in the case of the last, endured long after Lucas had taken to expressing the wish that after he died he hoped his soul would not go with Carlyle's). In 1844 Lucas influenced Duffy (who had developed a tendency towards religious scepticism without entirely lapsing) to return to the fervent practice of catholicism, which created a lasting bond between them.
Lucas raged in the Tablet against the shortcomings of British policy towards the famine, which he saw as proof of the scandalous hostility and neglect displayed towards the Irish by many British people (including catholics and excepting quakers). Under Carlyle's influence he had developed an increasingly hostile attitude towards political economy. His views have been criticised as reflecting a theocratic worldview, but although Lucas meant them to have a literal application, they rest on the same point made by Isaac Butt (qv) in The famine in the land – that the British public, while displaying a certain amount of sympathy for the suffering Irish, did not exhibit the total identification and willingness to sacrifice which might have been expected had a famine on the same scale occurred in some region of Britain. He joined with Archbishop MacHale in denouncing claims that Irish priests were inciting their parishioners to murder landlords such as Major Denis Mahon (qv); in Lucas's opinion there would have been far more landlords shot but for the moral restraint exercised by the priests.
In 1849 Lucas moved the publishing offices of the Tablet to Dublin, partly for ideological reasons and partly because increasing episcopal hostility was making England too hot to hold him. Although he had opposed the 1848 rising (he had published extensive disquisitions on military science to show the impossibility of success) he denounced the trials of the Young Irelanders as hopelessly unjust.
Tenant Leaguer and MP In August 1850 Lucas joined Duffy in founding the Tenant League, which developed out of a local agitation begun in Callan, Co. Kilkenny, and allied itself with a body of presbyterian tenant-right advocates in Ulster (among them William Sharman Crawford (qv) and James MacKnight (qv)). He was also active in the creation of the Catholic Defence Association (CDA), a body formed to agitate against Lord John Russell's government after the passage of the Ecclesiastical Titles Act (1851), which included a number of Irish Liberal MPs, notably John Sadleir (qv), William Keogh (qv), and George Henry Moore (qv). The CDA was strongly supported by Paul Cullen (qv), the new archbishop of Armagh (archbishop of Dublin from 1852), whom Lucas, like MacHale, regarded as a longstanding ally. In 1851 Lucas supported an alliance between the two groups despite Duffy's misgivings.
In 1852 Lucas was elected MP for Co. Meath with the support of Bishop John Cantwell (qv) (a leading ally of MacHale), defeating Henry Grattan Jr. (qv), whom he accused of insufficient zeal on the land issue. In December 1852 he believed that the Independent Irish Party should keep Lord Derby's ministry in office for the sake of the Land Bill put forward by Joseph Napier (qv), but yielded to the majority view. When Sadleir and Keogh accepted office under the new Whig–Peelite government he regarded this as both a personal and a political betrayal, and the refusal of Cullen to condemn the defectors began his estrangement from Lucas. Lucas subsequently denounced the presbyterian tenant-righters for palliating acceptance of office, accusing them of having been bought off by increased government grants to presbyterian causes.
Lucas soon established himself as one of the main spokesmen and most able members of the independent party, making several speeches in favour of tenant right and in defence of catholic interests. He campaigned for measures to safeguard catholic soldiers, convicts, and workhouse inmates from being coerced into renouncing their faith by bigoted protestant officials and superiors. In his last years Lucas laboured for the establishment of catholic industrial schools in Ireland, both as a safeguard against proselytism of catholic children forced into protestant institutions, and as a relief measure for the all-too-visible vagrancy and poverty. He was even able to score a parliamentary triumph in a debate where he defended the unpromising view that the Grand Duke of Tuscany was perfectly entitled to imprison those of his subjects who, having converted to protestantism from catholicism, sought to convert others. At the same time he admitted that he was ‘a member of an unpopular minority, an unpopular member of that minority, and disliked even by the greater number of the small party’ (Finlay, 373).
After an absence through illness in 1853, Lucas returned to denounce Cullen for urging the clergy to abstain from political activity and drawing up rules which allowed unsympathetic bishops to impose severe restrictions on their priests' political interventions – the first victims being the ‘Callan curates’, Frs Matthew Keeffe (qv) and Thomas O'Shea (qv). Lucas formally appealed to Rome against this decision, but found that only a small number of priests and MPs were prepared to sign a statement in his favour. After visiting Rome and meeting Pius IX and various curial officials (who received him sympathetically but were unmoved) he devoted the last months of his life to drawing up a massive formal statement of his case. This argued that landlord dominance of Irish elections was such that only the priests could provide the nucleus of an opposition to them; that it was inconsistent of Cullen to call on catholic peasants to risk their livelihood and their families in electing MPs to oppose an anti-catholic government and then allow those MPs to decline the very moderate sacrifice of refusing to take office under that government; that certain bishops and priests (some of whom he accused by name) used their influence in ways which would not be affected by the ban to support landlord candidates for the sake of their own interests or those of their families; and that by abstaining from political agitation, except under extraordinary circumstances, the clergy would abdicate their natural leadership role and provide an opening for genuine enemies of the church. This failed to persuade Rome to override Cullen; Lucas appears to have been haunted by the expectation that this would be the case, and by the problems this posed for his vision of the church. Before his death he wrote: ‘I have never valued life very much, and now less than ever’ (Capuchin Annual, 492–3). He returned to England in failing health from the cardiac disease which led to his death, on 22 October 1855 at Staines, Middlesex; he was buried at Brompton cemetery. His death was marked by displays of popular grief and devotion.
Assessment In the decades after his death Lucas was recalled as a martyr to the short-sighted autocracy of Archbishop Cullen, a view encouraged by the combination of independent opposition and land agitation by the Home Rule party from the 1880s (a campaign involving the participation of numerous priests and some bishops) and by the publication of Duffy's memoirs and of an official life by his brother Edward. In his book Great catholic laymen (1905) John J. Horgan (qv) presented him as a model of catholic action. Even Ian Paisley (qv) has held up Lucas as a sincere dupe manipulated and discarded by Rome.
However, it has been pointed out that Lucas's tenant-right allies represented large farmers rather than the very poor who were his chief concern, and that the decline of the Tenant League owed as much to rising agricultural prices as to Cullen's decrees or the defection of Sadleir and Keogh. It is arguable that one of the central aims of catholic emancipation was to secure catholic representation in the administration, and that the uncompromising catholic party favoured by Lucas ran the risk of being isolated and sidelined. It is undeniable that Lucas engaged in personal abuse and vilification venomous even by the standards of nineteenth-century political and theological controversy, and that he was extremely reluctant to believe that anyone who disagreed with him could possibly be honest or sincere. His quasi-theocratic ideal can be criticised as backward-looking and as subject to all-too-obvious abuses when put into practice.
Nevertheless, it may be said of Lucas that, while the ideology of catholic paternalism was often interpreted in a condescending and patronising manner, he actually meant it, and in its name became ‘a man who, for the sake of God, devoted endowments which might have raised him to a first place in his own prosperous country, to the services of the poorest people and the most unprosperous nation in Christendom’ (Duffy, League, 347). Righteous anger is pardonable in a man who had witnessed a nation reduced to beggary and a million people starved to death; and his political experiences raise questions which still resonate for any religious believer or conviction politician trying to operate in a political system whose predominant values are at odds with his deepest beliefs.