Front Page Titles (by Subject) CHAPTER XXIV.: Ireland, 1782–1789. - A History of England in the Eighteenth Century, vol. VI
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CHAPTER XXIV.: Ireland, 1782–1789. - William Edward Hartpole Lecky, A History of England in the Eighteenth Century, vol. VI 
A History of England in the Eighteenth Century (London: Longmans, Green, and Co., 1878, 1917). 8 Vols. Vol. VI.
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The victory which had been achieved by the Irish popular party in 1782 was a great one, but many elements of disquietude were abroad. An agitation so violent, so prolonged, and so successful, could hardly be expected suddenly to subside, and it is a law of human nature, that a great transport of triumph and of gratitude must be followed by some measure of reaction. Disappointed ambitions, chimerical hopes, turbulent agitators thrust into an unhealthy prominence, the dangerous precedent of an armed body controlling or overawing the deliberations of Parliament, the appetite for political excitement to which Irishmen have always been so prone, and which ever grows by indulgence, the very novelty and strangeness of the situation, all contributed to impart a certain feverish restlessness to the public mind. Unfortunately, too, one of the foremost of Irish politicians was profoundly discontented. Flood, who had been the earliest, and, for a long period, by far the most conspicuous advocate of the independence of the Irish Parliament, found himself completely eclipsed by a younger rival. He had lost his seat in the Privy Council, his dignity of Vice-Treasurer, and his salary of 3,500l. a year, but he had not regained his parliamentary ascendency. All the more important constitutional questions were occupied by other, and usually by younger, men. He was disliked By the Government and distrusted by the Parliament. Even his eloquence had lost something of its old power, and by too frequent speaking in opposition to the sense of the House, he had often alienated or irritated his hearers.
Yelverton was made Attorney-General, and Burgh Prime Sergeant, but the Govenment had no wish to restore Flood to his office, though they were willing to replace him in the Privy Council. Their intentions, however, in this respect were frustrated by a curious blunder. One of the most remarkable facts in this period of Irish history is the number of false steps which were due, not to any miscalculations of leading statesmen, but simply to the carelessness of subordinate officials. We have already seen that the insertion of Ireland in four or five very insignificant British Acts, at a most critical moment and in defiance of the warnings of the viceroy, had been one of the chief circumstances in creating the violent demand for independence, and that, in the opinion of Lord Carlisle, this insertion was due to pure inadvertence, official draughtsmen having probably copied the forms of previous Acts.1 In 1782 the Government at last consented, after a long struggle, to accept the Bill making the judges removable only by the address of the two Houses of Parliament in Ireland, and to relinquish the disputed clause making the concurrence of the Irish Privy Council indispensable; but the Bill had scarcely been returned from England, when Shelburne wrote in much alarm to Portland that he had discovered that, ‘by a mere mistake of the Council Office,’ the very clause which was the subject-matter of dispute had been inserted, though ‘it was not intended to have been adopted by the Committee of Privy Council,’ and he begged the Lord Lieutenant to take such measures that no bad consequences should follow from the error.2 In the dealings with Flood a much more serious mistake was made. The Lord Lieutenant thought it very desirable to enter into negotiation with him, and he wished to be authorised in the course of this negotiation, if he thought it expedient, to offer Flood a seat in the Privy Council; but a clerk by some strange mistake sent the nomination which was meant to be conditional, and at the option of the Lord Lieutenant, meant to be conditional, and it was from this source that Flood first learnt the intentions of the Ministers. He refused to accept the position, and the Lord Lieutenant spoke with very justifiable irritation of the great injury that was done to the public service by the premature disclosure.3 Portland regarded Flood with much dislike. ‘His ambition,’ he said, ‘is so immeasurable that no dependence can be placed upon any engagement he may be induced to form.’1
The question of the sufficiency of the measures that had been taken for securing the constitutional independence of the Irish Parliament, had been raised in a discussion on the clause of the Address, which stated that ‘there will no longer exist any constitutional question between the two nations that can disturb their mutual tranquillity.’ Flood described this clause as superfluous and possibly dangerous, but he refused to divide against it, and the only two members who voted for its omission were Sir Samuel Bradstreet the Recorder of Dublin, and an able lawyer named Walshe, who first raised in Ireland the question of the adequacy of what was termed ‘simple repeal.’ The nature of this question may be stated in a few words. The Irish Parliament in 1782 had asserted its own independence of the British Legislature, and the British Parliament had responded by repealing the Declaratory Act of George I., which asserted the legislative and judicial power of Great Britain over Ireland. It was contended by the two lawyers I have mentioned, that as a matter of law this measure was insufficient So annul the assumed right of the British Parliament to legislate for Ireland. The Declaratory Act had not made the right, and therefore its repeal could not destroy it. Long before that Act had passed, the right of the English Parliament to legislate for Ireland had been asserted by Coke and other great authorities—had been frequently exercised and had been frequently acquiesced in. If it existed then, it existed still, and although as a matter of expediency the English Parliament had withdrawn its assertion, it was open to it at any time to renew it. No lawyer, it was said, would assert that the assumed right of Great Britain to legislate for Ireland could be taken away by implication. ‘The repeal of a declaratory statute is not in construction of law a repeal or renunciation of the principle upon which that statute was founded.’ It leaves the legal right exactly as it was before the Declaratory Act had passed. Nothing but an Act of the British Parliament expressly relinquishing or disclaiming the right to legislate for Ireland could be legally sufficient. Ireland must not rest content with ‘a constructive freedom.’ She must obtain such an explicit renunciation from Great Britain as would put an end to all further controversy and cavil, and become a perpetual charter of her freedom. The language of Fox in moving the repeal of the Act of George I. seemed to draw some distinction between external and internal legislation, and to foreshadow an attempt to retain some part of the former.
These arguments were at first treated in the Irish Parliament with much contempt, and were regarded merely as the quibbles of lawyers, and, although Flood soon after adopted them and brought them forward on several occasions, he found the great majority against him. Grattan, especially, contended that nothing could be more impolitic, nothing more ungrateful, nothing more dangerous, than to reopen a question which Parliament had solemnly pronounced to be closed. The dealings of nations, he said, must rest upon broad principles of equity and not upon mere legal special pleading, and it was plain that England in repealing the Declaratory Act had taken a step which was morally equivalent to a renunciation. She had in the first place formally asserted her right to legislate for Ireland. She had then, in consequence of an address of the Irish House of Commons denying that right, and with the avowed object of meeting the wishes of the Irish people, as formally retracted and expunged her assertion, and she had thus in effect disavowed or resigned the right. No reasonable man could doubt that this was the plain meaning of the transaction, nor could England revive her claim without the grossest perfidy. But if the supposition of perfidy were admitted, an Act of renunciation would be as useless as simple repeal. Nations cannot be bound like individuals by bonds or warrants. Parliament might renounce its own renunciation, and what one Parliament had enacted, another might repeal. Good faith alone could maintain the connection, and the good faith of England was already pledged to Irish independence. Ireland, it was said, might justly demand the withdrawal of a claim which was an act of usurpation, but with what consistency could she call upon England to renounce rights which she denied that England had ever possessed, or, while assuming to be an independent nation, seek the charter for her freedom in a foreign Statute-book? The Irish Parliament had stated its grievances, had received redress, had acknowledged itself satisfied. A new demand could only be regarded as an unworthy attempt to humiliate England. Its only effect would be to shake the confidence of the people in their Constitution; to prolong a period of very dangerous agitation; to foster animosity and distrust between the two countries at a time when it was vitally important to Ireland and to the Empire that all such feelings should be speedily allayed.
These views predominated in the Irish Parliament, and they would no doubt have predominated in the country had not a series of very unfortunate incidents, originating in England, inflamed the jealousy of the nation. Lord Beauchamp, the son of Lord Hertford, strenuously maintained both in the British Parliament and in a pamphlet which was widely read, that simple repeal was entirely insufficient, unless it was accompanied by a formal renunciation.1 Lord Abingdon—a not very conspicuous member of the English House of Lords—moved for leave to bring in a Bill declaring the right of the Parliament of Great Britain to regulate and control the whole external commerce and foreign trade of Ireland, and repealing any legislation that withdrew any portion of the commerce of Ireland from its control. The Bill was never, it is true, formally introduced, but its mere announcement was quite sufficient to excite consternation in Ireland.2 Then came the news that two trade laws had passed in England which were drawn up—it is said through the inadvertence of clerks—in such a way as to include Ireland,3 and about the same time Lord Mansfield decided an Irish law case, which had come up on appeal to the Court of King's Bench before the late Act had passed. All these things occurred within a few months of the establishment of the Constitution of Ireland, and at the very time when a great reaction of feeling was most to be apprehended. It was known that the Constitution of 1782 had been reluctantly conceded, that it had been conceded mainly in consequence of the desperate condition of public affairs, that it was detested by the Tory party on grounds of prerogative and by a large section of the Whig party as putting an end to the system of commercial monopoly. Lord Rockingham, whose character was universally respected, had just died. The dispute for his succession had thrown English politics into great confusion and uncertainty, and brought other men to the helm, and Portland was now replaced by Lord Temple as Lord Lieutenant of Ireland. It was widely believed that there was a disposition on the part of men in authority to undo in time of peace what had been granted in time of war, and a revulsion of feeling speedily set in. The judges, indeed, in Ireland, and several of the leading lawyers, asserted the sufficiency of what had been done, but the lawyers corps of volunteers, which comprised a very large part of the legal profession, drew up a declaration that in their opinion no real security had been obtained, until the British Legislature had in express terms acknowledged its incapacity to legislate for Ireland. The popularity of Grattan suddenly sank, and that of Flood rose with a corresponding rapidity. It was said that the nation was deceived, that nothing had been really gained, that England was already showing a manifest disposition to withdraw what she had granted.
These suspicions were not unnatural, but they were certainly essentially unfounded. The conduct of Lord Mansfield, though much contested, was thought by the best lawyers to be in accordance with law, as the case which he decided had been entered in his court before the jurisdiction of that court was removed. Lord Beauchamp spoke solely in the interests of Ireland; Lord Abingdon had no connection with the Government, and the two English Bills in which Ireland was involved appear to have been only another instance of the gross carelessness of the official draughtsmen. It is, however, perfectly true that the English Ministers had from the first disliked the new Irish Constitution, and aimed at an ideal which was wholly different. To any statesman, indeed, who looked on the question with real prescience and without illusion, it must have been evident that the complete independence of the Irish Parliament as it was established in 1782, if it remained unqualified by any further arrangement, must weaken and might endanger the Empire. It was true, indeed, that at this time the one essential condition of co-operation subsisted. There could be no reasonable doubt that the Irish Parliament, and the classes it represented, were unfeignedly and heartily loyal to the British connection. But was it quite certain that this state of things would always continue? Strange as it may now appear, the danger of a rebellious Catholic interest appears at this time to have been little felt. The general conservatism of Catholicism throughout the Continent; the total abstinence of the priesthood from Irish politics; the sincere and undoubted loyalty of the Catholic gentry; the passive attitude of the Catholic population during all the political troubles of the eighteenth century; the authority which the landlords exercised over their tenants; the complete concentration in Protestant hands of the elements of political power, and the enormous superiority of the Protestants in energy and intelligence, made danger from this quarter appear very remote. But among the Presbyterians of the North, and in the ranks of the volunteers, there were some disquieting signs of a republican and anti-English spirit, and if, by any change in its Constitution, these elements became ascendant, or even powerful, in the Irish Parliament, there was everything to be feared. A separate Irish Parliament consisting of men who were disloyal to the English Government could only lead either to complete separation or to civil war. It would be the most powerful and the most certain agent that the wit of man could devise for organising the resources of Ireland against England.
This contingency might appear a distant one, but even without any serious or reasoned disloyalty, there were in the Constitution of 1782 grave possibilities of conflict, and they were fully present to the minds of the English statesmen who originally consented to it. Fox declared, in the most emphatic language, that ‘the intentions of those Ministers who had sent the repeal of the declaratory law [to Ireland] were thereby to make a complete, absolute, and perpetual surrender of the British legislative and judicial supremacy over Ireland,’1 but he afterwards acknowledged that it was only with extreme re luctance, and in consequence of what he regarded as irresistible necessity, that he consented to the surrender of the right of external or commercial legislation, which left the Empire without one general superintending authority to embrace and comprehend the whole system of its navigation.1 The surrender had been made, but he desired that the two nations should enter into a treaty arrangement, which would draw them more closely together, and one of the resolutions of the English Parliament, which has been already quoted, pointed to such a treaty.2 ‘As there can no longer exist any grounds of contest or jealousy on matters of right between the two countries,’ wrote Rockingham to Portland, ‘the only object of both will be how finally to arrange, settle, and adjust all matters whereby the union of power and strength and mutual and reciprocal advantage may be best permanently fixed.’3
Portland, however, was aiming at something more than this; and his secret correspondence shows that he was extremely anxious to regain for England a very large part of the legislative supremacy which had been surrendered. I have already referred to the letter in the beginning of May, in which he expressed his sanguine hope that the Irish Parliament would be prepared to enter into a treaty, either with Commissioners from the English Parliament, or through the medium of the Lord Lieutenant, ‘to settle the precise limits of that independence which is required, the consideration that should be given for the protection expected, and the share it would be proper for them to contribute towards the general support of the Empire.’ ‘The regulation of their trade,’ he added, ‘is a subject which, I think, would very properly make a part of the treaty,’ and he concluded that without such an adjustment the country would not be worth possessing, and that it might even be advisable to abandon it altogether.4 It soon, however, appeared evident that the Irish leaders, though they were quite ready to vote additional sailors and soldiers for Imperial purposes, were not prepared at this time to enter into any treaty which would restrict their future liberty of action. In June, Fitzpatrick, the Chief Secretary, was authorised, in the Irish Parliament, publicly to disavow any intention of bringing forward further measures grounded on the second resolution of the British Parliament.1 But within three days of this disavowal, certain hopes which had been held out by an obscure Irish member named Ogilvie, had drawn Portland into a new negotiation. Without the knowledge of his Chief Secretary, and with the most urgent injunctions of secrecy, he wrote to Shelburne, expressing his hope that the Irish Parliament might be induced to pass an Act ‘by which the superintending power and supremacy of Great Britain in all matters of State, and general commerce, will be virtually and effectually acknowledged, that a share of the expense in carrying on a defensive or offensive war, either in support of our dominions or those of our allies, shall be borne by Ireland in proportion to the actual state of her abilities, and that she will adopt every such regulation as may be judged necessary by Great Britain for the better ordering and securing her trade and commerce with foreign nations, or her own colonies or dependencies.’2 Shelburne received the intimation with delight. ‘Let the two kingdoms,’ he wrote, ‘be one; which can only be by Ireland now acknowledging the superintending power and supremacy to be where Nature has placed it, in precise and unambiguous terms.’3 In a few days, Portland wrote with great mortification, that he had discovered that it was at this time perfectly hopeless attempting to induce Parliament to adopt any such scheme, but it is probable that the rumour of his negotiations spread abroad, and contributed something under the new viceroyalty to the prevailing uneasiness.
Lord Temple had arrived in Dublin on September 15, and his first impression was, that the task he had undertaken was almost desperate. In some very confidential letters to Shelburne, he depicted the state of the country in the blackest colours. ‘No Government,’ he says, ‘exists.’ ‘Those to whom the people look up with confidence are not the Parliament, but a body of armed men composed chiefly of the middling and lower orders, influenced by no one, but leading those who affect to guide them.’ ‘There is hardly a magistrate who will enforce, or a man who will obey any law to which he objects.’ Every day, he said, confirmed his opinion of the necessity of maintaining the strongest opposition to Flood, and to the majority of the volunteers. For this purpose he had made immediate overtures to Charlemont, but he wrote to Shelburne ‘in the strictest confidence,’ and with a desire that it should be communicated to no one but the King, that he had no real wish to add weight to Lord Charlemont's party. His object was to prevent that party from flying off in support of Mr. Flood's doctrines which were daily growing more popular, and also ‘to foment that spirit of disunion among the volunteers, upon which alone,’ he said, ‘I found my hopes of forming a Government.’ The middle and lower classes of volunteers were fast ranging themselves under the banner of Flood, but Flood was universally disliked by the nobility and persons of property, and he must be resisted or possibly bought. ‘It is my unalterable opinion,’ wrote the Lord Lieutenant, ‘that the concession is but the beginning of a scene which will close for ever the account between the two kingdoms.’ ‘Much time is necessary to recover to the Crown that energy which alone can check a ferment that confines itself to no settled objects, but pervades every part of Ireland.’ The one chance of securing the authority of the Government, lay in the Irish Parliament. ‘The country is too wild to act from reflection, and till you can oppose Parliament effectually to the volunteers, nothing can be done.’ Grattan was decided to stand his ground, and confident of success if the Government would support him. ‘Nothing but a Parliament,’ repeated Temple, ‘can recover the Government, and be opposed to the volunteers,’ and he urged the Government to hasten the elections and summon speedily a new Parliament.1
The picture must be judged with some allowance for the colouring of a mind which was always peculiarly prone to exaggerate difficulty and opposition. In one respect Temple speedily changed his policy. ‘No terms of reprobation,’ he wrote in October, could be too strong to apply to the ‘execrable and iniquitous publication of Lord Beauchamp,’ but when in the following month the decision of Lord Mansfield was aunounced, it appeared to him that both in policy and honour a new course was required.1
‘The claim,’ he then wrote, ‘so solemnly made, was as solemnly yielded by England, and the repeal of the 6 George I. was understood by England and accepted by the Parliament of Ireland in their addresses to his Majesty, as a full and final renunciation of all claims of jurisdiction and of legislation internal and external. And to this compact the Duke of Portland was enabled to pledge his personal faith, and as far as my testimony could add to it, I conceived myself, on my arrival here, authorised to pledge the faith of the King's servants of England, and my own, that these concessions should be maintained inviolate. It is now certain, that notwithstanding this compact … Lord Mansfield has conceived himself authorised to entertain and decide a cause which had been removed into his court prior to the passing of the Act.’ Such a measure might be legal, but it was a distinct breach of the compact by which the right to bind and to judge Ireland only by her own laws and by her own courts was clearly yielded.2
There were those in Ireland who maintained with Flood that an Act of renunciation was imperatively necessary to the security of the Constitution. There were those who, with Grattan, considered that such an Act was wrong in principle, and should not be conceded, and there were those who with Charlemont and Chief Baron Burgh considered that, though legally and constitutionally superfluous, it had become politically necessary, as the only means of allaying discontent. To this opinion Temple had now come. It would have been better in his opinion, ‘in the interest of the whole Empire, that external legislation (that is, the right of directing the commerce of Ireland) had been reserved by England.’ But it had not been reserved, and it remained only to fulfil religiously, the terms of the compact. He had been authorised to pledge the faith of Government, and his own, ‘that no attempt should be made to tread back one iota of concessions already made, or to break the good faith so solemnly pledged;’ and when ‘the question of the sufficiency of simple repeal was agitated from one end of the island to the other,’ he had declared in the strongest terms, and with the full approbation of the Government in England, that ‘simple repeal comprised complete renunciation.’ But the judgment of Lord Mansfield had baffled his policy. ‘I owe it to the King's service,’ he said, ‘to be understood clearly that there is not a man in Ireland (even of those who most firmly supported Lord Carlisle), who will maintain opinions favourable to this measure or even palliating it, and that the only reason for the appearance of a calm is that all Ireland is persuaded that England will explain this breach of compact. … If the rights specifically acknowledged by England should now be controverted (and I must contend from the clear and unequivocal words of the Irish address, that the right to bind and to judge Ireland only by her own laws and by her own courts was clearly yielded), I cannot hesitate to say that the public faith of the nation, and the private honour of individuals, are committed. Conceiving that this cannot be the intention of the Cabinet, I am only alarmed at the delay.’ Two Irish causes are now before the English House of Lords. If it should decide them, ‘I will not answer for the effect of such a judgment twenty-four hours after it is known.’ Ministers should consider ‘the danger to which the public tranquillity of Ireland is exposed, for want of a clear and satisfactory avowal of those principles upon which the Parliament of England proceeded in the month of June last, when they admitted the Irish addresses as the basis of their proceedings.’ ‘This crisis,’ he added, ‘will be decisive upon the practicability of governing Ireland by English connection and influence, for, as to an attempt by force (even if a foreign peace would permit it), I trust that the consideration is too wild to have occurred to any man.’1
The Government and Parliament of England acted frankly upon this advice, and, for the second time, they consented fully to meet the wishes of the Irish people. In the beginning of 1783, a renunciation Bill was carried without difficulty through the British Parliament,1 which completely set at rest every reasonable or plausible demand of the party of Flood. It declared that the ‘right claimed by the people of Ireland, to be bound only by laws enacted by his Majesty and the Parliament of that kingdom in all cases whatever, and to have all actions, and suits at law or in equity, which may be instituted in the kingdom, decided by his Majesty's courts, therein finally, and without appeal from thence, shall be, and it is hereby declared to be established, and ascertained for ever, and shall at no time hereafter be questioned or questionable,’ and that no writ of error or appeal from Ireland shall under any circumstances be again decided in England. No surrender or disclaimer could be more explicit or more honourable, and it must be remembered that it was not made by England at a time of great national danger, but at the very moment when the re-establishment of peace had restored her power. When Temple communicated the news to the King's servants in Ireland, the impression it made was very deep. ‘I found in everyone,’ he wrote, ‘the strongest impressions of the national good faith with which Great Britain has acted, at a moment when her external situation might possibly have given another turn to her councils.’2
The Renunciation Act forms the coping-stone of the Constitution of 1782, and before we proceed with our narrative it may be advisable to pause for a moment in order to form a clear conception of the nature of that Constitution—its merits, its defects, and its dangers. Much had indeed been gained—the independence of the judges, the control of the army, the appellate jurisdiction of the Irish House of Lords, the extinction of the power of the Privy Council to originate, suppress, or alter Irish legislation, the renunciation of the power of the British Parliament to legislate for Ireland, the full and repeated acknowledgment of the doctrine that the King, Lords and Commons of Ireland had alone the right to make her laws. An Irish Act of Henry VIII, and the Irish Act of recognition of William and Mary, had established that the crowns of England and Ireland were inseparable, so that whoever was King of England was ipso facto King of Ireland; but the two Legislatures were now regarded as independent, co-ordinate, and in their respective spheres co-equal.
It is sufficiently plain, however, that this was not, and could not be, the case. English Ministers were necessarily dependent on the support of the British Parliament and of that Parliament alone, and even apart from corrupt agencies, English Ministers exercised an enormous influence on Irish legislation. The King's veto was obsolete in England, but it was not likely to be obsolete in Ireland, and it could only be exercised on the advice of his Ministers in England. The British Parliament claimed and enjoyed a right of watching over and controlling the conduct of the Executive Government, even in the exercise of what are justly considered undoubted prerogatives of the Crown, and this right, or at least this power, was wholly, or almost wholly, wanting in Ireland. Even the English Privy Council, though it had lost all recognised and formal control over Irish legislation, still retained a not inconsiderable influence. When Bills were sent over from Ireland to receive the royal sanction, it was the custom to submit them in the first place to a committee of the Privy Council, who were instructed to examine them and report on them to the King's law officers in England. This wheel of the machine of administration, indeed, was not public, and it appears to have escaped the notice of historians, but there is reason to believe that it was not inoperative. Occasionally mistakes were detected by the Committee of the Privy Council in Bills which came over from Ireland, and the Secretary of State then directed the Lord Lieutenant to introduce into the Irish Parliament supplemental Bills for the purpose of correcting them, and sometimes, where this was not possible, Irish Bills were not returned.1
Much more important was the fact that there was, properly speaking, no ministry in Ireland responsible to the Irish Parliament. The position of Irish Ministers was essentially different from the position of their colleagues in England. Ministerial power was mainly in the hands of the Lord Lieutenant and of his Chief Secretary, and this latter functionary led the House of Commons, introduced for the most part Government business, and filled in Ireland a position at least as important as that of a Prime Minister in England. But the Lord Lieutenant and the Chief Secretary were not politicians who had risen to prominence and leadership in the Irish Parliament. They were Englishmen, strangers to Ireland, appointed and instructed by English Ministers, and changed with each succeeding Administration. The Irish Government was thus completely subordinated to the play of party government in England. An Irish administration which commanded the full confidence of the Irish Parliament might at any moment be overthrown by a vote in the English Parliament on some purely English question.
This appears to me to have been a fatal fault in the Constitution of 1782. It explains why the duty of ‘supporting English Government,’ as distinguished from party allegiance, was represented by very honest politicians, as a maxim essential to the safe working of the Irish Constitution. The form of Government was wholly different from that which now exists in the free colonies of England. In those colonies the English governor holds an essentially neutral position. He is appointed for a term of years irrespective of party changes, and although on a very few points affecting the Empire at large, he receives instructions from England, he is not the real source or originator of colonial legislation. The local Parliament divides itself into two great sections representing colonial opinions. Colonial parties are entirely distinct from English ones. The leaders of the dominant section become naturally the Ministers; and when one side of the House is discredited, power is at once and without difficulty transferred to the other. If the local Parliament desired to sever the connection with the mother country, it would be a most formidable instrument in doing so; but as long as it has no such wish, it is found by experience that under this system, great convulsions of opinion and changes of power may take place, either in England or the colonies, without in the smallest degree straining the connection, or affecting the position of the representative of the Crown. Colonial and English policy move on different planes, and except on very rare occasions there can be no friction or collision. But such a form of government as existed in Ireland must necessarily have led to the gravest contest, if the Irish Parliament became a really representative body, fluctuating with the fluctuations of Irish opinion, and at the same time moving on English party lines. It would be absurd to suppose that the balance of parties in the two Legislatures could be always the same, and would always vibrate in harmony, and it was not only possible, but in the highest degree probable, that the time would come when the full tide of party feeling would be running in one direction in England, and in the opposite in Ireland. Could a Constitution then subsist under which an English Cabinet appointed and directed the administration of Ireland?
Under any circumstances the difficulty of keeping the Irish Parliament free from the contagion of English party spirit must have been considerable. Ireland was too near England, and too variously and closely connected with her, not to feel her dominant impulses. Some seats in the Irish House of Commons were at the disposal of great English noblemen who were conspicuous in English politics. Flood, Conolly, and several of the Chief Secretaries held seats at the same time in the Parliaments both of England and Ireland, and close ties of friendship, relationship, and common education connected many of the leading personages in the two countries. Every cause that acted powerfully on English opinion was followed eagerly in Ireland, and some of the questions that were most vitally important to Ireland were party questions in England. Irish viceroys continually represented to the English Government the danger of introducing in England measures for parliamentary reform, or for the relief of the Catholics, on account of the influence they were certain to have in Ireland. But that part of the Constitution which made the Executive in Ireland mainly dependent on English party changes, made it impossible to keep Ireland permanently external to English party divisions, and in a reformed Parliament it could not, as it seems to me, have long continued.
I have already quoted the Duke of Portland's lament, in 1782, that he found the Whigs were not looked on in Ireland as in any way superior to the Tories; and that the general maxim of supporting the King's Government had taken the place of party allegiance.1 In 1784, the Duke of Rutland, who had just become Lord Lieutenant, in a confidential letter to Lord Sydney adopted the opposite view, and dwelt on it with great emphasis. He mentioned that the addresses to him on assuming the government of Ireland were carried through both Houses with the single dissent of the Duke of Leinster, who had privately informed him that he must oppose the Administration. This, Rutland said, showed an evident intention to make the present state of English politics a ground for opposition in Ireland, and he adds that, in agreement with most of the leading people in Ireland, he was very anxious ‘to separate and keep away every mixture of English politics and party division from the conduct of affairs.’ It would be, he said, ‘a most serious misfortune to Ireland, and a great risk to her tranquillity and good order, if she had any implication in the consequences of those divisions and animosities which unhappily prevail in Great Britain.’ It is impossible to draw off the attention of many considerable persons in Ireland from English politics. They do ‘very materially influence their conduct as to the degree of support and assistance they will engage to give.’ Security must be given, ‘on very high terms indeed, that particular persons shall be benefited, without being liable to disappointment in case of new changes in administration. I have not a doubt but that the principle of supporting English government prevails over any other, where no bias of interest is thrown on either side, and the good disposition towards his Majesty's service is very generally, and I believe sincerely, professed.’2
It must be added that the English doctrine that a parliamentary censure carried against a ministry, or the defeat of an important ministerial measure, must be followed by a resignation, was not recognised in Ireland. Of this fact we shall have more than one illustration in the following pages. The inferiority, however, of the Irish House of Commons in this respect, appears to me to have been a good deal exaggerated; for it is, I think, plain that a parliament, in which the ministers were in a permanent mimority, possessed ample power of driving them from office. If an English ministry, which has lost the confidence or incurred the condemnation of the House of Commons, now retires from office, this is not because there is any law compelling it to do so, but simply because the House of Commons exercises such a commanding power in the State that it would be impossible to govern without its concurrence. The Irish Parliament also, under the Constitution of 1782, possessed a great reserve of coercive power. Without the annual Mutiny Act the army could not be supported. Without the additional duties which were voted, at first biennially and afterwards annually, the public service could not be carried on. The magnitude of the hereditary revenue, and the absence of an appropriation Act, placed a much larger proportion of the revenues in Ireland out of the control of the Parliament than in England, and gave great facilities for corruption; but the hereditary revenue consisted mainly of duties voted in perpetuity, which could never be efficiently collected without the assistance of Parliament.1
These remarks will, I think, be sufficient to show how impossible it would have been to preserve the Constitution of 1782 unchanged, if the Irish Parliament was so constituted that the balance of political power fluctuated as frequently and decisively as in England. There were also certain other points on which there was much need of supplemental legislation, and which presented grave possibilities of difficulty and danger. If the Irish endeavoured to foster their industries by protective or prohibitory duties on English goods, they would be acting in perfect accordance with the economical notions prevailing in every leading country in Europe, and especially with the precedents of English policy. There was no treaty arrangement between the two countries which prevented such a course, but it was a course which might prove both economically and politically dangerous to England. Economically, it would close against English trade a market which, in the eighteenth century, had a great importance, and which commercial jealousy considerably overrated. Politically, it might loosen the connection between the two countries, produce feelings of alienation, if not of positive hostility, and greatly strengthen the connection between Ireland and France. It was quite possible that some foreign country might become more closely connected with Ireland than England. At the same time there was no provision whatever for the formation of an Irish navy, or for any participation of Ireland in the expense of the British Navy, which protected Irish commerce. It was noticed in 1783 that the whole navy of Ireland consisted of but six revenue cruisers.1
In foreign policy the position of Ireland was necessarily completely subordinate. The whole subject of peace and war, alliances and confederacies, lay beyond her domain. Whenever the King of England made peace or war, Ireland was involved in his act. A declaration of war in London at once exposed her coast to invasion. A treaty of peace at once rendered it secure and bound Ireland by its terms. It was no doubt technically true that peace or war lay within the prerogative of the Crown, but the Sovereign in these as in all other matters could only act by the advice of his English Ministers, and could only select as ministers those statesmen who were supported by a majority in the British Parliament and who were prepared to carry its policy into effect. It was probable that the declaration of war would be the issue of a long train of foreign policy, repeatedly discussed and modified by the British Parliament, but the Irish Parliament would have no voice in directing its course. It was probable that the war would arise from some question with which Ireland was totally unconcerned, perhaps some commercial question relating to parts of the world from which Irish commerce was excluded. Situated indeed as Ireland was, it was scarcely possible that she should have any enemies except those who were made so by British policy, yet she was perpetually liable to be involved in British wars.
She had, however, one power which might be very efficient, but also very dangerous, to the Empire. The actual participation of Ireland in the common cause could only be effected and sustained by the independent action of the Irish Parliament. If that Parliament, disapproving of the policy which led to the war, desiring to make its power felt in the only possible way in foreign politics, disliking the Ministry which made the war, or convinced that Ireland had no interest in its issue, thought fit to withhold its assistance, the Empire might in the most critical periods be deprived of a great portion of its strength, and Ireland by a tacit arrangement with the enemy might be at peace while England was at war. From a military point of view the importance of Ireland to England was very great. Her geographical position and her excellent harbours would make her invaluable to an enemy. In times of peace she maintained an army of 15,000 men, while Great Britain usually maintained only 17,000 or 18,000, and in every war she had contributed largely to the armies in the field.1 But under the Constitution of 1782 this assistance was purely optional, depending on the precarious and transient humours of a popular assembly. If the Irish Parliament at any time thought fit to reduce its army as excessive, it had full power to do so, and in time of war the danger that might result from the conflicting action of two independent Parliaments could hardly be overrated. In the great revolutionary war which filled the last years of the century, the English Parliament exhibited the spectacle of a minority which was fiercely opposed to the war and which did everything in its power to embarrass the Ministry that conducted it. Such a minority had a considerable and very injurious moral influence on the struggle, but being a minority it was not able to carry its designs into effect. But if the majority in the Irish Parliament had shared the sentiments of the minority in England, we should probably have seen Ireland neutralising her ports, withdrawing her troops, forbidding recruiting, passing votes of censure on the war, and addressing the King in favour of peace. Could it be questioned that under such circumstances the very existence of the Empire might have been endangered?
I hasten to add that these things never occurred. Nothing is more conspicuous in the history of the Irish Parliament than the discretion with which it abstained from all discussions on foreign policy, and the loyalty and zeal with which it invariably supported England in time of war. Pitt, in introducing the Union in 1799,1 dwelt strongly on the dangers I have described, and represented them as leading motives of his policy; but he at the same time acknowledged that the divergences in time of war between the two Parliaments which he so gravely feared, had in fact never occurred, and Foster in that great speech, which is perhaps the best argument against the Union, observed that ‘in points of peace and war the Irish Parliament had never even during centuries differed in opinion from the British, though its power to do so had been as free and unlimited before as since the Constitution of 1782.’ On no point was the policy of Grattan more strongly marked and more consistent than in the earnestness with which he urged that in all questions of peace and war, Ireland must unreservedly follow in the wake of England. But it is the part of a prescient statesman to look forward to distant dangers and to changed dispositions. If the overwhelming power of British Government on the Irish Parliament were withdrawn; if in time of war party passions raged, and factious talent was in the ascendant; if the Parliament of Ireland ceased to be drawn exclusively from classes that were thoroughly loyal to the connection, there were grave dangers to be feared. There is reason to believe that such dangers were already vividly present to the minds of English Ministers; and as early as 1783, the Duke of Richmond had declared in Parliament, that they could only be adequately met by ‘an incorporate Union.’2
The effect of the simple repeal controversy on Irish politics, was very pernicious. It prolonged for several months the period of agitation. It divided the national party in Ireland, and transferred the popular ascendency from Grattan to a man of much more doubtful purity of motive. It, above all, profoundly discredited the Irish Parliament. The English Act of Renunciation was accepted as a proof that the reasoning of Flood was correct, that nothing had before been secured, that the Irish Parliament, in maintaining the adequacy of simple repeal, was betraying the liberties of the country, and that those liberties had once more been saved by the volunteers. To the pressure exerted by that body, it was said, Ireland ultimately owed her free trade, the concessions of 1782, and the final charter of 1783, and had Parliament been her sole representative, no one of these things would have been obtained. Irish freedom was now established as far as words could settle it, but could it be safely entrusted to the guardianship of an assembly, in which twenty or thirty great borough-owners could always control a majority? Might not such a parliament, it was asked, be induced to sell to an English minister its independence, or even its separate existence? Flood strenuously maintained that one more great battle must be fought before the Irish Constitution could be secure. The volunteers must induce or coerce Parliament to pass such a reform bill as would make it a true representative of the Protestant section of the nation.
The question was not altogether a new one, nor was it exclusively of home growth. In England, as we have seen, parliamentary reform had acquired a foremost place among political topics, and there was scarcely any other which stirred so strongly the popular sentiment. Chatham had strenuously advocated it, and he had predicted that, ‘before the end of the century, either the Parliament will reform itself from within, or be reformed with a vengeance from without.’ The question was brought before the English Parliament with great elaboration by Wilkes in 1776, by the Duke of Richmond in 1780, by the younger Pitt in 1782 and in 1783. Propositions for disfranchising the rotten boroughs, for enfranchising the great manufacturing towns, for adding to the electors and to the members of the counties, for annual parliaments, for universal suffrage, and for equal electoral districts, had been eagerly discussed both in Parliament and beyond its walls. Powerful democratic societies had been formed in the great cities, and they were already in close correspondence with the Irish volunteers, and extremely anxious to induce them to make the attainment of parliamentary reform a capital object of their policy. It was obvious that a victory in one country would accelerate a victory in the other, and the arguments in favour of reform were much stronger in Ireland than in England. Among the English reformers who corresponded with the Irish volunteers were the Duke of Richmond, Price, Cartwright, and Lord Effingham. In June 1782 Portland, when forwarding to the Government an address from the volunteer delegates of Ulster, thanking the English Parliament for the concessions that had been made, mentions the appearance in their resolutions of ‘some new matter respecting the state of the representation in this country, which … has been endeavoured of late to be brought into discussion by a very active emissary, who has come from England expressly for that purpose;’1 but it was not until the simple repeal question was raised that the subject of reform acquired real importance. In March 1783 a provincial meeting of volunteers at Cork passed resolutions in favour of parliamentary reform, and on July 1 following, delegates of forty-five companies of Ulster volunteers assembled at Lisburne, resolved to convoke for the ensuing September a great meeting of volunteers at Dungannon, to consider the best way of obtaining a more equal representation in Parliament.
In truth, even putting aside the great anomaly that the Roman Catholics were wholly unrepresented, it was a mockery to describe the Irish House of Commons as mainly a representative body. Of its 300 members, 64 only represented counties, while 100 small boroughs, containing ostensibly only an infinitesimal number of electors, and in reality in the great majority of cases at the absolute disposal of single patrons, returned no less than 200. Borough seats were commonly sold for 2,000l. a parliament, and the permanent patronage of a borough for from 8,000l. to 10,000l. The Lower House was to a great extent a creation of the Upper one. It was at this time computed that 124 members of the House of Commons were absolutely nominated by 53 peers, while 91 others were chosen by 52 commoners.2
It needs no comment to show the absurdity and the danger of such a condition of representation. In Ireland, it is true, as in England, borough influence was not always badly used, and the sale of seats, and the system of nomination, neither of which carried with them any real reproach, introduced into Parliament many honourable, able and independent men, who were thoroughly acquainted with the condition of the country. But the state of the Irish representation was much worse than that of the English, and incomparably more dangerous to the Constitution of the country. England was at least her own mistress. The strongest minister only kept his power by a careful attention to the gusts of popular feeling, and no external power desired to tamper with her Constitution. But the relation of Ireland to England was such that it was quite conceivable that an Irish parliament might act in violent opposition to the wishes of the community which it represented, and quite possible that an English minister might wish it to do so. As long as the volunteers continued, public opinion possessed such a formidable and organised power that it could act forcibly on Parliament. But once that organisation was dissolved, the reign of a corrupt oligarchy must revive. However independent the Irish Parliament might be in the eyes of the law and in the theory of the Constitution, it could not fail to be a dependent and subordinate body holding a precarious existence, as long as a full third of its members were placemen or pensioners, and as long as the English Minister could control the election of the majority of its members. Some borough seats were at the disposal of bishops appointed by Government. Some were in the hands of great English noblemen. It was only necessary to secure a small number of great native borough-owners, to obtain a compact majority independent of all fluctuations of popular feeling. The lavish distribution of peerages had proved the cheapest and most efficacious means of governing Parliament, and a pamphleteer in 1783 reminded his countrymen that since 1762 inclusive, the Irish peerage had been enriched or degraded by the addition of thirty-three barons, sixteen viscounts, and twenty-four earls.1
During the short Administration of Lord Temple, which lasted only from September 1782 till the following spring, and corresponded with the Shelburne Ministry in England, the Reform agitation scarcely appeared. This Lord Lieutenant was son of George Grenville, and with a double share of the unhappy temper, he inherited much of the industry and something of the financial ability of his father. He succeeded in detecting and punishing several instances of great peculation in administration, and he announced to Lord Charlemont his firm intention of reducing ‘that impolitic and unconstitutional influence which has been the bane and ruin of both countries.’ During his government the order of the Knights of Saint Patrick was created, and Charlemont was one of its first members, and a scheme was adopted for establishing in Ireland a colony of refugees from Geneva, who desired to expatriate themselves on account of the aristocratic revolution which had just taken place in that city. It was hoped that they might introduce into Ireland some valuable industries and their excellent system of education, and a sum of 50,000l. was assigned for establishing the settlement at a place near the confluence of the Barrow and the Suir. A few refugees came over, but the plan ultimately failed on a dispute about terms. It is remarkable as showing how little the Irish Government dreaded the introduction into the country of extreme forms of continental democracy, and if it had succeeded it is probable that it would have brought to Ireland some men who bore a conspicuous part in the French Revolution.1
On the resignation of Shelburne, and the triumph of the coalition of Fox and North, Temple at once resigned his post, and Lord Northington was appointed to succeed him. English politics were, however, for some weeks in a state of extreme uncertainty and confusion, and although the resignation of Temple was sent in on March 12, it was not until June 5 that he was allowed to leave Ireland. He complained bitterly of the delay as a personal injury, and added that it was exercising a most dangerous influence in Ireland. ‘The very uncertain state of Government in England,’ he wrote, ‘has operated very strongly upon Irish Government, by unsettling the confidence and opinions which I have so eagerly laboured to impress.’ ‘The Government of this kingdom suffers by this interregnum to an extent which I cannot describe, and which will materially affect its political situation.’1
A dissolution, which immediately followed the arrival of Northington, contributed to maintain the political excitement. It was a significant indication of the relations between the King and his new Ministers, that some of the bishops refused to take the ordinary course of placing their borough patronage at the disposal of the Government;2 and among the lower classes a very bad harvest, followed by great commercial depression, prepared the way for political disaffection. The last letters of Lord Temple and the early letters of Lord Northington were full of complaints of the intensity of the distress. In November 1782, the Irish Parliament had laid an embargo on the export of corn, flour, and potatoes, and about six months later the Lord Lieutenant complained that in all parts of the kingdom the prices were so high that the industrious poor could barely support their families by their labours. In the North, oatmeal, on which the poor chiefly depended for their food, in a short time trebled in price. A proclamation was issued authorising the Custom-house officers to accept bonds for the high duties imposed by law on foreign corn imported into Ireland, on the understanding that Parliament as soon as it met would pass an Act to cancel these bonds; a bounty was offered for the importation of wheat, oats, and barley, and in several parts of Ireland tumultuous risings interfered with the removal of food.3
Peace had been signed, but there was no prospect of a dissolution of the volunteer body. The last reviews had been the most splendid hitherto celebrated, and the institution had become a great recognised national militia, discharging many important police functions, and bringing the Protestant gentry and yeomanry into constant connection with each other. An attempt of the Administration under the Duke of Portland to draw off a portion of the volunteer force into some newly organised regiments, called Fencibles, proved very unpopular and met with little success. Constant interchanges of civilities between the volunteers and the ordinary troops marked the high position which the force had attained; and when the new Parliament met in October 1783, another vote of thanks to the volunteers for ‘their spirited endeavours to provide for the protection of their country, and for their ready and frequent assistance of the civil magistrate in enforcing the due execution of the laws,’ was carried through Parliament at the proposal of the Government.1 The Ministers saw that it was inevitable, and therefore did not wish to lose the credit of proposing it; and among those who disliked the continuance of the volunteers, there were several who were prevented from resigning their posts through fear of being replaced by incendiaries. Grattan and Charlemont had both been made Privy Councillors, but when the volunteers threw themselves into the reform agitation, the relations between the Castle and Charlemont became very cold, and Charlemont was rarely summoned to the meetings of the Council.
Among the measures which were announced in the speech from the throne, were the establishment of a separate post office and Court of Admiralty in Ireland, and at this time the system of annual sessions was introduced. Lord North expressed the strong dislike of the Government in England to this innovation, but Northington urged that it was generally expected in Ireland, and that it appeared to the King's servants both useful and inevitable. It would accelerate decisions upon appeals, which were now confined to the Irish House of Lords. It would prevent delay in adopting any new commercial regulations that might be made in the English Parliament, and it was likely to check the growing habit of provincial meetings, which were justified by the long recesses of Parliament. Supplies were accordingly henceforth voted only for a year.2
The hostility which the simple repeal question had created between Flood and Grattan became deeper and deeper. The dominant idea of the policy of Grattan at this time was that the public mind should at all hazards be calmed. Ireland, he contended, had passed through a period of violent and convulsive change, and there was great fear lest the fever of political agitation should become inveterate in her system. Nothing could be more fatal to her new-born liberty, than that a body of armed men should constitute themselves permanently into a kind of legislative assembly, should dictate measures to Parliament, should overawe Parliament by scarcely disguised menaces of force. Next to the liberty of their own country, the first object of all true Irish patriots should be the strength and unity of the Empire, and the extinction of all feelings of disloyalty and animosity towards England. The agitation on the simple repeal question had already done much mischief, and it was evident that a very dangerous spirit of restlessness was abroad. A violent and sometimes a seditious press had arisen, and there were agitators who sought to gain popularity, power, and perhaps reputation, by inflaming the public mind against England and against the Parliament, at a time when a great part of the Protestant population were under arms, and when the recent triumphs in America had stimulated the republican elements that were smouldering in Ulster. The example of Flood, and the recent resolutions of the volunteers, had greatly intensified the spirit of disquietude. Irish manufacturers, who found themselves in a period of extreme distress, and overpowered by English competition, began to call loudly for protecting duties. An absentee tax was proposed by Molyneux, and discussed at much length, but it ultimately only found twenty-two supporters.1 Sir Edward Newenham, an ardent partisan of Flood, introduced, without a shadow of reson, a motion for limiting the supplies to six months. The language used by the volunteers, and by their organs in the press, on the question of parliamentary reform, was much less that of a petition than of a command. There were loud and justifiable complaints of the extravagant management of the finances. The revenue, indeed, it was said, had in two years increased more than three hundred thousand pounds, but there was an annual deficit of about two hundred thousand pounds, and Ireland, which had no national debt in 1755, had now a debt of nearly two millions.2 The field for retrenchment in the civil administration was very ample, but Flood insisted that the most important retrenchment should be sought in the military department, that in a country like Ireland a peace establishment of 15,000 men was extravagantly and fatally large, that 12,000 men would be amply sufficient, and that the condition of the finances imperatively demanded the reduction. He brought forward the subject again and again with great pertinacity, and it is probable that one leading object of the proposal was to throw the country still more absolutely into the hands of the volunteers.
There was little danger of Parliament adopting these measures, and Flood and his followers were usually supported only by a small minority; but the agitation of such questions greatly increased the disquietude of the public mind. Grattan opposed the proposition for reducing the army with especial vehemence. The magnitude of the Irish army, he said, was Ireland's contribution to the defence of the Empire, and her compensation for the protection she received from the British fleet. The augmentation, under Lord Townshend, was part of a distinct compact which was binding in honour though not in law. It had been made at a time when England possessed America and owed 150 millions less than she owes at present, when Ireland had no trade at all, and when her Constitution was denied. Since then Ireland had regained her Constitution and her commercial liberty; England had conceded to her the vast benefits of the plantation trade, and the Irish Parliament had pledged itself to stand or fall with her. Was this a period in which Ireland, with an augmented revenue, an increased population, and a vastly greater interest in the Empire, could honourably withdraw her old support?1
The sense of the House was strongly and manifestly on the side of Grattan, and, in the course of the debate, more than one voice urged upon the volunteers the propriety of disbanding. The course adopted by Flood, though it had re-established his popularity with the volunteers, had alienated him from several of his most valuable friends, had produced a strong remonstrance from Charlemont, and had more than once brought him into collision with Grattan. In October 1783, in one of the debates on the proposed reduction of the forces, a violent altercation broke out between Flood and Grattan, and two invectives, both of them disgracefully virulent, and one of them of extraordinary oratorical Power, made all cordial co-operation, for the future, extremely difficult. The interposition of the House prevented a duel. Flood afterwards very magnanimously occupied the chair at a volunteer meeting, when a vote of thanks to Grattan was passed, and Grattan long afterwards, in his pamphlet on the Union, and on many occasions in private conversation, bore a high testimony to the greatness of Flood; but the old friendship of the two leaders was for ever at an end, and words had been spoken which could never be forgiven.
The essentially political attitude which the volunteers were now assuming created much alarm. In July 1783, ‘a committee of correspondence,’ appointed by the delegates assembled at Lisburne for the purpose of arranging the forthcoming meeting at Dungannon, wrote to Charlemont asking his support and advice. They begged him to indicate ‘such specific mode of reform’ as appeared to him most suitable for the condition of Ireland, and at the same time to inform them, whether in his opinion the volunteer assembly should bring within the range of their discussions at Dungannon, such subjects as the propriety of shortening the duration of parliaments, exclusion of pensioners, a limitation of the numbers of placemen, and a tax on absentess. Charlemont perceived with much alarm the disposition of the force to attempt to regulate and perhaps control the whole field of legislation, and he urged the committee to confine themselves to the single question of reform, and on this question to content themselves with asserting the necessity of the measure, leaving the mode of carrying it out, exclusively to the mature deliberation of Parliament.1
The volunteers could hardly have had a safer counsellor, and Charlemont, though by no means a man of genius, exercised at this time a very great influence in Irish politics. He was now in his fifty-fifth year. He had inherited his title when still a child, and having never gone through the discipline of a public school, had spent more than nine years in travelling on the Continent. For some years he plunged deeply into the dissipations of the lax society in Italy, but he never lost a sense of higher things, and he brought back a great teste and passion for art, a wind range of ornamentat scholarship, and a very real earnestness and honesty of character. At Turin he had formed a close intimacy with Hume, but it had not impaired either his religious principles or his strong Whig convictions. In Paris he had discussed Irish politics very fully with Montesquieu, and was struck with the earnestness with which that great philosopher recommended a legislative union with England as the best safeguard of Irish liberty. He afterwards became an intimate friend of Burke, an early member of that brilliant club which Johnson and Reynolds had formed, a careful and discriminating student of the debates in the English Parliament, and then an almost constant resident in Ireland and a leading figure in Irish politics. A nervousness which he was never able to overcome, and which was aggravated by much ill-health, kept him completely silent in the House of Lords, and in his intimate circle he often showed himself somewhat vain and irresolute and easily offended; but in addition to his great social position, he had personal qualities of a kind which often go further in politics than great brilliancy of intellect, and he was one of the very few prominent Irish politicians who had never stooped to any corrupt traffic with the Government.
Like his contemporary Rockingham he possessed a transparent purity and delicacy of honour, which won the confidence of all with whom he came in contact, a judgment singularly clear, temperate and unbiassed, a natural affability of manner which made him peculiarly fitted to conciliate conflicting interests and characters. He wrote well, though often with a vein of weak sentimentalism which was the prevailing affectation of his time, and he threw himself into many useful national enterprises with great industry, and with invariable singleness of purpose. He was a Whig of Whigs—with all that love of compromise; that cautious though genuine liberality; that combination of aristocratic tastes and popular principles; that dislike to violence, exaggeration, and vulgarity; that profound veneration for the British Constitution, and that firm conviction that every desirable change could be effected within its limits, which characterised the best Whig thought of the time. His property lay in the province which was the centre of the volunteer movement. He was one of the earliest and most active of its organisers, and the unbounded confidence of the more liberal section of the Irish gentry in his penetration and his judgment, had raised him speedily to its head.
His position was, however, now becoming very difficult. Flood and Grattan, with whom he had hitherto most cordially co-operated, were alienated from each other, and both of them were in some degree alienated from him. Though he ultimately admitted the expediency of passing the Act of Renunciation, and though he cordially maintained the necessity of parliamentary reform, he strongly disapproved of the conduct of Flood in raising the first question, and in bringing the second question under the deliberations of an armed body. Grattan had been first brought into Parliament by Charlemont, and a deep attachment subsisted between them; but a coldness had lately grown up which soon culminated in a breach. Grattan was now wholly alienated from the volunteers; he would evidently have gladly seen their dissolution at the peace, and he cordially supported Lord Northington's Administration. Charlemont, on the other hand, was strongly in favour of the maintenance in arms of the volunteer force. He had more and more gravitated to opposition, and he was in consequence rarely consulted by the Administration with which Grattan was in close alliance. Grattan appears to have done everything in his power to soothe the irritation of his friend, and his letters to him are extremely honourable to the writer; but he had to deal with a somewhat fretful and morbid temperament, and he was not able to succeed. At the same time a new democratic and even seditious spirit was rising among the volunteers, with which Charlemont had no sympathy and which it was very doubtful whether he could control, and a very singular rival had lately arisen in the North, who threatened, for a time, to obtain an ascendency in the volunteer body, and to throw the whole of Ireland into a flame.
Frederick Augustus, Earl of Bristol, and Bishop of Derry, was the third son of that Lord Hervey who was long chiefly remembered as the victim of the most savage of all the satires of Pope, but whose reputation has in the present century been greatly raised by the publication of those masterly memoirs in which he had described the Court and politics of George II. His family had been noted for their eccentricity, and a saying attributed to Chesterfield, that God created men, women, and Herveys, has been often repeated.1 As was frequently the case with the younger sons of great families, he entered the Church without the smallest ecclesiastical leaning; and his eldest brother having been for a few months Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, he obtained the promise of an Irish bishopric. In 1767 during the Viceroyalty of Lord Townshend he was made Bishop of Cloyne. He was translated in the following year to the enormously rich bishopric of Derry, and in 1779 he inherited an English earldom and a great fortune. Rich, hospitable, lavishly generous, passionately fond of show and popularity, an exquisite judge of art and by no means destitute of general learning and ability, anxious to search out and to encourage intellectual merit wherever he could find it,2 and quite capable of playing many different parts with spirit and distinction, he soon made himself one of the most popular men in Ulster. No previous bishop in his diocese had done so much to build, restore, or embellish churches, and he also showed himself extremely liberal and energetic in developing the natural resources of the country. A new bridge over the Foyle was largely due to his energy. He undertook extensive operations in searching for coal. He opened out wild and uncivilised districts in his diocese by roads constructed at his own expense. He built two great palaces, collected pictures and statues, exercised a very liberal hospitality, and took especial pains to place himself on the most friendly terms with the Presbyterians. With the Catholics he was equally friendly. We have already caught some glimpses of the part which he took both at Rome and in Ireland in favour of the earlier Toleration Bill; and it was noticed on the monument that was erected to his memory after his death, that the Roman Catholic bishop and the resident Presbyterian minister at Derry were both among the contributors.3
His papers have unfortunately perished, and we have no means of ascertaining whether any real change had passed over his character and opinions, which may help to explain the strange want of keeping between the different descriptions or periods of his life. In 1779 Shelburne, who knew Ireland well, spoke in the House of Lords in strong terms of the neglect of duty and the abuse of patronage which were common among the Irish bishops, but he observed that there were a few eminent exceptions—the most remarkable being Primate Robinson and the Bishop of Derry.1 Charlemont, and Hardy the biographer of Charlemont, though extremely hostile to the Bishop, have both spoken in high terms of the manner in which he distributed his patronage among the oldest and most respectable clergy of his diocese.2 But the most curious picture of the Bishop, when read in the light of his later career, is that which is furnished by the Journal of Wesley, who, when he came over to Ireland on his evangelical mission, found in Lord Bristol a most cordial supporter. ‘The Bishop,’ writes Wesley, describing a Sunday at Londonderry in 1775, ‘preached a judicious, useful sermon on the blasphemy of the Holy Ghost. He is both a good writer and a good speaker, and he celebrated the Lord's Supper with admirable solemnity.’ A few days later, ‘the Bishop invited me to dinner, and told me, “I know you do not love our hours, and will therefore order dinner to be on table between two and three o'clock.” We had a piece of boiled beef and an English pudding. This is true good breeding. The Bishop is entirely easy and unaffected in his whole behaviour, exemplary in all parts of public worship, and plenteous in good works.’3
It is curious to compare this picture with the emphatic judgment of Charlemont, who, while admitting the many generous actions of the Bishop, described him as a bad father, a worse husband, a determined deist, very blasphemous in his conversation, and greatly addicted to intrigue and gallantry; with that of Fox, who described him as a madman, and a dishonest one; with that of Barrington, who delineated him at great length as a brilliant but purely secular and most unscrupulous politician. Jeremy Bentham met him at Bowood in 1781, and described him in his diary in a passage which bears a strong impress of truth. ‘He is a most excellent companion, pleasant, intelligent, well-bred and liberal-minded to the last degree. He has been everywhere and knows everything.’ He told Bentham that the rectors in his diocese enjoyed incomes of from 250l. to 1,500l. a year, and declared it to be a wonder and a shame that they should be suffered to remain in possession of so much wealth, since scarcely any of them resided, and since they only paid their curates ‘50l. a year, which is their own estimate of what the service done is worth. … He assumed to me,’ continued Bentham, ‘unless I much mistook him, a principal share in the merit of carrying the Toleration Act through the Irish House of Lords. He was, in his own mind at least, for going further and admitting them to all offices, that of member of Parliament not excepted.’ Lord Shelburne, Bentham says, spoke of ‘the flightiness of Lord Bristol, who he says is equally known for his spirit of intrigue and his habit of drawing the long bow. Indeed, there does seem to be something of that in him.’1
There were reports that Lord Bristol had been refused the bishopric of Durham, and had even aspired to the Lord Lieutenancy of Ireland; but they seem to be attested by no evidence, and it was probably no deeper reason than an uncontrollable love of excitement and of popularity, that produced the strange spectacle of a man, who was at once a great bishop and an English earl, exerting all his energies to enroll and arm Irish volunteers,2 and endeavouring to bring them into collision with the Irish Parliament and with England. At the assembly of volunteer delegates, which met at Lisburne in July 1783, a committee was appointed to collect information about the state of representation in Ireland, and to correspond with the different reform associations in England; and the general meeting of delegates of the whole province of Ulster, which was held at Dungannon in the ensuing September, passed resolutions leclaring that, a majority of the Irish House of Commons being returned by the mandates of a few peers and commoners, that House was in no sense a representation of the people; that ‘the elective franchise ought of right to extend to all those, and those only, who are likely to exercise it for the public good,’ and that the present imperfect representation, and long duration of Parliament, were intolerable grievances. They at the same time called upon the few representatives of free constituencies to refuse to vote any but short bills of supply, till their grievances were redressed; expressed the warmest sympathy with the English and Scotch reformers, and summoned the volunteers of all four provinces to meet together, to elect a convention of delegates, chosen by ballot from each county in Ireland. This convention was to meet in Dublin on November 10, shortly after Parliament had assembled and while it was still sitting, to frame a plan of reform, and to demand those rights without which ‘the forms of a free nation would be a curse.’
Neither Charlemont nor Flood were present at these proceedings. The first had probably abstained from policy, and the second on account of a passing illness. Colonel Stewart, the member for Tyrone, who was an intimate friend of Charlemont, was in the chair, but the influence of the Bishop appears to have predominated, and he had put himself at the head of the democracy of the North. Being absolutely free from every form of ecclesiastical superstition, and the most emphatic advocate of a wide measure of parliamentary reform, and of the most complete liberality in Church and State, he had become exceedingly popular among the Presbyterians, and in May 1784 a most curious address was presented to him by the Presbytery of Derry, expressing ‘their perfect approbation of the liberality of his Lordship's religious sentiments.’ ‘Christianity,’ they proceed, ‘is liberal, and he is the best disciple of Jesus Christ who possesses the most extensive charity and good-will to the human race. … As ministers of the Gospel of Peace … they rejoice in this opportunity of giving their tribute of deserved praise to a character in every respect so dignified.’ ‘The liberality of sentiment,’ answered the Bishop, ‘which you ascribe to me, flows from the rare consistency of a Protestant bishop, who feels it his duty, and has therefore made it his practice, to venerate in others that inalienable exercise of private judgment which he and his ancestors claimed for themselves. … On the great object which now centres in me the applauses of such various and even contradictory denominations of citizens, I do own to you the very rock which founds my cathedral is less immovable than my purpose to liberate this high-mettled nation from the petulant and rapacious oligarchy which plunder and insult it.’1
It was not, however, merely on the Presbyterians that the Bishop relied. One of his leading and most distinctive notions was to bring the Catholic body into active politics, by claiming for them the elective franchise and by inducing them to agitate for it themselves. At the meeting of Dungannon the question was already brought forward, but it was laid aside on account of the strenuous opposition of the friends of Charlemont.2 From this time, however, it entered into the programme of the more democratic party, and overtures to the Roman Catholics emanating for the most part from Presbyterian sources became frequent.3
The proposal to hold a volunteer convention in Dublin excited the keenest alarm. It was, in effect, to set up at the doors of the legal Parliament, and at a time when that Parliament was sitting, a rival representative body emanating from and supported by an armed force, and convened for the express purpose of directing or intimidating the Legislature of the nation. Fox wrote with great emphasis, that if such a body were suffered to continue, above all if the smallest concession were made in obedience to its mandates, the freedom of Ireland would be at an end; her boasted Constitution would be replaced by a Government as purely military as that of the Prætorian Guards; demand would follow demand, and complete anarchy would be the inevitable end.4 At the same time it was almost impossible to prevent the Convention from meeting. The upper classes looked indeed with alarm on the new movement, but the yeomanry of the North were enthusiastic in its favour. Precedents had been established within the last few years, that made it very difficult to condemn it as illegal, and the volunteers had assumed such a position that it was almost impossible to repress them. They were a great and disciplined army comprising all that was best in the Protestant population of Ireland. They had been three times thanked by Parliament. The address of the two Houses of Parliament in 1782 had been carried to the Castle between two lines of volunteers. A succession of Lord-Lieutenants had courted and eulogised them at a time when they were actually interfering in politics, and the Renunciation Act which had just been carried in England was mainly attributed to their influence. To prevent them from now meeting in convention would in the opinion of the Lord-Lieutenant be dangerous, or impossible.
Charlemont was confronted with that question which under different forms and names has constantly pressed upon Irish politicians. All the information from the North showed that it would be perfectly futile to oppose the meeting of the Convention. He had, as we have seen, tried at the outset to limit its functions to that of petitioning for parliamentary reform; but it was extremely doubtful whether the advice would be taken. The question he had to decide was whether he ought to take part in the Convention or to stand aloof from it. In the one case he would countenance and participate in a proceeding which he regarded as dangerous and unconstitutional. In the other case it was tolerably certain that the whole management of the Convention, it was possible that the whole direction of the volunteer force, would fall into the hands of demagogues of the most dangerous type.
Charlemont determined to accept the first alternative, to propose himself, and to induce others of the leading gentry connected with the movement to propose themselves, as candidates for election in the Convention. He has himself stated his motives with great candour. ‘Though I never cordially approved of the meeting, yet, as I found it impossible to withstand the general impulse towards it, … I did not choose to exert myself against it, especially as there was cause to fear my exertions would be fruitless, and if so might prevent my being useful towards moderating and guiding those measures which I could not with efficiency oppose, and directing that torrent which might otherwise have swept down all before it. I had upon mature consideration determined that to render the assembly as respectable as possible was the next best mode to the entire prevention of it.’1
The efforts of Charlemont were in a great degree successful. The Convention, he says, formed ‘a truly respectable body of gentlemen, for though some of the lower classes had been delegated, by far the majority were men of rank and fortune, and many of them members of Parliament, Lords and Commons.’ Among the delegates were Charlemont, Flood, and the Bishop of Derry.2
The Bishop did everything in his power, to aggravate by his conduct the dissension between the Convention and Parliament. He was now accustomed to go about, escorted by a troop of volunteer light cavalry enrolled and commanded by his nephew, George Robert Fitzgerald, a man who about three years later was hanged for a very aggravated murder, and whose history had been already a strange illustration of the utter lawlessness prevailing in some sections of Irish life. He was the son of a gentleman of considerable fortune in the wildest parts of Mayo. His mother, Lady Mary Hervey, once maid of honour to the Princess Amelia, and sister to three successive Earls of Bristol, had been compelled by the gross ill-usage of her husband to seek a separate maintenance, and became in later life a prominent figure in the early Evangelical movement, and an intimate friend of Venn and of Fletcher of Madeley.3 George Robert, their eldest son, was educated at Eton; he connected himself by marriage with the great families of Leinster and Conolly; travelled on the Continent, was presented at the French Court, wrote both prose and verse with some grace, and concealed under the appearance of a well-bred, polished, and almost effeminate gentleman, a character reckless and savage to the very verge of insanity. He was soon noted as one of the best shots, one of the most desperate duellists, and one of the most arrogant bullies in the West, and a crowd of stories are told of the savage animosity and the brutal insults with which he pursued his enemies, and of the terror which he excited in the wild country in which he lived. Among many other strange freaks, he was accustomed to hunt the fox in the deadest hours of the night, to the terror of the superstitious peasantry, who, as the chase swept by and as the red gleam of the torches flashed through the darkness, imagined that hell had broken loose and that demon hunters were infesting the land. In consequence of a fierce family quarrel he seized upon his father and kept him for five months in strict confinement in his house at Rockfield, under the guard of 200 or 300 ruffians who followed his fortunes, and many of whom had escaped from gaol. Cannon were mounted around the house: all communications were cut off; although the younger brother obtained without difficulty a writ, the sheriff did not dare to execute it, and, at last, when the assizes were being held at Castlebar, George Robert Fitzgerald appeared of his own accord in the court house, and calmly took his place among the grand jurors of the county. The audacity of the proceeding, however, proved too great. The younger brother was present, and at his request the judge ordered the arrest of Fitzgerald, who was tried, found guilty, and sentenced to three years' imprisonment and to a heavy fine. As was generally expected, he did not lie long in prison. Pistols were conveyed to him. He soon in broad daylight escaped, returned to Rockfield, which lay about three miles from Castlebar, and caused the cannon which defended his house to be fired several times in honour of his release. The younger brother urged upon the sheriff the necessity of executing the writ, but was informed that without the assistance of regular troops such an enterprise was hopeless, and Fitzgerald not only remained at large, but exercised a general terrorism over the whole country.
He soon, however, by his own reckless imprudence, fell within the grasp of the law. About three weeks after his escape from Castlebar he ventured to Dublin in the company of his father, and was there, by the instrumentality of his brother, and on the information of his father, arrested and committed to prison. He obtained a writ of error, but the King's Bench affirmed his sentence, and he lay in confinement for more than eighteen months, when bad health, and influence in high quarters, procured his release. At the end of March 1783, the Attorney-General recommended him for pardon.1 He appears to have speedily gone to his uncle at Derry, and to have thrown himself actively into volunteering, and in May 1784, little more than a year after his release from prison, through the influence of the Bishop, he was presented with the freedom of the city of Londonderry.2
Accompanied by the troop of dragoons commanded by this singular personage, the Bishop of Derry entered Dublin in November 1783 in royal state. Dressed entirely in purple, with diamond knee and shoe buckles, and with long gold tassels hanging from his white gloves, he sat in an open landau drawn by six noble horses caparisoned with purple ribands. The dragoons rode on each side of his carriage, which proceeded slowly through the different streets amid the cheers of a large crowd till it arrived at the door of the Parliament House, where a halt was called, and a loud blast of trumpets startled the assembled members. Several wholly ignorant of the cause of the tumult flocked from curiosity to the door, and the Bishop saluted them with royal dignity. The volunteers presented arms; the bands played the Volunteer March; and then, with a defiant blast of trumpets, the procession proceeded on its way. The Bishop was highly elated. He imagmed that he would be elected president of the Convention, and he appears to have entertained a real design of heading a rebellion. ‘We must have blood, my lord, we must have blood!’ he once exclaimed to Lord Charlemont.3
Fortunately, however, for the peace of the country, the great majority of the Convention, which assembled in Dublin on November 10, were men of a very different stamp from the warlike Bishop. To his great, disappointment Charlemont was elected the chairman, and though the Convention contained some demagogues and incendiaries, it consisted chiefly of country gentlemen of character and position, and contained several experienced and constitutional politicians, who had been induced by Charlemont to offer themselves as delegates for the express purpose of moderating its proceedings, and also some warm friends of the Government, who deliberately laboured to perplex its debates by divided counsels and multiplied propositions.1 The meeting was first held in the Exchange, but was afterwards adjourned to the Rotunda. Having endeavoured to justify their proceedings by a resolution that, ‘the Protestant inhabitants of this country are required by the statute law to carry arms and have the use of them, and are not by their compliance with the law excluded from the exercise of their civil rights,’ and having asserted in the strongest terms their attachment to the Sovereign and to the Constitution, they proceeded to the great task of drawing up a scheme of parliamentary reform. On the motion of the Bishop of Derry, a committee consisting of one member from each county was appointed to frame a plan for the approbation of the Convention, but little progress was made till, at the suggestion of the same person, Flood, who was not on the committee, was called in as an assessor. His practised eloquence and great constitutional knowledge soon obtained a complete ascendency. The Bishop more than once endeavoured to bring forward the question of the Catholic franchise, but Flood and Charlemont opposed him, and though he met with considerable support he was defeated.1 A proposition to recommend vote by ballot was rejected after some debate, and at last, after three weeks of deliberation, a very comprehensive plan of reform drawn up by Flood was agreed upon. Charlemont and the five other borough proprietors who sat in the Convention, declared their readiness to surrender their patronage. At length, on November 29, 1783, the preliminary measures being all accomplished, Flood proposed that he and such other members of Parliament as were present, should at once proceed from the Convention to the Parliament, and move for leave to bring in a Bill of reform corresponding to the plan which had been agreed upon, and that ‘the Convention should not adjourn till the fate of the motion was known.’
It would be impossible to assert more strongly the position of the Convention as a kind of rival Legislature, and to bring it more directly into conflict with the Parliament. Charlemont greatly disapproved of the step, and he would gladly have sent down the Volunteer Bill to the different counties to be recommended by public meetings and petitions; but Flood would admit no delay, and his influence, supported by that of the Bishop, swayed the meeting. That night he appeared with several other members of the Convention in the House of Commons, dressed in the uniform of the volunteers, and asked leave to bring in his Reform Bill. In substance, the Volunteer Reform Bill was much less extreme than the schemes of reform which about this time were recommended by the Duke of Richmond and other reformers in England. It proposed to restrict the right of voting, except in the case of electors who possessed freehold or leasehold property of 20l. a year, to men who had actually resided in the constituency six months out of the preceding twelve; to throw open the decayed boroughs by extending their franchise to the neighbouring district; to annul by Act of Parliament the by-laws by which any corporation had contracted the right of franchise; to give votes to all Protestants resident in any city or borough, who possessed freeholds or leaseholds of a specified value and duration; to incapacitate all who held pensions during pleasure from sitting in Parliament; to compel every member of Parliament accepting a pension for life, or any place under the Crown, to vacate his seat and submit to a new election; to oblige all members to swear that they had not given money for their seats; and finally to limit the duration of Parliament to three years.
The prospects of the Bill, however, were soon seen to be hopeless. It asked at least two-thirds of the members of the House of Commons to make a sacrifice of power, privilege, or money, such as no Legislature or ascendant caste has ever consented to make, except under the pressure of extreme necessity or of extreme enthusiasm, and it asked them to do this at a time when they had every motive to strengthen them in their resistance. A large proportion of the Convention, including its president, were notoriously half-hearted, or hostile to its proceedings. Many of the leading patriots of Ireland, and among them the chief author of the Constitution of 1782, were utterly opposed to the meeting of the Convention. The language and conduct of the Bishop of Derry; the Catholic question suddenly thrown into the arena of Irish politics; the violence of a considerable part of the press, had disturbed, irritated, and divided the nation. The natural pride of Parliament was aroused by the encroachment on its prerogative. The elections were just over, and they had on the whole been favourable to the Government, and the Government was inflexibly opposed to all concessions to the Convention. Yelverton, who was Attorney-General, in a speech of great power moved that the House should refuse even to take the Bill into consideration, as it originated with an armed body, and was an attempt to compel Parliament to register the edicts of another assembly, and to receive propositions at the point of the bayonet. Flood answered that he and his colleagues had never mentioned the volunteers. They came as members of Parliament to present a regular Bill in regular form. Would the House receive it from them? Under the Duke of Portland, the House had consented without difficulty to take a Reform Bill into consideration. The anomalies and abuses of the representation were glaring and notorious. Petitions from many counties showed the sense of the nation on the subject. Would Parliament refuse even to inquire into the grievance? He and his friends had not introduced the volunteers into the debate, but as they were introduced, he would not shrink from defending them. He recapitulated with great power their services to the Constitution, reminded the House how largely Parliament in its political struggle had rested upon them, and asked whether it was Parliament or the volunteers who had changed. A positive Act directs that every Protestant in Ireland is to bear arms, and ‘because one man fulfils more of his duty as a citizen than another, should he enjoy less of a citizen's privilege?’
The debate was continued till three in the morning, and it terminated in the House refusing by 157 votes against 77 to receive the Bill. A resolution moved by the Attorney-General, to the effect that it had ‘become necessary to declare that this House will maintain its just rights and privileges against all encroachments whatever,’ and an address to the King moved by Conolly asserting the ‘perfect satisfaction’ of the House with the Constitution and the determination to support it with their lives and fortunes, were then carried. Grattan, in a few conciliatory words, supported the proposition to consider the Bill upon its own merits, but he voted silently for the ensuing resolution.1
This memorable night gave a fatal blow to the political influence of the volunteers. There were not wanting indeed among them wild spirits who would have gladly pushed matters to extremity, but Charlemont strained his influence to the utmost and succeeded in putting an end to the Convention. The debate in the House of Commons took place on Saturday night, and Charlemont with some difficulty persuaded the Convention, in spite of their previous resolution, to adjourn to the ensuing Monday. On Sunday he held a meeting of his own friends, and they agreed together, that the Convention must be dissolved. On Monday the 1st and on Tuesday the 2nd of December the Convention again met, and Flood fully supported Charlemont in advocating moderation. The Bishop of Derry and Sir Edward Newenham, who represented the more democratic party, were both present, and the debate appears to have been full and dignified. It was agreed to take no formal notice of the recent proceedings in Parliament. A resolution was passed asserting anew the manifest necessity of a parliamentary reform. The delegates agreed to forward the plan of reform adopted by the Convention to their several districts, and to endeavour by public meetings, petitions, instructions to members, and the publication of abuses to obtain for it a great weight of civil support. The Convention then proceeded to adjourn sine die. One of its last acts was an address to the King, which was composed and moved by Flood, and which may be looked upon as its defence before the bar of history. In this remarkable document ‘the delegates of all the volunteers of Ireland’ begged ‘to express their zeal for his Majesty's person, family, and Government, and their inviolable attachment to the perpetual connection of his Majesty's crown of this kingdom with that of Great Britain; to offer to his Majesty their lives and fortunes in support of his Majesty's rights, and of the glory and prosperity of the British Empire; to assert with an humble but an honest confidence that the volunteers of Ireland did, without expense to the public, protect his Majesty's kingdom of Ireland against his foreign enemies at a time when the remains of his Majesty's forces in this country were not adequate to that service; to state that through their means the laws and police of this kingdom had been better executed and maintained than at any former period within the memory of man, and to implore his Majesty that their humble wish to have certain manifest perversions of the parliamentary representation of this kingdom remedied by the Legislature in some reasonable degree, might not be imputed to any spirit of innovation in them, but to a sober and laudable desire to uphold the Constitution, to confirm the satisfaction of their fellow-subjects, and to perpetuate the cordial union of both kingdoms.’1
The Volunteer Convention was peacefully dissolved, but in the March of the following year Flood again brought the Reform Bill before Parliament. It was supported by petitions from twenty-six counties. It was introduced and defended with a moderation that could hardly offend the most sensitive politician, and there was no parade or menace of military force. As might have been expected in a Parliament where the Government was hostile to reform and where more than two-thirds of the members represented nomination boroughs, it was rejected almost with contempt. The House did not, it is true, as on the former occasion refuse leave for its introduction, but it was thrown out on the second reading by a majority of seventy-four.1 From that time the conviction sank deep into the minds of many that reform in Ireland could only be effected by revolution, and the rebellion of 1798 might be already foreseen.
So ended a most unhappy episode in the history of Ireland. The divisions among the reformers had paralysed their force, and in the opinion of the great majority of the best judges, the creation of a Convention and the attempt to dictate measures to Parliament were gross political errors. There have always, however, been a few writers who have in this controversy adopted the side of Flood, who have maintained that if Grattan had not stood aloof and if Charlemont had been truly in earnest, the volunteers might have forced a reform bill through Parliament, and that the transcendant importance of making the Irish Parliament a really representative body outweighed the great danger and evil of the precedent that would have been created. Sir Jonah Barrington, the brilliant Irish historian of the period, adopted this view, and it was strongly supported by another writer whose name will have greater weight with English readers. Jeremy Bentham lived at a time when the recollection of the volunteer movement was still vivid, and he appears to have paid special attention to its history. He described the conduct of the volunteer organisation during five troublous years as one of the very best illustrations in history of the high qualities of patriotism and self-control that are produced in a self-governed democracy. They ‘exalted,’ he said, ‘the average mass of public and private felicity in Ireland to a pitch unknown before or since, and as at once a cause and a consequence of it, public and private virtue.’ ‘Commercial emancipation and parliamentary emancipation united the wishes of almost everybody … and nothing could be more evident than that but for the armed association they never could have been accomplished.’ The pressure of the Convention, he thinks, was ‘the only means by which any constitutional reform could have been effected,’ and he attributes it wholly to the half-heartedness of Charle-mont, of Grattan and their party, that ‘Mr. Grattan's great and worthy rival Flood’ did not succeed in carrying reform.’1
The question is not susceptible of any positive solution, and the difficulties on all sides seemed nearly insuperable. The experience of all countries shows that a monopoly of power, as complete as that which was possessed by a small group of borough owners in Ireland, is never, or scarcely ever, broken down except by measures bordering on revolution. The Reform Bill of 1832 would never have been carried, but for an agitation which convinced the most enlightened statesmen that the country could not be peacefully governed on any other condition. Yet the English monopoly before 1832 was but a faint shadow of that Irish Parliament, in which more than two-thirds of the representatives were nominated by individual patrons, and a majority were dependent on a few great families. Corruption ever follows monopoly as the shadow the substance, and where political power was concentrated in so few hands, party management necessarily resolved itself into personal influence. The Protestant yeomanry of the North, and the great bulk of the Protestant gentry, found themselves either unrepresented or most inadequately represented; and these classes, who comprised most of the intelligence, and a great preponderance of the property, of the country, mainly constituted at this time both the volunteers and the reformers of Ireland.2
To create popular, but at the same time purely Protestant, institutions was the aim of Charlemont and Flood, and the whole history of the volunteer organisation appears to me to show that the ascendant caste had attained a level of political intelligence and capacity which fully fitted it for increased political power. Beyond this Flood and Charlemont refused to go. To place political power in the hands of the vast, ignorant, and turbulent Catholic peasantry would, they maintained, be an act of madness which would imperil every institution in the country, shake property to its very basis, and probably condemn Ireland to a long period of anarchy. I have already quoted the remarkable letter, in which as late as 1791 Charlemont predicted that a full century was likely to elapse before the mass of the Irish Catholics could be safely entrusted with political power;1 and in his comments on the proceedings of the Convention of 1783, he expressed his views on the subject with great clearness. ‘Every immunity,’ he wrote, ‘every privilege of citizenship should be given to the Catholics excepting only arms and legislation, either of which being granted them would, I conceive, shortly render Ireland a Catholic country, totally break its connection with England,’ and force it to resort to the protection of France or Spain.2 Flood, as we have seen, held very similar opinions, and it appears to have been partly in order to divert the volunteers from taking up the Catholic question that he pushed on so strenuously the question of reform. A democracy planted in an aristocracy, popular institutions growing out of an intelligent and ascendant class, formed their ideal, and the memory of ancient Athens with its democracy of 30,000 free citizens rising above a vast population of unrepresented slaves was probably present to many minds.
Such a reform, they maintained, would have at least placed the Irish Parliament on a secure basis, made it a real representative of the intelligence and property of Ireland, put an end to the inveterate system of corruption, and called the action of party government into full and healthy play. The result may appear to show that it would have been wise at almost any hazard, and without any delay, if possible, to have at this time forced a large infusion of the popular element into Parliament, but the result is a less decisive test than is often thought of the wisdom of statesmen. Politics are little more than a calculation of probabilities, and the train of events which appears reasonably the most probable does not always occur. If the course of the world for fifty years after 1782 had been as peaceful as it had been during the first three quarters of the century, reforms might probably have been introduced by slow steps, and no great catastrophe would have occurred. Mere political difficulties and ordinary wars had never seriously affected the loyalty and the peace of the country. The American Revolution with its direct and evident bearing on the relations of dependencies to the mother country was the first contest which acted powerfully upon opinion, and even its influence was of a very sober, measured, and rational kind. Unfortunately for the peace of Ireland, before the close of the century an event occurred which in its immediate moral and political effects was wholly unequalled since the great religious convulsions of the sixteenth century. The fierce spirit of democracy, which the French Revolution had engendered, swept like a hurricane over Europe, lashed into sudden fury popular passions which had slumbered for centuries, and strained to the utmost every beam in the Constitution. Six or seven quiet years were granted to Ireland after her legislative emancipation to prepare for the storm, but when the first blast was felt, nothing had as yet been done, and the Parliament was as far as ever from a real representative of the nation.
I do not propose to examine the history of those years in very minute detail, and shall be content if I can sketch their general characteristics. In England another great revolution of power had taken place, which was destined to exercise a great influence in Ireland. The Coalition Ministry had fallen. Pitt came into power with an irresistible majority, and in February 1784 Lord Northington left Ireland, and the Duke of Rutland succeeded him as Viceroy, with Thomas Orde as his Chief Secretary. For some months after the dissolution of the Convention a dangerous agitation might be discerned. ‘A rage for supporting the Convention,’ wrote one of Charlemont's best informed correspondents, ‘has laid hold on the yeomanry.’1 The northern prints were full of passionate addresses, and the Bishop of Derry in emphatic language urged the volunteers to make the political emancipation of the Catholics one of their first objects.2 The Government, alarmed at his proceedings, for a time contemplated the possibility of prosecuting him, and induced a gentleman from the neighbourhood of Derry to attach himself to him as a spy in order to learn his intentions, and to discover whether it was true, as they suspected, that he was importing arms from Birmingham.3
The distress which had been so severe in 1783 still continued. In the beginning of 1784 a proclamation was issued forbidding the export of oats, oatmeal, and barley, and Irish letters continually speak of food risen almost to famine prices; of great multitudes of workmen unemployed; of riots to prevent the transport of food from one part of the country to another; of non-importation agreements; illegal combinations of workmen; industry in all its forms lamentably depressed. The cry for protecting duties became louder and louder, and in February an amendment pointing to them was moved by Sir Edward Newenham in the discussion on the address. It was rejected without a division, but Rutland wrote that ‘the most difficul subject which is likely to be introduced is that of the protecting duties, which is much more earnestly called for from the distresses which are brought upon the poor, and especially the manufacturers, by the extraordinary inclemency of the season.’4 Gardiner, one of the members for Dublin, who was aggrieved with the Government because they had not given him a peerage which had been promised,1 placed himself at the head of the movement, and he was afterwards supported by Flood.
Resolutions in favour of protecting duties were more than once introduced, and the question was debated at great length, and with great ability. It was argued that Irish industries could never really flourish unless Parliament adopted the policy of giving native manufactures a decided preference in the home market. History, the supporters of the resolutions said, proved that England and France, and every other country which was at liberty to pursue its own interest, had uniformly pursued this plan, and they only asked the Irish Parliament to follow the example of Great Britain herself,’ of all her wise ministers and of all her wise Parliaments since the Revolution.’ A poor country could never, without protective duties, compete even in her domestic market with a far more wealthy neighbour. The long-established manufactures of England could always undersell the unprotected industries of Ireland. Great capitalists could easily afford some temporary loss in order to drive feebler rivals from the field, and the English manufacturer was ready to give two years’ credit, while the Irish trader could not give more than six months. The Irish woollen manufacture, which England had formerly so absolutely suppressed, had been in some small degree revived since the more liberal legislation of the last few years; but in spite of the peculiarly excellent quality of Irish wool, it was impossible to maintain it, for while prohibitory laws still excluded Irish wool from the English market, an overwhelming English competition crushed it at home. ‘The only way to serve the manufacturers of Ireland was to put them on an equal footing with the English artists, to lay such duties on the import of woollens as might serve to counterbalance the great capitals of the English, the low price of their wool, and their great exactness in furnishing goods.’ Prohibitory duties were not asked, and the demand was not made in any spirit of hostility to England. It arose ‘from a commiseration for the distresses of the wretched inhabitants of the country, and not from any party spirit or factious motive whatsoever.’ The primary cause of the prevailing distress is to be found ‘in a radical error of our commercial system, which nothing but the interference of the Legislature can effectually remove.’ ‘England has flourished from adopting protecting duties, and Ireland has sunk by neglect of them.’ ‘Will any man in this House refuse to put the Irish manufacturer upon an equal footing with the Englishman? Is it possible that so just, so equitable a proposition can be rejected?’
Such arguments, urged at a time of acute commercial distress, and supported by the example of nearly every country in Europe, and by numerous petitions from the manufacturing classes, could hardly fail to have much influence on opinion, but the demand was strenuously resisted. Foster, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who led the opposition, urged that the prevailing distress was much more local, and much more due to temporary causes than had been said; that the effect of protective duties would be, that Irish manufactures would deteriorate in quality and increase in price; that the measure the House was asked to adopt would inevitably throw England into an attitude of hostility, and produce reprisals, and that the probable result of such reprisals would be the total ruin of the principal industry of Ireland. The Irish linen manufacture mainly depended on the English market. The immense importance of that market was shown by the fact that while the whole value of English manufactures imported into Ireland was less than one million, Irish linens alone exported to England were valued at a million and a half.1 England encouraged them by a small bounty, but this was a trifling matter and might be easily replaced. She assisted the manufacture much more effectually by admitting it to her market duty free. This was her compensation for the many Irish industries she had suppressed and excluded, and if this liberty were withdrawn the effects would be most calamitous. England would transfer her linen trade to Germany, and Irish linen would be excluded by heavy duties from her market, as it already was from the chief markets on the Continent.
These arguments did not convince the manufacturers, and it was remarked that none of the linen manufacturers opposed the petition for protecting duties, while some of the most considerable actively supported it, maintaining that the country was likely to gain more by moderate duties than she could suffer from any proceeding which Great Britain could find it her interest to take.1 The political dangers of entering into a commercial contest with England were probably more keenly felt, and the resolutions in favour of protecting duties were rejected by overwhelming majorities. The House of Commons, however, felt that something must be done to meet the wishes of the distressed manufacturers, and that a future conflict with England on commercial questions could only be averted by a commercial arrangement on the basis of reciprocal advantages. After some discussion, an address to the King was unanimously voted on May 13, 1784, in which, after warm protestations of gratitude and loyalty, the House expressed their hope ‘that the interval between the close of the present session and the beginning of the next, will afford sufficient opportunity for forming a wise and well-digested plan for a liberal arrangement of commercial intercourse between Great Britain and Ireland to be then brought forward,’ and added ‘that his faithful Commons humbly beg leave to assure his Majesty that such a plan, formed upon the broad basis of reciprocal advantage, would be the most effectual means of strengthening the Empire at large, and cherishing the common interest and brotherly affection of both kingdoms.’2
This address had afterwards important consequences. Some new bounties on manufactures were about the same time granted, and a measure was taken which exercised an influence of the most powerful kind on Irish agriculture. Foster's Corn Law of 1784, granting large bounties on the exportation of corn and imposing heavy duties on its importation, is one of the capital facts in Irish history. In a few years it changed the face of the land, and made Ireland to a great extent an arable instead of a pasture country.
I have devoted, in a former volume, a considerable space to the causes and effects of the immense predominance of pasture in Ireland during the earlier years of the century. The great and dominant cause was, I believe, that nature has made Ireland a supremely good pasture country, while as a wheat-growing country it is much below the average of Europe; but there were, as we have seen, many subsidiary causes strengthening the tendency. Such were the penal laws; the political and social insecurity which made landlords prefer the simplest type of property; the bad farming which was prevalent; the unjust exemption of pasture from the burden of tithes; the fact that the bulk of the population, and that section which increased most rapidly, lived not upon bread but upon potatoes. It was also a very important consideration that England, till near the close of the century, was a wheat-exporting country. Ireland could find no steady market there, for, except in years of great scarcity, importation was discouraged by heavy duties, and in good years English corn, encouraged by the large English bounty on exportation, and checked by no duty in Ireland, flowed in, in overwhelming quantities, and beat down the price of native corn.
The evils of this state of things were peculiarly felt on account of the great want of manufactures. In the eighteenth, as in the nineteenth century, the main economical evil of Ireland was the small number of its productive industries. The great want of a variety of employments had thrown the population to an unhealthy degree for subsistence on the soil, and pasture could only support a much smaller population than tillage. Several laws had already been passed, chiefly in periods of great distress, for the encouragement of tillage, but most of them were perfectly inefficient. English influence dominated in Irish legislation, and would suffer no measure that could interfere with the English corn trade, and Irish landlords, for the reasons I have mentioned, had a general leaning towards pasture. Some bounties on exportation were granted in 1707, but they were far smaller than those in England, and they only came into operation when the price had sunk to a level which it scarcely ever reached. They were slightly increased in 1756, in 1765, and in 1774, but were still too low to have any considerable effect. The Act of 1729, making it compulsory to till five acres in every hundred, was little more than a dead letter, and no great result can have followed from the Act of 1765, which offered premiums to the landlords and farmers in each county who had the largest quantities of corn on stands four feet high, and with flagstones at the top. Some considerable effect in stimulating tillage is, however, said to have been produced by those curious Acts which offered bounties on the inland carriage, and a few years later on the carriage, by the coast, of corn to Dublin; and under these Acts, 882,149l. was paid in bounties between 1762 and 1784.1 But the great and decisive impulse towards tillage in Ireland was not produced until the memorable law of Foster, which was modelled on the English corn laws, as they had existed since the Revolution. It granted a bounty of 3s. 4d. a barrel on the export of wheat as long as the home price was not above 27s. a barrel; and other very considerable bounties on the exportation of flour, barley, rye, oats, and peas; and it at the same time laid a duty of 10s. a barrel on imported wheat when the home price was under 30s.; and a number of other duties, varying according to the home price, on the importation of the other articles that have been mentioned.2
As I have already observed, the value of corn bounties was one of the points on which the opinions of the eighteenth century differed most widely from those of our own generation. In Ireland it was the almost unanimous belief of all the most competent authorities towards the close of the century, that the corn bounties of Foster had proved an inestimable benefit to the nation. Newenham, who of all writers has most fully examined the economical condition of Ireland in the period we are considering, described Foster's Act as incomparably the most beneficent Irish measure of the eighteenth century, and as especially, and in the highest degree, beneficial to the small farmers and labourers. From that time, he maintains, acute distress in Ireland ceased;3 manufactures flourished in consequence of increased profits in agriculture; and while population rapidly angmented, the well-being of all classes steadily rose.1 These views appear to have been very generally held, and the corn bounties received the warm and almost unanimous approbation of Parliament. It is impossible, indeed, to question the magnitude of the change that followed them. Vast pasture lands were rapidly broken up into small tillage farms; corn mills were erected in every quarter of the land, and a great corn trade was produced. The quantity of corn, meal, and flour exported in twelve years after the passing of the Act exceeded that which was exported in the eighty-four years that preceded it. Its value in ten years after 1785 was about four millions and a quarter.2 The large number of farmers who held leases for life or for a considerable period, that had not yet expired, made great and sudden gains, and there was a rapid rise in the rental of land. Newenham, writing in 1808, expressed his belief ‘that since the year 1782 the rent of land, which a short time before that year had begun to fall in many places, has been much more than doubled in all parts of Ireland one with another, more than trebled in many; and that the greatest rise has been in those counties where tillage has been most pursued;’ while the average price of agricultural labour, which was only 6 1/2d. when Arthur Young visited Ireland, had risen in the next thirty years to 10 1/2d. Foster's Act, he says, ‘may fairly be considered as the great primary cause of the unprecedented increase of wages that has taken place in Ireland since the year 1778.’3
Modern economists of the school of Adam Smith, will probably refuse to attribute to the corn bounties the undoubted progress and prosperity of Irish agriculture in the last sixteen years of the century, and will point to other causes which made tillage at that time unusually profitable. It may, however, I think, be truly claimed for Foster's Act, that in a country where there was very little capital and enterprise, it turned agriculture decisively and rapidly in this profitable direction. It was enacted at the time when the growth of the manufacturing population in England had begun to press heavily on the nation's means of subsistence. England ceased to be a wheat-exporting country. Her vast market was thrown open to Irish corn, and a few years later the great French War raised the price of wheat almost to a famine rate and made the profits of corn culture proportionately large.
It is quite true that a great and sudden increase of prosperity is never likely to be a permanent benefit to an improvident and uneducated people. The corn bounties appear to have contributed largely to that excessive subdivision of farms which became ultimately so disastrous; to modes of cultivation which, in order to obtain large and speedy returns, exhausted and impoverished the soil; to an increase of population out of all proportion to the permanent resources of the country.1 The artificial system which turned into a wheat-growing country a land which nature had intended for pasture was necessarily transient, and with the great fall of prices that followed the peace and with the subsequent adoption by England of the policy of Free Trade the whole economical condition of Ireland was again changed. But during the closing years of the eighteenth century, legislation and circumstances had undoubtedly combined to give an immense impulse to agriculture, and on agriculture more than on any other single influence the prosperity of Ireland depended.
These results, however, were not immediately attained, and the rejection of the protecting duties in 1784 at first produced considerable disturbances. Rutland had soon to report a long series of outrages in the metropolis of the most dangerous kind. The soldiers were more than once called in to repress them, and they became the objects of fierce popular animosity. Several were brutally houghed by butchers in the streets, and the crime assumed such dimensions that a special Act was passed to make the offence capital, and to throw the support of the wounded soldiers on the district if the culprit was not detected.1 Many tradesmen or artisans, who had imported English goods, or worked at low wages or in branches of manufacture to which they had not been bred, or who had come up from the country to work in Dublin when Dublin workmen were on strike, were tarred and feathered after the American fashion or otherwise ill-used. On one occasion a man, who had been concerned in some of these outrages, being publicly whipped, the mob attacked the soldiers on guard, who fired, killed one man, and wounded several others. On another a threatening mob burst into the gallery of the House of Commons, and it was necessary to call in soldiers to eject them. On a third the Duke of Rutland was hooted in a theatre. A paving Act, which was supposed to press heavily on the poorer ratepayers, was the cause, or, as the Government believed, the pretext, of new disturbances. Houses were attacked, members of Parliament were insulted, threatening letters became very common, and a press of the most savage and seditious nature had arisen. One paper, called ‘The Volunteer's Journal,’ was especially conspicuous for its scarcely disguised advocacy of assassination, and three men were actually arrested on a charge of being concerned in a conspiracy for assassinating seven members of Parliament, who were conspicuous in opposing protecting duties. With inefficient watchmen, timid magistrates, and a fierce mob, these outrages passed almost unpunished. There were vague rumours, resting on no real evidence, that French influence was concerned in them, and that officers of the Irish brigade in the French service had secretly come over to Ireland. It was, however, the firm conviction of the Lord-Lieutenant that some of the ‘master manufacturers’ were at the bottom of the outrages, and that considerable sums had been subscribed to foster them.2
They appear to have been almost exclusively confined to Dublin. In April, Rutland, while describing their magnitude, added, ‘I have the satisfaction at the same time to find that the country is in a perfect state of quiet. The judges have finished their circuits, and at no place whatsoever did the grand juries show any spirit of discontent or any attempt at innovation. I hear of violence nowhere but in the metropolis.’1 Even in Dublin the disturbances, though for a time very serious, in a few months subsided, and a Press Bill, which was introduced by Foster, did much to check them. It provided that the true names of every newspaper proprietor must be registered; made receiving or offering money for printing or forbearing to print libels a high misdemeanour, and prevented the sale of unstamped papers in the streets.2 Towards the close of the year, however, the Whiteboy disturbances broke out again with great violence in the county Kilkenny and spread widely over several counties.
An incident, which occurred in Dublin in the spring of 1784, added seriously to the alarm. The ‘Liberty’ corps of the volunteers—so called because it was recruited in the Earl of Meath's liberties, where the woollen manufacturers chiefly dwelt—thought fit without consulting any other volunteers to advertise for recruits, and enlisted about two hundred of the lowest class, who were chiefly Roman Catholics. Such a proceeding was wholly contrary to the wishes of Charlemont, to the general custom of the volunteers, and to the law which forbade Catholics to carry arms without licence, and at a time when the spirit of outrage was so rife in Dublin it was peculiarly dangerous. The other corps of the volunteers marked their disapprobation by refusing to join the Liberty corps at their exercises; but neither the Government nor the leaders of the volunteers ventured to take the decisive step of disarming the new recruits, and the example of Catholic enlistment began to spread.3
The change, indeed, which was now taking place in the character of the volunteer body, was especially alarming. The original volunteers had consisted of the flower of the Protestant yeomanry, commanded by the gentry of Ireland, and in addition to their services in securing the country from invasion in a time of great national peril, they had undertaken to preserve its internal peace, and had discharged with admirable efficiency the functions of a great police force. But after the signature of peace, and, again, after the dissolution of the Volunteer Convention, a great portion of the more respectable men connected with the movement considered their work done and retired from the ranks, and they were being replaced by another and wholly different class. The taste for combining, arming, and drilling had spread, and had descended to the lower strata of society. Demagogues had arisen who sought by arming and organising volunteers to win political power, and who gathered around them men who desired for very doubtful purposes to obtain arms. Grattan, who at all times dreaded and detested anything that withdrew political movements in Ireland from the control and guidance of the gentry, was one of the first to denounce the change. ‘I would now draw the attention of the House,’ he said, ‘to the alarming measure of drilling the lowest classes of the populace. … The old, the original, volunteers had become respectable because they represented the property of the nation, but attempts had been made to arm the poverty of the kingdom. They had originally been the armed property of Ireland. Were they to become the armed beggary?’ ‘The populace,’ he added, ‘differ much and should be clearly distinguished from the people,’ and he spoke of the capital that has been drained, the manufacturers who have been deterred, the character of the nation that has been sunk by indiscriminate arming, and by the establishment of representative bodies unconnected with Parliament.1
The debates of this year furnish many illustrations of the growing evil. One speaker complained that men whom the old volunteers emphatically repudiated, and with whom they refused in any way to associate, ‘men of no property and of every persuasion,’ were of their own authority forming themselves into separate armed corps. In Kerry, men calling themselves volunteers beat off one of his Majesty's sloops of war with their small arms, and in many places men assuming the same name were in receipt of daily pay. Another speaker stated that in some of the recent Dublin riots volunteers had remained absolutely passive, and refused when summoned to assist the civil power. A third had seen two sergeants, in back parts of Dublin, drilling two parties of seventy or eighty ragged and dangerous-looking ruffians, and when he accosted them he found that they were acting entirely on their own authority, being determined, as they told him, that when a rebellion or disturbance broke out, they would have armed men at their command. Fitzgibbon, who was now Attorney-General, said that the great majority of the original volunteers had hung up their arms and retired to cultivate the arts of peace, and that their places were often taken by men of the worst character. He asserted that one corps, called the ‘Sons of the Shamrock,’ had voted every Frenchman of character an honorary member, and that he had himself seen resolutions inviting the French to Ireland, and enthusiastic eulogies of Lewis XVI. It was reported that officers of the Irish brigade in the French service had come over to engage volunteers. The law forbidding Catholics to carry arms without licence had hitherto been enforced, and it was regarded even by the Catholic gentry as of vital importance to the peace of the country, for while the more respectable Catholics readily obtained licences, it gave the Government the power of restraining, in a very lawless and turbulent country, the great masses of the rabble from the possession of arms. But now, under the colour of volunteering, and in direct defiance, not only of the letter of the law, but also of the wishes of the commander of the volunteers, an extensive and indiscriminate arming of Catholics was going on, and the Lord-Lieutenant complained that great quantities of arms were being scattered through the very lowest section of the population.1 In Ulster, it is true, the volunteers retained much of their primitive character, and Charlemont for many years presided at their annual reviews; but in other parts of the country, and especially in Dublin, the change was very marked. In a letter written in 1793, Charlemont, while deploring the shameful and utter degradation of the Dublin volunteers, incidentally mentioned that though he was still their nominal commander, they had, for many years past, in no one instance asked his advice, nor had they ever taken it when it was offered.1
The disquiet caused by these things was very evident. In the House it was frequently expressed, and when a partisan of the volunteers recalled the former votes of thanks to the volunteers, and proposed another similar vote, Gardiner moved an amendment, which was strongly supported by Grattan and carried by a great majority, expressing high approbation of those who since the conclusion of the war had retired to cultivate the blessing of peace.2 The letters of the Lord-Lieutenant for some time showed the anxiety with which he regarded the continuance of the volunteer movement and especially the arming of Catholics. The creation of a purely Protestant militia was the favourite remedy, but both the English and Irish Governments agreed that an attempt to disarm or even to prohibit the volunteers would be extremely dangerous, and that it was best to trust to the probability that in times of peace they would dwindle away.3 The prevision was on the whole justified; in a few years complaints on the subject almost ceased; but a portion of the volunteers were still in arms when the French Revolution called all the disaffected elements in Ireland into activity.
By far the greater part of the disturbances of 1784 and 1785 were probably due to no deeper cause than commercial depression acting upon a very riotous population, and with the return of prosperity they gradually ceased; but there was a real and dangerous element of political agitation mixing with the social disquietude. The decisive rejection of Flood's Reform Bill, in spite of the many petitions in its favour, and the refusal of the House of Commons to impose protective duties stimulated political agitation, and the question of the Catholic franchise now began to rise into prominence. Several of the opponents of Flood's Reform Bill had made the omission of the Roman Catholics an argument against it;1 and some of its supporters accused the Government of raising the Catholic question in order to divide and weaken the reformers.2 On the other hand a democratic party had arisen, who, following the advice of the Bishop of Derry, contended that the best way of breaking down the power of the aristocracy and carrying parliamentary reform was to offer the franchise to the Catholics, and thus enlist the great body of the nation in the agitation. Dr. Richard Price the eminent Nonconformist minister who was so prominent among the reformers in England, wrote to the volunteers, ‘I cannot help wishing that the right of voting could be extended to papists of property in common with Protestants;’ and Todd Jones, one of the members for Lisburne, published a letter to his constituents strongly advocating the measure. In July 1784 an address in this sense was presented to Lord Charlemont by the Ulster volunteers who were reviewed at Belfast, but Charlemont in his reply, while reiterating his adhesion to parliamentary reform, pronounced himself strongly against Catholic suffrage.3
In Dublin a small knot of violent and revolutionary reformers, chiefly of the shopkeeper class, had arisen, and some of them were members of the Corporation. Napper Tandy, the son of an ironmonger in the city, was the most conspicuous, and he afterwards rose to great notoriety. By the exertions of this party, meetings in favour of reform were held in Dublin. A permanent committee was created, and in June 1784 this committee invited the sheriffs of the different counties to call meetings for the purpose of electing delegates to meet in Dublin in the ensuing October. This was an attempt to revive in another form the convention of the previous year, with this great distinction, that it was to have no connection with any armed force, but was to be a true representative of the Irish Protestants. In many quarters the idea was accepted with alacrity, and the Government did not distinctly challenge the legality of the congress; but Fitzgibbon, by a strained and unusual construction of law, treated the conduct of the high sheriff of the county of Dublin, in summoning a meeting to elect delegates, as a contempt of the Court of King's Bench; proceeded against him before that court by the method of ‘attachment,’ and without the intervention of a jury caused him to be condemned to a small fine. The legality of this proceeding was much disputed by Flood, and by lawyers in the Parliaments both of England and Ireland. Erskine was consulted on the subject, and he wrote a remarkable letter in which he asserted that the conduct of the King's Bench judges was such a gross and daring usurpation that it would justify their impeachment, and that the precedent, if acquiesced in, would be in the highest degree fatal to liberty in both countries.1
The feeling in favour of reform continued to be very strong throughout the country, and it was accompanied with great irritation against the majority in Parliament. The prediction of Flood that without a reform of Parliament there was no security for the stability of the present Constitution, and that a corrupt majority might one day overturn it, had sunk deeply in the popular mind, and petitions to the King poured in from many quarters, describing the House of Commons as having wholly lost the confidence of the nation and fallen completely into the hands of a corrupt oligarchy. One petition which came from Belfast2 attracted special notice from its openly revolutionary character. It stated that the majority was ‘illegally returned by the mandates of Lords of Parliament and a few great Commoners, either for indigent boroughs where scarcely any inhabitants exist or for considerable towns where the elective franchise is unjustly confined to a few … that the House of Commons is not the representative of a nation, but of mean and venal boroughs … that the price of a seat in Parliament is as well ascertained as that of the cattle of the fields,’ and that although the united voice of the nation had been raised in favour of a substantial reform, yet ‘the abuse lying in the very frame and disposition of Parliament itself, the weight of corruption crushed with ignominy and contempt the temperate petitions of the people.’ Under these circumstances, said the petitioners, the repeated abuses and perversion of the representative trust amounted to a virtual abdication and forfeiture in the trustees, and they had summoned ‘a civil convention of representatives to be freely chosen by every county and city and great town in Ireland … with authority to determine in the name of the collective body on such measures as are most likely to re-establish the Constitution on a pure and permanent basis.’ They accordingly asked the King to dissolve the Parliament and ‘to give efficacy to the determination of the convention of actual delegates, either by issuing writs agreeably to such plan of reform as shall by them be deemed adequate, or by co-operating with them in other steps for restoring the Constitution.’
In such language it is easy to recognise the strong democratic fervour which was arising in the North, but the gentry of Ireland had in general no sympathy with such views, and although, in spite of all obstacles, the congress met in October 1784, and again in the following January, it proved to be a body of very little importance. Nearly all the more important persons either openly discountenanced it or only consented to be elected in order to keep out more dangerous men. Sir Edward Newenham, a warm partisan of Flood, a strong advocate of parliamentary reform, and also a strong opponent of Catholic suffrage, seems to have been the most prominent of its active members. The Bishop of Derry did not attend. Flood only appeared once. The Catholic question speedily divided the members, and little resulted from the congress except some declamatory addresses in favour of parliamentary reform which had very little effect upon opinion.
It is a question of much difficulty whether the Catholics themselves took any considerable part in these agitations. For a long period an almost death-like torpor hung over the body, and though they formed the great majority of the Irish people they hardly counted even in movements of opinion. Even when they were enrolled in volunteer corps there were no traces of Catholic leaders. There was, it is true, still a Catholic committee which watched over Catholic interests; Lord Kenmare and a few other leading Catholics were in frequent communication with the Government; two or three Catholic bishops at this time did good service in repressing Whiteboyism, and Dr. Troy, who was then Bishop of Ossory, received the warm thanks of the Lord-Lieutenant,1 but for the most part the Catholics stood wholly apart from political agitation. The well-known Father O'Leary indeed had one day visited the Volunteer Convention in 1788 and had been received with presented arms and enthusiastic applause, and one of the corps had even given him the honorary dignity of their chaplain.2 In the same Convention when the Bishop of Derry brought forward the question of Catholic suffrage a strange and very scandalous episode occurred. Sir Boyle Roche, a member of Parliament who was well known for his buffoonery, but who was also a prominent and a shrewd debater, closely connected with the Government and chamberlain at the Castle, rose and asserted that Lord Kenmare having heard that the question was about to be raised had sent through him a message explicitly disavowing on the part of the Catholics any wish to take part in elections. Such a communication at such a time had naturally great weight, but it was speedily followed by a resolution from the Catholic Committee declaring that it was totally unknown to them, and a few days later by a letter from Lord Kenmare stating that no such message had been sent, and that the use of his name was entirely unauthorised. Sir Boyle Roche afterwards explained that he considered the conduct of the Bishop and his associates so dangerous that ‘the crisis had arrived in which Lord Kenmare and the heads of the Catholic body should step forth to disavow those wild projects and to profess their attachment to the lawful powers.’ Unfortunately Lord Kenmare and most of the other leading Catholics were at this time far from Dublin, and therefore, ‘authorised only by a knowledge of the sentiments of the persons in question,’ he considered himself justified in inventing the message. It is a strange illustration of the standard of political honour prevailing in Ireland that a man who, by his own confession, had acted in this manner continued to be connected with the Government and a popular speaker in the House of Commons.1
It was true, however, that Lord Kenmare and several other prominent Catholics were not favourable to the Convention, that their influence was uniformly exerted against political agitation, and that on this ground many of their co-religionists were beginning to desert them.2 The question of giving votes to the Catholics was first raised with effect by an Anglican bishop and by some Presbyterian agitators, but there is reason to believe that in Dublin Catholics were being slowly drawn into the vortex. A few years later, as we shall see, they were numerous among the followers of Napper Tandy, and as early as 1784 the Irish Government attributed most of the disturbances to French instigation, and a large proportion of the seditious writing to Popish priests.3 It is now impossible to ascertain how far such suspicions were justified. For some months a panic prevailed which made men very credulous. A thousand rumours, as the Chief Secretary himself said, filled the air. False testimony was very common. None of the reports that reached the Castle appear to have been tested in the law courts, and in a short time all serious alarm had passed away. It is, however, antecedently probable that the contagion of political agitation was not unfelt in the Catholic body, and that they were not insensible to the overtures of the democratic party. The Government at least thought so, and they sent over two or three spies to Ireland to ascertain the secret sentiments of the Catholics. There is grave reason to believe that among these spies was a man whose literary and social gifts had given him a foremost place among the Irish Catholics and whose character ranked very high among his contemporaries. Father O'Leary, whose brilliant pen had already been employed to vindicate both the loyalty and the faith of the Catholics and to induce them to remain attached to the law, appears to have consented for money to discharge an ignominious office for a Government which distrusted and despised him.1
It may, however, I think, be confidently stated that the suspicion of the Government that French influence was at the bottom of the disturbances in Ireland, and that an agent connected with the French ambassador was directing them, was without foundation. For several years, it is true, foreign statesmen had given some slight and intermittent attention to Irish affairs. We have already seen this in the case of Vergennes,1 and in the correspondence of Lord Charlemont there is a curious letter from St. Petersburg written by Lord Carysfort complaining of the evil effects which the Volunteer Convention and the growing suspicion on the Continent that Ireland was about to follow the example of America were likely to have on English influence and on English commercial negotiations.2 But the very full and confidential correspondence which Count d'Adhémar, the French ambassador at London, carried on at this time with his Govermnent, sufficiently shows that he had no agent employed in Ireland and little or no knowledge of Irish affairs which might not have been derived from the public newspapers and from the current political gossip of London. Though D'Adhémar, believed firmly in the high character and sincerely pacific disposition of Pitt, he was persuaded that peace with France would only continue as long as England was too weak for war. The nation, he said, ulcerated by the humiliation of the last war, was implacably hostile, and would soon force its Government into a renewed struggle. In the interval French influence should be employed to injure England wherever she was weak, and the two quarters in which it might be most profitably exerted, were India and America. In April 1784 he first called attention to affairs of Ireland. He mentions the great excitement produced in the English as well as the Irish newspapers by Foster's Press Bill; the skill with which Fox had already made use of it; the probability that it would assist him in the Westminster election which was now pending. He afterwards reports that the Viceroy had been attacked on account of the Press Bill; that the Irish corporations were protesting against it; that nonimportation agreements were multiplying; that the affairs of Ireland were taking a very serious turn. The Government, he believed, were anxious to disavow Foster, and a courier had started for Ireland for the purpose of suspending the operation of the Bill. He knew, from a good source, that ministers had desired to arrest the Bishop of Derry, but were prevented by a division in the Council. The Duke of Rutland was anxious to resign, and the Duchess had lately written to a lady friend in England, expressing her anxiety about the incapacity of her husband and the frightful growth of the spirit of insurrection. There had been a meeting at the Dublin Town Hall, presided over by the municipal officers, at which the corrupt constitution of Parliament was unanimously denounced. ‘There is a military association which has been deliberating about presenting an address to Lewis XVI., the defender of the rights of the human race.’ From the accounts of the volunteer reviews it appeared to the ambassador, that more than 70,000 men were under arms. ‘Even if no other advantage,’ he added, ‘came from threatening the British coast, the calling this great force under arms would have been a great one.’1
The tension, however, soon passed, and several years elapsed before French ministers were seriously occupied with Ireland. The next few years of Irish history were quiet and uneventful, and although no great reform was effected, the growing prosperity of the country was very perceptible. The House of Commons gave the Government little or no trouble, and whatever agitations or extreme views may have been advocated beyond its walls, the most cautious conservative could hardly accuse it of any tendency to insubordination or violence. It consisted almost entirely of landlords, lawyers, and placemen. Its more important discussions show a great deal of oratorical and debating talent, much knowledge of the country and considerable administrative power; it was ardently and unanimously attached to the Crown and the connection, and the accumulation of borough interests at the disposal of the Treasury, and the habitual custom of ‘supporting the King's Government,’ gave the Government on nearly all questions an overwhelming strength. The majority had certainly no desire to carry any measure of reform which would alter their own very secure and agreeable position, or expose them to the vicissitudes of popular contests, but the influence of the Government was so overwhelming that even in this direction much might have been done by Government initiative, and it is remarkable that in all the letters of the Irish Government opposing parliamentary reform, nothing is said of the impracticability of carrying it. On the whole, it would be difficult to find a legislative body which was less troublesome to the Executive. There was one subject and only one upon which it was recalcitrant. It was jealous to the very highest degree of its own position as an independent Legislature, and any measure which appeared even remotely designed to restrict its powers and to make it subordinate to the British Parliament, produced a sudden and immediate revolt.
The prosperity of the country was advancing, and the revenue was rising, but the expenses of the Government still outstripped its income, and there were loud complaints of growing extravagance. Many things had indeed recently conspired to increase the national expenditure. Free trade opening out vast markets for Irish products, had induced Parliament to give larger bounties for the purpose of stimulating native manufactures. The erection of a magnificent custom-house; great works of inland navigation; an augmentation of the salaries of the judges in 1781; additional revenue officers required by an expanding trade; additional officials needed for the New National Bank, fell heavily on the finances. In 1783 an independent member proposed that the salary of the Lord-Lieutenant should be raised from 16,000l., at which it had been fixed twenty-two years before, to 20,000l. It was argued that the expense of the office was notoriously greater than its salary; that the constant residence of the Lord-Lieutenant, the annual sessions of Parliament, and the increased cost of living had largely augmented it, and that it was not in accordance with the dignity of the nation, that an English nobleman should be obliged to appropriate part of his private fortune to support the position of Viceroy of Ireland. The augmentation was refused by Lord Northington, but accepted by his successor, and it was speedily followed by the addition of 2,000l. a year to the salary of the Chief Secretary. Strong objections were made to the latter proposal, and it appears to have been carried mainly on account of a speech of the Attorney-General, who promised that it would put an end to the scandalous system of granting great Irish offices for life to retiring Chief Secretaries. Some of the chief offices in the country had been thus bestowed, and with the single exception of Sir John Blaquiere all those who held them lived habitually in England.1 In 1784 three new judges were appointed, and the introduction of annual sessions of Parliament involved some necessary and legitimate expenditure, and probably contributed not a little both to parliamentary prodigality and Government corruption. ‘The contention for parliamentary favour,’ it was said, ‘becaame in a manner perpetual. The doors of the temple were never shut,’2 and the increased importance of the House of Commons made Government more and more desirous of securing by pensions and sinecures an overwhelming parliamentary influence.
There was a strong desire to bring back the great Irish offices to the country. In the beginning of the reign of George II. it was noticed that among the habitual absentees were officers of the Irish Post Office, whose salaries amounted to 6,000l. a year; the Master of the Ordnance; the Master of the Rolls; the Lord Treasurer and the three Vice-Treasurers; the four Commissioners of the Revenue; the Secretary of State; the Clerks of the Crown for Leinster, Ulster, and Munster; the Master of the Revels, and even the Secretary of the Lord-Lieutenant.3 One of the most scandalous Irish measures in the early years of George III. had been the grant of the Irish Chancellorship of the Exchequer for life, to Single Speech Hamilton, in 1763. He was allowed to treat it as an absolute sinecure, and the management of Irish finances was thrown for many years upon the Attorney-General, a busy lawyer who had no special knowledge of the subject. Although the value of the post of Chancellor of the Exchequer was only 1,800l. a year, the Government after a long negotiation consented in 1784 to buy it back from Hamilton by the grant of a life pension on Ireland of 2,500l. a year, with the power to sell his pension.4
The office, however, was admirably bestowed, being granted to John Foster, one of the very foremost figures in the Irish Parliament. He was the son of that Chief Baron Foster whom Arthur Young had described as one of the ablest men, and one of the best and most improving landlords in Ireland, and he had already taken the leading part in the foundation of the National Bank. He was also the author of some measures which had been extremely successful in encouraging the linen trade, as well as of the corn bounties which we have already considered. That excellent judge, Woodfall, described him as ‘one of the readiest and most clear-headed men of business’ he had ever met with,1 and no one, I think, can read his speeches without being struck with the singular ability and the singular knowledge they display. His strong opposition to protecting duties; his Press Bill, and the prominent and very able part which he took in defence of the commercial propositions of 1785, made him for a time unpopular in Dublin; but his high character and his great financial knowledge were universally recognised. In the autumn of 1785, when Pery retired from the Chair which he had occupied for more than fourteen years, Foster was unanimously elected Speaker, and he held that position till the Union. He still, however, occasionally contributed some admirable speeches to the debates. He was succeeded as Chancellor of the Exchequer by Sir John Parnell.
Several other great offices were still held by absentees,2 but none of them were as important as the Chancellorship of the Exchequer. In 1784, there was a curious discussion on the habitual absence of the Master of the Rolls, and it was defended by the Attorney-General Fitzgibbon, on the very grotesque ground that it was conducive to the good administration of justice. ‘If the Master of the Rolls,’ he said, ‘was compelled to become a resident and efficient officer, it would render the business of the Court of Chancery more prolix and tedious than it is at present.’ There would be another appeal in Chancery suits, and ‘this would be attended with delay and inconvenience to suitors, and would give great additional reason to curse the law's delay.’3 The office was held by Rigby, who had no other connection with Ireland since he had ceased to be Chief Secretary in the first year of the reign. On his death in 1788, it was brought back to Ireland, but it was still treated as a mere lucrative sinecure and was given to the Duke of Leinster.4
This abuse at last gradually ceased. Some offices were bought back by pensions, though often on most extravagant terms.1 Others fell in by death; the feeling on the subject in Parliament was generally strong enough to prevent fresh appointments to absentees, and the Government in Ireland desired to employ all their patronage at home in resisting the movement for a parliamentary reform.
The position of the English Government on the question of reform varied at different times, but on the whole English statesmen were usually considerably more liberal than the Administration in Ireland. Pitt came to power with the reputation of a great parliamentary reformer, and he was at first seriously desirous of carrying out his early pledges and of fulfilling the programme of his illustrious father. If reform was needed anywhere, it was needed in Ireland, and if it was carried in one country it was tolerably certain that it would be impossible to resist it in the other. His confidential letters to the Duke of Rutland are preserved, and they show that he was at one period sincerely anxious to reform the Irish Parliament, though he was at this time equally determined not to admit the Catholics to power. ‘The line to which my mind at present inclines,’ he wrote (‘open to whatever new observations or arguments may be suggested to me), is to give Ireland an almost unlimited communication of commercial advantages, if we can receive in return some security that her strength and riches will be our benefit, and that she will contribute from time to time in their increasing proportions to the common exigencies of the Empire; and having by holding out this, removed, I trust, every temptation to Ireland to consider her interests as separate from England, to be ready, while we discountenance wild and unconstitutional attempts, which strike at the root of all authority, to give real efficacy and popularity to the Government by acceding (if such a line can be found) to a prudent and temperate reform of Parliament, which may guard against, or gradually cure, real defects and mischiefs, may show a sufficient regard to the interests and even prejudices of individuals who are concerned, and may unite the Protestant interest in excluding the Catholics from any share in the representation or the government of the country.’1 He begs Rutland to sound the dispositions of Charlemont and the other reformers, and says, ‘By all I hear accidentally, the parliamentary reformers are alarmed at the pretensions of the Catholics, and for that very reason would stop very short of the extreme speculative notions of universal suffrage.’ ‘Let me beseech you,’ he adds, ‘to recollect that both your character and mine for consistency are at stake unless there are unanswerable proofs that the case of Ireland and England is different; and to recollect also, that however it is our duty to oppose the most determined spirit and firmness to ill-founded clamour or factious pretensions, it is a duty equally indispensable to take care not to struggle but in a right cause. ‘I am more and more convinced in my own mind every day, that some reform will take place in both countries. Whatever is to be wished (on which, notwithstanding numerous difficulties, I have myself no doubt), it is, I believe, at least certain that if any reform takes place here, the tide will be too strong to be withstood in Ireland.’ ‘If it be well done, the sooner the better.’ ‘Should there appear, after a certain time, a prospect that the complete arrangement of commercial questions will be followed by some satisfaction on this essential point of reform, I believe the arms will then drop out of the hands of the volunteers without a struggle.’ He only desired that the Irish Government should not commit itself irrevocably to reform ‘while the question is undecided in England.’2
The Irish Administration, on the other hand, was strongly opposed to any measure of reform. They had got their majority by the small borough system, and they wished to keep it, and opposed a strong passive resistance to every attempt from England to impel them in the direction of reform. The chief governor was naturally surrounded by great borough owners, whose personal interests were bound up with the existing political system, and the spirit both of resistance and of anti-Catholicism was very greatly strengthened when, on the promotion of Yelverton to the Bench in 1783, Fitzgibbon became Attorney-General. This remarkable man, who for the last sixteen years of the century exercised a dominant influence in the Irish Government, and who, as Lord Clare, was the ablest, and at the same time the most detested, advocate of the Union, had in 1780 opposed the Declaration of Right moved by Grattan in the House of Commons, but had supported the policy of Grattan in 1782, and had used strong language in censuring some parts of the legislative authority which Great Britain exercised over Ireland.1 It is very questionable whether he ever really approved of the repeal of Poynings' Law, and his evident leaning towards authority made him distrusted by several leaders of the popular party, but Grattan does not appear to have shared the feeling, and when he was consulted on the subject by Lord Northington, he gave his full sanction to the promotion of Fitzgibbon.2 For some time there was no breach between them, and in one of his speeches in 1785 Fitzgibbon spoke in high terms of the character and services of Grattan,3 but the dispute on the commercial propositions appears to have separated them, and Fitzgibbon soon followed the true instincts of his character and his intellect, in opposing an iron will to every kind of reform. In private life he appears to have been an estimable and even amiable man; several acts of generosity are related of him, and the determination with which in spite of a large inherited fortune he pursued his career at the bar, shows the energy and the seriousness of his character. He is said not to have been a great orator, but he was undoubtedly a very ready and skilful debater, a great master of constitutional law, a man who in council had a peculiar gift of bending other wills to his own, a man who in many trying periods of popular violence displayed a courage which no denger and no obloquy could disturb. He was, however, arrogant, petulant, and overbearing in the highest degree, delighting in trampling on those whom he disliked, in harsh acts and irritating words, prone on all occasions to strain prerogative and authority to their utmost limits, bitterly hostile to the great majority of his countrymen, and, without being corrupt himself, a most cynical corrupter of others. Curran, both in Parliament and at the bar, had been one of his bitterest opponents, and a duel having on one occasion ensued, a great scandal was created by the slow and deliberate manner in which, contrary to the ordinary rules of duels, Fitzgibbon aimed at his opponent,1 and when he became Lord Chancellor he was accused of having, by systematic hostility and partiality on the bench, compelled his former adversary to abandon his practice in the court.2
As a politician, Fitzgibbon, though his father had been one of the many Catholics who abandoned their faith in order to pursue a legal career, represented in its harshest and most arrogant form the old spirit of Protestant ascendency as it existed when the smoke of the civil wars had scarcely cleared away, and he laughed to scorn all who taught that there could be any peace between the different sections of Irishmen, or that the century which had elapsed since the Revolution had made any real change in the situation of the country. A passage in his great speech in favour of the Union is the keynote of his whole policy. ‘What, then,’ he asked, ‘was the situation of Ireland at the Revolution, and what is it at this day? The whole power and property of the country has been conferred by successive monarchs of England upon an English colony composed of three sets of English adventurers, who poured into this country at the termination of three successive rebellions. Confiscation is their common title, and from their first settlement they have been hemmed in on every side by the old inhabitants of the island, brooding over their discontents in sullen indignation.’1 In accordance with these views his uniform object was to represent the Protestant community as an English garrison planted in a hostile country, to govern steadily, sternly, and exclusively, with a view to their interests, to resist to the utmost every attempt to relax monopoly, elevate and conciliate the Catholics or draw together the divided sections of Irish life. Even in the days when he professed liberalism, he had endeavoured to impede the Catholic Relief Bill of 1778 by raising difficulties about the effects of relief of the Catholics on the Act of Settlement; and after he arrived in power, he was a steady and bitter opponent of every measure of concession.2 He was sometimes obliged to yield. He was sometimes opposed to his colleagues in Ireland, and more often to the Government in England, but the main lines of his policy were on the whole maintained, and it is difficult to exaggerate the evil they caused. To him, more perhaps than to any other man, it is due that nothing was done during the quiet years that preceded the French Revolution to diminish the corruption of the Irish Parliament, or the extreme anomalies of the Irish ecclesiastical establishment. He was the soul of that small group of politicians, who, by procuring the recall of Lord Fitz-william and the refusal of Catholic emancipation in 1795, flung the Catholics into the rebellion of 1798, and his influence was one of the chief obstacles to the determination of Pitt to carry Catholic Emancipation concurrently with the Union. He looked, indeed, upon the Union as shutting the door for ever against the Catholics, and it was only when it had been carried by his assistance, that he learned to his bitter indignation that the Government, without his knowledge, had been negotiating secretly with their leaders.1
The possibility of a loyal Irish Parliament undergoing parliamentary and ministerial fluctuations, like those which are now frequent in the robust constitutional Governments of the colonies, never appears to have entered into his calculations, and he avowed very cynically that in his theory of a separate Parliament, corruption should be the normal method of government. ‘The only security,’ he said, ‘which can by possibility exist for national concurrence, is a permanent and commanding influence of the English Executive, or rather of the English Cabinet, in the councils of Ireland.’ ‘A majority in the Parliament of Great Britain will defeat the Minister of the day, but a majority of the Parliament of Ireland against the King's Government goes directly to separate this kingdom from the British Crown. … It is vain to expect, so long as man continues to be a creature of passion and interest, that he will not avail himself of the critical and difficult situation in which the Executive Government of this kingdom must ever remain under its present Constitution, to demand the favours of the Crown, not as the reward of loyalty and service, but as the stipulated price to be paid in advance for the discharge of a public duty.’2 In one of the debates on the Regency be openly avowed that half a million had on a former occasion been spent to secure an address to Lord Townshend, and intimated very plainly that the same sum would if necessary be spent again.3
We can hardly judge such sentiments with fairness, if we do not remember that with the partial and disastrous exception of the American Legislatures, the experiment of free parliamentary life in colonies with which we are now so familiar had not yet been tried, and also that the necessity of retaining a great Crown influence in the English House of Commons was still widely held. Nor was this view confined to party men or to active and interested politicians. In 1752 Hume published those political essays which are still among the most valuable and were on their first appearance by far the most popular of his works, and in one of these essays he inquires what it is that prevents the House of Commons from breaking loose from its place in the Constitution and reducing the other powers to complete subservience to itself. He answers that ‘the House of Commons stretches not its power because such a usurpation would be contrary to the interests of the majority of its members. The Crown has so many offices at its disposal that when assisted by the honest and disinterested part of the House it will always command the resolutions of the whole. … We may call this influence by the invidious appellations of corruption and dependence; but some degree and some kind of it are inseparable from the very nature of the Constitution, and necessary to the preservation of our mixed government.’1
To exactly the same effect is the judgment of Paley, whose treatise on moral and political philosophy appeared in 1785, and who devoted an admirable chapter to the actual working of the British Constitution. He asserts that about half of the members sitting in the House of Commons of England when he wrote, held their seats either by purchase or by the nomination of single patrons, and he urged with singular ingenuity that, however absurd it might appear in theory, some such system of representation was absolutely necessary in the British Constitution to give cohesion and solidity to the whole, to counteract the natural centrifugal tendency which would otherwise lead the House of Commons to break loose from its place in the Constitution, and the natural tendency of its own democratic element to acquire a complete control over its policy. He describes the saying that an ‘independent parliament is incompatible with the existence of a monarchy’ as containing ‘not more of paradox than of truth,’ and he attributes the severance of the British colonies in North America from the mother country, mainly to the fact that the English Government held so little patronage in those colonies that it was never able to acquire a commanding and interested support in the colonial Legislatures.1
In such maxims we find principles very similar to those of Fitzgibbon, and they were unfortunately predominant in the Irish councils. ‘The question of reform,’ Rutland wrote to Pitt, ‘should it be carried in England, would tend greatly to increase our difficulties, and I do not see how it will be evaded. In England it is a delicate question, but in this country it is difficult and dangerous to the last degree. The views of the Catholics render it extremely hazardous. … Your proposition of a certain proportionable addition to county members would be the least exceptionable, and might not, perhaps, materially interfere with the system of Parliament in this country, which, though it must be confessed that it does not bear the smallest resemblance to representation, I do not see how quiet and good government could exist under any more popular mode.’2 ‘The object of reform form,’ he wrote a few months later, ‘is by no means confined to a correction of alleged abuses in the representation, but extends to a substantial change of parliamentary influence. Nothing short of that will satisfy the clamorous, and any such change will completely dissatisfy the friends of Government and the established Constitution.’ He warned the Government that any change in the representation would strengthen and perhaps unite the factious elements in the nation—‘the Dissenters, who seek for such an alteration in the Constitution as will throw more power into their hands; … the Roman Catholics, whose superior numbers would speedily give them the upper hand if they were admitted to a participation in the Legislature; and those men who oppose the Government upon personal considerations.’1 In accordance with these views we find him, at the very time when the demand for reform and retrenchment was at its height, advocating the creation of new places for the purpose of strengthening the parliamentary influence of Government.2
In sharp contrast with these views was the policy of Grattan and of a small number of able and patriotic men who followed his standard. Grattan clearly perceived that after the great triumph that had been achieved and the great agitation that had been undergone, it was necessary to pacify the public mind, to lead it back to the path of gradual administrative reform, to strengthen the Executive against the spirit of disorder, and at the same time to discourage all feeling of disloyalty to England. We have already seen how he looked upon the Renunciation Act, the Volunteer Convention, and the proposed diminution of the military establishments. In 1782, when the Dublin weavers resolved to enter into a non-importation agreement, he dexterously defeated the design by substituting for it a subscription list, pledging all who signed to purchase Irish goods to the amount placed opposite their names.1 He steadily opposed the agitation for protecting duties which would have separated the commercial interests of England and Ireland.2 He was foremost in denouncing a portion of the Irish press which was openly inciting to assassination, and which had lately introduced a detestable system, that already existed in England, of extorting money from timid individuals by threats of slander, and in spite of the violent outcry that was raised, he cordially supported Foster's Press Bill.3 The tone of the seditious press he justly described as a matter deserving the most serious consideration of Parliament. ‘I have no idea,’ he said, ‘of wounding the liberty of the press, but if it be suffered to go on in the way it is at present, one of two things must ensue: it will either excite the unthinking to acts of desperation, or it will itself fall into utter contempt, after having disgraced the nation.’4
In 1785, when the Government resolved to organise the militia chiefly for the purpose of rendering the volunteer force unnecessary, Grattan gave them his full support; and when this measure was represented as an offence to the volunteers, he repudiated the argument with a scathing severity. ‘The volunteers,’ he said, ‘had no right whatever to be displeased at the establishment of a militia, and if they had expressed displeasure, the dictate of armed men ought to be disregarded by Parliament.’ ‘We are the Legislature and they the subject.’ ‘The situation of the House would be truly unfortunate if the name of the volunteers could intimidate it. … That great and honourable body of men, the primitive volunteers, deserved much of their country, but I am free to say that they who now assume the name have much degenerated. … There is a cankered part of the dregs of the people that has been armed. Let no gentleman give such men countenance, or pretend to join them with the original volunteers.’ He looked with extreme disapprobation on all attempts to set up rival centres of political power outside Parliament, and at the risk of a complete sacrifice of his popularity he censured in strong terms the national congress which had assembled in Dublin, asserting that, whether it was legal or not, such a body was not reconcilable with a House of Commons; that ‘two sets of representatives, one de jure, and another supposing itself a representative de facto, cannot well co-exist,’ and that it was such meetings that ‘gave the business of reform the cast and appearance of innovation and violence.’ ‘The populace,’ he said, ‘differ much and should be clearly distinguished from the people.’ ‘An appeal to the latent and summary powers of the people should be reserved for extraordinary exigencies. The rejection of a popular Bill is no just cause for their exertion.’1
No politician had ever less sympathy than Grattan with disorder and anarchy; and his whole theory of Irish politics was very far from democratic. From first to last it was a foremost article of his policy that it was essential to the safe working of representative institutions in Ireland that they should be under the full guidance and control of the property of the country, and that the greatest of all calamities would be that this guidance should pass into the hands of adventurers and demagogues. He desired the House of Commons to be a body consisting mainly of the independent landed gentry and leading lawyers, and resting mainly on a freehold suffrage; and he would have gladly included in it the leading members of that Catholic gentry who had long been among the most loyal and most respectable subjects of the Crown. He believed that a body so constituted was most likely to draw together the severed elements of Irish life; to watch over Irish interests; to guide the people upwards to a higher level of civilisation and order; to correct the many and glaring evils of Irish life. But in order that it should perform this task, it was indispensable that it should be a true organ of national feeling; a faithful representative of educated opinion and of independent property; able and willing to pursue energetically the course of administrative reform which was imperatively needed. It was necessary above all that the system of governing exclusively by corruption and family interest should be terminated. Such a system was absolutely inevitable in a Parliament constituted like that of Ireland, and without any one of the more important legislative guarantees of parliamentary purity that existed in England.
Grattan would gladly have left it to the Government to take the initiative in the question of parliamentary reform, but when that question was introduced he strongly maintained, in opposition to the Government, that the Bills which were brought before the House should at least be suffered to go into committee, to be discussed, modified, and amended in detail. While opposing a reduction of the military establishments he maintained that for this very reason civil retrenchment ought to be more earnestly pursued, and he vainly attempted to procure an inquiry into the expense of collecting the revenue. He complained that this expense had risen between 1758 and 1783 from 81,000l. to 157,000l., from 13 to 16 per cent. of the revenue, and that it was a common thing to grant by royal prerogative large additional salaries to sinecure or perfectly insignificant offices, held by supporters of the Government, in order that their names should not appear in the pension list. Grattan vainly tried to procure a parliamentary condemnation of this system of masked pensions, and he dilated in many able speeches on the absolute necessity of reducing the expenditure within the limits of the public income. During the Administration of Lord Northington he gave the Government an independent support, but in the following Administrations, when the influence of Fitzgibbon became supreme, when it was evident that the Government was opposed to all serious retrenchment and reform, when pensions and offices were created with the obvious purpose of increasing parliamentary influence, Grattan passed gradually into opposition and endeavoured to create an organised party capable, if any change occurred, of taking the reins of power. He was at this time undisputed leader of his party. Flood reintroduced his Reform Bill in the spring of 1785, and he afterwards concurred heartily with Grattan in opposing the amended commercial propositions; but after this time he rarely appeared in the Irish Parliament, and he died in 1791. Charlemont had never much parliamentary influence, and the Bishop of Derry soon after the episode of the Convention left Ireland on the plea of ill-health, and spent the remaining years of his life in Italy, where he led a wild and profligate life, and at length died in 1803 at Albano.1
The measures advocated by Grattan and the small party who followed him, during the period we are considering, were usually of the most moderate character. A place Bill limiting the number of placemen who sat in the House of Commons, copied from that which for more than eighty years had existed in the English Statute-book; a pension Bill limiting the number of pensioners; a responsibility Bill giving additional guarantees for the proper expenditure of different branches of the revenue, and a disenfranchisement of revenue and custom-house officers like that which had been carried in England under Rockingham, would at this time have satisfied their demands. But such demands were met with a steady resistance. Nothing was done to diminish the evil, and, on the contrary, it continued to increase. It was alleged in Parliament, apparently with perfect truth, that in the beginning of 1789, exclusive of the military pensions, the pension list had risen to 101,000l. a year, and that pensions to the amount of 16,000l., many of them distributed among members of Parliament, had been created since March 1784, besides considerable additional salaries which had been added to several obsolete, useless, and sinecure offices in the hands of members of Parliament.1 Grattan in the beginning of 1790 described in a few graphic words the condition of the House of Commons. ‘Above two-thirds of the returns to this House are private property; of those returns many actually this moment sold to the Minister; the number of placemen and pensioners sitting in this House equals near one-half of the whole efficient body; the increase of that number within the last twenty years is greater than all the counties in Ireland.’2
The rights which Irish commerce had attained in the last few years have already been described. The very liberal legislation of Lord North had granted Ireland the full right of direct trade with the English plantations of Africa and America, on the sole condition of establishing the same duties and regulations as those to which the English trade with the plantations was subject, and also a full participation of the English trade with the Levant, while the subsequent establishment of her legislative independence had left her absolutely free to regulate her trade by treaty with all foreign countries. The monopoly of the East India Company still excluded her from the Asiatic trade, but in the present condition of her undeveloped manufactures this was not considered a matter of any real importance. The trade between England and Ireland was of course regulated by the Acts of their respective Parliaments. Ireland admitted all English goods either freely or at low duties; she had not imposed any prohibitory duty on them, and whenever she laid heavy duties on any article which could be produced in Great Britain, she had almost always excepted the British article.3 The British Parliament had excluded most Irish manufactures, and especially Irish manufactured wool, by duties amounting to prohibition, but in the interest of English woollen manufacturers it freely admitted Irish woollen yarn, and in the interest of Ireland it admitted linen, which was the most important article of Irish manufacture, without any duty whatever, and even encouraged it by a small bounty. ‘The whole amount of the British manufacture which Ireland actually takes from England under a low duty,’ said Pitt, ‘does not amount to so much as the single article of linen which we are content to take from you under no duty at all.’1 Either Parliament had the right of altering this arrangement, and it was tolerably certain that if Ireland imposed prohibitory taxes on English goods, England would pursue a corresponding policy towards Irish linen. By a construction of the Navigation Act, foreign commodities could not be carried into England by or through Ireland, and although Ireland had the right of trading directly with the colonies, she was prohibited from sending plantation goods to England, or receiving them from her.2 She might, however, send her own manufactures to Africa and America, and bring back to Great Britain all their produce.3
Pitt was one of the few persons who perceived that a perpetual free trade between the two countries would be an advantage to both, and he hoped to frame such a treaty as would unite the two parts of the Empire indissolubly both for military and commercial purposes, would put an end to all possibility of a future war of hostile tariffs, and, without altering essentially the existing constitutional arrangements, would at the same time add considerably to the military strength of the Empire. He proposed that a treaty should be carried, establishing for the future perfect free trade between the two countries. But as such a treaty, throwing open to Ireland the enormous markets of England, and securing to her for ever the market of the plantations, would be a much greater boon to Ireland than to England, Ireland might reasonably be expected to purchase it by paying a fixed contribution in time of peace and war to the general defence of the Empire. The terms of the proposal were very clearly stated in a confidential letter from Sydney to Rutland: ‘Your grace should endeavour to obtain, at the same time with the intended commercial regulations, an act of the Parliament of Ireland appropriating the future surplus of the hereditary revenue … to the Navy and general defence of the Empire … leaving the manner of applying it, and of having it particularly accounted for, to the Parliament of this country. It should also be explicitly understood, first, that any mode of contribution to be thus established is not to be made a pretext for withdrawing any part of the aid now given by the Irish Parliament towards the general expenses of the Empire, in the maintenance of the regiments upon the Irish establishment serving out of this kingdom, and, secondly, that such a fund is considered only as a means for defraying … the ordinary expenses of the Empire in time of peace, and that Ireland will still in case of war or any extraordinary emergency be called upon and expected voluntarily to contribute, as in reason and justice she ought, to such further exertions as the situation of affairs and the general interests of the Empire may from time to time require.’1 The hereditary revenue was selected as the source of the proposed contribution for two reasons—because it consisted mainly of custom and excise duties, the increase in which would, it was anticipated, be a direct consequence of the commercial boons that were offered; and because the proposition was likely to be more palatable to the Irish Parliament as it gave that Parliament a right of appropriating for ever to objects in which Ireland had an essential interest, a portion of the revenue which was now ‘entrusted to the general direction of the Crown.’2 The Navy was selected for the application of the fund because it would always be in part employed to defend the coast and the commerce of Ireland. The Parliaments of the two nations were in the first instance to be asked to carry resolutions embodying these terms, and these resolutions were then to be turned into Bills.
Before the plan was brought into Parliament it was fully discussed in confidential letters which passed between the English and Irish Governments, and the Lord-Lieutenant clearly stated what were likely to be the Irish objections to the scheme. The creation of a free trade between England and Ireland was the great offer made to Ireland, but there was a party in Ireland who looked upon this much more as an evil than as a good. It would for ever prevent Ireland from improving her manufactures by protecting duties or special bounties on exportation, and would secure the ascendency which great capital, extensive establishments, and a settled position had given to English manufacturers even in the Irish market. The plantation trade ought surely, it would be said, not to be made an element in a new bargain, for it had been already granted to Ireland under Lord North, and he had in this respect only replaced Ireland in the position she had occupied before the amended Navigation Act of Charles II. These things, however, the Lord-Lieutenant thought could be got over, but he warned the Government that the provision obliging Ireland to contribute to the Imperial expenditure must be managed with extreme delicacy, and might lead to the most violent resistance. No such stipulation had been annexed to the commercial concessions of 1779. The public revenue of Ireland was at this time at least 150,000l. a year less than the public charges, and therefore it was exceedingly unfit to bear an additional burden. Nor was this a time in which any unpopular proposal could be safely brought forward. ‘The disappointment by Parliament of the popular expectations respecting a reform in the representation, and their not granting protecting duties which the manufacturers of this city more particularly demanded, drove the people from their accustomed deference to the decisions of Parliament, and led them to look to other methods of accomplishing their ends by means of a congress and by non-importation agreements. The county candidates in general found themselves under the necessity of giving in to the popular cry, and the unsuccessful candidates joined in.’ Abstractedly, the proposal of the Government seemed to the Lord-Lieutenant perfectly just, but he feared that it would be so unpopular that even if it were carried through Parliament it would seriously unsettle the country and unite the factious elements. England should be content with the large military expenditure which Ireland cheerfully contributed to the Empire, and with the many indirect ways in which she benefited the richer country.1 To insist upon a forced contribution would probably have the effect of diminishing the voluntary grants, and would therefore be of no service to the Empire, while constitutional objections of the most serious kind might be raised. This was the first instance of an attempt to impose an obligatory contribution, and it would be a calamitous thing if it could be represented as bearing any resemblance to the policy which had proved so disastrous in America. Any stipulation which tended to make Ireland a tributary of England, which deprived the Irish Parliament of its exclusive control over Irish resources, which made it in any degree dependent on or inferior to the British Legislature, would strike the most sensitive chord in the Irish Parliament. ‘If the surplus,’ wrote Rutland, ‘is in any way whatever to be remitted into England either in money or in goods, the resolution will never be carried.’ If the Government insisted upon a contribution, the Lord-Lieutenant hoped that it might be specified that it should be expended in Ireland; and it might be employed for the purpose of maintaining a portion of the British Navy devoted to the defence of the Irish coast.2
Pitt himself devoted some confidential letters to an explanation of the views of the Cabinet, and they appear to me eminently creditable both to his economical sagacity and to his honesty of purpose.3 ‘In the relation of Great Britain’ [with Ireland], he wrote, ‘there can subsist but two possible principles of connection, one, that which is exploded, of total subordination in Ireland and of restrictions on her commerce for the benefit of this country, which was by this means enabled to bear the whole burden of the Empire; the other, … that of an equal participation of all commercial advantages and some proportion of the charge of protecting the general interests.’ ‘The fundamental principle and the only one on which the whole plan can be justified … is that for the future the two countries will be to the most essential purposes united. On this ground the wealth and prosperity of the whole is the object; from what local sources they arise is indifferent.’ ‘We open to Ireland the chance of a competition with ourselves on terms of more than equality, and we give her advantages which make it impossible she should ever have anything to fear from the jealousy or restrictive policy of this country in future.’ We desire to make ‘England and Ireland one country in effect, though for local concerns under distinct Legislatures, one in the communication of advantages, and, of course, in the participation of burdens.’ ‘In order to effect this we are departing from the policy of prohibiting duties so long established in this country. In doing so we are, perhaps, to encounter the prejudices of our manufacturing [mterests] in every corner of the kingdom. We are admitting to this competition a country whose labour is cheap and whose resources are unexhausted; ourselves burdened with accumulated taxes which are felt in the price of every necessary of life, and, of course, enter into the cost of every article of manufacture. It is, indeed, stated on the other hand that Ireland has neither the skill, the industry, nor the capital of this country; but it is difficult to assign any good reason why she should not gradually, with such strong encouragement, imitate and rival us in both the former, and in both more rapidly from time, as she grows possessed of a larger capital, which, with all the temptations for it, may, perhaps, to some degree be transferred to her from hence, but which will, at all events, be increased if her commerce receives any extension.’
England, however, had a perfect right to make the opening of the plantation market an element in the question. The removal of restrictions which prevented Ireland from trading with foreign countries had been a matter of justice; but the English plantations had been established under the sole direction of the English Parliament and Government; it was, therefore, by a mere act of favour that Ireland was suffered to trade directly with them;1 it was proposed that she should have the additional advantage of supplying England through Ireland with their goods, and now that a final arrangement is made, now that ‘the balance is to be struck and the account closed between the two countries, we must take full credit as well for what has been given by others … as for what we give ourselves.’
The indispensable condition to be insisted on, is that there should be ‘some fixed mode of contribution on the part of Ireland, in proportion to her growing means, to the general defence;’ that this contribution should not be left dependent upon the disposition and humour, the opinions and interests, that may from time to time prevail in the Irish Parliament, and that it should be under the complete control of the supreme Executive of the Empire. ‘In Ireland it cannot escape consideration that this is a contribution not given beforehand for uncertain expectations, but which can only follow the actual possession and enjoyment of the benefits in return for which it is given. If Ireland does not grow richer and more populous she will by this scheme contribute nothing. If she does grow richer by the participation of our trade, surely she ought to contribute, and the measure of that contribution cannot with equal justice be fixed in any other proportion. It can never be contended that the increase of the hereditary revenue ought to be left to Ireland as the means of gradually diminishing her other taxes, unless it can be argued that the whole of what Ireland now pays is a greater burden, in proportion, than the whole of what is paid by this country. … It is to be remembered that the very increase supposed to arise in the hereditary revenue cannot arise without a similar increase in many articles of the additional taxes; consequently from that circumstance alone, though they part with the future increase of their hereditary revenue, their income will be upon the whole increased, without imposing any additional burdens. On the whole, therefore, if Ireland allows that she ought ever in time of peace to contribute at all, I can conceive no plausible objection to the particular mode proposed.’1
‘The idea of Ireland contributing only for the support of her own immediate and separate benefit,’ Sydney urged, ‘is the direct reverse of the principle which ought to govern the present settlement and utterly inadmissible.’2 It was essential to the strength and unity of the Empire that some such contribution as was proposed should be made, and it was perfectly idle to suppose that without some such evident advantage to the Empire the English Parliament would consent to relinquish its trade monopolies. The most desirable arrangement, in the opinion of the Government, would be that the surplus of the Irish hereditary revenue should be applied to the reduction of the English national debt. But if, as might easily be expected, this very singular proposal proved unacceptable, the Cabinet insisted that the surplus must at least be set aside by the Irish Parliament to be applied to the naval forces of the Empire. There was no objection to giving a preference to Irish stores and manufactures for the use of the Navy, and if it was absolutely impossible to carry the scheme in any other form, the required sum might be annually appropriated by, and the estimates annually laid before, the Irish Parliament.3
Pitt's plan was brought before the Irish Parliament on February 7, 1785, in the form of ten resolutions. Their most important provisions were that all foreign and colonial goods might pass from England to Ireland and from Ireland to England without any increase of duty, that all Irish goods might be imported into England and all English goods into Ireland either freely or at duties which were the same in each country, that where the duties in the two countries were now unequal they should be equalised by reducing the higher duty to the level of the lower, that except in a few carefully specified cases there should be no new duties on importation or bounties on exportation, that each country should give a preference in its markets to the goods of the other over the same goods imported from abroad, and that whenever the hereditary revenue exceeded a sum which was as yet not specified, the surplus ‘should be appropriated towards the support of the naval forces of the Empire in such manner as the Parliament of this kingdom shall direct.’1
These were the propositions now laid by Orde before the Irish Parliament, but it was soon found that one important modification of the plan was necessary. Grattan looked with much favour upon the general scheme, but he at first hesitated about the compulsory contribution. It assumed, to his mind, too much the appearance of a subsidy. It was indefinite in its amount and might rise with the prosperity of the country to a wholly inordinate sum, and he evidently agreed with Foster that as a matter of policy ‘it would be better for Britain to leave the affair to the liberality and ability of the moment when our aid might be necessary.’2 This objection, however, on reflection he was ready to waive, but he insisted strenuously that no additional contribution should be paid to the general defence of the Empire till the Government had consented to put an end to the ruinous system of annual deficits and almost annual loans which had already seriously injured the credit of the nation.3 In order to meet this objection a new resolution was introduced, which made the contribution in time of peace contingent upon the establishment of a balance between revenue and expenditure. The hereditary revenue was now 652,000l. and was steadily rising. The new resolution provided that whatever surplus it produced ‘above the sum of 656,000l. in each year of peace wherein the annual revenue shall equal the annual expense, and in each year of war without regard to such equality, should be appropriated towards the support of the naval force of the Empire in such manner as the Parliament of this kingdom shall direct.’1
Sydney, in a secret letter to Rutland, expressed his strong dislike to this concession to the views of Grattan,2 but the English Government took no step to disavow their representatives in Ireland, and Rutland himself urgently maintained that the new condition was both necessary, politic, and just. ‘The continued accumulation of debt and the providing for it by annual loans must be acknowledged to be a ruinous system. The extent to which these loans have already arrived in the last nine or ten years has sunk the value of Government four per cent. debentures, which were above par, to eighty-eight per cent. … ‘When the nation, instead of applying the redundancy of its revenues to the discharge of its incumbrances, agrees to appropriate that redundancy to the general expenses of the Empire, it cannot be thought unjust that it should at the same time restrain the Government from running into debt.’3
Though the resolutions were vehemently opposed in the House of Commons by Flood and a few other members, and though there were a few hostile petitions from manufacturers who desired protecting duties and who saw that all chance of obtaining them was now likely to disappear, they encountered no serious or formidable difficulty, and at last passed through the Irish Parliament with a general concurrence. Grattan in a few words commended them as not only strengthening the Empire, but also securing the great end of a sound and honest financial administration, by interesting both the British and Irish Ministers in Irish economy. ‘The plan,’ he said, ‘is open, fair, and just, and such as the British Minister can justify to both nations.’1 One of the first consequences of the resolutions was a motion which was introduced by Foster, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and carried by a large majority, imposing restrictions on the grants to manufactures, charities, and public works, which had hitherto been lavishly and often corruptly voted,2 and the Parliament then imposed additional taxes estimated to produce 140,000l. a year for the purpose of enabling Ireland to fulfil her part in the transaction and showing that she had no desire to evade the obligation of a contribution.3
The popular portion of the House appears to have, with very few exceptions, fully concurred with the Government, and there was no sign of serious disturbance in the country. There was, undoubtedly, a party among the manufacturers who hated with a desperate hatred the notion of free trade; but it had little political power, and it would on the whole perhaps not be too much to say that economical opinion at this time was more enlightened in Ireland than in England. The manner in which new arguments are received often depends much less upon their intrinsic weight, than upon the disposition of the hearers, and circumstances had given English mercantile opinion a strong bias towards monopoly, and Irish opinion an almost equal bias towards free trade. The great, ancient, and wealthy industries of England, largely represented in the Imperial Parliament, fortified in all directions by laws of privilege, and commanding the markets of all the subordinate portions of the Empire, were very naturally marked out by their circumstances as the champions of monopoly, and their representatives regarded the advantages of the protective system as self-evident. The arguments of Hume and of Adam Smith appeared to them the mere subtleties of unpractical theorists, glaringly opposed to the dictates of common sense, and belonging to the same category as the speculations which denied the existence of matter, or of free will, or of a sense of right and wrong in man. The whole commercial history of Ireland, on the other hand, since the Restoration, had been a desperate struggle against commercial restrictions, and Irish thinkers were therefore prepared to welcome the new school of writers, who maintained that a policy of commercial restriction was universally and essentially unsound.
The resolutions passed to England, and were introduced by Pitt on February 22, in a speech of masterly power; but it soon appeared that they were destined to encounter a most formidable opposition. Fox and North at once denounced the propositions as ruinous to English commerce, and all over England the commercial classes were soon arrayed in the most violent opposition to the plan. Delegates of manufacturers from all England met in London, and, chiefly under the direction of the illustrious Wedgwood, they formed themselves into a permanent association called ‘The Great Chamber of the Manufacturers of Great Britain,’ for watching over their interests. Petitions poured in from every important manufacturing centre in England and Scotland. Liverpool led the way; a petition from Lancashire bearing 80,000 signatures was laid on the floor of the House, and in a short time no less than sixty-two other petitions were presented. They alleged that the low taxes, and the low price of labour, in Ireland, would make anything like free trade ruinous to English manufacturers; that the English trader would be driven, not only out of the Irish, but even out of his own market; that the English manufacturer would be obliged in self-defence to transfer his works and capital to Ireland, and they clamorously demanded to be heard by counsel against the scheme.
Nearly twelve weeks were expended in hearing evidence against it, and during all that time the opposition in England was growing stronger and stronger. It was certain that the resolutions in their present form would not be carried, and when Pitt again brought forward the scheme in May 1785, the original eleven resolutions had expanded into twenty. Some of these related to patents, copyright of books, and the right of fishing on the British coast, and were open to little or no objection; but others modified the plan most seriously to the detriment of Ireland. Even after the expiration of the present charter of the East India Company, and as long as England thought fit to maintain any such company, Ireland was precluded from carrying on any direct trade with any part of the world, whether English or foreign, beyond the Cape of Good Hope, to the Straits of Magellan, and from importing any goods of the growth, produce, or manufacture of India, except through Great Britain. She was prohibited from importing to England arrack, rum, foreign brandy, and strong waters, which did not come from the British West Indies. She was to be compelled to enact without delay, and without modification, all laws which either had been made, or which for the future should be made, by the British Parliament respecting navigation, all existing and future British laws regulating and restraining the trade of the British colonies and plantations, and all laws either prohibiting or imposing duties upon goods and commodities imported from either the British or foreign colonies, Africa, or America. The same regulating power of the British Parliament was extended to all goods exported from Ireland to the British colonies of America and the West Indies, and even to a portion of the trade with the United States of America.1 With very few exceptions the same laws and restrictions would apply to the English and Irish trade; but the circumstances of the two countries were so widely different, that it was easy to show that they would often be most unequal in their operation, and it was for the British Parliament alone to determine the laws relating to navigation, to the trade with the English colonies, to the trade with the foreign plantations, and to part of the trade with the United Sates. On all these subjects the right of legislation was virtually transferred or abdicated, for the Irish Parliament would have no propounding, deliberative, negative, or legislative power, and would be obliged simply to register the enactments of the Parliament in England.
Even in their modified form the commercial resolutions were bitterly opposed by Fox, North, Burke, and Sheridan; and Eden, whose authority on commercial matters was very great, was on the same side. Burke, though he was by no means an unqualified opponent of the propositions,1 described one part of them as a repetition of the English policy in America—another attempt by the mother country, through the medium of Parliament, to raise a revenue by legislative regulations.2 Fox and Sheridan declared that the resolutions went to the complete destruction of the commerce, manufacture, revenue, and mercantile strength of England, and they at the same time, while constituting themselves the especial champions of English commercial jealousy, did their utmost to excite Irish feeling against the scheme. They described it as a plan to make Ireland tributary to England, and as involving a complete surrender of the power of exclusive legislation, which Ireland so highly prized. It was, as Sheridan truly said, ‘unquestionably a proposal on the part of the British Parliament, that Ireland should, upon certain conditions, surrender her now acknowledged right of external legislation, and return, as to that point, to the situation from which she had emancipated herself in 1782.’ It bound Ireland, said Fox, to impose restraints ‘undefined, unspecified, and uncertain, at the arbitrary demand of another State,’ and Fox concluded his denunciation by a skilful sentence, which appealed at once to the jealousy of both countries. ‘I will not,’ he said, ‘barter English commerce for Irish slavery; that is not the price I would pay, nor is this the thing I would purchase.’
Pitt exerted both his eloquence and his influence to the utmost, and at last, after a fierce debate which continued till past 8 A.M.,3 the resolutions were carried by great majorities through the English Parliament. It would probably have been on the whole to the advantage of Ireland even now to have accepted them, but we can hardly, I think, blame the Irish Parliament for its reluctance to do so. Pitt, in endeavouring to make them acceptable to England, had been obliged to argue that the industrial ascendency of England was such that serious Irish competition was little short of an impossibility, while the opposition in England had loudly proclaimed that the project was completely subversive of Irish independence. The resolutions to which the Irish Parliament had agreed were returned to it in a wholly altered form, and all the more important alterations were expressly directed against Irish interests, and tended to establish the ascendency of the British Parliament over Irish navigation and commerce. The very essence of the Constitution of 1782 was that the Irish Parliament possessed an exclusive right to legislate for Ireland commercially and externally, as well as internally, and it was this right which, three years after its establishment, Ireland was virtually asked in a great measure to surrender. The price, or at least a part of the price, which was asked for the commercial benefits that might be expected, was the relinquishment by Ireland of her full right of regulating her trade with foreign countries, and the restoration to the British Legislature of a large power of legislating for Ireland. It was said, indeed, that the new restrictions did not differ essentially, and in kind, from those under which Ireland had already accepted the trade to the English plantations, but it was answered that they at least differed enormously in the extent and uncertainty of the obligations imposed on future Irish legislation; in their interference with the rights of the Irish Parliament to regulate its foreign trade. It was said, too, that Ireland might at any time abandon the compact and regain her liberty; but once an intricate commercial system is established, it is often very difficult to withdraw from it, and as long as it continued, the hands of the Irish Parliament on many of the ordinary subjects of legislation would be completely tied. Grattan now denounced the scheme with fiery eloquence as fatal to that Irish Constitution which he valued even more than the British Empire.1 Flood, once more, warmly co-operated with him. Several members on the Treasury Bench supported him. Petitions against the scheme flowed in from the great towns, and at last, after a debate which lasted continuously for more than seventeen hours and did not terminate till nine A.M., the House only granted leave to bring in a Bill based on the twenty resolutions, by 127 to 108.2 Such a division at the first stage of the Bill, and in a House in which the Government usually commanded overwhelming majorities, was equivalent to a defeat; at the next meeting of Parliament, Orde announced his intention not to make any further progress with the Bill, and that night Dublin was illuminated in attestation of the popular joy.
The scheme for uniting the two countries by close commercial and military bonds thus signally failed, and it left a great deal of irritation and recrimination behind it. How, it was asked with much bitterness, can Ireland expect to be duly cared for in any treaty negotiation with Great Britain, when her only representatives in such a negotiation must be ministers appointed and instructed by the British Cabinet? The English Government appears to have acted with perfect honesty, and to have only modified its course under the pressure of overwhelming necessity, but its position in both countries was exceedingly embarrassing and somewhat humiliating. Orde, the Chief Secretary of Ireland, had brought forward the original propositions as the offer of the Government to Ireland. His supporters had represented them as certain to be carried in England, and on the strength of that assurance the Irish Parliament had voted 140,000l. a year of additional taxation. Yet the English Government had soon been obliged to discard that principle of equality which was the essence of the original resolutions, and had returned them to Ireland so amplified and altered as to be scarcely recognisable. On the other hand, Pitt by the most strenuous efforts, and in the face of a storm of denunciation and unpopularity, had carried his commercial scheme through the Parliament of England, only to find it rejected in Ireland.
It is worthy of notice that the words ‘legislative union’ were at this time frequently pronounced in connection with the commercial propositions. The free trade which they would have secured to Ireland had only been granted to Scotland on the condition of a union. Wilberforce in the English House of Commons, and Lord Lansdowne in the English House of Lords, spoke of a legislative union as the best relation for the two countries, but pronounced it to be impracticable, as Ireland would never consent. Lord Sackville, on the other hand, argued strongly in favour both of the practicability and expediency of such a measure, and of its great superiority to a commercial treaty. Sydney, when reporting this speech to Rutland, spoke of a union as impracticable, ‘especially at a time when the Irish were but just in possession of their favourite object, an independent Legislature.’1 It is certain, however, that Rutland had some time previously expressed a strong opinion in favour of a legislative union,2 and it was noticed that shortly after the rejection of the commercial propositions several pamphlets discussing that question were published.
No positive evils, however, appear to have followed from the rejection of the commercial propositions. Ireland as a distinct country continued to legislate independently for her commerce, and her Parliament did not show the faintest disposition to interfere with English commercial interests. The commercial treaty which Pitt negotiated with France in 1786 included Ireland, and it was vehemently opposed by the Whig party in England; but the address approving it was carried in Ireland without a division, and the resolutions for making the necessary alterations in Irish duties passed without the smallest difficulty.1 A new Irish Navigation Act proposed by the Government and adopting almost the whole of the English Navigation Act of Charles II. was soon after carried with equal facility.2 A few years later some resolutions were moved resenting the exclusion of Ireland from the Asiatic trade, but nothing was done, and as far as commercial matters were concerned, England had certainly no reason to distrust or complain of the Irish Parliament. In 1790 applications were made by persons engaged in the leather trade in England, to limit by high duties the export of bark from Great Britain to Ireland, in order to insure the ascendency on the Continent of the English leather trade over that of Ireland. Lord Westmorland, who was then Lord-Lieutenant, remonstrated against this measure, and his letter to the English Government contains the following remarkable passage. ‘Since the failure of the propositions for a commercial intercourse between Great Britain and Ireland, no restraint or duty has been laid upon British produce or manufacture to prejudice the sale in this country, or to grasp at any advantage to articles of Irish manufacture, nor has any incumbrance, by duty or otherwise, been laid on materials of manufacture in the raw or middle state, upon their exportation to Great Britain. At the same time in everything wherein this country could concur in strengthening and securing the navigation and commerce of the Empire, the Government has found the greatest readiness and facility. The utmost harmony subsists in the commerce of the two kingdoms, and nothing has arisen to disturb it or give occasion for discontent.’3
The commercial propositions of 1785 form the first of the two great differences between the English and Irish Parliaments. In the interval between their rejection and the dispute about the Regency, only a few incidents occurred to which it is necessary to refer.
The scandalous state of the administration of justice in the metropolis has been already adverted to, and in 1786 a Police Bill was introduced and carried by the Government, for the purpose of remedying it. Dublin was divided into four districts. The watchmen, who had hitherto been under the control of the several parishes, were reorganised and placed under three new paid commissioners of the peace, who were nominated by the Crown from among the Dublin magistrates, allowed to sit in Parliament, invested with large patronage and almost absolute power, and made practically responsible for the maintenance of order in the city. A new force of regular police—consisting, however, as yet, of only forty-four men—was created and placed under the commissioners. They were to see that the watchmen discharged their duties; they were also themselves to discharge ordinary police functions, and they had powers considerably beyond those of the old watchmen, of arresting suspicious persons and breaking into houses in search of criminals or stolen goods. Several rates were imposed for the purpose of supporting the new system, and there were many complicated police regulations of a less important character, which it is not necessary to describe.1
A somewhat similar scheme had shortly before been proposed for London, but it at once aroused opposition, and it had been dropped on account of a strongly adverse petition from the City.2 The Government in England recommended the scheme as being almost equally needed in both capitals, but more easy to carry in Dublin than in London.3 It speedily, however, aroused great opposition. Its opponents complained that it imposed a large additional expense upon the City; that it was essentially a patronage Bill intended to strengthen the power of the Government in the Corporation of Dublin, and to add to the very large number of places tenable by members of Parliament; that it violated the charter of the City by transferring the regulation of Dublin from the Lord Mayor and Corporation to the Crown; that it laid the foundation of a new semi-military force which might prove very dangerous to liberty. The last argument when regarded in the light of modern experience will appear very futile, but apprehensions of this kind were long prevalent in England, and were often expressed in 1829, when Sir Robert Peel created a Metropolitan Police Force in London, placed under the control of two Government commissioners, and no longer dependent on parochial authority.
Grattan, while acknowledging that the old watchmen were thoroughly inefficient, and that a change in the machinery for enforcing the law was imperatively necessary, opposed strenuously the Government Bill. He believed that it was intended mainly to increase patronage, and that all the legitimate purposes of the measure could be attained without violating the charter or withdrawing its ancient privileges from the Corporation. It is difficult at this distance of time to pronounce with any confidence on the merits of the case. The dangers feared were no doubt exaggerated or chimerical, and the confidential correspondence of the Government seems to show that though they were not indifferent to the possibility of increasing their influence over the Dublin magistracy, they were at least animated by a genuine desire to repress lawlessness and crime.1 It does not appear, however, that in this respect the police measure of 1786 had much effect. For a few months, it is true, there was some diminution of crime, but little more than a year had passed when petitions were presented by a great body of Dublin householders, asserting that the new police were as inefficient as the old watchmen, and that crime had fully regained its former level, while the expense of the police had trebled, and a great amount of purely corrupt expenditure had been incurred.2
The Whiteboy outrages, directed chiefly against tithes, but often taking the form of combinations for regulating the price of labour and lands, and the dues of the priesthood, raged fiercely during the later months of 1786 in several counties in the South of Ireland, and were accompanied by all the atrocities I have already described. At the end of January 1787, Fitzgibbon moved that further provisions by statute were indispensably necessary to prevent tumultuous risings and assemblies, and more effectually to punish persons guilty of outrage, riot, illegal combinations, and administering and taking unlawful oaths. Only a single dissentient voice was heard, and soon after, a very stringent Crimes Bill was carried through the House of Commons by 192 votes to 30. Grattan fully and emphatically admitted the necessity of fresh coercive legislation,1 though he desired to introduce some slight mitigations into the Government Bill, and would have gladly confined its operation to the counties in which the outrages were taking place. On this point, however, he did not insist, but he strongly opposed and ultimately obtained the withdrawal of a clause in Fitzgibbon's scheme, which would probably have converted the Whiteboy movement into a religious war. It provided that if it were established by the evidence of a single witness that an illegal oath had been tendered in, or adjoining to, a popish chapel, that chapel should be at once destroyed, and its materials sold, and that if within the space of three years any new Catholic place of worship was erected in the same parish it also should be destroyed.2
The Act, as it was carried, made all persons who administered illegal oaths liable to transportation for life, and all who took them without compulsion, to transportation for seven years; it made most forms of Whiteboy outrage, including the unlawful seizure of arms, levying contributions by force and intimidation, and even publishing notices tending to produce riots or unlawful combinations, capital offences, and it introduced into Ireland the provisions of the English Riot Act. This part of the measure excited considerable debate, and although Grattan acknowledged its necessity,1 it was much opposed by several members, and especially by Forbes. He read to the House the well-known passage in which Blackstone described the English Riot Act as a vast acquisition of force to the Crown, and he then enumerated the many English Acts passed since the Revolution to restrain undue influence—the Bill of Rights, the Act for excluding pensioners and placemen from the House of Commons, the Act for limiting the civil list, the Nullum Tempus Act, the Acts for preventing revenue officers from voting at elections, for excluding contractors from the House of Commons, and for limiting the amount of the pension list. ‘He observed that not one of those laws was to be found in the Irish Statute-book, and asked whether members could reconcile it with their duty to give this vast acquisition of force to the Crown, without enacting at the same time those laws which the wisdom of the Legislature of England had provided against its abuse and encroachments.’2 The measure, however, at last passed with little dissent, though Fitzgibbon, at the suggestion of Grattan, consented to limit its operation to three years.3
The Whiteboy Act of 1787 is another of the many examples of the prompt and energetic manner in which the Irish Parliament never hesitated to deal with epidemics of outrage. Fitzgibbon complained, however, that much of the evil was due to the supineness and sometimes even to the connivance of magistrates, and he alleged that they were prone on the slightest occasion to call for military assistance. An important Act ‘for the better execution of the law’ was carried in this year, for reforming the magistracy and establishing throughout the country a constabulary appointed by the grand juries but under the direction of peace officers appointed by the Crown.4
But while Grattan warmly supported the Government in measures for the suppression of disorder and crime, he maintained that it was equally imperative for the Parliament to deal with those great evils from which Irish crime principally sprang. The enormous absurdity, injustice, and inequality of the Irish tithe system has been explained in a former chapter, and tithes and the tithe proctor were the chief cause of the Whiteboy disturbances which were spreading every kind of evil and disaster over a great part of Ireland. Pitt with the instinct of a true statesman had expressed his wish, as early as 1786, that tithes in Ireland should be commuted into a money rate, levied on the tenants of the parish, regulated by the price of corn and calculated on an average of several years.1 But although many of the poorer clergy would have gladly accepted such a plan, and although in the opinion of Rutland the majority of the laity ‘were opposed to tithes and strong advocates for some settlement,’ the bishops ‘considered any settlement as a direct attack on their most ancient rights and as a commencement of the ruin of the Establishment;’2 and the Irish Government, discarding the advice of Pitt, obstinately resisted every attempt to modify the offensive system. Grattan had mastered the subject in its minutest details, and in 1787, in 1788, and in 1789 he brought it forward in speeches which were among the greatest he ever delivered, suggesting as alternative and slightly varying plans to pay the clergy a sum calculated on the average of several years and raised by applotment like other county charges; to institute a general modus in lieu of tithes; to make a commutation by a general survey of every county, allowing a specified sum for every acre in tillage, and making the whole county security for the clergymen. These plans were in principle very similar to the suggestion of Pitt, and in addition to their other advantages they might have made the collection of tithes by the resident clergy so simple and easy that the whole race of tithe farmers and proctors would have gradually disappeared. Grattan also proposed that lands which had been barren should for a certain time after their reclamation be exempt from tithes; that the partial or complete exemption of potatoes and linen, which existed in some parts of the kingdom, should be extended to the whole; and that a moderate tax should be imposed on the non-residence of the clergy.3 The exemption of barren lands from tithes was approved of by Fitzgibbon,1 and although it was for some years rejected on account of the opposition of the clergy, it was ultimately carried. But the other proposals of Grattan were met by an obstinate resistance. Fitzgibbon and the majority which he led, refused even to grant a committee to investigate the subject, and the Irish tithe system continued to be the chief source of Irish crime till the Commutation Act of Lord John Russell in 1838.
The persistent refusal of the Irish Parliament to rectify or mitigate this class of abuses appears to me the gravest of all the many reproaches that may be brought against it. Although about seven-eighths of the nation dissented from the established religion, the general principle of a Protestant establishment had as yet very few enemies; but the existing tithe system was detested both by the Catholics and the Protestant Dissenters, and it was exceedingly unpopular among the smaller landed gentry. Its inequalities and injustices were too glaring for any plausible defence, and the language of Pitt seems to show that England would have placed no obstacle in the way of redress. How possible it was to cure the evil without destroying the Establishment was abundantly shown by the Act of 1838. That Act, which commuted tithes into a land tax paid by the landlord with a deduction of twenty-five per cent. for the cost of collection, is probably the most successful remedial measure in all Irish history. It proved a great benefit to the Protestant clergy, and it at the same time completely staunched an old source of disorder and crime, and effected a profound and immediate change in the feelings of men. Very few political measures have ever effected so much good without producing any countervailing evil. The Irish Church when it was supported by tithes was the most unpopular ecclesiastical establishment in Europe, and it kept the country in a condition verging on civil war. After the commutation of tithes nearly all active hostility to it disappeared. The Church question speedily became indifferent to the great mass of the people; the Protestant clergy were a beneficent and usually a popular element in Irish society, and the measure which finally disendowed them was much more due to the exigencies of English party politics than to any genuine pressure of Irish opinion. But no such measure as that of 1838 could be carried in the Irish Parliament, and in the last ten years of its existence even Grattan desisted from efforts which were manifestly hopeless. Yet at no time had the question been more important. Resistance to the exaction of tithes was year by year strengthening habits of outrage and lawless combination, and in the hope of abolishing the tithes the Irish Jacobins found the best means of acting upon the passions of the nation.
But whatever social or agrarian disturbances may have existed in the remoter counties, the political condition of Ireland in the closing period of the administration of Rutland presented an aspect of almost absolute calm. Prosperity was advancing with rapid strides. The credit of the nation was reestablished. Both the young Viceroy and his beautiful Duchess were extremely popular. A gay, brilliant, and dissipated court drew men of many opinions within its circle or its influence, and political tension had almost wholly ceased. Forbes, it is true, and the little group of independent members whom he represented, brought in motion after motion, condemning the increasing pension list, and the multiplication of places; but they were easily defeated in Parliament, and they were supported by no strong opinion beyond its walls. The distress which had formerly stimulated discontent was no longer acute. The annual deficit had disappeared. Financial measures, which will be hereafter related, lightened the burden of debt, and an extensive system of education was promised. The confidential letters of Rutland and of his secretary in the latter period of the administration, form a curious contrast to the anxious and agitated letters that issued from the Castle during the administrations of Buckinghamshire, Carlisle, Portland, and Temple. Thus in February 1786, Rutland in a letter largely devoted to a description of the outrages of the Whiteboys in Munster says, ‘The state of this country, as far as regards the proceedings of Parliament, affords a prospect highly promising and satisfactory. The most important money Bills have passed the Commons without any material opposition, and scarcely a troubled wave appears upon the political surface.’1 A year later, when the Government introduced its very stringent coercive legislation for the suppression of the Whiteboys, the Parliament responded with an alacrity which at once surprised and delighted the Chief Secretary. ‘We have succeeded wonderfully,’ he wrote, ‘in our first measure, of amending the laws against riot and unlawful combination. It would not have been supposed possible even three years ago to have obtained almost unanimity in the House of Commons to pass a Bill of coercion upon the groundwork of the English Riot Act. … I am confident that this circumstance alone, as an indication of the determination of the Legislature to strengthen the hands of Executive Government, will go far to quiet the disturbance throughout the kingdom.’1 ‘I am highly ambitious,’ wrote Rutland, a few months later, ‘to see this nation prosper under the auspices of my administration of the King's Government; to find it of weight in the general scale, and become a source of strength to the Empire. A Riot Act, an optional police to be applied when it may be adjudged necessary, an extensive and well-considered system of education, which, I trust, will be carried into execution in the ensuing session, together with the adoption of the British Navigation Act, are measures of no inconsiderable moment and importance to the general welfare. The country for the present is for the most part free from commotion, except in the county of Cork, where some slight indications of discontent appear, but even these are merely partial and local.’2
On October 24, 1787, a short fever, accelerated, it is said, by convivial habits, carried off the Duke of Rutland in the thirty-fourth year of his age, and terminated a viceroyalty which had been singularly prosperous. Lord Temple, who had now become Marquis of Buckingham, succeeded him, and arrived in Dublin in December. His short viceroyalty in 1783 had given him some Irish experience, and it was thought that the fact that his wife was a Catholic might give him some popularity. With considerable business talents, however, the new Lord-Lieutenant was one of those men who in all the relations of life seldom fall to create friction and irritation. Great haughtiness, both of character and manner; extreme jealousy and proneness to take offence, had always characterised him; and before he had been many months in Ireland we find him threatening his resignation, bitterly offended with the King, angry and discontented with the Ministers in England, and very unpopular in Dublin.1 He instituted with commendable energy inquiries into peculations of clerks and other subaltern officers of the Government, and succeeded in detecting much petty fraud which had been long practised with impunity; but corruption in the higher forms of government showed no tendency to diminish. Salaries were increased. At least one obsolete office was speedily revived. The measures of economy that were introduced into Parliament were strenuously resisted, and the first session of Parliament was abruptly and prematurely shortened. An Irish pension of 1,700l. a year given to Orde, who had now retired from the office of Chief Secretary, and whose health was much broken, was attacked with reason as a violation of the assurance on the strength of which Parliament had consented a few years before to increase the salary of that office; and an appointment was soon after made which excited the strongest indignation.
I have mentioned the anxiety of all parties in Ireland to bring back to the country the great offices which were held by absentees. Rutland, shortly before his death, had tried to induce Pitt to make an arrangement for the restoration of the Vice-Treasurers to Ireland. It would, he said, be ‘an object of great utility to his Majesty's Irish Government, both as a measure calculated to fasten on popularity, and at the same time as uniting the more solid advantage of creating new objects for ambition of the first men and the most extensive connections in this country.’2 Pitt was unable or unwilling to consent, but shortly after the appointment of Buckingham the death of Rigby made it possible to bring back the important office of Master of the Rolls. The office, however, was coveted by William Grenville, the brother of the Lord-Lieutenant, who was now President of the Board of Trade in England. His letters on the subject are curious, and far from edifying.3 He found that part of the revenue which Rigby had received was derived from an illegal sale of places. He doubted whether the office could he legally granted for life, and whether the performance of certain duties might not be required, and for these and some other reasons he at last determined to relinquish it to the Duke of Leinster, but asked and obtained for himself the best Irish reversion—that of the office of Chief Remembrancer, which was held by Lord Clanbrassil.1 An appointment so flagrantly improper completely discredited Buckingham at the outset of his administration, and it was well fitted to exasperate equally both the most selfish and the most disinterested of Irish politicians.
The unpopularity of the Lord-Lieutenant was, however, chiefly personal, and confined to a small court or political circle. The country continued perfectly quiet. The alarm which was felt in the closing months of 1787, when the complications in Holland made war with France extremely probable, did not create the smallest disturbance. Recruiting was actively and successfully carried on, and the regiments on the establishment were raised to their full strength. Although combinations against tithes continued and a measure granting compensation to defrauded clergymen was renewed, the new Secretary, Fitz-herbert, was able to write that the commotion in the South had ceased.2 The credit of the country had never been better, and the chief votes of supply passed without a division. Lord Lifford, who had been Irish Chancellor since 1767, wrote to Buckingham in August 1788, that he had never in his long experience known Ireland so quiet.3
It must be added that one other important question of patronage was pending. Lord Lifford was old and broken, and he desired to resign the seals. Although most of the judgeships were now given to Irishmen, no Irishman had yet been appointed Chancellor, but Fitzgibbon the Attorney-General strongly urged his claims. He went over to England to press them, but did not succeed in obtaining any promise from Pitt, and he appears to have somewhat irritated the not very patient Viceroy by his many letters on the subject.1 The matter, however, was still unsettled when the great question of the Regency arose and suddenly changed the whole aspect of Irish politics.
This question, indeed, was well fitted to strain seriously the constitutional relations between the two countries. The King was incapacitated by madness. No provision had been made for carrying on the Government, and it remained to reconstruct and to determine the first estate in the realm.2 The event was one absolutely unprovided for by law. There was no real precedent to guide the decision. It was only possible to argue the question from the general principles of the Constitution and from very distant and imperfect analogies, and the real influences which shaped and guided the arguments of lawyers and statesmen were of a party nature. The King was warmly attached to his present Ministers. The Prince of Wales was closely connected with the Whigs, and would probably transfer the reins of government to their hands.
I have already related at some length the discussions on the subject in England, but in order to make the Irish aspects of this important question perfectly clear, I must now ask the reader to excuse some considerable repetition.
Two opposing theories, as we have seen, confronted one another. Pitt maintained that during the lifetime of the King he and he only was on the throne, that as he was incapacitated by illness it devolved upon the other two branches of the Legislature to provide for the government of the country; that Parliament had a right to select the Regent, and to define and limit his powers, and that they should exercise this right in such a manner that the Sovereign on his recovery should find his power and patronage as little as possible impaired during his illness, and be able without difficulty to resume the full direction of affairs. Fox, on the other hand, maintained that the English monarchy being hereditary and not elective, and the eldest son of the King being of age, he had a right to enter into the full exercise of the royal power during the incapacity of his father, but that the two Houses of Parliament as the organs of the nation were alone entitled to pronounce when the Prince ought to take upon him this power.
As it was ultimately admitted by Pitt that the moral claim of the Prince of Wales to exercise the office of Regent was overwhelming, and by Fox that he could not assume this office without the sanction and invitation of the two Houses of Parliament, the real difference on this point between the two rivals lay within narrow limits. Both parties, again, agreed that the Regent should have full right of changing the Ministry and calling such statesman as he pleased to the helm. Fox considered such a right to be inherent to his position; Pitt contended that it should be conferred on him by legislation; but both statesmen admitted that he should have it. The essential question at issue was the question of limitations. Fox maintained that the condition of the King gave the Prince of Wales the right of exercising while Regent the full royal power. Pitt, on the other hand, maintaining that the temporary exercise of royal authority was essentially different from the possession of the throne, contended that Parliament, while granting such powers as were necessary for this temporary administration, should leave the custody of the royal person and the appointment of the royal household in the hands of the Queen, and should strictly limit the power of the Regent to grant peerages, offices in reversion and pensions, and to dispose of the real and personal property of the King.
On this point there was one serious difficulty to be encountered by Pitt from which the theory of Fox was exempt. If the Prince had an inherent right to assume the royal power in all its plenitude, it was a simple thing for the two Houses to carry an address inviting him to do so. But if limitations were to be imposed and a form of government was to be constructed, this could only be done by Act of Parliament, and no Act of Parliament could exist without the royal assent. Scott, however, who was then the chief law officer in England, devised a legal fiction for surmounting the difficulty. He maintained that a commission might be appointed by the two Houses for the purpose of keeping that Great Seal the impress of which was the formal expression of the King's assent; that this commission might be assumed to act as the representative and by the direction of the King, and that under this fictitious authority it might affix the Great Seal and give validity to the Regency Bill. Probably if no party motive had been aroused, and if Parliament had not determined in accordance with the general wishes of the people that it was desirable that the power of the Regent should be limited, such an expedient would have been rejected as equally ridiculous and illegal; but as there appeared to be no other way of limiting the Regency, the plan was adopted by large majorities in the English Parliament.
It is easy to see how perplexing the doctrine of Pitt must have been to the strenuous supporters of Irish parliamentary independence. Their fundamental doctrine was that the Crown alone was the link between the two countries, and that the British Parliament had no authority whatever over Ireland or the Irish Parliament; but they were now told that in consequence of the incapacity of the King, it was for the British Parliament to create the temporary sovereign whom they were to obey, and to define the powers which he was to exercise. The views of the independent party in Ireland naturally coincided with the doctrine of Fox as the one which was the most consistent with their own Constitution, and several other motives acted in the same direction. The administration of Lord Buckingham had become unpopular. The feeling of personal loyalty which was very strong in Ireland was shocked by the restrictions imposed by the English Minister on the heir to the crown. Some men were not insensible to the charm of asserting for Ireland the right to pursue a separate line of policy on a question of great constitutional importance, while many others thought they saw an approaching change in the source of patronage, and were eager to be among the first to win the favour of the coming ruler. It was generally believed that the King would be unable to resume the royal authority, and the chief borough interests, which had long been almost passive in the hands of the Ministers, began to gravitate rapidly towards the new planet which seemed mounting above the horizon. The great interests of Shannon, Leinster, Tyrone, and Drogheda passed speedily into opposition and at once changed the balance of power; and the experience and debating power of Ponsonby and Hely Hutchinson were soon found on the same side.
It would be idle to suppose that the great mass of placemen and nominees who had so long been the docile servants of administration were animated by any other than purely selfish motives; but no one who has studied the history of the time will attribute such motives to Grattan and Charlemont. The main reason for their conduct lies, I think, on the surface. The Whig doctrine of the Regency was, beyond all question, more in harmony with the Constitution of 1782 than the doctrine of the Government. There were, however, other considerations which influenced them. A strong political and personal sympathy had long attached them to the Whig leaders in England, and on the eve of the Regency debates, an assurance appears to have been given to Grattan that in the event of a Regency the Government in Ireland would be changed, and that the new Government would accept and carry through some of those measures of reform which Grattan had so long unsuccessfully advocated as indispensably necessary to put an end to the reign of corruption in Ireland, and to make the Irish Parliament a real reflex of the educated opinion of the nation.1
The Irish Parliament was not sitting when the English Parliament began the discussions on the Regency question, and as the incapacity of the Sovereign caused much less embarrassment in Ireland than in England owing to the large powers possessed by the Lord-Lieutenant, it was especially unfortunate that the unexpected prolongation of the debates in England and the approaching expiration of some essential laws in Ireland, made it necessary to assemble the Irish Parliament before the question had been determined in England. At first the Lord-Lieutenant believed that he could secure a large majority for the English plan, and that only a small section of the Irish Parliament wished to proceed by address.1 But gradually his confidence diminished, and the week before Parliament met, the Chief Secretary wrote to the Government in a strain of great and evident mortification. ‘The specific assurances of support,’ he said, ‘upon which alone I could form any opinion of the strength of the Government in Parliament, have in the course of the last three days been withdrawn in so many quarters where from every consideration I could least expect it, that I have very little hope to be able to stem on February 5 the address which will be moved by both Houses to his Royal Highness to take upon himself the Regency of this kingdom.’2 When Parliament met, it was at once seen that the most important of the great interests in both Houses, many men who were in high employment under the Crown, and also the popular party directed by Grattan were resolved to act at once. A motion to postpone the question till the English Parliament had decided on the Regent was rejected by 128 to 74. The plan of proceeding by Bill, which was proposed by the Government, was rejected; and after a long debate, and chiefly under the guidance of Grattan, both Houses of Parliament agreed to address the Prince of Wales to take upon himself ‘the government of this nation during the continuation of his Majesty's present indisposition, and no longer; and under the style and title of Prince Regent of Ireland, in the name and on the behalf of his Majesty, to exercise and administer, according to the laws and Constitution of this kingdom, all regal powers, jurisdiction, and prerogatives, to the Crown and Government thereof belonging.’
It is worthy of notice that in the Irish debates the question of limitations, which was so prominent in England, was thrown completely into the background. It was asserted by Grattan, and it was fully acknowledged on the part of the Government, that the restrictions which were necessary in England were immaterial in Ireland, and that there was no insuperable difficulty in the Regent exercising different degrees of power in the two countries.1 The real question at issue was whether, under the peculiar circumstances of the Constitution of Ireland and the connection of the two crowns, the proper mode of investing the Prince of Wales with the Regency was by address or by Bill. Grattan and those who agreed with him in adopting the former alternative, argued, like the English Whigs, that it was impossible to legislate with only two estates of the realm, and that, therefore, the creation or recognition of a third estate was the indispensable precursor of every act of legislation. They treated the Commission appointed in England to guard the Great Seal and represent the royal person, as a pure phantom, and the Great Seal of England as of no importance except as authenticating and attesting the royal volition and assent. They urged that the English Parliament, in attempting to deal with the question in the way of legislation, and in inventing a fictitious royal assent, had been actuated by a desire to restrict the power of the Regent, and that this end was confessedly of no moment in Ireland. They acknowledged that the crowns of England and Ireland were indissolubly connected, but they utterly denied that an English Regent made by an English statute could have any authority in Ireland unless he was also made Regent by the Irish Parliament; and they accordingly contended that the proposed method of proceeding by a Bill which was to become an Act of Parliament by the assent of a Regent of Great Britain, elected by the British Parliament, and as yet unrecognised by the Irish Parliament, was directly opposed to the Constitution of 1782. Ireland was acknowledged to be independent of the British Parliament, and therefore, now that the supreme authority was eclipsed, the Irish Parliament, without reference to the proceedings, without waiting for the decision of the British Parliament, called upon the eldest son of the Sovereign, who had already declared his willingness to accept the Regency of Great Britain,1 to assume the full power and prerogatives of the Crown in Ireland.
The address was copied from that of the two English Houses inviting William of Orange to take upon himself the conduct of affairs. ‘There are points,’ Grattan said, ‘in which the Revolution bears a near resemblance to the present period, as there are others in which it is not only different but opposite. The throne being full and the political power of the King existing, the power of the two Houses cannot be applied to that part of the monarchical condition; but the personal capacity of the King, or rather the personal exercise of the royal power, being deficient, the laws of the land not having in the ordinary course of law made provision for that deficiency, and one of the estates being incapable, it remains with the two others to administer the remedy by their own authority. The principle of your interference is established by the Revolution; the operation of that principle is limited by the contingency.’ In this case there was, at least, no dispute about persons. The same person was acknowledged to be the one possible Regent in both countries, and that person was the heir to the throne.
It is remarkable, however, that Grattan carefully abstained from committing himself to the unpopular doctrine of Fox that the Prince of Wales, when of full age, had such an inherent right to the exercise of the royal power, that the function of Parliament in the matter was a function not of choice, but of adjudication. This doctrine was considered by the English Whigs, and, as it appears to me, with good reason, logically essential to their case. Grattan carefully avoided any distinct statement on the question of right. He spoke only of ‘the irresistible claim’ of the Prince. He based his argument for proceeding by address, on the ground that this is the natural method of proceeding when the third estate is incapable of acting, and that the supposed necessity of imposing restrictions on the Regency, which induced the British Parliament to adopt a different course, did not exist in Ireland. He never distinctly denied the validity of the proceedings of the British Parliament. He denied only that a Regency Bill which passed the two Irish Houses could become a valid Irish law by the assent of a Regent whose authority was based upon an English statute, and who was still unrecognised by the Irish Parliament. Curran and Hutchinson, indeed, strongly and ably supported the full doctrine of Fox, but much of the language of Grattan bore more resemblance to that of Pitt; and he seems to have thought it possible to take an intermediate position between the two parties in England. ‘The method,’ he said, ‘whereby I propose these great assemblies shall supply this deficiency is—address. There are two ways of proceeding—one is by way of legislation, the other by address. When they proceed by way of legislation, it is on the supposition of a third estate in a capacity to act; but address is a mode exclusively their own, and complete without the interference of a third estate. It is that known parliamentary method by which the two Houses exercise those powers to which they are jointly competent. Therefore it is I submit to you the mode by address, as the most proper for supplying the present deficiency; and although the address shall on this occasion have all the force and operation of law, yet still that force and operation arise from the necessity of the case and are confined to it. … But as addresses of Parliament, though competent, in the event of such a deficiency, to create an efficient third estate, yet do not, and cannot with propriety, annex to their act the forms of law and stamp of legislation, it is thought advisable, after the acceptance of the Regency, that there should be an Act passed reciting the deficiency in the personal exercise of the royal power, and of his Royal Highness's acceptance of the Regency of this realm, at the instance and desire of the two Houses of the Irish Parliament; and further to declare and enact that he is and shall be Regent thereof during the continuance of his Majesty's present indisposition. The terms of the Act are to describe the powers of the Regent, and the power intended is the personal exercise of the full regal authority; and the reason why plentitude of the regal power is intended by the address, and afterwards by the Bill, is to be found in the nature of the prerogative, which was given not for the sake of the King but of the people. … We know of no political reason why the prerogatives in question should be destroyed, nor any personal reason why they should be suspended.’
Such were the arguments of Grattan. In opposition to them Fitzgibbon, in speeches of admirable subtlety and power, but now for the first time supported only by a small minority in Parliament, maintained the doctrine which had been accepted in England. A simple address of two Houses of Parliament could not possibly give the Prince of Wales the royal authority if he did not already by right possess it, and to assert that he did possess it was treason, for it was to assert that George III. was no longer on the throne. This argument was common to both countries, but there were others which applied especially to Ireland. The most powerful was derived from an Act which had been drawn up by Yelverton and carried in 1782, and which defined the manner in which the royal assent should be given in Ireland. The object of this Act was to put an end to the practice of altering Irish Bills in the Privy Council. It provided that all Irish Bills, after passing through the Irish Parliament, should be sent under the Great Seal of Ireland to England; that they should be returned without alteration to Ireland under the Great Seal of England, and that the Lord-Lieutenant should be then empowered to give them the royal assent.1 No Irish Bill, therefore, could become law without the Great Seal of England, but the Irish Parliament had no control whatever over that seal, and could, therefore, take no steps in appointing a Regent until the British Parliament had definitely decided in whose hands that seal should be placed. No Regent appointed by the Irish Parliament could convert an Irish Bill into a law without this seal, which was for the present at the disposal of the British Parliament. ‘Were the King of England and Ireland,’ said Fitzgibbon, ‘to come here in person and to reside, he could not pass a Bill without its being first certified to his Regent in England, who must return it under the Great Seal of that kingdom before his Majesty could even in person assent to it.’ The Great Seal of England on Irish Bills is the bond of union and connection with England, and anyone who disputes its necessity, contradicts the direct letter of the law and weakens the essential security of the connection. Since the Constitution of 1782 the union of the supreme Executives of the two nations alone connects them, and whoever tampers with, impairs, or dissolves that union is preparing the way for separation. It is at least conceivable that the Prince of Wales might at the last moment decline the restricted Regency of England, and in that case the supreme executive powers of England and Ireland would be completely separated. ‘It is a wise maxim,’ said Fitzgibbon, ‘for this country always to concur with the Parliament of Great Britain, unless for very strong reasons indeed we are obliged to differ from it. … Constituted as it is, the Government of this country never can go on unless we follow Great Britain implicitly in all regulations of Imperial policy. The independence of your Parliament is your freedom; your dependence on the Crown of England is your security for that freedom; and gentlemen who profess themselves this night advocates for the independence of the Irish Crown are advocates for its separation from England.’ ‘The only security of your liberty is your connection with Great Britain, and gentlemen who risk breaking the connection must make up their minds to a union. God forbid that I should ever see that day; but if ever the day in which a separation shall be attempted may come, I shall not hesitate to embrace a union rather than a separation.’ ‘What, then, have we to do? As soon as we shall be certified that the Prince of Wales is invested with the authority of Regent in England, pass an Act to invest him with that authority in Ireland; send this Act to the Prince Regent in England; he will then have the command of the Great Seal of England, and will return our Act authenticated according to law. His Lord-Lieutenant may then, by his command, give the royal assent to it; and who shall say that it is not a law of the land?’
Such, as fully as I can state them, were the leading arguments advanced upon each side of the controversy. It is my own opinion that the constitutional importance of the question, its danger, and its significance were all grossly exaggerated by party spirit at the time, and have been not a little magnified by succeeding historians. It appears evident that the case was so new and unprecedented that no course could possibly have been taken without straining or violating some part of the Constitution. It was an illegal thing for the Irish Parliament under any possible circumstances to deny the necessity of the Great Seal of England for the validity of Irish Acts, and for the Parliament of either country to assume that George III. was no longer on the throne; but it was an act of at least equal violence to create by parliamentary action a fictitious royal assent, to frame during the monarch's incapacity a new Constitution fundamentally different from hereditary monarchy, and to make the exercise of monarchical functions subject to election. In the words of a great lawyer, ‘the phantom of a commission issued by an incapable King, to confer upon what the other branches of the Legislature had proposed, the outward semblance of a statute passed by all the three, was an outrage upon all constitutional principle, and, indeed, upon the common sense of mankind, yet more extravagant than the elective nature of the whole process.’1 The doctrine of Scott that the Great Seal makes the assent of the Crown complete in law, though the Sovereign may be incapable of giving any warrant for affixing it, was certainly far more inconsistent with the principles of monarchy than the doctrine of Grattan, that the essence of the consent of the Crown is the volition of the Sovereign, and that the Great Seal has no value except as attesting and authenticating it. The former doctrine might be extended not only to an infant or lunatic king, but to a king who was a prisoner in the hands of rebels. It virtually substituted a seal for a monarch, and it reduced the place of royalty in the Constitution to complete insignificance.
But if, putting aside the metaphysics of the Constitution, we judge the question on the grounds of political expediency, I cannot see that any real evil would have ensued if the Irish Parliament, under the very exceptional and embarrassing circumstances of the case, had delayed its proceedings till the English Parliament had finally and irrevocably determined the Regency of England. Such a course would probably have averted all serious difference between the two countries, prevented all danger of a separation of the Executives, and destroyed the force of nearly all the arguments which were directed against the Irish proceedings. The conduct of Grattan and Charlemont on this question appears to me to have shown an exaggerated sensitiveness about the Constitution, and an exaggerated jealousy of the English Parliament; and the feverish impatience with which Grattan pushed on the question, and insisted on the Irish Parliament committing itself before the British Parliament had completed its proceedings, seems to me the greatest political error of his life. It is always a dangerous thing in politics to push to its extreme limits logical reasoning drawn from the first principles of the Constitution, and it was truly said by Fox that a habit of speculating upon political systems was one of the great vices of Irish political thought. Much might be plausibly said in favour of the right of independent agency and option of the Irish Parliament on this important question, and on the principle of constitutional superiority which the Government plan would have recognised in the British Parliament; but it is probable that the wisest English statesmen, if they had been placed in the situation of Grattan, would have accepted some constitutional anomaly, rather than incur the great practical inconvenience of differing from England on an important Imperial question, and would have contented themselves with guarding by express resolutions against any dangerous inference that might be drawn from their act.
At the same time, while disagreeing from the course adopted by the Irish leaders, I am entirely unable to concur with those who have represented the action of the Irish Parliament as seriously endangering the connection. It is quite certain that none of the leading actors in Ireland were disloyal to that connection, and it appears to me to be absurd to suppose that a measure investing the acknowledged heir of the British throne with regal power in Ireland during the incapacity of his father, should have tended to produce a permanent separation of the two countries. It was constantly repeated that under the Constitution of 1782 the hereditary monarchy was the sole bond of union, but in the difference between the two Parliaments it was the Irish Parliament which most exalted the principle of heredity, which was most anxious to preserve the executive power unimpaired in its prerogatives, and which formed the most modest estimate of the capacity of Parliament. It was morally certain that the same Regent would preside over both countries, though with slightly different powers. It is probable that if the Regency had continued, a change of ministers would in both countries have soon placed the executive and legislative powers in harmony. In the worst case, either the death or the recovery of the King, or a turn in his illness which made his recovery hopeless, would have replaced the two nations in their former relation, and an express enactment might then have been easily made preventing the possible recurrence of a difficulty which was serious only because it was unprovided for by law.
The difference, however, was for a short time very acute. The address of Parliament to the Prince of Wales was presented to the Lord-Lieutenant for transmission, but Buckingham refused to lay before the Prince a document ‘purporting to invest his Royal Highness with the power to take upon him the government of this realm before he should be enabled by law to do so,’ and the Government in England strongly approved of the decision. They maintained, in the words of Sydney, ‘that his Royal Highness cannot lawfully take upon him the administration of any part of the King's authority or the government of any of his Majesty's dominions till he is enabled by an Act of Parliament so to do, and that no Act of the Irish Parliament for that or any other purpose can be passed except by the royal assent, given to it under the Great Seal of Great Britain; … that the importance of this principle is the more manifest in this particular case, as the violation of it has an evident tendency to dissolve the constitutional union of the Executive Government of the two kingdoms.’1 Both Houses, however, passed votes of censure on the Lord-Lieutenant. In order to secure that Parliament should be sitting during the continuation of the case, the chief supplies were only granted for two months, and the two Houses appointed six commissioners, including the Duke of Leinster and Lord Charlemont, to present the address. They went to England and discharged their task, but at this critical moment the recovery of the King put an end to the question that was pending. ‘I cannot attempt to describe to your lordship,’ wrote Buckingham, ‘the transport with which this communication has been received by all ranks of people, and, indeed, I should not do justice to the loyalty of this kingdom if I did not assure your lordship that they are truly grateful.’ He speaks, however, bitterly of the opposition he had found from some of the great families, and adds significantly that ‘such a combination ought to be broken,’ that ‘the aristocracy, which was broken under his Majesty's direction by Lord Townshend, will be again broken if it should be deemed necessary.’1
The episode was terminated. Most of the placemen and pensioners who had at first associated themselves in a bond against the Government, consented on a promise of amnesty to resume their places. Several, however, holding places valued at nearly 20,000l. a year were dismissed, and among the number were the Duke of Leinster and Ponsonby.2 Corruption of the most wholesale description was again resorted to. Seven peers were created; nine others were promoted; several baronets were made; 13,000l. a year more was expended in pensions, and a crowd of new and often sinecure places were created. In a speech in the February of 1790, Grattan stated in Parliament that in the course of less than twelve months fourteen new parliamentary places and eight or nine parliamentary pensions had been created.3 In the twenty years preceding 1790, the number of revived or new places and salaries created and held by members of Parliament was not less than forty, and in the House of Commons of 1790 no less than 108 members were either placemen or pensioners.4 Lord Lifford, who had continued, at the wish of the Government, to hold the seals,5 sent in his resignation, and died a few days later, and Fitzgibbon was rewarded for his recent services by the Chancellorship. He obtained it in spite of the opposition of Thurlow, who insisted that the post should still be reserved for Englishmen, and he was at once raised to the peerage as Baron Fitzgibbon. He was barely forty, but his great abilities both as lawyer and politician fully justified the appointment, and except where his furious personal antipathies and his ungovernable arrogance were called into action, he appears to have been an able, upright, and energetic judge. Buckingham warmly recommended him, describing him as an eminently ‘honourable and valuable servant of the Crown,’ whose ‘parliamentary and legal careers have been marked by the most earnest and scrupulous attachment to the laws and practices of Great Britain both in Parliament and at the bar,’ and by a wish to maintain that ‘subordination to her Government and councils which are essential to the existence of Ireland.’ ‘The death of his eldest brother,’ he continues, ‘put him in the possession of a very large and affluent property, but he did not quit his profession,’ and recalling the services of Fitzgibbon on the Regency question, the Viceroy expressed his belief that no Englishman would have ventured to take the part he did, and that as Chancellor, if such questions were renewed, he could do much more than an Englishman in the same position.1 His influence was steadily employed in opposition to constitutional concession, and everything that could restrict corruption in the Irish Parliament was opposed. A place and pension Bill, and a Bill disfranchising revenue officers, were introduced and easily defeated, and all inquiries were refused that could lead to a detection of corruption.
Such were the last proceedings in the Irish Parliament, before the French Revolution burst upon Europe; and when we remember that the obstinate resistance to all attempts to reform and purify the House of Commons was coupled with an equally obstinate resistance to all attempts to modify the enormous grievance and injustice of the tithe system which pressed so heavily on the poor, it is easy to realise the fierce elements of combustion that were accumulating. Buckingham, however, did not remain to meet the storm. His health was broken and every vestige of popularity had gone. In April Fitzherbert resigned, and at the end of September Buckingham followed his example. On January 5, 1790, Lord Westmorland arrived in Dublin to succeed him.
One of the consequences of the conflict between the two Parliaments on the Regency question, and of the very exaggerated language that was used about the danger to the connection, was that Irish affairs now began to attract the serious attention of the French Government. Luzerne, the French ambassador in London, wrote two despatches in February 1789, in which he briefly mentioned the conflict and the growing reports that Ireland was tending more and more to separation from England, but expressed his own belief that such ideas can only have been adopted by a few wild enthusiasts, for Ireland was too weak to stand alone and was bound to England by irresistible commercial interests. A month later, however, the question seemed to him more serious, and he wrote a long and interesting despatch to his Government, relating in detail the Irish proceedings about the Regency. The conduct of the Irish Parliament seemed to him very unconstitutional. The claim it advanced went much beyond any it had before put forward, and tended directly to sunder the two Governments and crowns. It was greatly due to the personal unpopularity of the Lord-Lieutenant, who had shown himself at once haughty, harsh, and parsimonious, and in the bestowal of his patronage extremely corrupt. It was also, he thought, partly due to the fact ‘that among the principal personages of that kingdom there is a very strong party which has always contemplated a separation sooner or later of Ireland from Great Britain.’ ‘This state of things,’ he said, ‘assuredly deserves our attention, and although Ireland is, in my opinion, still far from separating from England, such an event may be foreseen, and it ought not to come upon us by surprise.’ He therefore strongly urged the French Foreign Office to send over a secret agent, and he designated the man who appeared to him most fitted for the task.
There was now in England an American merchant named Dr. Bancroft, a man of strong scientific tastes and an old and intimate friend of Franklin. In 1779, when there was a general belief in France, that Ireland was about to follow the example of America, and that an Irish insurrection might assist France in her war, this man had been sent over by Vergennes on a secret mission. He had carefully studied the condition of Ireland on the spot, and he had come to the conclusion that, though there were decided principles of independence among the Irish, they had no settled plan and were much divided, and that nothing could be expected from insurrection. It was the report of Bancroft, corroborated by other information, that decided Vergennes to have no further dealings with disaffected Irishmen. Bancroft had recently returned to England, where he had many friends and was much respected, and he was on very intimate terms with Lord Camden. Luzerne had the highest opinion of his judgment and integrity. He believed him to be fitted beyond all other men to ascertain for the French Government what changes had taken place during the last ten years in Irish affairs, and he knew that he was ready to undertake the mission.
The reply of the French Minister was very cautious. ‘I agree with you, sir,’ he wrote, ‘that the fermentation in Ireland may have serious consequences, and that whatever course the Ministry adopts, it is not likely to appease it; but I think at the same time that matters are not ripe for a mission, and that we must not in any way co-operate. Our secret would be assuredly discovered, and war would be the inevitable consequence of the slightest indiscretion. Moreover, sir, I have reason to believe that the hatred of the Irish for France is much stronger than their aversion to the English Government. This at least was the conclusion arrived at by Dr. Bancroft in the report which he drew up.’ At the same time, the Minister added, circumstances may have changed, and it will certainly be useful to France to know the real dispositions of the Irish. The proposition of Luzerne was therefore accepted. He was authorised to send over Bancroft to Ireland, furnishing him with money and with verbal instructions, and to obtain from him on his return a detailed report; but he must be careful in no way to commit the Government to any line of action, and he was to take the utmost precaution that the affair should not be known.
This was probably the first step of a series of French dealings with Ireland, which a few years later assumed a grave importance. ‘Perhaps,’ wrote Luzerne, ‘the condition of Ireland is the only great obstacle the Ministry is about to encounter in its views of ambition, and in the intrigues which it is designing on the Continent.’1
The period of history which has been recounted in this chapter, though in many ways chequered, was on the whole one of great and growing prosperity. From the time when commercial liberty was restored, till the outburst of the rebellion of 1798, we have decisive evidence that the material condition of Ireland was steadily improving, though she still ranked far behind England in capital, industrial skill, and industrial habits. One of the most important evidences that can be adduced of the character of a Government and of the true condition of a country, is to be found in the state of its public credit, and a careful examination of that of Ireland will furnish some conclusions which may, I think, be surprising to the reader. Shortly after the Peace of Aix-la-Chapelle in 1748 the whole of the small debt which Ireland had incurred had been liquidated, but the Seven Years' War and the War of the American Revolution had created a new debt, and for some years after the last peace there were annual deficits. In January 1786 the Accountant-General observed that since the year 1760 the Irish national debt had increased from 223,000l. to 2,181,501l., but he added as a palliation, ‘that two very expensive companions had gone hand in hand with that debt—premiums and parliamentary grants, which amounted in the said number of years to 2,700,000l.’2 We have seen the strenuous efforts made by Grattan to put an end to the annual deficits; the resolution introduced at his desire into the commerical propositions for that purpose, and the additional duties that were imposed in 1785 and were estimated to produce 140,000l. a year. This measure proved perfectly efficacious in restoring the equilibrium, and until the great French War broke out, followed soon after by virulent disaffection and by a great rebellion in Ireland, Irish finances appear to have been thoroughly sound. Foster, who was by far the ablest finance minister Ireland has ever possessed, observed in one of his speeches on the Union that in 1785, when the new taxes were imposed, the national debt was 2,381, 501l. In 1793 at the end of the peace it was only 2,344,314l.1
This fact, however, alone is not decisive. We have seen how lamentable the poverty of Ireland had been in early periods when the debt was very small. A nation may have no debt because it is unable to borrow, or it may restore the equilibrium of its finances by taxation which is ruinous to its prosperity. Nothing, however, is more certain than that for many years after the imposition of the new taxation, Irish wealth was rapidly augmenting. At the end of the session of 1787 Foster, who was then Speaker, when presenting the money bills to the Lord-Lieutenant for the royal assent, said ‘the wisdom of the principle which the Commons have established and persevered in under your grace's auspices, of preventing the further accumulation of national debt, is now powerfully felt throughout the kingdom in its many beneficial consequences. Public credit has gradually risen to a height unknown for many years. Agriculture has brought in new supplies of wealth, and the merchants and manufacturers are each encouraged to extend their efforts, by the security it has given them that no new taxes will obstruct the progress of their works or impede the success of their speculations.’ He added, however, some remarkable words referring to the stringent Whiteboy legislation of that year, which characterise truly the spirit in which at that time Irish affairs were administered. ‘Happy as our situation is, we know that all its blessings will be a vain expectation, if a spirit of outrage and opposition to the law shall prevent internal industry, and depreciate the national character. We have therefore applied ourselves to form such laws as must, under the firmness and the justice of your grace's Government, effectually and speedily suppress that lawless spirit.’2
I have quoted already, the letter of Rutland in March 1785, in which he complained that the result of nine or ten years of deficits had been that the Government 4 per cent. debentures, which had once been above par, had sunk to 88 per cent.3 Immediately after the imposition of the new taxes, however, they rose, and in the beginning of 1787 Rutland was able to send over to Sydney a plan which he had accepted, for replacing 4 per cent. debentures of 200,000l. by debentures of 3 1/2 per cent.; and Treasury bills for 100,000l. bearing an interest of 3d. per 100l. a day, by others bearing interest of 2 1/2 d., ‘a pleasing proof,’ as he justly said, ‘of the credit in which the funds of this country at present stand.’1 A year later, under the administration of Buckingham, and in spite of a considerable addition to the military forces, a similar process of reduction was extended to the whole of the remaining debt. ‘The Lord-Lieutenant,’ wrote the Chief Secretary on this occasion, ‘enjoys particular pleasure in reflecting that the state of public credit in Ireland is such that Government, while it attains an increase of effective force to Great Britain, can in the same instant bring forward a plan for the reduction of the interest upon the whole of the national debt.’2
These two reductions were not, it is true, carried out without a certain premium which was raised in the form of lotteries,3 but the real price of the Government loans was stated by the Chancellor of the Exchequer to be 3l. 18s. percent.;4 and speaking in 1788, at a time when the financial prosperity of the Ministry of Pitt was at its height, he was able to declare that ‘the public funds in this country have been higher here these several years past than what they are in England.’5 We have seen that about this time Pitt was looking forward confidently to the rapid diminution and not very distant extinction of the English National Debt. In Ireland the prevailing spirit was not less sanguine, and the best financiers connected with the Government avowed their belief that the finances of Ireland were now so satisfactorily established, that Ireland was never again likely to increase her debt.6
The financial debates of this year are singularly instructive, both on account of the rare amount of knowledge and ability they displayed, and on account of the many incidental lights they throw on the condition of the country. In Ireland as in England, and indeed in all, or almost all, European countries except Holland, the rate of interest was settled by law, and the rate in Ireland was six per cent. while in England it was only five. The Irish rate of interest had been reduced in 1703 from ten to eight, in 1721 to seven, and in 1731 to six per cent., and it was now assimilated to the English rate. It was mentioned in the course of the debate that first-class mortgages on land could be had in England for four and a half per cent.; in Ireland for five per cent.
As early as 1768 the necessity for increased intercourse with England was recognised by the establishment of three additional packet boats between Holyhead and Dublin, thus securing six weekly mails between England and Ireland.1 Travellers who visited Dublin towards 1780 remarked that a penny post had recently been established in the city; that new houses and public buildings were everywhere arising; that more than twenty stage coaches connected the metropolis with distant parts of Ireland.2 ‘The roads,’ said one traveller, ‘are almost invariably excellent. The inns are furnished with every accommodation that a traveller not too fastidious can require. … Travelling is perfectly secure. … Footpads, robberies, and highwaymen are seldom heard of except in the vicinity of Dublin.’3 The splendour of the capital was indeed out of all proportion to the wealth of the country;4 but it at the same time indicated clearly an increasing industrial activity. The old Custom House became so inadequate for the business which passed through it, that in 1781 the foundation was laid of a new Custom House of great architectural beauty, which was opened ten years later. In 1782, under the administration of Lord Carlisle, a National Bank with a capital of one million and a half was established in Dublin. A General Post Office, the Irish Academy, a College of Physicians, and a College of Surgeons speedily followed, and men of all parties and opinions recognised the rapid strides of national prosperity. Arthur Young, indeed, as early as 1778 maintained, in opposition to the best Irish opinion, that the country was even then in a progressive state, and had been steadily improving since the Peace of Aix-la-Chapelle in 1748;1 but after the concession of free trade the signs of advance were far more certain and unequivocal. In 1785 Lord Sheffield, in his well-known treatise on Irish trade, asserted that ‘perhaps the improvement of Ireland is as rapid as any country ever experienced,’ and that ‘the kingdom in general is in the most prosperous state.’2 In the debates on Orde's propositions Ireland was constantly, though no doubt very untruly, represented in England, as likely to become a most serious commercial rival.3 In 1790 Sir John Parnell, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, stated in Parliament that ‘it was his pride and his happiness to declare that he did not think it possible for any nation to have improved more in her circumstances since 1784 … than Ireland had done; from that time the debt of the nation had decreased 96,000l., and the interest on the debt still remaining had decreased 17,000l. per annum, which was precisely the same thing at four per cent. as if the principal had been reduced 425,000l. more. Add to this the great increase of trade, our exports alone having increased 800,000l. last year beyond the former period; and he believed it would be difficult in the history of the world to show a nation rising faster in prosperity.’4
In 1793 Crumpe published that remarkable ‘Essay on the best Means of providing Employment for the People,’ which is one of the most faithful, and at the same time most unflattering, pictures of the social and industrial condition of Ireland. But while tracing with an unsparing hand the great industrial failings of the people, he adds that ‘the defects which have been noticed are daily diminishing. The middling ranks are becoming ing more attentive to their debts and less indulgent to their extravagance. A spirit of industry is infusing its regenerating vigour among them; the vain and ridiculous aversion to the pursuits of commerce or other industrious occupations is wearing out, and the encouragement of agriculture more generally attended to. The lower classes are becoming more industrious, more wealthy, more independent. … The situation of the peasant has since the final pacification of the kingdom, but more especially since the settlement of its Constitution in 1782, been daily improving.’1 ‘I am bold to say,’ said Lord Clare, speaking of the preceding twenty years, in the remarkable speech which he delivered and published in 1798, ‘there is not a nation on the habitable globe which has advanced in cultivation and commerce, in agriculture and in manufactures, with the same rapidity in the same period.’2 Cooke, who was the chief official writer in favour of the Union, uses very similar language. ‘What is meant,’ he asked in a pamphlet which had great influence, ‘by a firm and steady administration? Does it mean such an administration as tends to the increase of the nation in population; its advancement in agriculture, in manufactures, in wealth, and prosperity? If that is intended, we have had the experience of it these twenty years; for it is universally admitted that no country in the world had made such rapid advances as Ireland has done in these respects.’3
Many similar passages might be adduced, but these will probably be deemed sufficient. Of the causes of this prosperity, two at least of the most important are sufficiently obvious, while others may give rise to considerable dispute. The abolition of the trade restrictions, by which Irish prosperity had been so long cramped and stunted, was at once followed by a great increase in nearly every branch of commerce, and especially in the Irish trade with the West Indies,1 while the abolition of the more oppressive portions of the penal code brought back much capital which had been invested on the Continent, and caused Irish wealth, industry, and energy to flow freely in Irish channels. A few years of external and internal peace, light taxes, and good national credit followed, and enabled the country to profit largely by these new advantages. In the opinion, however, of the best Irish writers and politicians of the eighteenth century, very much was also due to the great impulse which was given to agriculture by the corn bounties of 1784, and to the large parliamentary grants for carrying out public works and for instituting and encouraging different forms of manufacture. Of the corn bounties and the extreme importance that was attached to them I have already spoken. Whatever may be thought of them, there is at least, I think, no question that the great corn trade which had arisen in the last sixteen years of the century was an important element of Irish wealth; and it was mentioned in Parliament that about three years after the bounties on exportation had been granted, the exports of corn already attained the annual value of 400,000l.2
Large grants were also made for fisheries, canals, harbours, and other public works, and a system of bounties for encouraging particular manufactures was extensively pursued. This system is exceedingly alien to modern English notions; but in judging it, we must remember that it prevailed—though on a proportionately smaller scale—in England and in most other countries; that in Ireland it was originally a partial counterpoise or compensation for many unjust and artificial restrictions imposed on the different branches of native industry, and also that it was pursued in a country where the elements of spontaneous energy were incomparably weaker than in England. In my own opinion, English economical writers have usually generalised much too exclusively from the conditions of English life, and have greatly underrated the part which Government must play in industrial enterprises in countries where industry is still in its infancy; where capital has not been accumulated, and where industrial habits have not been formed. ‘The infancy of our manufactures and the poverty of our people,’ said Flood in one of his speeches in 1785, ‘has forced us into a variety of bounties and encouragements, in order to give some spring to the languor of the nation. The Linen Board, the Dublin Society, parliamentary donations, directly or indirectly are made use of for this purpose. Our linen, woollen, silk, cotton, glass manufactures; in a word, almost everything respecting manufactures or husbandry receives some encouragement.’ The writer whom I have already referred to as giving the fullest account of the economical condition of Ireland at this period, observes that ‘the bounties on manufactures from the year 1783 to 1789 inclusive amounted to 115,000l. The sums granted in aid of manufactures, charities, and public works in four years ended in 1788, amounted to 290,057l. besides the annual grants to the trustees of the linen manufactures which were greater than before, and to the Dublin Society, &c.;’ and he expresses his own opinion that these bounties, but more especially the bounty on the exportation of corn, had ‘operated powerfully in rescuing Ireland from the state of poverty into which she had fallen.’ He acknowledges that there was often much waste, jobbing, and dishonesty in the way in which they were applied; but adds that, while the public grants had considerably increased, such misapplications had in the latter days of the Irish Parliament undoubtedly diminished.1
The corn trade and the linen trade stood at the head of Irish industries, and while the first had almost entirely arisen within the period we are examining, the latter had rapidly increased. In 1788 Foster observed that in the six preceding years the annual export of linen had risen from twenty to thirty millions of yards.1 A number of other manufactures and industries were at the same time growing up. The silk manufacture underwent violent fluctuations, but it was stated in the Irish Parliament in 1784 that there were at that time no less than 1,400 silk looms at work in Dublin, employing 11,000 persons.2 In a speech in 1785, Foster, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, stated in the Irish Parliament that formerly Ireland was accustomed annually to import new drapery to the amount of upwards of 300,000 yards, but that the importation had almost ceased, and the native manufacture had so developed that the exports of Irish drapery exceeded 650,000 yards a year.3 The cotton manufacture was only introduced into Ireland after 1780, but in 1785 it was computed that it already employed nearly 30,000 people. In 1783, 4,000l. was granted by the Parliament for cotton machinery, and in the following year the Vice-Treasurer was directed to issue bills to the amount of 25,000l. to Captain Brooke for carrying that manufacture into the county of Kildare. His great manufacture at Prosperous in that county ultimately failed, but several other cotton manufactures were scattered over Ireland, and Irish printed cotton obtained a considerable reputation and is said to have been largely smuggled into England.4 The glass manufacture, which had been crushed by the iniquitous English law of George II. forbidding the Irish to export their glass to any country whatever, revived with reviving liberty. Lord Sheffield noticed in 1785 that nine glass houses had suddenly arisen, and that large quantities of Irish glass were already exported to America. It was boasted that the glass made at Waterford fully equalled the best article of English manufacture.5 A hat and a carpet manufacture existed on a small but an increasing scale; Irish gloves and tabbinets were widely sought for, even on the Continent,6 and from 1790 to 1792 the wealth of the country was very materially increased by the foundation or great extension of breweries of ale and porter. Cork was the chief centre, and they were warmly encouraged by the Irish Parliament not only on economical, but also on moral grounds, as counteracting that excessive use of spirituous liquors which was the great bane of Ireland. Newenham mentions the curious fact that at the close of the eighteenth century, in the province of Munster, the use of malt liquors greatly exceeded that of spirits.1
This picture of the condition of Ireland in the earlier years of its independent Parliament differs, I know, widely from an impression which is very general in England; but the more important facts on which I have formed my judgment have been fully stated, and those who desire to examine the subject in detail can easily follow the indications I have given. The true history of the Irish Parliament is not to be found in the fantastic pages of Barrington, and still less in the dishonest pictures of modern partisans. It is to be found in the excellent reports of its debates; in the Irish Statute-book, which contains the nett results of its work; in the volumes of those contemporary writers who have most fully examined the industrial and economical conditions of Ireland under its rule. The character of this body I have tried to draw with a steady and an impartial hand, both in its lights and in its shades, and I am conscious that the task is both a difficult and a thankless one, at a time when the whole subject is generally looked upon under the distorting influences of modern politics. To an historian of the eighteenth century, however, few things can be more grotesquely absurd than to suppose that the merits or demerits, the failure or the success, of the old Irish Parliament has any real bearing on modern schemes for reconstructing the government of Ireland on a revolutionary and Jacobin basis; entrusting the protection of property and the maintenance of law to some democratic assembly consisting mainly of Fenians and Land-leaguers, of paid agitators and of penniless adventurers. The parliamentary system of the eighteenth century might be represented in very different lights by its enemies and by its friends. Its enemies would describe it as essentially government carried on through the instrumentality of a corrupt oligarchy, of a large, compact body of members holding places and pensions at the pleasure of the Government, and removed by the system of rotten boroughs from all effectual popular control. Its friends would describe it as essentially the government of Ireland by the gentlemen of Ireland, and especially by its landlord class. Neither representation would be altogether true, but each contains a large measure of truth. The nature of the Irish constituencies and the presence in the House of Commons of a body of pensioners and placemen forming considerably more than a third of the whole assembly, and nearly half of its active members, gave the Government a power which, except under very rare and extraordinary circumstances, must, if fully exerted, have been overwhelming. The system of corruption was largely extended after the Regency controversy, and it produced evils that it is difficult to overrate. It enabled a small oligarchy to resist the most earnest and most legitimate demands of Irish opinion, and as Grattan vainly predicted it taught the people to look elsewhere for their representatives, and exposed them to the fatal contagion of the revolutionary spirit that was then circulating through Europe. On the other hand, the Irish Parliament was a body consisting very largely of independent country gentlemen, who on nearly all questions affecting the economical and industrial development of the country, had a powerful if not a decisive influence. The lines of party were but faintly drawn. Most questions were settled by mutual compromise or general concurrence, and it was in reality only in a small class of political questions that the corrupt power of Government seems to have been strained. The Irish House of Commons consisted mainly of the class of men who now form the Irish grand juries. It comprised the flower of the landlord class. It was essentially and pre-eminently the representative of the property of the country. It had all the instincts and the prejudices, but also all the qualities and the capacities, of an educated propertied class, and it brought great local knowledge and experience to its task. Most of its work was of that practical and unobtrusive character which leaves no trace in history. Several useful laws were made to rectify the scandalous abuses of Irish prisons; to improve the condition of insolvent debtors; to prevent burials in churches; to establish hospitals and infirmaries; to check different kinds of disorder as they arose; to make harbours and canals; to encourage local institutions and industries; and except during the conflict on the Regency question, the parliamentary machine had hitherto moved on with very little friction or disturbance.
Of the large amount of ability which it comprised there can be no reasonable question, and this ability was by no means confined to the independent section. Several very able men accepted the general system of government, as, on the whole, the best suited for the circumstances of the country. Ireland has seldom or never produced, in the province of politics, men of wider knowledge and more solid ability than John Foster and Hely Hutchinson, while Fitzgibbon, Langrishe, and Parnell were all men of much more than ordinary talents. All of these were during the greater part of their lives connected with the Government.
The system of government indeed, though corrupt, anomalous, and exposed to many dangers, was not one of those which are incompatible with a large measure of national prosperity. There were unfair monopolies of patronage; there was a pension list of rather more than 100.000l. a year, a great part of which was grossly corrupt; there was a scandalous multiplication and a scandalous employment of sinecures; but these are not the kind of evils that seriously affect the material well-being of the great mass of the community. In spite of much corrupt expenditure the Government was a cheap one;1 Ireland was among the most lightly taxed nations in Europe, and with the exception of the tithe system, which was unjust in the exemption of pasture, and which in some parts of the country fell with a most oppressive weight upon the poor, there was little to complain of in the apportionment of public burdens. In France, and over the greater part of the continent of Europe, the poor were at this time crushed by special and iniquitous taxation, from which the rich were exempt, and by an immense mass of feudal burdens and restrictions. There was nothing of this kind in later Irish legislation. The only direct tax which was paid by the poor was hearth money, at the rate of two shillings a hearth, and a few years before the Union, cabins with only one hearth were exempted.1 There was, it is true, no legal provision, as in England, for the poor, but the evils of the English poor law were so great that this was rather an advantage than the reverse, and the Irish Parliament was accustomed to make large grants for the support of charitable institutions, and, in times of distress, even for the direct relief of the sufferers. All those portions of the penal code against Catholics which oppressed the poor in their religion or their industry had either been repealed or had become completely obsolete.
The real obstacles to material prosperity were now much more moral than political. They were to be found in vices of thought and character which, if the present book be truly written, are largely explicable by the past conditions of the nation, which had deepened and intensified through many disastrous centuries, but which seemed now at last to be slowly and partially diminishing. Recklessness, improvidence, a contempt for labour and economy, a low standard of public duty among the higher orders; idleness, turbulence, ignorance, drunkenness, and an extreme proneness to crimes of violence and combination among the poor; a want in all classes of seriousness, self-reliance, enterprise, and respect for law, were the real obstacles to Irish prosperity. Though a few branches of trade were still closed, the legislation of 1779 and of 1782, and the free admission which England had granted to Irish linen, furnished a field of enterprise which was more than adequate to the resources and industry of Ireland. Her position was essentially different from that of Scotland at the time when Scotland purchased the commercial freedom which was indispensable to her well-being, at the price of a legislative union, and in this difference we may find a clue to a great part of the difference in the subsequent history of the two nations.
Nor was it merely in material prosperity that the signs of improvement were visible. Intellectual activity in the last forty years of the eighteenth century perceptibly increased, and it was assuming more and more a national cast. The writings of Charles O'Connor, Ledwich, Vallancey, and Mervyn Archdall invested the earlier period of Irish history with a new interest, and the Irish Academy, which was incorporated in the beginning of 1786 under the presidency of Lord Charlemont, gave a great impulse to serious and unsectarian scholarship. I have already noticed the important contributions which were made to a better knowledge of the rebellion of 1641; and the ‘History of Ireland’ by Leland, one of the Fellows of Trinity College, which was published in 1773, though monotonous and colourless in style, and often superficial in research, acquired and still maintains the position of a standard work. Another Irish history, written in the form of letters and dedicated to Lord Charlemont, was published in 1783 by William Crawford, one of the chaplains of the volunteers. It has little historical value except where it relates contemporary events in Ulster, but like the later history of Gordon, it has a great interest to the student of Irish opinion, as showing with what a complete absence of religious prejudice and animosity, it was possible for an Irish clergyman, at the close of the eighteenth century, to describe the periods of Irish history in which religious passions had been most furiously aroused.
The decadence of sectarian bigotry was, indeed, one of the happiest features of the time. Ireland, like all other countries, experienced the intellectual influences which were everywhere lowering the theological temperature, and diminishing the prominence of dogma in religious teaching; and the new national interests which had arisen had done much to turn the thoughts and passions of men into secular channels. By far the most brilliant and popular writer on the Catholic side was Arthur O'Leary, but though his devotion to his creed was incontestable, it would be hardly possible to find a writer of his profession who exhibits its distinctive doctrines in a more subdued and attenuated form, and no one appears to have found anything strange or equivocal in the curiously characteristic sentence in which Grattan described his merits. ‘If I did not know him to be a Christian clergyman, I should suppose him by his writings to be a philosopher of the Augustan age.’ The case of Dean Kirwan is even more striking. This very remarkable man, whose powers of pulpit oratory seem to have been not inferior to those of Whitefield, and whose eloquence was coupled by Barrington with that of Curran and Sheridan, was a member of an old Catholic family in Galway. He was educated by the Jesuits at St. Omer, where he was accustomed to say ‘he had imbibed the noble ambition of benefiting mankind.’ He took priest's orders, became professor of natural and moral philosophy in the University of Louvain, and afterwards chaplain to the Neapolitan ambassador in London; but in 1787 he conformed to the Established Church in Dublin, and became by far the greatest of Irish preachers.
In the present century it is almost certain that a man who had passed through such a change would have made the differences between his former and his latter creed one of the chief subjects of his preaching; but Kirwan through his whole career resolutely refused to touch upon any points of controversy. He mainly justified his adhesion to the Established Church on the ground that it gave him a larger sphere for that practical usefulness which he conceived to be the highest aim of a Christian minister, and he made it his special mission to allay religious animosity, to preach the tenets of a pure and perfectly unsectarian morality, and especially to plead the cause of the suffering and of the poor.1 Extempore preaching at the time when he appeared was very rare in the Irish Church,2 and the power which the passionate eloquence of Kirwan exercised over vast congregations is all the more wonderful because he never adopted any of those startling tenets which formed the staple of the Methodist preaching. The collections for the poor in his church arose at once to four or five times their usual amount. On one occasion 1,500l. was collected for the Meath Hospital. Watches, jewels, and bracelets were often flung in fits of uncontrollable enthusiasm into the plate. It was found necessary to protect the entrance of the churches where he preached from the overwhelming throng, by guards and palisades, and the governors of all the day schools in Dublin agreed in a resolution expressive of the great national advantages that had arisen from the charity which he evoked, and calling on the vestries ‘to consider the most effectual method to secure to this city an instrument under Providence of so much public benefit.’
His character seems to have been at once singularly pure, disinterested, and benevolent, and his warm friendship with Grattan and his firm attachment to Whig principles for a long time shut him out from the favours of the Government. Four hundred pounds a year was the highest ecclesiastical income he possessed till 1800, when Lord Cornwallis bestowed on him the small Deanery of Killala, though he had been recognised for thirteen years as incomparably the foremost man in the Irish Church. It was not for such men or for such services that the overgrown prizes of that Church were reserved, and Lord Westmorland in offering him a small living of about 200l. a year wrote very frankly: ‘It is far, far below your merits; but Government must reserve its high rewards for the services of its friends.’ Grattan in 1792 paid a noble tribute in Parliament to the great preacher. ‘This man,’ he said, ‘preferred our country and our religion, and brought to both genius superior to what he found in either. He called forth the latent virtue of the human heart and taught men to discover in themselves a mine of charity of which the proprietors had been unconscious. In feeding the lamp of charity he has almost exhausted the lamp of life. He came to interrupt the repose of the pulpit, and shakes one world with the thunder of the other. The preacher's desk becomes the throne of light. Around him a train, not such as crouch and swagger at the levée of princes, not such as attend the procession of the Viceroy, horse, foot, and dragoons, but that wherewith a great genius peoples his own state—charity in ecstasy and vice in humiliation—vanity, arrogance, and saucy empty pride appalled by the rebuke of the preacher, and cheated for a moment of their native improbity and insolence. What reward? St. Nicholas within or St. Nicholas without. The curse of Swift is upon him, to have been born an Irishman and a man of genius and to have used it for the good of his country.’1
A career like that of Kirwan would have been scarcely possible in Ireland in the theological atmosphere of the succeeding generation, and the liberality both of O'Leary and of Kirwan has appeared to their clerical biographers to be a matter requiring not a little apology. It is related of Law, who was appointed Bishop of Killala in 1787, that finding the population of his diocese almost exclusively Catholic, he distributed among them some of the best works of their own divines, declaring that as he could not make them good Protestants he would at least try to make them good Roman Catholics.2 The undoubted fact that the most active advocates for giving votes to Catholics were found at Belfast, and belonged to those dissenting bodies which were theologically most opposed to Catholicism, is a clear proof that politics had begun to dominate over theology. The volunteers in the latter part of their career, without hesitation or concealment, enrolled Catholics in their ranks,3 and the party which desired to concede to them political power continued to increase. ‘The right of being elected,’ wrote Lord Sheffield in 1785, ‘would surely follow their being eligible, but at all events the power would be in the electors. It is curious to observe one-fifth or perhaps one-sixth of a nation in possession of the power and property of the country, eager to communicate that power to the remaining four-fifths, which in effect entirely transfer it from themselves.’1
It would, however, be easy to exaggerate the extent of the change. The elements of turbulence in the country were very numerous, and little provocation was needed to fan them into a flame. The contests between the Peep o’ Day Boys and the Defenders in Ulster are said to have originated in a private quarrel unconnected with religion, but they speedily assumed the character of a religious war. The former, who were exclusively Protestants and mainly Presbyterians, professed a determination to enforce the law disarming Papists, and they were accustomed to enter their cottages in early morning to search for and to seize arms. The Defenders were exclusively Catholics, and were professedly, as their name imports, a purely defensive body. In truth, however, both sides were animated by a furious hatred, and both sides committed many acts of violence and aggression. The disturbances appear to have begun in 1785, but they continued for several years, and the Peep-o'-Days ultimately merged into Orangemen, and the Defenders into United Irishmen. Bodies of several hundreds of men of the lowest class on more than one occasion came into collision: several lives were lost; a reign of terror prevailed in large districts of Ulster, and it led to a new enrolment of Protestant volunteers to maintain the peace.2 In Munster the Whiteboy outrages were certainly not of a religious origin, but they were directed mainly, though not exclusively, against the payment of tithes, and they appear to have been not unfrequently organised in Catholic chapels.
As the party strengthened which demanded Catholic emancipation, the rival interests and animosities were called more prominently into the conflict, but the motives in action were usually much more political than theological. The effects of a great transfer of political influence; the insecurity it would give to property which rested largely on the Act of Settlement; the danger of calling into power masses of utterly ignorant men, were the topics chiefly dilated upon. National education had not yet been undertaken by the Parliaments either of England or Ireland as a serious duty, and the Charter Schools, which were still liberally supported, scarcely cast a perceptible ray of light on the dense mass of Catholic ignorance. In Trinity College, it is true, Catholics of the higher and middle orders were already admitted by connivance, though they could not yet obtain degrees or honours,1 but there was no provision for the poor. The endowments of the great schools could be of no use to them. The parochial schools which in England did something for popular education, were the products of a wealthy establishment, and no such schools existed or could exist among the Irish Catholics. For generations their education had been proscribed by law, and when the laws were repealed, the poverty of priests and people, the absence of educational institutions and endowments, and the habits contracted during the penal laws were insuperable obstacles. The great mass of the Irish Catholics were either absolutely illiterate, or were left to the slight, uncertain, and often perverting teaching of the hedge schoolmaster.2
In 1787, indeed, an extremely comprehensive system of national education was introduced, in the form of resolutions, into the Irish Parliament by Orde, the Chief Secretary of the Duke of Rutland. He proposed to revive the schools in every parish which had been enjoined by a long obsolete statute of Henry VIII.; to establish four large schools of a higher kind, imitated from the Bluecoat School in Dublin and Christ's Hospital in London, and two others especially charged with preparing boys for the University; to reform the diocesan schools, and ultimately to found a second University, and to levy from different sources considerable sums in support of these institutions.3 With the exception of the resolution relating to the establishment of a new University, which was opposed by a single member, the resolutions introduced by Orde passed unanimously through the House of Commons.1 But no step was taken for carrying them into effect. The death of the Duke of Rutland, in October 1787, led to the recall of Orde, and his project, which was certainly not among the least memorable incidents in Irish parliamentary history, has been scarcely noticed by Irish historians.
Legislation on such subjects occupies but a small place in the Statute-book either of England or Ireland during the eighteenth century. On the other hand, many forms of private industry were encouraged, and some real efforts were made to spread industry and order over those portions of the island which were still in a condition of almost absolute anarchy. In these tasks the Irish Parliament, with all its shortcomings, does not appear to me to have seriously failed. Nor was it from the presence and proceedings of this body that serious danger to the Empire was to be feared. It was rather from the formation beyond its walls of a great force of opinion and of agitation which it could neither represent nor control. The country was awakening to a keen consciousness of its political existence; and it was inevitable, if the peace of Ireland was to be maintained, that something should be done to make the Irish Parliament a really representative body, and to put an end to the system of monopoly and corruption which ran through every pore of the Irish Administration. Sooner or later this problem must have been inevitably faced; and the sudden impulse which the French Revolution had given to the democratic spirit in Europe forced it on, at a time when the system of corruption was at its height, and when the Irish Administration was in the hands of bitter enemies of reform. On the capital question of granting the suffrage to the Catholics, the Ministers in England, as we shall hereafter see, were in favour of concession, while the Administration in Ireland was bitterly opposed to it; and the result was a vacillation and division of policy in a critical and dangerous period, which led to consequences most fatal to the prosperity of Ireland.
The problem before the Irish Parliament would, under the most favourable circumstances, have been an extremely difficult one, and most analogies drawn from purely English experience, and especially from later English experience, only tend to mislead. The goodness of laws and political institutions is essentially relative, depending upon their adaptation to the character, circumstances, wants and traditions of the people for whom they are intended; and in all these respects, England and Ireland were wholly different. There is no greater delusion than to suppose that the same degree of popular government can be wisely accorded to nations in all stages of development, and that a country in a backward stage is really benefited by a servile imitation of the institutions of its more advanced neighbours. A country where the traditions of many peaceful centuries have knitted the various elements of national being into a happy unity, where there is no disaffection to the Crown or the Government, where the relations of classes are normal and healthy, where the influence of property is unbroken, and where those who are incapable of judging for themselves find natural leaders of character and intelligence everywhere at their head, can easily bear an amount of democracy which must bring utter ruin upon a country torn by sedition, religious animosities, and agrarian war, and in which all the natural ligatures of society have been weakened or disjointed. An amount of democracy which in one country leaves the main direction of affairs in the hands of property and intelligence, in another country virtually disfranchises both, and establishes a system of legalised plunder by transferring all controlling authority to an ignorant and excitable peasantry, guided and duped by demagogues, place-hunters, and knaves. A system of criminal law and of criminal procedure which is admirably adapted for a country where crime is nothing more than the outbreak of isolated bad passions, and where every man's hand is against the criminal, must fail to fulfil the first purposes of justice, if it is applied without modification to a country where large classes of crime are looked upon by great masses of the population as acts of war, where jurymen will acquit in the face of the clearest evidence, and where known criminals may live in security under the shelter of popular connivance or popular intimidation. In a rich country, in which many generations of uninterrupted prosperity have raised the industrial spirit to the highest point, in which energy and self-reliance are almost redundantly displayed, and in which the middle class is the strongest power in the State, nearly all industrial enterprises may be safely left to the unassisted action of private individuals. It is not so in a very poor country, where the middle class is small and feeble, and where a long train of depressing circumstances have reduced the industrial spirit to the lowest ebb. Perhaps, the worst consequence of the legislative union has been the tendency it produces to measure Irish legislation by English wants and experience, and to force Ireland into a plane of democracy for which all who have any real knowledge of its circumstances must know that it is wholly unfitted. Very different conditions require very different types of administration, and, in Ireland, the elements of self-government lie, and always have lain, within a higher plane and a more restricted circle than in England, and the relations of classes and the conditions of opinion are incomparably less favourable to popular institutions. A stronger and firmer executive, a more restricted suffrage, a greater concentration of power, a more constant intervention of Government both in the way of assistance and initiative, and in the way of restriction and control, is imporatively required.
These essential conditions of Irish politics do not appear to me to have been unrecognised by the statesmen of the Irish Parliament, but they had two great and difficult tasks to fulfil, and the permanence of the Irish Constitution depended mainly upon the question whether in the next few years these tasks could be successfully accomplished. It was necessary to withdraw the direction of affairs from a corrupt but intelligent aristocracy without throwing it into the hands of demagogues and rebels, and it was no less necessary to take some serious step to put an end to the vicious system of religious ascendency without destroying the healthy and indispensable ascendency of property and intelligence.
See vol. iv. p. 540.
May 3, 1782. Shelburne to Portland. Portland to Shelburne.
June 8, 1782.
August 9, 1782. Portland to Townsend.
Parl. Hist. xxiii. 30, 31. See, too, Lord Beauchamp's Letter to the 1st Belfast Company of Volunteers. Flood's Life, pp. 165–167. Townsend to Temple, Oct. 26, Nov. 4, 1782.
Parl. Hist. xxiii. 147–152.
Ibid. 335, 336.
Parl. Hist. xxiii. 323.
Parl, Hist. xxv. 966. This statement was made in 1785.
See vol. iv. pp. 550–553.
May 25, 1782. Grattan's Life, ii. 289.
May 6, 1782. Portland to Shelburne. (Printed in Grattan's Life, ii. 286–288.)
See his letter to Grattan, Grattan's Life, ii. 297.
Portland to Shelburne, June 6, 1782. Grattan's Life, ii. 291, 292. This correspondence was first disclosed by Pitt, in the Union Debate in 1799. Portland expressed his firm persuasion that Grattan would support the Bill, but he had evidently no communication with Grattan on the subject.
Shelburne to Portland, June 9, 1782.
Temple to Shelburne, Sept. 30, Oct. 9, 28, Dec. 2, 6, 1782. These letters are not in the regular Government correspondence in the Record Office. I know them through the abstracts in the Lansdowne Papers. British Museum, Add. MSS. 24, 131.
Temple to Shelburne, Oct. 28, Dec. 2 and 6, 1782.
(Most secret and contidential) Temple to Townshend, Nov. 30, 1782.
(Most secret) Temple to Townshend, Dec. 12, 14, 1782.
23 George III. c. 28.
Temple to Townshend, Feb. 12, 1783.
Several examples of this kind, taken from the books of the Privy Council, will be found in a valuable article in the Edinburgh Review, April 1886, pp. 579, 580. The mistakes appear to have principally occurred in regulating the commercial intercourse, on the basis of reciprocity. The duties or bounties were sometimes incorrectly calculated.
See vol. iv. pp. 548, 549.
Rutland to Sydney (confidential), Feb. 27, 1784.
See on this subject a forcible statement in Grattan's Speeches, i. 244, 245.
Irish Parliamentary, Debates, ii, 75.
I have already abundantly illustrated this fact; but the following passage, from a speech of Burke in 1785, may not be without interest to the reader. ‘He was sorry to say that she [Ireland] at present, in time of profound peace, was running in debt, her expenses greatly exceeding her income; but he remembered that in 1753 she had been able to pay off a considerable debt, and had besides a surplus of 260,000l. in her treasury, But what was truly astonishing, and he had been a witness of it himself, so soon after as 1761 she was enabled by her prudent system of economy to keep an army of 24,000 in pay, of which 8,000 were sent by her to fight the battles of Great Britain abroad, whilst 16,000 remained in the kingdom for home defence. She also sent 33,000 recruits, her own natives at her own expense, to fill up regiments in the British service, and spent above 600,000l. in Germany for the support of the war. This was an effort from which England had reaped the greatest advantage.’ Parl. Hist. xxv. 651.
January 23, 1799.
Plowden, Historical Review of the State of Ireland, ii. 17.
Portland to Shelburne, June 25, 1782.
Gordon's Hist. of Ireland, ii. 286. Letter to Henry Flood on the Represntation of Ireland (Belfast, 1783). See, too, a full report, by the committee by the delegates at Lisburne to collect evidence about parliamentary reform. Proceedings relating to the Ulster Assembly of Volunteer Delegates (Belfast 1783); and also the detailed analysis of the Irish representation in Grattan's Life. iii. 472–487.
Seward's Rights of the People Asserted (Dublin, 1783), p. 34.
Plowden, ii. 23–27.
Temple to Townshend, March 12. Temple to North, May 9, 1783.
(Secret and confidential) July 4, 1783, Northington to North.
Temple to North, May 23, 30 Proclamation, June 9. Northington to North, June 10, 26, 1783. Irish Parl. Debates, ii. 346, 347.
Oct. 14, 1783, Northington to North. Irish Parl. Debates, ii. 9.
Northington to North, Sept. 23, Oct. 18. North to Northington, Oct. 7, 1783.
Irish Parl. Deb. ii. 277–289.
Ibid. ii: 34, 79, 81, 103. Grattan estimated the increase of the revenue during the last two years at 100,000l. per year (p.103).
Irish Parl. Deb. 84, 103, 104.
Hardy's Life of Charlemont, ii. 94–98.
It has also been ascribed to Lord Townshend and to Lady Mary Montague.
See Burdy's Life of Skelton (Skelton's Works, i. xcvii)
Many particulars relating to the Ulster life of the Bishop will be found in an interesting sketch of his history by the Rev. Classon Porter, a gentleman who has contributed much that is valuable to the local history of Ulster. It is reprinted from the Northern Whig.
Parl. Hist. xx. 1164.
Charlemont's MS. Autobiography; Hardy's Life of Charlemont, ii. 103.
Wesley's Journal, June 1, 6, 1775.
Bentham's Works, x. 93, 94, 101.
See the curious letter of the Bishop offering assistance for the purchase of camp equipage. Grattan's Life, ii. 262, 263.
Mant's Church History of Ireland, ii 692–694.
Hardy's Life of Charlemont, ii. 100.
See an example of this in the Freeman's Journal, Nov. 20–22, 1783, which Lord Northington sent to England.
Fox to Northington, Nov. 1, 1783. Fox to Burgoyne, Nov. 7, 1783. Grattan's Life, iii. 106–116.
Hardy's Life of Charlemont, ii. 106.
Ibid. ii. 106,
Life of the Countess of Hunting-don, ii. 191, 195.
See the memorial of Charles Lionel Fitzgerald to the Earl of Carhsle (Sept. 24, 1781), and the letter of G R. Fitzgerald to the same, Jan 26,1781, Irish State Paper Office. Two of Fitzgerald's letters from prison are preserved in the mlscellancous correspondence, Irish State Paper Office; and his very curious memorial to the Government in 1783, and the opinion of the Attorney-General upon it, will be found in the Irish Record Office, Entries of Civil Petitions. See also The Case of G. R. Fitzgerald, impartrally consudered, with Anecdotes of his Life (1786); A Letter to the Right Hon W Eden, by a Member of the Roektield Legion commanded by G. R. Fitzgerald; and a curious life of Fitzgerald published in 1786.
Mant's History of the Irish Church, ii 693.
Hardy's Life of Charlemont. Barrington's Rise and Fall of the Irish Nation, ccvii. xix. Fitzgibbon, many years later, in reviewing this period of Irish history, while speaking of the extreme danger to Government of such a military Convention as that of 1783, made the following remarkable admission: ‘In that Convention I will venture to say there was not a single rebel; there was not a member of it who would not willingly have shed his blood in the defence of his Sovereign and of the Constitution ‘—Speech of Earl of Clare, February 19,1798 (Dublin, 1798), p. 80 I believe this was certainly not true of the Bishop of Derry.
‘The next step was to try by means of our friends in this assembly [the Convention] to perplex its proceedings and to create confusion in their deliberations, in order to bring their meeting into contempt and to create a necessity of its dissolving itself. This method had considerable effect. They are strongly embarrassed by a multiplicity of plans, and are much alarmed by the Roman Catholics claiming a right to vote.’—Northington to Fox, Nov. 17, 1783; Grattan's Life, iii. 130, 131. In the beginning of 1784 Northington recommended very strongly Ogle, the member for Wexford, for the place of regl strar of deeds. He says, ‘His private character and public conduct command universal esteem. He has given the most decided and cordial support upon all occasions to my administration. … His zeal like-wise induced him to attend the Convention, of which he was chosen a member, where he exerted his efforts constantly to check and control the mischievous tendency of measures proposed there, and to support what might be the wishes of the Government.’—Northington to Sydney, Jan. 25, 1784.
‘The Bishop again renewed the Catholic question, in which he was warmly supported by many of the Connaught and by some of the Munster delegates, while even a few of the Northern dissenters, by their speeches and acquiescence, appeared already to indicate the approach of that strange madness by which they were, not long after, actuated.’—Charlemont's MS. Autobiography.
Irish Parl. Debates, ii. 225–264. The numbers in the first division are given erroneously in the Debates as 158 to 49. The Commons' Journals, however, and also a letter of Lord Northington (Nov. 30, 1783), give them as in the text.
See Grattan's Life, iii. 159–162; Hardy's Life of Charlemont, ii. 138–142; Charlemont Papers. There is a full report of the proceedings of the Convention in a pamphlet, called Proceedings of the Volunteer Delegates of Ireland (1784), and also in the Hiberman Journal for 1783. Barrington (Rise and Fall of the Irish Nation, c. xix.) has grossly misrepresented the closing scenes of the Convention, accusing Charlemont of having come to the Hall before the usual hour on Monday, the 1st, with his own friends, and adjourned the Convention sine die before the arrival of the opposite party. As a matter of fact the debate extended over two days, and Flood, the Bishop of Derry, and all the other more conspicuous members of the Convention were present
Irish Parl. Deb. iii. 13–23, 43–85
Bentham, Radicalism not dan-gerous, part iv.; Collected Works, iii. 613–620.
‘If property and fortune are the criteria of consequence, the members of the Convention were of equal importance, and possessed an equal interest in the public welfare as the members of the House of Commons. … There cannot be a more irrefragable argument in favour of a reform of Parliament than, originating with the people, that it should be embraced by almost every man of rank and fortune in the kingdom, except the individuals whose respective interests and usurpation were supposed to be affected by a more equal representation’ ‘The Volunteer Reform Bill,’ says the same writer, ‘was neither fraught with speculative principles nor new-fangled doctrines; it dealt neither in experiment nor mnovation, and though possibly not the best that human wisdom could devise, yet at least it must have had some excellencies to recommend it, from the almost unanimous applause that awaited it in every quarter of the kingdom.’—History of the last Session of Parliament, by a member of the sub-committee of the Convention (Dubhn, 1784), pp 9, 10.
See vol. iv. pp. 471, 472.
Sam. Maxwell to Charlemont, Jan. 3, 1784. Charlemont Papers.
See his remarkable letters, Bar-rington, Rise and Fall of the Irish Nation, c. xx.
March 20, 1784 (most secret and confidential), Rutland to Sydney. See, too, Grattan's Life, iii. 137, 138.
Rutland to Sydney, Feb. 26, 27, 1784. Irish Parl. Deb. ii. 374.
See in the privately printed Rutland correspondence letters of Pitt to Rutland, Feb. 1, and of Buckingham to Pitt, Jan. 23, 1785. Buckingham says of Gardiner: ‘I certainly held myself authorised to hold it [a peerage] out to him in case of his support, which he promised, stating, however, that he had pledged himself to move that question [protecting duties] after the recess, but that he would take the first moment to quit it, and to return to that system from which he had been driven by Lord Northington.’
Irish Parl. Deb. iv. 129.
Irish Parl. Deb. iii. 135–138.
Ibid. iii. 223.
Newenham's View of the Natural, Political, and Commercial Cireumstances of Ireland (1809). This valuable book contains the fullest account I know, of the corn legislation in Ireland.
23 & 24 Geo. III. c. 19. This is a very long and complicated Act. The reader my find a tolerable abstract of its provisions in Newenham, pp. 213, 214.
See the very elaborate exammation of the subject in Newenham's View of the Circumstances of Ireland, and in the same writer's work on The Population of Ireland, pp. 44–50. See, too, Crumpe's Essay on the Employment of the People (1793), pp. 260–272; Mullala's View of Irish Affairs since the Revolution, ii. 128–131. Both Newenham and Crumpe argue elaborately agamst the views of Adam Smith on the subject. One of the very few instances of a contemporary unfavourable view of the corn bounties in Ireland, will be found in a memorial of Rich. Burke to Dundas. Burke's Correspondence, iv. 46–57. The writer, however, admits that the corn trade created by the bounties, was at first very lucrative.
Newenham's Cireumstances of Ireland, pp. 215, 216.
Ibid. pp. 230, 231.
See the powerful statement of the case against corn bounties in M'Culloch's Account of the British Empire, i. 438, 439, 531, 532.
23 & 24 Geo. III. c 56
Feb 26, April 12, 1784, Rutland to Sydney (secret and confidential). Next day Orde wrote, ‘We are really in a very disagreeable situation in respect to internal disorder. Those accursed manufacturers, pent up in a vile suburb of the city, are brooding mischief upon the instigation, no doubt, of more considerable persons among the weavers Their machinations are the more alarming, because there is no doubt of their design to commit private assassination. Every discovery we make tends to confirm it, and the glorious idea is kept alive by the encouragements of the newspapers and the pulpits. … It is a damnable scene, and I most cordially detest it.’ Orde to Nepean, April 13, 1784. There are several other letters on the subject, written in the spring and summer of 1784. See, too, Irish Parl. Deb. ii. 419–421, iii. 147–158.
Rutland to Sydney, April 28, 1784
23 & 24 Geo. III. c. 28; Irish Parl. Deb. iii. 154.
‘I was satisfied that the old corps, who are very completely appointed and pique themselves as gentlemen upon their manners and appearance, and upon being men in substantial circumstances, would not submit to unite with the meanest and poorest rank; and I expected that the expense of clothing and arming the people, the encouragement the plan must give to idleness, and the dislike of other corps to the measure, would frustrate the attempt. The event hitherto has in a great degree justified my expectations.’ Rutland to Sydney, May 19, 24, 1784.
Irish. Parl. Deb. iv. 41, 42, See, too, pp. 237, 238.
Irish Parl Deb. iv. 225, 227, 279, 280, 294. See, too, the letters of Rutland and Orde daring the latter half of 1784.
Charlemont to Haliday, Feb. 26, 1793.
Iruk Parl. Deb. iv. 266–297. Orde to Nepean, Feb. 19, 1785.
See Rutland to Sydney, Oct. 25, 1784; English instructions to Rut-land, Jan. 11, 1785; Sydney to Rut-land, Jan. 7, 1786; Rutland to Sydney, Feb. 27, 1786.
Irish Parl Deb. iii 54, 65, 69.
See a pamphlet by Sir Lucius O'Brien, called A Gleam of Comfort to this distracted Empire (London, 1785).
Grattan's Life, iii. 228–230. Rutland, in relating this, says that Charlemont's answer ‘brought upon him the most virulent abuse in the public prints, but it is no more than the lot of every man, who differs in the smallest degree from whatever may be the popular cry of the moment.’ To Sydney, July 21, 1784.
Grattan's Life, iii. 221–226. I am quite incompetent to give any opinion on the subject. Pitt in a private letter to Orde (Jan. 12, 1785) writes, ‘I have had some conversation with your Attorney-General on the subject of the attachments, who defends his cause very ably and puts it in the best light it can admit of. Still, I think it a matter of great delicacy and caution, and enough has been done already.’—Privately printed Correspondence of Pitt and Rutland.
Plowden, ii. 107, 108.
England's Life of O'Leary, p. 105.
Grattan's Life, iii. 119–122.
Wyse's History of the Catholic Association, i. 103.
‘I have discovered a channel by which I hope to get to the bottom of all the plots and machinations which are contriving in this metropolis. As I always expected, the disturbances which have been agitated have all derived their source from French influence. There is a meeting in which two men named Napper Tandy and John Binney, together with others who style themselves free citizens, assemble. They drink the French King on their knees, and their declared purpose is a separation from England and the establishment of the Roman Catholic religion. At their meetings an avowed French agent constantly attends, who is no other than the person in whose favour the French ambassador desired Lord Carmarthen to write to me a formal introduction. … One of this meeting, alarmed at the dangerous extent of their schemes, has confessed, and has engaged to discover to me the whole intentions of this profligate and unprincipled combination.’ Rutland to Sydney (most secret), Aug. 26, 1784 ‘We are now very certain that most of the abominable letters and paragraphs in the public papers are written by popish priests. We shall, I really believe, be very soon able to get sufficent evidence which we may make use of, to apprehend and arrest them. We shall be assisted by the principal persons, especially by the utular prelates, who are earnest to express and manifest their reprobation of such excesses.’ Orde to Nepean (most private), April 30, 1784.
Sept. 4, 1784, Sydney writes to Rutland, ‘O'Leary has been talked to by Mr. Nepean, and he is willing to undeitake what is wished for 100l a year which has been granted him.’ On Sept. 8 Orde writes to Nepean thanking him for sending over a spy or detective named Parker, and adds, ‘I am very glad also that you have settled matters with O'Leary, who can get at the bottom of all secrets in which the Cathohes are concerned, and they are certainly the chief promoters of our present disquietude. He must, however, be cautiously trusted, for he is a priest, and if not too much addicted to the general vice of his brethren here, he is at least well acquainted with the art of raising alarms for the purpose of claiming a merit in doing them away.’ On Sept 23 he writes, ‘We are about to make trial of O'Leary's sermons and of Parker's rhapsodies. They may be both in their different callings of very great use. The former, if we can depend upon him, has it in his power to discover to us the real designs of the Catholics, from which quarter, after all, the real mischief is to spring. The other can scrape an acquaintance with the great leaders of sedition, particularly Napper Tandy, and perhaps by that means may dive to the bottom of his secrets.’ On Oct. 17 he writes to Nepean, alluding to some rumour about O'Leary which is not stated, ‘Del Campo's connection with O'Leary, or rather O'Leary's with him, may have given rise to all the report, but after all I think it right to be very watchful over the priest and wish you to be so over the minister. They are all of them designing knaves’ The Christian name of this O'Leary is nowhere given, nor is anything said about his being a monk; and as the surname is a very common one, it is possible that the person referred to may not have been the wellknown writer. Considering, however, the important position and connections attributed to this O'Leary, the conjecture is, I fear, an improbable one.
Vol. iv pp. 491, 492.
Lord Carysfort to Charlemont, Sept. 10, 1784. Charlemont Papers.
Letters of Count d'Adhémar, April 23, May 7, June 18, Aug. 3, 1784, French Foreign Office.
Irish Parl. Deb. ii. 202–204.
Ibid vi. 73, vii. 137, 138.
Newenham's State of Ireland, p. 110.
Irish Parl. Deb. ii. 405, v. 115, viii. 365, ix. 258, 259.
Auckland Correspondence, i. 80.
See Irish Parl. Deb. ii. 203.
Ibid. iii. 87. The same debate brought out some curious illustrations of the manner in which the Court of Chancery was conducted in Ireland.
Sydney to Buckingham, June 10, 1788.
Irish Parl Deb. viii. 69.
Pitt to Rutland, Oct 7, 1784 (privately printed correspondence). The italics are in the original.
Pitt to Rutland, Oct. 7, Dec. 4, 1784; Jan. 11, 12, 1785.
In a remarkable letter to his constituents of the University of Dubhn, he said, in 1780, ‘I have always been of opinion that the claim of the British Parliament to make laws for this country is a daring usurpation of the rights of a free people, and have uniformly asserted the opinion in public and in private.’ He says that although he had opposed the Declaration of Rights when it was first moved, he would now yield his opinion to that of his constituents and support it, but that he could not support a total repeal of Poynings' Law. He adds, ‘There is not a doubt in my mind that a perpetual Mutiny Bill lays the foundation of a military despotism in this country; on this principle I will, while I live, make every effort in my power to procure a repeal of it.’ O'Flanagan's Lives of the Chancellors of ireland, ii. 166, 167.
See Grattan's Life, ii. 134, 200, 201.
‘From the first I have ever reprobated the idea of appealing to the volunteers, though I was confident Ireland was in no danger while they followed the counsel of the man whom I am proud to call my most worthy and honourable friend [Mr. Grattan]; the man to whom this country owes more than, perhaps, any State ever owed to an individual; the man whose wisdom and virtue directed the happy circumstances of the times and the spirit of Irishmen to make us a nation. While the volunteers continued under his influence I feared no evil from them.’ Irish Part Deb. iv. 286.
Phillips' Life of Curran; Darrington's Rise and Fall.
Phillips' Life of Curran, pp. 151, 152. Curran himself long afterwards wrote of this, ‘Though I was too strong to be beaten down by any judicial malignity, it was not so with my clients; and my consequent losses in professional income have never been estimated at less, as you must have often heard, than thirty thousand pounds.’ A passage from one of Fitzgibbon's speeches in Parliament against Curran may be given as a specimen of the kind of language he was accustomed to employ. ‘The politically insane gentleman [Curran] has asserted much, but he only emitted some effusions of the witticisms of fancy. His declamation, indeed, was better calculated for the stage of Sadler's Wells than the floor of a House of Commons. A mountebank with but one half the honourable gentleman's theatrical talent for rant would undoubtedly make his fortune. However, I am somewhat surprised he should entertain such a particular asperity against me, as I never did him any favour. But perhaps the honourable gentleman imagines he may talk himself into consequence. If so, I should be sorry to obstruct his promotion; he is heartily welcome to attack me. One thing, however, I will assure him—that I hold him in so small a degree of estimation either as a man or a lawyer that I shall never hereafter deign to make him any answer.’ Grattan's Life, iii. 268. The scene is alluded to, but not reported, as being purely personal, in the Irish Parl. Deb. v. 472. Woodfall, the famous parliamentary reporter, happened to be in the Irish House of Commons during this scene, and he has given a graphic description of it. Auckland Correspondence, i. 78, 79. No one, I think, who follows the reported speeches of Fitzgibbon, can fail to be struck with the extraordinary arrogance they display, and it is said to have been much aggravated by his manner. In Charlemont's MS. Autobiography there is an elaborate and exceedingly (I think unduly) unfavourable character of him.
‘My unalterable opinion is, that so long as human nature and the popish religion continue to be what I know they are, a conscientious popish ecclesiastic never will become a wellattached subject to a Protestant State, and that the popish clergy must always have a commanding influence on every member of that communion.’ Speech on the Union, p. 69
Lord Holland's Mems. of the Whig Party, i. 162. See Grattan's Life, iii. 402, 403.
Speech on the Union, pp. 45, 46.
Irish Parl. Deb. ix 181. Grattan more than once alluded to this speech.
Essay VIII. on Independency of Parliaments.
‘In the British colonies of North America the late Assemblies possessed much of the power and constitution of our House of Commons. The King and Government of Great Britain held no pationage in the country which could create attachment and influence sufficient to counteract that restless, arrogating spirit, which in popular assembles, when left to itself, will never brook an authority that checks and interferes with its own. To this cause, excited perhaps by some unseasonable provocations, we may attribute, as to their true and proper original, we will not say the misfortunes, but the changes which have taken place in the British Empire.’ Paley's Moral and Political Philosophy, vi. ch vii.
June 16, 1784. Dr. Halliday, the founder of the Whig Club, in a letter to Charlemont, complains that ‘an English Whig is only a Whig for England, but a Tory with respect to her dependencies,’ and he adds, ‘I have been candidly told that since the acknowledgment of our independency, nothing can preserve the integrity and peace of the Empire but a government of corruption in Ireland … that a truly democratic House of Commons, one really the representative of the people here, would shiver all to pieces.’ April 10, 1785. Charlemont Papers. Lord Camden, who had pushed Whig principles during the American contest to their extreme consequences, was in Ulster in the summer of 1784, and he wrote a curious letter to the Duke of Grafton on the state of Ireland. ‘There is one question,’ he said, ‘that seems to have taken possession of the whole kingdom, and that is the reform of Parliament, about which they seem very much in earnest. For who (sic) does wish so much for that reformation at home cannot with much consistence refuse it to Ireland, and yet their corrupt Parliament is the only means we have left to preserve the union between the two countries. But that argument will not bear the light, and no means ought in my opinion to be adopted that is too scandalous to be avowed. I foresaw when we were compelled to grant independence to Ireland the mischief of the concession, and that sooner or later civil war would be the consequence.’ (Aug. 13, 1784) Grafton's MS. Autobiography.
Rutland to Sydney, Jan. 13, 1785.
On April 19, 1784, he writes a curious (most secret and confidential) letter to Sydney about the growing independence of the Irish House of Lords ‘A greater attention and a more expensive influence than heretofore will therefore be required, if we seek, as we must, to direct its progress in the right way. A share also of the lucrative favours of Government must be set aside for the purpose of gaining attachments in that House, as the invention of mere external allurements will no longer maintain the influence which they may for a moment acquire.’ He complains in consequence of ‘the scantiness of the provision which is in the disposal of Government for the support of an increased and increasing number of claimants,’ urges the ‘necessity of taking some measure as early as possible for the enlargement of our means,’ and says, ‘it will be absolutely incumbent upon me to endeavour to establish in that House the strongest and most immediate connection of administration with a certain number of powerful members, who may be at all times locked to for the declaration and explanation of the intentions and wishes of Government.’
May 18, 1782, Portland to Shelburne.
Grattan's Life, iii. 289.
Plowden, ii. 89. ‘Government has been necessarily under very great difficulties, and must feel much obligation to those persons who have assisted in bringing about the for tunate event [the passing of the Press Bill] It is really but justice to Mr. Grattan that I should put him at the head of such a list. The manly and decisive tone in which he pointed out the necessity of some regulations and restrictions, and of securing the liberty of the press (to use his own expression) against the attacks of the printers; the fair and explicit justice which he did to administration by stating the nature of their proposition and their declared readiness to conciliate unanimity by any concession which on fair discussion should be generally thought advisable, had altogether a striking effect upon the House, and contributed greatly to make the whole measure acceptable.’ Rutland to Sydney (secret and confidential), April 12, 1784.
Irish Parl. Deb. iii. 166.
Irish Parl. Deb. iv. 237, 238; Grattan's Life, iii. 214–216. Orde, describing the debates, syas, ‘Mr. Grattan, in a most able and ingenious speech, condemned in the strongest terms the meeting of the congress as not existing in the principles of the Constitution and destroying the very existence of Parliament. He pointed out the illegality of some of the addresses and resolutions, and several of the county meetings where, all the inhabitants being admitted. the rights of freeholders were overturned and wrested from them by the populace. He described the change that those violences had made in the volunteer institutions, that they had formerly consisted of responsible and respectable characters, whereas now Roman Catholics were admitted, and the lowest and most riotous of the people were armed.’ Orde to Nepean, Jan. 26, 1785.
Some very curious letters of the Bishop in 1795–6 to the Countess de Lichtenau (the mistress of the King of Prussia) will be found in the memoirs of that lady. The Bishop was a great patron of art in Italy. He appears to have openly professed materialist opinions. On the outbreak of war between England and France he was imprisoned by the French for eighteen months at Milan. Several particulars relating to his Italian life will be found in the Life of Lady Hamilton, and in Lord Cloncurry's Personal Recollections, 190, 191. See, too, the enthusiastic dedication to the Bishop, of Martin Sherlock's curious Letters of an English Traveller.
See the resolutions of Forbes, Feb. 11, 1790, and Grattan's speech, Feb. 20, 1790 (Grattan's Speeches, ii. 237, 238, 243).
Grattan's Speeches, ii. 210 (Feb. 1, 1790)
See The Proposed System of Trade with Ireland explained (1785), pp. 31, 32. This very able pamphlet was written by George Rose, who took a leading part in Pitt's commercial legislation It was commonly called ‘the Treasury pamphlet,’ and attracted much attention from being understood to represent most fully the views of the Government.
Pitt to the Duke of Rutland, Jan. 6, 1785. Fitzgibbon stated at this time that the imports from England did not exceed one million, and the exports to England exceeded two millions and a half.
Irish Parl. Deb. iv. 178, 188.
The System of Trade with Ireland explained, p. 20.
Sydney to Rutland, Jan. 6, 1785 (most secret and confidential).
Ibid. Feb. 1, 1785.
The extreme Irish view of these advantages was thus stated by Flood. ‘What nation would not protect Ireland without tribute, to whom Ireland were to give what she gives to Britain? She gives her the nomination of her monarch, and therein of her whole administration through every department; a third estate in her Legislature; the creation of her peerage; the influence over placemen and pensioners in the House of Commons; she gives her a mighty army; the use of near a million and half of yearly revenue; five millions a year in imports and exports; above a million a year in absentee expenditure which, at the grievous issue of one million a year from Ireland, carries above two hundred thousand pounds a year in taxes into the British exchequer; she gives her the use of three millions of people in peace and war, and of seventeen millions of English acres in a happy climate and a happy soil, and so situated as to be the best friend or the worst enemy in the world to Britain.’ Irish Parl. Deb. v. 398, 399.
Rutland to Sydney, Jan. 13, 24, 25, 1785.
The correspondence between Pitt and Rutland was privately printed by Lord Stanhope (then Lord Mahon) in 1842. The correspondence of the Irish Government with Sydney is, of course, in the Record Office.
This had been stated by Lord North. See Macpherson's Annals of Commerce, iii. 647. Pitt does not urge in his letters, a point on which the Ministry in Ireland dwelt largely—that the Act granting Ireland the plantation trade was revocable at pleasure, while the commercial treaty would secure it for ever.
Pitt to Rutland, Dec. 4, 1781; Jan. 6, March 1, 1785.
Sydney to Rutland (most secret), Feb. 1, 1785.
Irish Parl. Deb. iv. 116–125.
Grattan's Life, iii. 236–239. See, too, Irish Parl. Deb. vi. 121.
Rutland describes a conversation of Orde with Grattan. ‘No argument could move him [Grattan] to consent to the appropriation of the surplus for the purposes of the Empire until Ireland should be free from all burthen of debt. Your lordship is not unacquainted with Mr. G.'s character, and experience has shown to what effect he can exercise his abilities when a strong ground of popularity is given him to stand upon.’ After several conversations, ‘Mr. Grattan remained obstinate in his opinion unless the expenses of government should be made equal to the revenue. He said he knew this to be the opinion of every intelligent and knowing man with whom he had communicated upon the subject … that he should state his opinion in Parliament with such arguments as he was convinced would render it impossible for any honest man, who pretended to the slightest regard to his country, to support the measure. … He thought the present system of carrying on government by accumulated loans was highly ruinous. … He conjured Mr Orde to see the chief friends of Government, and know explicitly their opinion.’ Orde, knowing that several of the most zealous friends of the Government thought ill of the policy of the measure, determined not to call them together, but having a meeting of some of the chief law officers in his appartment, he ‘mentioned with a seeming carelessness that Mr. Grattan still continued his objection to the last resolution, when they one and all burst out with entreaties that the proposition might be revised, that some turn might be given to it to avoid the strong objection admitted by every one against bringing it in while the present income of the nation fell so much short of the expense.’ Upon this opinion the Government determined to introduce an additional resolution. Rutland to Sydney (most secret), Feb. 12, 1785.
Irish Parl Deb. iv. 201
Sydney to Rutland, Feb. 24, 1785.
Rutland to Sydney, Feb. 25 and March 4, 1785.
Irish Parl. Deb. iv. 198.
Ibid. 212, 218, 219.
Ibid. v. 34–43.
Resolutions 3, 4, 5, 8, 9, 16. Grattan thus stated the effect of these provisions: ‘You give to the English, West as well as East, an eternal monopoly for their plantation produce, in the taxing and regulating of which you have no sort of deliberation or interference, and over which Great Britain has a complete supremacy. … There is scarcely an article of the British plantation that is not out of all proportion dearer than the same article is in any other part of the globe, nor any other article that is not produced elsewhere, for some of which articles you might establish a mart for your manufactures … What, then, is this covenant? To take these articles from the British plantations and from none other, at the present high rates and taxes, and to take them at all times to come, subject to whatever further rates and taxes the Parliament of Great Britain shall enact.’ Speeches, 1 235. Flood, in a very remarkable passage, argued that the trade which was likely to be most beneficial to Ireland in the future was that with the United States, and that the commercial arrangement would completely destroy it. It ‘subjects our imports from the independent States of America to such duties, regulations, and prohibitions as the British Parliament shall from time to time think fit to impose on Britain, as to all articles similiar to those that are produced in the British colonies or settlements. Now what articles can America send to us, to which similar articles are not, or may not be, produced in some of the colonies or settlements of Britain?’ Irish Parl. Deb. v. 402, 403.
See a curious private letter which he wrote to Sir John Tydd, Grattan's Life, iii. 250–252.
Parl. Hist. xxv. 647–651; Wraxall's Post Mems. i. 320.
See the animated account of it in Wraxall's Post. Mems. i. 310–320. Wraxall states that on one, if not more, occasion, in the Wilkes' discussions at the beginning of the reign, the House sat till 9 A.M. According to the Parliamentary History, however, the House adjourned at 6 A.M. in the great debate on the commercial propositions. The speech of Sheridan (Parl. Hist. xxv. 743–757) is probably the strongest statement of the case against the propositions.
Rutland wrote of this speech to Pitt: ‘The speech of Mr. Grattan was, I understand, a display of the most beautiful eloquence perhaps ever heard, but it was seditious and inflammatory to a degree hardly credible.’ Aug. 13, 1785. Woodfall, the parliamentary reporter, heard this debate, and made the report which is in the Parl. Deb. It was also published separately. He wrote to Eden, ‘Grattan, whose conversion is in Dublin ascribed to Sheridan's speech (which I took such pains to procure for the public correctly), was admirable. His manner, as you well know, is most singular; but he said some of the finest things in the newest mode I ever heard. Auckland Correspondence, i. 79, 80. See, too, Hardy's Life of Charlemont, ii. 148, and the speech in Grattan's Speeches, ii. 231–249
Irish Parl. Deb. v. 443.
Sydney to Rutland (secret and confidential), July 20, 1785.
‘Were I to indulge a distant speculation, I should say that without a union Ireland will not be connected with Great Britain in twenty years longer.’ Rutland to Pitt, June 16, 1784. In a speech delivered in 1799, Bishop Watson mentioned that in 1785 he had pressed the advantages of a union on Rutland, who had answered that ‘he wholly approved of the measure, but added, the man who should attempt to carry it into execution would be tarred and fea thered.’ Parl. Hist. xxxiv. 736.
‘The resolutions of the House of Commons [relating to the changes of duty] were severally agreed to with the almost unanimous concurrence of the House.’ ‘Mr. Grattan spoke shortly but strongly in favour of the treaty, and said that although Ireland should fail of the benefit she might expect from it, such a disappointment ought not to be imputed to any defect in the treaty, which in his opinion was fair and liberal, and opened a promising field upon which the country might exert her arts and industry.’ Orde to Nepean, March 6, 1787 (private). ‘The treaty of commerce between Great Britain and France is very popular in this country, and the attention paid therein to the interests of Ireland, is felt with a sensible gratitude by the whole nation.’ Rutland to Sydney (private), May 31, 1787.
27 Geo. III. c. 23. March 29, 1787, Orde to Nepean.
Westmorland to W. Grenville (private), Nov. 19, 1790.
26 Geo. III. c. 24.
Irish Parl. Deb. vi. 367, 368, 370.
Sydney to Rutland (most secret), Jan. 7, 1786.
‘We have made a successful foundation, at least, to a scheme of effectual police in this capital, with some additions applicable to the country. We thought it right to begin with moderation, but we have established the principle, and obtained now, I trust, an influence in the magistracy of the city, which may be used to the most salutary purposes for the quiet and good order of the whole community. The opposition given to the Bill in the House of Commons has been chiefly confined to the extension of the influence of Government, and to the armed force with which they are to be entrusted.’ Rutland to Sydney, March 31, 1786.
See Irish Parl. Deb. viii. 248, 249, 340, 344. See, too, a very curious report by a parliamentary committee on the subject, in Plow-den, append. lxxxii. The committee found, among other things, that the police charge for stationery in two and a half years was 3,316l. 6s. 6 1/2d. Of this more than 150l. was said to have been paid for gilt paper, and 49l. 8s. 8d. for sealing wax. The wretched character of the Dublin police was noticed by Sir Richard Hoare in his Tour in Ireland in 1806, p. 300.
‘The necessity of coercion was universally admitted, and Mr. Grattan, in particular, very strongly urged the principle as essential to the prosperity of the country. He and Mr. Brown-low were tellers for the majority, and the Bill was supported by great numbers of the independent country gentlemen, among whom was Mr. Conolly.’ Orde to Nepean, Feb. 19, 1787. See, too, Grattan's Speeches, ii. 7, 8.
Gratten's Life, iii. 283–287,
Irish Parl. Deb. vii. 180, 227.
Ibid. vii. 210.
27 Geo. III. c. 15.
Ibid. c. 40.
Pitt to Rutland, Nov. 7, 1786.
Rutland to Pitt, Sept. 13, 1786.
Grattan's Life, iii. 317–335.
Irish Parl. Deb. ix. 435, xi. 344.
Rutland to Sydney (secret and confidential), Feb. 27, 1786.
Orde to Nepean, Feb. 24, 1787.
Rutland to Sydney (private), May 31, 1787. A little later, after a journey in the North, he writes: ‘Your lordship will receive much satisfaction in being informed of the loyal and tranquil state, in which I have found the once factious and disturbed province of Ulster.’ Aug. 10, 1787.
See his letters in Buckingham's Courts and Cabinets, vol. i.
Rutland to Pitt, Sept. 13, 1786.
They will be found in Buckingham's Courts and Cabinets, i. 365–387.
Parsons, who in 1788 was in violent opposition to Grattan, attempted to defend this job in Parliament on the ingenious ground that William Grenville was the English statesman to whom Ireland owed most, as it was he who had introduced the Renunciation Bill and thus established the independence of the Irish Parliament, which Grattan had left precarious and unfinished. See Irish Parl Deb. ix. 256.
Fitzherbert to Nepean, Jan. 30, 1788.
Buckingham's Courts and Cabinets, i. 422.
Buckingham's Courts and Cabinets, i. 424–426.
I have already mentioned that in the Regency debates in England, as well as in Ireland, the King was uniformly spoken of as ‘the first estate of the realm,’ and I have, therefore, retained the language of the time, although it is not, strictly speaking, accurate.
See Grattan's Life, iii. 367, 372–375. After the conflict was over Lord Buckingham wrote, ‘Your lordship will be surprised to hear that the engagements with the English opposition tended to a system of mischief, which I hope was not completely foreseen by those who framed this measure; for I do not hesitate to say that such a combination as had existed in this kingdom for the last three months, supported from Great Britain, under the circumstances of the present times and urging on the popular frenzy, would have completely overthrown every appearance of government in Ireland’ Buckingham to Sydney, March 23, 1789.
Buckingham to Sydney, Nov. 23, 1788; Jan. 10, 1789.
Fitzherbert to Nepean, Jan. 29, 1789. ‘The union of most of the great connections in this kingdom has left me no hope of a majority on the Regency question, except those which are founded on the expectation that some of the independent and unconnected members in both Houses, who usually vote against Government, may in the present instance be induced to support it.’ Buckingham to Sydney, Jan. 29, 1789.
‘If you make the Prince of Wales your Regent and grant him the plenitude of power, in God's name let it be done by Bill; otherwise I see such danger that I deprecate the measure proposed that. … I abominate the idea of restrainning the Prince Regent in the power of making peers in this country, or in limiting him in the power of making grants on the narrow principles of suspicion and distrust. This is a question which rests upon very different ground in this country from that on which it has been taken up in England; and if gentlemen can reconcile to themselves a for adopting in this country a different form of executive government from that established in England, I have not the smallest apprehension that the powers which may be committed to the Prince of Wales by the Parliament of Ireland will be abused by him.’ Speech of Fitzgibbon, Irish Parl. Debates, ix. 53, 54.
See his answer to the Committees of the British Houses, Jan. 30, 1789.
21 & 22 Geo. III. c. 47. Another clause of the Act provided that no Parliament could be held in Ireland until a licence had been obtained from his Majesty under the Great Seal of Great Britain. It appears to me very doubtful whether the use of either seal in this transaction, meant more than a formal attestation of the genuineness of the documents that passed from country to country. See, however, on the importance of different seals in establishing ministeral responsibility, the remarks of Mr. Dicey. The Law of the Constitution, pp. 332–335.
Brougham's Statesmen of George III.: Lord Loughborough. Another great legal authority writes, ‘After the consideration I have repeatedly given to the subject I must ever think that the Irish Parliament proceeded more constitutionally, by considering that the heir apparent was entitled to exercise the royal authority during the King's incapacity as upon a demise of the Crown, and by presenting an address to him praying him to do so, instead of arrogating to themselves, in Polish fashion, the power of electing the supreme magistrate of the Republic, and resorting to the palpable lie, of the proceeding being sanctioned by the afflicted Sovereign.’ Lord Campbell's Lives of the Chancellors, ix. 185.
Sydney to Buckingham, Feb. 21, 1789.
Buckingham to Sydney, Feb. 26, 1789.
See the list in Grattan's Life, ii. 389, 390.
Grattan's Speeches, ii. 243.
Plowden, ii. 302.
See Buckingham's Courts and Cabinets, i. 426.
Buckingham to Sydney, April 14, 1789. There are several letters on the subject in Buckingham's Courts and Cabinets, vol. ii. A curious letter of Thurlow to Fitzgibbon on his appointment, will be found in O'Flanagan's Lives of the Irish Chancellors, ii. 201, 202.
See the letters of Luzerne, Feb. 12, 16, March 28, 31, April 1, and the reply from the French Minister, April 6, 1789. French Foreign Office.
Irish Parl. Deb. vi. 102. On the earlier history of the debt the reader may find some interesting facts in i. 39, 136–153.
See his speech in February 1800.
Irish Parl. Deb. vii. 373, 374. See also his speech at the end of the following session, viii 419.
Rutland to Sydney, March 4, 1785.
Feb. 13, 1787, Rutland to Sydney.
Feb. 2, 1788, Fitzherbert to Nepean.
28 Geo. III. c. 2. See, too, a speech of Fitzgibbon, Irish Parl. Deb. viii. 313.
Ibid. pp. 294, 295.
Ibid pp. 238.
Ibid. pp. 289, 290, 295, 321.
Annual Register, 1768, p. 85.
Luckombe's Tour in Ireland, 1780; Twiss, Tour un Ireland, 1785.
Twiss' Tour, pp. 117–119.
Woodfall writes from Dublin in 1785: ‘You who were here so lately would scarcely know this city, so much is it improved, so rapidly is it continuing to improve. After the talk of the misery of the people in our Parliament, and in the Parliament here, I cannot but feel daily astonishment at the nobleness of the new buildings and the spacious improvements hourly making in the streets. I am sometimes tempted to suspect appearances, and to think I am at table with a man who gives me Burgundy, but whose attendant is a bailiff disguised in livery. In a word there never was so splendid a metropolis for so poor a country.’ Auckland Correspondence, i. 84, 85.
Tour in Ireland, ii. 332, 333.
Obsercations on the Trade of Ireland, pp. 6, 352.
There are some striking essays on the condition of Ireland as it appeared at this time to intelligent Englishmen, in an English periodical, published in 1785, called The Political Herald and Review.
Irish Parl. Deb. x. 155.
Crumpe's Essay, 189, 201. Compare a remarkable passage in Lord Clare's Speech, Feb. 19, 1798, describing the condition of the southern and midland parts of the kingdom at the time when Ulster was convulsed by the reform agitation. ‘During all the disturbances which prevailed in other parts of the kingdom we were in a state of profound tranquillity and contentment there; the farmers had already tasted the sweets of sober industry; agriculture was increasing most rapidly, and the country wore the face of wealth and comfort and happiness; nay, more, the condition of the lowest order of the peasantry was ameliorated in a degree that I never flattered myself I should have lived to witness.’ (P. 69.) See, too, on the growing prosperity, a pamphlet by one of the best English authorities on the condition of the poor—the Rev. J. Howlett, On Population in Ireland (1787).
Lord Clare's Speech, p. 5.
Arguments for and against the Union Considered (1798), pp. 28, 29. See, too, a very striking description of the progress of Ireland in the last years of the century, in a speech delivered by Grattan in 1810. Speeches, iv. 205–207.
See some remarkable statistics collected in Grattan's Life, iii. 275. The import of sugar from the West Indies in 1781 was only 7,000 cwt. In 1784 it rose to 33,000 cwt. In the debate on the reduction of interest in 1788 the Chancellor of the Exchequer said that in 1703 the tonnage of shipping employed by Ireland was only 70,000 tons. At the time he spoke, it was more than 500,000 tons. In 1703 the exports of Ireland were 572,000. In 1788 they exceeded three milhons. Irish Parl. Deb. viii. 278. If the reader desires to carry the comparison on, to a later date, he will find striking materials in Foster's speech on the Union delivered in April 1799, which is published separately (see especially pp. 104–109), and in Lord Clare's published speech in 1798.
Irish Parl. Deb. viii. 319.
Newenham, View of Ireland, pp. 205–207.
Irish Parl. Deb. viii. 319.
Ibid. iii. p. 156: Sheffield On the Trade of Ireland, pp. 193–196; Newenham, View of Ireland, pp. 119, 120.
Ibid. iv. 56, 57.
Newerham, pp. 205, 208; Sheffield, pp. 196–208; Mullalla's View of Irish Affairs, ii. 131, 132.
Sheffield, pp. 237–240; Newenham, p. 105.
Newenham, p. 208. See also a very interesting and detailed review of the different industries in Ireland, in a speech by Ogilvie on the commercial treaty with France. Irish Parl. Deb. vii. 272–282.
Newenham, pp. 224, 225. Many particulars about Irish breweries and spirit-drinking, will be found in the debates of 1791. Irish Parl. Deb. vol. xi.
George Ponsonby once said, ‘The expense of the monarchical part of our Constitution is less in Ireland than in any country in Europe. In England the civil list is one million annually; in Ireland the expense of the monarchical part of the Constitution is about forty thousand pounds.’ Irish Parl. Deb. vi. 287.
This was a favourite object of Doyle, Conolly, and Grattan. See Irish Parl. Deb. vii. 222, viii. 397–406.
In a letter which he wrote just after his change, the following characteristic passage occurs: ‘On Sunday next I am to preach at St. Peter's. and for the first time in a Protestant place of worship. But though I have changed the sphere of my exertions, they shall still, under God, be invariably directed to the same object—to improve the human heart; to enlarge and enlighten the understanding of men; banish religious prejudices, and diffuse through society the great blessings of peace, order, and mutual affection. … If I have passed to the Church Establishment, I have only passed into a situation in which I can better accomplish a desire which has ever been the next and dearest to my heart—that of rendering more service to the community, and inculcating the pure morality of the Gospel with greater fruit and extent. Upon the clearestreflection, I envisage Christianity in a great measure as a practical institution of religion, designed by Christ to regulate the dispositions and improve the character of men.’ See the Life of Kirwan in the Remains of Samuel O'Sullican, ii. 196, 197.
Two preachers named Lefanu and Harrison had begun this custom as early as 1780. Anthologia Hibernica, ii. 123.
See the sketch of the Life of Kirwan prefixed to his sermons; the admirable biography of him in the Ramains of the Rev. S. O'Sullican; Barrington's Personal Sketches; Anthologia Hibernica, i. 414–417. Croker fully corroborates the accounts of Kirwan's marvellous power, and he places him as an orator in the same rank with Pitt, Canning, and Curran. Croker Papers, iii. 216, 217.
Mant's History of the Church of Ireland, ii. 685.
‘The Papist with an Orange cockade fires in honour of King William's birthday. He goes to a Protestant church and hears a charity sermon. … To permit the use of arms to all Catholics would have been madness. To confine it to men of a certain property was a project full of difficulty and of offence. … We wished for some mode of judging, which applied not to property only, but to fitness and to character, by which a worthy Roman Cathohc might, and such a one only, be trusted with the use of arms and attached to his Protestant fellow-subjects. Volunteering has done what law could not do. The Catholic who wishes to carry arms proposes himself to a Protestant corps. His character is tried by his neighbours. He is admitted to an honour and a privilege; he receives a reward for his good conduct. … Thus are the best of the Catholic body happily selected, the whole of the Catholic body satisfied, and the two religions marvellously united.’ Thoughts on the Volunteers (1784), pp. 20, 21.
Sheffield's Observations on the Trade of Ireland, p. 365.
Plowden's Historical Register, ii. 200–202. Several letters on the subject, representing the blame as attaching chiefly to the Catholics, will be found in the Charlemont Correspondence (MSS.). Among them is a very honourable one from Fitzgibbon asking advice from Lord Charlemont about a report from Armagh that 500 Catholics were in arms, and that soldiets must be sent down. ‘Of all expedients,’ the Chancellor said, ‘that of military force is the last that ought to be resorted to.’ (Fitzgibbon to Charlemont, July 16, 1789.) In the Irish State Paper Office there is a curious letter from Newry (July 17, 1789), giving a detailed and very graphic picture of the terrorism wich ‘a mob of Presbyterians under the name of “Break-of-day-Boys” were exercising over the poorer Catholics of that district.’
See vol. iv. 530, 531. Also the statement of Wolfe Tone in his Life and Words (American edition), i. 355.
The strongest statement I know of the extent to which Catholic schools multiplied in the last years of the century will be found in Newenham, State of Ireland, pp. 13, 19.
Irish Purl. Deb. vii. 511. In a remarkable pamphlet, called The Choice of Evils, or, Which is best for the Kingdom of Ireland; the Commercial Propositions or a Legislative Union, published in Dublin in 1787, there is a powerful appeal in favour of the establishment of a second college attached to the University of Dublin, and admitting members of all religious denominations; and also for the admission of Catholics to degrees in Trinity College. The writer says: ‘How necessary it is that something effectual should be done is manifest from the efforts which both the North and South are at present making for the education of youth. Witness the Academies of Belfast, Strabane, and Carlow. These are pushed forward by private undertakers as the spontaneous vegetation of the soil. … Consistency requires that the Roman Catholics should not be denied seminaries for their education. We have so far relaxed the penal laws as to suffer them to acquire a permanence in their property. It would be absurd to refuse them the power of improving their minds as well as their fortunes.’ ‘We have not done enough so long as the clause in one of the Acts of 1782, disallowing the erection or endowment of any popish university or college, remains unrepealed … It would, however, be the greatest solecism that ever was thought of in politics, to give them [Catholics] either votes in Parliament or liberty to carry arms.’
The very interesting debates on this subject will be found in vol. vii. of the Irish Parl. Deb. The Presbyterians at this time petitioned for the endowment of a Presbyterian college; but Hely Hutchinson, who took a leading part in these discussions, expressed a decided opinion against separate places of education for different religious persuasions, and urged the great importance of admitting members of all creeds to the full privileges of the University. He mentioned that many Dissenters were at Trinity College. Hutchinson was still Provost of Trinity College as well as Secretary of State.