Front Page Titles (by Subject) CHAPTER XXV.: Ireland, 1790–1793. - A History of England in the Eighteenth Century, vol. VI
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CHAPTER XXV.: Ireland, 1790–1793. - 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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It was hoped by the English Government that with the recall of the Marquis of Buckingham most of the unpopularity which attached to the system he had pursued would disappear, and the Earl of Westmorland came over with the object of carrying out that system without change. Contrary to the usual custom, Major Hobart, who had been Chief Secretary during the last six months of the Viceroyalty of Buckingham, continued to hold the same office under his successor, and there was no important change in the Administration. Parliament was summoned on January 21, 1790, and a short but very stormy session ensued. An Opposition, numbering about ninety members and led with great ability by Grattan and by George Ponsonby, vehemently arraigned the proceedings of the present Ministers under the late Viceroyalty. They complained of the great recent increase in the Pension List, in the number of places and salaries held by members of Parliament, and in the expense of collecting the revenue. They introduced without success a Place Bill, a Pension Bill, a Responsibility Bill, a Bill for disfranchising revenue officers modelled after the English legislation, and they raised a new and very serious question by accusing the late ministers of a systematic sale of peerages. Grattan, in the most explicit terms, charged them with having ‘not in one or two, but in many instances’ made corrupt agreements to recommend politicians for peerages, for money, which was to be employed in the purchase of seats in the House of Commons. Such an act, Grattan truly said, was an impeachable offence, and both he and Ponsonby pledged themselves in the most positive manner to adduce evidence before a committee which would lead to conviction. The House of Commons, however, at the invitation of the Government refused by 144 votes to 88 to grant a committee of inquiry, and Hobart refused to give any answer when challenged by Grattan, if the charge was unfounded, to declare on his honour that he did not believe such corrupt agreements to have taken place. Defeated in these efforts, the Opposition, shortly before the close of the session, placed some of the chief facts of their case on the journals of the House, in the form of an address to the King. It stated, among other things, that although civil pensions amounting to 14,000l, a year had lapsed since the Lady Day of 1784, yet the Pension List was now 16,000l. a year higher than at that date; that in the same space of time the expense of collecting the revenue had risen by 105,000l.; that no less than forty places or salaries held by members of Parliament had been created or revived within the last twenty years; that, exclusive of pensions, fourteen places and salaries had been created or revived, and distributed among members of Parliament during the last Viceroyalty in a single year, and that out of the 300 members who composed the Irish House of Commons, there were now 108 who were in receipt of salaries or pensions from the Crown.1
Though the Opposition failed in shaking the majority of the Government, their speeches had much influence in the country, and as signs of discontent were rapidly approaching, Government thought it wise to hasten the election, and the Parliament was dissolved on April 8. The calculation was a just one, for on the whole the Ministry appear to have slightly increased their majority, though for the first time since the death of Lucas they were defeated in the City of Dublin, where Lord Henry Fitzgerald and Grattan triumphed over the Court candidates. Among the new members were Arthur O'Connor the United Irishman, and Barrington the historian of the Irish Parliament; and two young men who were born in the same year, and who were destined for a long period to co-operate in the foremost rank of English politics, now for the first time appeared in public life. Robert Stewart, after a severe contest against the Hillsborough interest, was elected in the popular interest; pledged to vote for a Place Bill, a Pension Bill, a disfranchisement of revenue officers, and a reform of that Parliament which a few years later, as Lord Castlereagh, he succeeded by the most lavish corruption in overthrowing. Arthur Wellesley, or, as the name was then spelt, Wesley, was already an aide-de-camp at the Castle, and he now took his seat as a supporter of the Government, and appears to have spoken for the first time in seconding an address to the King in January 1793. The new Parliament sat for a fortnight in July in order to pass a vote of credit for 200,000l. for the apprehended war with Spain. The vote was carried unanimously, and with the warm approval of Grattan, who only urged that it should be strictly devoted to the military purposes for which it was intended. Parliament was then adjourned and did not sit till the following January.
The signs of combination, agitation, and discontent outside the walls of Parliament were becoming very formidable, and there was a growing conviction that nothing could be done without a real reform of Parliament, and that such a reform could only be achieved by a strong pressure of external opinion. In June 1789 a large number of the principal gentlemen in Ireland, including Charlemont, Grattan, and Ponsonby, formed themselves into a Whig Club for the purpose of maintaining in its integrity the Constitution of 1789; preserving to Ireland ‘in all time to come a Parliament of her own, residing within the realm and exclusively invested with all parliamentary privileges and powers,’ and endeavouring by all legal and constitutional means to check the extravagance of Government and its corrupt influence in the Legislature. Their object, as Grattan afterwards said, was ‘to obtain an internal reform in Parliament, in which they partly succeeded, and to prevent the Union, in which they failed.’ The new society was as far as possible from being revolutionary or democratic. Among its original members were an archbishop, a bishop, and twelve peers, and among them were the Duke of Leinster, and Lord Shannon the greatest borough owner of the kingdom. Whatever might be the opinion of its individual members, the club did not as a body demand either a reduction of the franchise or the abolition of nomination boroughs, or the enfranchisement of the Catholics. The measures it stated to be essential were a Place Bill, a Pension Bill, a Bill to repeal or modify the Dublin police, a disqualification of revenue officers, and a curtailment of the unnecessary offices which had recently been created, and distributed among members of Parliament.
The Whig Club was warmly eulogised by Burke;1 and it would have been happy if the conduct of the reform question had rested in hands that were at once so responsible and so moderate. The formation of a powerful and connected party of moderate reformers, pledged to seek by all constitutional means the ends which have been stated, was of no small importance; but it was scarcely possible that in a country situated like Ireland, the democratic and levelling principles with which the French Revolution was now intoxicating the most ardent spirits throughout Europe should not have had an extraordinary power. Even in the House of Commons its influence was not wholly unfelt; and two speeches were delivered in the early session of 1790 which were so new and menacing in their tone, and so clearly indicative of the coming storm, that they may well arrest our attention. The speaker was Mr., afterwards Sir Lawrence, Parsons, and at a later period the second Earl of Rosse; and he was already rising rapidly to the front rank among the debaters in the House. Having noticed that since the last session no less than fourteen places had been made simply for the purpose of distributing among members of Parliament; and that this was ‘but a supplement to the most corrupt traffic of many old places, to the prostitute disposal of many pensions, and to the public and scandalous barter of the honours of the Crown, all recently perpetrated for the purpose of accomplishing a depraved influence over the members of this House,’ he asked, if ‘the country gentlemen of Ireland support such a system of flagrant and stupendous corruption, how do they think the people will receive them at the end of the session?’ ‘Boast,’ he continued, ‘of the prosperity of your country as you may, and after all I ask what is it but a secondary kingdom? An inferior member of a great Empire, without any movement or orbit of its own? The connection with England has its advantages and disadvantages. I grant that the advantages greatly preponderate, and that if we were well governed we should have every reason to be content. … But if we are satisfield with the humility of being but an appendage to another kingdom, we should take care to receive the principal compensation a State can bring: namely, a frugal dispensation of Government. We may pride ourselves that we are a great kingdom, but the fact is that we are scarcely known beyond the boundaries of our shores. Who out of Ireland ever hears of Ireland? What name have we among the nations of the earth? Who fears us? Who respects us? Where are our ambassadors? What treaties do we enter into? With what nation do we make peace or declare war? Are we not a mere cipher in all these, and are not these what give a nation consequence and fame? All these are sacrificed to the connection with England. … A suburb to England, we are sunk in her shade. True, we are an independent kingdom; we have an imperial crown distinct from England; but it is a metaphysical distinction, a mere sport for speculative men. … Who governs us? English Ministers, or rather the deputies of English Ministers, mere subalterns of office, who never dare to aspire to the dignity of any great sentiment of their own. … We are content, and only ask in return for honest and frugal Government. Is it just, is it wise, is it safe to deny it?’
‘It is asked why, after all the acquisitions of 1782, there should be discontent? To this I say, that when the country is well governed the people ought to be satisfied, but not before. If a people are ill governed, it signifies little whether they be so in consequence of corruption from abroad or depravity at home. … The acquisitions of 1782 freed this country from internal power but not from internal malversation. On the contrary, this country has been governed worse since then than ever it was before; and why? because of these very acquisitions. … It has been the object of English Ministers ever since to countervail what we obtained at that period, and substitute a surreptitious and clandestine influence for the open power which the English Legislature was then obliged to relinquish.’ ‘The people of this island are growing more enlightened every day, and will soon know and feel their power. Near four millions of people in a most defensible country ought, perhaps, to be courted, but ought certainly not to be insulted with the petty, pilfering, jobbing, corrupting tricks of every deputy of a deputy of an English Minister that is sent over here.’ ‘The people required the concessions which were made during the American War because they expected to be governed better in consequence of them. Do you think they will be satisfied to find that they are not? Those concessions on the part of the English Parliament I grant were as ample as they well could be, for they were everything short of separation. Let Ministers then beware of what conclusions they may teach the people, if they teach them this, that the attainment of everything short of separation will not attain for them good government.’ ‘Where, or when, or how, is all this to end? Is the Minister of England himself sure that he sees the end? Can he be sure that this system which has been forming for the coercion of Ireland, may not ultimately cause the dissolution of the Empire?’1
The elements of revolution were indeed abundantly provided, and two aspects of the French Revolution had a very special significance for Ireland. It proclaimed as its first principle the abolition of every kind of religious disqualification, and it swept away the whole system of tithes.2 The triumph of the volunteers in 1782, though it had been used with great moderation, formed a very dangerous precedent of a Legislature overawed or influenced by military force; and the volunteers, though they had dwindled in numbers, and were now generally discountenanced by the better classes, were still a formidable body. In 1790, Charlemont found that the Derry army alone was at least 3,400 strong;3 and two years later Lord Westmorland ascertained that the volunteer force possessed no less than forty-four cannon. The Presbyterianism of the North, and especially of Belfast, had long been inclined to republicanism. The population of Belfast, according to a paper drawn up by the Government, had increased between 1779 and 1791 from 8,549 to 18,820. A Northern Whig Club was speedily established there, in imitation of that at Dublin, but its timid or moderating counsels were not suited for the political temperature. Towards the close of 1790 the Irish Government sent information to England that a dangerous movement had begun among the volunteers at Belfast. Resolutions had been passed, and papers circulated, advocating the abolition of all tithes, or at least of all tithes paid by Protestant Dissenters and Catholics, as well as a searching reform of Parliament and of Administration; eulogising the ‘glorious spirit’ shown by the French in ‘adopting the wise system of Republican Government and abrogating the enormous power and abused influence’ of the clergy; inviting the Protestant Dissenters to support by all their influence the enfranchisement of the Catholics, and to co-operate with the Catholics in advocating parliamentary reform and the abolition of tithes. The volunteers were reminded that whatever constitutional progress Ireland had obtained had been due to them, and they were urged to make every effort at once to fill their ranks.1
In July 1791 the anniversary of the French Revolution was celebrated at Belfast with great enthusiasm. All the volunteers of the neighbourhood attended. An address drawn up in a strain of the most fulsome admiration was sent to France. Democratic toasts were drunk, and speeches made eulogising Paine, Washington, and the French Revolution, and demanding an equal representation in Parliament, and the abolition of the remaining Popery laws. A resolution was shortly after drawn up by the first volunteer company, in favour of the abolition of religious disqualifications, and it was responded to by an address of thanks from some Catholic bodies. This was said to have been the first considerable sign of that union of the Presbyterians and Catholics which led to the formation of the United Irish Society.2 Paine's ‘Rights of Man’ was about the same time widely distributed in the North, and it made many converts. His controversy with Burke ‘and the gigantic event which gave rise to it changed in an instant the politics of Ireland. … In a little time the French Revolution became the text of every man's political creed.’3 ‘The language and bent of the conduct of these Dissenters,’ wrote Westmorland in July, ‘is to unite with the Catholics, and their union would be very formidable. That union is not yet made, and I believe and hope it never could be.’1
In the September of the same year an extremely able pamphlet appeared under the signature of ‘A Northern Whig,’ urging the necessity of a reform of Parliament, and, as a means of attaining it, a close alliance between the Catholics and the Presbyterians. It was written by Theobald Wolfe Tone, a young Protestant lawyer of no small ability, but much more fitted by his daring, adventurous, and enthusiastic character, for military enterprise and for political conspiracy than for the disputes of the law courts. He had for a short time been connected with the Whig Club, but soon broke away from it, and was passionately imbued with the principles of French democracy. His pamphlet is especially remarkable for the clearness with which it sounded a note which now became common in Irish popular politics—unqualified hatred of the Irish Parliament, and profound contempt for the revolution of 1782. He described that revolution as ‘the most bungling, imperfect business that ever threw ridicule on a lofty epithet by assuming it unworthily.’ It doubled the value of the property of every borough owner in the kingdom, but it confessedly left three-fourths of the Irish people without even the semblance of political rights, and the remaining fourth completely helpless in the hands of an alien Government. As all the counties and considerable towns of Ireland combined only returned eighty-two members, the parliamentary direction rested wholly with the purchased borough members. All that had really been effected in 1782 was to increase the corrupt price by which the Government of Ireland was carried on. ‘Before 1782 England bound us by her edict. It was an odious and not very safe exertion of power, but it cost us nothing. Since 1782 we are bound by English influence acting through our own Parliament,’ and paid for out of our own resources. In England ‘the people suffer in theory by the unequal distribution of the elective franchise; but practically it is perhaps visionary to expect a Government that shall more carefully or steadily follow their real interests. No man can there be a Minister on any other terms.’ In Ireland, alone among European countries, the Government is not only un-national but anti-national, conducted by men whose first duty is to represent another nation, and by every method in their power to repress every Irish interest which could in the most distant way interfere with the commerce or policy or patronage of England. This is esteemed the measure of their skill and of their success, and it is always their chief recommendation to the favours of the Crown. How successfully they accomplished their task was sufficiently shown by the fact that the Irish Parliament, by its own law, excluded itself from a commerce with half the known world, in the interest of a monopolising English company, and had just voted a military expenditure of 200,000l. to secure the very commerce from which Ireland was for ever excluded.1 Without a searching parliamentary reform the overwhelming stress of English influence in the Irish Legislature can never be resisted, and it is a wild dream to suppose that such a reform could be attained without the efforts of the whole nation. This was the error which ignominiously wrecked the Convention of 1783 in spite of the genius of Flood, and left Ireland struck with political paralysis at a time when the spirit of reform has descended on all other nations and when the most inveterate abuses are withering beneath its touch. As long as the Irish sects are at enmity with each other, it will be always easy for the Administration by playing on the fears of the Protestants and the hopes of the Catholics to defy them both. But if the whole body of the people demand a reform of Parliament, which will include the concession of the elective franchise to the Catholics, Ireland will then at last obtain an honest and an independent representation.
It was the main object of this pamphlet to prove that no serious danger would attend the enfranchisement of the Catholics, and that members of the two religions might sit side by side in an Irish Legislature as they did in the French National Assembly and in the American Congress. The last remnants of Jacobitism, he argued, had vanished with the extinction of the Stuarts. ‘The wealthy and moderate party of the Catholic persuasion with the whole Protestant interest would form a barrier against invasion of property’ if any party among the Catholics were mad and wicked enough to attempt it. A national provision for the education of the Catholic priests would remove ‘that which daily experience shows to be one of the heavy misfortunes of Ireland, that the consciences, the morals, and the religion of the bulk of the nation are in the hands of men of low birth, low feelings, low habits, and no education.’ The clouds of religious bigotry and intelerance were vanishing rapidly before the great light that had arisen in France. The Catholic gentry were fully fitted for the exercise of power, and considering the great disproportion of property and therefore of power in the hands of Protestants, even a reformed Parliament would consist mainly of Protestants. At the same time Tone added one passage which is not a little remarkable as coming from a writer who in the general type of his politics was an unqualified democrat. ‘If,’ he wrote, ‘there be serious grounds for dreading a majority of Catholics, they may be removed in a very obvious mode. Extend the elective franchise to such Catholics only as have a freehold of ten pounds by the year, and on the other hand strike off the disgrace to our Constitution and our country, the wretched tribe of forty-shilling freeholders whom we see driven to their octennial market by their landlords, as much their property as the sheep or the bullocks which they brand with their names.’1
It is said that not less than ten thousand copies of this pamphlet were sold, and its teaching was rapidly diffused. The letters of Lord Westmorland show the activity with which papers of the same tenor were disseminated during the summer of 1791; and in October, Wolfe Tone founded at Belfast the first Society of United Irishmen. It consisted of thirty-six original members, and was intended to aim at ‘an equal representation of all the people of Ireland.’ It adopted as its first principles three resolutions asserting ‘that the weight of English influence in the government of this country is so great as to require a cordial union among all the people of Ireland to maintain that balance which is essential to the preservation of our liberties and the extension of our commerce; that the sole constitutional mode by which this influence can be opposed is by a complete and radical reform of the representation of the people in Parliament, and that no reform is just which doesnot include Irishmen of every religious persuasion.’ Very soon a branch of the Society was established at Dublin. Napper Tandy, who had long been working as a demagogue in the more obscure forms of Irish agitation, was the Secretary of the Dublin Society. A lawyer named Simon Butler, brother of Lord Mountgarret, was the chairman. A test was adopted which each member of the society subscribed, pledging him ‘in the presence of God’ to devote all his abilities and influence to the attainment of an impartial and adequate representation of the Irish nation in Parliament, and as a means to this end, to forward a union and co-operation of Irishmen of all religious persuasions. In December, the Society issued a circular letter expounding its principles, and inviting the people of Ireland of all creeds to establish similar societies in every district; and in the beginning of the following year, a newspaper called ‘The Northern Star,’ which soon attained a great circulation and influence, was established at Belfast to advocate their views. Its editor was a woollen draper named Samuel Neilson, the son of a Presbyterian minister, and one of the most active original members of the United Society of Belfast.
The Society of United Irishmen was at first constituted for the simple purpose of forming a political union of Protestants and Catholics, and thus obtaining a liberal measure of parliamentary reform. In the remarkable memoir drawn up after the rebellion, by Thomas Emmet, McNevin, and Arthur O'Connor, which is the clearest and most succinct statement of the views of the originators, it is positively asserted that although from the beginning they clearly perceived ‘that the chief support of the borough interest in Ireland, was the weight of English influence,’ the question of separation was not at first so much as agitated among them, and that it was only after a considerable period that the conviction that parliamentary reform could not be attained without a revolution, led them, timidly and reluctantly, to republicanism; and the writers assert that even after a large proportion of the members had become republicans, they were convinced that the whole body would have stopped short at reform. It is probable that this statement is true with regard to a large proportion of the first leaders, but it is certain that there were some among them, who from the beginning were more than mere speculative republicans, and who clearly saw that revolution was the natural issue of their movement. Among these must be reckoned both Wolfe Tone and Napper Tandy. The former has frankly acknowledged in his autobiography, that a desire to break the connection with England was one of his first objects, and that hatred of England was so deeply rooted in his nature that ‘it was rather an instinct than a principle.’1 The journal which he wrote at Belfast, at the time when he was engaged in founding the Society, shows that he was at that time speculating much on the possibility of Ireland subsisting independently of Great Britain, and on the prosperity she might in that case attain, and in a letter written by him some months earlier, he expressed this opinion most explicitly. ‘My unalterable opinion," he wrote,’ is that the bane of Irish prosperity is in the influence of England. I believe that influence will ever be extended while the connection between the countries continues. Nevertheless, as I know that opinion is for the present too hardy, though a very little time may establish it universally, I have not made it a part of the resolutions; I have only proposed to set up a reformed Parliament as a barrier against that mischief, which every honest man that will open his eyes must see in every instance overbears the interest of Ireland. I have not said one word that looks like a wish for separation, though I give it to you and your friends as my most decided opinion that such an event would be a regeneration to this country.’2
From the beginning of the French Revolution, Tandy is said to have carried on a correspondence with French agents or politicians, and the Belfast members of the Society appear to have been especially intoxicated by the French Revolution. In general, however, the Society differed from its predecessors rather in tendency than in principle. One of the points most prominent in the confidential correspondence of Tone is his great dislike to the Whig Club, and to the whole type of Whig politics: ‘They are not sincere friends to the popular cause, they dread the people as much as the Castle does.’ He described them as peddling with insufficient measures, and he desired above all things that the respect for the names of Charlemont and Grattan should be dismissed, and the conduct of the national movement placed in other and more energetic hands.1
The opposition so strongly stated between the two types of policy was a very real one. Grattan was quite as earnest as Tone in advocating the enfranchisement of the Catholics and the reform of Parliament. He was quite as fully convinced that it should be the supreme end of every Irish patriot gradually to blend into a single body the descendants of the conquerors and of the conquered. But in every period of his career he maintained the necessity of the connection with England, and in times of danger and of war there was scarcely any sacrifice he was not prepared to make to support Imperial interests. He had nothing of the French and cosmopolitan sympathies of the English Whigs, and he always made it a vital principle of his Irish policy to discourage all hostility towards England. The spirit of the United Irishmen was from the beginning wholly different. They believed, in opposition to Grattan, that it was possible for Ireland to subsist and flourish as a separate State, and their attitude towards Great Britain, when it was not one of disaffection and hostility, was at least one of alienation and indifference.
Grattan's theory of parliamentary reform, again, was essentially a Whig one. He looked with undisguised abhorrence on the subversive and levelling theory of government which the French Revolution had introduced into the world; that ‘Gallic plant,’ as he picturesquely described it, ‘whose fruit is death, though it is not the tree of knowledge.’ He always believed that a country with social and religious divisions, and antecedents of property such as exist in Ireland, is totally unfit for democracy, and he clearly saw that to govern Ireland on democratic principles would lead to political ruin. Although he strenuously maintained that religious belief should not form the line of political division or exclusion, he was in one sense a strong advocate for Protestant ascendency. At every period of his life he contended that Ireland could only be well governed when its political system was so organised that the direction and control of the country was in the hands of Irish property and Irish intelligence. We have already seen how he denounced the profligate manner in which peerages were bestowed, on the ground that it was destroying the moral authority of an influence which was exceedingly necessary in Ireland. In one of his speeches he predicted that the attempts to pervert and disgrace the peerage were certain to lead men to desire its extinction, and declared that a Minister who pursued such a course was a pioneer to the leveller, for he was demolishing the moral influences that support authority, rank, and subordination.1 In another he asserted that ‘no country was ever temperately or securely conducted’ without an Upper Chamber.2 In a third he declared that, bad as was the existing state of Irish representation, he would prefer it to the system of personal and individual representation advocated by the United Irishmen, which would ‘destroy the influence of landed property,’ and thus give up the ‘vital and fundamental articles of the British Constitution;’ and he proceeded to predict with a terrible distinctness what an Irish Parliament would be, if it were disconnected from the property of the country. ‘This plan of personal representation,’ he said, ‘from a revolution of power would speedily lead to a revolution of property, and become a plan of plunder as well as a scene of confusion. For if you transfer the power of the State to those who have nothing in the country, they will afterwards transfer the property. … Of such a representation the first ordinance would be robbery, accompanied with the circumstance incidental to robbery, murder.’ ‘The best method,’ he said, in the same speech, ‘of securing the parliamentary Constitution, is to embody in its support the mass of property, which will be generally found to include the mass of talents.’1 He severely censured the policy of the Government towards the Catholics in 1792, because it tended ‘to detach and divide the landed interest of the Catholics from the body at large,’ and in this way, ‘to destroy the subordination of the common people, and to set population adrify from the influence of property.’2 He was strongly opposed, it is true, to the Government by an oligarchy which subsisted in Ireland, but he opposed it mainly on the ground that it so narrowed the basis of representation that the great mass of freeholders, leaseholders, and resident trading interests in the country possessed not more than a fifth of the representation.3 Of his own policy he said, ‘It leads from personal representation, not to it; it ascertains representation to property, and to the propertied community, and whatever force, weight, influence, or authority both possess, unites them against the attempts in favour of personal representation.’4 And a very similar train of thought continually appears in his opposition to the Union. One of his strongest arguments against that measure was that it would do what in Ireland was peculiarly dangerous, take the government of the country out of the hands of the resident gentry, shatter or seriously weaken the authority of property and education, and thus throw the political guidance of the nation into the hands of demagogues and charlatans. I have elsewhere quoted his striking prophecy that Ireland would one day avenge herself for the loss of her Parliament and Constitution by sending into the English Parliament ‘a hundred of the greatest scoundrels in the kingdom.’
This type of policy is not popular in the present day, but it is necessary clearly to understand it, in order to estimate truly the position of Grattan in Irish history. With two or three exceptions the reforming party which followed his banner in Parliament was wholly alien to the spirit of the French Revolution; and even in advocating parliamentary reform, the language of the most prominent members of the party was much more akin to that of Burke than to that of Paine. ‘The right of universal suffrage,’ said one of them, ‘is utterly incompatible with the preservation of property in this country or any other. I know well that the means by which the hands of the many are held off from the possessions of the few are a nice and artificial contrivance of civilised society. The physical strength is theirs already. If we add to that the strength of convention and compact, all is at their mercy.’ And the same speaker added that the opposition between the French party and the Whig Club in Ireland was so strong that the former would prefer the present system with all its anomalies to Ponsonby's Reform Bill.1 Among all the considerable politicians in the Irish Partiament, Parsons was the one who in general approached most nearly to the United Irishmen. But on the question of the true principle of representation the language of Parsons was emphatically Whig. ‘The distemper of the times,’ he said, ‘is that most men consider how they shall get political power, not how they shall get good government. … Speculators may talk of the right of the many, but the true consideration is the good of the many, and that is to dispose the franchise so that it will produce the best representatives.’2
The distinction between these views and those of the United Irishmen was very manifest. The Whig Club, as we have seen, originally confined itself to supporting measures of secondary reform, which had been carried in England, such as Pension Bills, Place Bills, and a disqualification of revenue officials; and when at last in 1794 Ponsonby and Grattan introduced a Reform Bill, it was much less ambitious even than the Reform Bills of Flood. It left the suffrage and the duration of Parliament entirely unchanged, but it proposed to give an additional member to each county and to the cities of Dublin and Cork, and to enlarge the constituencies of the boroughs by throwing into them a considerable section of the adjoining country.3 All these measures proceeded on the assumption that the Constitution of Ireland was essentially a good one, and might be amended without subverting any of its fundamental principles. In the eyes of the United Irishmen the boasted Constitution of Ireland was a mere caricature of representation, and, they proposed a complete reconstruction on the most approved principles of French democracy. They proposed that Ireland should be divided into three hundred equal electoral districts, each of them returning one member, that every full-grown male should have a vote, subject only to the condition of six months' residence, that the representatives should be paid and exempt from all property qualification, and that Parliaments should be annual.1
While this democratic spirit was rising up among the reformers, a similar spirit was appearing in that body which was especially devoted to the interests of the Catholics. Since the quarrel of 1783 the Catholic Committee had led a very dormant existence, and it was a common feeling that the initiative in matters relating to the Catholics should be left to the Government. This appears to have been the decided opinion of Grattan, who knew that the Opposition were by no means unanimous on the question, and who keenly felt that it would be very unfavourable to the Catholic cause if it were made a party question. The direction of the Catholic body had hitherto been almost altogether in the hands of their prelates, and of a few noblemen—among whom Lord Kenmare was the most conspicuous—closely connected with the Government. But another type of Catholic leader, springing out of the rich trading class, was now appearing, and it found a leader of some ability in John Keogh, a Dublin tradesman, who for many years exercised much influence over Irish politics.
Several circumstances were conspiring to make this party ascendant in the Catholic Committee. Towards the close of 1790 the Catholic Committee waited upon Major Hobart, requesting him to support a petition to Parliament which asked for nothing specific, but simply prayed that the case of the Catholics should be taken into consideration; but their request was refused, and they could not find a single member to present their petition to Parliament. In the course of the same year an address of loyalty, intended to be presented to Lord Westmorland by the Catholics, on the occasion of a visit of the Lord-Lieutenant to Cork, was returned to them, because it, concluded with a hope that their loyalty would lead to a further relaxation of the penal code. In the beginning of 1791 a deputation from the Catholic Committee went to the Castle with a list of the penal laws which they were anxious to have modified or repealed, but they were dismissed without even the courtesy of an answer.1
Lord Kenmare and the leading gentry on the Committee would have gladly desisted from all further agitation; they regarded with extreme aversion the projects of union for the purpose of achieving parliamentary reform held out by the Dissenters, and a quarrel broke out on these points between the two sections of the Committee, which continued during a great part of 1791. At last the party of Lord Kenmare, which included most of the country gentry, proposed a resolution leaving the measure and extent of future relaxations of the disabilities wholly to the Legislature; but the more democratic members of the Committee successfully resisted it. Lord Kenmare and more than sixty of the principal gentry of the party then formally seceded from the Committee,2 and presented, in December 1791, a separate address to the Lord-Lieutenant, asking for a further repeal of the laws affecting the Catholics, but leaving the extent wholly to the Legislature.3 The original Committee thus passed completely under the influence of the more democratic party, and it was noticed as a symptom of the new spirit appearing in the Catholic body, that resolutions were passed in almost all the counties and large towns of the kingdom approving of its conduct, and censuring the sixty-eight seceders.4
The great and rapid growth of the Catholic commercial interest is one of the facts most constantly adverted to in the early years of George III., and it had given a new independence to the Catholic body. Their political importance had been greatly increased by the tendency to unite the Catholic question with the question of parliamentary reform which had appeared among the reformers of the North, and a considerable amount of new and energetic life was infused into the Catholic Committee by an election which took place in the spring of 1790.5 The position of the Catholics was, it is true, very different from what it had been twenty years before, but it may be questioned whether their sense of their grievances had proportionately abated. They were no longer a crushed, torpid, impoverished body with scarcely any interest in political affairs. The relaxations that enabled them to live in peace, and the industrial prosperity that enabled them to acquire wealth, education, and local importance, had retained in the country enterprising and ambitious men who in a former generation would have sought a career in France, or Austria, or Spain. Every great movement which had taken place since the accession of George III. had contributed to deepen their sense of the anomaly of their position. The Octennial Act had created a strong political life in Ireland, but the Catholics alone were excluded from its benefits. The American struggle had made it a commonplace of politics that representation and taxation were inseparably connected, but the denomination which included some four-fifths of the Irish people did not possess the smallest eontrol over the national revenue. The Revolution of 1782 had placed Ireland, ostensibly at least, in the rank of free and self-governed kingdoms, but it left the Catholics with no more political rights than the serfs of Russia or of Poland. The very law that enabled them to acquire land, made them more sensible of the disqualification, which in their case alone, deprived land of the franchise which the Constitution had annexed to it. The French Revolution had persuaded multitudes that government is the inalienable right of the majority, and even among those who repudiated the principles of Rousseau and Paine, it had greatly raised the standard of political requirements, and increased the hostility to political inequalities and disqualifications.
It was impossible, indeed, that in such a state of society, intelligent Catholics could contemplate their own position in Ireland without feelings of the keenest humiliation and resentment. Though they represented the immense majority of the people, they were wholly excluded from the executive, from the legislative, from the judicial powers of the State; from all right of voting in parliamentary and municipal elections; from all control over the national expenditure; from all share in the patronage of the Crown. They were marked out by the law as a distinct nation, to be maintained in separation from the Protestants, and in permanent subjection to them. Judged by the measure of its age, the Irish Parliament had shown great liberality during the last twenty years, but the injury and the insult of disqualification still met the Catholic at every turn. From the whole of the great and lucrative profession of the law he was still absolutely excluded, and by the letter of the law the mere fact of a lawyer marrying a Catholic wife and educating his children as Catholics incapacitated him from pursuing his profession. Land and trade had been thrown open to Catholics almost without restrictions, but the Catholic tenant still found himself at a frequent disadvantage, because he had no vote and no influence with those who administered local justice, and the Catholic trader because he had no voice in the corporations of the towns. Cathohcs had begun to take a considerable place among the moneyed men of Ireland; but when the Bank of Ireland was founded in 1782, it was specially provided that no Catholics might be enrolled among its directors. Medicine was one of the few professions from which they had never been excluded, and some of them had risen to large practice in it, but even here they were subject to galling distinctions. They were incapacitated from holding any of the three medical professorships on the University establishment, or any of the four professorships at the School of Physic, or the more recently created clinical professorship; and the law, while excluding native Catholics from these professorships, actually ordered that, for three months previous to the nomination to a vacancy in them, invitations should be circulated through Europe inviting Protestants of all nations to compete for them.1 Catholic physicians were excluded from all situations on the army establishment, from the offices of State physician or surgeon, and from a crowd of places held under charter, patent, or incorporation; and as they could not take the rank of Fellow in the College of Physicians, they were unable to hold any office in that body.
The social effects of the code continued with little abatement, though mere theological animosity had almost died away. The political helplessness of the lower orders in their relation with the upper classes had injuriously affected the whole tone of manners, and the few Catholic gentry could not but feel that they were members of an inferior class, living under the stigma and the disqualifications of the law. Most Catholics who had risen to wealth had done so as merchants or cattle dealers, and the mercantile classes in Ireland had very little social position. The old Catholic gentry lived much apart, and had but small intercourse with the Protestants. The exclusion of Catholics from the bar was in this respect peculiarly mischievous, for of all professions the bar is that which does most to bring men of various religions into close and frequent contact. There were convivial clubs in Ireland in which it was a by-law that no papist should be admitted,1 and Burke, probably, scarcely exaggerated when he asserted that there were thousands of persons of the upper orders in Ireland, who had never in their lives conversed with a Catholic, unless they happened to talk to their gardener's workmen, or to ask their way, when they had lost it, in their sports.2
It was quite evident that such a state of society was thoroughly unnatural and demoralising, and it was equally evident that it could not possibly be permanent. One great work of the Irish Parliament during the past generation had been the gradual removal of religious disqualifications and monopolies, but the most serious part of the task was still to be accomplished, and the French Revolution had forced on the question, to an immediate issue. The process of slow enfranchisements, which had once been gratefully received, was scarcely possible in the changed condition of the public mind. A declaration issued by the Catholic Committee in October 1791, demanding in strong terms a complete abolition of all parts of the penal code, was a significant sign of the new spirit which had arisen, and it was evident that the principles of the North had found some lodgment in the minds of the new Catholic leaders. The Catholic Committee was reorganised, and placed more completely under the influence of the democratic party; and despairing of help from the Administration of Ireland, it resolved to send a deputation to England. The resolution was accomplished, and in January 1792 Keogh and four other delegates laid the petition of the Catholics before the King.
The task which now lay before the Ministers was one which demanded the highest statesmanship, and the whole future history of Ireland depended mainly on the manner in which it was accomplished. If the enfranchisement of the Catholics could be successfully carried out, if the chasm that yawned between the two great sections of the Irish people could be finally bridged, if an identity of interests and sympathies could be established between the members of the two creeds, Ireland would indeed become a nation, and she might reasonably look forward to a continuous growth of power and prosperity. If on the other hand the task was tardily or unskilfully accomplished, there were dangers of the most terrible and the most permanent character to be feared. Religious animosities and class antipathies which had long been slumbering might be revived in all their fierceness. The elements of anarchy and agitation which lay only too abundantly in a population poor, ignorant, turbulent, and superstitious beyond almost any in Europe, might be let loose and turned into politics. The Catholics of Ireland, who had hitherto scarcely awakened to political life, and whose leaders had been uniformly loyal, and much more inclined to lean towards the English Government than towards the Irish Parliament, might be permanently alienated from the connection. In the clash of discordant elements, Ireland might be once more cursed with the calamities of civil war; and confiscations and penal laws had placed landed property so exclusively in the hands of the ascendant class, that a danger still graver than rebellion might be feared. It was that which Burke truly called ‘the most irreconcilable quarrel that can divide a nation—a struggle for the landed property of the whole kingdom.’1
While the sentiments I have described were rapidly extending among the more intelligent Catholics and among the Presbyterians of the North, the governing classes in Ireland experienced a full measure of that dread of reform and innovation which the French Revolution had made predominant among men in authority. The Catholic question now presented itself to them, not as in 1778 and 1782 as a question of religious toleration, and of the removal of penal inflictions, but as a question of the transfer of political power and of the destruction of an old monopoly of representation. It was also avowedly and ostentatiously associated with the demand for a searching parliamentary reform which would break down the system of nomination boroughs, and establish the representation on a broad popular basis. No prospect could be more alarming to the small group of men who controlled the Government and almost monopolised the patronage of Ireland. The Chancellor, Fitzgibbon, was steadily opposed to all concessions to the Catholics, and he devoted his great ability and his arrogant but indomitable will to rallying the party of the Opposition. The Beresfords, the Elys, and several other of the great borough owners, and in general the officials who were most closely connected with the Castle, were equally violent in their opposition.
In England, however, different motives were at work. Pitt and the majority of the other Ministers were free from every vestige of religious intolerance, and the events of the French Revolution had thrown them into close alliance with the Catholics of Europe. It was not merely a question of political alliance but of genuine sympathy, for Catholicism was the most natural and most powerful moral force that could be opposed to that spirit of antichristian revolution which was now assuming such a menacing aspect in Europe. The overtures made by the revolutionary Protestant Dissenters to the Catholics justly appeared very alarming to the English Ministers. Hitherto it had been their policy to act as the champion or at least the protector of the Catholics; not, indeed, risking any serious convulsion for their sake, but on the whole favouring the abolition of the penal laws, moderating their administration, protecting the Catholics from local tyranny. There seemed now some danger that a power which was naturally conservative should be thrown into the opposite scale, and that the Catholic relief question, which the Ministers were inclined to favour, should be employed to obtain a parliamentary reform to which they were strongly opposed. It appeared, therefore, to the English Ministers a matter of great importance to break this incipient alliance, and by giving greater weight to the Catholics to turn them into a conservative influence in the Constitution.
There were two other considerations which had great weight. In the first place the question of the position of the English Catholics had been again taken up. The circumstances of Catholicism in England and Ireland were entirely different, but experience had shown that legislation on this subject in one country was tolerably sure to be followed by a demand for legislation in the other.
I have already related the history of Mitford's Act, which in 1791 relieved English Catholics who took the oath provided by the statute, from all the laws against recusancy which had been passed under Elizabeth and James I.; restored them to a full right of celebrating their worship and educating their children; admitted them to be barristers, solicitors, attorneys, clerks, and notaries, and freed them from several petty and vexatious restrictions to which they had been liable. This measure, as we have seen, was carried with the concurrence of both sections in the Parliament, and it naturally strengthened the claim of the Irish Catholics for a larger measure of relief.
Another circumstance which was favourable to the Catholic cause was the influence of Edmund Burke, who had just broken away from the old Opposition and entered into alliance with the Government. Burke had himself married a Catholic lady, and his sympathies with his Catholic countrymen were both strong and steady. As early as 1765 he had treated of their wrongs in his ‘Tracts upon the Popery Code,’ and he recurred to the subject in writings in 1778, in 1780, and in 1782.1 At the time of which I am now writing he was, perhaps, in the zenith of his influence. In 1790 his ‘Reflections on the French Revolution’ had appeared, and it exercised a greater influence than any political writing in England, at least since the days of Swift. He was regarded as the special and greatest advocate and representative of Conservative principles in England, and his voice was therefore especially weighty when he supported a measure of reform.
In his letter to Sir Hercules Langrishe, which was written and published in the beginning of 1792, and still more in his private correspondence, his policy was clearly disclosed. He was prepared to go as far as a complete or almost complete removal of incapacities, ‘but leisurely, by degrees, and portion by portion.’1 He urged the absolute necessity of blending the two great sections of the Irish people, the extreme danger as well as the extreme injustice of maintaining a system of permanent political monopoly, the certainty that such a system must one day break down, the danger of persuading the Catholics that their only hope of entering the Constitution was by the assistance of democratic Dissenters. ‘If you should make this experiment at last,’ he wrote, ‘under the pressure of any necessity, you never can do it well.’ ‘At present you may make the desired admission without altering the system of your representation in the smallest degree or in any part. You may leave that deliberation of a parliamentary change or reform, if ever you should think fit to engage in it, uncomplicated and unembarrassed with the other question;’ you may ‘measure your concessions’ and proceed by degrees without ‘unfixing old interests’ at once. ‘Reflect seriously on the possible consequences of keeping in the hearts of your community a bank of discontent, every hour accumulating, upon which every description of seditious men may draw at pleasure.’
The difficulties and dangers of the question, if it was taken up at once and in the spirit that has been indicated, seemed to him enormously exaggerated. He reminded Langrishe that the English Parliament had very recently given to Canada a popular representative by the choice of the landholders, and an aristocratic representative at the choice of the Crown, and that no religious disqualification was introduced in either case. It was said that the Irish Catholics had been reduced by the long depression of the law to the state of a mob, and that ‘whenever they came to act many of them would act exactly like a mob, without temper, measure, or foresight.’ If that be the case, ought not Irish statesmen to apply at once ‘a remedy to the real cause of the evil’? ‘If the disorder you speak of be real and considerable, you ought to raise an aristocratic interest, that is, an interest of property and education amongst them, and to strengthen by every prudent means the authority and influence of men of that description.’ It was one excellence of our Constitution, that elective rights are always attached rather to property than to person. In Ireland the standard of qualification may be too low or not judiciously chosen, and it may be a question whether it may not be prudent ‘to raise a step or two the qualifications of the Catholic voters.’ For his own part, however, he doubted it. ‘If you were to-morrow to put the Catholic freeholder on the footing of the most favoured forty-shilling Protestant freeholder, you know that such is the actual state of Ireland, this would not make a sensible alteration in almost any one election in the kingdom. The effect in their favour even defensively would be infinitely slow.’1 In the present state of Europe, he argued, ‘it is of infinite moment that matters of grace should emanate from the old sovereign authority.’
His estimate of the different parties in Ireland is curious and far from complimentary. The difference between the Irish Protestant and the Irish Catholic appeared to him to be mainly that between ‘the cat looking out of the window, and the cat looking in at the window,’ between ‘being in or out of power.’ The Protestants had been somewhat specially corrupted by the long monopoly of ‘jobbish power,’ and the Catholics by continued habits of servility.2 On both sides religious animosity was almost extinct, and he actually suggested that it was quite within the limits of probability that in the general decadence of theology the Catholics might, through political reasons, be converted into Protestant Dissenters.3 Their clergy, he thought, had at no time within his observation much influence over their people. ‘I have never known an instance (until a few of them were called into action by the manæuvres of the Castle), that in secular concerns they took any part at all. … Though not wholly without influence … they have rather less than any other clergy I know.’4 As for the Protestants, they have lost most of their old prejudices. ‘They are jobbers as their fathers were, but with this difference, their fathers had false principles. The present race, I suspect, have none. … They have a reasonable share of good nature. If they could be once got to think that the Catholics were human creatures, and that they lost no job by thinking them such, I am convinced that they would soon, very soon indeed, be led to show some regard to their country.’1 The difficulty of inducing them to give full political privileges to Catholics lay chiefly in the selfish interests of a small junto of monopolists. In a curiously candid letter to his son, he expressed his wish that the Catholics would ‘leave off the topic of which some of them are so fond, that of attributing the continuance of their grievances to English interests or dispositions, to which they suppose the welfare of Ireland is sacrificed.’ No notion, he declared, could be more groundless. Englishmen were perfectly indifferent to the question whether Catholics had or had not a share in the election of members of the Irish Parliament. ‘Since the independency (and even before) the jobs of that Government are almost wholly in their hands.’ ‘I have never known any of the successive Governments in my time, influenced by any [other] passion relative to Ireland than the wish that they should hear of it and of its concerns as little as possible.’ ‘The present set of Ministers partake of that disposition in a larger measure than any of their predecessors with whom I have been acquainted,’ and the whole Government of Ireland has been willingly left to ‘a junto of jobbers.’2
The peculiar position of Edmund Burke led the Catholic Committee to take a step of much importance. They had for some time been accustomed to seek literary and other help outside their own body, and they now determined to ask Richard Burke, the only son of Edmund Burke, to act as their paid adviser. He was a practising barrister, and his selection as the professional representative of the Catholics seemed a most effectual answer to those who accused them of sympathising with the French Revolution, and was at the same time likely to enlist in the cause the influence, the counsel, and perhaps the pen of a man who had then great weight with the Ministers, and a supreme influence over English public opinion. The appointment was made in August 1790, before the separation of Lord Kenmare and his party from the Catholic Committee, but the services of Richard Burke appear at first to have been exclusively literary, and they did not prevent him from proceeding to Coblentz on a mission to the French princes, who were in that city.1 On his return, however, towards the close of 1791, he was at once invited to take a more active part, and especially to solicit the Ministers in behalf of the Catholics.2 In the course of December he had conversations on the subject with Dundas, and also with Hobart, who had for a short time come over from Ireland. He was instructed by the Catholic Committee to ask that the Roman Catholics might be admitted to all departments of the law, to the magistracy, and to the minor offices of county administration; that they might be entitled to serve in all cases both on grand and petty juries, and that they might obtain the elective franchise, but only in the counties.
Although his talents appear to have been greatly over-estimated by his father, Richard Burke was in truth by no means destitute of ability, but he displayed a rather unusual measure of the common and characteristic faults of amateur diplomatists. His want of tact, his tendency to exaggeration and overstatement, his meddling, officious, and dictatorial demeanour, were soon painfully conspicuous. When he went to Ireland, Dundas warned him that the English Government could hold no communication on the Catholic question except through the Irish Government, and that he must therefore communicate exclusively with it.3 He easily gathered that the Ministers were convinced that it was necessary to grant a measure of relief to the Catholics, in order to win them over to their side. He also gathered clearly that while the Ministers were determined to make some concessions, they were disposed to abandon the capital one of the elective franchise, not on account of any English reluctance, but because of the determined hostility among the leading men in the Irish Government and Parliament. These opinions Richard Burke appears to have fully declared, and in the course of a few months residence in Ireland, he very unduly raised the hopes of the Catholics, flung the Irish Government into a paroxysm of jealousy and anger, entered into negotiation with a number of independent interests in the Irish Parliament, and greatly embarrassed the English Government. In September 1792, the Catholic Committee finally broke with him.
We must now proceed to examine more particularly the real intentions of the Government as disclosed in their secret and confidential correspondence. No portion of this correspondence is more instructive than that which relates to the early period of the Viceroyalty of Westmorland. It shows with great clearness the opposition between the views of the Ministers in London, and those of the Ministers in Dublin.
In October 1791, when Richard Burke had not yet arrived in Ireland, Lord Grenville wrote to Westmorland that he had been speaking with Hobart and with Parnell, on the subject of the Irish Catholics. He does not announce any conclusion, and writes with evident perplexity, but it is easy to detect the current of his thoughts. ‘I am very sensible,’ he writes, ‘how imperfect my ideas are likely to be on a subject on which so much more local and personal knowledge than I possess are required, in order to enable anyone to form a correct judgment. But I cannot help feeling a very great anxiety that such measures may be taken, as may effectually counteract the union between the Catholics and Dissenters at which the latter are evidently aiming. I may be a false prophet, but there is no evil that I would not prophesy if that union takes place in the present moment, and on the principles on which it is endeavoured to bring it about.’1
During several months, the English Government had been receiving from Lord Westmorland alarming accounts of the incendiary papers that were being circulated in Ireland; of the renewed activity of the Catholic question, and especially of the determined efforts to unite the questions of Catholic Emancipation and parliamentary reform, and to combine in a single league the Northern Dissenters with the Catholics. At length on December 26, 1791, Dundas wrote to Westmorland two very remarkable letters—one of them intended to be laid before the Irish Council, and the other strictly confidential—conveying the policy of the English Government. In the former letter he began by expressing the great concern with which the Government had observed the recent attempts to associate together persons of different religious denominations in Ireland for seditious purposes, and his hopes that the Catholics would repudiate all attempts to seduce them from that ‘quiet and regular demeanour,’ to which past favours were due. and from which alone future indulgences might be justly expected. At the same time he announced the opinion of the confidential servants of the King, that ‘it is essentially necessary, as well on grounds of justice as of sound policy, to give a favourable ear to the fair claims of the Catholics of Ireland,’ and he directed the Lord-Lieutenant to use ‘his best endeavours to obtain a consideration of this subject divested of the prejudices arising from former animosities, the original grounds of which seem no longer to exist.’ ‘The Roman Catholics,’ he adds, ‘form the great body of the inhabitants of the kingdom of Ireland, and as such are entitled to the communication of all such advantages as can be given them without danger to the existing establishments and to the general interests of the Empire.’ Their conduct for a long series of years, as well as the interest which they have acquired in property, make it very unlikely that they would ‘act on those principles on which their original exclusion was founded. It is, therefore, well worthy of serious consideration how far it is wise for those who look forward to the preservation of the present frame of the Irish Government, to run the risk of exciting a dangerous antipathy against that frame of Government in the minds of the great body of the people, who by the present laws are secluded from … any right to vote even in the election of representatives for counties.’ The newly acquired importance and independence of the Irish Parliament makes this exclusion especially galling, and in the opinion of the English Ministers it is much more dangerous to the Protestant interest than such ‘a moderate and qualified participation’ in the right of election as would give them a stake in the political prosperity of the country.
At the same time, while very powerfully urging the arguments in defence of this position, Dundas does not impose it on the confidential servants of the Crown in Ireland ‘in the shape of a decision.’ It is the genuine opinion of the English Ministers. It is an opinion they greatly wish to see adopted by the Irish Protestants, but if ‘the sentiments of the leading descriptions of persons in the Irish Parliament should be decidedly adverse to this proposal at present,’ he insists only that ‘at least the door should not be understood to be finally shut against the Catholics, if hereafter men's minds should become reconciled to the extension of further privileges, and if their conduct should afford fresh ground for thinking that such privileges may be given with safety.’ In order to secure Ireland against dangerous and desperate commotions, it is necessary that the Catholics should be fully convinced that any attempts to carry their objects by force or intimidation will be resisted to the utmost, and that peaceful and dutiful conduct will be rewarded by a continuous though gradual improvement of their situation.
This, then, was the position of the English Government on the question of conferring the franchise on the Catholics. But whatever resolution might be adopted on this question at Dublin, the Lord-Lieutenant is directed to inform the confidential servants of the Crown that it is ‘the decided opinion’ of the English Government that the Roman Catholics of Ireland have a claim, which neither in justice or policy can be refused, to be at least placed on as favourable a footing as their coreligionists in England. In order to attain this end, the Lord-Lieutenant is directed to review the remaining laws against the Catholics, with the object of recommending to the Irish Parliament the repeal of five classes. It was to be asked to repeal all laws which imposed any special obstruction on the Catholics in the exercise of any profession, trade, or manufacture; which restricted the intermarriage of the members of the two creeds; which interfered with the unlimited power of the Catholic father in the mode or place of education of his children; which made a distinction between Protestant and papist in the use of arms, and which prevented them from serving either on grand or petty juries.1
The official despatch was accompanied by a private and very significant letter, intended for the eye of the Lord-Lieutenant alone. Under ordinary circumstances, wrote Dundas, the Irish Government and Protestant interest have a right to look for the support and protection of Great Britain, but they must not push this expectation too far. ‘The public and the Parliament of Great Britain should feel that the object for which their aid is demanded is one in which they are interested, or in which, at least, the Irish Government is founded in justice and policy, in resisting the wishes of the body of the people of Ireland. If it is a mere question whether one description of Irishmen or another are to enjoy a monopoly or pre-eminence,’ these conditions will not be fulfilled, and English opinion will not justify the application of English resources for the purpose of keeping the Irish Catholics in a continued state of political proscription. Besides this, the country may soon be at war, and if the Catholic grievances are then unredressed, it is tolerably certain that an attempt will be made to extort by force what is denied as a matter of grace. The example of the volunteers is but too plain, and Catholics had their part in the triumph of 1782. In conclusion Dundas gave it as his decided opinion, ‘that there cannot be a permanency in the frame of the Government and Constitution of Ireland unless the Protestants will lay aside their prejudices, forego their exclusive pre-eminence, and gradually open their arms to the Roman Catholies, and put them on the same footing with every other species of Dissenter.’2
The policy indicated in these despatches appears to me, in its broad lines, both temperate and wise, but it was received by the Lord-Lieutenant with absolute consternation. The effect of any intimation to the principal servants of the Crown in Ireland that the English Government contemplated it, would in his opinion be most disastrous, would probably prevent them from making any concessions whatever, and would be almost certain to unite them against the Government of Pitt. After some preliminary correspondence, however, with the English Government, he brought the chief points before his Privy Council, and on January 14, 1792, he wrote to the Government the result. Those who were present were Fitzgibbon the Chancellor, the Attorney-General, Beresford, the Archbishop of Cashel, the Prime Sergeant, and Sir John Parnell. Of these persons Beresford and the Archbishop of Cashel appeared on the whole averse to any concessions whatever, but in the end there was a general though hesitating and reluctant assent to the wishes of the Government upon the three articles of professions, intermarriage, and education. On the question of juries a reservation was made with reference to grand juries. To admit Catholics into bodies which gave so much consequence and power would be extremely likely to excite the alarm and jealousy of the Protestant gentry, and although such a concession might be abstractly proper, it would be wiser to take no steps till the dispositions of the Irish Parliament had been carefully sounded. The concession of an unlimited right of carrying arms was pronounced to be completely inadmissible. Independently of all religious considerations, it was vitally necessary to the security of the country that the Government should retain the power of disarming the lower classes of the people, who were nearly all Roman Catholics, and exceedingly tumultuous. This was sufficiently proved by ‘their numerous insurrections against tithes, the number of forcible possessions, the demolitions of fences which had occurred, their frequent attacks upon revenue officers and escorts, and their numerous rescues of seizures and prisoners.’ Every Roman Catholic of decent rank might obtain a licence to carry arms; the law on the subject was never put in force except for the prevention of mischief, and no man could wish to put arms in the hands of the lower class in Ireland, but for the purpose of anarchy and sedition. The situation of the English Catholics was quite different, for they were a very small and highly respectable body, drawn chiefly from the upper and middle classes of society. This point was not ‘even mentioned in the application of the Roman Catholics, and the concession would be as much disrelished by the Catholic gentlemen of property as by the Protestants.’
So far, however, the difference between the English and Irish Governments was not very serious. But the question of the propriety of conceding the suffrage to the Catholics was far more grave. The confidential servants of the Crown not only unanimously pronounced this concession utterly ruinous and impracticable, but they expressed the gravest apprehension and discontent that such a proposal had been so much as considered by the British Cabinet, and an earnest wish that the sentiments of the Ministers should be most carefully concealed. The English proposal, if made to Parliament, and by administration, would occasion such a ferment, both in the House and out of the House, as would totally prevent any of the concessions wished for, and ‘it was impossible to foretell to what degree the House of Commons might be affected on the subject, should they imagine such a proposal (and so it would be construed) as an abandonment of the Protestant power, and a sacrifice of it to Catholic claims.’
It was proposed that the suffrage should only be given in the counties, and that the qualification should be higher for Catholics than for Protestants. Such ‘a measure of relief was in itself ridiculous and illusory, and would only be deemed the prelude to further demands.’ A full concession would necessarily follow. The proposed concession would give the Catholics ‘a complete command in the counties, with a few exceptions to northern counties, where the Dissenting interest prevails, and thus put them in possession of the pure and popular part of the representation. By this means they would gradually gain an ascendency, and would soon be enabled to make a successful attack on the tithes and established clergy, so odious to themselves and the Presbyterians, if they should not, indeed, be enabled to go further as their power gradually increased, and with it their hopes and their ambitions;’ and the servants of the Crown ‘felt and stated their apprehension for the security of the Act of Settlement.’ ‘I hope,’ continued the Lord-Lieutenant, ‘what I have thus stated will induce his Majesty's servants in Great Britain entirely to give up all ideas of conceding the elective franchise and the unqualified right of carrying arms, and that I shall receive official information that I may produce, for calming the apprehensions of persons attached to English government and to the connection between the countries, of their relinquishing these objects. I am fully convinced that no inducement of interest, no plan of intimidation, could in the present temper of the parliamentary mind produce a repeal of the existing laws on these points. … There is not one of his Majesty's confidential servants here … who does not consider these proposals as equally ruinous to his Majesty's Government and to the Protestant interest, to the connection of the kingdoms and the welfare of the Empire at large.’
Dundas had especially insisted that no language should be employed by the Government intimating that no future concessions should be granted to the Catholics. It is certain, answered Westmorland, that if the right of suffrage should be proposed in the House of Commons from any quarter, it would be impossible to prevent individuals, both in and out of office, from expressing the most decisive declarations.’ ‘It is a fit subject for your consideration whether the friends of Government ought not to have a liberty of concurring in such declarations, if they should appear indispensable, and that the Government would be otherwise left in a trifling minority.’ ‘I should not act fairly,’ he added, ‘if I did not at the same time plainly tell you that the first and natural turn of every mind was for resistance in limine and in toto. Upon the next attempt at concessions you may be assured a stand will be made. And if the suspicion shall be confirmed (a suspicion too much strengthened by your despatch and the questionable language and situation of Mr. Richard Burke), that the British Government means to take up the Catholics, and to play what is called a Catholic game, and should this suspicion be further corroborated by an instruction in any future session from England to propose the right of suffrage, a stand will be made by the Protestants, without distinction, against the Government, in their own defence. No Administration will be able to conduct his Majesty's business without expressly stipulating a different policy, and his Majesty's Government will be laid at the feet of those aristocratic followings which are at present in hostility to it.’1
The violent and uncompromising opposition that was declared by the Irish Government to the proposed concession of political rights to the Catholics, naturally alarmed the English Ministers, who had no wish to engage in a campaign from which their servants in Ireland predicted the most dangerous results, and which they represented as certain to be abortive.
Pitt himself, just before the despatch I have last quoted was written, had endeavoured to calm the mind of the Lord-Lieutenant, and attenuate the effects of the despatches of Dundas. He was not at all surprised, he said, that the Lord-Lieutenant should have found it impossible to bring the friends of the Government in Ireland to go ‘further than the line of English concession, and in truth,’ he added, ‘I believe that will keep everything quiet for a time.’ The Government had suggested the idea of granting the suffrage, merely because they were persuaded ‘that if the Protestants can in good time be reconciled to this idea, the adopting it may lead more than anything else to the permanent support of the present frame of the Government, and that its being suggested now to the principal friends of Government, though it should not be adopted, might bring them gradually to consider it in this light.’ At the same time, if they are decidedly against the concession, the Ministers have no wish to press it, but they do think it material ‘that no declaration should be made against its being ever done, and that the door should not be considered as shut against such further gradual concession as times and circumstances, and the opinion of the public and Parliament, may hereafter admit. This, accompanied by a firm disposition to resist anything sought by violence, seems to be almost the only security for leading the Catholics to a peaceable behaviour, and for preventing them from joining either now, or if any favourable occasion should arise, with the violent and republican part of the Dissenters.’ He fully acknowledged the duty of the English Government to support on all ordinary occasions the Irish Administration, if necessary, by force. All that was meant by the private letter of Dundas was that, if the Catholic question ever produced a serious conflict ‘which might require the exertion of almost the whole force of this country, it would hardly be possible to carry the public here to that point, for the sake of the total exclusion of the Catholics from all participation of political rights; that, therefore, the best way of insuring effectual support from hence would be to get, as soon as possible, upon ground more consonant to what we think would be the public feeling.’ The Ministers may be mistaken, but they thought it well to suggest this consideration to the Lord-Lieutenant and his advisers. It is, however, mere speculation, and Westmorland need not communicate it unless he thought fit.1
Pitt, though not the Minister officially in connection with Lord Westmorland, was so evidently and transcendently the guiding spirit of the Government, that it was tolerably certain that his judgment would ultimately prevail, and on January 18, 1792, Westmorland wrote him a long and extremely frank and confidential letter, reviewing the whole Catholic question in its relation to the general government of Ireland. He began by deploring the very serious alarm which the Government despatch, combined with some other circumstances, had raised. ‘I cannot,’ he adds, ‘exactly satisfy my mind upon what point you look in these speculations; whether you imagine the alteration pressed by an immediate and inevitable necessity, whether as a mode of conciliation to prevent present or approaching tumult, or whether by past observation, the power by which England has governed Ireland having been found defective, you mean to introduce a new alliance as an engine of management.’ On the first point he merely observes that ‘neither the franchise nor the abolition of distinctions is expected by the Catholics, or pressed by immediate necessity,’ though he cannot answer for what may be the effects produced by a knowledge of the sentiments of the English Ministers, and by the suspicious situation and language of Mr. Richard Burke. ‘That the concessions would have a tendency to prevent future tumult is against the sentiments of every friend of Government.’ It is, indeed, the general belief that their ‘increasing power, with their disproportion of numbers, must eventually, either by influence or more probably by force, give the Catholics the upper hand, overturn the Church Establishment first, next proceed to the possession of the State, and the property’ which had been obtained through conquest. ‘You will observe,’ he continues, ‘I have written as if it were possible to carry these concessions, but I am convinced you might as well attempt to carry in the English Parliament the abolition of negro slavery, a reform of representation, or an abolition of the House of Lords in the House of Lords, as to carry the Irish Parliament a step towards the franchise. The power of Government against a sentiment prevailing without exception is of no avail. Every man who has regard either to his honour or his interest, would sacrifice his office to his parliamentary or political situation, nor, indeed, would the office be risked, as no successor could be found in such circumstances.’ Signs of the growing excitement were plainly visible. Members of Parliament were constantly accosted with the phrase, ‘I hope you are a true Protestant and will resist,’ and ‘The lower Catholics already talk of their ancient family estates.’
The last argument in favour of the enfranchisement of the Catholics, Westmorland examines at greater length, and his words are deserving of a full quotation. ‘That the Irish frame of Government,’ he wrote, ‘like every human institution, has faults is true, but conceiving the object of you and I to be, and which it is only our duty to look to [sic], how England can govern Ireland, that is how England can govern a country containing one-half as many inhabitants as herself, and in many respects more advantageously situated, I hold the task not to be easy, but that the present frame of Irish Government (which every man here believes shook by these speculations) is particularly well calculated for our purpose. That frame is a Protestant garrison (in the words of Mr. Burke), in possession of the land, magistracy, and power of the country; holding that property under the tenure of British power and supremacy, and ready at every instant to crush the rising of the conquered. If under various circumstances their generals should go a little refractory, do you lessen your difficulties or facilitate the means of governing, by dissolving their authority and trusting to your popularity and good opinion with the common soldiers of the conquered? Allegory apart, do you conceive England can govern Ireland by the popularity of the Government? … Is not the very essence of your Imperial policy to prevent the interest of Ireland clashing and interfering with the interest of England? You know how difficult it is in England to persuade the popular mind that the Government is acting for the public interest; how can you expect to succeed in Ireland, where practice and appearance must at all times be so plainly against you? … Don't tell me that the external power of England could keep her in subjection, or that her interest would keep her in the same link [sic]. Much weaker States than Ireland exist in the neighbourhood of mighty kingdoms, and States very often are actuated by other views than their real interest. Reflect what Ireland would be in opposition to England, and you will see the necessity of some very strong interior power or management that will render Ireland subservient to the general orders of the Empire. You know the advantages you reap from Ireland; from what I have stated they may be more negative than positive. In return does she cost you one farthing (except the linen monopoly)? Do you employ a soldier on her account she does not pay, or a single ship more for the protection of the British commerce than if she was at the bottom of the sea? If she was there it might be one thing, but while she exists you must rule her. Count what she would be in opposition. Have you not crushed her in every point that would interfere with British interest or monopoly by means of her Parliament for the last century, till lately? If, as her Government became more open and more attentive to the feelings of the Irish nation, the difficulty of management has increased, is that a reason for opening the Government and making the Parliament more subservient to the feelings of the nation at large? … Don't fancy from what I have said that I am averse to cultivating the Catholics, but I cannot understand why a politician should throw away the absolute rule, guidance, and government of an important country to a sect without head or guidance. … I am most decidedly of opinion for cultivating the Catholics. I would wish them to look to Government for further indulgence (indeed they can look nowhere else). I would give them every indulgence that is possible to be carried for them that would not revolt the Protestant mind, give offence to the Parliament, and shake the Establishment in the opinion of the King's servants here. If they differed, we might interfere, but their universal sentiment ought not and cannot be disregarded; … the risk ought not to be run, in courting them, of oversetting the attachment of the Protestant power by which England ever has, and whilst that power is prevalent always may govern Ireland. Do you mean by the fermentation to force the Protestants to a union? To that point I am not prepared to speak. The Catholics may at times be useful to frighten the aristocracy, but in my honest opinion they are an engine too dangerous for speculation. … It is hardly necessary, I should add, that the attempt of the franchise and the abolition of distinctions is impracticable, and ruinous in the attempt. The Protestant mind is so united for resistance that I see no danger but from the opinions of the British Cabinet.’1
The arguments of Westmorland were very powerfully supported by his Chief Secretary. Richard Burke, he said, by persuading the Catholics that the English Government was no longer prepared to uphold Protestant ascendency, had proved himself the most dangerous incendiary the Irish Administration had ever contended with. Several leading Catholics had already said, how can we be expected to desist from pressing for the suffrage when ‘it is thrown at our heads by the Ministers of England?’ ‘Be assured, my dear sir,’ continued Hobart, ‘that you are on the eve of being driven to declare for the Protestants or Catholics. … If you suppose that the Protestants will yield without a struggle, you may be assured that you are misinformed. If you think that Mr. Burke's Catholic party will desist so long as he can persuade them to believe that they are abetted by England, you will find yourself greatly deceived. … The connection between England and Ireland rests absolutely upon the Protestant ascendency. Abolish distinctions and you create a Catholic superiority. If you are to maintain a Protestant ascendency it must be by substituting influence for numbers. The weight of England in the Protestant scale will at all times turn the balance, but if ever the Catholics are persuaded that the Protestants are not certain of English support, they will instantly think it worth their while to hazard a conflict. It may be said, what is it to England whether Catholics or Protestants have the pre-eminence in Ireland? I answer, it is of as much consequence as the connection between the two countries—for on that it depends. Whilst you maintain the Protestant ascendency the ruling powers in Ireland look to England as the foundation of their authority and influence. The Executive Government of both countries must ever (as it always has been) be under the same control. A Catholic Government could maintain itself without the aid of England, and must inevitably produce a separation of the Executive which would speedily be followed by a separation between the countries. … Be assured that a conviction of the absolute necessity of maintaining the principle of exclusion from the suffrage is so strong in the minds of people here that it will not be conceded, and you will never have this country quiet till some strong and decided language is held by the British Government upon that point.’1
‘Nothing,’ wrote the Under Secretary Cooke a few days later, ‘ought to be done for the Catholics this session at all,’ and he described the existing situation as ‘the British Ministry and Grattan coinciding in the same measures with different views, the one to strengthen, the other to abolish, English influence; the Irish Ministry in opposition to the English in principle, and with them in acquiescence; the supporters of Government seeing ruin to themselves in standing by Administration.2
Hobart went over to England to enforce the views of the Irish Administration, and, together with Sir John Parnell, the Irish Chancellor of the Exchequer, he had an interview with Pitt and Dundas, which he described in a letter to Westmorland. Dundas reiterated the argument of his private despatch, that if a civil war broke out, it was very doubtful whether the English Parliament would vote a large sum of money to fight a merely Protestant battle. He acknowledged that the easiest way for England to govern Ireland was through the Protestants, but he thought it difficult to predict how long that system could possibly last. Parnell, who, in addition to his high official position, spoke with the authority of a prominent Irish landowner, assured the English statesman that ‘there was nothing to fear from the Catholics; that they had always receded when met; that he believed the bulk of them perfectly satisfied, and that there would be no dissatisfaction if the subject had not been written upon, and such infinite pains taken to disturb the minds of the people.’ For his own part he was so little afraid, that he gladly laid out all his money on his Irish property, and he believed that nothing made the Catholics at this time formidable, except the idea that they were favoured in England. Pitt doubtfully said that ‘they must look to a permanent system,’ and he desired personal communication with some of the leading Irishmen to consider how far the present system could be maintained. The extremely anti-Catholic spirit which was raging on the Continent had greatly impressed him, and had led him, as it led Burke, into speculations which were curiously characteristic of the time, and signally falsified by the event. ‘Dundas and Pitt,’ writes Hobart, ‘both seemed to assent to an idea which I threw out, of the probability of the present system in Ireland continuing as long as the system of Popery, which every hour was losing ground, and which once annihilated, put an end to the question.’ ‘I trust I may add,’ Hobart says in concluding the relation, ‘that all idea of a Catholic game (if such ever was entertained) is at an end, and that the British Government will decidedly support the Protestant ascendency; which opinion seemed to have been Pitt's from the beginning, and Dundas's ultimately.’1
The Irish Government in this conflict with the English Ministers was almost completely successful. The proposal to extend the franchise, and the proposal to extend the use of arms to the Catholics, were both abandoned, and in spite of a strong remonstrance from Dundas,1 it was determined not to mention the Catholics in the speech from the throne. ‘Not only members of Parliament,’ wrote Westmorland, ‘but almost every Protestant in the kingdom was under such alarm that it was not possible to foresee what effect a recommendation of concessions to the Catholics from the throne might produce.’ A report was prevalent, and much credited, that Mr. Richard Burke, who had held various communications with the English Ministers as the avowed agent of the Roman Catholics, had ‘received assurances from the British Government of their favourable disposition to abolish by degrees all distinctions between papist and Protestant; and that he had assured the Roman Catholic Committee they could not fail to obtain the right of suffrage if they would be firm.’ To mention the subject in the speech from the throne would, the Lord-Lieutenant declared, deprive the Government of some of its most devoted adherents, ‘who had never swerved from supporting the English connection and Government, but who thought that danger to that very connection and Government attended even the smallest concession under the present circumstances.’
The alarm, he says, was of the strongest kind. A great meeting of the friends of the Government was only calmed when the Chancellor acquainted them that the Government were determined to resist the demand for arms and franchise. An address in favour of Protestant ascendency was voted by the Corporation of Dublin, and was likely to be re-echoed by every corporate town in the kingdom. ‘The general language is still for resistance in limine and in toto, except among the friends of Administration, who have sacrificed their private judgments to the wishes of the British Government. … I am fully persuaded that if they believed there was an intention of going further, all their disposition to concession would be entirely at an end.’ It was quite necessary, Westmorland urged, ‘to calm the minds of Protestant gentlemen by official assurances from his Majesty's Ministers in Great Britain that they have no intention at all, of pressing future concessions,’ and also by an official contradiction of the language said to have been used by Mr. Burke. If gentlemen are not satisfied on these points, ‘it will not be possible to prevent declarations against future concessions, or, as you term it, to shut the door against the Catholics.’ This policy Westmorland considered not only necessary but safe, and he had no belief in an alliance of the Catholics with the Dissenters. The great body of the Dissenters appeared to him hostile to the Catholic views. The principal Catholic landowners were separated from the Committee in Dublin, and only a decisive declaration of the Ministers against future concessions was needed to restore the confidence which had been lost.1
The English Government yielded with little modification to the desires of their representatives in Ireland. Pitt wrote to Westmorland with an evident wish to allay the storm, though conveying no less evidently that if the Irish politicians would accept a more liberal policy they would be fully supported by England. He was perfectly satisfied, he said, with the points of relief to the Catholics, to which the friends of the Government in Ireland seemed disposed to agree; but he regrets to gather from the despatches of Westmorland, and from other circumstances, that there is an impression in Ireland that the English Ministers are influenced by some feeling of resentment towards the Protestant interest in Ireland, or by suggestions of Edmund Burke, arising from his supposed partiality to the Catholic persuasion. These suspicions are totally unfounded. No desire of subverting the Protestant interest ever entered into their minds, and they had never had ‘a syllable of communication’ with the elder Burke on the subject. ‘The idea of our wishing to play what you call a Catholic game is really extravagant. We have thought only of what was the most likely plan to preserve the security and tranquillity of a British and Protestant interest. … Our communications with Mr. R. Burke you must know from Hobart. … His intemperance is, I am afraid, likely enough to do harm to any cause. In the present situation I am so far from wishing you to go further than you propose, that I really think it would be unwise to attempt it. … My opinion will never be for bringing forward any concession, beyond what the public mind and the opinion of those who are the supporters of British Government on its present establishment are reconciled to. I may have my own opinion as to expediency, but I am inclined myself to follow theirs, not to attempt to force it.’ On one point, however, Pitt stood firm against the wishes of the Irish Government. ‘Any pledge, however, against anything more in future, seems to me to be in every view useless and dangerous; and it is what on such a question no prudent Government can concur in. I say nothing on the idea of resisting all concession, because I am in hopes there is no danger of that line being taken. If it were, I should really think it the most fatal measure that could be contrived, for the destruction ultimately of every object we wish to preserve.’1
Dundas, whose letters appear to me to show a stronger and more earnest interest in Irish affairs than those of Pitt, wrote in the same sense. ‘He regretted,’ he said, ‘the agitations which had been produced in Ireland;’ but added, ‘As British Ministers we could not give it as our opinion that the Parliament of Ireland ought to give less under the present circumstances to the Catholics of Ireland, than the British Parliament had given to the Catholics of England, not considering these concessions as involving in them anything that could be dangerous to Ireland;’ but the English Ministers had no wish to recommend any concessions, if all the King's servants in Ireland object to them. ‘We have recommended them because it is in our opinion impolitic to deny them, but beyond the wishing success to an opinion which we entertain, we can have no other bias, and certainly can have no interest separate from that of Ireland.’ He insists only that the Irish Government must not ‘tie up its future conduct’ by declarations on the Catholic question. As far as the franchise was concerned, English Ministers had never done more than suggest to the Irish Protestants the propriety of considering it. ‘There is not a wish expressed on our part, that they should go one step beyond the dictates of their own judgment.’ In a second letter, written on the same day, and intended for the eye of Westmorland alone, he added: ‘The Ministers have some reason to complain of the spirit and temper which have manifested themselves in the deliberations of your friends in Ireland on this business. If they had stated any disposition, at the beginning of it, that we should not communicate with them upon it, we certainly could not have entertained a wish to do so, but should have been extremely well pleased to leave the discussion and decision of it to themselves. But during the whole course of the summer and autumn they have, in various ways, conveyed to us an apprehension of a union between the Catholics and Dissenters which they considered, and justly considered, as fatal to the present frame of Irish Government. Under these circumstances our opinions were expected. We accordingly gave that opinion, but without any disposition to press the adoption. … It is impossible to fathom by the utmost stretch of ingenuity what motive or interest we could have, either to entertain or give an opinion, except what was dictated by an anxious concern for the security of the Irish Establishment, and whether our opinions are right or wrong, time only can determine.’1
In reviewing the correspondence from which I have so largely quoted, the reader will, I think, be struck with the eminently moderate and liberal views of the English Government, nor can that Government, in my opinion, be justly blamed for abandoning its first scheme of extending in 1792 the suffrage to Catholics. Personally, Pitt knew very little about Ireland, and Ministers are always obliged to rely chiefly on their confidential servants for their knowledge of the situation. If it was impossible at this time to carry the extension of the franchise to the Catholics, or if it could only have been carried at the expense of a great social and political convulsion, and a serious alienation of the Protestants, the Ministers were quite right in abandoning it. It was, however, always maintained by Grattan, Burke, and the other leading advocates of the Catholics, that the representations of Irish Protestant opinion sent over to England were either absolutely false, or at least enormously overstated. The Chancellor and a small group of great noblemen and prelates, who formed the chief advisers of the Lord-Lieutenant, were violently hostile to Catholic enfranchisement; they saw in it the subversion of their own ascendency, and they had therefore the strongest motives to exaggerate its difficulties. ‘We hear from all hands,’ wrote Burke in January 1792, ‘that the Castle has omitted nothing to break that line of policy, which Government has pursued, as opportunity offered, from the beginning of the present reign—that, I mean, of wearing out the vestiges of conquest, and settling all descriptions of people on the bottom of our protecting and constitutional system. But by what I learn, the Castle has another system, and considers the outlawry (or what, at least, I look on as such) of the great mass of the people, as an unalterable maxim in the Government of Ireland.’1 His son declared that the violent party in the House of Commons consisted of not more than 100 men, and that most of these were in office.2
The chief members of the Irish Government made it their deliberate object to revive the religious animosities which had so greatly subsided, to raise the standard of Protestant ascendency, and to organise through the country an opposition to concession. How little religious bigotry there had of late been in the great body of the Irish Protestants was clearly shown by the facility with which the Relief Acts of 1778 and 1782 were carried; by the resolutions in favour of the Catholics passed by the volunteers, who more than any other body represented the uninfluenced sentiments of the Protestants of Ireland; by the recent attitude of the Presbyterians and especially of Belfast, which was the centre of the most decided Protestantism. That these sentiments, in spite of the exertions of the Castle, were not yet very materially changed appears to me conclusively proved by the fact that the concession of Catholic franchise, which was pronounced utterly impossible in 1792, was carried without the smallest difficulty in 1793, and by the fact that nothing but the recall of Lord Fitz-william prevented the admission of Catholics into the Irish Parliament in 1795. There were, no doubt, some independent opponents of great weight. The Speaker was strongly opposed to the Catholic claims, and so was Sir Edward Newenham, who had been prominent among the followers of Flood; but the strength of the Opposition consisted mainly of placemen under the leadership of Fitzgibbon.1
Fitzgibbon was the first Irishman to whom Westmorland hinted the intentions of the Government, and he found him opposed to all further concessions to Catholics. The chief borough owners connected with Government agreed with him, and although they could not prevent the introduction of a Relief Bill in 1792, they succeeded in greatly limiting its provisions, and in depriving it of the grace and authority of a Government measure. It was seconded, indeed, by Hobart, but it was introduced by Sir Hercules Langrishe, a private member, though a steady supporter of the Government, and one of the oldest and steadiest friends of the Catholics. It enabled the Catholics to be attorneys, solicitors, notaries, and attorney's clerks, and to practise at the bar, though they could not rise to the position of King's counsel or judge. It repealed the laws prohibiting barristers from marrying Catholics; and solicitors from educating their children as Catholics; the laws of William and Anne directed against the intermarriage of Catholics and Protestants; the obsolete Act against foreign education; and the equally obsolete clause of the Act of 1782, which made the licence of the ordinary necessary for Catholic schools; and finally it removed all restrictions on the number of apprentices permitted to Catholic trade.
The concessions fell far short of the Catholic expectations, but the ascendency spirit which had been evoked, stimulated, and supported by the Administration, now ran very high.2 A petition of the Catholics asking for ‘some share of the elective franchise,’ and a petition of the Protestant United Irishmen of Belfast asking for the repeal of all the anti-Catholic laws, were received at first by the House of Commons, but after they had been laid on the table they were rejected by large majorities. The proceeding was exceedingly unusual and offensive, and it did much to cement the union between the Catholics and the reformers of the North.
The Catholic Committee endeavoured to allay the ferment by publishing a declaration of belief similar to that which had lately been published in England, abjuring some of the more obnoxious tenets ascribed to them, and corroborated by opinions of foreign universities;1 and they also published in February 1792 a remarkable address to the Protestants denying formally that their application for relief extended to ‘unlimited and total emancipation,’ and that their applications had ever been made in a tone of menace. They asked only, they said, for admission to the profession and practice of the law; for capacity to serve as county magistrates; for a right to be summoned and to serve on grand and petty juries, and for a very small share of the county franchise. They desired that a Catholic should be allowed to vote for a Protestant county member, but only if in addition to the forty-shilling freehold, which was the qualification of the Protestant voter, he rented or cultivated a farm of the value of twenty pounds a year, or possessed a freehold of that value.2 Under these conditions the Catholic voters would be a small minority in the counties, while they were absolutely excluded from the boroughs. The demand for a limited county franchise was not a mere question of power or politics. The disfranchisement of the Catholic farmers, it was said, was a most serious practical grievance, for in the keen competition for political power which had arisen since the Octennial Bill, and still more since the Declaration of Independence, landlords in letting their farms constantly gave a preference to tenants who could support their interest at the hustings. Catholic leaseholders at the termination of their leases were continually ejected in order to make room for voters, or they were compelled to purchase the renewal of their leases on exorbitant terms.1
The Committee strongly protested against the notion that the property, respectability, and loyalty of the Catholics were on the side of Lord Kenmare and the seceders. All the great mercantile fortunes were with the Committee, and it was one of the results of the penal laws that the wealth of the Catholics was mainly mercantile. The property, they said, of those who signed the resolutions of the Committee certainly amounted to ten millions, and was probably more near to twenty millions. Even in landed property the party of the Committee claimed to possess the larger aggregate, though the aristocracy and the largest single estates were on the side of the seceders. They at the same time asserted their loyalty in the strongest terms, and they denied that any principle of sedition lurked among the Catholics in any corner of Ireland.
They took another step which marks the rapid growth of independence in the Catholic body. They issued a circular letter inviting the Catholics in every parish in Ireland to choose electors, who, in their turn, were in every county to choose delegates to the Catholic Committee in Dublin, in order to assist in procuring ‘the elective franchise, and an equal participation in the benefits of trial by jury.’ This step was evidently imitated from the Conventions of Dungannon, but nothing of the kind had ever appeared, or, indeed, been possible among the Irish Catholics since the era of the penal laws began. The Catholic prelates were much opposed to it,2 and its legality was at first questioned, but the opinions of two eminent counsel in its favour were obtained and circulated. It excited, however, the greatest alarm in the circle of the Government, and the grand juries in most of the counties of Ireland passed resolutions strongly censuring it. Some meetings of Protestant freeholders followed the example, and the Corporation of Dublin repudiated in the strongest terms the policy of their member Grattan, and declared that ‘the Protestants of Ireland would not be compelled by any authority whatever to abandon that political situation which their forefathers won with their swords, and which is therefore their birthright.’ They defined the Protestant ascendency which they pledged themselves to maintain as ‘a Protestant King of Ireland, a Protestant Parliament, a Protestant hierarchy, Protestant electors and Government, the benches of justice, the army and the revenue through all their branches and details Protestant; and this system supported by a connection with the Protestant realm of England.’1
It is, I think, undoubtedly true, that a wave of genuine alarm and opposition to concession at this time passed over a great part of Protestant Ireland. The democratic character the Catholic question had assumed; the attempts of the northern Dissenters to unite with the Catholics on the principles of the French Revolution; the well-founded belief that some of the new Catholic leaders were in sympathy and correspondence with the democratic leaders; the incendiary newspapers and broadsides which were widely circulated, urging the Catholics to rest content with nothing short of the possession of the State; the outrages of the Defenders to which a more or less political significance was attached, and finally the great dread of innovation which the French Revolution had everywhere produced in the possessors of power, influenced many minds.2 At the same time the significance to be attached to the resolutions of the grand juries may be easily overrated. As I have already remarked, those bodies in the eighteenth century were very different from what they are in the present day. They were then constituted on the narrowest principles. They were notorious for their jobbing and for most of the vices that spring from monopoly, and they had, therefore, every reason to dread any measure which would infuse into them a new and more popular element. They were also to a very unusual extent under the influence of a few great territorial families connected with the Government and susceptible to Government inspiration. The word had evidently gone forth from the Castle that this machine was to be set in motion against the Catholics. The grand jury of Limerick acted under the immediate influence of the Chancellor, and that of the county of Louth under the influence of the Speaker, and these appear to have chiefly led the movement. It must be added, too, that although at least fifteen grand juries joined in the protest, there were several which refused to do so; that in Mayo ten dissentient jurors protested against the resolution of the majority; and that while some of the grand juries accused the Catholics of endeavouring to overawe the Legislature and subvert the connection, and expressed themselves hostile to all concessions of political power, others contented themselves with describing the Convention as inexpedient, and breathed a spirit of marked conciliation towards the Catholics.
A few sentences from a paper drawn up by Richard Burke, towards the close of 1792, show his estimate of the movement. ‘The Irish Government,’ he says, ‘gave me plainly to understand that they had come to an unalterable determination that the Catholics should not enjoy any share in the constitutional privileges, either now or at any future time.’ They soon began ‘to set up the Protestant against the Catholic interest, and to exasperate and provoke it by the revival of every sort of animosity, jealousy, and alarm. … Addresses were carried about by the known connections and dependants of the Castle from parish to parish, to obtain the signatures of the lowest of the people, and even marks of those who could not write. … The Irish Ministers endeavoured to inflame the Protestants against the Catholics, by an accusation which they knew to be false and believed to be impossible, viz. a supposed junction with factious persons of other descriptions, for the purpose of destroying the Church and State, and introducing a pure democracy. … Newspapers and publications paid for by, and written under the sanction of the Castle, were filled with the vilest scurrility against their persons and characters. Every calumny which bigotry and civil war had engendered in former ages was studiously revived. … Every man, nearly in proportion to his connection with or dependence upon the Castle (and few of any other sort) expressed the most bitter, I may say bloody, animosities against the Catholics. This temper was nowhere discouraged. An address was procured from the Corporation of Dublin, absolute creatures of the Castle, the purport of which was to perpetuate the disfranchisement of the Catholics. It was carried up with the most ostentatious and offensive parade to the Castle (where an entertainment was prepared for the addressers), through the streets of Dublin, a city in which three-fourths of the people are Catholics. … No ministerial member spoke during the whole session without throwing some aspersion either on the cause or on the persons. … None but ministerial persons, except Mr. Sheridan, showed any disrespect or virulence to the Catholics.’1
The debates on the question in Parliament extended to great length, and are exceedingly instructive. Several members urged with much force the absolute necessity to the well-being of the country, of gradually putting an end to the system according to which theological opinions formed the line of political division and the ground of political proscription. From the long period which had elapsed since the confiscations; from the extinction or expatriation of most of the descendants of the old proprietors; from the uniform loyalty shown by the Catholics during the past century, and from the great quantity of Catholic money which had been accumulated, and invested directly or indirectly in land, they inferred that it could be neither the wish nor the interest of the Catholics to shake the settled arrangements of property. They acknowledged that a new and democratic spirit had arisen in Ireland, and that very dangerous doctrines had been propounded among the Presbyterians of the North, but they contended that the Catholics were still untouched. The complete absence of political disaffection among them, which appears so strange, and at first sight so incredible, to those who are aware of the profound and virulent hostility to England which now animates the great body of their descendants, was again and again asserted. They had remained, it was said, perfectly passive during two Jacobite rebellions, and during five foreign wars, and Hely Hutchinson emphatically declared that, though he had been in the confidence of successive Irish Governments for no less than fifty years, he had never heard of any Catholic rising or intended rising of a political nature.1 In Ireland, as in all other countries, the Catholic gentry and priesthood looked with horror on the French Revolution, and nothing but a belief that political enfranchisement was only to be obtained by the assistance of the revolutionary party, was ever likely to throw a population of devout Catholics into its arms.
The Catholic question, however, was not, it was said, one that could be safely adjourned. Hitherto, the Presbyterian propagandism had been ineffectual, but who could tell how long it would continue so? England was now at peace, but she would probably soon be at war, and Ireland was likely to require all the energies of a united people to defend herself against invasion. A long-continued resistance would inevitably band the people into hostile camps, and revive those religious animosities which had formerly proved so calamitous. A habit of jealously scrutinising the relations of governors to the governed had since the French Revolution become the characteristic disposition of the time, and the American contest had established a doctrine about the connection between taxation and representation, which was glaringly inconsistent with the present position of the Catholics. If the question remained long unsettled, argued one member,2 with a remarkable prescience, it might some day to the infinite disadvantage of Ireland become an English party question, bandied to and fro according to English party interests. The extension of the franchise was the natural continuation of the policy of 1778 and 1782, and it was a policy which was amply justified by experience. It was the religious animosities, divisions, and incapacities that followed the Revolution that reduced the Irish Parliament to complete impotence, and rendered possible the destruction of Irish commerce. It was the subsidence of those animosities that led to the recovery of commercial freedom, and the acquisition of the Constitution of 1782. Without the co-operation of the two great sections of the Irish people, it was very doubtful whether that Constitution could be maintained, almost impossible that the gross abuses of the representative body could be removed. The fear of the Pretender, which was the original cause of the disfranchisement of the Catholics, had wholly passed, and the alarms for Protestant ascendency were greatly exaggerated. Political power, it was said, belongs naturally to the educated and wealthier classes of a nation; under the British Constitution it lies mainly with the possessors of landed property. Protestant ascendency rested on the fact that the land of Ireland belonged chiefly to Protestants; on the overwhelming weight which the English connection gave to Protestantism; on the coronation oath, which established the perpetuity of the Church. Considering the manner in which property was held in Ireland, the limited participation of the franchise which was demanded was never likely to affect seriously the balance of power. Catholics had actually sat in the Irish Parliament for more than one hundred and sixty years after the Reformation, and they had not been legally deprived of their right of voting at elections till the reign of George I.
Nor was popery any longer what it had been. Like Pitt and Burke, the Irish legislators believed that the intellectual and political influences which culminated in the French Revolution were leading to its complete and speedy transformation. Grattan, especially, urged that in the present state of belief, men do not act politically in religious combinations, and that where it appears to be otherwise, it is not the religion, but the disability, which unites them. ‘The spirit of the Catholic religion,’ said Colonel Hutchinson, ‘is softened and refined, … the power of the Pope is overthrown in France, tottering in Germany, resisted in Italy, and formidable nowhere. … The Catholics will forget to be bigots as soon as the Protestants shall cease to be persecutors.’ ‘The power of the Pope,’ said Grattan, ‘is extinct. The sting of the Catholic faith is drawn.’ ‘If popery should go down for twenty years more,’ said Day, ‘as it did the last twenty years, there would remain little difference between papists and Protestants but in name.’ ‘The old dangers of popery,’ said Langrishe, ‘which used to alarm you, are now to all intents and purposes extinct, and new dangers have arisen in the world against which the Catholics are your best and natural allies.’
The persuasion that the introduction of the Catholics would lead to the overthrow of an oligarchical monopoly, which most powerfully influenced the governing interests, was not one that could be easily produced in debate, but the opponents of the Catholic franchise contended with the same arguments as those we have seen in the letters of Westmorland, that in a country where the great majority of the people are Catholics, the enfranchisement of the Catholics would necessarily lead in time to the destruction of the whole system of Protestant ascendency in Church and State, perhaps to a disturbance of landed property as it existed since the Revolution, most probably either to a legislative union with Great Britain or to a total separation from her. It was idle, it was said, to suppose that a Protestant superstructure could be permanently maintained on a Catholic basis. If the franchise was conceded, it must sooner or later be conceded on the same terms as to Protestants, and this would immediately make it in the counties completely democratic. In England land was usually let on short leases, and the number of county electors was supposed to be hardly more than one hundred thousand. In Ireland almost all lands were let on leases for lives, so that almost every peasant has a freehold tenure, and, if not disqualified by religion, a right to vote.1 The introduction into the Constitution of innumerable forty-shilling freeholders of the most ignorant character, would at once change all the conditions of Irish political life, would enormously increase the corruption and lower the intelligence of the constituencies, and would also greatly endanger the stability of property. The Protestants are superior in property, the Catholics are superior in numbers, and the Catholics will, therefore, find it their immediate interest to promote such a reform in Parliament as would give the influence to numbers and take it from property.
In general, however, the opponents of Catholic enfranchisement took a lower tone, and in speeches that were singularly free from the passion, violence, and panic which the Lord-Lieutenant represented as so general, they resisted the measure merely on grounds of temporary expediency.1 The Protestant constituencies had not been sufficiently consulted. The Catholic Committee consisted of men who had little weight or position in the country. Time should be given for the recent measures of concession to produce their mature and natural fruits, and a fuller system of united education should be established before Catholics were entrusted with political power. Ponsonby, who on the question of Catholic suffrage at this time separated himself from Grattan, dwelt strongly on this point, and with Grattan he urged that the united education, which was already carried on by connivance in Trinity College, should be legalised and encouraged, and that some of the professorships as well as the degrees should be thrown open to Catholics. It was noticed that the junior fellows were in general favourable, and the senior fellows opposed, to the encouragement of united education in the University.2 On the whole Browne, who was the representative of the University, thought university opinion in favour of this concession, but argued that time should be given to gather its decisions. A motion in favour of granting degrees to Catholics in Trinity College was, however, brought forward by Knox, but for the present withdrawn.
In the course of the discussion of the Catholic question, the words Legislative Union were more than once pronounced. There were rumours that if the Catholic suffrage was granted, the Protestants in alarm would endeavour to obtain one. Burke mentions the persistence of the report, and while pronouncing his own opinion that a Legislative Union would not be for the mutual advantage of the two kingdoms, he thought that Pitt himself would have no desire to see a large body of Irish members introduced into Westminster.3 Grattan spoke of the possibility of a legislative union being effected by giving the Catholics the prospect of enfranchisement, and at the same time acting on the fears of the Protestants. He regarded such a measure with the most unqualified hostility, and maintained that it would be fraught with the worst consequences not only to Ireland but to the Empire. ‘It would be fatal to England, beginning with a false compromise which they might call a union to end in eternal separation, through the progress of two civil wars.’1 Curran spoke of a possible union with equal apprehension, predicting that it would mean the emigration of every man of consequence from Ireland, a participation of British taxes without British trade, and the extinction of the Irish name as a people.2
It is a curious subject of inquiry whether the idea of a legislative union had at this time taken any hold of the mind of Pitt, and this inquiry I am fortunately able to answer. Replying to a question in a despatch of Westmorland, which has been already quoted, he wrote: ‘The idea of the present fermentation gradually bringing both parties to think of an union with this country has long been in my mind. I hardly dare flatter myself with the hope of its taking place, but I believe it, though itself not easy to be accomplished, to be the only solution for other and greater difficulties. The admission of Catholics to a share of suffrage could not then be dangerous. The Protestant interest in point of power, property, and Church Establishment would be secure, because the decided majority of the supreme Legislature would necessarily be Protestant, and the great ground of argument on the part of the Catholics would be done away, as compared with the rest of the Empire they would become a minority. You will judge when and to whom this idea can be confided. It must certainly require great delicacy and management, but I am heartily glad that it is at least in your thoughts.’3
In spite of the fears and predictions of the Lord-Lieutenant, Langrishe's Bill passed through Parliament with scarcely any opposition,1 and although the Catholic petition for the franchise was rejected by 208 to 23, no pledge against the future extension was given by or required from the Government. Westmorland took great credit to himself, and his letters seem to me to show that he had entirely misread the situation of the country. He assumed that a few great borough owners and officials faithfully and adequately represented the Protestant sentiment, and he believed that the Catholic question had been settled, if not permanently, at least for a number of years. ‘I flatter myself,’ he wrote, ‘this question will be laid at rest for some time, at least until you move the Catholic subject again in England, which I trust you will not do without some consultation.’2 The position of the Government appeared to him exceedingly strong. The Protestants were satisfied because they believed that the Ministers were determined to uphold the Protestant interest. The Catholics were satisfied, for ‘they very well know to Government only are they indebted for the last concessions; the respectable part are extremely grateful.’3 ‘Everything here is most perfectly quiet, and from what I hear, I hope the Catholic Committee, if they are not dissolved, will be quite forgotten.’4 It was so far from having extorted the recent concessions that nothing would have been granted had not a leading portion of the Catholics seceded from it. The Dissenters appeared to the Lord-Lieutenant ‘unquestionably very hostile to the Catholics,’ and, except about Belfast and Newry, he had found no trace of disaffection among them.5 Napper Tandy had been ‘completely ruined in the city’ by his ‘Catholic declarations.’ The parliamentary Opposition being ‘suspected of Catholicism’ was equally discredited, and there was every reason ‘to count upon securing the peace and quiet of the country and having a strong Government.’ ‘The sense of the ruling part of the country,’ he continued, ‘both in and out of Parliament, is against giving power or franchise to the Catholics; till that opinion changes, any attempt of the Government (if the object was desirable, which I doubt totis manibus) would be mischievous and fruitless; whenever the temper changes, Government must be attentive to observe that change in time to take advantage of it, and get the credit of whatever may be done for the Catholics; that hour is very distant, and the more so from the late discussion.’1
The Catholic question, though the most important, was by no means the only subject which occupied the Irish Parliament in 1792. Much time was expended on the proceedings of Napper Tandy, who, resenting some remarks made by Toler the Solicitor-General, in Parliament, sent that official a challenge, and who when summoned to answer before the House for his contempt, evaded detection and only gave himself up on the day of prorogation, when the power of the House to punish him was at an end. The financial prosperity of the country was made a subject of much remark and congratulation. Parnell, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, was able to announce in February, that there was a considerable surplus, and that the revenue of the half-year exceeded that of the last corresponding half-year by 50,000l.2 Grattan argued that the state of the finances was so favourable that it would now be possible to relieve the poorest class of cottagers from the payment of hearth money. The Chancellor of the Exchequer fully admitted the prosperity, and was not unfavourable to the proposal, but he thought it advisable to wait till the unfunded debt accrued in former years was paid off.3 Another and less pleasing subject which occupied the House during two or three sessions, was the great increase within the last seven years in the consumption of spirits, and the policy was strongly urged of imposing new restrictions on the distilleries and giving additional encouragement to the breweries. In England the right of selling spirits was restricted to inns and taverns, but in Ireland ordinary shops were licensed, and Grattan asserted that nearly every seventh house throughout the country was a whisky shop.4
It was in the course of a committee on the spirit regulations in 1792, that the discussion was interrupted by confused voices on the roof, and the alarm was soon spread that the House was in flames. Every effort to arrest the conflagration proved vain, and in two hours the noble octagon, wainscoted with Irish oak, which had very recently excited the enthusiastic admiration of Wesley, was wholly destroyed. The fire did not extend to the other portions of the building, and the journals of the House were saved, but the picture of the conversion of the King of Cashel, which was the first great work of James Barry, perished in the flames. There were some rumours that the fire was due to a popish plot, but they never appear to have acquired much consistency, and they were completely set at rest by an inquiry which showed it to have been purely accidental. The business of the House proceeded without interruption in another room, which had been fitted up for the reception of the parliamentary records.
An interesting debate was raised in February, by a motion of George Ponsonby for leave ‘to bring in a Bill to repeal every law which prohibits a trade from Ireland to the countries lying eastward of the Cape of Good Hope.’ The charter of the East India Company was on the eve of expiring, and the occasion appeared favourable for pointing out a disadvantage under which Ireland laboured. By an Irish Revenue Act this Company had been granted a monopoly of the supply of tea to Ireland, and all goods imported by the Company had to be first carried to London. It was said that Ireland expended annually nearly 400,000l. in purchasing East Indian goods at a price which was thus artificially enhanced; that the direct trade with China from which Ireland was excluded had become lucrative and important, and that it was partly on account of this restriction that in spite of the marked prosperity of the last few years the whole shipping of Ireland was still, less than a third of that of Liverpool alone. It was urged upon the other hand that the China trade was one in which Ireland was peculiarly unfit to engage, on account of its great distance, and of the fact that the Chinese received only silver in exchange for their tea. An export of silver could not be carried on from Ireland without great injury to the country, and Adam Smith had said that it was good policy for a nation with but small capital, for a time to purchase East Indian goods from other European nations even at a higher price, rather than by engaging in a direct trade with a distant country to divert a large portion of its capital from employments that are essential to its internal development. The existing system, it was contended, was a peculiarly good one, for it did not injure Ireland while it was an undoubted benefit to England. It was a part of the price which Ireland paid to England for the preference that was accorded to her corn, for the monopoly that was accorded to her linen, for the protection of the Irish coast by the English fleet. The House acted in accordance with these latter arguments, and the motion of Ponsonby was rejected by 156 to 70.
A curious and very flagrant instance of Government corruption was this year brought under the notice of the House of Commons by Browne, the representative of the University of Dublin. The office of Weighmaster for the city of Cork, whose duty it was to weigh butter, hides, and tallow, had been formerly in the gift of the corporation of that city, but had lately been appropriated by the Government, which had divided the office into three parts, and had given all of them to members of Parliament. The incident acquired an unexpected importance when Ponsonby made it the text of a speech reviewing the whole condition of the Irish Parliament, and raising once more within the House that question of parliamentary reform which was rapidly becoming the most pressing and the most important in the eyes of the public. Even before the appointment of the three weighmasters, the country was reminded, there were no less than 110 members of the House of Commons enjoying places and pensions, and while the public revenue of Ireland amounted to 1,600,000l. a year, very near one-eighth part of this sum was divided among members of Parliament. Place Bills, Pension Bills, and Responsibility Bills, tending to assimilate the Constitution to that of England, were steadily resisted. Almost every piece of lucrative patronage in the country was bestowed on members of Parliament or on their relations. Peerages were created with a lavishness utterly unknown in England, and they were created mainly with the object of purchasing seats in the House of Commons. The religious denomination which comprised at least three-fourths of the people was absolutely unrepresented. Not more than eighty-two seats out of the three hundred in the House of Commons were returned by counties or considerable towns. Two-thirds of the representatives in that House were returned by less than one hundred persons. The men who had been most opposed to the Constitution of 1782 were the men who were employed to administer it, and they did so almost avowedly with the purpose of keeping Parliament in complete and habitual subservience to the English Ministers. This was the condition of the Irish Legislature at a time when revolutionary ideas were surging fiercely in the North, and producing a disposition to judge all political institutions by the highest ideal standards.1
The form of government, indeed, which had for a long time existed in Ireland only bore a faint and distant resemblance to a representative system. Between 1585 and 1692 there had been intervals amounting altogether to nearly eighty-five years during which no Irish Parliament sat.2 During nearly two-thirds of the eighteenth century the members of the House of Commons held their seats for the entire reign. The House of Lords was so constituted that it did not possess even a semblance of independence. At one time the bishops, who were appointed directly by the Crown, formed a majority of its active members. At other times the constant stream of ministerial partisans that was poured into it had made all real opposition an impossibility. It was chiefly important in Irish parliamentary history as an assembly of borough owners, and its moral authority was so low, that the restitution of its right of final judicature in 1782 was regarded by some good judges as a most dubious benefit. The anomalies of the borough system were not, as in England, chiefly the result of decay or time, but of innumerable creations under the Stuarts, made for the express purpose of rendering the Legislature completely subservient to the Crown. The same system in a different form had since then been steadily pursued whenever any symptoms of independence appeared. It had been the admission or rather the boast of the man who was now Lord Chancellor of Ireland, that in the contest under Lord Townshend, half a million of money had been expended in purchasing a majority. The declaration of 1782 made the Irish Parliament in theory independent, but it was the first object of the Ministers to regain in influence everything which had been lost in prerogative, and it seemed idle to expect that a Reform Bill could be carried through the two Houses without their concurrence. Flood, as the representative and inspirer of the Volunteer Convention of 1783, had endeavoured by the display of military force to overawe the Government and the Parliament, and through fear of a rebellion to force through, a measure of reform. It was a step, dangerous, unconstitutional, and exceedingly likely to produce a civil war, but it might have been successful. It failed mainly because Grattan and the more moderate reformers refused to support it. The volunteers were induced to dissolve their convention, to lay aside their arms, and to trust to the Government to carry out a measure which was plainly demanded by public opinion, and necessary if the Constitution of 1782 was to become a reality. The result of their forbearance was that the system of corruption was steadily aggravated, and the influence of the Government was steadily exerted in opposition to reform. On the Regency question, it is true, Parliament broke away from ministerial control, but no one seriously believed that it would have done so had it not been supposed that the King was hopelessly incapacitated, and that there was likely to be in consequence a permanent transfer of patronage and power. And no sooner had the Government triumphed than they resolved to render the Parliament even more corrupt and subservient than before, and no less than fourteen parliamentary places were created in a single year. Under the forms of constitutional Government the spirit was thus almost wholly lost, and the property, the intelligence, the opinions of the country had not much more than a casual or precarious influence over legislation.
Many of these facts have been already stated in the present work, but it may not be useless to bring them once more in a connected form before the reader. In speech after speech, and session after session, they were pressed upon the Irish public, with all the force of great eloquence, and with every variety of illustration. ‘The British House of Commons,’ said Conolly, ‘consists of 558 members, only 67 of whom are placemen, and no pensioners can sit in it. The Irish House of Commons consists of 300 members, 110 of whom are placemen or pensioners. They have adopted the whole power of the Privy Council before the repeal of Poynings' Law, and appear determined to let no law pass which is not agreeable to the English Minister.’ ‘There are about 140 men,’ said O'Neil, ‘who vote with Administration on every great question. Of these men 110 have places or pensions.’ Grattan described the system of Irish Government in 1792 as ‘a rank and vile and simple and absolute Government, rendered so by means that make every part of it vicious and abominable; practically and essentially the opposite of the British Constitution.’ ‘By this trade of Parliament,’ he said, ‘the King is absolute. His will is signified by both Houses of Parliament, who are now as much an instrument in his hand as a bayonet in the hands of a regiment. Suppose General Washington to ring his bell and order his servants out of livery, to take their seats in Congress—you can apply the instance.’ He quoted, with great emphasis, the opinion of Locke, that an attempt of the executive power to corrupt the legislative is a breach of trust, which, if carried into system, is one of the causes of a dissolution of Government, and a sure precursor of great revolutions in the State. ‘Such revolutions,’ Locke had said, ‘happen not upon every misadministration in public affairs. Great mistakes on the ruling part, many wrong and inconvenient laws, and all the slips of human frailty will be borne without mutiny or murmur,’ but when a long train of abuses and artifices all tending one way makes the design visible to the people, they will not long be avoided.
Not a single fact in this crushing indictment could be seriously disputed. Much was, however, said of the danger of discrediting existing institutions, and much of the necessity of judging all institutions by their fruits. It was admitted that the Irish parliamentary system was rather a system of nomination than of representation. It was admitted, or, at least, not denied, that little more than a fifth part of the House of Commons was really under popular control, and that an appeal to the people by dissolution was little more than a farce; but it was asserted by the Ministers, and fully acknowledged by the Opposition, that the country had for some years been steadily and rapidly improving, that many popular and beneficial laws had been enacted, and that some of them were of a kind which would hardly have been expected from a selfish oligarchy. The Irish laws against corruption at elections were very severe.1 The improved method of trying disputed elections, which was the most valuable of the reforms of Grenville, was almost immediately enacted in Ireland.2 The Irish Parliament readily followed the example of the English one in divesting its members of nearly all their invidious privileges.3 ‘Since 1779,’ said the Chancellor of the Exchequer, ‘the Parliament of Ireland has done more for the benefit of the kingdom than all the antecedent Parliaments from the days of Henry VII.,’ and ‘in this space the country has advanced to a degree of prosperity unhoped for even by the most sanguine.’4 ‘Under the present state of representation,’ said the same speaker on another occasion, ‘the prosperity of the country has increased as much as it could under any other representation whatsoever, and as to liberty, the English Acts, which were adopted at and since 1782, show that the Irish Parliament was as well inclined to the people in that respect as any Parliament could be, in whatsoever manner it might be chosen.’ In how many countries in Europe, it was asked, was civil and personal liberty as fully guaranteed by law as in Ireland? Since the accession of George III. Ireland had obtained the limitation of her Parliament by the Octennial Act, a free trade, the full participation of commercial intercourse with the British colonies in the West Indies and America, security of personal liberty by the Habeas Corpus Act, the benefit of all English treaties, the independence of the Legislature, the independence of the judges, the restoration of the final judicature. The Test Act had been repealed; the validity of Dissenters' marriages had been fully established; by far the greater part of the penal laws against the Catholics had been abolished, and a crowd of useful laws had been made for developing the resources and improving the condition of the people. A Legislature which could point to such a catalogue of measures enacted within thirty-two years could not be wholly contemptible, and with all its anomalies of representation the Irish House of Commons undoubtedly included a very large proportion of the best ability and knowledge in the community.
There was a time when such a defence would have been as readily acquiesced in by the country as by Parliament. But the French Revolution had raised up a new spirit, and made the government of Ireland, which had long been singularly easy, both difficult and dangerous. The nation had awakened to political life; a fever of agitation and speculation was abroad; and it was already evident to sagacious men that unless speedy measures were taken to reform the abuses of the Irish Parliament, that Parliament would soon lose all power of guiding or controlling the nation.
The combination of the Catholic question with the question of parliamentary reform, while it greatly increased the weight of each, had introduced some new and important divisions into Irish politics. Charlemont and Flood, as we have already seen, had always contended that the exclusion of the Catholics from all political power was essential to the security of Ireland, and they believed that it could be best maintained by carrying out the policy of parliamentary reform. They desired to sweep away the nomination boroughs and to establish the Protestant ascendency upon the basis of a free Parliament, and of an electoral body which, though purely Protestant, would comprise the great preponderance of Irish property, intelligence, and energy. To such politicians recent events were very displeasing, and it is remarkable that Sir Edward Newenham, who had been one of the warmest supporters of Flood, and one of the most ardent reformers of 1783, was now a conspicuous opponent of the enfranchisement of the Catholics and apparently a very lukewarm reformer. Flood had himself just died, but Charlemont, though his influence had greatly dwindled, was still the nominal head of the volunteers, and his letters show clearly the alarm and disgust with which he perceived the present tendencies of Irish politics. To his intimate friend, Halliday, who was a conspicuous reformer and also a conspicuous advocate of the Catholics at Belfast, he wrote on the subject with perfect frankness. ‘The Belfast sentiment,’ he said, ‘is, as you inform me, that a complete reform is necessary, that without it the excellent regulations proposed by the Whig Club would be of little avail, and that without Catholic assistance such reform may be despaired of. I have already mentioned to you,’ he continued, ‘though I fear without much avail, the danger which must always attend the calling in to our assistance auxiliaries more numerous than ourselves; but how are those dangers increased when an inveterate feud, excited and embittered by reciprocal injuries, has long had possession of the newly confederated parties whose reconcilement is now, after ages of animosity, suddenly and unaccountably produced by a recent and unnatural alliance. Complete your plans, and Ireland must become a Catholic country, but whether our masters will be as we are, may be matter of doubt, especially as toleration is certainly not the ruling principle of their religion, and as interest may possibly connect itself with principle to produce a contrary effect. There is no arguing from analogy between Ireland and any other country upon the globe, not only on account of the disparity of numbers, but also on account of those never-to-be-forgotten claims, which the slightest insight into human nature is sufficient to convince us will one day or other be made by those who have power to support them. … The bare idea that such claims may be made will at once put a stop to all money intercourse with England, and indeed with every other country, a circumstance which must, I think, be fatal to commerce. Who would accept of a mortgage on an estate held under a title disputed by those who are possessed of all power? And here I cannot avoid declaring an opinion on which my fears are in a great measure grounded, that should the plan now in agitation take place, it will necessarily lead to one of two, by me detested, consequences, either to separation or to union.’
Further on he recurs to the same idea in terms which are very remarkable. The prediction that the Government were about to bid high for the support of the Catholics, seems to him exceedingly improbable. ‘Indeed it is hardly possible that they should comply with demands so very extraordinary, and in which the interests of both countries are so deeply involved, unless it should be with the sinister view of finally compelling the Protestants of Ireland to call for a union, an object they have undoubtedly much at heart, and which they may reasonably think in a short course of time attainable by these means, though certainly by none other.’1
The views of Charlemont, however, were only held by a small minority of reformers. The great majority, both of those who with Grattan wished political power to rest chiefly in the hands of the possessors of landed property, and of those who, like the United Irishmen, would have established a purely democratic constitution, were now the advocates of the Catholics. They maintained that no reform could be adequate, which left the great majority of the people incapacitated on account of their religion; that no reform was probable, or perhaps possible, unless the Catholics united with the Protestants in demanding it. The English Government, on the other hand, were strongly opposed to any measure of parliamentary reform which might destroy or impair their absolute control over the Irish Legislature, and to maintain this authority unbroken was now the main object of their Irish policy. They had, however, no hostility to the Catholics, and were quite willing to give them votes in the counties, if by such a measure they could dissolve an alliance which was exceedingly dangerous to English ascendency, and prevent the spread of revolution and disloyalty. But the Irish Government was fully resolved, if possible, to perpetuate without change the whole existing system of monopoly and abuses. They were determined to resist all forms of parliamentary reform, all reduction of the patronage of the Crown, all attempts to give the Catholics a share of political power. Provided the usual bargains of peerages and pensions were duly made, they still believed that such a policy could be maintained, and when Parliament was prorogued on April 18, 1792, the country appeared to Westmorland essentially quiet, and the Protestant ascendency completely secure. A peerage must be granted to the wife of Sir Henry Cavendish, who, on the promise of a recommendation, had, together with three members who were dependent on him, abandoned the Ponsonby connection in 1791. Another must be given to Mr. Harman, with a remainder to Sir L. Parsons, and in this way a very formidable debater might be muzzled or conciliated. Lord Shannon, who was now separated from the Government, though he was ‘a very lukewarm patriot’ and very hostile to the Catholics, must be attached, and by these means all serious difficulties would be removed.1
The Lord-Lieutenant, however, soon learnt that he had miscalculated the energy of the movement. His letters during the remainder of the year are extremely curious, but they must be read with the same reservations as the letters from which I have already quoted. They were written by a strong opponent of the policy of Catholic enfranchisement, by a governor who was surrounded by, and derived his chief information from, men who were at the head of the anti-Catholic party, and who desired above all things to obtain a decisive English declaration in its favour.
The proposed Catholic convention he thought especially serious. It was intended, among other objects, to intimidate their own gentry and clergy, ‘as their clergy, and the Pope himself, are very much intimidated by the agitations of these factious democrats.’ The design, he said, was to elect a National Assembly, and such an assembly would be very alarming on religious, but still more on political, grounds. Is it to be supposed that the Catholic Committee, when reinforced by delegates from the whole country, ‘would ever give way to so aristocratic a Parliament as the present Irish House of Commons? Every acquisition made through their application, or rather intimidation, would increase their power and influence with their electors, and would eventually produce a total reform of the present Parliament, and how England is to maintain its management of an Irish National Assembly is beyond my ability to conjecture.’ It was ‘a deep-laid scheme, not only against the religious establishment … but against the political frame of the Irish Government, which England has, with very little variation and exception, managed to her own purpose.2 Westmorland painted in the strongest colours the Protestant ferment which was shown during the summer by the resolutions of the grand juries and of the county meetings, but he did not inform the Government of the great part which men connected with his Administration took in producing it, nor does he appear to have adequately described the amount of public support which the Catholic Committee found. The general condemnation of the sixty-eight seceders by their co-religionists, proved that while the old leaders of the Catholics were still exceedingly conservative, they had lost their power of guiding and restraining. It had been the policy of the penal laws to reduce as much as possible the numbers and influence of the Catholic landlords, and the unexpected but very natural consequence was, that the leadership of the Catholic body was passing into other and much less trustworthy hands. ‘The powerful Catholics,’ wrote Westmorland, ‘however they may wish, as all men do, to get rid of disabilities, would be very sorry to do anything offensive to Government; … if they could get rid of violent democrats that manage their concerns, they would be very desirous to be quiet.’1
There were, however, no means of preventing the convention. The legal opinions in its favour published by the Committee were unanswered, and Westmorland was obliged reluctantly to confess that, if it confined itself to petitioning, he knew no existing law by which it could be suppressed. Grand juries and public meetings might protest, but they could do little more, and the moral effect of their protests was destroyed by the attitude of the Belfast dissenters, and by the great Catholic meetings which now became common. In Dublin several thousand Catholics were addressed by Keogh, McNevin, and others, and a counter-manifesto was drawn up by Emmet in reply to the manifesto of the Corporation.2 The opposition of the bishops to the meeting of the convention was at first very decided, but the Catholic Committee at last succeeded in obtaining the co-operation of some of them and the neutrality of the rest.3 In October twenty-two counties, and most of the cities, had already elected delegates according to the prescribed form, and the other counties in a more irregular way, and instructed them to maintain a guarded language, but to petition for ‘the elective franchise and trial by jury.’4 ‘The committee,’ wrote Westmorland, ‘are attempting, and have to a certain degree gained, a power over the people … and if the convention should meet, will probably have such influence and authority as will be quite incompatible with the existence of any other Government.’1 ‘The general Catholic Committee,’ he wrote a month later, ‘have already exercised most of the functions of a Government. They have levied contributions; they have issued orders for the preservation of the peace—a circumstance perhaps more dangerous than if they could direct a breach of it—they maintain the cause of individuals accused of public crimes; their mandates are considered by the lower classes as laws; their correspondences and communications with different parts of the kingdom are rapid, and carried on, not by the post, but by secret channels and agents. If their general Committee have acquired this degree of power, what may not be apprehended from the power of the convention?’ Among the lower classes vague, wild hopes were rapidly spreading. They have been told that the elective franchise will put an end to rents and tithes and taxes, and there was an evident change in their demeanour towards Protestants. There were alarming rumours of the purchase of arms, but, except in one or two counties, Westmorland did not believe them to be founded, and a thousand wild stories of conspiracies and intended massacres were floating through the country. Imprudent words, such as, ‘We have been down long enough, It will be our turn next,’ ‘We shall not pay tithes after Christmas,’ have been repeated and re-echoed through every part of the kingdom. At the same time the Lord-Lieutenant adds that, though the lower orders of Catholics were often riotous, disorderly, and impatient of regular law, he had not heard of any symptoms of disaffection to their landlords.2
The evil, he thought, came chiefly from England, and it was in the power of England to arrest it. ‘The present agitation and impertinence of the Catholic body is a general impression … that England wished the Catholics to have further indulgence, was indifferent who was uppermost in Ireland, and would not take any part in any dispute that might arise; and I am very much inclined to believe that if they could once understand that English Government was resolved to support the Protestant Parliament and establishment, the serious part of this agitation would end.’1 Before Richard Burke came over there was no violence amongst the Catholics, and even now a clear intimation of the English sentiments may quiet the country.2 He had consulted with his confidential servants, and reports that ‘hardly anyone thinks the state of the country requires the immediate calling of the Parliament. They seem agreed in resistance, and in the cry that if England would but speak out that she would support the Parliament, the alarming part of the agitation would be at an end.’3 Fitzgibbon especially, said that Government should not yield anything at present,’ that ‘British Government should speak out plainly their determination’ to that effect, that this declaration must be inserted in the next speech from the throne, and that no conciliatory language towards Catholics should be used. If this course was taken, the Chancellor and the other confidential servants were agreed that there was nothing to be feared.4
The Irish Government did not believe that there was any serious danger of rebellion from Catholics, and they were for a long time completely sceptical about the possibility of union between Catholics and Dissenters. ‘The greater part of the country,’ wrote Hobart in November, ‘is perfectly quiet.’ ‘Mr. Keogh and a particular set of the Catholics openly profess their approbation of the levelling system, and exult in the success of the French arms. These men industriously proclaim a junction between the Catholics and the Presbyterians, a junction, however, which only exists between themselves individually and the Dublin and northern republicans, and undoubtedly does not include either the body of the Presbyterians or Catholics.’5 ‘Except a few troublesome spirits in Dublin, perhaps a majority at Belfast,’ writes Westmorland, ‘the Protestants universally consider the admission of Catholics to political power as dangerous to their property, and as the annihilation of their establishment. … I do not think that levelling principles have yet spread to any dangerous extent.’1 ‘I am convinced the Catholics have made no preparation for iusurrection, nor have it at present in contemplation, nor any material connection with the great body of Dissenters.’2 ‘There is certainly a dislike between Protestant and papist every day increasing.’3 ‘It is very extraordinary, but I believe the two sects of Irish hate and fear each other as much as they did one hundred years ago.’4 A revival of volunteering was much spoken of, and it caused the Lord-Lieutenant much anxiety, but he at first believed that it was mainly a Protestant movement against the Catholics.5 Belfast, he says, is republican, but so it has been ever since the American War, and the republicans ‘are far from agreed respecting Catholic emancipation,’ and many of them are most bigoted Protestants.6 In parts of the counties of Down, Armagh, and Louth, the riots between the Defenders and Peep-o'-Day Boys were constantly raging. ‘The lower ranks there have that inveteracy, that they are almost in a state of open war.’7
From an English point of view the divisions and ferment in Ireland appeared not altogether an evil. It had always been a leading English object to induce the Irish Parliament to support as large an army as possible, and the present time seemed well fitted for carrying out this object. ‘The augmentation of the army is a point that I believe, if the agitation continues, would meet with the universal approbation of the Protestants … and I am convinced they would be equally ready to incur any expense that may be rendered necessary.’8 Another remark, which is certainly not less significant, occurs in a later letter: ‘The Protestants frequently declare they will have a union rather than give the franchise to the Catholics; the Catholics that they will have a union rather than submit to their present state of degradation. It is worth turning in your mind how the violence of both parties might be turned on this occasion to the advantage of England.’9
On the whole, up to the close of November the situation, though anxious, did not appear to the Lord-Lieutenant seriously alarming. ‘If some pains are not taken to prevent it,’ he wrote, ‘there will be a very general spirit of volunteering with the Protestants … owing to the opinion I have so often told you, that the British Government means to desert them. Every intelligence that reaches me respecting the Catholics bears the most pacific appearance. … The mind of the people is certainly very much heated by political discussions, and therefore one cannot foretell what may occur out of fortuitous circumstances, but no one fact has yet reached me, that manifested any plan for insurrection from the Catholics. The regular formation of a government, and correspondence with one another, seems to be more alarming and more difficult to counteract.’1 Reports were persistently sent from England to the effect that arms had been largely imported into Ireland, but these reports after very careful investigation appeared either greatly exaggerated or wholly false. The real disaffection was confined to a few, though there was agitation and alarm over a great area. There had been serious riots at Cork and Bandon on account of the high price of provisions, and for some days the neighbouring country was ravaged by the mob. ‘The lovers of mischief have circulated stories that the troops were unwilling to act, but on every occasion they manifested the greatest alacrity.’ ‘I hope,’ continues the Lord-Lieutenant, ‘the pretence of famine will not set the country people into a flame. The common consequence of political discussions is to make them dissatisfied with their situation, and to these discussions may probably be in some measure attributed the corn riots in Cork.’2
Westmorland now agreed that it would be good policy for the Protestants to hold out to the Catholics hopes of future indulgence, but that the Government should avoid distinctly pledging itself. He promised, as far as he dared, to suggest this at a meeting of the confidential supporters of the Government which was about to take place, but so rooted and universal is the sentiment, that admission of the Roman Catholics to political power must overturn the property as well as political importance of the Protestant possessors,’ that he almost despairs of success. ‘The affairs of the Continent have strangely altered this question, but so far they appear to have only strengthened the Protestant determination to resist.’1
Though nearly a century has passed since they were written, some of the following remarks appear to me to have much more than a simply historic interest. ‘I think Great Britain still may easily manage the Protestants, and the Protestants the Catholies; but this to me is clear, that you cannot support your Government without the confidence of the Protestants; I don't mean as the Catholics would say, the parliamentary monopolists, but I mean the upper class of the country, and that by whatever means you lose that, your command over the country is at an end.’2 ‘It must always be in our recollection that the Protestants hold by Great Britain everything most dear to them, their religion, their pre-eminence, their property, their political power. And surely it is fortunate, whilst levelling doctrines are afloat, to have so large a portion of subjects, including the Parliament, the magistracy and almost all the landed property, attached to British connection and to the British Constitution, and pledged against innovation by their peculiar situation. In consequence of the Roman Catholic agitation and claims, if the hour is not come, it may not be far distant, when you must decide, I fear, whether you will incline to the Protestant or the Catholic, and if such a necessity should arise, it cannot be doubted for a moment that you must take part with the Protestants. The success of Roman Catholic objects must end shortly in the abolition of all religious distinctions, and in a union of those distinctions, which could only be acquiesced in by England upon a well-grounded persuasion that the connection of the Empire would be more insured by it, and that Ireland would then be more easily managed by English Government than by preserving the Protestants in their present situation. If such a union were once formed, and if the Protestants, after being forced into submission to it, should contrary to their expectations find themselves secure of their possessions without British protection, is it not to be feared they might run into the present Statemaking mania of the world, and form a Government more to the taste and wishes of the people than their present aristocratical Constitution? … You must at least expect resentment from the Protestants, and gratitude from so loose a body as the Catholics could not much be relied on.’ Even if the Government were to yield what was now demanded they ‘would not put an end to the grievance of monopoly, whilst 3,000,000 of people were only to have a small share in the election of 64 members, and 236 were to be returned by a few Protestants.’ Nor should it be forgotten that the Catholics themselves were by no means unanimous. ‘The Roman Catholic gentry of property, and the higher classes of their clergy, are averse to this violence and the levelling system connected with it, and however anxious for the points in question, they would wish to carry them by peaceable application, and without offence to Government; but the violent attacks and threats of the democratic leaders of the Catholics have forced the clergy into a co-operation with their plan, and the gentry into an acquiescence.’1
Since Pitt had intimated that a legislative union was in contemplation, the notion was evidently much in the mind of the Lord-Lieutenant, and the following curious passage shows his wishes and calculations, and especially his strong sense that the measure was only possible if the political division between the two religions in Ireland continued. ‘A union,’ he writes, ‘is certainly at present not looked to or talked of with disapprobation by the leading people; if the Protestants should get over their Catholic prejudices, adieu to that cure for this country; however, I do not think that very likely. I have never formed any scheme in my own mind or had any notion from you of the sort of proportion that might be feasible in legislative [sic], or internal or external taxes. Tell me loosely what you think; I may be quietly able to sound the ground a little. The great men dread very much the ruin of themselves and the Establishment in the present agitations, and would therefore not be impracticable. The Catholics would probably not be averse to what put them on the line with the Protestants and opened to them the State; but the city of Dublin would be outrageous, and that description of politicia, who can cabal and job here, but who would either not reach or be lost in the magnitude of the Court of London. Would you not find great difficulty on your side the water? The admission of the Irish members to the House of Commons must throw considerable weight to the Crown, a very fortunate thing, but would be much argued upon, besides the commercial difficulties we should have to encounter. The subject is full of difficulties, and the most requisite of all is not to let such an idea be suspected, for if it took a wrong turn one cannot tell what mischief it might produce. As it is generally considered here that this Catholic agitation is of English making, the Irish have imagined that English Government would not have raised such a flame but to serve their own purposes. … Such is the agitation and alarm at present that it is not possible to say what current the popular opinion may take. I should, I own, be very proud if I should be the manager in such a successful business. Waiting, however, for accidents, and making the most of them, we must for the present get over our present crisis.’1
I cannot find any evidence that Pitt responded to these speculations. He was evidently anxious and disquieted, but also perplexed about the course which Irish politics were taking. He expressed much alarm at the prospect of the Catholic Convention, but did little more than throw out suggestions for the consideration of the Irish Government. Might it not be wise to prohibit the import of arms into Ireland; to disarm the papists; to call Parliament together and propose to it an augmentation of the forces? ‘Whatever opinions may have been entertained by any of us here, as to the propriety of endeavouring to keep the Catholics quiet by prospect of further and gradual concession, we have never entertained a doubt of the necessity of showing a firm determination to resist every attempt to carry their point by force or intimidation. There seems but too much reason to fear that such is their present design, and indeed the unexpected turn of affairs in France is but too likely to give encouragement to the lovers of disorder in every part of the world.’ It is ‘an object of the most serious importance not to let Protestant volunteering on any pretence gain ground. Whatever may be its object or effect in the present moment, it must in the end be destructive to the authority of regular government.’ Pitt complains that he has not sufficient local knowledge to judge the question, but he approves of a suggestion of Westmorland that the creation of a militia might be the best way of checking the spirit of volunteering, and at the same time maintaining the peace of the country.1
Some doubts appear to have been again expressed about the willingness of the English Parliament to vote men and money to support the Irish Protestants, if these were confronted by a rebellion because they refused to give votes to the Catholics. Hobart wrote that England had no right to hesitate for a moment: ‘If the question now at issue was on the passing of a new law, it would undoubtedly be for the consideration of his Majesty's confidential servants whether to advise his Majesty to withhold or give his consent. But as the case now stands the Irish Parliament are on the defensive, and have an unquestionable right to call on his Majesty to assist them in supporting the Protestant Establishment.’ The complete legislative independence of the Irish Parliament had been fully acknowledged in 1782 and 1783, and it was therefore entirely inadmissible that the question of suffrage in Ireland should be discussed in the English Parliament. On all the many occasions in which English policy had involved the Empire in war, the Irish Parliament had loyally assisted England, and if for the first time since the Revolution an armed struggle broke out in Ireland, England must recognise a corresponding obligation. ‘The inseparable annexation of the crowns of Great Britain and Ireland so connects the two countries, that the enemies of the one must ever be considered the enemies of the other. In the late Spanish business, when his Majesty was likely to be involved in war, the Irish Parliament cheerfully came forward to support the common cause. No inquiry was made into the policy of the war, or into the interest Ireland might have in the object of dispute. Although it was well known it originated in a question of trade to a territory from the commerce of which Ireland was precluded by a British law, there was no abstract reasoning on the subject. The broad principle of supporting his Majesty against those whom he had thought fit to declare to be his enemies was admitted and acted upon in Ireland. The difference upon the present question as it bears upon Great Britain appears to be whether those who enter into rebellion against his Majesty are less the enemies of the Empire, than those who dispute a territory on the north-west coast of America.’ It is of course open to the English Ministers to ask their friends in Ireland to support their views, but Hobart, knowing the opinions of that class of Irish politicians, was convinced that it would be useless for them to do so. ‘I can assure you that an attempt to carry the franchise for the Catholics under the present circumstances would be perfectly nugatory.’1
French affairs were now beginning to influence Irish politics as powerfully as American affairs had done ten years before. The passionate enthusiasm which the principles of the Revolution had produced among large classes, rose higher and higher when it became evident that almost all Europe was likely to be involved in the struggle. The insulting manifesto of the Duke of Brunswick, the invasion of French territory and the capture of Verdun, were speedily followed by the check of the Prussians at Vatmy, and by the ignominious retreat of the allied army across the Rhine. French soldiers entered Worms, Mentz, and Frankfort: Savoy and Nice were annexed. Royalty in France was abolished, and the triumphant Republic held out the promise of support and brotherhood to every suffering nationality in Europe. In November, the great victory of Jemmapes placed Austrian Flanders at its feet; and before the year had closed, the French power extended to the frontier of Holland. England was now rapidly arming, and it was becoming-more and more evident that she would soon be drawn into the war.
The effects of these events in Ireland were soon felt. The new spirit of volunteering which the Lord-Lieutenant had deplored, and which he still ascribed chiefly to the Protestant dread of the Catholics, continued to increase, and it was evident that it was assuming a republican form. In July, a great meeting of the volunteers and inhabitants of Belfast, numbering about six thousand, voted unanimously an address to the French nation congratulating them on the capture of the Bastille, and also an address in favour of the Catholic claims, and it was observed that some of the most popular Dissenting ministers of the district spoke strongly in their favour.1 In Dublin a new military association was formed, modelled after the French National Guards and openly avowing republican principles. Napper Tandy, Hamilton, Oliver Bond, and Henry Jackson, appear to have been the chief organisers. They adopted as their emblem the harp without a crown, surmounted with the cap of liberty. It was intended to form three battalions, and it was reported that they were to bind themselves not to lay down their arms till they had obtained the privileges desired by the Catholics and a reform of Parliament, and that similar battalions were to be formed at Belfast and Derry.2
Hobart had written to England in September, requesting that all information that could be discovered about the relations of Ireland with France should be sent to him, ‘for although,’ he said, ‘I am not at all apprehensive of real danger, it is perfectly certain that there are at present a number of persons industriously employed in endeavouring to create confusion.’3 He mentioned that he had discovered that Broughall, an active agitator in the Catholic Committee, was in correspondence with Condorcet, though he had not as yet found anything political in his letters.4 It appears certain, however, that some political correspondence had for some time been going on between disaffected Irishmen and French agents. The mission of Bancroft in 1789 does not appear to have led to much result. In October 1790, before the agitations which have been described began, a long despatch, which was probably from his pen, was sent to the French Foreign Office. It opens with a full description of a dispute about the election of a Lord Mayor of Dublin, which had arisen between the Corporation and the Government, and which has now lost all interest, and the writer then proceeded to give a vivid, though probably not perfectly accurate, description of the state of the country. Religious hatred, he says, has gone down. Jacobitism is forgotten. Time has insensibly sensibly effaced the memory of old injuries. The oppressed majority of the nation have begun to breathe anew, and regard with gratitude a restoration of some of the rights of Nature. ‘A few years more, and the Irish may form a nation, which they have not been for six hundred years.’
Irish parties, the writer continued, are now quite unlike the old ones. They no longer grow out of civil war, violence, and proscription, but have assumed much of the character of parties in England. Corrupt men who think themselves neglected, and a few genuine patriots oppose the Government. The mass of the people, sunk in poverty and ignorance, have no more political influence than in Poland. The middle class are very few. Commerce has so little weight that there is not a single merchant in Parliament. The landlord class is the only one that is powerful.
From this position, says the writer, it is easy to forecast the reforms that may be expected. Everything that tends to increase the influence of the Legislature will be supported from all sides, but, little or nothing will be done to improve the condition of the poor, to throw a larger portion of taxation on land, to purify the representative system, or to diminish the number of useless places. Ireland had lost her great opportunity when the Convention of 1783, ‘a respectable and well-intentioned body, failed because it was not supported by some powerful men. Its failure has thrown a certain ridicule on Irish democracy, and it may be long before it is repaired.’1
In about two years, however, the aspect of Irish politics and the opinions of French observers had greatly changed. In December 1792, a French agent represented that under the guidance of six or seven daring conspirators an Irish revolution was rapidly preparing, and that France might find it a powerful auxiliary in the impending struggle.2 From this time Irish affairs assume some prominence in the secret archives of France, and an agent named Coquebert, who was established as consul at Dublin, seems to have been in close connection with some of the leaders of the United Irishmen.1
Charlemont complained bitterly that the volunteers were no longer what they had been; that the ‘silly and useless affectation’ of French names and appellations and emblems which had grown up among them had ‘brought shame upon the institution,’ and that, though he was still their nominal general, they had not for some years past in a single instance either asked or taken his advice. ‘No Egyptian hierophant,’ he said, ‘could have invented a hieroglyphic more aptly significant of a Republic than the taking the crown from the harp and replacing it by a cap of liberty.’ It had been the custom of the volunteers since their foundation to parade annually round the statue of King William III. on November 4, the anniversary of their institution, but this ceremony they now refused to perform.2 In the following month the United Irishmen issued an address to the volunteers, calling on them to resume their arms and urging the necessity of a parliamentary reform; and some of the Dublin corps voted thanks to them for their address.3 Rowan, Napper Tandy, Keogh, and Oliver Bond were the leading spirits in this new movement, and the United Irishmen, though chiefly directed by Protestants, now contained a considerable minority of Catholics among their members. ‘The great danger,’ wrote the Lord-Lieutenant, ‘is from the North, where certainly the volunteering spirit, from the dislike to the Catholics, has gained ground, and if that dislike should be done away … as they have fallen into the guidance of the middling rank of people, their republican principles may lead to every possible mischief.’ ‘Some corps have already expressed their determination to force a reform of Parliament.’4 French events occupied the foremost place in the newspapers; French victories were received by many with unconcealed delight, and there were some small attempts at illuminations and other demonstrations in the streets.
Grattan, like the other leaders of the old reform party in Parliament, was extremely anxious that the questions of reform and Catholic emancipation should be dissociated from disloyal and republican principles. He strongly censured the conduct of the new national guard in adopting republican emblems, declaring that though he wished the Ministers of the Crown changed, the Crown itself was very essential to the prosperity of Ireland. He was decidedly in favour of the Catholic Convention, but his advice to the Catholics was beyond all things to avoid ‘republican principles and French politics,’ and he warned them that men connected with the Irish Government were representing them as in a state of rebellion probably in order to induce the English to assist in crushing them.1 He refused to join the United Irishmen, but as the Whig Club had declined to commit itself to the two measures which he now deemed imperatively necessary, a new association called the ‘Friends of the Constitution’ was formed in December 1792, under the presidence of the Duke of Leinster. It was probably imitated from the society of ‘The Friends of the People,’ which had been established a few months earlier in England by Sheridan and Grey, and it was intended to promote in every was Catholic emancipation and parliamentary reform, while resisting all republican innovations.2 Grattan saw clearly that the ties of influence that bound the Catholics to their gentry were severely strained, and he feared greatly that the Government policy would give a confirmed ascendency to new and dangerous influences, which might one day precipitate the Catholic body into a career of rebellion.
The danger was indeed obvious. On the one side the Catholics found the Irish Government surrounded and supported by the men who were the most vehement and the most powerful opponents of their enfranchisement. Fitzgibbon, the Beresfords, the Elys, the great body of the large borough owners who were the pillars of the oligarchical system in Ireland, contended that the Catholics should be absolutely excluded from all share of political power. They had steadily exerted their influence against them both in the Parliament, in the Privy Council, and in the country. Men connected with or trusted by the Government had originated or stimulated the recent movement of the grand juries and county meetings, which had done so much to revive the smouldering embers of religious animosity. Nor did it appear probable that their sentiments would change, for they believed, and justly believed, that the continued subjection of the Catholics was essential to the maintenance of their political monopoly. On the other hand a party supported by a great part of the Dissenters of the North were labouring in the first place to abolish that oligarchical monopoly and to replace it by a democratic representation entirely irrespective of religious distinctions, and in the next place to abolish the system of tithes, which was the greatest practical grievance, both of the poorer Catholics and of the Presbyterians. And this party was now offering its alliance to the Catholics.
Some steps of approximation soon took place. Simon Butler, the chairman of the United Irishmen, drew up and published by the direction of the society a digest of the popery laws in Ireland, which exercised a powerful influence on opinion by its clear statement of the number and magnitude of the disabilities under which, at least by the letter of the law, the Catholics still laboured. The United Irishmen gladly admitted Catholics among their members, and in many addreses to the people they steadily advocated their complete emancipation. Keogh, who was the ablest of the new Catholic leaders, was a regular attendent at the meetings of the United Irishmen, and in the spring of 1792 Wolfe Tone, the founder of the United Irishmen, and one of the most active republicans in Ireland, became paid secretary of the Catholic Committee in the place of Richard Burke. He owed his appointment to the brilliant pamphlet which he had published in the previous September, and he has recorded the interesting fact that when that pamphlet was published he did not reckon a single Catholic among his acquaintances.1
On the Presbyterian side the tendency towards Catholic alliance was very marked. It was shown not only by the growing power of the United Irishmen and by many successive demonstrations at Belfast, but also by the significant fact that a large number of the most popular Presbyterian ministers were active members of the new party. At the same time it is no doubt true, that the primary object of the Presbyterians was not Catholic emancipation but parliamentary reform; that they had in general very little natural sympathy with Catholics; that their true and governing motive was the conviction that the existing system of oligarchical and English ascendency could only be destroyed and the Constitution of Ireland established by a cordial union of the whole Irish people. Though written with directly opposite aims and wishes, the confidential letters of Lord Westmorland agree curiously with the writings of Wolfe Tone and the other leading United Irishmen in their judgment of the situation. They both contended that a cordial union between the different religious sects in Ireland, and the introduction of Catholics into political life, would inevitably lead to a reform of Parliament, which would destroy at once the oligarchical ascendency and the controlling influence of the English Executive over the Irish Parliament, and would induce Irish statesmen to regulate their policy mainly by the public opinion of their own country. It was the Belfast doctrine that the English Government desired to keep the people divided in order to govern them, and that to put an end to this division should be first object of every Irish patriot.
That this was a predominating, or at least a rapidly growing, opinion among Irish reformers appears to me indubitable, though the letters of the Lord-Lieutenant not unnaturally magnified the signs of dissension. There were, however, still a few reformers, who, like Charlemont, would have severed the question of reform from the Catholic question. There were occasions in which it was found necessary to exclude the Catholic question from resolutions, lest it should produce dissension, and among the lower orders both of the Presbyterians and Catholics in Ulster, old religious fanaticisms and animosities still blazed fiercely in the conflicts between the Peep-o'-Day Boys and the Defenders. There was a curious contrast between the members of the Established Church and the Protestant Dissenters in their attitude towards Catholics. Among the former, as far as can be now ascertained, purely religious intolerance seems to have almost completely died away, and their opposition to the Catholic claims was chiefly an opposition of interest or monopoly. Among the Presbyterians a strong feeling of common interest was producing a Catholic alliance, but religious animosities, though greatly diminished, were not extinct, and it was not impossible to revive them.
All the best evidence we possess concurs in showing that there was as yet no serious disaffection in the Catholic body outside a small circle of Dublin shopkeepers. The spirit which had induced the Catholics to select as their agent and representative the only son of the greatest living opponent of the French Revolution still survived, and although they now felt keenly the disabilities that maintained them in the position of a subject and an inferior caste, they had no wish to throw themselves into opposition to the Government. No class of men had been more steadily loyal, more essentially conservative in their sympathies, than the Catholic gentry, and if the fatal policy of the penal laws had not reduced them to insignificance, if they had continued to form a large and important part of the land interest of Ireland at a time when landed property still retained its natural influence in the State, it is probable that the Government of Ireland would have proved little more difficult than that of any other Catholic country. The political importance of a large class of Catholic landed gentry would no doubt have been incompatible with the permanent maintenance for the exclusive benefit of a small fraction of the people of a religious establishment supported by tithes, but it would have supplied a safe guiding influence for the Catholic peasantry, and a great element of conservatism and stability in the country. But the articles in the penal code regulating the succession of land, for bidding Catholics to purchase land or to acquire those long and profitable leases which frequently developed into ownership, and offering to the eldest son of a Catholic landlord overwhelming offering to conform, had immensely aggravated the unfortunate disposition of property which the confiscations had begun; and the sposition had weakened, though it had not destroyed, the power of the few remaining Catholic gentry over their people. But like the Catholic prelates those gentry were still entirely on the side of loyalty, and a large portion of the seceding body had again been reconciled to the Committee.1
The general influence of the priesthood appears to have been on the same al its inferior members, it is true, there were grossly ignorant and disreputable characters, who were probably often connected with the Whiteboy outrages; and, as we shall see in the course of the narrative, there is some evidence that a new and dangerous spirit was beginning to ferment among them; but the priests had not yet become political leaders, and as a class they were still essentially conservative. This was the opinion repeatedly expressed by the Lord-Lieutenant, and it was equally the opinion of Wolfe Tone, who believed that there was no probability of drawing them into his cause till they were educated at home. It could scarcely, indeed, be doubted how a priesthood educated in continental seminaries must have looked upon a Revolution which had burst like a great antichristian religion upon the world, subverting the ancient order of belief and authority, plundering the clergy, destroying the altars, turning the greatest Catholic nation in Christendom into an implacable enemy of the Church. The peasantry, sunk in povety and ignorance, had no political interests, and, although they neither loved, nor feared, nor respected the law, and could be easily combined against tithes, or pasture land, or the enclosure of commons, or for the rescue of prisoners, or in resistance to bailiffs or creditors, they had not as yet shown the smallest disposition to rebel against the political order under which they lived. Over a great part of Ireland the people were in a high degree turbulent, riotous, and anarchical; but anarchy is a different thing from disaffection, though it prepares the soil in which disaffection can most rapidly grow. As yet, however, the seed had not been sown. On no other hypothesis can the perfect political quiet that prevailed in Catholic Ireland during the first ninety years of the century—in times when England was involved in great foreign or internal struggles, and in times when Ireland was almost denuded of troops—be reasonably explained. The time was soon to come when all this would change; but Catholic disaffection was still a rare and superficial thing, and even the violent party appear to have generally aimed only at legitimate and moderate reforms, though they were prepared to obtain them by revolutionary measures and alliances.
The election of Catholic delegates had greatly alarmed the Lord-Lieutenant, but before the Convention met he wrote that great divisions had become apparent: ‘Keogh, Byrne, and the Committee [being] for violent proceedings, the gentleman and people returned from the country for moderate, which I dare say Messrs. Keogh and Byrne will be obliged to acquiesce in.’1 ‘Though they are unanimous in the pursuit of their object, great divisions prevail amongst them, the delegates from the country having apprehensions from the levelling principles of the Committee, but particularly Mr. Keogh.’2 ‘Be assured,’ he wrote a few days later, ‘there is no preparation for insurrection at present. The United Irishmen are not in force at present, but they are a very popular justification for the exertions of Government. It may perhaps be thought advisable to attempt a militia when we put down the volunteers. … Every account we get of Catholic deputies mentions the most pacific intentions, but certainly Mr. Keogh, the present leader of the Catholic Committee, is the author and manager of the new volunteer corps.’3 ‘We must be cautious not to give offence to the old volunteers, a very great majority of whom are certainly on the present occasion strong supporters of the Protestant Establishment… I do not believe more than four hundred or five hundred in Dublin are concerned in this business [of the National Guard]. The Catholic shopkeepers in this, as in every other great town, have caught in a degree the French mania, but in equal proportion the Protestants are loyal.’4
The Catholic Convention met on December 3, and nearly at the same time a despatch arrived from England intimating clearly to the Irish Government that no military assistance could be expected. ‘The comfortless communication which we last received,’ wrote Hobart, ‘without even a private friend to intimate confidentially upon what ground we were made so completely independent, has driven us to look at home for our safety, which if we can effect we may deem ourselves peculiarly fortunate.’ Measures were accordingly taken to form a militia, which, the Chief Secretary said, was a matter of extreme difficulty owing to the general preference for volunteering. ‘You have much more,’ he added, ‘at stake in Ireland than you are aware of. You are taught to believe that it is a mere question between Catholic and Protestant. I wish it was. … Be assured, however, that it is of much deeper concern to us all, and that it goes to the complete overturning of the Constitution.’1
All the information that was received of the proceedings of the Catholic Convention concurred in representing it as loyal and moderate, but it took one step which was naturally very offensive to Westmorland, and which clearly showed its sense of the hostility of the Castle. It determined to petition the King directly, and not through the medium of the Irish Government. The petition was signed by Dr. Troy and Dr. Moylan on behalf of themselves and the Catholic prelates and clergy, and by the several delegates for the different districts they represented; and five delegates, including Keogh and Byrne, were selected to present it to the King. ‘You now probably see,’ wrote Westmorland when this step was announced, ‘the consequence of having so long delayed the Garter, which would have prevented such a proceeding. The Catholics are persuaded that the English Government wish them better than the Irish; they have brought the point to issue. The similar belief has produced an alarm and consternation amongst the Protestants, the ill effect of which, if not done away, in its various consequences is beyond my expression or even calculation. … You must contrive to satisfy the Roman Catholic delegates that the English and Irish Government have the same sentiments, or you must be convinced of the impossibility of carrying on the Government. It is certainly our business to conciliate the Catholics as much as we can without losing the Protestants. … I am convinced the Catholics do not generally mean, nor are the knot of disaffected prepared for, mischief at present; and I am equally convinced that no concession will satisfy the present democratic spirits who have the management of the Roman Catholics, the present frame of the Government existing; but I by no means include the general body of the Catholics. The gentry and priesthood are much attached to monarchy, but these confounded factions of the towns have persuaded them that everything is to be carried by intimidation. I mean to try the experiment of the militia. If the Protestants, backed by the Government, come boldly forward, this levelling system will be of little importance. However, in the present troubled state of the world, it is essential to be prepared in force.’ He asks for more troops. ‘Our conduct,’ he says, ‘for the next month is most critical. … However, it is unavoidable, and I am satisfied for the present there is no danger, whatever the levelling spirit and success of the French may hereafter produce.’1
He now acknowledged that Protestant opinion was by no means altogether hostile to the Catholic claims, though he believed that this disposition was the result of a mere transitory panic, and was evidently anxious that the English Government should not embark on a policy of conciliation. ‘The success of the French, the probability of England being involved in war or insurrection, and being unable, and what is worse, the suspicion that she is unwilling, to assist Ireland, frightens the Protestants. The violence of the levellers and republicans has altered in some degree the opinions of many on the Catholic question, and they begin to feel and express in conversation the necessity of attaching the Catholics to the Constitution. I speak of the city only. I have no reason to think, and do not believe, this temper has spread to the country. If the question of elective franchise was to be tried in the temper of this hour, the Catholics, with the assistance of Government, would have many friends; but I cannot say the concession could be carried by any exertion, or that if it was forced it would not give such offence to the Protestants as would ruin the Government absolutely, and lay it entirely open to every popular democratic concession that could be started; in short, that every public man would quit the English attachment, which they would consider as untenable, and endeavour to acquire strength and favour in the cause of the Irish nation. … Whether the concession is or is not beneficial to England, need not be the question. I rather think not; should the Protestants be much divided on the point we cannot support it, but it is at best our business to let them understand that the concession, whatever it may be, is their own choice and not any compulsion or desertion of ours. I believe the conciliatory temper to be the panic of the hour, and that the anti-Catholic feeling upon the least stand being made will return. … The Chancellor, Speaker, Parnell, and others, seem to consider English Government ruined in the concession. I do not, therefore, recommend anything different from the tenor of my despatches at present. … If the temper of the country will bear conciliation, you shall have timely notice, and if it is thought expedient to do anything for the Catholics, let me manage. I can tell what can and what cannot be done, and at least whatever is palatable should come from the staunch friends of Government. … On no account give any encouragement or expectation to Keogh or the deputies. If anything appears to be obtained by the influence of Keogh particularly, the whole Irish Catholics will follow him, and be assured he has views of the most alarming nature to and present Constitution. … You must at all events either by yourselves in England or through me express a firm determination to support the Constitution, and if I could relieve the Protestants from the unfortunate jealousy they have, the present panic would cease. … Don't run away with the notion of concession being easy or even practicable, but in whatever we do we must conciliate the Protestant mind to England, or his Majesty, at least his Government, will not long have power in Ireland. I really believe one word from England of support of the Constitution against whoever should attempt to disturb it, would have astonishing effect. … The present hour is not fit for concession if it can be avoided, but perhaps by cautious management the difficulties may be diminished if you wish it. We must avoid, till we see our way, positive pledging one way or another.’1
The leading members of the new National Guards invited all the volunteer companies in Dublin to meet on December 9, to celebrate the triumph of liberty in France. The Government, on the day immediately preceding the intended muster, issued a proclamation forbidding all seditious assemblies, and commanding the magistrates, if necessary, to suppress them by military force. It was drawn up in terms that were carefully chosen, so as not to be offensive to the old volunteers, and no attempt was made to disobey it. The disaffection, however, was daily increasing, and seditious newspapers, seditious broadsides, seditious ballads sung in the streets, seditious cries in the theatre, and attempts, though hitherto in vain, to seduce soldiers from their allegiance, all indicated the uneasiness that was abroad. ‘If the levelling spirit,’ wrote the Lord-Lieutenant, ‘is not checked, the worst consequences may ensue. What we chiefly want is to undeceive the people respecting the indifference of England. … The reforming spirit has spread surprisingly within the last fortnight.’ He urgently implores that fresh troops should be sent over.1 The United Irishmen proposed to consolidate the union of sects by sending a deputation to the Catholic Convention, but that body, with remarkable prudence, declined to receive it.2
In Dublin, but the Lord-Lieutenant thought only there, a belief had spread among men of property that England was ‘indifferent about the fate of the establishment and property of Ireland,’ and it had thrown them ‘into a most miserable state of despondency, which has worked a spirit of conciliation to the Catholics, upon the principle of attaching them to the Constitution to save it from the levellers.’ He adds, however, that it was panic, and not conviction; that the Chancellor, the Speaker, Beresford, and Parnell were unchanged in their sentiments, and that Catholic suffrage, if carried against the opinion of the privileged classes of the country, would, he feared, very probably ruin the English Government. ‘All the politicians would, either from resentment or policy, look to popularity in Ireland, and … every unpleasant Irish question of trade, particularly the India one, and every popular scheme to fetter English Government, would be pressed in an irresistible manner.’ The great Catholic body is not connected with the United Irishmen, but their leaders in Dublin are. Their conduct ‘renders concession dangerous, for if given in the moment of intimidation, who can answer for the limit that may give content? … If the Protestants are alienated, the connection between the countries in my opinion is at an end. If the concession is found advisable, and we can manage the business in a manner not to alienate the Protestants, it will not be so dangerous, though it will certainly be hazardous, and at least every step of conciliating the two descriptions of people that inhabit Ireland diminishes the probability of that object to be wished, a union with England. Before the present panic, it was a good deal in the thoughts of people, as preferable to being overwhelmed by the Catholics, as Protestants termed concessions, or continuing slaves, in the Catholic phrase. That conversation, since the Protestants have been persuaded that England either could or would not help them, has subsided.’ More troops, he again says, are necessary to the security of the country, but he still believes that ‘a big word from England, of her determination to support the Protestant Establishment, would set everything quiet.’1
‘The most able and most attached to English Government,’ he wrote two days later, ‘will not hear of concession in the present state. The Chancellor professes himself indifferent on the question, except as a servant of English Government, to which he considers himself bound, and in his mind concession under the present circumstances is so fatal to the English connection, that every risk is to be run rather than yield. I asked him in very strong terms whether he was prepared for a rebellion in the North and South at the same instant. He said (in which I suspect he was right) that he did not apprehend there was much danger of either; that gentlemen were very bold on paper, but very shy of risking either their lives or their fortunes, but that, if it was to happen, England had better undertake a war in Ireland whilst the Protestants were her friends, than when she had no friends in the country, which would be the case after the repeal of the Popery Code; that it was ridiculous to suppose that England could manage Ireland by any influence of Government, if the public voice directed the Government, and that in a few years she must have recourse to a second management of the sword or conquest.’ Such an opinion from the ablest of the supporters of the Government had naturally great weight, but Westmorland professed himself ready to do what was possible to meet the wishes of the English Ministry. ‘I cannot,’ he says, ‘consider the Catholics, in a political light, as a powerful body in the country, nor should I be much afraid of their political influence; but if they can establish an assembly or representative body of the people, and … procure [sic] the people to follow them, such a sect of innovators, if encouraged by success, will eventually overset an aristocratical Government. There is certainly great danger in provoking rebellion, but there is much greater chance of provoking it, if the Government should attempt anything for the Catholics and should fail. But in my judgment the greatest danger is in concession, if the Protestant mind should not be strongly for it; for if the Protestants in Parliament, as well as out of Parliament, think England has sacrificed them, be assured it will never be forgiven. The sense of the Protestants, who, unless there is a revolution like the French one, will always have the power and management, will run against the English Government.’ The best course is to be prepared for refusal and resistance, unless the Protestants decidedly desired conciliation.1
The general tone of the Catholic Convention, Westmorland acknowledged, was very moderate, and Keogh greatly increased his influence in it by entirely repressing all evidence of a levelling spirit.2 It was chiefly owing to him that the United Irishmen abstained from sending a deputation to the Catholic Convention, but the Convention passed a warm vote of thanks to Belfast; they determined, contrary to their first intention, not to restrict their petition to votes and juries, but to ask for a full admission to all the rights and privileges of the Constitution, and they sent the delegates who carried this petition to England by way of Belfast, where they were received with a great outburst of popular applause.3 The main body of the Catholics gave little or no cause for apprehension. General Dundas had been visiting the South, and reported that the food riots at Cork had only become formidable on account of the timidity of the magistrates, that in all the country he passed through the people were perfectly quiet, and that the lower orders appeared absolutely indifferent to political discussions. ‘The Catholics,’ said Westmorland, ‘have to my belief no scheme, plan, or thought of insurrection.’ In Dublin opinion was rapidly calming; a strong spirit of loyalty was manifested, and the levelling party appeared inconsiderable, but Defender riots were extending in Louth and Monaghan, though the troops were never resisted. Londonderry was the centre of a most desperate revolutionary spirit, and all through the North volunteering was proceeding rapidly. Ulster alone, at the close of 1792, appeared to the Lord-Lieutenant a serious source of danger. On the Catholic question he very significantly observes, ‘The temper of the people, with exception to our leading Cabinet friends, is grown much more conciliatory.’1
The method of writing history chiefly by extracts from ministerial letters is, I fear, very tedious to readers, but in the particular period with which I am now concerned, it is, I believe, the most trustworthy that can be adopted. That period was not one of salient or dramatic interest, but it was vitally important in Irish history, for it prepared the way, not only for the great Rebellion of 1798, but also for the profound and permanent alienation of the Irish Catholics from England. To ascertain, as far as possible amid conflicting statements, the true sentiments of the different sections of the Irish people, to follow and explain the strangely fluctuating and discordant judgments of the Irish rulers, to disclose the secret springs of their policy as they are revealed in their confidential correspondence, is here the chief duty of the historian. It is plain that the government of the country had become much more difficult since the troubles in France, but if my estimate be correct it is equally plain that the situation was still far from desperate. The steady progress of material wealth was making the conditions of life more easy, and in some degree correcting the great evils which were due to the extirpation of Irish manufactures by England. Ulster had caught the passion for reform, but though much speculative republicanism may have existed among the Presbyterians, and though most of the United Irishmen may have convinced themselves that reform could only be extorted by revolution, there were probably very few who would not have been contented with reform. The same assertion may be made still more confidently of the Catholic democracy of the towns, while the great body of the Catholics were as yet almost untouched by politics and completely subservient to landlords and prelates who were devoted to the connection, and extremely hostile to republican ideas. The Catholic prelates were now cordially in favour of the Convention, and the reconciliation of the seceding party to the old Committee had effectually moderated its proceedings.1 It was plain, however, that large measures of reform were required, and would the Protestants of the Established Church who had the ascendency in Ireland consent to carry them? The Catholic question, as we have seen, had been excluded from the objects of the Whig Club, and when an attempt was made in November to take it into consideration, the resolution was negatived by a majority of thirteen.2 The Association of the ‘Friends of the Constitution,’ however, which was a purely Protestant body presided over by the Duke of Leinster, and supported by Grattan, made ‘an effectual reform in the representation of the people in Parliament, including persons of all religious persuasions,’ its first object.
A clear distinction must here be drawn between the main body of the country gentlemen, lawyers, and yeomen, and the small group of great borough owners who chiefly controlled the Parliament. There is reason to believe that Grattan truly represented the former, and that a majority at least were quite prepared for Catholic enfranchisement. It is true that the cry of danger to property held under the Act of Settlement had been raised by Fitzgibbon, and had influenced some considerable minds, but there is I think no evidence that it had spread very far. The fact that in our own day popular Irish politics have taken the form of an organised attack upon landed property, will probably mislead those who do not consider how widely the events which we have witnessed, differ from those which were feared in 1792. In our generation a small body of Irish landlords, divested through legislation and social changes of their former political power, and at the same time firmly attached to the connection and the Union, have found themselves confronted by an organisation which was hostile to both, and which accordingly made the expatriation and ruin of the class who were the chief supporters of the English connection one of its main objects. Having signally failed in obtaining the support of the great mass of the Irish tenantry by appeals to national or anti-English sentiment, it skilfully resorted to the policy of appealing to their cupidity; it gave the movement an essentially agrarian character by making it a war against rents, and it thus succeeded for a time in combining them in a dishonest compact to refuse the payment of their debts. The movement was favoured by a period of genuine distress; by some undoubted acts of landlord harshness committed chiefly by men who had purchased land at the invitation of the Government under the Encumbered Estates Act, and who treated it as an ordinary form of investment; by the system of party government which gives a wholly disproportionate power to isolated groups of members, who are indifferent to the interests of the Empire; and especially by the passing of a land law which was popularly attributed to the agitation, and which had the undoubted effect of confusing the ownership of land, and of transferring without compensation to one class of the community, a portion of the legal property of another. But the question in 1792 was not one between landlords and tenants. It was whether existing titles could be seriously disputed by the descendants of those who had been deprived of their properties by the Act of Settlement. The great majority of the descendants of the old families had long since been scattered over the Continent. Nearly one hundred and thirty years had elapsed since the Act that was complained of. Innumerable purchasers, leaseholders, mortgagees, and other encumbrancers had grafted new interests on the existing titles. The security of a great part of the property of the Catholics of Ireland was inextricably blended with them, and the tenantry and the labourers would have gained nothing by their overthrow. Under such circumstances an attempt to impugn them might well be deemed in the highest degree improbable, and the success of such an attempt almost impossible.1
But apart from this, the Protestant gentry had little to lose and much to gain by Catholic enfranchisement. The hierarchy of middle men which rose between the cottier and the owner of the soil was a great economical evil, but it at least saved the landowning class from that invidious isolation which is now the great source of their weakness and their unpopularity. Their political ascendency over their tenants was indisputable, and an Act which multiplied the voters on their estates tended directly to their political importance. On grounds of interest they had no reason to regret the destruction of the corrupt oligarchical monopoly which had so greatly dwarfed their consequence. On public grounds they had every reason to desire it. They had always murmured against the system of tithes, and their theological feelings were extremely languid.
That the great borough owners were, as a rule, strongly opposed to Catholic enfranchisement is unquestionable, and this fact was the chief difficulty of the situation. It was, however, contended by the supporters of the Catholics that the influence of the Government on this class was overwhelming; that the opposition to Catholic enfranchisement drew its real force from the countenance which was given to it by the leading members of the Irish Government, and that if the Government pronounced decidedly in favour of the measure, all serious opposition to it would melt away. The opinions of Richard Burke derive their special value from his confidential relations with some of the leading members of the Irish Parliament, and a few sentences may here be quoted from a memorial which was presented by him to Lord Grenville in the beginning of November. ‘The upper ranks of people,’ he wrote, ‘who are neither Catholics nor Dissenters, it is commonly thought are almost universally free in their religious opinions, except the women and children.’ While the English Ministers had long desired ‘to raise the Catholics from their intolerable oppression,’ ‘the effective part of the Irish Administration had formed a conspiracy to perpetuate that servitude,’ set themselves at the head of the Protestant faction, ‘and brought out the grand juries and corporations in order to embarrass the English Government.’ The Ministerial press is full of violent attacks on the Catholics and their supporters. ‘The Protestant ascendency,’ a new term, is much come into vogue. A report has been industriously spread that the English Ministers were encouraging the Catholics in order to bring about a legislative union, and ‘the word union in the popular phraseology of this country signifies a conspiracy against the liberties of Ireland.’ ‘If the Irish Ministers say there is any difficulty in carrying any measure for the Catholics, they deceive the King. The opposition to it is artificial, and a Ministerial instigation. It will cease when the cause is withdrawn. I have seen some of the great Parliament men. One of the first of them (and commonly supposed to be the most hostile to the Catholics) said, Let Mr. Pitt send an order that it shall be done, and it will be done. He gave me to understand he was very willing to do his part. … He expressly denied that the sense of the Protestant gentlemen was to be taken from the grand juries. … When the Catholics are restored to their constitutional rights, it will be the most popular measure of his Majesty's Governmet—I mean among the Protestants of Ireland.’1
The English Government appears to have to a great extent adopted this view. The decisive word against the Catholics for which Lord Westmorland had so long waited was never uttered; but instead of it, after a long period of hesitation, there came a clear intimation that the English Ministers were resolved to insist on the liberal policy they had formerly recommended. In November Pitt wrote that from inquiries made by a confidential agent in Birmingham he had reason to fear that the Irish Catholics were very generally armed, and that ‘any opposition to their Convention would be the signal for a general rising.’ ‘My opinion,’ he said, ‘is invariable as to the necessity of vigorously resisting force or menace; but the more I think on the subject the more I regret that firmness against violence is not accompanied by symptoms of a disposition to conciliate, and by holding out at least the possibility of future concession in return for a perseverance in peaceable and loyal conduct. … If the contest is necessary to support regular government and to resist the appearance of violence, I think the sort of support I have mentioned will be readily given from hence to that extent. But if the Protestants of Ireland rely on the weight of this country being employed to enforce the principle that in no case anything more is to be conceded to peaceable and constitutional applications from Catholics, that reliance I think will fail, and I fairly own that in the present state of the world I think such a system cannot ultimately succeed. … I state this without reserve to yourself. You may be assured that not the slightest intimation of this nature has been given by me to any one connected with the Catholics. … I am sorry to say the news from the Continent is far from improving.’2
This last sentence was probably by no means irrelevant to the determination of the Government. The events in Flanders spread universal disquietude through England, and were gradually persuading the Ministers that they were on the eve of a struggle, which would task all the resources of the Empire. ‘Under the present circumstances of this country and of Europe,’ wrote Dundas about a month later, ‘it is particularly desirable, if it be possible, to avoid any occasion which might lead those who are in general attached to order and regular government to join themselves with persons of opposite principles. It seems, therefore, to be of the utmost consequence not to lose the assistance of the Catholics in support of the established Constitution.’ He accordingly directs the Lord-Lieutenant to ‘hold a language of conciliation’ towards them, and he announces his positive conviction that it is for the interest of the Protestants of Ireland, as well as the Empire at large, that the Catholics, if peaceable and loyal, should obtain ‘participation, on the same terms with Protestants, in the elective franchise and the formation of juries.’1
After the letters I have quoted, the decision could not have been agreeable to the Lord-Lieutenant, but he declared himself ready to execute the wishes of the Ministers, and to endeavour to ‘guide the opinions of his Majesty's servants’ towards conciliation. The task, he said, was very difficult, as ‘the Chancellor, the Speaker, and many other of the confidential friends of Government, are averse to its policy.’ But ‘the circumstances of Europe, which have their effect in this country, make such a risk expedient and perhaps unavoidable.’ ‘With regard to the dispositions of the persons of weight and influence in Ireland, who have acted in opposition to Government,’ he said, ‘I believe that Lord Shannon, Mr. Conolly, and Mr. Ponsonby are still decided in resisting the Catholic claim, if they could see the practicability of success… The Duke of Leinster and Mr. Grattan have decided for the Catholics, and also for a reform in Parliament, and their object will be to induce the Catholics to assist in this scheme. Our endeavours, on the contrary, will be pointed to detach them from such pursuits. The northern counties are growing extremely violent for effecting reform in Parliament, and are raising volunteer associations with this view. It will, I fear, be necessary to increase our forces in that part of the kingdom, and I could wish that a frigate were stationed at Belfast with a view to overawe that town.’1 It was reported that serious disturbances had broken out at Louth, and ‘the levelling system, under the mask of reform, is spreading furiously.’ ‘The source of all the mischief is the town of Belfast. The merchants of that town are the persons principally at the bottom of it.’ Keogh is connected with the worst of the agitators. ‘He is a reformer and a leveller, and be assured no Catholic concession will answer his purpose.’2 ‘I cannot help thinking,’ wrote the Chief Secretary, ‘there is more ground for alarm in this country than in any part of the King's dominions. Our security is in the army, and if that is not kept up, the levellers of the North will overawe every part of the kingdom. Recollect that we have no militia, and that the volunteering system affords every man almost a right to arms.’3 ‘The levelling spirit is spreading so fast here, and such pains are taking to raise volunteer corps connected with it, that a considerable military force will be necessary in Ireland.’4 An address had already been issued by the United Irishmen to the volunteers, to convene a Protestant assembly at Dungannon, for the purpose of urging a reform of Parliament.5
The crisis was a very anxious one. ‘Though I do believe,’ wrote the Lord-Lieutenant, ‘at this moment we can carry the Catholic concession of juries and elective franchise, yet it is a concession of fear and not inclination.’ ‘It is a most delicate and difficult business. I own I am more afraid of the weakening of Government in other points than even of the Catholic concessions.’6 The intended speech from the throne, as sent over to England, contained no allusion to the Catholics, but the English Ministers inserted a clause in their favour, and peremptorily enjoined that it should be read. The Lord-Lieutenant said that he would obey, but that both the Chancellor and Speaker considered it most mischievous, and he once more asked for a declaration that this concession was to be the last.7 ‘You may pretty well argue the unpleasantness and difficulty of my situation,’ he continued, ‘when the men of talent and lead in his Majesty's service consider themselves sacrificed, particularly by the subject being mentioned in the speech. They are all in so unpleasant a temper that I can hardly persuade them to consult upon anything.’1
If the government of Ireland had been conducted upon principles which were really constitutional, there would have been at this time a great change of persons. A complete revolution of policy was contemplated, and it was to be carried in opposition to the known opinion of Lord Westmorland's Government. In 1792 the Parliament had refused to concede to the Catholics the county franchise, even when it had been so artificially and unequally limited that only an infinitesimal fraction of them could have benefited by it. It had formally, and by an immense majority, ordered a perfectly respectful petition, asking for some share in the franchise, to be removed from the table, and the leading persons in the Government had placed themselves at the head of an anti-Catholic movement, which was based, not on grounds of mere temporary expediency, but on the ground that any admission of Catholics to political power would be fatal to the Constitution. The same Ministers were now to support in the same Parliament a Bill for conceding to Catholics the county franchise on exactly the same terms as to the Protestants. Among the great unwritten changes in the Constitution which in England had followed the Revolution of 1688, none was more important than the gradual establishment of the maxim that, when the policy of a particular set of Ministers is discarded, those Ministers should resign their seats in favour of the men who have identified themselves with the policy that has triumphed. By such means only can the consistency of parties, the authority of Government, and the character of statesmen be maintained, and when, as in 1829 and 1846, the disposition of parties renders such a change impossible, a great blow is given both to public confidence and to party government. But in Ireland policies did not change with the ebb and flow of opinion manifested at general elections, and Ministers held their power by a wholly different tenure from those in England.
It is a remarkable fact that, even after the Parliament met, the Government were uncertain what measure of relief was to be granted to the Catholics. The Catholic deputation was very graciously received by the King, and dismissed in a manner which clearly showed that the Ministers desired a Relief Bill, but no exact measures were specified, and the delegates were referred to the ‘wisdom and liberality of the Irish Parliament.’ This, like most of the proceedings of the English Ministers on the Catholic question, was exceedingly displeasing to the Irish Government, but Dundas, in a long and able letter, defended his conduct. It was impossible, he said, that a respectful petition from a great body of the King's subjects should not be presented, and it was equally impossible that it should be received with a ‘sullen silence.’ ‘Your Excellency,’ he proceeds, ‘in your letter of the 9th expresses an opinion that concession to the Catholics would be more palatable among the Protestants of Ireland if they were assured that what they now did was to be understood as the ultimatum. … It must immediately occur to your Excellency, that before it was possible for me to speak with any precision on that proposition, it would be necessary for me to know what is the extent of the concessions the Irish Government is willing to concur with. … We are perfectly ready to declare it to be our firm determination to resist any attempt to subvert the Protestant Establishment of Ireland, and to maintain the frame of Government in King, Lords and Commons; but unfortunately we and his Majesty's confidential servants in Ireland differ essentially as to the best mode of securing those objects.’ More than a year had passed—so the Lord-Lieutenant was reminded—since Dundas had urged that the best way to attach the Irish Catholics to the Constitution was to give them some share of its benefits, but he had not been enough to convince the Irish Government, and accordingly the experiment had not tried. The concessions which might then have quieted the Catholics would now be insufficient, and the Irish Ministers were implored ‘to give a candid and liberal consideration to the whole of this subject, and to weigh well the consequences of leaving behind any sore point of the question.’ He earnestly hoped that the franchise and the juries might be conceded without resistance, and that Catholics might at least be admitted to such civil and military offices as are merely offices of emolument, if the state of Protestant opinion will not allow of their admission to offices of magisterial authority or political power. His knowledge of the special circumstances of Ireland was not sufficient to enable him to say whether the admission of Catholics to municipal franchises, guilds, and corporations, was feasible or expedient, but he was clearly of opinion that all laws which cramped their industry or restrained them in the exercise of any trade or manufacture must be repealed, and that they should be eligible for all political situations in corporations which were open to Protestant Dissenters. He was also quite ready to admit them freely to the army. The Catholics complained that they were disabled from founding any university, college, or endowed school. If this be so, it was a grievance which ought certainly to be remedied, for nothing could be more impolitic than to compel Catholics, by such restrictions, to educate their children in foreign seminaries. The complaint that they could not obtain degrees in Dublin University seemed less reasonable, for their admission would be inconsistent with the foundation of the University. If, however, on account of this incapacity they were at a disadvantage in pursuing the professions of law or physic, some steps must be taken to remove the injury. Their last complaint was that they could not carry arms without a special licence. Dundas fully agreed with the Irish Government that it would be unwise to allow the indiscriminate use of arms to all classes of the community, and he commended this subject to the special attention of the Irish Parliament. It ought, however, to be dealt with on general principles, and not with any reference to religious beliefs. ‘There are some Protestants in Ireland whose principles render them much more unsafe to be trusted with arms than many of those professing the Catholic religion.’1
The memorable session of 1793 opened on January 10. The speech from the throne was eminently warlike. It deplored the disturbances that had broken out in different parts of the kingdom, the evident desire of some persons to excite a spirit of discontent and effect by violence an alteration in the Constitution, the ambition of France which had led her to interfere with the government of other countries, and especially her conduct towards ‘his Majesty's allies the States-General,’ which was ‘neither conformable to the law of nations nor the positive stipulations of existing treaties,’ and which was especially blamable as ‘both his Majesty and the States-General had observed the strictest neutrality with regard to the affairs of France.’ It announced an augmentation of the forces; a prohibition of the export of corn, provisions, naval stores, arms and ammunition, and the establishment of a militia, and it contained the following clause which had been inserted in England: ‘I have it in particular command from his Majesty to recommend it to you to apply yourselves to the consideration of such measures as may be most likely to strengthen and cement a general union of sentiment among all classes and descriptions of his Majesty's subjects in support of the established Constitution; with this view his Majesty trusts that the situation of his Majesty's Catholic subjects will engage your serious attention, and in the consideration of this subject he relies on the wisdom and liberality of his Parliament.’1
Apart from its substance, the phraseology of this clause was very significant. From the Revolution to the reign of George III. the Catholics had always been designated in official documents as ‘papists,’ or ‘persons professing the popish religion.’ In 1792 it was observed that this phraseology was changed, and in Langrishe's Relief Act, and in the speech from the throne, the term ‘Roman Catholic’ was employed. In the first viceregal speech in 1793 the qualification was dropped, and for the first time since the Parliament of James II. the term ‘Catholic’ was employed from the throne.2
The address was moved in the House of Commons by Lord Tyrone and seconded in a short speech by Arthur Wesley, who little dreamed how great a part he was destined to bear in closing, both on the Continent and in Ireland, the series of events which opened in this year. The Chief Secretary noticed that there was but little difference of opinion, and that not a single man spoke on either side of the House who did not express in forcible terms his reprobation of everything leading to tumult or disorder or French principles of government.1 Grattan in a long and powerful speech marked out clearly the line of his policy. He began by a formidable attack on the Ministry. The state of the country was indeed alarming, and public opinion was profoundly disquieted, but this was the inevitable and predicted result of the Government policy about reform and about the Catholics. The bitterest opponents of the Constitution of 1782 were in power, and their manifest and almost avowed design was to make that Constitution an empty name. The periodical ‘sales of the House of Commons,’ the public declaration of these sales, the recent creation of twenty new parliamentary places for the sake of corruption, the sale of peerages, the patronage of all kinds of abuses and peculations, the systematic rejection of every constitutional Bill which tended to diminish corruption or assimilate the Irish Constitution to that of Great Britain; ‘these things and many more taken separately or all together, have totally and universally deprived of all weight, authority, or credit, the Parliament of Ireland.’ The Ministers meant to attack the Constitution, but they have gone far to undermine the throne, and if the writings of Paine were now popular in Ireland, if irregular conventions and associations were everywhere multiplying, this was mainly because constitutional reform had been steadily resisted, and because the Irish Government was one of the most anomalous and most corrupt in Christendom.
The policy of the Ministers towards the Catholics has been not less infatuated. They have driven them into the paths of agitation, discredited their most respectable leaders, irritated them by empty menaces, created a religious war by exerting against them all their influence over the grand juries and the Corporation of Dublin. At the same time, on the question of assisting England against France, and on the evil of the levelling principles that were abroad, Grattan spoke in no faltering terms. ‘He condemned the spirit of disturbance’—so the Chief Secretary reported to England—‘and every design to effect by violence an alteration in the Constitution. He approved of the preparatory measures taken for the security of this kingdom. He considered the decree of the French Convention generally expressed against all crowned heads, as a declaration against the King of Great Britain and Ireland, and of course as a declaration of war against those nations… He admitted generally the propriety of an augmentation of the army, of an effectual militia, and of the proclamation of an embargo. … He spoke strongly in favour of the Roman Catholic claims, but looked upon a reform in Parliament to be the most essential measure for allaying the discontents and giving satisfaction to the nation. He expressed himself with great warmth and duty and loyalty to the King. He pointed out the happy frame of our Constitution. He urged the advantage and necessity of the connection between Great Britain and this kingdom, and reprobated in pointed terms’ the principles of the French Revolution.1 There was no division on the address, but an amendment moved by Grattan was carried unanimously. It thanked the King for having in this critical period taken ‘a leading part in healing the political dissensions of his people on account of religion.’ It pledged the House to take the subject thus recommended from the throne into immediate consideration, and ‘at a time when doctrines pernicious to freedom and dangerous to monarchical government are propagated in foreign countries … to impress his Majesty's Catholic subjects with a sense of the singular and eternal obligations they owe to the throne, and to his Majesty's royal person and family.’2
The tone of the debate was not unhappily described by Langrishe, as ‘acrimonious unanimity.’ It was evident that one party was displeased at what they regarded as the sacrifice of Protestant ascendency, that another party was determined to press the question of parliamentary reform, and was likely to receive a very unexpected measure of support, that the Ministers had lost all their credit and a great part of their controlling power. It was generlly felt in Parliament that they had dangerously mismanaged affairs, that their policy had been reversed, that they had no longer the confidence of England, that they were introducing a policy which was not their own, and to the credit of which they had no just title. They were themselves in no good humour with their colleagues in England, and even the fact that the Irish Parliament was evidently quite ready to follow them in carrying a large measure of Catholic relief, must have been not a little embarrassing to statesmen who in reality detested the measure they were introducing, and who had been so long and so urgently impressing on the English Cabinet the enormous difficulties of the task. Men so acute as Pitt and Dundas can hardly have failed to detect in the letters from Ireland the true outlines of the situation.
‘Concessions to the Catholics,’ wrote Hobart, ‘will certainly be acceded to by all parties to an extent which last year nothing could have effected, but it is perfectly understood that the concession has become irresistible from the encouragement which has been given in England and promoted by the success of the French arms and probability of war. French and levelling principles have been reprobated by every man who has spoken in the House of Commons, and every expression of loyalty conveyed in the strongest terms, by Mr. Grattan particularly, whose praises of the monarchical part of the Constitution can only be equalled by his desire to cripple the Executive Government. His object manifestly is to make it impracticable for any man to govern Ireland but himself, and until he has the House of Commons completely at his disposal he will never permit the country to be quiet. In order to effect this point he has entrapped the aristocracy into an acquiescence in the principle of reform, and he pretended to concede to them the credit and conduct of the measure. … Notwithstanding the loyalty which is professed to be the predominant passion of the day in Ireland, you may be assured that the intention is materially to lessen the power of the Crown, which, by a seeming acquiescence, I trust we shall be able to prevent in any great degree, but I apprehend there will be a necessity of concurring in most if not all of the Whig Club measures, Responsibility, Police, Pension, and Place Bills. The ill temper of many of our friends is not to be described.’1
In the House of Lords, Fitzgibbon with his usual cynical candour lost no time in expressing his sentiments. He was a leading member of an Administration which was especially charged with the task of conciliating the Catholics, and inducing the Irish Parliament to confer on them the elective franchise. In the debate on the address he immediately distinguished himself by a fierce attack on the Catholic petition to the King, and declared that ‘he would cheerfully give relief to the Roman Catholics, provided it should not extend to give effective situation in the State.’1
It was quite evident that the policy of conciliating the Catholics without doing anything in the direction of reform could not be sustained, and the spirit of reform in the House was much stronger than might have been expected. The reader may attribute this fact as he pleases, to a factious desire to embarrass the Government, or to the wish of the independent or alienated members of the aristocracy to propose themselves as a possible Government, or to simple panic, or to the deliberate conviction of men who were well acquainted with the country, that without a speedy and a serious reform the levelling spirit in the North would inevitably lead to a great catastrophe. Whatever may be the explanation, the fact at least is certain. On January 14 William Ponsonby and Conolly, who were two of the most important members of the Irish Commons unconnected with the Government, gave notice of an intended Reform Bill, and Grattan, while strongly supporting them, moved for a committee to inquire into the abuses in the Constitution. No plan was as yet proposed, but the Chief Secretary noticed that the principle was strongly asserted, that representation should depend on property. ‘The sentiments of the House,’ he continued, ‘in favour of reform were so universal that it was in vain to resist them, and upon the question being called for, there were not above two or three negatives, and the House did not divide.’2 Lord Kingsborough immediately after brought in a Bill to tax absentees. ‘An idea has been recently admitted,’ wrote the Chief Secretary, ‘into men's minds in this country, which is of all others the most ‘injurious to English Government … that there is a perfect indifference in England with regard to Ireland. … Be assured that unless Great Britain speedily interferes energetically with regard to Ireland, we shall have commotions of a very serious nature. … They are now setting up the King against the Government with a view to undermine the Constitution. It is precisely the French system, and in my opinion will produce the same consequences unless it is taken up decidedly. … Believe no man that would persuade you that Keogh's party, and it leads the Catholics, are not republicans.’1
On February 4 Hobart moved for leave to bring in his Catholic Relief Bill, and stated the nature of its provisions. It was of a kind which only a year before would have appeared utterly impossible, and which was in the most glaring opposition to all the doctrines which the Government and its partisans had of late been urging. He proposed to give Catholics the franchise both in towns and in country on exactly the same terms as Protestants; to repeal the laws which still excluded them from grand juries except when there was not a sufficient number of Protestant freeholders, and from petty juries in causes between Protestants and papists; to authorise them to endow colleges, universities, and schools, and to obtain degrees in Dublin University, and to remove any provisions of the law which might still impose disabilities upon them respecting personal property. He proposed to enable them to become magistrates, to vote for magistrates in corporations, and to carry arms, subject, however, to a property qualification. They were also, with the concurrence of the English Government, to be admitted to bear commissions in the army and navy, and with a few specified exceptions all civil offices were to be thrown open to them.
This great measure was before Parliament, with several intermissions, for rather more than five weeks. The chief arguments on both sides have been already given, but the true state and division of opinions is a question of much interest and of some difficulty. If we judged only by the letters from the Castle, we should infer that the majority of the House would gladly have conceded nothing, and there is strong reason to believe that the Irish Government, during the greater part of the time when the question was pending, made it a main object to alarm as much as possible the Ministers in England, and to induce them to recede from the position they had taken. On the other hand it is a simple fact that this great and complicated measure, which revolutionised the whole system of government in Ireland, and presented so many openings for attack, passed through Parliament almost entirely unmodified, and without even any serious opposition. The vital clause giving the unlimited franchise to Catholics was the most contested, and it was carried by 144 to 72. Hobart, in one of his speeches during the debates, expressly stated that he found ‘little difference’ in the House on the principles of the Bill, and ‘no objection to going into a committee upon it.’1 The vast preponderance of speakers were in favour of relief to Catholics, though there were grave differences as to the degree, and speakers of the highest authority represented the genuine Protestant feeling of the country as being in its favour. ‘The levelling principle with which this country is threatened,’ said Daly, ‘has within the last three or four months drawn the Protestants and Catholics closer than I think fifty years of social intercourse would have done.’2 Parnell, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, revealed the true sentiments of the Government when he lamented the necessity for introducing the measure, but he also expressed his belief that ‘the liberality of the public mind … would of itself alone have totally obliterated all distinctions in twenty years, and Protestants and Roman Catholics would have coalesced, by moderate and gradual concession on one side and rational gratitude and affection on the other.’3 John O'Neil, the representative of the great Protestant county of Antrim, and one of the most important and respected country gentlemen in the House of Commons, did not hesitate to assert that ‘the claim of the Catholics was now universally admitted from one end of the kingdom to the other.’4
There was, however, a certain party which still openly opposed the concession of any political power to the Catholics. The most prominent, or at least the most pertinacious, member was Dr. Duigenan, the Advocate-General, an honest and able man with considerable knowledge of law and of ecclesiastical antiquity, but coarse, eccentric, quarrelsome, intolerably violent and vituperative, and much more of the type of a controversial theologian than of a secular statesman. He sprang from a very humble Catholic family, and had originally been designed for the priesthood, but he broke away from the religion of his parents and became through his whole life its most vehement and acrimonious assailant. His speeches, heavily laden with citations from Church councils and from obsolete provisions of the canon law, were ridiculed by Curran as resembling ‘the unrolling of an old mummy—nothing but old bones and rotten rags,’ and he never appears to have had much weight in Parliament, though his agreement with the Chancellor on the Catholic question, and his strenuous support of the Union, secured for him a large measure of official promotion. He deplored that any part of the penal code had been repealed, expressed his hope that Parliament would seriously consider the policy of re-enacting it, described the hostility between Protestants and Catholics in Ireland as necessary and perennial, and broadly stated that ‘no Irish Catholic is, ever was, or ever will be a faithful, loyal subject of a British Protestant king or a Protestant Government.’1 He was strongly supported by George Ogle, the accomplished and very popular member for the county of Wexford, who predicted that the admission of Catholics to political power would ultimately lead either to separation or to a legislative union,2 and also by David la Touche, who in the previous session had moved the rejection of the Catholic petition and who seems still to have retained much of the old Huguenot dread of popery. La Touche was not an orator, but he spoke with the weight of a great commercial position, and of a character very eminently distinguished for its integrity and its benevolence. In the last of the Irish Parliaments no less than five members of the name sat together in the House of Commons, and his family may claim what is in truth the highest honour of which an Irish family can boast—that during many successive Governments and in a period of the most lavish corruption, it possessed great parliamentary influence, and yet passed through political life untitled and unstained.
But by far the ablest man in the House of Commons, who on this occasion opposed the Catholic claims, was the Speaker Foster. He had taken a prominent part in the preceding year in the violent movement of the grand juries against the Catholics, and his conduct on this occasion had been spoken of with much bitterness both by Grattan and Burke. His speech, however, in 1793 was certainly not a violent one. It is admirably reported, and it seems to me an almost perfect model of what parliamentary eloquence to be. It is eminently the speech of a secular statesman free from any tinge of bigotry, and with no desire to offend any class of his countrymen, and he boasted with truth, that he had steadily supported every relaxation of the penal code which secured to the Catholics religious liberty and full rights in the possession of property. Political power, however, he maintained, is a question not of right but of expediency, and he argued with a force and vividness that no other member had equalled, that the inevitable result of the admission of the Catholics to power would be the eventual ascendency of a Catholic democracy which would break down the whole existing establishment in Church and State. Like Westmorland he contended that it was only the intervention of England, that had given the question importance. He painted in strong colours the confusion and panic which it had produced, and he warned the Protestants of Ireland that if they carried Catholic emancipation, Catholic gratitude, if it existed at all, would not centre on them. It was well known, he said, that the concession did not originate in this kingdom. ‘There has been a race for the Catholics, and such of you as have entered the lists have been outrun.’
The main difficulty, however, which the Government had to encounter did not come from the small party of resistance. In calculating the parliamentary forces, the Lord-Lieutenant had always counted upon the opposition of the Ponsonbys to the policy of relief. It was a family powerful from the parliamentary abilities of the two brothers who represented it, powerful from its connections and its large borough influence, and powerful from the close friendship which existed between Grattan and its leaders. As we have already seen, however, when the question of Catholic suffrage was raised in the preceding year, George Ponsonby had been opposed to Grattan, though the tone of his opposition had been very moderate. His argument had been that the Catholics were still unfit for the franchise, and that the concession of political power ought to be preceded by an extended system of united education. He now, to the extreme indignation of Westmorland, adopted a new line of policy, but one which was not, in my opinion, really inconsistent with his previous conduct. The concession of Catholic franchise had become inevitable. The English Government had encouraged it. The Irish Government had formally committed itself to it, and the hopes of the Catholics had been raised to fever point. The Government measure was denounced by Ponsonby as mischievous alike in its nature and its design. Last session the Government had opposed the admission of Catholics to the most qualified right of suffrage, and had induced the Parliament to reject a petition in its favour. In the recess, leading officials connected with the Government had been busily employed in exciting the counties and corporations to resist the claims of the Catholics, and the party in the Corporation of Dublin which was subservient to Government influence had been urged to set the example to the whole kingdom by their manifesto for Protestant ascendency. Everything that could be done was done by those in authority to persuade the Irish Protestants that it was the determination of the Government that the Catholics should not be granted the franchise. ‘But what opinion,’ continued Ponsonby, ‘is to be formed of the intention of that Cabinet, when the Minister in this country never once intimated the smallest intention of ceding the franchise to the Catholics—never once consulted the Protestant gentlemen of the country upon the subject until it was intimated in the speech from the throne, and followed up by the Bill of the Minister, now before the House? … What other conclusion can be deduced from this but that the division of the people was the object of the British Minister, who, while he was using his influence with the Protestants in public to resist the Catholic claims, was telling the Catholic in private that it was not from the generosity of a Protestant Parliament he had anything to hope, but that any favour he had to expect he must hope only through the influence of the Minister in this House? ‘It was the old policy of England’ ‘which in order to check and govern one party by another made separate interests;’ which played off the Catholics against the Protestants; which was now endeavouring to form a separate Catholic interest inimical to the Protestant gentry. There was but one way ‘to prevent in future such things, and to cut up by the roots all the powers and all the stratagems of the British Minister for dividing the people of this country.’ It was to reject the Government measure, and to carry a new Bill which would really settle the question by giving to the Catholics ‘everything Parliament had to give with liberality and confidence, admitting them to a full participation to the rights of the Constitution, and thus binding their gratitude and their attachment to their Protestant fellow-subjects.’ The Government measure, he argued, was not one either of finality or of real conciliation. Will the Catholic gentleman—a man of education, of ambition, perhaps of distinguished ability—acquiesce in a decision which admits the most ignorant and turbulent of his co-religionists to an equality with the Protestants in respect to the suffrage to which alone in political life they could aspire, while he is himself marked out as inferior to the Protestant gentry by his exclusion from Parliament? Nothing short of a full and equal share in the Constitution will now be sufficient. There are dangers no doubt to be feared from the abolition of all religious distinctions in Ireland, but the time has come when they must be faced. They are far less than those which would result from a policy which gave the Catholics the substance of power while it left them under the galling sense of inferiority, and which taught them to look to the English Minister and not to the Irish Parliament for future favours.1
To the great alarm of the Lord-Lieutenant it was evident that Ponsonby carried with him the sentiments of a large section of the House of Commons. ‘The members of the Opposition,’ complained the Chief Secretary, ‘condemned the measure as not being conciliatory.’ ‘Mr. Conolly in strong terms condemned these half measures … and said that the Roman Catholics would not be satisfied without a total abolition of every limitation and incapacity. … Several gentlemen who have been in the habit of supporting Government, declared for a total abolition.’ ‘I cannot well express to you the general dissatisfaction and resentment that prevailed among a considerable number of the strongest friends of Government. … The Opposition has determined to take all the merit of the concessions from the Administration by going further than we proposed.’1 The Duke of Leinster was on the side of Ponsonby, and ‘Lord Abercorn had sent over instructions to his friends to move a grant of everything to the Catholics.’2 Grattan, in perfect consistency with his previous career, strongly urged that the Government should complete their measure by admitting Catholics to Parliament, and the great preponderance of argument in the debates was plainly on that side.
In truth, the long agitation of O'Connell has given the admission of Catholics to Parliament an altogether factitious magnitude in the public mind. It was the culmination of a long struggle for political equality, but in real importance it was immeasurably inferior to the Irish Act of 1793, which gave the great bulk of the Irish Catholics the franchise. Catholic constituencies have never found any difficulty in obtaining Protestants to act as their instruments, and with the leverage which was now obtained they were certain to obtain the rest. One member predicted, with admirable accuracy, the event which took place in Clare in 1828. ‘Suppose,’ said Ormsby, ‘the electors should choose a Roman Catholic and persist in returning him, as in the case of Mr. Wilkes in England, the House would then be committed with the people, a situation which he was sure they did not desire.’3 Few greater mistakes of policy could be made than to give political equality to the great mass of ignorant Catholics, who were for the most part far below political interests, and at the same time to refuse it to the Catholic gentry. The continued disability was certain to produce renewed agitation, and it was equally certain that this agitation would be ultimately successful. The disability fell on the very class which would feel it most keenly and which deserved it least. Whatever controversy there might be about the sentiments of the mass of the Catholic peasantry or of the Catholic priesthood, there was at least no question that the few Catholic gentry of Ireland had shown themselves for generations uniformly and almost effusively loyal. The presence of ten or twenty members of this class in Parliament would have had a conciliatory effect out of all proportion to its real importance, and it could have had no effect but for good. ‘By giving the Catholics equality of suffrage,’ said Hamilton, ‘with the Protestants, Parliament would invest the lower, the more numerous, and of course the less enlightened part of the Catholic community with that privilege which must in fact include every other; and yet if it went no farther it would establish an exclusion which, even if it were desirable, must be but temporary and ineffectual, against the higher and more enlightened order, against those men who had the deepest stake in the country, and who from every motive of interest and ambition must be pledged, as much as they were themselves, for its prosperity and advantage.’ ‘I should be sorry,’ added the same speaker, ‘if the disseminators of sedition should have it in their power to tell the people that Parliament had not followed the example of their constituents, who had generously offered the participation of their rights to their fellow-subjects of every description, while their representatives persisted in retaining an exclusive monopoly. … Every motive of expediency and wisdom suggested to the House that this was the moment when every distinction should be done away.’1
These appear to me to have been words of wisdom, and there was another argument which was not less weighty. As I have already shown, Grattan had always foreseen that by far the greatest danger which the peculiar circumstances of Ireland foreshadowed, was that the ignorant and excitable Catholic population might be one day detached from the influence of property and respectability, and might become a prey to designing agitators and demagogues. By giving full political power to the Catholic democracy, and at the same time withholding political power and influence from the Catholic gentry, the legislation of 1793 materially hastened this calamity, and it was in the long popular agitation for Catholic emancipation that the foundation was laid for the political anarchy of our own day.
The question whether Catholic emancipation might have been completely carried in 1793 is not one that can be answered with confidence, but I have myself little doubt that if the great influence of the Government had been exerted in its favour, it was perfectly feasible. The Irish Government, however, hated all concessions to the Catholics, and dreaded above all things the inclination of the English Ministers in their favour. The English Ministers were told that the Opposition in advocating the final abolition of political distinctions was actuated by merely factious motives; that the party in its favour was really small, though resentment and desperation had made it important; that if the Government attempted to go further their followers would revolt against them, and defeat them; that the Catholics were fully satisfied with the Government measure.1 Pitt and Dundas had no wish to renew their long controversy with their representatives in Ireland, or to raise unnecessarily a new Irish question at a time when they were just entering upon a European war. It is worthy, however, of notice that while the great independent interests in Parliament had committed themselves to the principle of admitting the Catholics to Parliament, there was absolutely no sign of opposition or indignation in the country, and the tone of the debates appears clearly to show that the proposition had excited very little serious hostility. A motion to introduce into the Government Bill a clause admitting Catholics to Parliament was proposed by Mr. George Knox and seconded by Major Doyle, who claimed to have been the earliest advocate in Parliament of complete emancipation.2 The speech of the mover was remarkably sensible and moderate. He advocated his motion as intended to set at rest a dangerous and difficult question; as the necessary corollary of the measures which enabled Catholics to purchase landed property, and gave them the suffrage; as an eminently conservative measure which would give the property and education in the Catholic body an increase of political importance corresponding to that which was given to ignorance and numbers. The whole weight of the Government, however, was thrown against him, and he was defeated by 163 to 69. It is a remarkable fact that the future Duke of Wellington was put forward by the Government as the chief opponent of the motion. ‘He had no objection,’ he said, ‘to giving Roman Catholics the benefits of the Constitution, and in his opinion the Bill conferred them in an ample degree; but the motion of the honourable gentleman seemed calculated to promote disunion. With the Bill as it stands the Protestants are satisfied, and the Roman Catholics contented. Why then agitate a question which may disturb both?’1
It would be curious to know whether Wellington remembered this speech in 1829, when the unsettled question of Catholic emancipation had brought Ireland to the verge of civil war, when the agitation it aroused had ranged the main body of the Irish Catholics under the guidance of demagogues and priests, and had given a death-blow to the political influence of the landlords over their tenantry, and when he was himself obliged to set the fatal example of yielding to the fear of rebellion a measure which he had pledged himself to oppose. If the Catholic question had been settled in 1793, the whole subsequent history of Ireland would probably have been changed. The rebellion of 1798 would almost certainly either never have taken place, or have been confined to an insignificant disturbance in the North, and the social and political convulsions which were produced by the agitations of the present century might have been wholly or in a great measure averted.
In addition to the policies I have already described, there was another policy advocated in the Irish Parliament with extraordinary ability by Sir Lawrence Parsons. His great speech on the Catholic question in 1793 is exceedingly valuable to students of Irish history, and especially to those who, like the present writer, are making it their main task to reproduce as far as possible the modes of thought, feeling, and reasoning prevailing among the different classes of Irishmen. In the eyes of every true statesman, he said, it was evident that the question of the extension of privileges to the Catholics, and the question of parliamentary reform, were intimately connected. ‘The extent of what you give to the Catholics depends upon the reform, and the effect of the reform depends upon the extent of franchise you give to the Catholics.’ The country cannot prosper as long as it continues in the present state of fermentation on these two questions, until something is done on both of them which will content reasonable and moderate men, and give the Government a weight of authority that will enable it to repress sedition.
The position of the Catholics in Ireland had been determined by the events that followed the Revolution and by the penal code. It is a dark page of Irish history, and one on which he would gladly throw a veil; but, like Charlemont and like his great master Flood,1 Parsons refused to subscribe to the ordinary condemnation of the Irish statesmen of the early part of the century. ‘If a spirit of intolerance is imputable to them, it is a hundred times more imputable to their great and enlightened neighbours in England and France, not to mention all the other kingdoms of Europe in which, till the other day, the most barbarous persecutions on account of religion were practised.’ The measures of Lewis XIV. against the French Protestants, and the English laws after the Revolution against the English Catholics, were more severe than any in Ireland, and they had not the same excuse. The French Protestants and the English Catholics were far too weak to be a serious danger to the State. ‘In Ireland the powers were nearly equal, and therefore what in France and England was persecution, in Ireland was policy.’ Considering how formidable the Irish Catholics were from their numbers, and from their connection with France and with the Stuarts, it would have been impossible to have preserved the settlement of the Revolution, and to have secured Ireland from a renewed civil war, if the Catholics had not been proscribed and reduced to impotence. No one could justify all parts of the penal code, but in as far as it was a code of political incapacities —and the greater part of it was directly or indirectly intended for that end—it was unavoidable.
It was plain, however, that the time had come for its final abolition. ‘To give some participation of franchise to the Roman Catholics is no longer a matter of choice, but of the most urgent and irresistible policy.’ The great question, however, was on what terms that franchise should be given. Parsons strongly maintained that the elective franchise should be given to no Catholic who had not a freehold of twenty pounds a year, and that it should be accompanied by the admission of the Catholics into Parliament. Anticipating very closely the judgment which was expressed many years later by Sir Robert Peetl1 he pronounced it to be an act of infatuation, approaching to madness, to confer the franchise on almost the whole pauper tenantry of Ireland by annexing it to every forty-shilling freehold. ‘In England,’ he said, ‘the lands are mostly let from year to year, or for seven years, or sometimes fourteen years, or sometimes and more rarely for twenty-one years, but leases for lives are seldom granted. Consequently the rabble of the people there cannot obtain freehold property—nay, a great majority of the middle classes cannot obtain it. I have heard it stated by a very accurate and well-informed man that the number of county electors in England was but 100,000. … Here the tenures are quite different; almost all the lands of the country are let for lives, so that almost every peasant has a freehold tenure, and, if not disqualified by religion, a vote. See then the effect of this upon the present question. All the Catholic peasantry will be admitted to vote.’ The recent great increase of tillage immensely aggravated the danger. ‘Those large farms which a few years ago were all in pasture grounds, each occupied by a single Protestant farmer, are now broken into several parcels, tenanted for the most part by Catholic husbandmen, so that seven or eight Catholics hold the ground at present which one Protestant held formerly. Will not most of these be voters? Consider this also. Land has risen within five or six years one-fourth in its value. Land which six years ago you could not let for more than twenty shillings an acre you can now let for twenty-five shillings an acre. What follows? The Catholic who had his land but six years ago for the extremity of its value, has it now for one-fourth less than its value; therefore he must hold a very small quantity who has not a profit to qualify him to vote. … Consider further that this increase of tillage and rise of land have principally been since Catholics were allowed to take freehold leases, and then consider how three provinces of this kingdom are covered with Catholics; and can you doubt of the multitude of Catholic voters, should you extend to them the forty-shilling franchise?’ In three provinces out of four the Catholics are believed to be six times as numerous as the Protestants. Making then the amplest deduction on account of Catholic poverty and Protestant landlords, of pride and prejudice and every other motive that can be assigned, it is certain that the immense majority of county voters in at least three provinces will be the most ignorant Catholics. Landlords themselves, wishing to increase their own consequence, will be certain almost everywhere to convert leases for years into leases for lives, and thus the Catholic preponderance will be immense and overwhelming.
‘If they had all been Protestants for fifty generations back, I would not consent to the overwhelming of the Constitution by such a torrent. In some counties where there are but 2,000 electors now, you will, if this Bill passes, have 10,000; in others 20,000; in others 30,000; and I am well informed in the county of Cork alone you will have 50,000; that is, half of what I have stated the whole elective body to be of all the counties in England.’
‘Do you think,’ he asked, ‘you will meliorate the Constitution by admitting into it such a copious adulteration of rabble as this? I do not now desire you to consider them as differing from you in religion, but merely their poverty, their numbers, their ignorance, their barbarous ignorance, many of them not being able even to speak our language, and then think whether giving them the franchise will not be a most pernicious vitiation of the Constitution. The county representation is now reckoned the sound part of the Constitution; but where will be its soundness with such a constituency?’
It is not posible, however, to consider the question putting religion aside. ‘By granting franchise to the inferior Catholics, you give it to a body of men in great poverty, in great ignorance, bigoted to their sect and their altars, repelled by ancient prejudices from you, and at least four times as numerous as you are. You give them all at once the elective franchise, by which they will in nearly every county in three provinces out of four, be the majority of electors, controlling you, overwhelming you, resisting and irresistible. I cannot conceive a frenzy much greater than this. Allow them every virtue that elevates man—still this is a trial that no body of men that are, or ever were, should be put to. I think as well of the Catholics as I do of any body of men in this country, but still I would not trust so much to any body of men in such circumstances; not to the Protestants to whom I belong; not to the Dissenters whom I highly respect. I can only consider the Catholics as men, and they must be more than men if, in such a situation, they could be safely entrusted with such a power.’
It was replied that the landlords are in Ireland omnipotent with the small tenants, and that they will continue, as at present, to return the county representatives. If this be so, it is not easy to see what good the extension of the franchise will do to the Catholics; but is it certain, is it probable, that this state of things will continue? ‘Suppose you gave the inferior Catholics franchise, and that they should meet in all their parishes to determine on the exercise of it, as they lately did to determine on the attainment of it; and that they should nominate in their chapels their representatives in Parliament as they lately did their delegates to the Convention; what would there be to stop them? The power of their landlords might do much, but the power of religion might do much more. How much might these people be wrought upon by their priests at their altars, working upon their superstition and poverty? How easily might they be persuaded that their temporal as well as their eternal felicity depended upon their uniting together in the exercise of their franchise. I do not say that all this would follow, but I say that all this and more might follow, and therefore that we should not wantonly risk it.’
Suppose, however, that the parliamentary reform which public opinion so urgently demands is obtained. It would almost certainly take the form of throwing by far the greatest part of the borough representation into the counties, collectively or divisionally. The small Catholic voters would thus inevitably command almost the entire representation in three provinces, and probably in some counties of the fourth. What use under such circumstances would be the exclusion of Catholics from Parliament? ‘Do you think they could long want candidates even among Protestants, or nominal Protestants, fit for their purpose? Could they not easily get in every county enough of candidates who would offer to take their tests and promise to obey them, and the first object of their mission to Parliament would be to repeal those oaths which you now take at that table, and admit the Catholics to sit here indiscriminately? Such would be the representatives of three provinces out of four in the next Parliament. What then would be the representatives in the Parliament the next after? Would they have even the name or semblance of Protestants?’ What chance would a Catholic candidate have before a constituency which was wholly or by a great majority Protestant? Assuming only that the most ignorant and bigoted Catholics in Ireland are not less under the influence of religious prejudice than the Protestants, it will follow that in a very short time the great majority in the House of Commons would be Catholic. ‘Is there anything unreasonable in this supposition?’
Those who regard a Catholic revolt against Protestant proprietors as impossible or improbable, forget how easily it might be accomplished, and what overwhelming inducements, after the Government measure, designing men would have to produce it. Under our Constitution, the majority in the House of Commons controls all the powers of the State. All the wealth, all the greatness of the land, is at its mercy. Intriguing and ambitious men had only to make the Catholic voters conscious of their power, and to persuade them to choose their representatives for Parliament in their chapels, as they had already chosen their representatives for the Convention, and the work would be done, and the power of the landlords annihilated. Topics of agitation will never be wanting. ‘They may talk to them of tithes and even of rents, and at last proceed to talk to them of religion, and tell them: “If you will unite in your suffrage, your ancient religion, which has been prostrated in the dust for a century, and humiliated and reviled, may once more raise its head and appear in all its pristine magnificence.” … Will you transfer such a power to men who are subject to such an influence? Will you be your own executioners and commit this desperate suicide?’
It was said that any special limitation imposed on Catholic voters would rob the measure of its grace, but was this so certain? Most Catholics of substance and intelligence, most of those who took any real interest in politics, are quite as well aware as the Protestants that the small tenantry of Ireland are unfit for political power, and they would welcome any clause that excluded them. ‘I seldom knew a Protestant ten-pound freeholder who did not wish that Protestant forty-shilling freeholders should not vote, and for the same reason I am persuaded the middle Catholics will be better pleased that the inferior ones should not have votes.’ ‘Every information I have been able to procure from those counties where they most abound, confirms me in this sentiment.’ The Catholic franchise ought, therefore, to be confined to the upper class and to the large farmers, an intelligent and respectable body, sufficiently numerous to become a considerable political influence in Irish life, but too few to be any serious danger to the Protestants. But at the same time, the seats in Parliament ought most certainly to be thrown open to Catholics. Such a measure would be in the highest degree gratifying to the upper order among them. It would strike the Catholic imagination, and be far more really popular than the enfranchisement of an ignorant tenantry, and it would be completely without danger as long as the main part of the constituency continues Protestant. ‘I should not be sorry to see a respectable Catholic sitting here on my right hand and another on my left, provided that by keeping the strength of the constituency Protestant, we did not endanger ourselves by the admission of too many of them. A Catholic House of Commons will never spring out of a Protestant root. But if the root be Catholic no man can be sure how long the stem and branches will continue Protestant.’
The Government were alarmed at the levelling principles advocated in the North, and at the proposed alliance between Catholics and Dissenters; and they imagined that they would conciliate the former and prevent the alliance, by creating a democratic Catholic franchise. No calculation could be more infatuated. The Chief Secretary had been unable to adduce a single declaration to that effect from any Catholic leader, and if he had been able to adduce such a declaration it would be worthless. By the irresistible force of circumstances, by the stress of the most obvious and incontestable interest, the Catholics when they obtained the forty-shilling franchise would sooner or later be joined with the Dissenters in advocating a Reform Bill as levelling and democratic as possible. They probably did not possess more than a fiftieth part of the property of the kingdom, but if the borough constituencies were thrown into the counties, they would with their new franchise nominate three-quarters of the members of the House of Commons. ‘This extensive franchise, therefore, instead of making the Catholics contented, and preventing them from uniting with the Dissenters, is the very measure which will make it the interest of the Catholics to press for a reform, and how few here do not know how interest overrules the actions of men?’
‘In short there never was a measure pretending to be a great one more narrowly conceived than the present Bill. It courts the Catholic rabble and insults the Catholic gentry. It gives power to those who are ignorant, and therefore dangerous, and withholds it from those who are enlightened and therefore safe. It gives equal power with the Protestants to the lower class of Catholics, who are the mos numerous, and thereby gives them a superiority, and it does not give equal powers to the upper class, who are less numerous than you, and who could therefore have had no superiority; that is, it does the very reverse of what it ought to do.’
Turning to another aspect of the subject, Parsons contended that it was quite clear there were two questions to be settled—a Protestant question, which was reform, and a Catholic question, which was emancipation—and that unless both questions were settled on a wise and moderate basis, Ireland never could be at peace. There was great reason, he said, to believe that the Government wore pursuing a plan of dividing the different sections of the Irish people, and that their object in carrying the Catholic question was to obtain the means of maintaining the present system of parliamentary influence intact. Such a policy was sure to lead to a long train of calamities, and it was of the first importance to the future welfare of Ireland that it should be defeated. He proposed, therefore, that the Catholic franchise should be taken out of the present Bill and made part of a measure of parliamentary reform, to which it properly belonged, and that the other concessions should be carried at once. This would no doubt adjourn the settlement of the Catholic franchise to the next year, but this postponement would be of no real consequence, for no general election was imminent, and it would have the great advantage of securing the simultaneous triumph of both questions. ‘Should a Minister say, Let us divide the people of Ireland, let us gratify a part and disappoint a part, by uniting the measures you defeat this ruinous policy. You force him either to reject all, which he dare not, or to admit all, and thus all parties succeed. You join the reform with a measure already recommended from the throne. … You conciliate the minds of many Protestants to the Catholic franchise by thus embodying it with an act in favour of their own freedom, and you at once excite the whole people of Ireland from its shores to its centre in a universal demand for this great charter of public liberty. I would therefore begin by giving but a limited franchise to the Catholics, and by making but a moderate reform, and I would unite these measures. A sudden communication of power to a great body of people is never wise. Changes in an ancient Constitution ought to be gradual.’
He very earnestly protests that he is actuated by no spirit of hostility to the Catholics and by no wish to defeat their aspirations for the franchise. ‘Whatever I think can be safely granted to the Catholics I will grant. Whatever I think cannot I will endeavour to withhold and I will say so. … Every respectable and candid man among them, at least when the fever of the present instant is past, will repect me for speaking my sentiments boldly.’ It would not be wise and it would not be honourable for the Catholics ‘neglecting their Protestant and Dissenting auxiliaries to insist in this critical juncture on a separate treaty for themselves,’ and it certainly would not be wise in a Protestant Parliament to support such a policy. ‘The reason I would combine these two measures is not to defeat Catholic franchise but to secure parliamentary reform.’ The House of Commons may pass a Reform Bill, but if it be disliked by the Government and supported only by a small section of the Irish people it will perish in the House of Lords or before the throne. Nothing can secure its triumph but the irresistible force of a nation's will. ‘The heart of the Catholics is now in the franchise, I would therefore put it into the body of the reform.’ ‘Unite the nation by uniting these measures, and proceed boldly and fearlessly llke men in the great cause of a great and united people. … Neglect no human means of strengthening the reform. Move it discreetly but rapidly forward. Put Catholic franchise into its bosom, and let it move on to the Lords and to the throne followed by the votive acclamations of the whole people.’1
These extracts are very long, but they will not, I hope, prove uninteresting or uninstructive to my readers, and they are an excellent specimen of the debates of an assembly which has been greatly underrated and misrepresented. If the question had been decided by reason alone, the policy of Parsons appears to me to have been that which was most likely to have solved the great difficulty of making the Irish Government, without a convulsion, really constitutional. The restricted suffrage had been fully acquiesced in by the Catholic leaders in 1792, and if the Government thought it right to enlarge the scheme which had been rejected in that year, their wisest course would probably have been to reintroduce the former measure with an additional clause admitting Catholics to Parliament. Of the motives which induced them to adopt a different plan it is not possible to speak with complete certainty, but there is one consideration, at least, which will not escape the reader. Parsons desired to carry both Catholic enfranchisement and reform. The Government were anxious above all things to avert the latter. Secondary measures of reform, indeed, they were now prepared to admit as unavoidable, but they made it their capital object to maintain the keystone of the existing parliamentary system, the preponderance of nomination boroughs which placed the control of the House of Commons in a very few hands. At the outbreak of a great war and at a time when the events of France had produced a sudden and wholly unprecedented democratic spirit in the community, this policy was peculiarly difficult, and whatever might be the ultimate effects, the Catholic Bill was for a time very favourable to it. It was likely to sever the Catholics at least temporarily from the Dissenters. The forty-shilling freeholders, whatever they might hereafter become, were at present absolutely subservient to their landlords, and they continued to be so till the great excitement of 1828. Nor had they as yet the overwhelming numerical preponderance which might be inferred from the speech of Parsons, though by the increase of population, the division of tenancies, and the competition of landlords for political power, they speedily attained it. The Ministers might reasonably hope that for a time they had baffled the reformers, divided their ranks, and surmounted a crisis of great and pressing difficulty. If their thoughts travelled further they may have calculated that by making the county constituencies mainly Catholic they would give the Protestants a new and powerful reason for supporting the borough system, would make an extended Reform Bill both difficult and dangerous, and would perhaps produce a social and political condition which might one day lead to a legislative union.
The question of Catholic franchise was a very difficult one, owing to the fact that the Protestants already possessed the forty-shilling freehold franchise. At a time when all political power was in the hands of a small section of the Irish people, and when Ireland was especially suffering from the evils of extreme monopoly, a democratic Protestant suffrage in the counties was not altogether incapable of defence. It corresponded in some measure to the democratic scot and lot franchise, which existed in some of the English towns before the Reform Bill of 1832. But on the whole it was quite clear that the great mass of the forty-shilling freeholders out of Ulster were utterly unfit for political power; and in a country where the difficulties of government were unusually great, it would be a grave calamity if this class of men became the source or foundation of all political power. In several speeches made during the debates this danger was clearly recognised, and by no one more clearly than by Forbes, who was one of the ablest and most consistent of the reformers. Forbes maintained, however, that the evil of withholding the franchise from the Catholic forty-shilling freeholder, while it was conceded to his Protestant neighbour, would be still greater; that it would prevent the political union and amalgamation of creeds, which was the first object of the measure; that it would embody the excluded Catholics for the purpose of destroying the limitation, and that ‘nothing was so dangerous in a State as an unequal distribution of constitutional privileges.’1 There was, it is true, another alternative, which was suggested by Hely Hutchinson, who said that, ‘to prevent the influx of small freeholders and any disparity between Protestants and Catholics, he would wish that ten-pound freeholds were made indispensable to voters of all persuasions.’ A clause to this effect was actually proposed by Graydon, but withdrawn at the joint request of Hobart and Grattan.2 it was indeed plainly impracticable. A period in which the democratic and levelling spirit ran so high was not one in which a great measure of disfranchisement could be safely carried. The policy of uniting the Protestants and Catholics would certainly not succeed, if the admission of Catholics to the Constitution was purchased by the disfranchisement of the majority of Protestant voters, and a large part of the Protestant forty-shilling freeholders in the North were not mainly employed in agriculture, and were eminently fitted for the franchise. ‘Gentlemen talk of prohibiting forty-shilling freeholders from voting,’ said Foster; ‘they will not attempt so wild a project when they consider it. What! to disfranchise nearly two-thirds of all the Protestants! to disfranchise those persons who sent them into this House! The law in their favour had existed since Henry VI., and now forms a principle of the Constitution. Did the gentlemen who lived in the North recollect that this would disfranchise all their manufacturers? … Did they wish to force manufacturers to look for ten-pound freeholds? They would be spoiled as manufacturers, and would be miserable farmers. The weaver, with his little piece of land and his garden, is generally a forty-shilling freeholder; he is a useful member, a good voter, and a good subject and on such men as him may the safety of the Constitution often depend.’3
These arguments were very powerful, and the Government scheme of extending the franchise to Catholic forty-shilling freeholders, and at the same time excluding Catholics from Parliament, was carried in its integrity. In one of his last speeches on the question, Hobart said that ‘the principle of the Bill was not to admit Roman Catholics to the State,’ but many who supported the Government must have agreed with Grattan that ‘he must be a visionary politician who could imagine that, after what the Bill granted to the Catholics, they could long be kept out of the State,’1 and at least one prominent member looked still further. ‘I do not deprecate the day,’ said Bushe, ‘when we may grant the Catholics a full participation of power; but if we should do so, that measure should be accompanied by another—a satisfactory ecclesiastical establishment, paid out of the Treasury, and no such measure is now proposed. For it is idle to say we should have nothing left to contend for if we gave them seats in Parliament.’2
Few things in Irish parliamentary history are more remarkable than the facility with which this great measure was carried, though it was in all its aspects thoroughly debated. It passed its second reading in the House of Commons with only a single negative. It was committed with only three negatives, and in the critical divisions on its clauses the majorities were at least two to one. The qualification required to authorise a Catholic to bear arms was raised in committee on the motion of the Chancellor, and in addition to the oath of allegiance of 1774, a new oath was incorporated in the Bill, eopied from one of the declarations of the Catholics, and abjuring certain tenets which had been ascribed to them, among others the assertion that the infallibility of the Pope was an article of their faith. For the rest the Bill became law almost exactly in the form in which it was originally designed. It swept away the few remaining disabilities relating to property which grew few remaining code. It enabled Catholics to vote like Protestants for members of Parliament and magistrates in cities or boroughs; to become elected members of all corporations except Trinity College; to keep arms subject to some specified conditions; to hold all civil and military offices in the kingdom from which they were not specifically excluded; to hold the medical professorships on the foundation of Sir Patrick Dun; to take degrees and hold offices in any mixed college connected with the University of Dublin that might hereafter be founded. It also threw open to them the degrees of the University, enabling the King to alter its statutes to that effect. A long clause enumerated the prizes which were still withheld. Catholics might not sit in either House of Parliament; they were excluded from almost all Government and judicial positions; they could not be Privy Councillors, King's Counsel, Fellows of Trinity College, sheriffs or sub-sheriffs, or generals of the staff.1 Nearly every post of ambition was still reserved for Protestants, and the restrictions weighed most heavily on the Catholics who were most educated and most able.
In the House of Lords as in the House of Commons the Bill passed with little open opposition, but a protest, signed among other peers by Charlemont, was drawn up against it. Dickson, the Bishop of Down, and Law, the Bishop of Elphin, were conspicuous among the advocates of the measure, while Agar, the Archbishop of Cashel, spoke strongly against it. The most remarkable part, however, was that taken by Lord Fitzgibbon the Chancellor. As we have seen by the correspondence of the Government, he was from the beginning bitterly opposed to any concession to the Catholics, and he was not a man accustomed to veil or attenuate his sentiments. His natural and proper course would have been to resign his office when the policy which he had advocated as of vital importance was overthrown. He determined, however, to remain in office and to vote for the Catholic Bill, while he at the same time did the utmost in his power to deprive it of all its conciliatory effect. At the very opening of the session in which it was to be the supreme object of the Government to secure the loyalty and cooperation of the Catholics, he had, as we have seen, distin_guished himself by a fierce attack upon their address to the King, and on March 13, when the Relief Bill had almost attained its last stage, he delivered his sentiments at length in a speech which was afterwards published, and which throws a singularly vivid light upon his opinions, his character, and his temper.
It was an able speech, but less able, I think, than the speeches of Parsons and Foster, and in its tone of thought and method of reasoning it corresponded closely with those which Duigenan, and Duigenan alone, was accustomed to make in the House of Commons. He began with a characteristically arrogant attack upon Bishop Law, who had spoken with much liberality in favour of the Catholics. He could not, much remain silent when ‘the epidemical frenzy of the time’ had reached even the right reverend bench. He could not leave ‘unnoticed and unreprehended’ the ‘indiscretions’ of the Bishop—indiscretions which could only be excused by a ‘radical ignorance of the laws of the country from whence he has come, and of the history, the laws, and the Constitution of that country into which he has been transplanted.’ For his own part he had not ‘a spark of religious bigotry’ in his composition, nor did he speak in opposition to the measure. ‘I should be extremely sorry,’ he said, ‘if anything which may fall from me were to stop the progress of this Bill. I do believe after what has passed upon this subject in Great Britain and Ireland, it may be essential to the momentary peace of the country that your lordships should agree to it. I do not desire to be responsible for the consequences which might follow its rejection, much as I disapprove of its principle. … Whatever I say is intended only to open the eyes of the people … if possible, to stop the further progress of innovation.’
He lays it down as a broad principle that as long as the claims of the Pope to universal spiritual dominion are maintained, ‘it is utterly impossible that any man who admits them can exercise the legislative powers of a Protestant State with temper and justice.’ In discussing the political claims of Roman Catholics ‘we ought only to look to the principles of that religion which they profess,’ and ‘the page of history does not furnish a single instance in which Protestants and papists have agreed in exercising the political powers of the same State.’ It follows then that the whole Catholic population of Ireland, by virtue of their religious belief, should be absolutely and for ever excluded from all share of political power. They are ‘as jealously and superstitiously devoted to the popish faith as the people of Spain, Portugal, or any of the most bigoted districts of the German Empire. … There is not a country in Europe in which the reformed religion has been estblished, where its progress has been so slow and inconsiderable as in Ireland. … There now is, and always has been, a constant correspondence and communication kept up between this country and the Court of Rome, and the spiritual power of the Pope is at this day acknowledged as implicitly as it ever was at any period of Irish history.’
He gives a summary and highly characteristic sketch of the past history of Ireland. Omitting altogether all the troubles that had preceded the Reformation, he compendiously dismisses every disturbance that had occurred since that period as exclusively due to ‘the religious bigotry’ of papists. The struggle of Tyrone against Elizabeth, the great rebellion which was produced in 1641 chiefly by the confiscations in Ulster, the conduct of the Irish at the Revolution in adhering to James II., who had given them no cause whatever for rejecting him—all these were due to ‘religious bigotry.’ On the penal laws he of course looks back with absolute and unqualified approval. They had, it is true, one disadvantage—one single disadvantage—they lowered the value of landed property in Ireland; but they were essential to the security of the titles of the owners. ‘The people of this country consisted of two distinct and separate castes, the one with a short intermission in possession of the whole property and power of the country, the other expelled from both in consequence of unremitted and inveterate rebellion and resistance to English Government and English connection; the one acknowledging the powers civil and ecclesiastical entrusted to the Crown by the Constitution, the other obstinately disclaiming all ecclesiastical obedience to their lawful Sovereign, and acknowledging an unlimited ecclesiastical jurisdiction and authority in a foreign prince.’ The Protestants were ‘an English colony settled in an enemies’ country,’ ‘the natives of the country had contracted a rooted and incurable aversion to them.’ The obvious policy, the vital interest of ‘that body of people in whom the power and property of the nation had centred,’ was to remain strictly united among themselves and closely connected with England, and to guard jealously every avenue of political power from encroachments by papists.
For a long time this policy had been successfully pursued, and to the ‘old popery laws which disabled the native Irish from embarrassing British Government or renewing hostility against the British settlers,’ Ireland stands indebted in a great measure for her internal tranquillity during the last century. The root of all our present troubles lay in ‘the fatal infatuation’ of 1782. Not until Irish patriots began to put forward claims of legislative independence as against England, and to divide the Protestants of Ireland, was any claim to political power advanced by the Irish papists. But since that time the popish pretensions had grown apace. The most respectable members of the religion had been thrown aside, and a popish National Assembly, imitated from that of France, had been convened in the metropolis, and it is now exercising ‘a complete system of democratic government over all the Catholics of Ireland.’ ‘The Bill now upon the table,’ he continued, ‘has been backed by authority, and is now by authority presented to us as a demand of right, by a great majority of the people … to be admitted to a full participation of the political powers of the State. … If the principle is once yielded, in my opinion it goes directly to the subversion of all civilised government. … If papists have a right to vote for representatives in a Protestant Parliament, they have a right to sit in Parliament—they have a right to fill every office of the State—they have a right to pay tithes exclusively to their own clergy—they have a right to restore the ancient pomp and splendour of their religion—they have a right to be governed exclusively by the laws of their own Church—they have a right to seat their bishops in this House—they have a right to seat a popish prince on the throne—they have a right to subvert the established Government and to make this a popish country, which I have little doubt is their ultimate object, and therefore, if I were to look only to the manner in which this Bill has been brought forward, in my judgment we are about to establish a fatal precedent in assenting to it.’
Can it then be justified on the ground of policy? On this point he entered into a long disquisition, which I shall spare my readers, upon the nature of the papal authority, the decrees of the Lateran Council and the Council of Constance about heretics, the claims of the Church to exercise jurisdiction over the marriages of its members, the canonical obedience which every ecclesiastic in Ireland owes to the Pope, and he concluded that it was idle to expect that papists could ever be cordially attached to any Government that was not connected with the popish religion. The measure, too, was advocated as one step towards breaking down the existing system of parliamentary government in Ireland ‘by opening the right of representation to the mass of the people of all descriptions and of all religions, and one great objection to the Bill on the table is that it recognises in a great measure this most pernicious principle.’ It is a principle which must necessarily lead either to simple anarchy or to a purely democratic Government. ‘The advocates for an independent House of Commons have two striking examples before them. In the last century England was blest with an independent House of Commons, a great majority of them professed reformers and patriots by trade. What was the consequence? They murdered their King, they subverted the Church, they annihilated the peerage, and under the specious name of a republic erected a tyranny the most intolerable that ever oppressed a people who had been free. France is now blessed with an independent Representative Assembly, all of them professed reformers and patriots by trade, and … they have reduced that once great and flourishing kingdom to a state of frantic and savage despotism, unexampled in the annals of the civilised world.’
In Ireland any attempt to throw open the Parliament would be at least as fatal, and England can never consent to it. ‘Great Britain must maintain her connection with Ireland, and she can maintain it only by maintaining and supporting the old English interest here. She must look for support in Ireland by maintaining and defending the descendants of the old English settlers, who, with a very few exceptions, constitute the Protestant interest in this country; and they must know and feel that they can maintain their present situation only by a close adherence to Great Britain. … The descendants of the old Irish, who constitute the Catholic interest of Ireland, know and feel that they can never recover the situation which their ancestors held in Ireland but by separation from Great Britain, and therefore if any man in Great Britain or Ireland is so wild as to hope that, by communicating political power also to the Catholics of Ireland, they are to be conciliated to British interests, he will find himself bitterly mistaken. Great Britain can never conciliate the descendants of the old Irish to her interests upon any other terms than by restoring to them the possessions and the religion of their ancestors in its full splendour and dominion. Either is impracticable; for I consider a repeal of the Act of Supremacy in any of the hereditary dominions of the Crown of Great Britain, to be as much beyond the power of Parliament, as a repeal of the Great Charter or a repeal of the Bill of Rights.’
The fever of democracy is now spreading far and wide. ‘The Puritans of the North, availing themselves of the example of their Catholic brethren, have already formed a provincial convention, and intend to form a general national convention … in order to force a dissolution of the House of Commons as now constituted, and to form a pure democratic representation of the people without distinction. … Public and private credit has been blasted; trade and agriculture are at a stand; a general despondency and alarm pervade the country, and in my mind there never was a period at which there existed more serious cause for alarm.’ ‘The people appear to have been seized with a general infatuation,’ and all the signs which Lord Clarendon described as foreshadowing in England the convulsions of 1641 may be abundantly descried. If they are not checked, ‘we shall be driven to sue for a Union with the Parliament of England, as the last resource for the preservation of Ireland, and the misery is that every step which we advance in innovation, as it increases the necessity for a Union, will increase the difficulties in adjusting it.’
The reader will probably wonder how an orator who spoke in such a strain could bring himself to vote in favour of the Bill. His peroration, however, describes his position with clearness, frankness, and eloquence. ‘I must again,’ he said, ‘declare that I consider the Bill to be a most indiscreet and precipitate experiment. I consider it to be in principle unwise and pernicious, and even if it were unexceptionable in principle, when I look back to the manner in which it has been brought before Parliament, in my opinion by assenting to it we shall establish a precedent fatal to all legitimate authority. But however deeply these considerations are impressed upon my mind, I will not divide the House upon the question of committing this Bill, because after what has passed upon the subject in Great Britain and Ireland, I will not now be responsible for the immediate consequences of rejecting altogether the wild claims which have been advanced in behalf of the Irish Roman Catholics: If the measure which has been brought forward shall prove successful in uniting men of all religious persuasions in sentiment, in support of the Constitution, it is fit that its authors and promoters should have the full and exclusive merit resulting from it. If on the contrary it shall prove a source of new difficulties and embarrassments in the government of this country, it is fit that they, and they only, should be responsible for the issue.’
It is easy to conceive what must have been the effect upon the Catholic population of Ireland of such a speech, made at such a moment, by one of the most powerful and trusted members of the Government of Ireland. It is not less easy to understand how inevitably a policy of conciliation was doomed to failure, while a statesman of such a temper and of such opinions remained at the helm. In the House of Commons the position of Fitzgibbon, though always considerable, had been a secondary one. He had been overshadowed by the superior eloquence of Flood and Grattan, and among the other speakers there appear to have been several who were considered not inferior to him in ability, and who had greater weight both with the House and with the country. In the House of Lords, however, and in the Privy Council, he appears to have attained an influence which was little less than despotic. He was by far the ablest Irishman who had adopted, without restriction, the doctrine that the Irish Legislature must be maintained in a condition of permanent and unvarying subjection to the English Executive, and in order to secure that end, there was no measure, either of force or of corruption, from which he would recoil. He was thoroughly trusted by the Lord-Lieutenant, and he was the favourite spokesman of powerful family interests connected with the Government, and especially of the Beresfords, who had gradually acquired so many posts of emolument and influence that they exercised an authority almost rivalling that of Lord Shannon in the former generation. The position of Fitzgibbon was therefore a very strong one. If he continued to be Chancellor, though violently disapproving on a capital question of the policy of the Government, this seemed less anomalous in Ireland than in England, and even in England Camden had lately given an example, though a less flagrant one, of the same kind.
The extraordinary arrogance and violence which he habitually displayed was noticed by almost everyone who drew his character—even by the Archbishop who in a strain of the highest eulogy preached his funeral sermon. In speaking of his Catholic countrymen, his tone was utterly unlike that of Flood, Charlemont, and Foster, who were equally opposed to Catholic emancipation, and it was peculiarly ungracious in the son of one of the ‘convert’ or conforming lawyers. The elder Fitzgibbon had been an able and successful man. He was related to Edmund Burke, who has spoken with much respect of his ‘firm and manly character;’1 but who looked with dismay and disgust upon the career of his more eminent son. ‘I confess I tremble for the conduct of the Chancellor,’ he wrote to Grattan, ‘who seems, for a long time past, desirous of putting himself at the head of whatever discontents may arise from concessions to the Catholics, when things are on the very edge of a precipice or, indeed, between two precipices; he appears resolved that they shall be tumbled headlong down one of them.’2 ‘A papist,’ it was very happily remarked, ‘can reason as well as a Protestant, and he can argue with infallible conclusion that if he is, of necessity, dangerous to a Protestant Government, a Protestant Government can by no possibility be salutary to him.’2 Grattan never appears to have estimated Fitzgibbon very highly, and he considered Foster the ablest opponent of the Catholics, but he clearly recognised the dangerous tendency of the speech I have quoted, in ‘diminishing the reconciliatory effect’ of the Relief Bill, and ‘informing the Catholics that though the Irish law ceased to be their enemy, the Irish Minister continued to be so.’4 The justice of this criticism is self-evident, but Westmorland, whose own opinions approximated greatly to those of Fitzgibbon, looked upon him with unabated confidence, and wrote of him in terms of the warmest eulogy to England.1
The Relief Bill, with all its drawbacks, was a measure of the very highest importance, and it was impossible to mistake the satisfaction which it gave in the country. Just before it had passed its first stage in the committee, Hobart wrote to England that the prospect was already brightening. ‘The declarations of the Catholics which we receive from all quarters of their gratitude to Government for the Bill now in its progress had so far operated as to raise bank stock 10 per cent. in the course of last week.’2 The North was, however, still full of sedition, and before the Catholic Bill had passed, the great French War had begun. An Alien Bill guarding against the danger of foreign emissaries, a severe Bill preventing the importation, removal, or possession of arms or ammunition without licence, an augmentation of the military establishment from 15,000 to 20,000 men, and a Bill directing the enrolment for the space of four years of a militia force of 16,000 men, raised, according to the English model, by conscription, passed speedily, and with little discussion.3 The movement for forming volunteer corps modelled after those of France, and pervaded by a strong republican spirit, was successfully met. The proclamation against the National Guard in Dublin was extended to all volunteer meetings in Dublin, and afterwards in other parts of the kingdom, and the nightly drills, the collection of arms, the adoption of seditious emblems, which for a time seriously disquieted the Government, gradually ceased. The success of these measures Westmorland attributed largely to the cordial support of Parliament and the unanimity with which all parties in it reprobated ‘levelling and French principles.’4 From the Militia Act great things were expected. ‘I look upon the militia,’ wrote the Chief Secretary, ‘as the most useful measure both to England and Ireland that ever has been adopted, and if I am not extremely mistaken, it will operate effectually to the suppression of volunteering, to the civilisation of the people, and to the extinction of the means which the agitators of the country have repeatedly availed themselves of to disturb the peace. … I am happy to add that there is every appearance of the restoration of peace in Ireland,’1
The Catholic Relief Bill received the royal assent in April 1793, and in the same month the Catholic Convention dissolved itself. Before doing so it passed a resolution recommending the Catholics ‘to co-operate in all loyal and constitutional means' to obtain parliamentary reform. It at the same time voted 2,000l. for a statue of the King, 1,500l. and a gold medal to Wolfe Tone, 500l. to Simon Butler for his ‘Digest of the Popery Laws,’ and a plate of the value of 100 guineas to each of the five gentlemen who had gone to England to present the Catholic petition to the King.2 The Catholic prelates in their pastorals expressed their gratitude for the Relief Bill. The United Irishmen on their side issued a proclamation warmly congratulating the Catholics on the measure for their relief, but also urging in passionate strains that parliamentary reform was the first of needs.3 It was noticed at this time, that a large proportion of the borough owners were now convinced that a serious reform in Parliament was indispensable, and were quite ready to concur in it. It was admitted by the most advanced reformers, that nomination boroughs must be treated as private property, and that compensation money should be granted to the patrons,4 but subject to this compensation it seems probable that with Government support a Reform Bill might have been carried without much difficulty. At first the language of the Chief Secretary on the subject showed some apprehension, but he soon found that no considerable popular movement for reform was for the present to be feared. The Catholic Bill had satisfied many and alarmed some, and the revolutionary movement in the North made one class of mind recoil from all change as dangerous, and another class of mind despise all moderate and legal change as inadequate. Addresses in favour of reform came in from the City of Dublin, and from some of the northern counties, but the Catholics notwithstanding the resolution of their Convention were quiescent, and the constitutional movement in the North had perceptibly abated.1 Ponsonby, Conolly, and Grattan, introduced the question into the House of Commons, but the Government carried without difficulty an evasive amendment asserting ‘that under the present system of representation the privileges of the people, the trade, and the prosperity of the country have greatly increased, and that if any plan be produced likely to increase these advantages and not hazard what we already possess, it ought to be taken into the most serious consideration.’2
The prosperity, however, to which the Government so skilfully appealed was now for a time very seriously impaired. Continental troubles, internal disquietude, and acute commercial depression in England, had contributed to check it, at the very time when a great additional expenditure was required for the war. Up to the spring of 1792 the Chancellor of the Exchequer pronounced the wealth of the country to have been steadily increasing, but after this date trade began to languish, and the revenue rapidly declined. In a single half-year it was said to have fallen by no less than 87,000l. The Chancellor of the Exchequer announced that 750,000l. must be speedily added to the ordinary income, and much more was certain to follow,3 The suffering among large classes of workmen was very great, and political agitators were manifestly trading on it. The warehouses were overstocked with cotton goods which could not be sent abroad, and failures rapidly multiplied. The streets were filled with workmen who could not find employment. The worsted weavers of Dublin stated in a petition to Parliament, that in two months the value of woollen yarn had fallen twenty per cent., and that of the 2,000 looms which in 1789 were employed in Dublin and its neighbourhood, there were not now 500.1 The distress was so great that an Act was passed authorising the Bank of Ireland to advance 200,000l. for the support of commercial credit.2
The Government had for some time perceived that in order to combat successfully the levelling spirit, and avoid a measure of reform which might seriously diminish the power of the Crown, it was necessary to acquire some ‘popular basis’ by accepting the chief measures of the Whig Club, and the necessity for retrenchment strengthened their conviction.3 A series of measures were accordingly now carried on the proposal of the Government which went far to meet the demands of the more moderate reformers. In the first place, the pension list was to be gradually reduced to 80,000l. a year, which was not hereafter to be exceeded, and no single pension amounting to more than 1,200l. a year was to be granted except to members of the Royal Family, or on an address of either House of Parliament. It was computed that in this manner a saving amounting to 30,000l. a year would be ultimately effected. The King at the same time surrendered his ancient power over the hereditary revenue, and a fixed civil list, which was not to exceed 145,000l., exclusive of the pension list, was granted to him. It was part of the arrangement that an Irish board of treasury was to be created, wholly responsible to the Irish Parliament, and this necessarily involved some considerable expense, especially as two vice-treasurers living in England had to be compensated for the loss of their offices; but it was hoped that the enormous expense of the collection of the Irish revenue would be materially reduced, and by the abolition of the old hereditary revenue the finances of the country were for the first time brought completely under the control of Parliament.4 This measure was very important, as assimilating the Irish Constitution to that of England, though the great growth of the national expenditure and the heavy burdens which Parliament had contrived from time to time to throw upon the hereditary revenue, had long since put an end to the fear that the King, by means of that revenue, might be able permanently to dispense with a Parliament in Ireland.1
In addition to this great measure, the Government accepted with little modification the Bill which Forbes had repeatedly brought forward, for incapacitating most pensioners and some placemen from sitting in Parliament. No person who held any place of profit created after the passing of this Act, or who enjoyed a pension for years or during pleasure, might sit in the House of Commous. Several existing functionaries were excluded; members of Parliament, who accepted places of profit already in existence, were obliged to vacate their seats as in England, though they might be re-elected; the number of commissioners for the execution of offices was limited, and every member of Parliament, before taking his seat, was obliged to swear that he did not hold, either directly or indirectly, any pension or office which incapacitated him from sitting.2
In this manner some of the great ends of the reforming party in Parliament were attained, and the experiment, whether the House of Commons could be seriously improved, and the democratic spirit in the country to any considerable degree satisfied, by secondary measures of reform, which left the overwhelming preponderance of nomination boroughs untouched, might be fairly tried. It must, however, be observed that one portion of this Act had effects which were certainly not anticipated by those independent members who had originally advocated it. In a Parliament which depended mainly on popular election, a law obliging members who accepted offices under the Crown to vacate their seats, and appeal to their constituents for re-election, was manifestly a guarantee of public liberty; but in a Parliament consisting mainly of nomination boroughs at the complete disposal of the Ministers, its effects were very different. It gave the Government facilities for vacating seats, replacing members, and changing the composition of the House without a dissolution, which added materially to their power. No distinction was drawn between real offices and mere nominal offices, like the Chiltern Hundreds in England, and there were four such offices in Ireland, with salaries of thirty shillings attached to them. In 1789, when Forbes first brought forward a measure substantially the same as the Act of 1793, Buckingham clearly perceived the advantages he might derive from it, and although it limited the pension list to 80,000l. a year, he argued that it would still be probably for the advantage of the Government to accept it.1 The Bill was accordingly in that year suffered to pass the Commons, but after some hesitation the Government resolved to throw it out in the Lords, on the ground that ‘the violent and dangerous combination existing against Government [after the Regency contest] could only be ultimately destroyed by a considerable increase to the charge in the civil pension list,’ and that there was at that time ‘very little hoped of uniting to a systematic support those whose seats depend on popular elections.’2 Its enactment, however, in 1793, though it in some slight degree purified the House of Commons and held out a prospect of considerable future improvement, was no real sacrifice of Government influence, and the power it gave the Ministers of changing the borough members without appealing to the popular constituencies by a dissolution, enabled them, thirteen years afterwards, to carry the legislative union.1
It was evident indeed that, unless the borough system in Ireland was reformed, no great change in the character of the House could be expected. That system the Ministry determined carefully to maintain, but the Catholic Relief Bill operated to some extent as a measure of reform in the county constituencies. It was estimated by a contemporary that about thirty thousand new electors were at once created. Many smaller landlords, whose tenants were chiefly or exclusively Catholic, obtained a considerable accession of political power, and several counties, where the whole representation had been practically in the hands of two or three great families, were in this manner thrown open.2
Several other measures of great importance were carried in this remarkable session. A favourite object, for which Grattan had long laboured, was attained by the passing of the Barren Land Act, which encouraged the cultivation of the great tracts of barren land that still existed in Ireland, by exempting them for a period of seven years from the burden of tithes.3 An Act, corresponding to Fox's Libel Act, provided that juries in libel cases might, in Ireland as in England, give their verdict upon the whole matter at issue, instead of being confined to the questions of publication and of meaning.4 The hearth tax was rearranged, and while the taxes on the larger houses were increased, a suggestion which had been made by Grattan and Conolly, and which received the special approbation of Pitt,5 was carried into effect, and all cottages which had only one hearth, and tenancies of a not greater value than five pounds a year, were wholly exempted.6 The right of Ireland to participate in the East India trade was also now fully acknowledged, but the Irish Parliament agreed to recognise the monopoly of the East India Company, and when the charter of that Company was renewed for twenty years, provisions were made which substantially, though with some restrictions, removed the grievance of exclusion, of which Irish statesmen had hitherto complained. The East India Company undertook that a ship of 800 tons burden should sail annually from Cork to India for the purpose of carrying Irish goods,1
Grattan was very anxious at this time to go still further, and to place the whole commercial relations between England and Ireland on a basis of perfect reciprocity. This, as we have seen, had been the policy of Pitt in 1785, and Grattan again declared his full approval of that policy considered as a commercial arrangement, though he still justified his opposition to Orde's propositions as amended in England, on the ground that they contained provisions which were inconsistent with the constitutional independence of the Irish Parliament. It was extremely important, from a political as well as a commercial point of view, that a war of hostile tariffs, which does so much to sunder friendly nations and to generate political animosities, should not arise. In the North there was still some clamour for protecting duties against England, and there were several instances in which Irish goods were not admitted into Great Britain on the same terms as English goods into Ireland. England still maintained her woollen monopoly by imposing a prohibitory duty of 2l. 0s. 6d. per yard on one class of woollen goods imported from Ireland, and of 6s. per yard on another class, while the corresponding duties imposed on these goods when imported from England into Ireland were only 5 1/2d. and 1 1/2d. per yard. Irish printed linens were subject in England to an import duty of sixty-five per cent., while the corresponding duty in Ireland was only ten per cent. Cotton goods paid an import duty in England of thirty per cent., in Ireland of only ten per cent.2 Grattan contended that it was very important for both countries that all these inequalities should be abolished, and that the commercial arrangements between the two countries should be definitely and finally fixed. The Irish Government rejected his proposal, on the ground of the lateness of the session and of the inexpediency of combining so large a question with the question of the East India trade; but it appears from their confidential correspondence that they considered it eminently wise, and that they would have had no difficulty in carrying it in Ireland. Hobart, after describing the success of the East India Bill, wrote to England, ‘The conduct of the Irish Parliament upon this business, I hope, will prove to you that I was not much mistaken when I urged the expediency of treating Ireland with liberality, and for once conferring a favour without letting it appear to have been extorted. Mr. Pitt's plan for settling the commercial intercourse between the two countries is now, I believe, in all the most difficult points nearly accomplished. It would be a singular satisfaction to my mind, to be instrumental in effecting the remainder. … What remains is little more than to place Great Britain and Ireland on the same footing as Great Britain and France. Mr. Pitt is certainly apprised of the difficulties he would have to encounter in England. We should have very few here. The principal objections would be likely to arise from the friends to protecting duties. Mr. Grattan, having stirred the question, must be answerable for that part of the unpopularity which might attend it, and we should have the credit and the popularity which might generally belong to the measure. … I am satisfied it is more practicable now than at any former period, and if the opportunity is lost it may fail for ever.’1
One other important measure carried in the session of 1793 remains to be noticed. The well-known Convention Act was levelled against the habit which had for some years prevailed in Ireland, of summoning great delegated or representative assemblies outside Parliament, which assumed to represent the people or some large section of them, and to speak in their name and with their authority. The Catholic Convention had been dissolved, but the United Irishmen proposed to convoke a national assembly at Athlone. All such assemblies were by the new Act pronounced unlawful, though the full right of subjects to petition for redress of grievances was acknowledged. The Bill took its rise in the House of Lords, where it was introduced by the Chancellor. In the Commons it was resisted by Grattan, who, however, spoke, in the opinion of the Government, in the ‘most moderate manner,’ and frankly admitted that such a convention as that proposed to be held at Athlone was, in the present state of Ireland, very dangerous and ought to be withstood. His objections to the Bill were that it extended beyond the necessity of the case, that it was a declaratory Bill and that the declaration of law which it contained was erroneous, and that it threw a retrospective censure on the Catholic Convention, the Volunteer Convention of Dungannon, and some other perfectly legal assemblies. The Bill, however, was carried by large majorities, and it was only repealed in our own day.1
The session of 1793 extended to the middle of August, and was one of the longest as well as one of the most important ever known in Ireland. Whatever divisions there may have been on the great questions of internal policy, the Government at least could complain of no slackness or division in the support of Imperial policy, and the French party, which undoubtedly existed in the country, found no countenance or representative among the leaders of the Opposition.
Only a single discordant note on foreign politics was this session heard in Parliament, and it proceeded from a young man of thirty who had no political weight or ability, though the charm of his character and the deep tragedy of his early death have given him an enduring place in the hearts of his countrymen. Lord Edward Fitzgerald, the younger brother of the Duke of Leinster, had, through the influence of his brother, been elected for the county of Kildare during his absence, and contrary to his wish, in 1790. His life had hitherto been purely military. When a very young man, he had served with distraction at the close of the American War, under Lord Rawdon, and was afterwards for some time quartered in British America. His artless and touching correspondence with his mother has been preserved, and it enables us to trace very clearly the outlines of his character. Warm-hearted, tender, pure-minded, and social to an unusual degree, he endeared himself to a wide circle, and his keen devotion to his profession gave promise of a distinguished military career, but he was not a man of serious or well-reasoned convictions, and he had all the temperament of a sentimentalist and an enthusiast. To such men the new lights which had arisen in France were as fatally attractive as the candle to the moth. Already in Canada the philosophy of Rousseau had obtained an empire over his mind, and on his return to Europe he plunged wildly into revolutionary politics. In the autumn of 1792 he was staying at Paris with Paine, and he took part in a banquet to celebrate the victory of the Republic over the invaders, at which toasts were drunk to the universal triumph of the principles of the Revolution and the abolition of all hereditary titles and feudal distinctions. Such a proceeding on the part of an English officer could hardly be passed over, and Lord Edward was summarily dismissed from the army. In Parliament he appears to have been a silent member till an address to the Lord-Lieutenant was moved, thanking him for having suppressed the National Guard which had been enrolled in imitation of the French, and pledging the House to concur in all measures that were necessary for the suppression of sedition and disaffection. Fitzgerald starting from his seat vehemently expressed his disapprobation of the address, and pronounced the Lord-Lieutenant and the majority of the House the worst subjects the King had. The House was cleared, and a scene of confusion followed which has not been reported. Lord Edward's explanation of his words was of such a nature that it was unanimously voted by the House ‘unsatisfactory and insufficient.’ On the following day some kind of apology was at last extorted, but it was so imperfect that a large minority voted against receiving it.1 The incident would be hardly worth recording but for the subsequent career of Lord Edward, and it is also remarkable because he alone in the Irish Parliament represented sentiments which were spreading widely through the country.
Burke in his ‘Letter to Sir Hercules Langrishe,’ which was published in 1792, has expressed his deliberate opinion that notwithstanding the grave difficulties of the time, the Irish Revolution of 1782 had hitherto produced no inconvenience either to England or Ireland; and he attributed this fact to the admirable temper with which it had in both kingdoms been conducted. The real meaning of the Irish Parliament of the eighteenth century was that the government of the country was essentially in the hands of its Protestant landlords, qualified by the fact that the Executive possessed a sufficient number of nomination boroughs to exercise a constant controlling influence over their proceedings. It was a type of government that grew out of political ideas and out of a condition of society that have irrevocably passed, and these pages will furnish abundant evidence of the many forms of corruption and abuse that attended it. The belief, however, that the owners of landed property are the natural rulers of a country, the class by whom its government is likely to be most safely, most efficiently, and most justly carried on, was in the eighteenth century scarcely less prevalent in England than in Ireland, and even in America it was countenanced by no less acute and independent a writer than Franklin.1 Nor can it, I think, be reasonably disputed that the Irish Parliament in the latter years of the century, though it had great defects, had also conspicuous merits. Though animated by a strong national spirit, it was thoroughly loyal to the English connection, prepared to make great sacrifices in defence of the Empire, and extremely anxious to work in harmony with the Legislature in England. With two exceptions, of which the importance has been enormously exaggerated, it had hitherto done so. The prosperity of the country had undoubtedly increased under its rule. It contained many men who would have done honour to any Legislature. Its more important debates exhibited a singularly high level of knowledge and ability. Its later legislation, and especially the system of taxation it established, will certainly not appear illiberal, intolerant, or oppressive, when compared with the contemporary legislation of Europe; and the session of 1793 abundantly shows that it was ready, with the assent of the Government, to carry great measures of reform.
It is a remarkable, but an incontestable fact, that at the opening of the great French War there was far more unanimity in supporting the Government against the foreign enemy in the Parliament at Dublin than in the Parliament in London. But outside the Protestant Parliament the state of feeling was very different, and the condition of the country was very alarming. Romilly had noticed in the previous year the immense impression which Paine's ‘Rights of Man’ was making in Ireland, and he had predicted that Ireland was the country in which the deadly contagion of the French Revolution was likely to be most powerfully and most speedily felt.1 This prediction was now coming true. The party of Wolfe Tone, Butler, Bond, Hamilton Rowan, Emmet, and McNevin, looked upon the French Revolution as the dawn of the brightest promise that had ever shone upon Europe, and when they found their country committed to war with the cause to which they were so passionately attached, their bitterness knew no bounds. Their discontent was all the greater because Grattan entirely refused to follow the example of Fox in denouncing the war, supported cordially every military measure which was deemed necessary, and only gave a very partial and qualified opposition to the proclamation against the volunteers, the Gunpowder Bill, and the Convention Bill, which were intended to check the dangers from disaffection at home. The name of Grattan was still so great, his eloquence was so transcendent, his character was so transparently pure, that few open murmurs against him were heard; but from the Opposition as a body the United Irishmen were wholly separated. Wolfe Tone wrote that he had ‘long entertained a more sincere contempt for what is called the Opposition than for the common prostitutes of the Treasury Bench, who want at least the vein of hypocrisy.’ Emmet, who was perhaps the ablest member of the party, declared that ‘The United Irishmen and their adherents thought that Opposition had forfeited all pretence to public confidence’ by consenting to the measures for the repression of disaffection, ‘at least before any advance had been made to correct the acknowledged radical vice in the representation.’2 Paine was elected an honorary member of the United Irishmen. Some of its leaders were already in correspondence with prominent French Revolutionists. They were closely connected with democratic societies in England and Scotland. Simon Butler and Rowan met the delegates of the Scotch democratic societies at Edinburgh, and they reported on their return that Scotland was quite as ripe for an active democratic movement as Ulster itself. The popularity of republican sentiments at Belfast was shown by the signs representing Mirabeau, Dumouriez, Franklin, and Washington, which hung in the streets, and in March a fierce riot was occasioned by a party of dragoons who attempted to cut them down.1
In June the annual synod of Ulster met. It was a body consisting of the Presbyterian ministers of the North and the presbytery of Dublin, together with a lay delegate from each parish. Such a body might reasonably be regarded as the most faithful representative of the sentiments of the Presbyterians of Ireland, and the meeting was especially interesting, as the Government had very lately augmented the Regium Donum to the Presbyterian ministers in hopes of influencing and attaching them. The synod drew up a very loyal address, but it was a significant fact that it took the occasion to express its dislike to the war, and also its satisfaction at the admission of the Catholics to the privileges of the Constitution.2
Indignation at the war was at this time the dominant sentiment of the Belfast party. Addresses were circulated describing it as a war for the persecution of principles, and calling on the people to meet to petition for peace, and to inform the King that their real sentiments were not reflected by the proceedings of the Parliament. ‘What is the navigation of the Scheldt to us?’ they asked in one of their addresses. ‘Why should we interfere because France, like Cromwell, has killed a guilty king? Let the rich who want war pay for it. The people are starving. Trade in all its branches is paralysed. Yet Ireland has no cause of quarrel with France.’ The proclamation suppressing the volunteers produced some considerable disturbances, and the balloting for the militia many others. In almost every county it was violently resisted, until the Government wisely resolved to abandon or mitigate the system. Voluntary recruits were largely enlisted. Substitutes were permitted for those who were balloted for. Country gentlemen subscribed bounties in order to induce volunteers to come forward, and some provision was made for the families of militiamen. By these means the ranks were speedily filled, but in spite of all the efforts to suppress them, riots and conspiracies were multiplying. The Government letters in the spring and summer of 1793 are full of accounts of secret drillings; of attempts to form national guards in different towns of Ulster; of the concealment of guns, ammunition, and even cannon; of midnight parties attacking country houses and seizing arms; of the untiring industry with which the levelling principles of the Revolution were propagated. The riots of the Peep-o'-Day-Boys and Defenders rose and fell, but they had infected many counties, and secret combinations were spreading among the lowest class, to resist the payment of tithes and hearth money, and sometimes of priests' dues, and of rent. Westmorland and Hobart wrote that an oath ‘to be true to the Catholic cause’ was widely taken; that rude proclamations were circulated declaring that the people ‘must have land at ten shillings per acre, and will have no farmers nor great men, and that they are fifty to one gentleman;’ that equality not only of religion, but of property, was expected; that large numbers of pikes were manufactured, and that there were constant rumours of an impending insurrection.
It is possible, and indeed probable, that the letters from the Castle were somewhat overcoloured. Neither Westmorland nor Hobart were able men; their letters show some traces of panic, and they were surrounded by men who had long been endeavouring to alarm the English Ministry in order to check the reforming designs of Pitt and Dundas. There can, however, be no reasonable doubt that their information was substantially correct, and that the condition of the country had in a few months greatly deteriorated. ‘The pains which have for these last eighteen months been taken,’ writes Hobart, ‘to persuade the people of the irresistible force of numbers, has given them such an idea of their strength that until they are actually beaten into a different opinion they will never be quiet. … Amongst other considerations, relief from tithes, rents, and taxes, forms no small part of the inducements held out to them; and they are taught to expect the assistance of the French, who, they are told, will participate with them all the blessings of freedom and equality. Whether we are to expect a rebellion to break out in any corner of the kingdom I am very much at a loss to conjecture.’ ‘The Jacobins are not more inimical to Great Britain than the United Irishmen to the peace of this country; indeed, I am satisfied that they are connected with the worst men in France.’1 Although the Irish Parliament had voted military forces, including the militia, of not less than 36,000 men, the Lord-Lieutenant for a time doubted whether any more troops could be safely sent out of Ireland. ‘The danger,’ he said, ‘to which the lives as well as property of the gentlemen of this country are exposed is a feeling that cannot be resisted. In truth, the people of property and lower order here are as distinct sects as the Gentoos and Mahommedans. The lower order or old Irish consider themselves as plundered and kept out of their property by the English settlers, and on every occasion are ready for riot and revenge.’2
Before the close of the session of Parliament the aspect of affairs appears to have somewhat improved. In August, Hobart announced that the country had quieted greatly, and he added his hope ‘that the military aid we are to give you will have the benefit of considerably assisting you in the operations of the campaign, without hazarding the peace of Ireland.’3
The elements of anarchy and sedition, however, were manifestly multiplying, and from many different quarters dark clouds were gathering on the horizon. The French Revolution, and the rapidly growing political agitation which had arisen, had profoundly altered the conditions of Irish politics, and a great war had immensely added both to their difficulty and to their danger. I propose to devote the last volume of this work to a history of the closing years of the Irish Parliament; of the great rebellion which it encountered; and of the Act of Union by which it was finally destroyed.
END OF THE SIXTH VOLUME.
Irish Parl. Deb. x. 408–412.
‘See Hardy's Life of Charlement, ii. 219, 220. The original list of the members will be found in Grattan's Life, iii. 432–433.
Parl. Deb. x. 240–246, 344–348. It is worthy of notice that Wolfe Tone states in his autobiography, that it was about this time that he arrived at the conclusion which directed his whole subsequent policy—that ‘the influence of England was the radical vice’ of Irish government, and that Ireland would never be independent while the connection with England subsisted. ‘In forming this theory,’ he says, ‘I was exceedingly assisted by an old friend of mine, Sir Lawrence Parsons, whom I look upon as one of the very few honest men in the Irish House of Commons. It was he who first turned my attention on this great question, but I very soon ran far ahead of my master.’ Tone's Life (American edition), i. 32. Parsons' line of argument appears, indeed, to have been very generally adopted by the United Irishmen.
McNevin's Pieces of Irish History, pp. 12, 13.
Hardy's Life of Charlemont, ii. 225.
Westmorland to Grenville, Oct. 5, 17, 1790.
McNevin's Pieces of Irish History, pp. 14, 15.
Tone's Life, i. 42, 43.
Westmorland to Dundas (private), July 26, 1791.
Tone had already written a pamphlet under the signature of Hibernicus, to show that Ireland should take no part in an English war with Spain about Nootka Sound. Grattan, as we have seen, had fully supported the vote of credit for that war.
This remarkable pamphlet, as well as the other works of Wolfe Tone, will be found appended to the American edition of his life.
Life of Wolfe Tone, i. 55. In another place he writes: ‘To subvert the tyranny of our execrable Government, to break the conneetion with England (the never-failing source of all our politcal evils), and to assert the independence of my country, these were my objects. To unite the whole people of Ireland … to substitute the common name of Irishmen in place of the denominations of Protestant, Catholic, and Dissenter, these were my means.’ Ibid. p. 51.
Secret Committee, pp. 38, 39, 50–56. This letter was intercepted and sent to England early in July (Westmorland to Sydney, July 11, 1791). It was accompanied by a sketch of a proposed secret society modelled after the Freemasons, intended to after the Freemasons, in-tended to advocate in Ireland the rights of men, and to correspond with the Jacobin Club in Paris and with different reform societies in England.
Seoret Committee, pp. 38, 39.
Irish Parl. Deb. xi. 132.
Ibid. xiii. 14.
Irish Parl. Deb. xiv. 74–87.
Ibid. xiii. 8.
Ibid. xiv. 76.
Irish Parl. Deb. xiv. 89.
Ibid. p. 102.
Grattan, however, while sup-porting strongly this reform, confessed that it did not go as far as he wished. Parl. Deb. xiv. 75.
Madden's United Irishman, i. 239, 240.
McNevin's Pieces of Irish History, pp. 18–20.
On this secession compare McNevin, p. 20; Plowden, ii. 334; Tone's Life, i. 48–50. The materials for forming an opinion about it are miserably inadequate.
Plowden, ii. appendix pp. 173–175.
McNevin, p. 21.
Burke's Correspondence, iii. 152, 153.
25 Geo. III. c. 42.
McKenna's Essays on the Affairs of Ireland in 1791–1793, p. 26.
Letter to Sir Hercules Lang. rishe.
Burke's Correspondence, iv. 81.
Grattan's Life, iv. 39.
Correspondence, iii. 529.
Letter to Sir Hercules Langrishe.
Burke's Correspondence, iii. 435.
Letter to Langrishe.
Burke's Correspondence, iv. 12.
Burke's Correspondence, iii. 438, 439.
Ibid. iii. 525, iv. 28, 29.
Burke's Correspondence, iii. 154, 490; Macknight's Life of Burke, iii. 422, 423.
Burke's Correspondence, iii. 490.
Ibid. iii. 366.
Grenville to Westmorland, Oct. 20, 1791. Westmorland Papers. Many of the letters of 1791 and 1792, cited in the following pages, are not in the Record Office. They come from a very valuable and interesting collection of papers of Lord Westmorland, which was kindly lent me by the owner, Sir S. Ponsonby Fane. They have since been given by him to the State Paper Office in Dublin, where they now are.
Dundas to Westmorland, Dec. 26, 1791.
Jan. 11, 1792, Westmorland to Dundas. In a letter of private instructions to Hobart, suggesting the arguments to be used in England, Westmorland writes, ‘It appears to me by no means impossible we shall be seriously asked by formidable bodies of our Parliament, If we concede at your desire, will England pledge herself to support the Protestant power? If we can answer Yes, they will obey: if a negative or evasive answer is given, they will say, Then let the Protestant interest maintain itself in the way it best can. England has no right to ask us to weaken ourselves by concession, if she intends to abandon us afterwards.’ Westmorland to Hobart, Dec. 19, 1791.
Jan. 6, 1792, Pitt to Westmorland.
Westmorland to Pitt, Jan. 18, 1792.
Hobart to Dundas, Jan. 17, 1792.
Cooke to Barnard, Jan. 21, 1792. I may add a few sentences from the confidential letter which Westmorland wrote to Hobart, when the latter was in England for the purpose of enforcing the views of the Irish Government. ‘What has so much discredited the Irish Parliament in England? Examine the history: have they not without exception been the most convenient engines of British management since the days of King William? … The object of England must be to govern Ireland. She has in the present Constitution a Parliament formed of such materials that she always has, and probably always will be able to manage it, and she has a sect, deficient in numbers but possessing the property, magistracy, and influence in the country, pledged to maintain that establishment. Can it be for her advantage to alter the system of Government by bringing forward the Catholics, to throw the weight into the scale of the people and render the Parliament unmanageable? … No argument should be left to impress Pitt with the impossiblity of depending on the Catholics as a body that could be managed for a length of time, and therefore, though every method should be used to attach them, yet we ought not to risk the decisive management at present possessed by England.’ Westmorland to Hobart, Dec. 17, 1791.
Hobart to Westmorland, Jan. 25, 1792.
Dundas to Westmorland, Jan. 16, 1792.
Westmorland to Dundas, Jan. 21, 1792. Three days later Westmorland wrote: ‘The Protestant flame in this country grows hotter and hotter, and our difficulties increase. I am very much afraid we shall not be able to carry the smallest concession.’ (To Dundas, Jan. 24.) On Feb. 12 he wrote to the same correspondent ‘Though the Parliament and public may be reconciled to our Bill, the determination not to grant anything further, and to publish a declaration at no time to grant the franchise, is so violent and so absurd, that I fear it will not be possible to prevent a declaration of this nature in some shape or other.’
Pitt to Westmorland, Jan. 29, 1792.
Dundas to Westmorland, Jan. 29, 1792.
Burke's Correspondence, iii. 378.
Ibid. 463. ‘Whatever difficulties,’ Richard Burke added, ‘there may be in carrying a measure of effectual relief for the Catholics on account of the supposed reluctance of the Protestants (which, however, is infinitely exaggerated), those difficulties were, in a great measure, if not altogether, created by the Irish Government … by becoming, as it were, the champions of a Protestant interest, and by entering into and inflaming the passions and prejudices of that party. This is the real cause of the opposition the Catholics have had to encounter.’ Burke's Correspondence, iii. 462.
‘I do not believe there was ever an instance in any country, of such a sacrifice of private judgment to the wishes of his Majesty, as by the Irish Ministers in the present concession.’ Westmorland to Dundas (private), Feb. 13, 1792.
Grattan, in 1793, reviewing this period, said: ‘The most unfortunate error of our Ministry was their interference with grand juries against the Catholics. … They took the lead in fomenting a religious war; they began it; they acted in the mongrel capacity of country gentlemen and Ministers. They acted against the Catholics as country gentlemen, and encouraged the Protestants as Ministers. They had, I understand, informed the British Ministry that the influence of the Crown could not induce a majority to vote against the Catholic pretensions, and then they themselves took a leading part to make the difficulty in the country, which they complained of in their despatches.’ Irish Parl, Deb. xiii. 10.
See vol. v. 185, 186; Plowden, ii. (appendix) 179–181.
See Grattan's Life, iv. 54, 55.
Plowden, ii. (appendix) 209, 210, 218
Macnevin's Pieces of Irish History, p. 27; Tone's Memoirs, i. 65.
Macnevin's Pieces of Irish History, p. 29.
Thus Burke, writing in Sept. 1792, mentions that Grattan and Hutchinson had both been visiting him. ‘They say that the ascendants are as hot as fire, and that they who think like them are in a manner obliged to decline all society.’ Burke's Correspondence, iii. 530. Westmorland wrote to Pitt, Feb. 24, 1792: ‘Grattan has completely ruined himself for some time, in the opinion of the House of Commons as well as all the Protestants of the country. We reap the benefit of his indiscretion, and if Mr. Grattan continues this theme, I almost flatter myself the support of English Government will become popular in the country.’ See, too, Giatian's Life, iv. 62.
Burke's Correspondence, iv. 100–105.
Irish Parl. Deb. xiii. 256, 257.
Irish Parl. Deb. xiii. 213. The discussion on extending the franchise to the Catholics, extended over the sessions of 1792 and 1793. Some of the arguments I have quoted were used in the latter session.
This fact surprised Westmorland, but did not alter his opinion of the real sentiments of the House He wrote confidentially to Pitt (Feb. 24, 1792): ‘I was much surprised that several in their speeches thought the time might come when the franchise might be granted. With exception to Grattan, Egan and Curran, Hutchinson, and some few, perhaps a dozen, who are either Cataolics lately conformed or connected with them, there is not one but would postpone that ad Græcas Calendas, for no letter I have written has sufficaently described the obstinacy, bigotry, and jealousy of almost every man upon that subject, and that we should have gone so far without quarrelling with our friends is an instance of luck and, I hope, management, to me quite miraculous.’
Parl. Deb. xii. 150, 156, 220, 243; Hobart to Dundas, Feb. 20, 1792.
See Burke's Correspondence, iv. 65; Letter to Langrishe; Works, vi. 364, 365. See, too, a memorial drawn up by Richard Burke, Nov. 4, 1792.
Parl. Deb. xii. 168. There is a remarkable passage in Grattan's great speech against the commercial propositions in 1785, showing that he already dreaded such a measure. Speechs, i. 240.
Parl. Deb. xii. 177, 178.
Pitt to Westmorland, Nov. 18, 1792 (Westmorland Papers).
See Plowden, ii. 362–364.
Westmorland to Pitt, Feb. 24, 1792. See, too, March 3.
Westmorland to Dundas, April 4, 1792.
Westmorland to Pitt, March 3.
Westmorland to Dundas, April 4, 1792.
Westmorland to Pitt, Feb. 24, April 4, 1792.
Hobart to Dundas, Feb. 9, 1792.
Hobart to Barnard, March 10, 1792.
Irish Parl. Deb. xi. 68, 84.
Parl. Deb. xii. 272, 277, 278, 280; xiii. 7, 159–163.
Ibid. xiv. 84.
3 Geo. III. c. 13; 15 & 16 Geo. III. c. 16.
11 Geo. III. c. 12.
11 & 12 Geo. III. c. 12.
Parl. Deb. xii. 20. See, too, on the great admitted prosperity of the country, pp. 22, 39, 90, 143, 280.
Charlemont to Halliday, Dec. 13, 1791. Charlemont Papers.
Westmorland to Pitt, April 4, 1792.
Westmorland to Dundas, June 7, 1792.
Westmorland to Pitt, Oct. 16, 1792.
Wolfe Tone's Memoirs, i. 67.
Ibid. i. 86, 87.
Westmorland to Pitt, Oct. 20, 1792.
Westmorland to Pitt, Oct. 20, 1792.
Westmorlad to Dundas, Nov. 18; Westmorland to Pitt, Oct. 20, 1792.
Westmorland to Pitt, Oct. 20, 1792.
Hobart to Barnard; Westmorland to Pitt, Oct. 20, Nov. 3, 19, 1792.
Westmorland to Pitt, Nov. 24, 1792.
Westmorland to Dundas, Nov. 18, 1792.
Hobart to Nepean, Nov. 15.
Westmorland to Dundas, Nov. 18, 1792.
Westmorland to Pitt, Nov. 19, 1792.
Ibid. Oct. 20, 1792.
Westmorland to Dundas, Sept. 19.
Westmorland to Pitt, Nov. 3, 1792.
Ibid. Nov. 24, 1792.
Ibid. Oct. 20, 1792.
Ibid. Oct. 24, 1792.
Westmorland to Pitt, Nov. 24, 1792.
Ibid. Nov. 28.
Westmorland to Pitt, Nov. 24, 1792.
Ibid. Nov. 19.
Westmorland to Dundas, Nov. 18, 1792.
Westmorland to Pitt, Nov. 28, 179.
Pitt to Westmcrland, Oct. 14, Nov. 18, 1792.
Hobart to Nepean, Nov. 19, 1792.
Wolfe Tone's Memoirs i. 68, 69.
Hobart to Nepean, Nov. 30; Westmorland to Dundas, Dec. 5, 1792; McNevin's Pieces of Irish History, p. 35. The buttons on the buff and blue uniform of the Whig Club, bore the harp surmounted by the crown. Grattan's Life, iv. 71.
Hobart to Nepean, Sept. 7, 1792.
Ibid. Oct. 20.
See an unsigned memorial from Dublin, Oct. 29, 1790, ‘On the Affairs of Ireland,’ and also a letter of Luzerne, July 27, 1790, French Foreign Office.
See an unsigned memorial from London, Dec. 1, 1792, and two letters from the Minister at Paris, Dec. 9, 18, 1792, French Foreign Office.
See a memorial written by him, Dec. 18, 1792. It appears from one of the supplemental volumes in the French Foreign Office (1773–1791) that Coquebert was in Dublin and occupied with Irish politics as early as Feb. 1791.
Charlemont to Halliday, Feb. 26, 1793. Charlemont Papers.
McNevin, p. 35.
Westmorland to Dundas, Dec. 11, 1792.
Grattan's Life, iv. 73, 74.
Ibid. 126, 127.
Tone's Memoirs, i. 52.
Plowden, ii. 387, 388.
Westmorland to Pitt, Nov. 28, 1792.
Westmorland to Dundas, Nov. 29, 1792.
Westmorland to Pitt, Dec. 1 1792.
Ibid. Dec. 4, 1792.
Hobart to Nepean, Dec. 5, 1792.
Westmorland to Pitt, Dec. 7, 1792.
Westmorland to Pitt, Dec. 9, 1792.
Westmorland to Pitt, Dec. 10, 1792.
Westmorland to Dundas, Dec. 11, 1792.
Westmorland to Pitt, Dec. 14, 1792.
Wyse's History of the Catholic Association, ii. append. p. 13; Grattan's Life, iv. 78–80; Wolfe Tone's Memoirs, i. 86. 87.
Westmorland to Pitt, Dec. 18; to Dundas, Dec. 19, 22, 26, 29, 30, 1792.
Plowden, ii. 387, 388.
See a powerful statement of the case in A Letter to the United Irishmen on the proposed Restoration of Catholic Rights, by Todd Jones (Dublin, 1792).
Nov. 4, 1792 (Record Office).
Pitt to Westmorland, Nov. 10, 1792.
Dundas to Westmorland, Dec. 17, 1792.
Westmorland to Dundas, Dec. 29.
Hobart to Nepean, Dundas, Dec. 29.
Ibid. Jan. 1, 1793.
Ibid. Jan. 9, 1793.
Ibid. Dec. 20, 1792.
Westmorland to Dundas, Dec. 29, 1792.
Ibid. Jan. 9, 1793.
Westmorland to Dundas, Jan. 11, 1793.
Dundas to Westmorland, Jan. (the day not given) 1793. The petition had been presented to the King on the 2nd. See Tone's Memoirs, i. 89, 90.
Parl. Deb. xiii. 3.
See Mant's History of the Church of Ireland, ii. 721–725. In the closing speech of the session the Lord-Lieutenant reverted to the term ‘Roman Catholic.’
Hobart to Nepean, Jan. 11, 1793.
Hobart to Nepean, Jan. 11.
Parl. Deb. xiii. 30.
Hobart to Nepean, Jan. 16, 1793. Grattan's Life, iv. 85, 86.
Hobart to Nepean, Jan. 11, 1793.
Ibid. Jan. 15, 1793.
Hobart to Nepean, Jan. 19, 1793.
Parl. Deb. xiii. 271.
Parl, Deb. xiii. 120, 127.
Park. Deb. xiii. 273–275, 327, 328.
Hobart to Nepean, Feb. 5, 1795.
Cooke to Nepean, Feb. 26.
Parl. Deb. xiii, 308.
Parl. Deb. xiii. 314, 315.
Cooke to Nepean, Feb. 26; Hobart to Nepean, Feb. 26, 1793.
Parl. Deb. xiii. 278. See, too, Hardy's Life of Charlemont, ii. 145.
Parl. Deb. xiii. 313.
It is worthy of notice that Parsons—who was himself a man of very distinguished ability—evidently considered Flood by far the greatest man who had appeared in Irish politics in the latter part of the eighteenth century. In a little work published in 1795, he says of him: ‘He was certainly one of the greatest men that ever adorned this country. His mind was the most capacious, his reason the most athletic, his judgment the most balanced, his erudition the most profound. His nature was too dignitied to deceive others, his intellect too piercing to be deceived himself. … The impartial judgment of subsequent ages will consider him as unrivalled in his own country, and had it been his fortune to have moved upon a theatre as capacious as his own mind, his celebrity would not have been exceeded by any man's in any other.’ Parsons' Observations on the Bequest of Henry Flood, pp. 65, 75. This agrees with the judgment of another very able man, Peter Burrowes, who was an intimate friend both of Flood and of Grattan. Burrowes described the former as ‘perhaps the ablest man Ireland ever produced, indisputably the ablest man of his own times.’ Memoir and Speeches of Peter Burrowes, p. 11.
See Peel's Memoirs, i. 4.
Parl. Deb. xiii. 203–219.
Parl. Deb. xiii. 258–268.
Ibid. xiii. 299, 300.
Ibid. xiii. 342.
Parl. Deb. xiii. 363.
33 Geo. III. c. 21.
Burke's Correspondence, iii. 436.
Grattan's Life, iv. 114.
Burke's Correspondence, iv. 73
‘I cannot do full justice to his conduct during the present session. Thinking what was proposed in-jurious to the English connection in the first instance, he acquiesced in the wishes of the Government, discountenanced the innumerable cabals that were at work, encouraged the timorous, and to his spirit and de-cision may in great degree be attributed the successful stand we have made.’ Westmorland to Nepean, March 21, 1793.
Hobart to Nepean, March 13, 1793.
George III. 0, 1, 2, 16, 22.
Westmorland to Dundas, March 29, 1793.
Hobart to Nepean, March 19, 1793.
Compare a memorandum sent from Ireland by the Government, April 25, 1793; McNevin's Pieces of Irish History, p. 59; Wolfe Tone, i. 252–267.
June 7, 1783.
Thus the United Irishmen, in advocating their Reform Bill in 1793, wrote: ‘We believe it will be said that our plan, however just, is im-practicable in the present state of the country. If any part of that impracticability should be supposed to result from the interested resistance of borough proprietors, although we never will consent to compromise the public right, yet we for our parts might not hesitate to purchase the public peace by an adequate compensation.’ Madden's United Irish-man, 1. 238.
See Plowden, ii. 431–433; Hardy's Life of Charlemont, ii. 308–310.
Parl. Deb. xiii. 164.
Ibid. 84, 418–420, 424, 433,
Parl. Deb. xiii. 449.
33 Geo. III. c. 52.
Westmorland to Dundas, Jan. 16; Hobart to Nepean, Jan. 16, 1793. See, too, a powerful letter written by Conolly to his connection, the Duke of Richmond, and intended for the perusal of the English Cabinet, March 23, 1793.
33 Geo. III. c. 34; Parl. Deb. xiii. 431, 447, 448.
The Secretary of State (H. Hutchinson) said: ‘The nett hereditary revenue for the last year ending March 25, 1792, was 275,102l., and the gross amount 764,627l., which was reduoced to so small a sum by charging the whole expense of the collection and management of the whole revenue on this part of it; but when this came to be considered no man could justify it. It arose at first from laying the additional duties on those subjects of taxation from which the hereditary revenue arose. It afterwards became a pious fraud to lay every possible charge on this fumd, and with that view bounties and premiums to a very great annual amount were charged on it, which had reduced its amount.’ Parl. Deb. xiii. 473. Some very valuable speeches on the history of the Irish Revenue were delivered in this discussion.
33 Geo, III. e. 41. According to the Anthologia Hibernica (ii,237) eleven pensioners and five placemen in the existing House of Commons, were for the future excluded by the Act.
He writes: ‘A principle is established by this Bill entirely novel in the Statute-book, though often attempted by different Governments: I mean the principle of vacating, by pension or otherwise, the seats of members of the House of Commons. I need not explain to your lordship the manifest advantage of such a power to be lodged in the Crown. It is well known that his Majesty's service has often suffered materially from the want of it, and the Opposition have always been particularly jealous on this subject; and I am inclined to believe that they would not have passed this clause had they clearly seen the operation of it.’ ‘The King's Government will be essentially strengthened by it.’ Even the portion of the Bill limiting the civil pension list to 80,000l. a year (exclusive of pensions granted to the royal family or on parliamentary address) did not appear to Buckingham altogether objectionable, as it gave for the first time a full parliamentary recognition to the right of the Crown to grant, without any parliamentary control, pensions to that amount. Buckingham to Sydney (secret), Mar. 20, 1789.
Ibid. (most secret) March 20, 1789.
See the very just remarks of Barrington, Rise and Full of the Irish Nation, c. xxii.
McKenna's Political Essays relative the Affairs of Ireland, 1791–1793, pp. xiii, 200–203 .
33 Geo. III. c. 25.
Ibid. c. 43.
Westmorland to Dundas, Jan. 16,1793.
33 Geo. III. c. 14.
Parl. Deb. xiii. 451, 452, 488–514; 33 Geo. III. c. 31.
Parl. Deb. xiv. 50.
Hobart to Nepean, July 17, 1793.
33 Geo. III. c. 29; Parl. Deb. xiii. 540–556; Hobart to Nepean, July 21, 26, 1793.
Parl. Deb. xiii. 82, 83; Moore's Life of Lord E. Fitzgerald.
See vol. iii. 378.
Bomilly's Life, i. 427.
McNevin's Pieces of Irish History, p. 45.
Grattan's Life, iv. 138; McNevin, pp. 54, 58.
McNevin's Pieces of Irish History, p. 60.
Hobart to Hamilton, June 17; to Nepean, July 21, 1793.
Westmorland to Dundas, May 24, 1793.
Hobart to Nepean, Aug. 17, 1793.