Front Page Titles (by Subject) CHAPTER XXXI.: The Union - Part I. - A History of England in the Eighteenth Century, vol. VIII
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CHAPTER XXXI.: The Union - Part I. - William Edward Hartpole Lecky, A History of England in the Eighteenth Century, vol. VIII 
A History of England in the Eighteenth Century (London: Longmans, Green, and Co., 1878, 1917). 8 Vols. Vol. VIII.
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The reader who has followed with any care the long course of Irish history related in the present work, will have observed how often, and from how many different points of view, and at what long intervals, the possibility of a legislative Union between Great Britain and Ireland had been discussed or suggested. It is difficult, however, without some repetition, to form a clear, connected conception of the history of the question, and I shall, therefore, make no apology for devoting a few pages to recapitulating its earlier stages.
For a short time during the Commonwealth, such an Union had actually existed. The great scheme of parliamentary reform which had been devised by the Long Parliament was carried into effect by Cromwell, and thirty Irish and thirty Scotch members were summoned to the Reformed Parliament which met at Westminster in 1654, and to the succeeding Parliaments of the Commonwealth. With the Restoration the old constituencies and the old separate constitutions were revived, but the expediency of a legislative Union was soon after strongly advocated by Sir William Petty in that most remarkable work, the ‘Political Anatomy of Ireland,’ which was written about 1672, but published, after the death of the author, in 1691.
It was composed in the short interval of returning prosperity which followed the convulsions and confiscations of the Civil War. Reviewing the past connection between England and Ireland, Petty declared that Ireland had been for 500 years, only a loss and charge to England; that the suppression of the late rebellion had cost England ‘three times more, in men and money, than the substance of the whole country when reduced was worth;’ and that ‘at this day, when Ireland was never so rich and splendid, it was the advantage of the English to abandon their whole interest in that country, and fatal to any other nation to take it.’ Nothing, he believed, could ever put an end to this evil but a measure that should ‘tend to the transmuting one people into the other, and the thorough union of interests upon natural and lasting principles.’ Much, he thought, might be done by transplanting, for a few years, an English population into Ireland, and an Irish population into England, but the most efficacious remedy would be a complete legislative Union. It was absurd that Englishmen, settled in Ireland for the King's interests and in the King's service, should be treated as aliens; that the King's subjects should pay custom when passing from one part of his dominions to another; that two distinct Parliaments should exercise legislative powers in Ireland; that every ship carrying West Indian goods to Ireland should be forced to unload in England. He contrasted the condition of Ireland with that of Wales, which had been completely united with England, and therefore completely pacified, and he concluded, ‘that if both kingdoms, now two, were put into one, and under one legislative power and Parliament, the numbers whereof should be in the same proportion that the power and wealth of each nation are, there would be no danger such a Parliament should do anything to the prejudice of the English interest in Ireland; nor could the Irish ever complain of partiality when they shall be freely and proportionably represented in all Legislatures.’ ‘If it be just that men of English birth and estates living in Ireland should be represented in the legislative power, and that the Irish should not be judged by those whom they pretend do usurp their estates, it seems just and convenient that both kingdoms should be united and governed by one legislative power. Nor is it hard to show how this may be made practicable.’ 1
A new and very important influence affecting the question had now come into play. Petty had complained of the laws which in his time prohibited the export of Irish cattle to England, and fettered the Irish trade with the colonies; but with the Revolution and the ascendency of the commercial class that followed it, an era of far more terrible commercial restrictions began. It was not a purely Irish policy, for it extended also to the American colonies and to Scotland; but, as we have seen, the geographical position of Ireland and the complete dependence of its Legislature made the effects of this policy in that country peculiarly disastrous. The utter ruin by English law of the woollen manufactures of Ireland, the restrictions by which the Irish were prohibited from exporting them, not only to England and to the English dominions, but also to all other countries whatsoever, added greatly to the poverty of the nation, drove a multitude of the best and most energetic settlers out of the country, kindled a fierce resentment among those who remained, and inspired Molyneux to publish in 1698 his famous treatise, asserting the rightful independence of the Irish Parliament. There is a passage in the work of this great champion of Irish independence which is peculiarly significant. He observes that there are traces of Irish members having under Edward III. been summoned to a Parliament in England, and he adds that if from these records ‘it be concluded that the Parliament of England may bind Ireland, it must also be allowed that the people of Ireland ought to have their representatives in the Parliament of England; and this, I believe, we should be willing enough to embrace, but this is a happiness we can hardly hope for.’ 1
The history of the Scotch Union has been already related, and we have seen how closely it was connected with the history of the commercial disabilities. The exclusion of Scotch goods from the English colonies, and the severe restrictions on Scotch trade with England, had proved a fatal barrier to the progress of a poor and struggling country, and it had become a main object of the more intelligent Scotch politicians to procure their abolition. The English, on the other hand, were extremely unwilling to grant it, but they desired to secure and consolidate the connection of the two countries, which after the Revolution was in great danger. The violently hostile attitude towards England adopted by the Scotch Parliament during the war; the positive refusal of that Parliament to adopt the succession of the Crown in the House of Hanover; the Scotch Bill of security providing that, on the death of Queen Anne without issue, the crown of Scotland should be completely severed from that of England, unless the religion and freedom of trade of Scotland had been previously secured, and the strong retaliatory measures taken by the English Parliament, together forced on the bargain of the Union. England, with extreme reluctance, conceded the commercial privileges which Scotland so ardently desired; Scotland, with extreme reluctance, surrendered her legislative independence as the only price by which industrial prosperity could be purchased. The measure was carried probably largely by corruption. It was certainly for more than a generation bitterly unpopular in the weaker country, but it bound the two nations together by an indissoluble tie, and the immense commercial benefits which it conferred on Scotland, proved one of the chief causes of her subsequent prosperity.1
The drama was watched with natural interest in Ireland. In 1703, four years before the Scotch Union was completed, both Houses of Parliament in Ireland concurred in a representation to the Queen in favour of a legislative Union between England and Ireland, and in 1707 the Irish House of Commons, while congratulating the Queen on the consummation of the Scotch measure, expressed a hope that God might put it into her heart to add greater strength and lustre to her crown by a yet more comprehensive union. Several of the ablest men in Ireland, such as Archbishop King, Sir W. Cox, and Bishop Nicholson, clearly saw the transcendent importance of such a measure,2 and it is tolerably certain that, if England had desired it, it could then have been carried without difficulty and without discontent. Ireland had much more to gain by such a measure than Scotland, and the national feeling, which was so powerful in Scotland, and which at the close of the century became so powerful in Ireland, did not as yet exist. The Catholic population were sunk in poverty and degradation. Those who would have been their natural leaders in any political struggle had been completely broken by the events of the last sixty-six years, and were for the most part scattered as exiles over the Continent. All the best contemporary accounts represent the Catholics in Ireland as perfectly passive and perfectly indifferent to political questions, and they had assuredly no affection for a Legislature which consisted mainly of the victors in two recent Civil Wars, and which was animated by such sentiments as inspired the penal laws under Anne. The dominant portion of the Protestants, on the other hand, were new English settlers in possession of recently confiscated land, and they had not, and could not have had, any of the strong Irish feeling which was abundantly developed among their successors. In the pliant, plastic condition to which Ireland was then reduced, a slight touch of sagacious statesmanship might have changed the whole course of its future development. But in this as in so many other periods of Irish history, the favourable moment was suffered to pass. The spirit of commercial monopoly triumphed. The petition of the Irish Parliament was treated with contempt, and a long period of commercial restrictions, and penal laws, and complete parliamentary servitude, ensued.
Several writers during the next fifty or sixty years, both in England and Ireland, when reviewing the condition of Ireland or the state of English trade, advocated a legislative Union accompanied with free trade. Madden and Dobbs in Ireland, Postlethwayt, Decker, Sir Francis Brewster, and Child in England, were among them,1 and they were soon followed by a writer of far wider fame. Adam Smith devoted nearly the last words of the ‘Wealth of Nations’ to the subject. He desired that Ireland as well as America should share the burden of the English national debt, but he contended that the increase of taxation which would follow a legislative Union would be more than compensated by the freedom of trade that would accompany it, and that it would confer upon Ireland the still greater benefit of softening the antagonism of class and creed, and delivering the nation from an aristocracy founded not on birth or fortune, but on religious and political prejudices. ‘Without an Union with Great Britain,’ he said, ‘the inhabitants of Ireland are not likely, for many ages, to consider themselves one people.’ 2
At the time of the American War the possibility of an Union was widely discussed, and many pamphlets pointing to such a measure appeared.1 This war brought into vivid relief the dangers that might arise from the collision of distinct Legislatures in the same Empire, and it was probably remembered that, long before, Franklin had foreseen the danger, and had pointed out a legislative Union as the best means of lessening the chances of future separation.2 Arthur Young more than once touched upon the subject, but with considerable hesitation. In one portion of his work he appeared to advocate it, but on the whole he inclined to the opinion that an arrangement by which England granted free trade and relaxed the restrictions on the Irish Legislature, while Ireland gave the British Government a complete control over her military resources, would prove more advantageous to both parties than an incorporating Union.3 Montesquieu, as we have seen, expressed to Lord Charlemont a strong opinion in favour of a legislative Union.
These opinions were not confined to mere speculative writers. Franklin mentions, in a letter from London in September 1773, that it was reported that Lord Harcourt was about to introduce a legislative Union at the next meeting of the Irish Parliament. He added, that the idea of an Union was unpopular on the Eastern side of Ireland, through the belief that Dublin would decline, and that the Western and Southern parts would flourish on its ruins, but that for that very reason it was popular in the South and West.4 It appears certain, that the expediency of a legislative Union had been the subject of consideration and confidential discussion among English statesmen during the Administration of the elder Pitt. No public steps, indeed, relating to it were taken, and the sentiments of that great statesman on the question are not easy to ascertain. The Irish policy which was disclosed in his despatches and speeches consisted mainly of three parts. He desired to respect most jealously and scrupulously the exclusive right of the Irish Parliament to tax Ireland. He viewed with great dislike the power of controlling the Executive in the disposal of the Irish army, which the Irish Parliament possessed in the law providing that 12,000 out of the 15,000 men supported from Irish resources must remain in Ireland, unless the Parliament gave its consent to their removal; and he believed that it ought to be a great end of English policy to consolidate the Protestant interest by conciliating as much as possible the Dissenters in the North. A conspicuous writer against the Union, however, who was intimately acquainted with some of the leading statesmen of his time, stated in 1799 that he believed there were men still living who well remembered ‘that this very measure of an incorporating Union was a favourite object of the late Earl of Chatham, and that particularly in the year 1763 he often mentioned it as a matter of great benefit and importance to Great Britain, and that he formed to himself the hope of carrying the measure by means of the Catholics, and that his avowed object was an object of taxation.’ 1 If, however, Chatham at one time really formed the idea, he appears to have afterwards abandoned it, for Lord Shelburne, who probably enjoyed more of his confidence than any other public man, assured Arthur Young that Chatham had repeatedly declared himself against the policy of a legislative Union, alleging among other reasons the bad effects it would exercise on the composition of the English Parliament.2
It is stated by Dalrymple that in 1776, at the close of the Administration of Lord Harcourt, there was some question of Lord Rochford succeeding him as Viceroy, and that he made it a condition that he should be authorised to attempt to carry two great measures—a repeal of the penal laws against the Catholics, and a legislative Union. Lord Harcourt was consulted on these proposals, and his advice appears to have been singularly sagacious. He said that there would not be much difficulty in repealing the penal laws; ‘that the Roman Catholics were all on the side of England and of the King of England in the American War, and that very good use might be made of them in the course of it,’ and he added, that this was the opinion of some of the principal persons in Ireland, both in Church and State. On the subject of an Union, however, he thought there were ‘great though perhaps not insurmountable difficulties.’ ‘To attempt it,’ he said, ‘in time of war would be insanity.’ ‘The minds of the Irish must be long prepared:’ ‘Government should take the assistance of the best writers on both sides of the water, to point out the advantages of the Union in different lights to different men.’ ‘No Union should be attempted unless the wish for it came from the side of Ireland, and even then not unless there was a strong body of troops there to keep the madmen in order, and these troops Irish and not English. In consequence of this opinion, Dalrymple says that Lord Rochford relinquished the idea of accepting the Viceroyalty.1
By the time of the American War the condition of Ireland and the wishes of the Irish people had profoundly changed. A long period of internal peace had greatly assuaged the divisions and animosities of Irish life, and the Irish Parliament, though a very restricted and a very corrupt body, contained several men of eminent abilities and of wide and liberal judgments. A strong national spirit had grown up among the Irish gentry, and there seemed every prospect that they would successfully lead and unite the divided sections of their people. The penal laws against the Catholics remained on the statute-book, but most of them had been allowed to fall into desuetude. There was a republican spirit among the Presbyterians of the North, but the Catholics for more than three-quarters of a century had shown no seditious disposition, and a large trading interest had arisen among them. The country was plainly improving. With increasing power, increasing patriotism, and increasing unity, the resentment against both the commercial disabilities and the legislative restrictions had strengthened, and the American War and the volunteer movement kindled the smouldering fire into a blaze. Two measures of the widest importance were conceded. The whole code of commercial restraint which excluded Irish commerce from the British plantations and from continental Europe was abolished, and the full legislative independence of the Irish Parliament was recognised.
The bearing of these measures on the question of an Union was very obvious. A few slight commercial restrictions remained, and trade with England was still regulated by separate acts of the two Parliaments, but Ireland obtained a field of commercial development which was fully adequate to her real requirements and capacities, and in her case, therefore, the main inducement which led Scotland to accept the Union no longer existed. The newly acquired independence of the Irish Parliament, on the other hand, greatly increased both the sacrifice involved in an Union and the national spirit opposed to it. I have already described at length the nature of the Constitution of 1782, the dangers that attended it, and the two great conflicts which, in the first seven years of its existence, brought the enfranchised Parliament into opposition to the Parliament of England. These conflicts have, I think, often been greatly misrepresented; they should be carefully examined by every student of Irish history, but I can here only refer to what I have already written on the subject. One very evident result of them was to strengthen greatly in the minds of English statesmen the conviction, that the tie that bound the two countries had become exceedingly precarious, and that some form of Union was necessary to secure and consolidate the Empire.
It is remarkable that George III. already looked with favour on the idea. In a letter written to North at the time of Lord Townshend's contest with the undertakers, he complained of the open profligacy of public men in Ireland, and predicted that it ‘must sooner or later oblige this country seriously to consider whether the uniting it to this crown would not be the only means of making both islands flourishing.’ 1 During the American War, and at the time when the great commercial concessions were made to Ireland, Lord Hillsborough, who was North's Secretary of State, was known to be warmly in favour of a legislative Union upon the Scotch model; Lord North shared his opinion,1 and after the surrender of all legislative control over Ireland, that opinion appears to have become common among English statesmen of all parties, and especially among those who were directly responsible for the government of Ireland. Even Fox, who introduced and carried the Act of Renunciation, afterwards acknowledged that it was only with extreme reluctance that he had consented to leave the Empire without any general superintending authority over its commercial and external legislation, and he ardently desired that some supplemental treaty should be carried, binding the two countries more closely together.2 The Duke of Richmond in 1783 openly declared in the House of Lords, that nothing short of an incorporating Union could avert the danger of the Irish Parliament, in some future war, throwing the weight of its influence in opposition to England.3 The Duke of Portland, who was Lord Lieutenant when the legislative independence was conceded, acknowledged that it was only with ‘the strongest and most poignant reluctance,’ and under the stress of an overwhelming necessity, that he consented to recommend that measure, and he told his Government confidentially, that unless the Irish Parliament would consent to enter into some treaty placing the regulation of trade, the consideration to be granted by Ireland for the protection of the British navy, and the share which Ireland should contribute to the general support of the Empire, above the fluctuating moods of successive Parliaments, it was very questionable whether it might not be good policy to abandon Ireland altogether.4 Temple, who succeeded Portland as Viceroy, predicted that the concession which had been made, was ‘but the beginning of a scene which will close for ever the account between the two kingdoms.’ 5 Even the Duke of Rutland, whose Viceroyalty covers the most prosperous period of the independent existence of the Irish Parliament, was, in private, strongly in favour of a legislative Union, and believed that, without such a measure, Ireland would not remain for twenty years connected with Great Britain.1
The failure of the commercial propositions of 1785 was very unfortunate. The original scheme of Pitt was, as we have seen, gladly accepted by the Irish Parliament. It would have regulated permanently both the commercial intercourse between the two countries and the contribution of Ireland to the defence of the Empire; and a reform of Parliament upon a Protestant basis, such as Pitt then contemplated, would have been sufficient to include in the parliamentary system by far the greater part of the energy, intelligence, and property of the nation.
In the debates on this question, the open advocacy of a legislative Union by Wilberforce, Lord Lansdowne, and Lord Sackville,2 showed clearly the current of English political thought. Lord Camden, the favourite colleague of Chatham, and the representative of the most liberal section of English politics, supported the commercial propositions in a speech in which he represented the existing condition of Ireland as threatening civil war, and he was understood to argue in favour of them on the ground that they would draw the two peoples ‘into a legislative Union, which was the object ultimately to be desired.’ Lord Stormont, the old colleague of North, on the other hand, opposed the propositions, arguing that if the proposed settlement proved permanent and final, ‘there was of course an end of all hope that the two kingdoms would ever be under one Legislature;’ and that even if it were not final, it would still be fatal to an Union, ‘because, every possible advantage being held out by England to the Irish by the present propositions, she could have nothing reserved by which she might afterwards induce them to consent to an Union—she could have burdens only to offer to Ireland, a very bad inducement to an union of Legislatures.’ 3 In the House of Commons, Lord North spoke powerfully in the same sense. ‘He would most gladly,’ he said, ‘admit Ireland to a participation of every advantage of trade, provided she was so connected with us as to form one people with us, under one Government, one Legislature…. Until the happy day should come that would make the two kingdoms one, he did not conceive it just that one should be enriched at the expense of the other.’ 1 Dean Tucker at this time drew up a series of answers to the popular arguments against an Union, which was published near the close of the century, and was made much use of in the discussions on the Union.2
The failure of this negotiation, and the subsequent difference on the Regency question, probably greatly strengthened the desire of English statesmen to effect an Union, and it certainly strengthened their indisposition to any measures of reform which would weaken their control over the Irish Legislature. A letter of the first Lord Camden is preserved, in which he avows his decided opinion that the corruption and consequent subservience of the Irish Parliament was, under the new Constitution of Ireland, the only means by which the connection could be maintained, and that sooner or later that Constitution, if it continued, must lead to a civil war.3 It is a significant fact, too, that from this time the overtures of the Irish Parliament, for a commercial union with England on the lines of Pitt's original scheme, were uniformly declined.
If we now turn from the opinions of English statesmen to the public opinion in Ireland, we shall find a remarkable contrast. No single fact is more apparent in the Irish history of the last half of the century, than the strong and vehement dread of an Union in Ireland. It does not date from the establishment of Irish legislative independence. I have already mentioned the furious riots that convulsed Dublin as early as 1759, on account of an unfounded rumour that such a measure was in contemplation.4 In 1776 Arthur Young collected opinions on the subject of an Union with Great Britain, and was informed, ‘that nothing was so unpopular in Ireland as such an idea.’ 5 In 1780 Lord Hillsborough, having in his confidential correspondence with the Lord Lieutenant thrown out a hint that some such measure was desirable, Buckinghamshire answered, ‘Let me earnestly recommend to you not to utter the word Union in a whisper, or to drop it from your pen. The present temper will not bear it.’ 1 In 1785, when Bishop Watson pressed upon the Duke of Rutland the policy of a legislative Union, the Lord Lieutenant answered that he fully agreed with him, but that anyone who proposed such a measure in Ireland would be tarred and feathered.2 On most subjects the Irish Parliament was exceedingly subservient, but on the subject of its own exclusive legislative competence it was even feverishly jealous, and the suspicion that the English Government was conspiring against the settlement which had been so formally and so solemnly guaranteed in 1782 and 1783, never failed to kindle a fierce resentment in the nation. In the violent opposition which Grattan led to the amended commercial propositions in 1785, the irritation excited by this suspicion, and by the language used in England on the subject, is very apparent. Grattan saw in the amended proposals, ‘an intolerance of the parliamentary Constitution of Ireland, a declaration that the full and free external legislation of the Irish Parliament is incompatible with the British Empire.’ He described them as ‘an incipient and a creeping Union.’ He declared, that in opposing them he considered himself as opposing ‘an Union in limine,’ and already in this debate he fully elaborated the doctrine of the incompetence of the Irish Parliament to carry a legislative Union, which fourteen years later became so prominent in the discussions on the measure.3
This strong feeling on the part of the political classes in Ireland was certainly not due to any disloyal or anti-English feeling. At the risk of wearying my readers by repetition, I must again remind them, that the Irish Parliament of 1782 was a body utterly unlike any Parliament that could be set up by modern politicians. It was essentially an assembly of the leading members of the landed gentry of the country; of the section of the community which was bound to the English connection by the strongest ties of sympathy and interest; of the chief representatives of property; of the classes from which, since the Union, the magistracy and the grand juries have been principally formed. It had uniformly and readily followed the lead of the English Parliament in all questions of foreign policy. It had contributed largely and ungrudgingly, both in soldiers and in money, to the support of the Empire in every war that had arisen, and it was perfectly ready to enter into a treaty for a permanent contribution to the British navy, provided such a treaty could be framed without impairing its legislative supremacy. Viceroy after viceroy had emphatically acknowledged its unmixed loyalty, and they made no complaint of its present dispositions; but at the same time the most experienced English statesmen and a succession of English viceroys were convinced that the permanent concurrence of two independent Parliaments under the Constitution of 1782 was impossible, and that a collision between the two Parliaments in time of peace would be dangerous, and in time of war might very easily be fatal to the connection.
In Ireland, on the other hand, the independence of the Parliament was supported by the strong pride and passion of Nationality—a sentiment which may be the source both of good and of evil, but which, whether it be wise or unwise, must always be a most powerful element in political calculations. Irish statesmen, too, reviewing English legislation since the Restoration, and perceiving the still prevailing spirit of commercial monopoly, contended that the material interests of Ireland could not be safely entrusted to a British Parliament. They foresaw that an identification of Legislatures would ultimately lead to an assimilation of taxation, raising Irish contributions to the English level. They perceived that Ireland was rapidly developing into a considerable nation, with its own type of character and its own conditions of prosperity; and they especially dreaded the moral effects of an Union in promoting absenteeism, weakening the power of the landed gentry, and thus destroying a guiding influence, which in the peculiar conditions of Ireland was transcendently important. Sir Robert Peel, many years later, spoke of ‘the severance of the connection between the constituent body of Ireland and the natural aristocracy of the country,’ as perhaps the greatest and most irreparable calamity that could befall Ireland, and on this point Grattan and Peel were entirely agreed. Adam Smith believed that the great work of uniting into one people the severed elements of Irish life, could be only speedily accomplished if the legislative power was transferred to a larger and impartial assembly unswayed by local tyrannies, factions, and corruptions. Grattan believed that it could only be attained by the strong guidance of the loyal gentry of both religions, acting together in a national Legislature and appealing to a national sentiment, and he dreaded, with an intense but by no means exaggerated fear, the consequence to Ireland if the guidance of her people passed into the hands of dishonest, disreputable, and disloyal adventurers. The rapid and indisputable progress of national prosperity in the last decades of the century, though in truth it was largely due to causes that had very little relation to politics, strengthened the feeling in support of the local Legislature, and strong selfish as well as unselfish considerations tended in the same direction. Dublin was furious at the thought of a measure which would transfer the aristocracy and leading gentry of Ireland to London. The Irish bar had an enormous influence, both in the Parliament and in the country, and it would be a fatal blow to it if the Parliament no longer sat in the neighbourhood of the Law Courts; the great borough owners perceived that a legislative Union must take the virtual government of Ireland out of their hands, and a crowd of needy legislators saw in it the extinction of the system under which they could always, by judicious voting, obtain places for themselves or their relatives.
It is not surprising that from all these sources a body of opinion hostile to a legislative Union should have arisen in Ireland which appeared wholly irresistible. For about ten years after the declaration of independence it was unbroken, and it is, I believe, no exaggeration to say, that during that period not a single Irish politician or writer of real eminence was in favour of such a measure. At this time it was wholly impracticable, for no corruption and no intimidation would have induced the Irish Parliament to consent to it.
The disastrous events of the last years of the century, however, gradually produced some change. The danger of foreign invasion, the terrible rapidity with which conspiracy and anarchy spread through the masses of the people, and the menacing aspects which the Catholic question assumed, began to shake the security of property, and to spread vague and growing alarms among all classes. The concession of the franchise in 1793 to a vast, semi-barbarous Catholic democracy, portended, in the eyes of many, the downfall of the Protestant Establishment, and perhaps of the existing settlement of property. From this time a few men began, through fear or through resentment, to look with more favour on the idea of an Union, and Lord Clare steadily, though as yet secretly, urged its necessity.
I have shown how the notion of a legislative Union began to dawn on many minds in connection with the Catholic question; how some men thought that the Protestants, alarmed or exasperated by Catholic progress, would be inclined to take shelter in such a measure; how other men foresaw that the concession of Catholic emancipation might play the same part in the Irish Union which trade privileges had played in the union with Scotland; and how Pitt himself evidently shared the idea. The remarkable letter, written by him in the November of 1792, which I have cited from the Westmorland Correspondence, speaks of an Union as a vague, doubtful, distant prospect, but as a measure which had been for some time largely occupying his thoughts, and which he believed to be the one real solution of the difficulties of Ireland. It would offer to the Protestants full security for their property and their Church, and it would, at the same time, remove the chief argument against Catholic suffrage. The language of Charlemont, Grattan, and Curran proves that the intentions and wishes of the English Government were clearly perceived, and that they were exciting in the independent section of Irish politicians great disquietude and determined hostility.1
There are periods, both in private and public life, when the ablest men experience what gamblers call a run of ill luck. At such times the steadiest hand seems to lose its cunning, and the strongest judgment its balance, and mistake follows mistake. Some fatality of this kind seems to have hung over Irish legislation in those critical years which are chiefly marked by the Relief Act of 1793, and by the Fitzwilliam episode. I have done all that lies in my power to unravel with care and impartiality, the maze of conflicting motives and impulses that governed the strangely wayward and uncertain course of English government of Ireland during those anxious years. I have endeavoured to show that Pitt and Dundas were animated by a spirit of real and genuine liberality to the Catholics, and were convinced as a matter of policy that the United Irish conspiracy could only be checked by conciliating them, but that they were hampered by the opposition of the Irish Government, by the opposition of the King, by their own ignorance of the state of Ireland, and by their desire to reserve some great Catholic concession as an inducement to the Union. I have endeavoured also to show how motives of a different kind—jealousy of Whig ascendency in the remodelled Government; a misunderstanding with Fitz-william about the extent of his powers; a question of patronage which was treated as a question of honour—acted upon their conduct, and how the whole was aggravated by a natural luke-warmness and indecision of purpose in dealing with great questions of public policy, which appears to me to have been a constitutional infirmity of Pitt. But whatever opinion the reader may form about this explanation, he will hardly, I think, question that the net results of the policy of this period were extremely calamitous. The Relief Act of 1793 settled nothing, and promised to add enormously both to the difficulty and the danger of the government of Ireland. The sudden recall of Lord Fitzwilliam, after the hopes that had been raised, gave a decisive impulse to Catholic disloyalty. The appeal by the Government to Protestant support against Catholic emancipation, stimulated most fatally that spirit of religious dissension which was again rising rapidly in Ireland.
The situation was made much worse when Lord Fitzwilliam published the passage from a confidential letter of the Duke of Portland, declaring that the postponement of the Catholic Relief Bill would be ‘the means of doing a greater service to the British Empire than it has been capable of receiving since the Revolution, or at least since the Union.’ The meaning which was at once attached to this passage was, that the Government desired to delay the concession in order to obtain an Union, and the question was thus forced prominently on public attention. Its reception was exceedingly unfavourable, and the resolution of the great Catholic Assembly in Francis Street Chapel showed that, whatever support the measure might receive from some Catholics, it was certain to meet from the Catholic Committee, who led the active politics of that body, an implacable opposition.1 Grattan, on his side, predicted that if the old taskmasters returned to power, ‘they would extinguish Ireland, or Ireland must remove them.’ 1
The horrible years of growing crime, anarchy, and dissension which followed, convinced many that a great change of system was required, The Parliament remained, indeed, a zealously loyal body, and Arthur O'Connor and Lord Edward Fitzgerald were probably the only members in it whose sympathies were with France. But outside its walls the doctrine was openly professed, that Ireland ought not to support England in the French war; and at the same time the prospects of an invasion; the imminent fear of rebellion; the violent religious war which had broken out in Ulster, and the rumours that were spread among the panic-stricken Catholics of Orange conspiracies to massacre them, had all tended to aggravate enormously the difficulties of local government in Ireland. The capacity of any portion of an empire for extended and popular self-government is not a mere question of constitutional machinery or of abstract reasoning. It depends essentially upon the character and dispositions of the people for whom that self-government is intended. A constitutional arrangement which in one country will be harmless or beneficent, in another country will infallibly lead to civil war, to confiscation of property, to utter anarchy and ruin. Loyalty and moderation; a respect for law, for property, and for authority; a sentiment of common patriotism uniting the different sections of the community; a healthy disposition of classes, under which trustworthy and honourable men rise naturally to leadership—these are the conditions upon which all successful self-government must depend. The events of Irish history had made the soil of Ireland peculiarly unfavourable to it, but for a long period before the outbreak of the French Revolution there had been a great and rapid improvement. The country was not, and never has been, fit for a democratic Government, but many of the best Irishmen believed that healthy elements of self-government had grown up, which would make it possible for the management of affairs to pass safely and most beneficially out of the hands of the corrupt aristocracy of borough owners. But this prospect was now visibly receding, as the old fissures that divided Irish life reopened, and as fear and hatred began to separate classes which had for many years been approximating. The opinion so powerfully expressed by General Knox about the necessity of an Union, was no doubt held by other intelligent observers.1 It was, however, still that of isolated and scattered individuals, and up to the outbreak of the rebellion there was no party in Ireland which desired such a measure, no party which would even tolerate its proposal.
The language of Gordon on this subject is very remarkable. That temperate and truthful historian was himself a supporter of the Union, and he had therefore no disposition to overrate the feeling against it. Yet he declares that it could not possibly have been carried, but for the horrors of the rebellion. ‘So odious,’ he says, ‘was the measure to multitudes whose pride or private interest, real or imaginary, was engaged, that it could not with the smallest probability of success be proposed, until prejudice was in some degree overcome by the calamities and dangers of the rebellion.’ 2
From this fact a charge of the most tremendous kind has been elaborated against the English Government, which will be found repeated again and again by popular writers in Ireland, and which has sunk deeply into the popular belief. It is that the English Government, desiring an Union and perceiving that it could not be effected without a convulsion, deliberately forced on the rebellion as a means of effecting it. In a memoir written by Dr. McNevin shortly after the Union, this charge is drawn up with the utmost confidence. McNevin observes that Lord Clare acknowledged that, for many years before the Union, the destruction of the Irish Parliament had been a main object of his policy. ‘Joined with him,’ he says, ‘in this conspiracy were some others, and in the number Lord Castlereagh, all of whom, with cold-blooded artifice, stirred up an insurrection, that was to supply the necessary pretext for effecting their nefarious design. In former times resort was had to similar acts of outrage, for the purpose of driving the natives into a resistance that should be followed by a forfeiture of their estates. Now a rebellion was intentionally produced by the chief agents of the British Ministry, in order to give an opportunity for confiscating the whole political power and the independent character of the country by an Act of Union.’ McNevin acknowledges that the conspirators, among whom he was himself a leader, were aiming at a separation, though he contends that they contemplated it only in the case of a refusal of reform, and that they wished to obtain it only ‘through the co-operation of a respectable French force, to exclude the barbarity of a purely civil war.’ ‘But for the systematic atrocities,’ he continues,’ of the conspirators against the legislative independence of Ireland, no civil war would have occurred there to the present moment. We have the authority of the American Congress that the colonies were driven designedly into resistance, for the purpose of giving an opportunity to impose on them a standing army, illegal taxes, and to establish among them a system of despotism. This arbitrary project, after miscarrying in America, was transferred by the same monarch to Ireland, and unhappily succeeded there. Before assistance could be obtained against his schemes from the natural ally of his persecuted subjects, an enlarged scope was given to the intolerable practice of house burnings, free quarters, tortures, and summary executions, which, as the Ministry intended, exploded in rebellion. After this manner they facilitated the Union.’
Nor was even this the full extent of the perfidy attributed to them. ‘Lord Cornwallis,’ writes McNevin, ‘declared himself inclined to justice and conciliation. He was violently opposed by the Orange faction in the Cabinet, and from a motive which he did not then disclose, but which subsequent events have shown to be the projected union of the two countries, he wished to make a merit with those who had suffered most from the British Government, by teaching them to throw the severity of their sufferings on their own villanous Parliament and merciless countrymen.’ 1
O'Connell and his followers have more than once repeated this charge, and accused the English Government of having deliberately promoted the rebellion for the purpose of carrying the Union. O'Connell explained on this hypothesis the whole Fitzwilliam episode. He dwelt upon the fact that the Government, for many months before the outbreak of the rebellion, had secret information pointing out its most active leaders, and that, in spite of the suspension of the Habeas Corpus Act, those leaders were suffered to remain at large, and he insisted upon the passage from the report of the Secret Committee in which Lord Castlereagh spoke of the measures that had been taken to cause the rebellion to explode.
Such an accusation will probably appear to most readers too wildly extravagant to require a lengthened refutation. Very few Englishmen will believe that Pitt was capable either of the extreme wickedness of deliberately kindling a great rebellion for the purpose of carrying his favourite measure, or of the extreme folly of doing this at a time when all the resources of England were strained to the utmost in a desperate and most doubtful contest with the mighty power of Napoleon. In the Irish Government no one supported more strongly both the anti-Catholic policy, and the military severities to which the rebellion has been attributed, than the Speaker Foster, who was the most powerful of all the opponents of the Union; while the perfectly simple and honourable motives that inspired the humaner policy of Cornwallis appear with transparent clearness in his confidential letters. The reasons which long withheld the Government from arresting United Irish leaders when they had not sufficient evidence to put them on their trial, have been already explained; and if martial law forced the conspiracy into a premature explosion, it did so only when the country had been already organised for rebellion, and when it was an object of the first importance to disarm it before the expected arrival of the French. At the same time, fluctuating and unskilful policy has often the effects of calculated malevolence, and the mistakes of the Government both in England andlreland undoubtedly contributed very largely to the hideous scenes of social and political anarchy, to the religious hatreds and religious panics, which alone rendered possible the legislative Union. Nor can it, I think, be denied that it is in a high degree probable, that a desire to carry a legislative Union had a considerable influence in dictating the policy which in fact produced the rebellion, and that there were politicians who were prepared to pursue that policy even at the risk of a rebellion, and who were eager to make use of the rebellion when it broke out, for the purpose of accomplishing their design. The following striking passage from a work which I have often quoted, shows the extreme severity with which the situation was judged by a perfectly loyal writer, who was in general one of the most temperate and most competent then living in Ireland. ‘To affirm,’ writes Newenham, ‘that the Government of Ireland facilitated the growth of rebellion, for the purpose of effecting the Union, would be to hold language not perhaps sufficiently warranted by facts. But to affirm that the rebellion was kept alive for that purpose, seems perfectly warrantable. The charge was boldly made in the writer's hearing, during one of the debates on the Union by an honourable gentleman, who held a profitable place under the Crown. And to affirm that that measure never would have been carried into effect without the occurrence of a rebellion, similar in respect of its attendant and previous circumstances to that of 1798, is to advance what nineteen in twenty men who were acquainted with the political sentiments of the Irish people at that time, will feel little difficulty in assenting to.’ 1
A careful examination of the confidential correspondence of this time, appears to show that, although the expediency of a legislative Union had long been present in the minds of Pitt and of several leading English statesmen, and although it had been persistently urged by Clare since 1793, no settled and definite project of introducing such a measure was formed in England, before the outbreak of the rebellion.1 Pitt, according to his usual custom, discussed it at length in a very small circle, for some time before it was even suggested to his Cabinet. Perhaps the earliest notice of it, is a letter of June 4,1798, in which Pitt writes to Auckland that he had lately been discussing with Lord Grenville, the expediency of taking steps for carrying an Union immediately after the suppression of the rebellion. They had been studying the Scotch Act of Union, and they especially desired the assistance of Auckland in framing its trade and finance clauses. Auckland appears to have communicated with Clare, for a few days later he received a letter from that statesman containing the following passage: ‘As to the subject of an Union with the British Parliament, I have long been of opinion that nothing short of it can save this country. I stated the opinion very strongly to Mr. Pitt in the year 1793, immediately after that fatal mistake, into which he was betrayed by Mr. Burke and Mr. Dundas, in receiving an appeal from the Irish Parliament by a popish democracy. I again stated the same opinion to him last winter; and if this were a time for it, I think I could make it clear and plain to every dispassionate man in the British Empire, that it is utterly impossible to preserve this country to the British Crown, if we are to depend upon the precarious bond of union which now subsists between Great Britain and Ireland. It makes me almost mad, when I look back at the madness, folly, and corruption in both countries, which have brought us to the verge of destruction.’ 2
When Lord Cornwallis arrived in Ireland on June 20, he does not appear to have known anything about an intention to carry an Union, or, at least, to have received any fixed instructions relating to it.3 A few weeks later, however, a small number of persons, who were closely connected with the Government of Ireland, were sounded on the subject. Lord Camden appears to have been much consulted, and he wrote about this time to Lord Castlereagh, ‘The King and every one of his Ministers are inclined to an Union, and it will certainly be taken into consideration here, and you will probably hear from the Duke of Portland upon it.’ 1 Pelham was still Chief Secretary, though ill health compelled him to remain in England; and it appears from a letter written to him by William Elliot, on July 28, that at that date Cornwallis leaned decidedly towards an Union, but that both Pelham and Elliot were extremely reluctant to undertake such a measure, and extremely doubtful whether’ the advantages resulting from it would answer the expectation.’ 2 Shortly after, Sylvester Douglas, who had been the Irish Chief Secretary in 1794, wrote to Pelham advocating the measure, and his letter is especially interesting, as it was written from Dover, immediately after a consultation with Pitt at Walmer Castle. Douglas fully agreed with Pelham that there were great difficulties attending an Union, but he maintained that the safety of the Empire required it, and that if the measure was desirable, the present was a very favourable moment for carrying it. It would not be desirable unless it was to the advantage of both countries, but great authorities, such as Petty, Adam Smith, and Bacon (in his advocacy of the Scotch Union), were in favour of it, and there was one consideration which now dominated all others. Can Ireland, he asked, hang much longer to England by the present slender thread, ‘when some of their ablest men treat the interference of the Executive of the Empire in those very affairs of Ireland, which most concern the general interests of the Empire, as the usurped tyranny of a foreign Cabinet?’ and when ‘a few Irish enthusiasts’ have been able to engage nearly 200,000 men to break the connection? The century was fast drawing to a close, but Douglas believed that, even before its end, the frail tie that bound the two countries would probably be severed unless an Union were carried. Who could believe, after the confessions of Tone, Emmet, McNevin, and O'Connor, that Catholic emancipation would postpone the evil? It would probably accelerate it. For his own part, Douglas said, he could not resist the force of a question put by the United Irishmen in one of their earliest publications. ‘Is there any middle state between the extremes of Union with Great Britain and total separation?’ 1
Castlereagh, who already discharged most of the duties of Chief Secretary, appears to have been from the first a decided advocate of the Union. His views will be exhibited in detail in the course of this narrative, but a significant passage may be here cited from one of his earliest letters about it. Writing on September 7, he expresses his deep gratification at the somewhat tardy resolution of the Government to send over a large English force, for the complete suppression of the rebellion and the protection of the country against invasion.’ I consider it peculiarly advantageous,’ he writes, ‘that we shall owe our security so entirely to the interposition of Great Britain. I have always been apprehensive of that false confidence which might arise from an impression that security had been obtained by our own exertions. Nothing would tend so much to make the public mind impracticable with a view to that future settlement, without which we can never hope for any permanent tranquillity.’ 2
The opinions of Cornwallis were gradually unfolded, and they must be carefully followed. Though the Union is not named, it is evidently referred to in a letter of July 20, in which Cornwallis, having mentioned that the rebellion was almost subdued, adds, ‘How or when to bring forward, or even to broach, the great point of ultimate settlement, is a matter in which I cannot see the most distant encouragement. The two or three people whom I have ventured in the most cautious manner to sound, say that it must not be mentioned now; that this is a time of too much danger to agitate such a question; but if a period of safety should come when boroughs will be considered as a sure property, and all good jobs again appear within our grasp, that moment will not, I am afraid, be found propitious for expecting those sacrifices which must be required. Convinced as I am that it is the only measure which can long preserve this country, I will never lose sight of it; and happy shall I be if that fortunate opportunity should ever arrive, when we may neither think ourselves in too much danger nor in too much security to suffer its production.’ 1
In September, he recurs to the subject, and still in a desponding tone. The great question, he says, of Irish administration is, ‘how this country can be governed and preserved, and rendered a source of strength and power, instead of remaining an useless and almost intolerable burden to Great Britain. ‘A perseverance in the system which has hitherto been pursued can only lead us from bad to worse, and after exhausting the resources of Britain, must end in the total separation of the two countries.’ ‘With regard to future plans, I can only say that some mode must be adopted to soften the hatred of the Catholics to our Government. Whether this can be done by advantages held out to them from an Union with Great Britain; by some provision for their clergy, or by some modification of tithe, which is the grievance of which they complain, I will not presume to determine. The first of these propositions is undoubtedly the most desirable, if the dangers with which we are surrounded will admit of our making the attempt; but the dispositions of the people at large, and especially of the North, must be previously felt.’ 2
A few days later he notices the rise of a fatal division, which affected profoundly the whole future of the question. ‘The principal people here are so frightened that they would, I believe, readily consent to an Union, but then it must be a Protestant Union; and even the Chancellor, who is the most right-headed politician in this country, will not hear of the Roman Catholics sitting in the United Parliament.’ ‘This country is daily becoming more disturbed. Religious animosities increase, and, I am sorry to say, are encouraged by the foolish violence of all the principal persons who have been in the habit of governing this land…. The great measure, from which I looked for so much good, will, if carried, fall far short of my expectations, as all the eading persons here, not excepting the Chancellor are determined to resist the extension of its operation to the Catholics. He feel the measure of so much importance, that it is worth carrying anyhow, but I am determined not to submit to the insertion of any clause that shall make the exclusion of the Catholics a fundamental part of the Union, as I am fully convinced that, until the Catholics are admitted into a general participation of rights (which when incorporated with the British Government they cannot abuse), there will be no peace or safety in Ireland.’ 1
These first impressions were hardly encouraging. Auckland at this time, after returning from a visit to Pitt, at which Irish questions were much discussed, appears to have come to the conclusion that, while the system of government in Ireland must be changed, it would be better to be content with humbler measures than a legislative Union. ‘The whole system of needy and illiterate, and disaffected papist priests,’ he said, ‘ought to be put down;’ a respectable and responsible priesthood should be endowed from the public purse; and something might perhaps be done to relieve the Catholics from their tithe grievances, but a legislative Union was a matter ‘of great difficulty in the irrangement, of greater difficulty in the execution, and after all precarious in its consequences,’ and it is plain that Auckland would at this time have gladly relinquished the idea. George Rose, who was one of the few men intimately consulted by Pitt, was decidedly of opinion, that although a new arrangement between England and Ireland would be in itself desirable, the difficulties of carrying it in the existing circumstances were insuperable. Lord Carlisle, who had been Lord Lieutenant when the now ebbing flood of Irish nationality was rising to a spring tide height in 1782, wrote to Auckland a curious, anxious, hesitating letter on the subject. This he thought was a moment when much might be done, as, for the first time, a conviction had grown up in Ireland that their old Government was insufficient for their own safety and protection. ‘Dare you,’ he continued, in this agitated sea of public affairs, turn towards the bold expedient of Union? It seems the most unfit hour for any business ness that requires so much new thought and addition of labour, and yet it is perhaps the only hour that Ireland could be found practicable on the subject.’ He speaks of the terrible evils that had grown up through the faults of English administration in Ireland; through the jobbing and corruption of the chief people in that country; through the neglect of duty by the absentees, and through the extreme poverty of some of the lower orders, which made them ready to promote the most desperate schemes. ‘Something new,’ he said, ‘must be attempted. I know no hand or head more equal to a bold experiment than Mr. Pitt's. Ireland in its present state will pull down England. She is a ship on fire, and must either be cast off or extinguished.’ 1
A strong will and intellect, however, was now applied to the wavering councils of the Government. On October 8, Lord Clare sailed for England to visit Pitt at Holwood, and to discuss with him the future government of Ireland. He went, Lord Cornwallis writes, ‘with the thorough conviction that unless an Union between Great Britain and Ireland can be effected, there remains but little hope that the connection between the two countries will long subsist;'2 but he went also with the firm resolve that a measure of Catholic emancipation should form no part of the scheme.
Cornwallis reluctantly acquiesced, but he deplored deeply the course which the question seemed likely to take. He wrote earnestly to Pitt, that it would be a desperate measure to make an irrevocable alliance with the small ascendency party in Ireland; but assuming that this was not to be done, and that the question of Catholic emancipation was merely postponed until after the Union, he implored him to consider ‘whether an Union with the Protestants will afford a temporary respite from the spirit of faction and rebellion which so universally pervades this island, and whether the Catholics will patiently wait for what is called their emancipation, from the justice of the United Parliament.’ ‘If we are to reason,’ he continues, ‘on the future from the past, I should think that most people would answer these questions in the negative; … if it is in contemplation ever to extend the privileges of the Union to the Roman Catholics, the present appears to be the only opportunity which the British Ministry can have of obtaining any credit from the boon, which must otherwise in a short time be extorted from them.’ 1 In a confidential letter to Pelham, which has never been published, he went still further, and his language is exceedingly remarkable. ‘I am apprehensive,’ he said, ‘that an Union between Great Britain and the Protestants in Ireland is not likely to do us much good. I am sensible that it is the easiest point to carry, but I begin to have great doubts whether it will not prove an insuperable bar, instead of being a step, towards the admission of Catholics, which is the only measure that can give permanent tranquillity to this wretched country.’ 2
It must be observed, that during all this period there is not the smallest trace of Corawallis being aware of the conscientious objections which the King entertained to the admission of Catholics even into an Imperial Legislature, nor does it appear that the King knew anything of the conferences that were going on. Lord Clare, in the short period which he spent with Pitt, fully attained his double object of confirming Pitt's opinion in favour of the Union, and of convincing him that it must be unaccompanied with emancipation. He found the Ministry, he said, ‘full of popish projects,’ but he trusted that he had fully determined them ‘to bring the measure forward unencumbered with the doctrines of emancipation.’ ‘Mr. Pitt,’ he said, ‘is decided upon it, and I think he will keep his colleagues steady.’ 3
Dundas appears at this time, as in 1793, to have been much more warmly in favour of the Catholics than Pitt, and there is a very significant allusion to this in one of the letters of Cornwallis. ‘Had Mr. Dundas been in town,’ he writes, ‘before the Chancellor went over, he might perhaps have been able to carry the point of establishing the Union on a broad and comprehensive line; but things have now gone too far to admit of a change, and the principal persons in this country have received assurances from the English Ministers, which cannot be retracted.’ 1
These words were written in the middle of November, and it was early in that month that the intended scheme was first cautiously revealed to a few leading persons in Ireland. Cornwallis said, that as much opposition must be expected to it in the Irish Parliament whatever shape it might assume, it was necessary, as soon as the main principles were agreed on, to communicate them to the chief friends of Government, and he added, that he had himself so carefully avoided giving offence, that he believed that no person of much political consequence was hostile to his Government except the Speaker.2 Most of the canvassing in this month naturally took place in Ireland, but three conspicuous Irishmen were in England, and with them Pitt personally communicated. Of these, Foster, the Speaker, was by far the ablest. Pitt found him ‘perfectly cordial and communicative;’ ‘strongly against the measure of an Union (particularly at the present moment), yet perfectly ready to discuss the point fairly.’ Pitt hoped—as the event showed, without reason—that Foster might be bribed, and he was prepared to offer him an English peerage with, if possible, some ostensible situation, as well as the life provision to which he would be entitled on vacating the chair. Beresford and Parnell he had also seen. Neither spoke very explicitly, but both appeared to dislike the measure, though Pitt hoped that both would acquiesce in it if it were fully resolved on. All three deprecated any authoritative announcement of the scheme until the leading individuals in Ireland had been consulted, and until steps had been taken for disposing the public mind. The success of the measure Pitt thought would depend altogether on the conduct of a few individuals in Ireland, and the Lord Lieutenant must do all in his power to win them over. Elliot had arrived in England to support the arguments of Lord Cornwallis in favour of admitting the Catholics to Parliament and office, but Pitt believed that such a measure at this time was completely impracticable. ‘With respect to a provision,’ he added, ‘for the Catholic clergy, and some arrangement respecting tithes, I am happy to find a uniform opinion in favour of the proposal among all the Irish I have seen; and I am more and more convinced that these measures, with some effectual mode to enforce the residence of all ranks of the Protestant clergy, offer the best chance of gradually putting an end to the evils most felt in Ireland.’ 1
Cornwallis and Castlereagh communicated, as they were directed, confidentially, with several leading Irish politicians, and they were much encouraged by the result. Lord Shannon and Lord Ely, who were two of the greatest borough owners in Ireland, gave very favourable replies. The first was ‘impressed in the strongest manner with the difficulties and disadvantages of the present system,’ and ‘disposed to entertain the measure favourably,’ though he refused at this stage openly to declare himself. The second, ‘relying on the favour of the Crown in an object personal to himself,’ 2 ‘was prepared to give it his utmost support.’ Lord Pery, who had for fourteen years been Speaker, strongly doubted the wisdom of the measure in itself, and not less strongly the wisdom of bringing it forward in a time like the present, but he said he would not hastily pledge himself against it, and that if he found the measure to be really desired by Parliament and the country, ‘he would feel it his duty to surrender his own opinion, and give it his best assistance in the detail.’ Lord Yelverton, who had played such a great part in the emancipation of the Irish Parliament, was fully in favour of the Union. Conolly, a member of great influence, who represented the county of Derry, and who was one of the few Irishmen who had at the same time a seat in the Irish and in the English House of Commons, declared that he had always desired a legislative Union. The Attorney-General and the Solicitor-General were quite prepared to give their services. Lord Kil-warden and Lord Carleton doubted and hesitated, but did not decidedly oppose. The Duke of Leinster, who since the attainder of his brother was naturally altogether alienated from the Government, was consulted, but refused to give any opinion. Corry was very favourable; Sir John Blaquiere was ‘disposed to be practicable.’ The Speaker was very adverse, and his ‘weight will be prodigious,’ but, at the same time, both Cornwallis and Castlereagh believed that the measure could be carried through Parliament, with no great difficulty. ‘I have great apprehensions,’ added Cornwallis, ‘of the inefficacy of it after it is carried, and I do not think it would have been much more difficult to have included the Catholics.’ 1
A few opinions from active magistrates and from other men who had always been warm supporters of the Government, about the same time came in. Sir George Hill writes from Derry, ‘People have not yet spoken much out on the subject’ [of an Union], ‘but they are evidently inimical to the measure, and with the slightest encouragement would violently express themselves.’ ‘A mischievous person could with ease excite a universal and dangerous clamour, by descanting on the supposed disadvantages of it. It is high time, if such a measure be determined upon, that the most confidential friends of Government were instructed to prepare the public mind for the adoption of it, for be assured, if it is suddenly proposed and forced, it will be the foundation of endless calamity.’ For his own part, Sir George Hill said, his leaning was strongly against it. Some considerable change he admitted was required, but he believed that the settlement of the Catholic question, the Regency, the commercial regulations, and perhaps an increase in the proportion paid by Ireland for the protection of the Empire, might all be accomplished without an Union.2 Sir George Shee writes that he was himself in favour of an Union, but he found that people were in general opposed to it.1 Colonel Crawford considered it absolutely necessary to the security and prosperity of Ireland. It would bring English capital largely into the country, and it would render possible the great measure of Catholic emancipation, which could never be safely granted with a separate Parliament, for ‘the influence of property could not stand against the enthusiasm and ambitious aims of Catholics and Democrats.’ ‘The people of this country,’ he added, ‘never will and never can be contented until some means are devised of lessening the tithes, nor will they cease to be urged on to opposition by their priests, until some measures are adopted to attach the priests and Catholic clergy (sic) to the present order of things, by giving them an interest in its preservation.’ 2 Cooke writes to Pelham very despondingly: ‘The sectaries are very rancorous against each other, and amongst the lower classes much malignant revenge prevails, and the humour in the upper classes is as bad…. I do not think the idea of Union popular with the Protestants. There is some inclination to it among the Catholics, possibly because the Protestants are adverse…. The Parliament at present is extremely loose.’ 3
The disposition of Parliament and the disposition of the country were two very different things. The influence of the Government in the former was so overwhelming that, for many years, opposition had almost wholly disappeared, and the support of a very small number of great borough owners was at all times sufficient to outweigh the free constituencies. The Government, however, were anxious not to introduce their measure without obtaining some real popular support, and one of the most difficult and most delicate tasks of the historian of the Union is to estimate the amount of their success.
It is remarkable that their intention was first intimated in newspapers that were opposed to them. On October 16, the following paragraph appeared in the principal Dublin newspaper, supporting them. ‘A most insidious and unadvised rumour of an intended Union with Great Britain has been set afloat by the Jacobin prints of this city, in order to do the little mischief which remains in their power to achieve…. Perilous and perplexed would be the discussion of so momentous a question at any period; but at this time of convulsion, the dangers with which it would be attended are too fearful for contemplation.’ A month later the same newspaper again expressed its entire disbelief in the rumours of an Union which English and Irish newspapers (‘chiefly those of Jacobinical complexion') had for some time past been disseminating, but ten days afterwards it inserted a notice which had appeared in the English ‘Times’ of November 22, stating that an Union would be brought forward, and added that it had reason to believe this paragraph to be true.1
If the judgment I have formed be correct, the public opinion of Ireland up to the beginning of the French war was practically unanimous in opposition to any scheme of Union, and it ran so strongly that no such proposal could have been made without the most imminent danger. In the period between 1793 and the outbreak of the rebellion, the Irish Parliament had been much discredited, and the alarms and dangers of the time had shaken many, but still there was no Irish party which would have ventured openly to support an Union. But the scenes of horror which were comprised in the six weeks of the rebellion had produced a great change in the political aspect of Ireland, and the Government calculated that if they pressed on the Union without delay, they would find two strong, broad currents of genuine opinion in its favour.
One of these sprang from the alarm of the Protestants for their Church, their property, and even their lives; from their conviction that their safety depended wholly upon the presence of a great English force, and that it was therefore their most vital interest to bind themselves as closely as possible to their protector. The other grew out of the resentment, the panic, and the hopes of the Catholics, who found an insulting and lawless spirit of Orange ascendency spreading on all sides, and the bitterest enemies of the Catholic cause supreme in the Parliament. The hope of passing under a more tolerant rule, the gratification of humiliating those who had humiliated them, the anger which was naturally produced by the burning of chapels and houses, and by the Orange badges that were flaunted on every side, and the prospect of obtaining from the Imperial Parliament the emancipation which appeared more and more remote in the Parliament of Ireland, had given many Catholic minds an undoubted bias in favour of the Union.
Of these two currents of opinion, the former was by far the weaker, and there are many indications that all classes of Irish Protestants were greatly irritated by a kind of argument which was at this time much used. English Ministers were extremely desirous of impressing upon them, that the power and the troops of England alone stood between them and destruction. ‘Is this a time,’ writes Sir George Shee, ‘to talk of national pride, when we have not the means within ourselves of repelling any attack deserving the name of invasion; when our revenue is scarcely equal to two months’ expenses on a war establishment; when fifteen out of twenty of our countrymen in general are sworn rebels; when the fidelity of a part of our army is at least doubtful; when the higher classes have lost the sway which ought to attach to their rank and station; when even the Legislature is held in disesteem; when experience has just proved that a rebellion of three counties only, can with great difficulty be put down; when we have such an enemy as the French Republic to contend with?’ 1 Such arguments were not soothing to the national pride. Castlereagh, as we have seen, urgently desired that the Irish Protestants should be brought to attribute the suppression of the rebellion mainly to English aid, but Cornwallis complained that even Lord Clare ‘did not appear to feel sufficiently how absolutely dependent the Protestants at present are on the support of Britain.’ 2
The aspect in which this question presented itself to the members of the ascendant creed can be easily understood. Ireland, it must be remembered, had never been like the American colonies, which refused to support an army for their own protection, and for the general assistance of the Empire. Twelve thousand and afterwards fifteen thousand men had been regularly maintained by the Irish Parliament. During the whole of the eighteenth century before the war of 1793 Ireland had contributed largely, and liberally, and much beyond the stipulated proportion, to the support of English wars undertaken for objects of English policy, while crowds of Irish recruits had filled the British army and the British fleet. For the very first time in the course of the century, the parts had been reversed. The Irish loyalists had been compelled to ask for English assistance upon land, and this obligation was at once pressed upon them with a most ungracious insistence as an argument for demanding the surrender of their Legislature.
And had the obligations of the Irish Protestants to English assistance been in truth so very great? In 1779, while multitudes of Irishmen were fighting English battles in other lands, and when the dangers of a French invasion were extreme, Ireland found herself almost denuded of troops, and compelled to rely for her security on the great volunteer movement which had been hastily organised by the Protestant gentry. In 1796 the boasted protection of the British fleet had not prevented a French fleet from lying for a week unmolested in an Irish bay, and nothing but the accident of the weather saved Ireland from a most formidable invasion. Even during the recent rebellion, had the part played by England been so transcendent? During all the earlier and more dangerous period, in spite of the pressing and repeated entreaties and the bitter complaints of the Irish Government, the loyalists of Ireland had been left entirely unaided. The few English regiments which were then in Ireland, were there in exchange for Irish regiments. Until after the battle of New Ross, no succour had arrived, and the suppression of the rebellion had been left to Irish resources, and mainly to the Irish yeomanry and militia. It is true that after that time an overwhelming stream of English troops had poured in, but they arrived only when the crisis had passed, and the rebellion had been effectually broken.1
It was asked, too, what were the causes which had made the state of Ireland so perilous, that those who administered its affairs were obliged for the first time in the eighteenth century to call for English assistance on land. Every foreign danger to which Ireland was exposed was confessedly due to English quarrels; and Irish Protestants, who differed utterly in their own principles, agreed in attributing a great part of the internal anarchy, which had lately become so formidable, to English policy. The old champions of Protestant ascendency, whether they held the opinions of Clare or the more liberal opinions of Flood and Charlemont, pointed to the success of a purely Protestant Government. Whatever might have been its faults, it had at least this incontestable merit, that for about eighty years of the century, English statesmen might have almost wholly dismissed Ireland and Irish concerns from their thoughts. Ireland had scarcely been more troublesome than if it had been an island in the Pacific, and it had been as free from active sedition and rebellion as Cornwall or Devonshire. Great changes had afterwards occurred, but the Protestant party attributed the anarchy that now prevailed mainly to the Catholic Act of 1793, which had broken the power of the ruling class and thrown open the door to revolutionary innovations. But the concession of the Catholic suffrage had been an English measure, forced by English intervention on a reluctant Administration, and carried in spite of the earnest protests and the repeated warnings of Foster and Clare.
From the opposite quarter of the political compass, the Protestants who followed Grattan had come to a very similar conclusion. They attributed the present condition of Ireland to the obstinacy with which a Government appointed by England had resisted parliamentary reform, and Catholic emancipation, and the commutation of tithes; to the recall of Lord Fitzwilliam after he had been suffered to raise the hopes of the Catholics to the utmost; to the stimulus given to religious dissension when the Government deliberately evoked the Protestant spirit in opposition to the Catholic claims; to the intolerable violence and outrage that had accompanied the process of disarming. These things did not, they admitted, introduce the first seeds of sedition into Ireland, but they had prepared the soil for the portentous rapidity of its growth, and they were the chief causes of the desperate condition to which the country had been reduced.
Under these circumstances, there was a very sullen and resentful spirit among the Irish Protestants when the intended Union was announced. The great preponderance of Protestant feeling appears at this time to have been clearly against the scheme, and if war had not been raging and invasion probable, the preponderance would have been overwhelming. The extreme danger of the situation, however, had undoubtedly converted some, and shaken the opposition of many.
Among the Catholics, the first impressions were much more favourable. The deposition of a governing and now a hostile sect was not without its charm, and the Union promised the speedy accomplishment of cherished objects. Some of the Catholic prelates, and especially Dr. Troy, the Archbishop of Dublin, from the beginning declared themselves warmly in favour of the scheme. They would no doubt gladly have seen Catholic emancipation incorporated in the Union, but, ‘from what I learn,’ writes Cornwallis, ‘the present measure is not likely to be opposed by the Catholics. They consider any change better than the present system.’ 1 ‘There appears no indisposition on the part of the leading Catholics,’ writes Castlereagh in November; ‘on the contrary, I believe they will consider any transfer of power from their opponents as a boon. I should hope the proposed arrangement for the Catholic clergy will reconcile that body. Dr. Troy is perfectly well inclined.’ 2 There seems to have been some question of inserting in the Act of Union, a clause maintaining the exclusively Protestant character of the Legislature, but both Cornwallis and the English Ministers declared that the competence of the Imperial Legislature to alter the oath must be expressly reserved, and it was agreed that it was essential to the peace of Ireland that tithes should be commuted and reduced, and that a competent provision should be assigned from the State to the Catholic clergy.1 It was from the Catholic province of Munster, and especially from the city of Cork, that the Government expected most support. Cork was at this time the second city in Ireland, and it was long and widely believed that a legislative Union would be as favourable to its progress as the Scotch Union had proved to the development of Glasgow.2
The Government were anxious not to rely solely on borough votes, and they did all in their power to influence the dispositions of the people. ‘The principal provincial newspapers,’ writes Castlereagh in November, ‘have been secured, and every attention will be paid to the press generally,’ 3 ‘Already,’ he writes a little later, ‘we feel the want, and, indeed, the absolute necessity of the primum mobile. We cannot give that activity to the press which is requisite.’ ‘I cannot help most earnestly requesting to receive 5,000l. in bank notes by the first messenger.’ 4 As the payment of the Catholic priests was intended to purchase the assistance of that body, so it was hoped that the promise of some additional provision would disarm the opposition, if it did not secure the support of the Presbyterian ministers.5 Slight augmentations had already taken place in 1784 and 1792, and about this time the negotiations began which resulted in the considerable enlargement and rearrangement of the Regium Donum in 1803.6 The attitude of Ulster was regarded with extreme apprehension, but also with some hope. The United Irish movement, which had its chief seat in this province, was essentially a revolt against the Irish Parliament. But Ulster republicanism had been suddenly checked when the horrors of the Wexford rebellion showed what an independent and popish Ireland was likely to be, and Castlereagh thought it possible that many of the Republican party would now accept an Union as a compromise.1 Wolfe Tone had from the first devoted all the resources of his powerful rhetoric to expressing his detestation of the Irish Parliament; he had taught consistently that the only real and final alternative for Ireland was Separation or Union,2 and although it does not appear that many of the United Irishmen took the turn for which Castlereagh hoped, it is remarkable that Hamilton Rowan, who was one of the most important of them, was not only decidedly but enthusiastically in favour of the Union. ‘In that measure,’ he writes, ‘I see the downfall of one of the most corrupt assemblies I believe ever existed, and instead of an empty title, a source of industrious enterprise for the people, and the wreck of feudal aristocracy.’ ‘It takes a feather out of the great man's cap; but it will, I think, put many a guinea in the poor man's pocket.’ 3 Neilson also, though he never appears to have given up his wish for a complete separation of the two countries, expressed his gratification at the Union as a measure which must benefit Ireland commercially, and could not injure her politically.1
There were two other motives operating in Ulster which were favourable to the Union. The free trade with England, which was expected to follow it, was certain to give a great impulse to the linen manufactures of Ulster, and Bishop Percy has noticed that among these manufacturers there was from the beginning a party devoted to the Union. In the Presbyterian North, too, even more than in the other provinces, tithe legislation was imperatively demanded. ‘As a measure connected with the Union,’ writes Castlereagh, ‘nothing would engage the great body of the people of all persuasions so certainly in its support, as coupling it with a regulation of tithes, which in this country has always been the first substantive object to which all reformers looked.’ 2 It was ultimately decided not to connect a tithe Bill with the Union, but one of the most effectual arguments used by its partisans was the certainty that a tithe Bill would immediately follow it.
The Government were now extremely desirous that a full statement of the case for the Union should be laid before the Irish public. The task of drawing it up was assigned to the Under Secretary, Cooke. His pamphlet seems to have been revised before publication by some leading public men;3 and although it appeared anonymously,4 it was at once recognised as the official statement of the case, and it passed speedily through many editions. Part of it consists of somewhat general reasonings on the advantages of political Union. He dwelt upon the benefits which had resulted from the union of Wales and Scotland with England; upon the necessity the American colonies found of drawing themselves together more closely by the Constitution of 1787; upon the immense and dangerous preponderance France had acquired in Europe through the complete fusion of the many states which originally composed it; upon the strong arguments in favour of Union derived from the present almost desperate condition of Europe. France had succeeded in incorporating, subduing, or influencing all the small countries about her. Geneva, Savoy, the Austrian provinces of Flanders, the German States on the left bank of the Rhine, had been incorporated with her. Spain only moved at her dictation. Holland, Switzerland, Sardinia, and the new Republic of Italy were occupied by her armies. England was now the last solid barrier of the liberties of Europe. Was it probable that she could have so long resisted the concentrated power of France, if Scotland had still been a half-separated kingdom, exposed as she had once been to incessant French intrigues? Was it likely that she would long be able to resist, if the constantly increasing power of France were met by no corresponding increase and consolidation of the British Empire?
If the Union of independent countries was a source of strength and prosperity, much more so would such an Union be as that which was now proposed. What, it was asked, is now the boasted independence of Ireland? The crown of Ireland depends on that of England, and the King of Ireland necessarily resides in England. The counsels of the Government of Ireland are framed in the British Cabinet. The Government of Ireland is administered by a British Lord Lieutenant and Secretary, appointed by the Ministry in England, acting under their instructions and distributing the patronage of the Crown. No measure of the Irish Parliament can become law without the licence of a British minister, for it must receive the royal sanction, attested by the Great Seal of Britain, which is in his custody. In all questions which concern alliances, the declaration and conduct of war or the negotiations for peace, Ireland is a completely subject State. She has no communication with foreign Powers except through British diplomatists. Her Parliament is supposed to be in a great measure subservient to British influence.1 Such a situation naturally produces constant jealousies, and furnishes a perpetual topic of complaint and invective to the newspapers and the parliamentary Opposition. But how, under its present Constitution, could it be avoided? ‘So long as we form part of the British Empire, we must acknowledge one executive power, one presiding Cabinet, and it is of indispensable necessity for that Cabinet to induce every part of the Empire to pursue the same principles of action, and to adopt the same system of measures, as far as possible; and as the interests of England must ever preponderate, a preference will always be given to her, or supposed to be given.’ If the two Parliaments act together, that of Ireland will always be said to be meanly and corruptly subservient to the British Cabinet. If they diverge, they may most seriously weaken the strength of the Empire. The Parliament of Ireland may exhort the King to make war when the views of England are pacific. It may oppose wars in which England is engaged, declare against treaties which England has made, and refuse to ratify commercial articles. It has actually asserted a right to choose a Regent of its own appointment, distinct from the Regent of England.
‘Add to this the melancholy reflection, that the Irish Parliament has been long made the theatre for British faction. When at a loss for subjects of grievance in Great Britain, they ever turn their eyes to this kingdom, in the kind hope that any seed of discontent may be nourished by their fostering attention into strength and maturity…. We have seen the leaders of the British Opposition come forward to support the character of Irish rebels, to palliate and to justify Irish treason, and almost to vindicate Irish rebellion.’
All this, in the opinion of the writer, would end with a legislative Union. It is true that absenteeism might somewhat increase, and London might be somewhat more than at present the centre of Irish affairs; but ‘the British Cabinet would receive a mixture of Irishmen, and the counsels of the British Parliament would be much influenced by the weight and ability of the Irish members. All our party contests would be transferred to Great Britain. British faction would cease to operate here…. France could no longer speculate on the nature of our distinct Government and Parliament, and hope to separate the kingdom from Great Britain.’ Ireland would be placed for ever on an equality with Great Britain. All danger of her subjection, all danger of partial laws by the British Parliament, would be at an end. ‘We shall have full security that the British United Parliament will never injure Ireland, because it must at the same time injure Great Britain.’ The development of the material resources of Ireland would become a special object of Imperial policy, and increasing loyalty would naturally follow increasing prosperity.
That such an increase of prosperity would follow the Union, appeared to Cooke hardly doubtful. When two countries differing widely in their industrial, commercial, agricultural, and moral development are identified in government, policy, and interests, they will inevitably tend to the same level. English capital will naturally find its employment in the undeveloped resources of Ireland. Cork is already the emporium of provisions for the British navy, and the refuge for all homeward-bound convoys in time of war when the Channel is unsafe. If the Union be carried, there is little doubt that it will be converted into a great maritime station, with dockyards like those of Plymouth and Portsmouth. Landed property, which in England sells in time of peace at from thirty to forty years’ purchase, in Ireland seldom exceeds twenty years’ purchase; but with the increased security and order which the Union would produce, the value of Irish estates will gradually rise to the English level. Ulster will gain complete security for her staple manufacture of linen. Already, it is true, that manufacture is encouraged by English laws, but these laws might at any time be repealed or changed. By an Union they will be fixed for ever.
The most important advantages, however, to be expected from the Union, were moral and political ones. In a remarkable page, to which I have already referred, Cooke acknowledged the immense progress that in the last twenty years Ireland had been making in population, agriculture, manufactures, and wealth. ‘It is universally admitted, that no country in the world ever made such rapid advances as Ireland has done in these respects; yet all her accession of prosperity has been of no avail; discontent has kept pace with improvement; discord has grown up with our wealth; conspiracy and rebellion have shot up with our prosperity.’ 1 The truth is, that the condition of Ireland is essentially unnatural and precarious. Nine-tenths of the property of the country are in the possession of descendants of British Protestant settlers, very many of whom owe their position to the fortunes of civil war. The government of the country, the parliamentary representation, and the Church revenues are all in the hands of a small Protestant minority. As long as the Catholics were restrained by severe penal laws the kingdom was tranquil, and the tranquillity continued for nearly a century. But with the repeal of these restrictions the old rivalry reappeared; the Catholics soon demanded a change in the Constitution, which would have the effect of transferring to them all the powers of the State; and the doctrine was rapidly spreading throughout Europe, that in every country the religious establishment should be the Church of the majority.
As long as the Catholics were to the Protestants as three to one, this state of things was essentially anomalous; but in order to change it, the Acts of Supremacy and of Uniformity must be repealed, ‘for nothing could be so absurd as to make men who deny the supremacy of the King, and the competency of the Parliament in ecclesiastical concerns, members of the supreme power, viz. the Legislature; and at the same time to subject these very men to the penalties of præmunire and treason for denying that supremacy and competency.’ But if the Catholics are admitted into the Legislature, and the Test Oaths and the Act of Supremacy are repealed, the Protestant Establishment at once becomes a public wrong. At present this Establishment is defensible, ‘because on principles of reason, and from the nature of a free Constitution, no religious sect can claim a right to be established or supported by the State which denies the competency of the State to regulate their conduct; but when that principle is abandoned, the defence of the Protestant Church Establishment is abandoned also.’
Nor would this be the only consequence. ‘Admitting the Catholics to seats in the Legislature, and retaining the present parliamentary Constitution, would be like inviting a man to dinner, and on his acceptance of the invitation, shutting the door in his face.’ Reform would necessarily follow emancipation, and it must end by taking the whole political power of the country from those who are the chief possessors of its landed property. Could the security of property survive such a revolution of power?
The only real safeguard against this danger lay in an Union. It would at once save the Empire from the great evil of an ‘Imperium in imperio,’ by giving it one Legislature, one supreme organ of the public will. It would place Ireland ‘in a natural situation, for all the Protestants of the Empire being united, she would have the proportion of fourteen to three in favour of her Establishment, whereas at present there is a proportion of three to one against it.’ ‘If Ireland was once united to Great Britain by a legislative Union, and the maintenance of the Protestant Establishment was made a fundamental article of that Union, then the whole power of the Empire would be pledged to the Church Establishment of Ireland, and the property of the whole Empire would be pledged in support of the property of every part.’
These last arguments were addressed especially to the class who still constituted the Irish Parliament, and were the chief governing body in Ireland. Some of the other advantages, however, that have been enumerated applied in a very large measure to the Dissenters and to the Catholics, and special inducements were held out to each sect. The Catholics were told that all the privileges they had obtained from the Irish Parliament would be secured by the Union; that ‘it may be advisable to connect with an Union a proper support for their clergy, and some system of regulation for their Church not inconsistent with their ecclesiastical principles;’ and that ‘an opening may be left in any plan of Union for the future admission of Catholics to additional privileges.’ It will be observed, that no distinct prospect of their admission into the Legislature is held out in this pamphlet, but it was urged that the position of Catholics, both socially and politically, would be greatly improved when they were no longer legislated for under the influence of local prejudices, jealousies, or antipathies, and with that ‘necessary State partiality towards Protestants’ which the present dangerous condition of Ireland produced. The Catholic South and West, were also the parts of Ireland which were likely to benefit most largely by the agricultural and commercial advantages of the Union. The Protestant Dissenters were told that their political importance would be increased when they were united with the Dissenting interests of Great Britain;1 that further provision would be made for their ministers, and that a modus of tithes by which Dissenters and Catholics would be essentially relieved, would probably accompany an Union.
Such were the principal arguments and promises of this very important pamphlet, which first brought the question of the Union fully before the Irish public, and furnished most of its advocates with the substance of their speeches. The subject at once absorbed public attention almost to the exclusion of all others, and it is stated that before the end of the year 1798, no less than twenty-four pamphlets relating to it had already appeared.2 In the interval before the meeting of the Irish Parliament, parties on each side were rapidly forming. The resignation which the Chief Secretary Pelham had long been pressing on the Government was at last accepted, and this important post was placed in the strong hands of Lord Castlereagh. The appointment had long been in consideration, and was strenuously supported by Cornwallis; but it encountered much opposition, chiefly, it appears, on the part of the King, who clung to the old rule that this office should always be held by an Englishman. Cornwallis acknowledged ‘the propriety of the general rule,’ but he said that Castlereagh was ‘so very unlike an Irishman,’ that he had a just claim to an exception in his favour.3 The King gave his consent in the beginning of November. It is a somewhat remarkable fact that the first Irishman who was Chancellor, and the first Irishman who was Chief Secretary since the Revolution, were the two leading instruments in destroying the Irish Parliament.
The warning of Lord Harcourt, that a legislative Union ought never to be attempted unless the minds of the Irish had been long prepared, and unless the wish for it had come from them, had been completely neglected. The measure of Pitt was flashed suddenly upon the Irish public, on the eve of its introduction, and, if we except the confidential overtures from Clare, the whole initiative and idea of it came from England. The letters from the chief persons about the Government in the weeks between the disclosure of the scheme and its introduction into Parliament, are full of misgivings about the state of public opinion, and some of them of much complaint about Lord Cornwallis. Clare complained of his coldness and his reserve, and expressed grave fears about the House of Commons. ‘Foster is impracticable, and Parnell now joins with him. If this should continue to be the case, and nothing effectual is done here to counteract it, I fear we shall have great difficulties to encounter.’ ‘In the House of Commons there is certainly no man who will be a match for Foster, if he chooses to persist in strong opposition to the measure.’ 1 Camden thought that it would have been wiser ‘to have received the voice and the conversation and the influence of some leading characters’ in Ireland before starting the scheme as a Government measure, but that it was now too late to recede.2 Near the end of November, however, it appeared to Elliot, who was one of the best and ablest officials of the Government, that the difficulties of the question had become so great, that it was not improbable that the project would be abandoned.3
Perhaps the best way of studying the public opinion on the subject, is to look separately at different classes. The first and in some respects the most important opposition, came from the bar. A great meeting was summoned on December 9, by Saurin, who was one of its most distinguished and most esteemed members. He belonged to an old Huguenot family, and was himself a man of strong Protestant principles and prejudices, and he was in after years, when Attorney-General, one of the most formidable opponents of O'Connell. The meeting appears to have included all that was eminent at the Irish bar, and after a very able debate, in which Saurin, Plunket, and Peter Burrowes displayed especial ability, a resolution was carried by 166 to 32, condemning the Union as ‘an innovation which it would be highly dangerous and improper to propose at the present juncture.’ The debate was at once published, and had much influence upon opinion; it was followed by many other pamphlets, chiefly written by lawyers, among which those of Goold, Jebb, and Bushe were probably the most remarkable, and they supplied the principal arguments in the subsequent debates.
For the most part, the opponents of the measure at this stage abstained from committing themselves to any general assertion that a legislative Union could at no time be expedient. They dilated especially upon the inexpediency of pressing it forward when the country was still torn by the convulsions of civil war; when it was impossible to take the full sense of the people; when the Habeas Corpus Act was suspended, and in the presence of an enormous English army.
Was this a time, they asked, when Ireland should be called upon to surrender the parliamentary Constitution under which, with all its imperfections, she had subsisted for 500 years; to hand over the government of the people to a Legislature in which the whole Irish representation would form only a small fraction, to extinguish for ever the Irish name and nationality? What were the inducements that were offered for such a step? Some of them were evidently of the nature of bribes, and were measures which were perfectly compatible with the existing system. What was there in the maintenance of an Irish Parliament to prevent the payment of the priests; or the additional payment of Dissenting ministers, or a commutation of tithes? Others were sure to be largely deceptive. The commercial advantages were especially insisted on. But it was acknowledged that Irish commerce and manufactures during the preceding twenty years had been advancing with a rapidity unexampled in their history, unsurpassed in any part of Europe. A Legislature, it was said, can assist commerce and manufactures chiefly in two ways. It may do so by protecting laws, granting bounties and monopolies, or it may do so by measures extending the sphere of commercial enterprise. The first right Ireland by the Union would absolutely surrender, and she would surrender it into the hands of a Legislature in which her most formidable rivals in the fields of commerce and manufactures are supreme. As a general rule, the principle of protecting duties is a false one, ‘but in our particular situation, contending with a small capital and an infant establishment against an old establishment and enormous capital, it is by protecting duties only that we can ever hope to gain that strength which may enable us, at length, to place our manufactures on equal terms.’ Could anyone believe that such protection would be granted by an Imperial Parliament?
There remained, then, the new spheres of industry that might be opened by the Union. But that measure could give Ireland no greater liberty than she already possessed, of trading with the whole world outside the British Empire, and with the whole British Empire outside Great Britain. In the trade with Great Britain, it is true, Ireland suffered several disabilities, from which it had long been an object of Irish statesmen by fair negotiation to relieve her., But the two chief products of Ireland were already freely admitted. England might, no doubt, withdraw the encouragement she granted to Irish linens, but she would hardly do so as long as she could obtain her linens more cheaply from Ireland than from any other country, and she would certainly not shut her ports against Irish corn, for the importation of corn was necessary to her increased population, and Ireland was the one great granary which lay open at her door. On the other hand, sooner or later, the Union must bring a vast increase of taxation. A country with a debt of twelve millions, was asked to unite with a country with a debt of 500 millions. Provisions were, no doubt, promised for keeping separate exchequers, but was it not probable that the day would come, when these debts would be blended? Had not Adam Smith, the greatest of all the advocates of a legislative Union, expressly argued that the debts of the two countries should be amalgamated, and their taxation equalised? Was it not also certain that the master evil, Absenteeism, would be enormously increased? It was an evil which would not only diminish the material resources of Ireland, but would also in a large measure deprive her of the very class who could do most to ‘command, reclaim, and soothe a wretched peasantry.’ Yet there was no country in which, from its social and political circumstances, the constant guidance of a loyal, respectable, and intelligent class was more supremely important.
The opponents of the measure then proceeded to deal with the contention of Cooke, that a legislative Union was necessary to strengthen the connection, to guard against the dangers of invasion and separation. What, they asked, was the Irish Parliament which it was proposed to abolish? Was it not a governing body of tried, ardent, devoted loyalists, intimately acquainted with the circumstances of the country? With the single exception of the Regency question, it had never differed on a question of Imperial policy from the British Parliament, and a simple enactment would prevent the recurrence of a difficulty, which had only arisen from an omission in the law. Not one disaffected man of any real power or influence, had ever appeared in the Irish Parliament. Not one instance could be cited, in which the Irish Parliament had refused to support England in times of difficulty and danger. ‘Never was any Parliament so zealous, so vigilant, so anxious, so scrutinising as the Irish Parliament on the occasion of the late rebellion. Not a breath or murmur of opposition was uttered against the strongest measures the Administration wished to adopt. Every additional weapon that the executive magistrate demanded, every guinea that he could require, was voted, not merely with cheerfulness, but with anticipating alacrity and without a single dissenting voice.’ In the British Parliament, there was an active faction opposing the war, extenuating the rebellion, and censuring the measures by which it was repressed. In the Irish Parliament, not a man was found ‘to palliate its crimes, or to refuse the necessary aid to the executive power.’ Who, it was more than once asked, were the men who had put down the late most dangerous rebellion? Were they not the loyal gentlemen of Ireland, who had organised and led the yeomanry and the militia? And was it not this very class, which the Union was most likely to withdraw from Ireland, whose influence in Ireland it was most certain to diminish? If there is a danger of a separation from England, ‘it is not at least from any disposition manifested by the gentry, by the property, by the Parliament of Ireland. If any such tendency prevail, it is among the lower classes of the people, corrupted by the empirics of the French school, whose poison can be best and perhaps solely counteracted by a resident gentry and a resident Parliament, who are unalterably and without exception, and from the most unequivocal motives of self-interest, if there were nothing else to operate, bound to maintain the connection to the last extremity.’
The danger of invasion to which Ireland is exposed, it was said, springs in reality from two sources. The one is a geographical position, which no political measure can affect; the other is the disaffection which such a measure as was now contemplated would most seriously increase. ‘Formed in the British Cabinet, unsolicited by the Irish nation,’ ‘passed in the middle of war, in the centre of a tremendous military force, under the influence of immediate personal danger,’ this Union was not likely to be ‘salutary in its nature or permanent in its duration.’ It was said, ‘that advantage should be taken of the passions that agitate and distract the minds of men at the close of a widely extended rebellion; that the intolerance of the Orangemen, the resentment of the excluded Catholics, the humiliation of the rebel, and the despairing apathy of the reformer, afford an opportunity not to be lost of effecting a revolution’ which under normal circumstances would be impossible. Such a policy might for a time succeed, but it could not fail to be followed by the bitterest recriminations. It would ‘multiply and invigorate the friends of the French connection; dishearten, alienate, and disgust the friends to the British interest,’ and most materially weaken their hold upon their countrymen. ‘Who are they,’ it was asked, ‘whose pride and consequence will be most humbled? The loyal and spirited yeomen and gentry who have fought and bled in support of our Constitution as it now stands.’ ‘The United Irishmen, I am told,’ said Peter Burrowes, ‘hold a jubilee of joy at this measure. They are its warmest advocates. They well know that their numbers will be increased;’ and Plunket declared that ‘he opposed the Union principally, because he was convinced that it would accelerate a total separation of the two countries.’
The parallel that was established between the Scotch Union and that which it was now desired to form, was strenuously disputed. The Scotch Parliament had legislated in such a manner that, without an Union, England and Scotland must have been legally and absolutely separated on the death of Queen Anne, and English statesmen had therefore an urgent motive for pressing on the Scotch Union, which was wholly wanting in the case of Ireland. No two Parliaments indeed could be more dissimilar in their relations to England than the Scotch Parliament, which passed the Bill of Security, and the Irish Parliament, which suppressed the rebellion of 1798. Scotland, too, at the time of the Union had a population which was probably less than two millions. She was sunk in abject poverty. She had no considerable manufactures. She was excluded from the English colonies, and the cattle which were her only superfluity, were excluded from the English market. Her exports to the whole world on a four years’ average scarcely exceeded 800,000l. The whole population of Edinburgh was little more than 30,000. Ireland at the close of the eighteenth century had 4,500,000, some writers say 5,000,000 inhabitants. She had the widest liberty of commerce. Her annual exports to England alone were at least 2,500,000l. Her capital, according to the best estimate,1 contained more than 170,000 inhabitants, and she was advancing with acknowledged and gigantic strides on the path of material prosperity. It was added, too, that Scotland and England formed but a single island; that the progress of Scotland, which was attributed so exclusively to her Union, was not very marked till after the abolition of the hereditary jurisdictions in 1746, and that two Scotch rebellions were at least strengthened by the Union.
The doctrine which Grattan had maintained in 1785, of the incompetence of the Irish Parliament to carry a legislative Union, was now fully formulated, and it occupied a great part in the discussions on the measure. Sometimes it was stated as an absolute incompetence. The more cautious, however, of the disputants contented themselves with denying the right of the Parliament of Ireland to destroy its own existence, and transfer its powers to another Legislature, without the consent of the constituencies attested by a dissolution. This doctrine was supported by the express statement of Locke, the most recognised and authoritative exponent of the British Constitution as established and reformed at the Revolution. ‘The Legislative,’ he wrote, ‘cannot transfer the power of making laws to any other hands. For it being but a delegated power from the people, they who have it cannot pass it over to others. The people alone can appoint the form of the Commonwealth, which is by constituting the Legislative, and appointing in whose hands that shall be…. The power of the Legislative being derived from the people by a positive voluntary grant and institution, can be no other than what that positive grant conveyed, which being only to make laws and not legislators, the Legislative can have no power to transfer their authority of making laws, and place it in other hands…. The Legislative neither must nor can transfer the power of making laws to anybody else, or place it anywhere but where the people have.’ ‘Governments are dissolved from within when the Legislative is altered…. The Constitution of the Legislative is the first and fundamental act of the Society; whereby provision is made for the continuation of their Union, under the direction of persons and bonds of laws made by persons authorised thereunto by the consent and appointment of the people, without which no one man or number of men amongst them can have authority of making laws that shall be binding to the rest. When any one or more shall take upon them to make laws whom the people have not appointed so to do, they make laws without authority, and the people are not therefore bound to obey.’ 1 The conduct of the British Parliament of 1716, which, having been elected by its constituents for three years, not only exercised its legitimate power by making future Parliaments septennial, but also by its own authority prolonged its own term of office for four years beyond the time for which it had been elected, was described as essentially and grossly unconstitutional. On the other hand, the conduct of American statesmen was appealed to as an example. When Constitution of the United States was remodelled in 1787, and a large share of power transferred from the State Legislatures to the Congress, a convention was specially elected by the people to accomplish this change by their direct authority.
On the strength of such a doctrine, language of the most serious and menacing character was employed. ‘I hold it to be indisputably certain,’ said Peter Burrowes, ‘that the ancient established Constitution of a nation like this cannot be justifiably annihilated without the previous consent of the nation, founded upon the freest and fullest discussion of the subject.’ ‘If an Union should be effected with England,’ said another distinguished lawyer, ‘in pursuance of the consent of the majority of the thinking part of the nation fairly taken when the nation can think, I shall hold it to be my bounden duty to submit and to act under it. But if the separate right of legislation shall be annihilated, and transferred or incorporated with that of any other country without such consent of the nation, I cannot consider myself justly bound by the transaction.’ ‘Either this Union is against the consent of the people, or it is not,’ said a third lawyer. ‘If it is, the accomplishment of it is tyranny. If it is not, where is the harm or danger of having the constitutional sanction of the people?’ The yeomen were significantly reminded that they had taken arms and had sworn to defend the Constitution of their country, and that this Constitution might have other enemies besides Father Murphy and the United Irishmen.
This short summary, condensed from the Anti-Union literature of 1798, will, I hope, show clearly the case of the opponents of the measure. The reader who will compare the rival arguments, will observe that there are several points in the pamphlet of Cooke which were untouched, and also that on both sides, but especially on that of the Anti-Unionists, there was a great reticence about the Catholic question. It was not due to indifference, for it is probable that no other part of the subject so largely affected the judgments of men, but rather to the fact that on each side, strenuous friends and enemies of the Catholic claims were united. It will be observed, too, that the opponents of the Union evaded one most formidable consideration. There was much force, or at least much plausibility, in the contention that a system which placed the government of Ireland directly in the hands of men of property, who were strongly and indisputably attached to the Empire, and whose influence with their people depended largely upon their political position, was conducive both to the well-being of Ireland, and to its attachment to the Empire. But if, in the constitutional changes that were manifestly impending, the disloyal element, which undoubtedly existed in the country, and which the events of the last few years had greatly intensified, invaded the Legislature, the problem would wholly change. No political madness could be greater than to put the legislative machinery of an integral and essential portion of the Empire into the hands of men who were largely or mainly disaffected to that Empire; and who, in times of difficulty, danger, and disaster, were likely to betray it. Nor did the opponents of the Union adequately recognise how enormously the revived religious and social antagonism produced by the late convulsions, had aggravated the difficulty of self-government in Ireland.
On the question of the constitutional capacity of the Legislature to carry an Union, a few words must be said. The doctrine that a Legislature can under no circumstances surrender its separate existence and transfer its legislative powers, though it may be supported by some authority and by some argument, may, I think, be lightly dismissed. Every nation must have some power of contracting an Union with another nation if it desires it, and in the theory and tradition of the British Constitution the Legislature is the supreme and perfect organ of the national will. The British Constitution in this respect differs essentially from the Constitution of the United States. In America the powers of Congress are defined and limited; a tribunal exists which can pronounce authoritatively upon the validity of its acts; and in accordance with the principles of Locke and of Rousseau, Conventions are formed to carry out constitutional changes by express authority of the people. But the enactment of the Scotch Union is a clear precedent, establishing the capacity of the Legislature of the British Empire, and its validity has not been seriously denied. If indeed the Scotch Union had been invalid, the whole legislation of the United Parliament would be vitiated, and the title of the monarch to his Scotch throne would be destroyed, for that title does not rest upon the Act of Settlement, which applied only to England, but solely upon a clause in the Act of Union. Blackstone and a long succession of great English lawyers have declared, in the most emphatic terms, that the power of the Legislature within the realm knows no limits except the laws of nature. Its acts may be iniquitous, tyrannical, subversive of the most ancient liberties of the people; they may be the result of corruption, intimidation, or fraud, but no Act of Parliament can be invalid, for the simple reason that no tribunal exists which is competent to annul it.
From a lawyer's point of view, this position is unassailable. An Act is a valid law which every tribunal must acknowledge to be such, and which no existing authority has a legal right to resist. But though an Act of Parliament cannot be invalid, it may be unconstitutional, that is to say, opposed to the purposes for which the Constitution was constructed, to the main principles which were intended to govern its action.1 Such Acts have occurred in English history, and they can only be justified by the plea of some overwhelming State necessity or expediency. The Act of the Parliament of 1716 in prolonging its own existence beyond the period for which it was elected belongs, I think, to this class,2 and its best defence was that an election in 1717 would have endangered the whole settlement of the Revolution. The Irish Union appears to me to have been another and a graver example of the same kind. A Parliament which was elected when there was no question of an Union, transferred its own rights and the rights of its constituents to another Legislature, and the act was accomplished without any appeal to the electors by a dissolution.
The precedent of the Scotch Union has here also been adduced, but it is not altogether applicable. At the time of that Union the objection was raised, that the members had no right to subvert the old Constitution of Scotland without the consent of their constituents. It was answered partly by the precedent of 1688, when the two Houses meeting in Convention transferred the crown, altered the succession, and settled the Revolution without consulting the constituencies, but partly also by the allegation that the last Scotch Parliament was summoned by a proclamation intimating that it was to treat of an Union, and that, ‘being sent up for that declared purpose by their constituents, there remained no occasion to demand any other instructions from them.’ 1 No such statement could be made in the case of the Irish Union. It may indeed be truly said that the dissolution of a Parliament consisting mainly of nomination boroughs could have had but little effect, but it would at least have elicited the opinion of the free constituencies, and without their sanction such a measure as the Union ought not, in my opinion, without the most urgent necessity, to have been pressed.
To complete the sketch of the Anti-Union literature of 1798, I must add that one of the most popular and most important of these writers was prepared to advocate great changes in the existing Constitution as an alternative to an Union. In the very remarkable pamphlet of Jebb, while the arguments against an incorporating Union are stated with much force, a series of concessions was proposed which would have gone far to transform the relation between the two countries. It was said that, ‘in order to set at rest every Imperial question that can suggest itself as likely to occur to the most jealous and the most speculative politician,’ it might be enacted that when the King had declared war, and the British Parliament had sanctioned it, the Irish Parliament should be bound to follow. It was suggested also, that all questions of trade between the two countries should be settled on the basis of reciprocity by a final and irrevocable treaty; that the religious establishment should be guaranteed by a provision forbidding its alteration without the concurrence of the two Parliaments, and finally that, ‘to accomplish what is perhaps the Ministers’ grand object in the Union,’ the debts of England and Ireland should be consolidated, and an arrangement made by which Ireland should pay some proportion to the general debt charge of the Empire. By such measures, Jebb maintained, every real object expected from the Union could be attained.1
The opposition which was led by the Irish bar was strenuously supported. A large and thoroughly representative meeting of the bankers and merchants of all religious opinions was held in Dublin on December 18, and resolutions were unanimously passed acknowledging the great increase of Irish commerce and prosperity since 1782, expressing the strongest sentiments of loyalty to the King and the connection, but at the same time condemning in emphatic terms, as highly dangerous and impolitic, any attempt to deprive the Irish people of their Parliament. The resolutions were introduced by William Digges Latouche, the first banker, and one of the most respected men, in Ireland; and they were seconded by John Claudius Beresford, who had hitherto been a strenuous supporter of the Government, who was a warm partisan of the Protestant ascendency, and who had lately shown great zeal, and also great violence, in putting down rebellion in Dublin. If opinions were to be weighed as well as counted, the significance of this meeting could hardly be overrated. ‘When I warn you,’ wrote Beresford to Lord Castlereagh, ‘of the universal disgust, nay, horror, that Dublin, and even all the lower part of the North, have at the idea of the Union, I do not do it with any idea that my opinion would have weight in turning Government from their design, but from a wish that they should know what they have to contend with; for I confess to you, that I fear more the effect the measure will have on the minds of the people (particularly those that were the best affected) than I do the measure itself…. The conversations on this subject have given the almost annihilated body of United Irishmen new spirits, and the society is again rising like a phoenix from its ashes.’ 1 The Corporation of Dublin, and a meeting of the county, denounced the measure in even stronger terms. Foster, whose opinion was perhaps as valuable as that of anyone in Ireland, solemnly warned the Government, that the public mind was against them, and that under such circumstances it would be dangerous, if not disastrous, to persist.2 ‘The inflammation in Dublin,’ wrote Lord Castlereagh in the beginning of 1799, ‘is extreme,’ but he added that it was ‘as yet confined to the middling and higher classes.’ 2
There were, however, other classes and other parts of Ireland in which opinion at this time was much more doubtful and divided. Among the opponents of Catholic emancipation, there was a profound difference. Foster and Clare, who were by far the ablest men in that party, took opposite sides. John Beresford, who had borne so great a part in the recall of Lord Fitz-william, appears from his letters to have been completely panicstricken by the danger to which property and the Establishment had recently been exposed; and he was as favourable to an Union as his son, John Claudius Beresford, was opposed to it. Duigenan, as was usual with him, followed Clare. Saurin was one of the most extreme opponents. Alderman James, a former Lord Mayor of Dublin, who had great influence among the Dublin Orangemen, was eager for the Union, under the belief that the Prince of Wales and the Opposition were pledged to the Catholics; and that ‘an Union was the only means of preserving the Protestant State against the Irish papists and their English supporters.’ 1 The Government hoped that such representations would make many converts among the Orangemen, but it soon appeared that their dominant sentiment was decidedly adverse to the Union, and it was considered a great triumph when some of its leading supporters succeeded in inducing the chief Orange lodges, both in Dublin and the North, to come to an agreement that they would not as a society take any part in the discussion, but would leave each Orangeman in his individual capacity free to adopt what line he pleased. ‘This,’ Duigenan said, ‘is the utmost service the friends of the Union have been able to effect.’ 2 Complaints were made to the Grand Lodge, that some of the younger members of the body, in their hostility to the Union, were even making overtures to the United Irishmen,3 and some yeomen declared that they would not retain their arms or continue their services if the measure was persisted in.4
The attitude of Ulster, and especially of that great Presbyterian population of Ulster which was so deeply imbued with republicanism, was on the whole more encouraging. A few years before, the fiercest opposition would have probably come from this quarter. But Ulster and Ulster politics had in the last months strangely altered. ‘The measure,’ wrote Castlereagh at the end of November, ‘as yet has made no sensation in the North. Some time since, the Presbyterians would have been found most energetic opponents, but they have been long disinclined to the existing system; of late they are rather tired of the treason in which they had very deeply embarked; perhaps they may be inclined to compromise with the Union;’ and he expressed, as we have seen, a hope that an augmentation of the Regium Donum would secure their ministers.1 Three weeks later, Castlereagh's father wrote from Mount Stewart, that he had heard no one ‘argue with any keenness either for or against’ the Union, but that there were reports that two popular politicians were in favour of it. ‘I infer,’ he continued, ‘the popular current will not be very strong in this corner of the North against the measure. I conclude most of those who were actuated with a strong reforming spirit, entertain such a dislike and antipathy to the present subsisting Parliament of the country, that they will not be very adverse to any change that will rid them of what they deem so very corrupt a Legislature.’ There was a hope among some Belfast merchants, that an Union would greatly develop Belfast trade. ‘The lower order of manufacturers and farmers,’ Lord Londonderry said, ‘unless set going by the upper ranks, will concern themselves little about the matter.’ 2
Cornwallis was very dubious on the subject. On December 15, he writes, ‘Our reports of the reception of the measure in the North are not favourable, especially about Belfast;’ but only a fortnight later he reported that, although there were some signs of renewed disaffection in the North, he did not believe them to be connected with the Union, and that on that question, ‘the appearances in the North are by no means discouraging. Belfast has shown no disinclination, at which some of the violent party in Dublin are not less surprised than indignant. In Derry the most respectable merchants are decidedly for the measure, and I have understood from several persons lately returned from the North, whose information deserves credit, that the linen trade, looking to secure for ever the protection they now enjoy in the British market, are friendly to the principle. Newry is quiet on the question, and disposed to consider it fairly.’ 3 ‘The general disposition of the North,’ Lord Castlereagh wrote a little later, ‘is favourable to the measure, particularly the linen trade.’ 4 Lord Charlemont, who hated the Union, acknowledged that Ulster on this question showed none of the fire which it had displayed in the days of the volunteers, and more recently when the yeomanry were enrolled. ‘The silence of the country,’ he wrote to an intimate friend,‘is the only argument Administration can bring forward against us, a silence principally occasioned by the torpor which their own measures, perhaps cunningly, have produced.’ He tried to organise a movement against the Union at Armagh, and found ‘the freeholders indeed willing, but many of the gentlemen supine, and the sheriff is absent.’ 1 Bishop Percy, who supported the projected Union with much warmth, believed at this time that there was much real opinion in its favour. Dublin, he admitted, was fiercely and dangerously opposed to it, and the Irish bar was exerting all its energies against it, but he believed also that in Cork, Waterford, and even Belfast, mercantile opinion was favourable to the measure; that the very expectation of it had already given a great spur to the linen manufacture; and that in the South many landed gentry, who had hitherto been strenuous advocates of the legislative independence of Ireland, were so terrified by the scenes of carnage in Wexford, and by the dangers to which their lives and properties were exposed, that they would gladly and even eagerly accept protection under the shelter of an Union. Such a measure, in the opinion of Bishop Percy, would be of the greatest advantage to Ireland; ‘but after all,’ he wrote, ‘I fear we are not sufficiently enlightened to resist the narrow, bigoted outcries of the ignorant and the interested, and the lawyers are overwhelming the world with publications, and the Dublin mob are rending the skies with shouts against it, which probably may prevent its passing, or even being mentioned at all in Parliament.’ 2
The Protestants formed but a small minority of the population of Ireland, but they included the great preponderance of its energy, intelligence, and property. They were the political and governing class, the class who chiefly created that strong, intelligent, independent, and uninfluenced public opinion, which in every country it is the duty of a wise statesman especially to consult. It seems plain that the bulk of Protestant opinion on the question oscillated, at this time, between violent opposition and a languid or at best a favourable acquiescence, and that there was very little real, earnest or spontaneous desire for the measure. Two facts, which appear prominently in the correspondence of this period, attest most eloquently the disposition of the people. The one was the acknowledged necessity of keeping an immense English force in Ireland, for the purpose of guarding, not merely against a foreign enemy, but also against the dangers to be apprehended in carrying the Union.1 The other was the confession of Lord Castlereagh, that ‘nothing but an established conviction that the English Government will never lose sight of the Union till it is carried, could give the measure a chance of success.’ 2
On the Catholic side, however, it obtained a real though a fluctuating, uncertain, and somewhat conditional support, and there can be little doubt that if Catholic emancipation had formed a part of the scheme, the support would have been very considerable. Pitt at first desired to take this course;3 but Clare, as we have seen, convinced him that it was impracticable, and Pitt then strongly inclined to an Union on a Protestant basis.4 Lord Grenville agreed with him, though before the rebellion he said he would have thought differently.5 Cornwallis, as we have seen, doubted and fluctuated, while Dundas was prepared to favour the wider scheme if Cornwallis considered it feasible.1 Among those who most regretted the change was William Elliot, who was one of the ablest and most esteemed of the English officials in Ireland. He had been thought of as Chief Secretary when Lord Camden was appointed, and some years after the Union he returned to Ireland in that position, but he was now Under Secretary to the Lord Lieutenant for the Military Department, and was employed very confidentially in the communications between the English and Irish Governments which preceded the Union. He was so fully convinced that the Government were making a profound mistake in dissociating the two measures, that when the decision was finally taken, he desired to resign his office and his seat in the Irish Parliament. ‘Since the measure is embarked in,’ he wrote to Castlereagh, ‘I feel anxious for its success. Even on its present narrow and contracted basis, I believe it will be productive of advantage to the Empire. If the Catholics are wise, they will acquiesce in it; but I am afraid we have left them ground of complaint. I cannot be easily persuaded that if more firmness had been displayed here at first, an Union might not have been accomplished including the admission of the Catholic claims; but Mr. Pitt has with a lamentable facility yielded this point to prejudice, without, I suspect, acquiring support in any degree equivalent to the sacrifice.’ 2
The Catholic leaders, however, themselves do not appear to have agreed with Elliot. From the very first disclosure of the scheme, it became evident that they looked on it with favour, and Lord Fingall, Lord Kenmare, and Archbishop Troy at this time entirely approved of the omission of the Catholic question from the measure. They considered that it would be ‘injurious to the Catholic claims to have them discussed in the present temper of the Irish Parliament;’ that to do so ‘would hazard the success of the Union without serving the Catholics;’ that it would be ‘much more for their interest that the question should rest till it could be submitted in quieter times to the unprejudiced decision of the United Parliament, relying on their receiving hereafter every indulgence which could be extended to them without endangering the Protestant Establishment.’ Lord Kenmare and Lord Fingall were especially anxious to see a State endowment of the priests, which would make them less dependent on the most ignorant and turbulent classes, and Archbishop Troy promised that he would use all his influence in favour of the Union on the sole condition that it contained no clause barring future concessions. ‘Upon the whole,’ Lord Castlereagh wrote in the beginning of December, ‘it appears to me, as far as the dispositions of the Catholics have yet disclosed themselves, that there is every reason to expect from them a preference for the measure. An active support from that body would not perhaps be advantageous to the success of the Union. It would particularly increase the jealousy of the Protestants, and render them less inclined to the question.’ 1
The opinion of the Catholics outside the small circle of their leading prelates and gentry was less decided, but at first the Government considered it clearly favourable. At the discussion at the meeting of the bar, a Protestant gentleman named Grady, when advocating the Union, declared that the Catholics, who formed the bulk of the people of Ireland, desired it. He was met by loud cries of dissent, and he explained that he spoke from an intimate knowledge of the South of Ireland; that the great Catholic trading interest there was entirely in its favour, and that the most respectable Catholics of his acquaintance considered the Union to be not only of great general advantage to the State, but also the only way of allaying the religious hatred and intolerance which the last few months had revived. In the course of the debate, a prominent Catholic lawyer named Bellew denied these assertions, but he contented himself with stating that the Catholics had as yet formed no decided opinion on the question, and had not begun seriously to consider it.2 In the Government letters, however, of November and the beginning of December, the province of Munster, and especially the towns of Limerick and Cork, are continually spoken of as decidedly favourable to the Union.3 The first resolutions in its favour came from the Corporation of Cork; they were passed unanimously, and Lord Castlereagh states that a great number of principal inhabitants expressed their approbation of them, and that Colonel Fitzgerald, one of the members for the county, who was ‘inferior to no man in personal respectability,’ as well as Lord Shannon, the great nobleman of the county, were strongly in favour of the Union.1 Lord Shannon, Lord Longueville, and Lord Donoughmore, who were strong partisans of the Union, had great influence in Cork and its neighbourhood, but they only, Lord Cornwallis said, ‘gave full effect to the natural sentiments of the place, which are warmly in favour of the Union.’ A petition, it is true, signed by 1,800 inhabitants of Cork was afterwards presented against the Union, but it was strenuously asserted that it did not represent the opinion of the majority of the traders or freemen of that great Catholic town.2 It was believed that Cork would gain as much by it as Dublin would lose, and that her magnificent harbour would become one of the chief centres of the commerce of the Empire.3 One of the first Irish pamphlets in favour of the Union was written by Theobald McKenna, who had been for many years the principal pamphleteer of the Catholic body. It contained, however, one passage which was somewhat ominous. ‘Unless the servants of the Crown mean, among other internal regulations, to include a settlement under the head of religious difference completely coextensive with the grievance, then will an incorporation of the Legislatures be found a measure bad for Ireland, but, if possible, worse for Britain.’ 4
Before the meeting of Parliament, the Ministers had become much less hopeful about the disposition of the Catholics. Early in December, Cornwallis wrote to General Ross, ‘The opposition to the Union increases daily in and about Dublin, and I am afraid, from conversations which I have had with persons much connected with them, that I was too sanguine when I hoped for the good inclinations of the Catholics. Their disposition is so completely alienated from the British Government, that I believe they would even be tempted to join with their bitterest enemies, the Protestants of Ireland, if they thought that measure would lead to a total separation of the two countries.’ 1 ‘The principal Catholics about Dublin,’ he wrote a few days later, ‘begin to hold a much less sanguine language about the probable conduct of their brethren, and are disposed to think that, in this part of the kingdom at least, the greater number of them will join in opposition to the Union.’ 2
Cooke still thought the great body friendly and well inclined, but he observed that they held aloof, and that their leaders hesitated. It was now argued that the Union could be no real union without emancipation; ‘that the Catholics, being the excluded caste, will ever be discontented; that they will be called the Irish; that they will still have a distinct interest.’ 3 There were two important meetings of Catholic leaders at Lord Fingall's, and, to the great disappointment of the Government, no resolution was arrived at.4 Lord Kenmare was not present at the first meeting, but wrote strongly in favour of the Union; Lord Fingall seemed for a time somewhat doubtful; Bellew was with difficulty prevented from moving a hostile resolution. He said to Lord Cornwallis, that the Catholics could not be expected to favour a measure from which they not only would derive no advantage, but would find themselves in a worse situation than at present. If they were excluded from Parliament at the Union, he saw no prospect of their afterwards entering it, for when incorporated into the mass of British subjects they would be a small minority, and the British Test Act would be a strong barrier to their claims. Cornwallis acknowledged that in his own opinion this argument had much force.5
‘The Catholics as a body,’ wrote Cornwallis in the beginning of January, ‘still adhere to their reserve on the measure of Union. The very temperate and liberal sentiments at first entertained and expressed by some of that body, were by no means adopted by the Catholics who met at Lord Fingall's and professed to speak for the party at large. Whether it was their original sentiment to oppose the Union unless their objects were comprehended in it, or whether this disposition was taken up when they observed Government to be either weakly supported or opposed by the Protestants, it is difficult to determine. Certain it is, they now hold off…. What line of conduct they will ultimately adopt when decidedly convinced that the measure will be persevered in on Protestant principles, I am incapable of judging. I shall endeavour to give them the most favourable impressions without holding out to them hopes of any relaxation on the part of Government, and shall leave no effort untried to prevent an opposition to the Union being made the measure of that party; as I should much fear, should it be made a Catholic principle to resist the Union, that the favourable sentiments entertained by individuals would give way to the party feeling, and deprive us of our principal strength in the South and West, which could not fail, at least for the present, to prove fatal to the measure.’ 1
These passages give a full and very authentic picture of the state of public opinion on the subject of the Union, at the critical period before the meeting of Parliament in 1799. Several of the most sagacious judges in Ireland warned the Government, that the reception which the scheme had met with was such, that it would be in the highest degree unwise to persist in it. Many of those who held this language, were men who considered the Union in the abstract exceedingly desirable, and who had no doubt that by borough influence and Government pressure it could be carried, but they contended that if it were carried contrary to the genuine and uninfluenced opinion of the country, and if such opinions as supported it were chiefly due to transient panic, to resentment, or to despair, it would not ultimately prove a success. Lord Pery and Lord Carleton were fully confirmed in their first misgivings, and now strongly condemned the project.2 Lord Kilwarden, who was one of the best and ablest men in Ireland, and who had at first been very favourable, was so much impressed by the aspect of opinion, that he entreated the Ministers, as soon as Parliament met, frankly to withdraw the measure.1 Parnell, after much confidential conversation with Cooke, declared that he must oppose it, for it was, in his judgment, ‘very dangerous and not necessary,’ and ‘a measure of the greatest danger can only be justified by necessity.’ 2
Lord Ely, the great borough owner, who had been ready in November, for a personal object, to support the Union, wrote from London to Castlereagh in January: ‘We have bad accounts here of the state of the malcontents in Ireland. God grant that this mad scheme may not go too far for all the projectors of it to appease. I have not conversed with a single person since I came here who has advanced a single argument in favour of it, and all the Irishmen I converse with, are pointedly and decidedly against the measure. I can scarcely give credit to their bringing it on now…. Its great and only advocates are men who do not belong to us, and absentees who never again intend to visit Ireland.’ 3 Lord Sheffield had been a strong partisan of the Union, but he now hoped that it would not be pressed if it were true, as he heard from Ireland, that the country was ‘universally ill prepared for it,’ and that it could be carried only by a small majority. He quoted the saying of an Irish judge, that an Union so carried would always leave behind it ‘a very angry party anxious to dissolve it, and that can only be done by sword and separation.’ 4 McNally, who watched the changing aspects of events with a keener eye than many greater men, and who had at least the merit of never flattering the Government which employed him, was equally discouraging. ‘The Orange and Green, he wrote, ‘are making rapid approaches towards each other. The respectable Catholics, however, are determined not to come forward on the question of Union in a body, though individually they are to a man against it. I speak of those in the city…. In my judgment, there will not be the slightest appearance of mob or riot. Every man is aware of the great military force in the capital, and of its daily increasing. I rather expect melancholy silence and depopulated streets while the Parliament is sitting. Lord Camden's character loses much with the Orange party. They say the Union was his object, that the rebellion was permitted to increase, and they are sacrificed dupes to their loyalty. Men in general speak loudly and boldly, and only want the power to act. I know Cork as well as I do Dublin. The acts of their Corporation have very little influence out of their own hall.’ 1
One other remarkable letter may be cited. Sir George Shee was, as we have seen, among the most active and most loyal of the Irish magistrates, and he was one of the few members of his class who were strongly in favour of the Union. He was intimate with Pelham, and on the first day of 1799 he wrote to him, that he was never more certain of any truth in his life, than that an Union would be advantageous to Ireland and highly so to the Empire at large, but he could not shut his eyes to the fact that the opposition to it was becoming more formidable every day, and he could not subscribe to the doctrine that the measure must be carried at all hazards. ‘I anxiously hope,’ he continued, ‘Government may not depend on the battle being fought and won in Parliament only…. If it should prove that we have lost one great party without gaining another, we shall be truly unfortunate…. If it should unfortunately appear that the enemy has gained possession of all the vantage ground in the cities and counties in general, I fear a vote of the House of Commons, passed by a small majority (which, I hear, is all that can be expected), will not be considered as expressing the sense of the people, and that, instead of proving the symbol of concord, it may prove to be the signal for battle. At all events, I trust no intention will be formed of supporting this vote by military force, and yet if it should pass I do not see how Government could retreat, let the opposition be what it may…. If the measure cannot be carried in the majority of the counties and towns, and all parties in general continue to decline expressing approbation of it, I really think that a moment should not be lost in relinquishing it for the present, and by that means quieting the ferment it has caused.’ 2
These words appear to me to bear the stamp of true states-manship; but the Government had firmly resolved to flinch from no obstacle. For carrying the measure through Parliament, they relied mainly on the borough interest. Lord Cornwallis said, indeed, that many of the borough owners were in their hearts strongly disinclined to it, but he had as little doubt about the course they would pursue. ‘If those who possess the borough interest believe that the British Government are determined to persevere in the measure of the Union, and that they will be ableS to carry it, they will afford them the most hearty support; but if they should entertain doubts on either of these points, they will contend for the merit of having been the first to desert.’ 1 Lord Shannon, the largest of the borough owners, was in favour of the Union. In the opinion of Cooke, if Lord Ely and Lord Downshire could be secured, the sixteen or eighteen votes which they could command in the House of Commons would turn the balance.2
The Duke of Portland now authorised the Lord Lieutenant formally to assure all persons who had political influence, that the King's Government was determined to press on the Union, ‘as essential to the well-being of both countries, and particularly to the security and peace of Ireland as dependent on its connection with Great Britain;’ that they would support it with their utmost power; that even in the event of present failure, it would be ‘renewed on every occasion until it succeeds, and that the conduct of individuals upon this subject will be considered as the test of their disposition to support the King's Government.’ 3 Sir John Parnell, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, was dismissed, and replaced by Isaac Corry, a staunch Unionist. The dismissal of the Prime Sergeant, James Fitzgerald, immediately followed, and he was replaced by St. George Daly, one of the minority who had supported the Union at the bar debate. George Knox, one of the Commissioners of Revenue, resigned his office. John Claudius Beresford soon after took the same course.
In the House of Lords the Government was secure, and in the House of Commons the number of men whom it was necessary to gain in order to obtain a majority was not large. The House consisted, it is true, of 300 members, but the well-understood rule, that the member of a nomination borough, if he had received his seat by favour and not purchase, must vote with his patron, and the immense number of boroughs that were concentrated in a very few hands, greatly simplified the task. A shameless traffic in votes began, and many men of great name and position in the world, were bought as literally as cattle in the cattle market. There were, however, a few honest men like Conolly, who had always desired an Union; a few like Yelverton, who probably believed that the recent convulsions in Ireland and the state of Europe had made it a necessity; a few like Sir George Shee, who would gladly have seen the question adjourned, but who, when it was raised, considered it in the public interest to support it. ‘The demands of our friends,’ wrote Cornwallis on the eve of the meeting of Parliament, ‘rise in proportion to the appearance of strength on the other side; and you, who know how I detest a job, will be sensible of the difficulties which I must often have to keep my temper; but still the object is great, and perhaps the salvation of the British Empire may depend upon it. I shall, therefore, as much as possible overcome my detestation of the work in which I am engaged, and march on steadily to my point. The South of Ireland are well disposed to Union, the North seem in a state of neutrality, or rather apathy, on the subject, which is to me incomprehensible; but all the counties in the middle of the island, from Dublin to Galway, are violent against it. The Catholics on the whole behave better than I expected, and I do not think that popular tumult is anywhere to be apprehended except in the metropolis.’ 1
In addition to attempts that were made to influence opinion through the Press, and to some attempts to obtain addresses both in the Catholic parts of the island and in the North,2 the Government trusted much for the ultimate popularity of the measure, to the support of the Catholic bishops. A negotiation was officially opened with them. They were told that, in the present division of opinion, the political claims of the Catholics must remain for the consideration of the Imperial Parliament, but that the Government were strongly desirous of proposing without delay an independent provision for the Roman Catholic clergy, under such regulations and safeguards as the prelates would accept as compatible with their doctrines, discipline, and just influence. The expediency of such a step, Lord Castlereagh added, was generally recognised, even by those who objected to concessions of a political nature.
A large number of Catholic bishops were at this time in Dublin, about the affairs of the College of Maynooth, and on the 17th, 18th, and 19th of January, 1799, they deliberated at the invitation of the Government on this proposal, and arrived unanimously at some very important resolutions They agreed ‘that a provision through Government for the Roman Catholic clergy of the kingdom, competent and secured, ought to be thankfully accepted,’ and that such an interference of Government in the appointment of Catholic prelates ‘as may enable it to be satisfied of the loyalty of the person appointed, is just, and ought to be agreed to. They proceeded to explain how they desired this power of veto to be exercised. They desired that, on episcopal vacancies, the names of candidates to be transmitted to Rome, should be selected as at present by the priests and bishops, but that ‘the candidates so selected should be presented by the president of the election to Government; which, within one month after such presentation, will transmit the name of the said candidate, if no objection be made against him, for appointment to the Holy See, or return the said name to the president of the election for such transmission as may be agreed on.’ If Government have any proper objection against such candidates, the president of the election will be informed thereof within one month after presentation, who in that case will convene the electors to the election of another candidate.’ These regulations, the prelates explained, required the sanction of the Holy See, but they promised to endeavour to procure that sanction as speedily as possible. They agreed also ‘that the nomination of parish priests, with a certificate of their having taken the oath of allegiance, be certified to Government.’ 1
These resolutions were signed by the four archbishops and the six senior bishops of Ireland. They were accepted as the unanimous opinion of the Irish Roman Catholic prelacy,1 and they were brought to Lord Castlereagh by Archbishop Troy and Bishop Moylan.2 They form a curious and instructive contrast to the attitude of the Catholic bishops and laity, some years later, when the question of the veto was revived, but they in truth proposed to give the Government no power which had not been long exercised by the civil authority in other non-Catholic countries. In the schismatical empire of Russia, and in the Protestant kingdom of Prussia, every Catholic prelate held his see, not only with the direct sanction, but on the express nomination of the sovereign; and even in the British Empire, no Catholic bishop could be appointed in Canada, without the approval of the civil governor.3 The provision for the Catholic clergy was intended to be analogous to the Regium Donum to the Presbyterian ministers, and some such assistance was at this time actually enjoyed by the Catholic priesthood in Scotland. Having very recently been reduced to great destitution by the confiscation of their property in France, the Scotch Catholic prelates had petitioned the English Government for assistance, and Pitt had conceded the request, and a formal letter had arrived from Rome, under the signature of Cardinal Borgia, thanking the English Government by the express command of Pius VI. for its munificence.4
In England about the same time, Dr. Douglas, the bishop who presided over the London Catholics, and also some other prelates, expressed their strong desire to obtain a Government provision for the English priests, and such provision seems to have been seriously contemplated, and is even said to have been at one time promised. At this period, indeed, the Catholic bishops in the three kingdoms appear to have been unanimously in favour of a State endowment.1
The immense advantage of the proposed arrangement in raising the character, status, independence, and loyalty of the Irish priests, and in saving their congregations from various burdensome and irritating dues, could hardly be exaggerated, and it was intended to complete the policy by some regulations, imitated from those in the Gallican Church, about the circulation of papal rescripts in Ireland, and for securing a somewhat better class of schoolmasters.2 The scheme, however, was also intended as part of the plan of Union, as a means of securing the favour and influence of a class who had great power over their co-religionists.2
We have a curious illustration of the manner in which these negotiations were conducted, in the fact that the Irish Government appear to have acted in this important matter entirely on their own responsibility, supported, indeed, by the expressed opinion of Pitt and Dundas in favour of the endowment of the priesthood, but without the sanction or knowledge of the Cabinet, or even of the Secretary of State who was especially connected with Irish affairs. Shortly after the resolutions had passed, Bishop Moylan wrote a letter to Pelham, enclosing a copy of them, and asking his opinion about them, and Pelham forwarded it with a similar request to Portland. In his reply Portland said, ‘Until I received yours, I did not know that any conversation had passed upon the subject between them [the Irish bishops] and Lord Castlereagh, I mean in so official a form as to have produced such a deliberation as you have sent me the result of, and consequently, without any knowledge of the sentiments of the Government and bishops of Ireland; and of course, as you see, in the same state of ignorance with regard to those of my colleagues in administration and the great lights in the English Church, it would not only be imprudent, but is really impossible for me to state anything upon this question, that ought to be considered as an opinion, or is really more than an outline of my own ideas, which, I must desire you to consider, are by no means settled.’ Subject to these wide qualifications, Portland gave his opinion, that the Gallican Church was the best model to follow, but that the Catholics could only be put, like the Protestant Dissenters, on the footing of a toleration, and that it was exceedingly expedient that, when they were endowed, measures should be taken to bring their clergy under the same common law as the Anglican clergy, and their judgments and sentences against lay Catholics, like those of the Anglican ecclesiastical courts, under the superintendence and control of the courts of law. Excommunications, Portland said, were employed in Ireland in a manner and for purposes that would never be tolerated in any well-ordered Catholic country.1
With this exception, no fixed proposal appears to have been as yet made to the Catholics, though much informal negotiation was going on. ‘The Catholics,’ Cooke wrote a few days before the meeting of Parliament, ‘keep aloof, but apparently friendly. My politics are to admit them after an Union. If Mr. Pitt would undertake that, and we could reconcile it with friends here we might be sure of the point. The Catholics will carry the day. Lord Shannon would admit them; the Chancellor sturdy against them.’ 2 Wilberforce at this time was much with Pitt, and he wrote in his diary: ‘Pitt sanguine that after Union, Roman Catholics would soon acquire political rights; resolved to give up plan, rather than exclude them…. I hear the Roman Catholics more against it than they were. The bishops all against Pitt's tithe plan. The King said, “I am for it, if it is for the good of the Church, and against it if contra.’ “ ‘Pitt as usual,’ he wrote to a friend, ‘is more fair and open and well-intentioned, and even well-principled, than any other of his class. He is firmly persuaded that the Union will open the most promising way by which the Roman Catholics may obtain political power.’ 3
The Irish Parliament met on January 22, and the great question of the Union was at once raised by the King's Speech, which, without expressly mentioning it, recommended ‘some permanent adjustment, which may extend the advantages enjoyed by our sister kingdom to every part of this island,’ and would also, at a time when the King's enemies were conspiring to effect a separation, ‘provide the most effectual means of maintaining and improving the connection,’ and consolidating the British Empire. The Address was moved by Lord Tyrone, the eldest son of Lord Waterford, in a speech in which he carefully pointed out, that it pledged the House to nothing more than a discussion of the question. It was opposed, however, in limine by Sir John Parnell; and George Ponsonby, seconded by Sir Lawrence Parsons, moved an amendment, pledging the House to enter into a consideration of what measures might best strengthen the Empire; ‘maintaining, however, the undoubted birthright of the people of Ireland to have a resident and independent Legislature, such as it was recognised by the British Legislature in 1782, and was finally settled at the adjustment of all difficulties between the two countries.’
A long and striking debate, extending over more than twenty hours, followed, and it is one of the very few debates in the later sessions of the Irish Parliament which have been separately and fully reported. The immense preponderance of speakers, and I think of ability, was on the side of the Opposition; Lord Castlereagh, however, was supported with some skill by the Knight of Kerry and by Sir John Blaquiere, but especially by a hitherto undistinguished member named William Smith. He was the son of one of the Barons of the Exchequer, and was himself at a later period raised to the bench, and he now proved one of the best speakers and writers in defence of the Union. On the other side there was a brilliant array of talent. Sir Henry Parnell, George Ponsonby, Dobbs, Barrington, Parsons, Hardy, and the late Prime Sergeant Fitzgerald, greatly distinguished themselves, but above all, the eloquence of Plunket dazzled and astonished the House. According to an acute and hostile judge, it turned several votes,1 and some of its passages of fierce invective are even now well known in Ireland.
The arguments on each side did not differ sensibly from those I have already stated, but the reader of the debate will notice how strenuously and how confidently the Opposition speakers asserted the hostility of the country, and especially of the loyal portion of the country, to the scheme. One speaker boldly said that nine out of ten men were against it, and that the only persons it would really gratify were the United Irishmen. Another acknowledged that if it were the wish of Parliament and of the people it ought to be carried, ‘but,’ he continued, ‘that sense should be fully ascertained, without compulsion or undue influence of any kind. So far as the voice of the people has been yet collected, it is decidedly against it; and nothing but force, actual or implied, with the aid of undue influence, could carry the measure.’ ‘Admitting,’ said a third speaker, ‘the right of the people to call for an Union, I ask who, except the Corporation of Cork, has asked for it? Has Parliament, or either House of Parliament, or any body of men whatever?’ Parsons, at the conclusion of the debate, said: ‘The sentiment of the nation was now so decidedly evinced by the sense of the independent gentlemen in the House against an Union, that he hoped the Minister would never give him an opportunity of speaking on the subject again;’ and Plunket declared that ‘within these six last weeks a system of black corruption had been carried on within the walls of the Castle, which would disgrace the annals of the worst period of the history of either country.’ 1
It is difficult to say how far these last words are exaggerated, but there is no doubt that they had a large foundation of truth. One member, near the close of the debate, after an ambiguous and hesitating speech, announced his intention of voting for the amendment of the Opposition. Shortly before the division, he rose again to say that he was convinced that he had been mistaken, and would now vote with the Ministers. Barrington states that it was well known in the House, that in the interval he had received from Lord Castlereagh the promise of the peerage he afterwards obtained.2 Another supporter of the Government was said in the House, without contradiction, to have received his commission as colonel the day before the division.3 The amendment was ultimately rejected by a majority of one, being supported by 105 votes and opposed by 106. The original Address was then carried by 107 to 105. Considering the enormous number of placemen in the House, and the over-whelming majorities which on all normal occasions the Government could command, these votes were equivalent to a severe defeat. George Ponsonby rose and asked the Minister if he intended to persist in the measure. Castlereagh hesitated, and Sir John Parnell interposed, saying that he did not think it fair to press for an immediate answer, but he took the liberty of advising him not to think of the measure, at least while ‘the sentiments both of people and Parliament appeared so decisively against it.’ Castlereagh said a few words which were construed into acquiescence, but added that he was so convinced of the wisdom of the measure, that ‘whenever the House and the nation appeared to understand its merits, he should think it his duty to bring it forward.’ A committee was appointed to draw up the Address, and the House then adjourned.1
In the House of Lords, on the other hand, where the influence of Clare was supreme, the Government were easily triumphant. Lord Powerscourt and Lord Bellamont led the opposition to the Address, but they were defeated by fifty-two to sixteen, or seventeen including one proxy. The Duke of Leinster and Lord Pery were in the minority. Lord Ely did not vote. Lord Carleton not only voted, but spoke with the majority; but he immediately after wrote to Pelham, that ‘many of those who supported the motion for considering a proposition for incorporation, could not be depended on at a later stage.’ It would be impossible, he said, to estimate the evil consequences on the public mind of having brought the question on at so inauspicious a period, and he added, ‘In the present critical situation of affairs, I hope no idea may be entertained of continuing that ferment which I am heartily sorry was raised.’ 2
When the report of the Address came before the Commons, the struggle was renewed by a motion to omit the clause relating to the intended Union. The chief incidents in the debate appear to have been a bitter personal altercation between Lord Castlereagh and George Ponsonby; an elaborate and powerful speech against the Union by Sir Lawrence Parsons, who denied the necessity for it, and predicted that if it were pressed on, contrary to the wishes of the people, it might most seriously endanger the connection; and another comprehensive and thoughtful vindication of it by William Smith. He dwelt much upon the advantages the Catholics would obtain from a form of Government under which their claims might be recognised without danger to the Church Establishment, and which would at once relieve them from much sectarian oppression. He expatiated on the natural tendency to divergence which two independent Legislatures under the same Executive were certain to display, and he especially dwelt upon his favourite doctrine of the full competence of Parliament to pass the Union, even without any appeal to the people.
He discussed also a new argument which had been raised against his view. If Parliament, it was said, was absolutely unlimited in its competence, what security, or indeed what meaning, could there be in the compact which Ireland was asked to enter into with England? The Irish members were told, that by surrendering their legislative powers and consenting to an Union, they would secure for all future time, as by a treaty arrangement, their commercial privileges, their proportion of taxation, and their Established Church. But could the articles of Union restrict the power of an omnipotent Parliament? Was it not possible, that the day might come, when the descendants of the Irish Protestants who made the Union, would find themselves a small and unimportant minority in an Imperial Parliament, vainly struggling against the violation of its most fundamental articles? Smith was compelled to acknowledge that the obligation of the Articles of Union would be only an obligation of honour, and not an obligation of law, but he dwelt on the enormous improbability of their violation, and boldly declared that such an act would absolve the subject from all allegiance to the Government that was guilty of it. Among the less conspicuous speakers in this debate was Edgeworth, the father of the illustrious novelist. He said that he had at first believed the measure to be a wise and a good one, but he found it to be obnoxious to the majority of the people, and therefore thought it his duty to oppose it. In the division, 111 members voted for expunging the contested clause, while only 106 members supported it.1
The Speaker Foster took no open part in these debates, but both sides attributed to his immense influence a large part in the defeat of the Government. Clare bitterly accused him of having on this occasion manifested great partiality in the chair,2 and he had already, in the most public way, declared his implacable hostility to the Union. Just before the meeting of Parliament, the Lord Mayor, Sheriffs, and citizens of Dublin presented him with an address against that measure. In his reply, he spoke of the unexampled rapidity with which Irish prosperity had grown under her Protestant Parliament, and added, ‘In my soul I think it [the Union] is fraught with possible consequences, certainly not foreseen by those who bring it forward, that will tend, if not to actual separation, to attempts at least to separate us from Great Britain, to our utter ruin and to the subversion of the British Empire.’ 3 It was now clearly seen that there was no chance of bribing him into acquiescence by honours or money.4 There was no Irishman whose opinion was more important. He was one of the few men of eminent ability and high character, who had been for many years closely attached to the Irish Government. To his administration of the finances, and especially to his legislation about corn bounties, a great part of the recent prosperity of the country was ascribed; he presided over the House with conspicuous dignity and authority; and the strong part he had taken in opposition to the concession of political power to the Catholics, and his steady support of the most drastic measures of suppression during the rebellion, had made him the special representative of a powerful body of Protestant opinion through the nation. Ponsonby, who took the ostensible leadership of the Opposition, was also a man of great eloquence and great family and parliamentary influence, but he had been usually in opposition. He had won a brilliant victory, but he now tried to push it a step further, and proposed a substantive resolution pledging the House ever ‘to maintain the undoubted birthright of Irishmen, by preserving an independent Parliament of Lords and Commons resident in this kingdom.’ After some hesitation, however, Fortescue, the member for the county of Louth, expressed his dislike to a resolution which would bind the freedom of the House in future sessions, when the opinion of the country might possibly have changed. Three or four other members concurred, and the resolution was not pressed. Several country gentlemen declared that they wished it clearly to be understood that their hostility was entirely confined to the question of the Union, that they had no intention of joining the Ponsonby faction in systematic opposition, and that the Administration might still count upon their support for all measures that were really necessary for carrying on the government and strengthening the connection. The Address without the passage relating to the Union was agreed to by the House, and presented to the Lord Lieutenant, and the House adjourned for a week.1
The exultation in Dublin at the defeat of the Government was fierce and tumultuous. The mob drew the Speaker to his house. Bonfires were kindled, and orders were sent out for a general illumination. Even the General Post Office, though a Government establishment, was a blaze of light. The windows of those who refused to illuminate were broken, and among them those of Lord Clare. His servants fired on the mob, and the Chancellor expressed his hope to Lord Auckland, that they had wounded some of them. Prominent men who had supported the Union were insulted in the streets, and the lawyers resolved to continue to give Fitzgerald the same precedence at the bar as when he was Prime Sergeant.1
The refusal of a House of Commons, in which the Government had hitherto been almost omnipotent, to allow the question of a legislative Union to pass even its first parliamentary stage, would in a country governed on constitutional principles have been deemed decisive, and have secured the abandonment of the measure, at least for that Parliament. The composition of the majority greatly strengthened the case. The Government, it is true, attributed much of their misfortune to the ‘disinclination, or, at best, the lukewarm disposition,’ of Lord Downshire and Lord Ely. ‘Instead of bringing forward eighteen members, as these noble Lords might have done, but five appeared, and one of Lord Downshire's … voted against us the second night.’ But of all causes, Lord Castlereagh acknowledged that ‘what seemed to operate most unfavourably, was the warmth of the country gentlemen, who spoke in great numbers and with much energy against the question.’ 2 ‘The Opposition,’ he said, ‘exclusive of the Speaker, Sir J. Parnell and the Ponsonbys, is composed of country gentlemen.’ 3 No less than thirty-four county members voted against the Government, while only seventeen supported them.4 It is no doubt true, as Castlereagh and Beresford said, that personal motives, and among others the prevailing belief that after the Union each county would only send one instead of two members to Parliament, greatly influenced them; but still the fact remains, that in the small section of the Irish Parliament which was really sound, independent, and representative, the preponderance against the Union was overwhelming, while an immense proportion of those who voted for it held offices under the Crown. It was a bold thing to persevere in the measure when, on its very introduction, it was condemned by the metropolis, and by a majority of two to one among the county members.
Great disappointment and irritation appear in the correspondence of its leading Irish supporters. Clare, Cooke, and Beresford united in vehemently blaming Lord Cornwallis. They said that he had not taken the gentlemen of the country into his confidence, and was governing entirely by two or three men; that by releasing dangerous rebels and repressing Orange zeal, he had discouraged the loyal and encouraged the disloyal; that he had affronted Foster, who of all men had most influence in the House of Commons, had driven the powerful influence of Lord Enniskillen into opposition by the censure he had passed on the court-martial over which that nobleman presided, and had in fine showed a total ignorance of the character of the people, the situation of the country, and the means by which it must be governed. Clare spoke with his usual violence of Ponsonby as ‘a malignant knave;’ ‘but,’ he said, ‘allowing for the villany and treachery which might have been expected, I always understood there was a certain majority of thirty in support of Government.’ Cooke wrote with even greater asperity. ‘We could not act,’ he wrote, ‘without a leader. Lord Cornwallis is nobody, worse than nobody, … his silly conduct, his total incapacity, selfishness, and mulishness has alone lost the question. Had Lord Camden continued, had any person succeeded who would have consulted with the gentlemen of the country and kept them in good humour, … who would not have let down the spirit of the loyal, who would not have degraded and discountenanced the yeomanry, who would not have turned against him the whole Protestant interest, the measure would have been carried…. You must laugh at me for the division in the Commons. In the first place, time was not given to form our numbers, but I was told to consider Lord Downshire and Lord Ely as firm, and Lord de Clifford; and with their full assistance, and of others who had promised, we ought to have divided 148 to 91.’ ‘Will it not be fair for me,’ he asked in another letter, ‘to ask that I may be allowed to change my situation into England? I am disgusted here. I feel that everything with respect to this country is managed by the English Ministry with so much ignorance, and so contrary to the representations of those who are acquainted with Irish subjects, that I am perfectly sick. Had any common sense been observed in this measure, or had common suggestions been attended to, the present measure would have succeeded.’ 1
Cornwallis, on the other hand, consoled himself by the belief that the proposed Union was not really disagreeable either to the Catholics or the Presbyterians, but he acknowledged that the late experiment showed the impossibility of carrying a measure which was opposed by strong private interests, and not supported by the general voice of the country. ‘If ever a second trial of the Union is to be made,’ he said, ‘the Catholics must be included.’ 1
From England the decision of the Government came in clear and unfaltering language. It was the unanimous opinion of the Ministers, Portland wrote, that nothing that has happened ought to make any change in their intentions or plans. The measure was evidently for the benefit of Ireland, and the good sense of the country would sooner or later recognise the fact. ‘I am authorised to assure you,’ he wrote, ‘that whatever may be the fate of the Address, our determination will remain unaltered and our exertions unabated; and that though discretion and good policy may require that the measure should be suspended by you during this session, I am to desire that you will take care that it shall be understood that it neither is nor ever will be abandoned, and that the support of it will be considered as a necessary and indispensable test of the attachment on the part of the Irish to their connection with this country.’ 2 It was accordingly announced that Pitt would at once proceed, as though nothing had happened in Ireland, to submit the intended resolutions on which the Union was to be based, to the British Parliament.
The question of the Union was already before it. On January 22—the same day on which the Irish Parliament was opened—a King's message had been sent down to the British Parliament, recommending, in terms very similar to those employed in the Irish Viceregal speech, a complete and final adjustment of the relations between England and Ireland, as the most effectual means of defeating the designs of the King's enemies to separate the two countries, and of securing, consolidating, and augmenting their resources. Sheridan—the most eminent Irishman in the British Parliament since the death of Burke—at once moved an amendment, condemning the introduction of such a measure ‘at the present crisis, and under the present circumstances of the Empire.’ In the course of a long and powerful speech, he predicted that ‘an Union at present, without the unequivocal sense of the Irish people in its favour, … would ultimately tend to endanger the connection between the two countries;’ that in the existing condition of Ireland, with martial law, and in the presence of 40,000 English troops, the sense of the nation could not be fairly taken; that the undoubted disaffection of Ireland would not be allayed, but aggravated, by the abolition of a loyalist Parliament, and the transfer of authority to the Parliament and nation of England, who, in the words of Lord Clare, ‘are more ignorant of the affairs of Ireland than they are of any country in the world.’ He spoke also of the finality of the arrangement of 1782, and of the injurious influence which Irish members might exercise on the Imperial Parliament. He found no supporters, and after speeches by Canning and by Pitt, the amendment was negatived without a division.
On January 31, shortly after the news had arrived of the refusal of the Irish House of Commons to take the question into consideration, Pitt rose to move the resolutions for an Union, in an exceedingly elaborate speech, which was one of the only three that he afterwards revised for publication.1 It contains a most powerful, most authentic, and most comprehensive statement of the whole case for the Union; and although much of its argument had been anticipated in the pamphlet of Cooke and in the speeches of William Smith, it should be carefully considered by everyone who is studying the subject.
Pitt began by acknowledging, in a tone of dignified regret, that the circumstances under which he introduced his resolutions were discouraging. It was in the full right and competence of the Irish Parliament to accept or reject an Union; and while the Irish House of Lords had agreed by a large majority to discuss it, the Irish House of Commons had expressed a repugnance even to consider it, and had done this before the nature of the plan had been disclosed. Believing, however, that a legislative Union was transcendently important to the Empire at a time when foreign and domestic enemies were conspiring to break the connection, and that it would be eminently useful to every leading interest in Ireland, he considered it his duty to persevere. The question was one on which passion, and prejudice, and a mistaken national pride were at first peculiarly likely to operate, and some time might reasonably be expected to elapse before misconceptions were dispelled, and the advantages of the measure were fully understood. For his part, he said, he was confident that all that was necessary to secure its ultimate adoption was, ‘that it should be stated distinctly, temperately, and fully, and that it should be left to the dispassionate and sober judgment of the Parliament of Ireland.’
Starting from the assumption, which was admitted by all loyal men, that a perpetual connection between England and Ireland was essential to the interests of both countries, he contended that the settlement of 1782 was neither wise, safe, nor final. It destroyed the system of government that had before existed, but it substituted nothing in its place. It left two separate and independent Parliaments, ‘connected only by this tie, that the third Estate in both countries is the same—that the Executive Government is the same—that the Crown exercises its power of assenting to Irish Acts of Parliament under the Great Seal, and that with respect to the affairs of Ireland it acts by the advice of British Ministers.’ This was now the only bond of a connection which was essential to both countries, and it was wholly insufficient to consolidate their strength against a common enemy, to guard against local jealousies and disturbances, or to give Ireland the full commercial, political, and social advantages which she ought to derive from a close connection with Great Britain. He noticed how in 1782 the necessity of some future treaty connection to draw the nations more closely together, had been clearly suggested, and how the commercial propositions of 1785 were intended to effect such a treaty, and he laid great stress upon the language of Foster when, as, Irish Chancellor of the Exchequer, he advocated those propositions. Foster then said that things could not remain as they were; that commercial jealousies must increase with independent Legislatures; that without united interests, a mere political Union would fail to secure the connection. But the propositions of 1785 had been rejected; a legislative compact had been tried and found impracticable, and it remained now only to try a legislative Union. He ‘believed there was hardly a man who ever asked himself the question, whether he believed there was a solid, permanent system of connection between the two countries, that ever answered it in the affirmative.’
Pitt then traversed with sonorous though very diffuse rhetoric, but with no real originality, the well-known topics of the Regency; of the dangers that might arise in time of war from a difference between the two Parliaments; of the embarrassment which two distinct Legislatures, independent in their discussions and possibly divergent in their bias, might cause to the foreign policy of the Empire. ‘In the general strength of the Empire,’ he said, ‘both kingdoms are more concerned, than in any particular interests which may belong to either.’ Every Court and statesman in Europe knows how greatly a consolidation of the two Legislatures would increase that general power. It would not only give it an increased unity and energy of will, but also diffuse over the feebler portion the vigour of the stronger. To ‘communicate to such a mighty limb of the Empire as Ireland is, all the commercial advantages which Great Britain possesses,’ to open to one country the markets of the other, and give both a common use of their capital, must immensely add to the resources, and therefore to the strength, of the Empire.
He dwelt much upon the dependence of Ireland on England, as shown during the late convulsions. The naval power of England alone saved Ireland from invasion. English militia, uncompelled by the law, had gone over to protect her. The English Exchequer had lent large sums to the Irish Exchequer. He did not, he said, desire to upbraid Ireland with these circumstances, but to remind her that similar dangers might recur when similar aid was impossible. What, then, is the remedy? ‘It is to make the Irish people part of the same community, by giving them a full share of those accumulated blessings which are diffused through Great Britain, a full participation of the wealth and power of the British Empire.’
He then touched—but in terms that were studiously vague and guarded—on the arguments for an Union derived from the anarchical and divided state of Ireland. He spoke of the rebellion, with the ‘dreadful and inexcusable cruelties’ on the one side, and the ‘lamentable severities’ on the other; of the animosities that divided the Catholics from the Protestants, the original inhabitants from the English settlers; of the low level of civilisation in a large part of the island; of the Established Church, opposed to the religion of the great majority of the people; of the land of the country in the hands of a small Protestant minority. For such a state of society, he said, there seemed no remedy ‘but in the formation of a general Imperial Legislature, removed from the dangers, and uninfluenced by the prejudices and passions, of that distracted country,’ and bringing in its train English capital and English industry. ‘No one can say that, in the present state of things, and while Ireland remains a separate kingdom, full concessions could be made to the Catholics, without endangering the State, or shaking the Constitution of Ireland to its centre.’ How soon or how late these concessions might be properly discussed, depended on the conduct of the Catholics and on the temper of the time, but it was obvious that a question which ‘might endanger the security and shake the Government of Ireland in its separate state,’ might be much less dangerous with a United Parliament. He would not, he said, now enter into the detail of the means that might be found to alleviate the distresses of the lower order of Irish Catholics, by relieving them from the pressure of tithes, or by securing under proper regulations a provision for the clergy. He would only say that ‘a United legislative body promises a more effectual remedy for their grievances, than could be likely to result from any local arrangements.’
Coming to the more general interests of the country, Pitt maintained that the undoubted recent prosperity of Ireland depended mainly on the recent liberal commercial policy of England. Articles essential to the trade or subsistence of Ireland, and articles which serve as raw materials for her manufactures, are sent from England free of duty; while by the free admission of Irish linen into the English market, by the bounty granted by the British Parliament on Irish linen, and by the duty laid by the same Parliament on foreign linen, the linen manufacture of Ireland had obtained the monopoly in England, which chiefly raised it to its present height. A market had thus been opened to Irish linen, to the amount of three millions. But the power which conferred these advantages might withdraw them; a legislative Union alone could make that certain and permanent which is now contingent and precarious; and it would be followed by an equality of commercial advantages which would inevitably bring a flood of new prosperity into Ireland.
He replied, by the arguments I have already stated, to the contention that the Irish Legislature was incompetent to pass an Union. In this contention he saw the seeds of the Jacobin doctrine of the sovereignty of the people; a sovereignty always in abeyance, to be called forth as suits the purposes of a party. This doctrine, he said, he would oppose in whatever form and wherever he encountered it. There must in every Government reside somewhere a supreme, absolute, and unlimited authority. It is impossible that the sovereignty should be anywhere but in the supreme Legislature, nor is it otherwise in any system of human jurisprudence. Every law restraining the privileges or distinguishing the rights of electors, every law of enfranchisement and disfranchisement, implies this doctrine, and the Parliament of Ireland, which had very lately associated itself with a great body of Catholics in Ireland, was equally competent to associate itself with a Protestant Parliament in Great Britain.
Some eloquent sentences followed about the complete compatibility of an Union with every true feeling of national pride, and about the higher level of security and prosperity, of moral, political, and social life, which was likely to result to Ireland from an increased infusion of English influence. Does an Union, he asked, by free consent and on just and equal terms, deserve to be branded as a proposal for subjecting Ireland to a foreign yoke? Is it not rather the voluntary association of two great countries, which seek their common benefit in one empire, in which each will retain its proportionate weight and importance, under the security of equal laws, reciprocal affection, and inseparable interests, and in which each will acquire a strength that will render it invincible? Prophecy bore a large part in these discussions; and to those who view them in the light of later years, it is not the least instructive part. The predictions of Pitt were, that the Union would be of all measures the most likely to give Ireland security, quiet, and internal repose; that it would remove the chief bar to her internal advancement in wealth and civilisation; that it would vastly augment her material prosperity, and that it would tend powerfully to unite the higher and lower orders of her people, and to diffuse among all classes a healthy predilection for English habits.
Pitt concluded his speech by strenuously denying that the scheme was intended to bring Ireland under the burden of the English National Debt, or make her the subject of increased taxation, and he promised special provisions to guard against the danger. He then moved a series of resolutions affirming the expediency of the Union, and sketching—but in very wide and general terms—its leading provisions. The amount of the Irish representation in both Houses was still unfixed, but a few fundamental points were already affirmed. The succession to the Throne was to be the same. The Churches in England and Ireland were to be preserved as they are ‘now by law established.’ The subjects of his Majesty in the two countries were to be placed on the same footing in all matters of trade and navigation through the whole Empire, and in all treaties with foreign Powers. Articles of import and export now duty free between England and Ireland, were to remain so. On other articles moderate and equal duties were to be agreed to by the two Parliaments, and they were to be diminished equally with respect to both kingdoms, but in no case increased, and a similar equality was to be established in all questions relating to foreign goods and to internal duties. The debts of the two countries were to be kept separate. The ordinary expenses of the United Kingdom, in peace and war, were to be defrayed by the two countries in fixed proportions, which were to be settled at the Union. All laws in force and all courts established at the time of the Union, were to remain, subject to such changes as might be made by the Imperial Parliament.
These resolutions were for nearly three weeks under the discussion of the English House of Commons, before they were sent up to the Lords. The greater part of the small Opposition had at this time seceded, and Fox did not once appear upon the scene, though he wrote to Grattan expressing his unqualified hostility to the scheme.1 Sheridan, however, fought a hopeless battle with conspicuous earnestness and courage, and he was supported by a few able men, and especially by Grey and Laurence. The minority sometimes sank as low as fifteen, and never at this time rose above twenty-four. In one of the debates, Dr. Laurence, who had been an intimate friend of Burke, mentioned the opinion of that great statesman. Burke, he said, did not approve of a legislative Union. He considered that the two countries had now grown up under circumstances which did not admit of such an incorporation,’ but he thought that the Constitution of 1782 ought to have included, or been accompanied by, a positive compact, which, while leaving Ireland ‘the entire and absolute power of local legislation,’ explicitly defined the terms of her connection with England, and bound her on all questions of peace or war to stand or fall with Great Britain. In times of tranquillity, Burke said, such a stipulation would be unnecessary; in times of extreme irritation and mutual animosity it would be liable to be disregarded; ‘but there are doubtful and tremulous moments in the fate of every empire, when he judged that it might be useful to have that, which is now the feeling of all, confirmed and fixed by the guarantee of the national faith,’ and Burke regretted that he had not opposed recognition of Irish independence without such a stipulation.1
From the point of view of English interests, almost the only objection which appears to have been seriously felt, was the possible effect of the infusion of Irish members into the British Parliament. Many thought that it would add an overwhelming weight to the influence of the Crown, and Laurence acutely dwelt on the great danger to parliamentary Government, if the Irish members formed a distinct and separate body, acting in concert amid the play of party politics. ‘They were certainly,’ he said, ‘by no means deficient in the great popular talent of eloquence. But if they should hereafter exercise it within these walls in any degree corresponding with the example which they have lately given in their own proper theatre, where they continued a very animated debate for little less than the complete circle of a day and night, he was apprehensive that we might find the public business a little impeded in its progress.’ 1
On the whole the arguments of Sheridan and his small band of followers, were but little directed against the abstract merits of a legislative Union. Their main position was, that no such Union could strengthen the connection, if it was carried by corruption or intimidation, without the free consent and real approbation of the two Parliaments and nations. In the existing state of Ireland, they said, the opinion of the people could not be fairly taken. The most efficacious arguments of the Ministry were bribes to particular sections of the community, and scarcely veiled threats that, if the Union was rejected, Great Britain would withdraw her protection in time of war, and her assistance to the Irish linen trade, and would refuse her assent to necessary Irish reforms. The Irish House of Commons had condemned the scheme in its very first stage, and the majority against it included a most decisive majority of the representatives of the landed interest. If the members were uninfluenced by corrupt means, it never would pass there. Outside Parliament, Cork and Limerick alone had expressed anything like approbation of it, and Cork had been bribed by the hope of a great dockyard. ‘The Orange party,’ said one speaker, ‘had been the foremost and the loudest in the cry against the Union; while, on the other hand, no one considerable body of Catholics, or of any other description, had been gained to its support.’ The very proposal had exercised the worst influence, and Grey predicted that an Union so carried would not be acquiesced in, and that attempts would one day be made to undo it. It was added, too, that ‘all agreed that the rapid progress of the sister kingdom in trade, in manufactures, and in agriculture, and their concomitant opulence within the last twenty years, down to the breaking out of the late disastrous rebellion, had been unexampled in the history of that island, and perhaps only exceeded in Great Britain.’
Dundas, who was the warmest supporter in the Ministry, of the Irish Catholics, spoke very earnestly and very ably in favour of the measure. He read to the House the famous peroration of the speech of Lord Belhaven against the Scotch Union, and showed, point by point, how every prediction of evil from that measure had been falsified; how all the elements of Scotch prosperity had developed under its influence; how the feeling of hostility to it, which once undoubtedly existed, had completely subsided. He maintained that the root of the diseased condition of Ireland was, that there was no real confidence between the mass of the people and the ascendency Parliament, that ‘the whole power of the country was vested in one-fourth of the people, and that fourth was separated from the other three-fourths by religious distinctions, heightened and envenomed by ancient and hereditary animosities.’ For curing this state of things and allaying animosities, which were largely due to mutual jealousies and fears, an incorporating Union was the only safe and efficacious remedy, and it would give Ireland a power over the executive and general policy of the Empire, which would far more than compensate her for the loss of her separate Legislature. The Ministry, in introducing their resolutions in spite of the hostile vote of the Irish Commons, desired to place before the dispassionate judgment of the Parliament and people of Ireland, ‘what the English Parliament was willing to share with them, without attempting the smallest interference with their independence.’ As long as the present unnatural situation of Ireland continued, the Irish Catholics must inevitably labour under the disadvantages of strong prejudices, jealousies, and animosities, and Dundas very earnestly maintained that nothing could be so conducive to their interests as a legislative Union.
Sheridan at once replied, that this ascendency Parliament of Irish gentlemen, having already conceded the franchise to the Catholics, had been perfectly ready during Lord Fitzwilliam's Viceroyalty to admit them as members, and would have certainly done so if the Government of which Dundas was a member, had not suddenly recalled the Lord Lieutenant. ‘At any rate,’ added Laurence, ‘his recall was never ascribed to the apprehension of any difficulty in Parliament from his avowed support of the Catholics; there was no appearance of such difficulty in anv quarter; and no Lord Lieutenant ever brought back with him from that shore such cordial effusions of veneration and affection, both from the Parliament and the people.’ This was a true statement and a forcible argument; but it was also true, that Irish politics and Irish opinion had enormously changed since 1795. Canning, in one of his speeches, went farther than Dundas. He not only argued that Catholic emancipation could not take place in an Irish Parliament, but even hinted that if the Union was not carried, it might be necessary to refortify the Protestant ascendency, by reviving the old penal code against the Catholics.1
In Ireland, meanwhile, the Government were not idle. It is stated that no less than 10,000 copies of Pitt's speech were gratuitously circulated at the public expense,2 and other methods more effectual than appeals to popular reason were employed. Lord Castlereagh wrote that he would despair of the success of the Union at any future period, so weighty was the opposition of the country gentlemen in the House of Commons, if he had not been convinced that their repugnance was much more due to their personal interest, than to a fixed aversion to the principle of Union. He represented, therefore, that the proposed scheme of representation must be materially changed. It had at first been intended to restrict the representation of each Irish county in the Imperial Parliament to a single member. Castlereagh now argued that it should continue, as at present, to be two. By this means, he hoped the most powerful opposition to the Union might be disarmed, especially as a seat in the Imperial Parliament would be a higher object of ambition than a seat in the Parliament in Dublin.3
The question of the borough representation was a very difficult one. The English Government laid it down as a fundamental condition, that the whole Irish representation should not exceed 100, and it was much desired that the principle of giving pecuniary compensation to the borough owners should, if possible, be avoided. It was agreed that the larger towns should send in a regular but diminished representation, and it was at first proposed, that the small boroughs should be grouped according to the Scotch system, and afterwards that 108 small boroughs should send in 54 members by a system of alternation, each borough returning a member to every second Parliament. This system, Lord Cornwallis said, would no doubt to a certain degree affect the value of borough property, and probably disincline the patrons to an Union, but he believed ‘that means might be found without resorting to the embarrassing principle of avowed compensation, so as to satisfy the private interests of at least a sufficient number of the individuals affected, to secure the measure against any risk arising from this consideration.’ 1 Castlereagh, however, was now convinced that the principle of granting pecuniary compensation for boroughs must be adopted. There were eighty-six boroughs, he said, which were so close as to be strictly private property.2
Another important question was, how the measures which were likely to be taken by the Opposition in order to prevent an Union, were to be met. The Union had been proposed mainly on the principle that two independent Legislatures had a tendency to separate; that it was necessary to give an additional strength to the connection; and that this measure would offer great particular advantages to many important interests in Ireland. Cornwallis believed that it would be the policy of the Opposition, to take up these several points, and to endeavour to remedy them without an Union. The first question was the admission of Catholics to Parliament. There were already signs that the Opposition were making overtures to the Catholics, and it was probable that some who had hitherto been determined opponents of their emancipation would consent to it, if by doing so they could detach them from the Government, and avoid the abolition of the Parliament. The Catholics, on the other hand, were likely to prefer emancipation without an Union, to emancipation with one. In the one case, they would probably by degrees gain an ascendency; in the other, their position would always be an inferior one. ‘Were the Catholic question to be now carried, the great argument for an Union would be lost, at least as far as the Catholics are concerned.’
It was probable also, the Lord Lieutenant thought, that the party opposed to the Union would meet the argument drawn from the Regency dispute, by a Bill making the Regent of England ipso facto Regent of Ireland; that they would again urge their readiness to enter into a commercial arrangement with England; that they would call upon the Government to make at once the provision for the Catholic and Presbyterian clergy, which the Government writers and speakers now pronounced so desirable, and that finally they would take up the question of the regulation of tithes, ‘the most comprehensive cause of public discontent in Ireland.’ ‘Your Grace musb be aware,’ wrote Cornwallis, ‘that the party will carry the feeling of the country more with them upon the question of tithes, than any other. They will press Government to bring it forward, and impute their refusing to do so, to a determination to force the question of Union, by withholding from the people advantages which might be extended to them equally by the Irish Legislature.’ 1
This despatch was submitted to the deliberation of the Cabinet in England, and the Duke of Portland lost no time in communicating his instructions to the Irish Government. The ultimate enactment of the Union was now to be the supreme and steady object of all English policy in Ireland. If the question of Catholic emancipation was introduced, the Government must oppose it with all the resources at their disposal, and they must clearly state that they would never permit it to be carried, except on the condition of an Union, and by the means of an United Parliament. On the question of tithes, they must hold an equally decisive language. This question must be settled on the same principles in the two countries, and no plan of commutation must be entertained in Ireland, unless the British Legislature had previously seriously taken up the question. The proposed Regency Bill seemed free from objection, and England would gladly receive from Ireland any unconditional grant towards the general expenses of the Empire, but a commercial compact could only be made by the agreement of the two Parliaments. If the payment of priests and Presbyterian ministers was proposed, the Irish Government might give it a favourable reception, but they should call upon its promoters to produce a specific plan of their measures in detail.1
The very violence of the resentment which was aroused in the Irish Parliament and in Dublin by the introduction of the Union, appeared to the Ministers an additional reason for pressing it on. ‘The language and conduct both within and without doors,’ wrote Castlereagh in a confidential letter to Wickham, ‘has been such on the late occasion, as to satisfy every thinking man that if the countries are not speedily incorporated, they will ere long be committed against each other.’ 2 There were signs, which were deemed extremely alarming, of attempts at coalition between the Orangemen and the Catholics,3 and such a coalition in case of a French invasion might prove fatal.
There were also, however, slight but undoubted indications of an improvement in the prospects of the measure, especially after it became known that the principle of compensation would be largely adopted. The most encouraging of these signs appeared among the Catholics, and it is among the clerical and lay leaders of that body that the measure seems to have found its most sincere well-wishers. Both Lord Kenmare and Lord Fingall were among the number, and when George Ponsonby proposed to the former to introduce under certain conditions a motion for repealing the remaining Acts which imposed restrictions on the Catholics, the offer was declined.1 Dr. Moylan, the Catholic Bishop of Cork, wrote expressing the deepest regret at the rejection of the Union. ‘It is impossible,’ he wrote, ‘to extinguish the feuds and animosities which disgrace this kingdom, and give it the advantages of its natural and local situation, without an Union with Great Britain…. The tranquillity and future welfare of this poor distracted country rest in a great degree thereon. The earlier it is accomplished, the better.’ 2 When Corry accepted the office of Chancellor of the Exchequer, from which Parnell had been removed, he was obliged to go to his constituents at Newry for re-election, and an attempt was made to oppose him, but it was defeated mainly through the influence of Archbishop Troy and through the action of the Catholic portion of the electorate. ‘The Catholics stuck together like the Macedonian phalanx,’ wrote a Newry priest, ‘and with ease were able to turn the scale in favour of the Chancellor of the Exchequer.’ 3 Bishop Delany expressed a strong opinion in favour of the Union, and Dr. Bodkin, who was one of the most important priests in the West of Ireland, and who had for many years been the agent of the majority of the secular prelates at Rome, wrote from Galway, ‘My countrymen are very warm, violent, and easily roused, but they as soon fall back and return to a better sense. I am far from thinking the Union lost; a little time will rally and bring back the disheartened and disaffected. It is the only means left to save from ruin and destruction that poor, infatuated Ireland.’ 4
Archbishop Troy at the same time exerted himself earnestly and efficaciously to prevent any Catholic demands for emancipation which might embarrass the Ministers, and a considerable body of the Catholic prelates in Ireland were in close confidential communication, with them. The proposal for the payment of the Catholic clergy, being connected with the Union, was postponed by the adverse vote of the Irish House of Commons, but the prelates authorised the Archbishops of Armagh and Dublin and the Bishop of Meath to treat with Lord Castlereagh on the subject whenever he thought fit to resume it.1 A proposal was for some time under discussion for conceding to the Catholics in the Act of Union the offices reserved in the Act of 1793, leaving the question of sitting in the Legislature to the decision of the United Parliament.2 It was not. however, ultimately pressed, and Lord Castlereagh on the whole appears to have been unfavourable to it. ‘Any appearance of eagerness on the part of Government,’ he thought, ‘would argue weakness, and bear too much the appearance of a bargain, to serve the cause;’ and he added, ‘I conceive the true policy is, by a steady resistance of their claims, so long as the countries remain separate, to make them feel that they can be carried only with us, through an Union.’ 3
On the whole, Cornwallis was probably justified when he spoke of ‘a large proportion of the Catholics’ being in favour of the Union;4 and in other quarters the measure, in the opinion of the Government, was making some way. One very important acquisition was Lord Ely, who now declared his determination to throw all his influence into its scale.5 In the North the feeling was at least not strongly hostile, and Alexander wrote to Pelham that on the whole he even considered it favourable, ‘but luke-warmedly.’ The linen merchants and the great majority of the inhabitants of Londonderry, he said, were for it, but the question was looked on as one which chiefly concerned the gentlemen, and it did not arouse any strong popular interest.6 ‘The public mind,’ wrote Cooke in the beginning of April, ‘is, I think, much suspended on the subject. There is little passion except among the bar and the few interested leaders in the Commons. The Protestants think it will dimmish their power, however it may secure their property. The Catholics think it will put an end to their ambitious hopes, however it may give them ease and equality. The rebels foresee in it their annihilation.’ 7 ‘The opinion of the loyal part of the public,’ wrote Cornwallis,’ is, from everything that I can learn, changing fast in favour of the Union; but I have good reason to believe that the United Irishmen, who form the great mass of the people, are more organised and more determined than ever in their purposes of separation, and their spirits are at this moment raised to the highest pitch in the confidence of soon seeing a French army in this country.’ 1
The open rebellion was over, and the military force of all kinds at this time in Ireland, is said to have exceeded 137,000 men,2 yet the condition of great tracts of the country had hardly ever been worse. The old crime of houghing cattle had broken out with savage fury in Mayo and Galway. It does not appear on this occasion to have been due to any recent conversion of arable land into pasture, and it is impossible to say how far, or in what proportions, it was due to the resentment and misery produced by the military excesses that had followed the defeat of Humbert, to agrarian motives, or to deliberate political calculation. The pretexts chiefly put forward were a desire to lower rents, and abolish middlemen, but Cornwallis believed that there was some evidence that the United Irishmen were connected with the outburst, and that it was part of a plan to stop the usual supply of cattle to the Cork market, where the English fleet was provisioned.3 The new Prime Sergeant, who was himself from Galway, gave the House of Commons a graphic account of the state of a great part of Connaught. ‘Hordes of armed ruffians, in number forty to fifty in a gang, traversed the country every night, over a tract of sixty miles, houghing the cattle of gentlemen and farmers, and murdering all who dare to oppose them. In this way, property to the amount of 100,000l. has been destroyed, within the last two months, in the counties of Galway and Mayo. Every man whose cattle were thus houghed was forbidden, on pain of murder to himself and his family, to expose those beasts in any market; so that they had no alternative, but either to bury the flesh, or give it to the country people for little or nothing…. Against this infernal and destructive system no man dares appeal to public justice…. If any man prosecuted one of the offenders, he did it at the moral certainty of being almost immediately murdered.’ The same fate hung over every magistrate who sent a hougher to gaol, every witness who gave evidence against him, every juryman who convicted him. Well-dressed men led the parties, and at least one man who had played a conspicuous part in political rebellion in Connaught was shown to be a leader. A rich farmer, who had refused to take the United Irish oath, had no less than 250 bullocks houghed, and was reduced almost to beggary.1 ‘The rabble,’ said the Attorney-General, ‘are told that by pursuing this practice, they will get land cheap; the leaders know that in distressing the British power, they will advance the interest of the French Directory.’ ‘Do not expect,’ the Attorney-General continued, ‘that the country gentlemen will dare to serve on juries if the forfeit of their property is to be the result of their verdicts, and if when that property has been already destroyed, their lives are to be the next sacrifice. Such is the situation of the most tranquil province of Ireland…. The gentry are obliged to abandon their estates, and driven into the towns; and to the honour of the Roman Catholic gentry of that country be it spoken, that they have been the most active to repress these outrages, and have been the most severe sufferers from their extent…. There are two counties of your kingdom in which the King's judges have not dared for one year past to carry their commission.’
A member named Ormsby mentioned, in the course of the debate, that he was present at Carrick-on-Shannon, when six traitors were acquitted in spite of the clearest evidence. The judge said that he must adjourn the assizes, as no justice could be obtained. One of the jurymen then stood up and freely acknowledged this, adding, ‘My Lord, what can we do? A coal of fire, set in our barn or the thatch of our house, destroys our property, possibly the lives of our wives and children. If you want verdicts of conviction, your juries must be summoned from garrison towns, where the individual may look for protection.’ Another member mentioned a case in the county of Limerick, in which a man ventured on his own part, and on that of eight other persons, to prosecute an offender who had plundered and destroyed their property. All nine were murdered in a single night.
No part of the country, however, was worse than the neighbourhood of Dublin itself, for the scattered fragments of the rebel forces that had haunted the Wicklow hills, were now converted into small bands of robbers and murderers. Every country gentleman who continued to live in his house, required an armed garrison. ‘Does a night pass,’ said the Attorney-General in Parliament, ‘without a murder in the county? Do gentlemen know that the amount of the deliberate and midnight murders in that small district of the county called Fingal, within a short time past, exceeds two hundred? … It may be said that this county, as indeed almost all Ireland, is proclaimed, but even so the military officers cannot act without a magistrate, and where are the magistrates to be found? … Are not your mail coaches plundered to an immense amount almost within view of the city?’ ‘It is a notorious fact,’ said the Prime Sergeant, ‘that no man could travel, even at noonday, six miles from the capital in any direction, without the moral certainty of being robbed or murdered by gangs of those banditti.’ 1
In the beginning of March, the houghing of cattle spread fiercely in Meath, and it was said to have also appeared in the South.2 In the county of Cork, the tithe war was raging, accompanied with the cruel persecution of all employed in collecting tithes. Cornwallis believed that the whole of the South was prepared to rise the moment a French soldier set his foot on shore; in the middle of March he pronounced this part of Ireland to be by far the most agitated, and he inferred that it was the quarter where a French invasion was most likely to take place. Ulster was more quiet than the other provinces, but signs of disturbance had appeared in the county of Antrim, where the houses of some loyalists had been plundered.3
The Government about this time obtained some additional secret information, and they appear to have discovered the existence of a United Irish executive in Dublin.4 An eminent Dublin surgeon named Wright was arrested on a charge of high treason, and on finding, from the questions of Cooke, that his conduct was known, he burst into tears and made a confession, which Castlereagh sent to England. He told Cooke, that he believed that the danger from the United Irish conspiracy had vanished, since the men of property and ability connected with it had been killed, taken, or banished; but that the Defender system, which was purely Catholic, and was aiming at the establishment of popery, had taken its place, and was rapidly drawing within its circle the great body of the lower Catholics. Having dressed the wounds of more than 500 rebels, he had learnt to know their real feeling; he had found them to be inspired by a fierce religious fanaticism, and he believed that this spirit was steadily growing. The upper ranks of Catholics in general merely looked for consequence in the State; and if they were on an equal footing with the Protestants, they would be soon loyal monarchy men. But the lower ranks were entirely governed by their priests, and especially by the friars, who were ‘a very good-for-nothing set;’ and they never could be reformed, ‘but by their priests and by better education.’ Orange societies, and many acts of violence perpetrated by private irresponsible loyalists, fanned the flame. Among the young men in Dublin, especially among the merchant clerks and shopmen, there were many active rebels of the old type, and young Robert Emmet was their guiding spirit. ‘The whole country would rise if there were to be a French invasion.’ Other information pointed to the leading part Robert Emmet was beginning to take, and in May the Government gave orders for his arrest, but he succeeded in escaping to the Continent. Castlereagh himself, not long after, expressed his belief, that the United system was in general laid aside, ‘the Presbyterians having become Orangemen, and the Catholics Defenders.’ 1 But it was long before conspiracy of the United Irish description had wholly ceased, and it was feared that the near prospect of invasion might at any time revive it.2
The speeches I have last quoted, took place at the introduction of one of the most severe of the many stringent coercion Bills carried by the Irish Parliament. The proclamation of May 24, which had been approved by both Houses of Parliament, had ordered the general officers to punish by death and otherwise, according to martial law, every person concerned in the rebellion; but now that the actual struggle was over, and the courts were open, martial law was plainly illegal. The impossibility of the two jurisdictions acting concurrently had been foreseen, and some months earlier, Lord Pery had recommended a Bill authorising the military authorities to try by court-martial persons engaged in the rebellion, alleging that without such law the exercise of martial law could only be justified by the strictest necessity, and that this necessity would be difficult to define. The Government, however, while believing military law to be indispensable in the unsettled state of the country, considered also that less violence was done to the Constitution by giving indemnity to those who had acted illegally for the preservation of the State, than by enacting a law formally authorising martial law when the courts were sitting.1 The collision between Lord Kilwarden and the military authorities about the execution of Wolfe Tone, brought the difficulty into clear relief, and the multiplying outrages throughout the country seemed to require a new and very drastic remedy. Past transgressions of the law, which had taken place since October 6, 1798, for the purpose of suppressing the rebellion, preserving the public peace, and for the safety of the State, were condoned by the very comprehensive Indemnity Act which received the royal assent on March 25.2 But, in addition to this measure, a new Act was carried, placing Ireland, at the will of the Lord Lieutenant, formally and legally under military law.
The preamble noticed that Lord Camden on March 30, 1798, had, with the advice of the Privy Council, directed the military commanders in Ireland to employ all their forces to suppress rebellion; that the order of May 24, commanding them to punish by death or otherwise, according to martial law, all persons assisting in the rebellion, had received the approbation of both Houses of Parliament; that, although this measure had proved so for efficacious as to permit the course of common law partially to take place, very considerable parts of the kingdom were still desolated by a rebellion, which took the form of acts of savage violence and outrage, and rendered the ordinary course of justice impossible; and that many persons who had been guilty of the worst acts during the rebellion, and had been taken by his Majesty's forces, had availed themselves of the partial restoration of the ordinary course of the common law, to evade the punishment of their crimes. The Bill accordingly empowered the Lord Lieutenant, as long as this rebellion continued, and notwithstanding the opening of the ordinary courts of justice, to authorise the punishment by death or otherwise, according to martial law, of all persons assisting in the rebellion, or maliciously attacking the persons or properties of the King's loyal subjects in furtherance of it; the detention of all persons suspected of such crimes, and their summary trial by court-martial. No act done in pursuance of such an order could be questioned, impeded, or punished by the courts of common law, and no person duly detained under the powers created by this Act, could be released by a writ of Habeas Corpus.1
This Act, which invested the Lord Lieutenant with some of the extreme powers of a despotic ruler, has often been represented as a part of the Union campaign, intended to repress opposition to an unpopular measure. It was opposed partly on that ground in the House of Commons, and a few members made strenuous efforts to modify its provisions, and to restrict its area and its duration.2 It was, however, the strong belief of the country members that some such Act was necessary, and their concurrence enabled it to pass without difficulty. Rightly or wrongly, indeed, the Irish Parliament was always ready to meet outbursts of anarchy by measures of repression, much prompter and much more drastic than English opinion would have tolerated; and one or two members in the course of the discussion, and a considerable body of excited opinion outside the House, ascribed the disastrous condition of the country chiefly to the excessive leniency of Lord Conrwallis, and to his departure from the system of Lord Camden. Representations to this effect had been persistently sent to England, and the English Ministers concurred with them, and were by no means satisfied with the moderation of the Lord Lieutenant; but Castlereagh loyally supported his chief, urging that a severity which was necessary while the rebellion was at its height, would be inexpedient after its repression, and that, in fact, the list of persons executed or transported under Lord Cornwallis had been very considerable.1 The Bill for establishing martial law, was not altogether approved of in England, and some amendments were introduced into it, at the request of the English Ministry;2 but there is, I believe, no real ground for supposing that it was intended for any other object than the ostensible ones, though supporters of the Government are accused of having sometimes employed the powers it gave them, to prevent meetings against the Union. It was, however, maintained with much reason, that a time when martial law was in force, was not one for pressing through a vast constitutional change, unasked for by the country, and violently opposed by a great section of its people.
The state of anarchy that prevailed had undoubtedly a great part in convincing many, both in England and Ireland, that a new system of government had become absolutely necessary. ‘The Union,’ Dundas wrote about this time, ‘will certainly not improve our Houses of Parliament. In all other respects it will answer, and without it, Ireland is a country in which it will be impossible for any civilised being to live, and it will be such a thorn in our side as to render us for ever uncomfortable, let our own affairs be conducted as well and prosperously as it is possible for the wisdom of man to do.’ 1 The Government speakers, in advocating the Bill for establishing martial law, painted the situation of the country in the darkest colours. Lord Clare told the House of Lords that, ‘in the western parts of this kingdom, it was impossible for any gentleman of property to be safe, even within his own habitation, unless every village throughout the country was garrisoned, and every gentleman's house a barrack,’ and that, ‘if there was no other cause, the enormous expense of keeping up such a military force must sink the country.’ ‘What is now the situation of the loyalists of this kingdom?’ asked the Prime Sergeant. ‘They are comparatively a small body of men, thinly scattered over the face of the island, surrounded on all sides by an innumerable, inveterate, irreclamable host of sworn enemies. What security have, then, the loyalists of Ireland for their safety at this moment, but in their own personal bravery, and the protection of a great military force?’ 2 ‘The United Irishmen,’ wrote Cornwallis, ‘are whetting their knives, to cut the throats of all the nobility and gentry of the island.’ 3
A few other parliamentary proceedings may be briefly mentioned. Dobbs—the honest, amiable, but eccentric member who has been so often mentioned—brought in a series of resolutions asserting the expediency of a reform of Parliament, the immediate admission of the six or eight Catholic peers into the House of Lords, the admission of Catholics into the House of Commons as soon as peace was restored, a commutation of tithes, and a moderate provision for the Dissenting ministers and the Catholic secular clergy. He appears, however, to have acted without any concert, and the previous question was moved, and carried by sixty-eight to one, the solitary supporter of Dobbs being Newen-ham.4
Lord Corry, the son of Lord Belmore, made another attempt to close the door against the reintroduction of the Union during the existing Parliament. He moved that the House should at once resolve itself into a committee on the state of the nation, and he announced his intention to move an address to the King, declaring an inviolable attachment to the British connection, but representing a separate independent Parliament as essential to the interest and prosperity of Ireland. Lord Castlereagh opposed the motion as unnecessary, declaring that there was no present intention to press the Union. The temper of the House was described by Lord Cornwallis as ‘moderate;’ several country gentlemen took occasion to state explicitly, that they had every wish to support the Government on all questions except the Union, and some of them added, that even on that question they did not consider themselves irrevocably pledged, if the circumstances of the kingdom should materially alter. The Government defeated Lord Corry's motion by 123 votes against 103, but Lord Cornwallis warned the English Ministers that the debate turned so much on Lord Castlereagh's declaration that the question of the Union was for the present asleep, that they must not infer from the division that the probability of resuming this question with advantage in the present session was in the slightest degree increased.1
Another and more important measure of the Opposition was a Regency Bill, intended to supply the omission in the law which had rendered possible the conflict of 1789, and thus to meet one of the most powerful arguments urged against the independent Parliament in Ireland. It was moved by Fitzgerald, the former Prime Sergeant, and it appears to have been debated at great length. The Government disliked it, as destroying part of their case for the Union, but it was difficult to find plausible grounds for opposing it. It asserted in the strongest terms the dependence of the Crown of Ireland on that of England, and the inseparable connection of the two countries; and it proceeded to enact, that the person who was ipso facto Regent of England should be always, with the same powers, Regent de jure in Ireland. Castlereagh somewhat captiously objected, that the Bill evaded the point of controversy, by not defining the authority by which the Regent of England was to be made, that it might apply to a person who had usurped the Regency in England on an assumed claim of rights, and that circumstances might arise when it would be expedient that the Regent of Ireland should be under different restrictions from the Regent of England. A few other objections of a very technical kind were suggested, and the Government demanded a distinct and formal recognition of the sole right of the British Parliament to appoint the Regent, and define his powers over the two countries. Fitzgerald replied by inserting in the Bill the words, ‘according to the laws and Constitution of Great Britain.’ The Bill passed successfully through its earlier stages and through the committee, but in the report Castlereagh moved its rejection, and it was ultimately postponed till the session had closed.1
In the discussion upon it, the whole question of the Union appears to have been revived, and Castlereagh on this occasion delivered what was perhaps his ablest speech in favour of that measure. He observed that the Regency Bill, even if it were adequate, could only meet one of the many Imperial questions on which two independent Legislatures in the same Empire were likely to diverge. In questions of peace and war, of general trade and commerce, of treaties with foreign nations, of Admiralty jurisdiction, of the religious establishment—which, he observed, ought to be regulated on Imperial principles—such divergence was always to be feared. ‘How was it possible?’ he asked, ‘to conceive that the Empire could continue as at present, whilst all parts of it were to receive equal protection, and only one part of it is to suffer the burdens of that protection? Must we not of necessity, and in justice, look to some settlement of Imperial contribution? And so soon as a system of contribution should be established, was there any question as to peace and war, which would not agitate every part of the country? … Why have we not differed from Great Britain in former wars? It is because Great Britain supported the whole expense…. Wars have recently increased in their expense enormously. Ireland as a separate country, possessing all the advantages of the commerce, and all the advantages of the protection of England, will naturally be bound to contribute her just proportion for the continuance of these advantages. When that shall be the case, how can it be expected that she will tamely follow Great Britain with that submission and subserviency which has hitherto marked her conduct? … The feelings of the people must always be agitated in proportion to their interests; they would not easily be reconciled to have their contributions called forth to support measures which their representatives did not discuss…. It was against the principle of human nature, that one country should voluntarily and regularly follow the dictates of another; it was against the common principles of pride and independence, which must ever grow and increase with the importance of the kingdom.’ Hitherto the bond of connection had been the discretion of the Irish Parliament, which had acted with ‘prudence, liberality, and loyalty.’ But ‘in proportion to our wealth and strength, the principle of discretion would be weakened, and the sole security for the continuance of our connection would vanish.’ 1
These considerations had a great and undoubted weight. On the other hand, the Speaker, Foster, availed himself of the Regency debate to reply at length to the speech of Pitt, and to concentrate in a single most able and most elaborate argument the case against the Union. He began by a very full and conclusive argument to prove that, whatever may have been the opinions of individual statesmen, the legislation of 1782 and 1783 had been accepted by the Parliaments of both countries and announced by Ministers of the Crown in England, and by the representatives of the Crown in Ireland, as a ‘final adjustment’ of the constitutional questions between the two countries, though some questions of commercial relationship remained to be settled. He then proceeded to urge, that the constitutional connection, which was established in 1782 and 1783, was not the frail and precarious thread which Pitt represented. Pitt said that one system of connection had been destroyed, and that no other had been substituted for it; and he described the connection of the two countries as now depending merely on the existence of the King, and on the continued agreement of two entirely independent Parliaments, exposed to all the attacks of party and all the effects of accident. But in the amended Constitution of Ireland, no Bill could become a law of Ireland which had not been returned from England ‘under the great seal of Great Britain,’ and the very object of this provision was to prevent the connection from being ‘a bare junction of two kingdoms under one Sovereign,’ by ‘making the British Ministry answerable to the British nation, if any law should receive the royal assent in Ireland which could in any way injure the Empire, or tend to separate Ireland from it.’ ‘The English Council being responsible for every advice they give their Sovereign,’ this provision ‘gives to Britain an effectual pledge to retain in her own hands, that it never shall be in our power by any act of ours to weaken or impair the connection.’ On the other hand, under the Constitution of 1782, ‘Great Britain cannot throw us off. An Act of the British Parliament is inadequate to it. As an instance, no law of hers could repeal our Annexation Act of Henry VIII.’
That a Constitution of this kind, when in the hands of classes who were indisputably loyal, and attached to the connection by the strongest ties of interest, sentiment, and honour, was sufficient to consolidate the Empire, Foster strenuously maintained. It was said, that the Legislature of Ireland might differ from that of Great Britain on questions of peace or war? Had it ever in the long course of centuries done so, though its power to do so had been as unlimited before as after the Constitution of 1782? Had it ever, on any question of peace or war, or treaties, since we have any record of its proceedings, clogged the progress of the Empire? Had it not invariably, but most conspicuously since the recognition of its independence, shown the utmost zeal in supporting Great Britain? The period since 1782 had been peculiarly marked by great and trying events, but it had not produced a single instance of difference on an Imperial question, with the exception of the Regency, and if the Bill before the House were adopted, that difference could never recur.
In theory, no doubt, the two Legislatures might easily clash, just as the British Parliament might at any time disagree with the King in his declaration of peace or war; just as the two Houses of the British Legislature might always, by irreconcilable differences, bring the Government to a dead lock. Good sense and patriotism and manifest interest maintained in harmony the different parts of the British Constitution, and they would operate equally in preventing collisions between the two Parliaments.
Much use had been made by Pitt of the failure, in the Irish House of Commons, of the altered commercial propositions of 1785, and especially of the very powerful speech in which Foster had defended these propositions. Foster had then said, ‘that things could not remain as they were,’ that ‘without united interest of commerce in a commercial empire, political union will receive many shocks, and separation of interest must threaten separation of connection, which every honest Irishman must shudder to look at.’ In reply to this, the House was reminded, in the first place, that the original commercial propositions had been agreed to by the Irish Parliament in a division in which there were no Noes except the tellers', and that it was not the fault of the Irish Parliament if the negotiations for a treaty of commerce were not renewed; and, in the next place, that matters of commerce had in fact not remained as they were. The Irish Parliament had since 1785 passed, with the concurrence or at the suggestion of the Government, a series of Acts for the express purpose of placing the commercial systems of the two countries in harmony, and those measures had been perfectly efficacious. The English Navigation Act had been adopted. The monopoly of the Eastern trade by the East India Company had been confirmed. A number of regulations relating to the registry of shipping, to the increase of shipping, to the lighthouse duties, and to Greenwich Hospital, had been adopted. By the acknowledgment of the representatives of the English Government in Ireland, the commercial systems of the two countries were now working in perfect harmony. England had not a single reason to complain of any act of the Irish Parliament on this subject;1 and that Parliament was both willing and eager to enter into a compact about the Channel trade. Although the altered treaty of 1785 had been rejected, ‘the good sense and mutual interest of each country had from time to time passed all laws necessary to prevent the operation and inconveniences of commercial jealousies.’
The true inference, Foster said, which the English Minister should have drawn from the rejection of the propositions of 1785, was very different from that which he had drawn. ‘When a suspicion that the operation of them might affect the independence of our Legislature, created such a general disapprobation as obliged him to abandon the measure, he should have learned wisdom thereby, and not have proposed at this day, to a nation so greatly attached to that independence, and the more so for her rising prosperity since its attainment, a measure which does not barely go to alter it, but avowedly and expressly to extinguish it. He should have recollected, that he now offers no one practical or even speculative advantage in commerce when the total extinction is required, and that a measure suspected only to infringe on that independence failed in his hands, though accompanied with offers of solid and substantial benefit to trade.’
It had been said, that the Union with England would tend to tranquillise the country, and to raise the tone of its civilisation. And this, said Foster, is to be the result of ‘transporting its Legislature, its men of fortune, and its men of talents'! ‘If a resident Parliament and resident gentry cannot soften manners, amend habits, or promote social intercourse, will no Parliament and fewer resident gentry do it?’ 1 The greatest misfortune of this kingdom, with respect to the tenantry, is the large class of middlemen who intervene between the owner and the actual occupier, ‘and these are mostly to be found on the estates of absentees.’ Whatever may be the case in other countries, in Ireland, at least, the example of the upper ranks is the most effectual means of promoting good morals and habits among the lower orders, and there is no country upon earth where the guiding, softening, and restraining influence of a loyal resident gentry, is of more vital importance. If every estate and every village possessed a wise, just, and moderate resident gentleman, the people would soon learn to obey and venerate the law. But the new English policy was to sweep out of the country a great portion of the very class on which its progress in civilisation and loyalty mainly depended; to diminish the power of those who remained, and to throw the country more and more into the hands of landjobbers and agents. Complaints of neglect of duty were often brought against the Church. Was the standard of duty likely to rise, when the bishops were withdrawn from their dioceses for eight months in the year? Was it credible, ‘that a Parliament, unacquainted with the local circumstances of a kingdom which it never sees, at too great a distance to receive communication or information for administering in time to the wants and wishes of the people, or to guard against excesses or discontents, can be more capable of acting beneficially than the one which, being on the spot, is acquainted with the habits, prejudices, and dispositions of the people?’
Foster then proceeded to dilate upon the importance of a resident Parliament in repressing disaffection and rebellion. In this, as in every part of his career, he assumed as a fundamental and essential condition of Irish self-government, that the power of Parliament should be retained in the hands of the classes that were unquestionably loyal, and who represented the property of the country; and he maintained that the moral weight, and the strong power of organisation and control, which an Irish Parliament gave them, were of the utmost importance. The volunteer movement was not a movement of disaffection, but there was a moment ‘when their great work was effected, and by the indiscreetness of a few leaders their zeal was misled, and they began to exercise the functions of Parliament. We spoke out firmly. They heard our voice with effect, and took our advice in instantly returning to cultivate the blessings of peace…. Personal character, respect to individuals, opinion of their attachment to one common country, all impressed an awe which was irresistible…. Would equal firmness in a Parliament composed five parts in six of strangers, sitting in another country, have had the same effect?’
Then came the great rebellion which had so lately desolated the country. Could a Parliament sitting in another land grapple with such a danger, like a loyal Parliament sitting in Dublin? Would it have the same knowledge of the conditions of the problem, or the same moral weight with the people, or the same promptitude in applying stern and drastic remedies? He reminded the members of the day when they had gone in solemn procession to the Castle to present their address of loyalty, and of the outburst of enthusiasm which their attitude had aroused. ‘It animated the loyal spirit which crushed the rebellion before a single soldier could arrive from England.’ Could any procession of a United Parliament through St. James's Park have had a similar moral effect in Ireland? ‘The extraordinary, but wise and necessary measure, of proclaiming martial law, required the concurrence of Parliament to support the Executive. The time would have passed by before that concurrence could have been asked for and received from London, and it would have given a faint support coming from strangers.’ No one had acknowledged more emphatically than Lord Camden, how largely the ‘peculiar promptitude, alacrity, and unanimity’ of the Irish House of Commons had contributed to crush the rebellion, and to save the State, and to place it in a condition to encounter a foreign as well as a domestic enemy.
The removal of the loyal Parliament which so effectually suppressed the rebellion, would undoubtedly give a new encouragement to disaffection. It would also almost certainly lead to an era of greatly increased taxation. One of the capital advantages of Ireland during the eighteenth century was, that it was one of the most lightly taxed countries in Europe. The speech of Lord Castlereagh clearly foreshadowed that this was now to change, and that a desire to make Ireland contribute in an increased proportion to the expenses of the Empire, was one of the chief motives to the Union. ‘He wants an Union in order to tax you, and take your money, when he fears your own representatives would deem it improper, and to force regulations on your trade which your own Parliament would consider injurious or partial.’
This was but a part of the probable effect of the Union on the material prosperity of Ireland, and Foster examined this subject with a fullness of detail and illustration to which it is wholly impossible in a brief sketch to do adequate justice. He dwelt in strong terms, but not in stronger ones than Clare and Cooke had already used,1 or than Castlereagh afterwards employed,2 on the great and manifest progress in material prosperity that had accompanied the latter days of the Irish Parliament. It had been its work ‘to raise this kingdom into prosperity, and keep it in a steady and rapid advance, even beyond the utmost hopes of its warmest advocates.’ He quoted the recent language of Parliament itself, declaring in an address to Lord Cornwallis, ‘that under his Majesty's benevolent auspices his kingdom of Ireland had risen to a height of prosperity unhoped for and unparalleled in any former era;’ and he proceeded to argue, with great ingenuity and knowledge, that the latter progress of Ireland with her separate Parliament had been more rapid than that of Scotland under the Union. And this progress was chiefly accomplished under the Constitution of 1782. ‘It has not only secured, but absolutely showered down upon you more blessings, more trade, more affluence, than ever fell to your lot in double the space of time which has elapsed since its attainment.’ ‘The general export rose in seventy-eight years to 1782 from one to five, and in fourteen years after 1782 from five to ten. The linen export in the seventy-eight years rose from one to thirty-two, and in the last fourteen years from thirty-two to eighty-eight, so that the general export rose as much in the last fourteen years as it had done not only during the preceding seventy-eight years, but during all time preceding; and the linen increased in the last fourteen years very nearly to treble the amount of what it had been before.’ He inferred from this, that the condition of Ireland was essentially sound, that if she were only wise enough to abstain from experiment, industry and wealth must increase, and civilisation and meliorated manners must follow in their train.
It was said that this material progress was either not due to political causes, or not due to the action of the Irish Parliament. That political causes had largely produced the depression that preceded it, Foster said, no one at least could doubt. No United Irishman indeed had ever described more severely the character and the effects of English commercial policy in Ireland, than William Pitt in his speeches on the commercial propositions of 1785. ‘Until these very few years,’ he had said, ‘the system had been that of debarring Ireland from the enjoyment and use of her own resources, to make the kingdom completely subservient to the interests and opulence of this country, without suffering her to share in the bounties of nature and the industry of her citizens,’ for Great Britain till very recently had ‘never looked upon her growth and prosperity as the growth and prosperity of the Empire at large.’ By simply repealing its own restricting laws, the English Parliament had no doubt given a great impulse to Irish progress, but the more liberal policy of the English Parliament was largely due to the vigour which the Octennial Act had infused into the Parliament of Ireland. And in other ways the action of that Parliament had been more direct. It gave the export bounties, which placed our linen trade on an equal footing with the British, ‘whereas till then our linen was exported from Britain … under a disadvantage of 5½ per cent.’ It supported powerfully and efficaciously the demands of the Executive on Portugal for the full participation of Ireland in the Methuen treaty. During forty years the victualling trade of Ireland had been harassed and restricted by twenty-four embargoes, one of which lasted three years, until ‘Parliament took up the subject. The embargo ceased, and none has appeared to oppress you from that day.’ 1 And finally it was Parliament which, by the bounties on corn, gave the first great impulse to Irish agriculture. All this was due to the Constitution of 1782, which ‘gave freedom to our Parliament, and with it the power of protection.’ Could the commercial interests of the country be equally trusted to a Parliament which was dependent, or to a Parliament in which the Irish members were hopelessly outnumbered?
It might be said, that ‘you would depend on the articles you may frame, to secure your trade and your purse.’ It was answered, that the very doctrine of the omnipotence of Parliament, which was now so constantly urged, and which was necessary to justify the Union, reduced its articles to mere waste paper. The United Parliament will have the power to alter or abrogate any article of the Union which it pleases, to abolish bounties, to amalgamate debts, or to raise the level of taxation as it desires, and a minority of a hundred Irish members will have no power to stay its decision.
Foster then proceeded at great length, and with great amplitude of illustration, to examine in succession the different industries that would be affected by the measure. The growth of English manufactures in Ireland, as a result of the Union, he believed to be wholly chimerical. He argued in much detail that neither the woollen, nor the iron, nor the cotton, nor the pottery manufactures of England, were likely to take any considerable root in Ireland, and he especially combated the prediction, which had much influence in Munster, that Cork would rise after the Union to unprecedented prosperity. He proceeded then to consider the contention of Pitt, that the Irish linen manufacture was wholly dependent on the encouragement of Great Britain, and that it was the policy of England, and not anything done by the Irish Parliament, that had produced the great and undoubted commercial prosperity of the last few years. This line of argument Foster very strongly deprecated. The two countries, he said, were so closely connected, that each could greatly assist or greatly injure the other, and nothing could be more detrimental to a true Union than to sow between them, by idle boasts or threats, a spirit of commercial jealousy or distrust. Ireland owed very much to England, but the benefit was reciprocal, for it was proved by official statistics, that in 1797 the export of English manufactures to Ireland alone was more than one-third of the value of the export of those manufactures to all the rest of Europe. Was it likely that Great Britain would quarrel with such a customer? Independently of the historical fact that the encouragement of the linen trade was intended as a compensation for the iniquitous suppression of the Irish wool trade, it was not true that Irish linen depended on English bounties and encouragement. At the time when he spoke, the linen trade was in a state of extraordinary prosperity. Irish linens had very recently risen thirty-five per cent. above their usual value, ‘and yet the British merchants are so anxious to purchase them, that they are even securing them on the greens before they can go to market.’ ‘Irish linens do not monopolise the British market by means of the duty [on foreign linen], and could at present find their way there, even if there was no duty on the foreign.’ ‘In no place are we protected against German linen except in Britain, and yet ours is finding its way almost everywhere.’ ‘Our linens beat the German and the Russian in the American markets. They are preferred even to the Scotch, and no nation can bring the fabric to the perfection we do, not so much perhaps from superior skill, as from the peculiar fitness of our climate for bleaching.’
Such a trade could certainly exist and flourish without the support of Great Britain. That England by a protective policy directed against Ireland, could inflict much injury on her, was no doubt true, but those who rashly counselled such a policy should learn to dread the consequences of changing the course of manufacture by forced measures, and should remember that four and a half millions of people will not remain idle. ‘England raised the woollen manufactory here by prohibiting the importation of Irish provisions, and she established the woollen manufactory afterwards in France by destroying the child of her own creation in Ireland. Should she attempt and prevail in prohibiting our linen to her ports, it is impossible to foresee what ports we may find, what returns we may get, and in those how much of what she now supplies us with, may be included.’
These words came with an especial weight from a statesman, who was the acknowledged master of all questions relating to the commercial condition of Ireland—a statesman whose life had been largely spent in harmonising the commercial systems of the two countries. Nor was there less weight in the language in which he dwelt upon the extreme danger of persisting in such a measure as the Union, in opposition to the genuine sentiment of the intelligent portion of the nation. ‘Let the silly attempt,’ he said, ‘to encourage its revival by getting resolutions privately signde for it, be abandoned. If you doubt the general execration in which it is held, call the counties. Take their sense at public meetings, instead of preventing those meetings lest the general sense should be known, and put an end to all the idle and silly tricks of circulating stories, that this gentleman or that gentleman has changed his mind.’ ‘The Union of Scotland was recommended to prevent separation—we oppose the proposed Union from the same motive.’
A mere sketch, such as I have given, can do little justice to a speech which took more than four hours in its delivery, and was afterwards published in a pamphlet of no less than 113 closely printed pages. It should be compared with the great speech of Pitt, which it was intended to answer, and it will not suffer by the comparison. It had a wide and serious influence on opinion, not only from its great intrinsic merits, but also from the high character and position of its author; from his evident disinterestedness; and from the confidential place he had for so many years held in the Government of the country.
There were but few other proceedings in the Parliament of 1799 that need delay our attention. The Indemnity Act, and the proceedings of the High Sheriff of Tipperary, which chiefly produced it, have been elsewhere considered. The Act was warmly recommended by Lord Castlereagh, and there is, I believe, no evidence that he seriously disapproved of the conduct of Fitzgerald.1 A very remarkable and somewhat obscure episode, however, took place about this time in the House of Lords, which deserves some notice.
We have seen that the College of Maynooth, though built by a parliamentary grant, had not at first any fixed or recognised endowment from the State. The grant, however, of 8,000l., which had been voted in 1795, was followed in the three next years by additional grants amounting together to 27,000l.2 But in 1799, in consequence of negotiations entered into with Archbishop Troy, and some other leading members of the Catholic body, the Government determined to place the college on a firmer basis, by providing it with a permanent annual endowment of 8,000l. which was to be devoted to the purpose of educating 200 students.3 The measure, like most others at this time, was in reality taken mainly for the sake of winning support for the Union,4 and the Government do not appear to have anticipated any serious resistance, or to have encountered any in the Commons; but when the Bill came before the Peers, it met with a most unexpected fate. Lord Clare, without having given the smallest hint of his intention either to Cornwallis or to Castlereagh, rose to oppose it. He appears from the beginning to have detested the institution, and he now maintained that its evils could only be palliated by introducing into the seminary a lay element of sons of Catholic gentry, who might liberalise the sacerdotal students by their contact and manners, and also by insisting on the students paying at least a portion of the expense of their education. Maynooth, he complained, was a purely sacerdotal institution; the education was gratuitous; the future priesthood of Ireland would in consequence be drawn from the dregs of the population, and he spoke in terms of bitter invective of the recent conduct of the Catholic clergy in dividing as much as possible the Catholics from the Protestants. In the House of Lords, the Chancellor was almost omnipotent, and on his motion the proposal that the Bill should go into committee was rejected by twenty-five to one.
This was a complete and most unwelcome surprise to the Government, and it threatened very seriously to disturb their negotiations with the Catholics. The belief was soon widely spread that it was intended to abolish Maynooth, but Castlereagh at once disavowed any such intention, and in the following year a grant, which the Government desired, was duly voted with a Bill slightly altering the administration of the College, and Clare took a leading part in supporting it. The cause of his very extraordinary conduct in 1799 must be a matter of conjecture. He himself wrote to Lord Castlereagh, that he was convinced that if Maynooth on its existing lines received a permanent legislative sanction, it would enable the popish prelates of Ireland to subvert its Government in ten years.1 It appears, however, to have been believed by many that other motives influenced his decision.2 Perhaps the most probable was a desire to show the Government that if they tried to carry the Union by making concessions to the Catholics, and sacrificing the party of the ascendency, they might encounter a most formidable and uncompromising opposition.
It is certain, however, that the attitude of the Catholic priesthood in Ireland, had at this time created a very real and widespread anxiety and irritation among men who were neither Orangemen nor sympathisers with Orangemen, and that these feelings were not solely or even mainly due to the part taken by some priests in the rebellion. The great clerical reaction throughout Europe, which followed the French Revolution, might be already discerned in Ireland in an increased stringency of ecclesiastical discipline, which was directly calculated to deepen the divisions of Irish life. Much irritation had been created on the eve of the rebellion by a pastoral of Dr. Hussey, commenting on some cases in which Catholic soldiers are stated to have been obliged to attend Protestant worship. The grievance appears to have been a real one,1 but it was said that the time and manner in which it was denounced were eminently fitted to sow the seeds of disaffection and division in the army.
More serious complaints were made, that the priests were forcing Catholic parents, by threats of excommunication and deprivation of all the benefits and blessings of the Church, to withdraw their children from Protestant schools. It was obviously intended, it was said, to bring into the hands of the priests the education of all the lower orders throughout the kingdom, and the worst enemy of Ireland could not devise a more effectual scheme for keeping the Irish Catholics a distinct people, maintaining eternal enmity and hatred between them and the Protestant body, and counteracting that liberal intercourse which tolerant laws and tolerant manners had of late years established between them. ‘This,’ it was added, ‘was precisely the same tyranny of which the Catholics had themselves so long complained, as violating the first principles of nature, by denying the parent the right of educating his children as seemed best to himself,’ and the priests were far more inexorable in enforcing the spiritual penalties, than the Legislature had ever been in enforcing temporal ones. In the late rebellion there had been alarming signs that when fanaticism was aroused, Catholic servants in Protestant houses could not be trusted, and that they looked upon their masters as aliens and reprobates. Few things, it was said, had done so much to produce this feeling as the inexorable refusal of absolution and the sacraments, by which the priests now punished any Catholic servant who attended the family prayers of his Protestant master, even when it was perfectly notorious that those prayers contained nothing in the smallest degree hostile to the Catholic faith. In the English Church the power of excommunication had long been disused; and even when it was employed, it was exercised only under the strict superintendence of the ecclesiastical courts. In Ireland it was lavishly employed, and it was made the instrument of atrocious tyranny. It was especially made use of to punish all Roman Catholics who entered a Protestant church, assisted at a Protestant sermon, or received any kind of moral or religious instruction from a Protestant minister. ‘The excommunicated person,’ wrote a Protestant bishop of very moderate opinions, ‘is driven from society; no one converses with him; no one serves, no one employs him.’ The Bishop mentions one case, which had come under his personal notice, of a Catholic who in his family read the English Bible, and who sometimes went to hear a sermon in a Protestant church. He was publicly excommunicated, and the immediate consequence was, that he lost all his business as house-painter, and was reduced to poverty. He was often advised to bring an action for damages against the priest, but he knew that his life would be in imminent danger if he did so, and he was at last obliged to fly from the country.
It appeared to many Protestants, that a tyranny not less crushing or degrading than the old penal laws was growing up in Ireland, and that it might one day become a grave danger to the State. It was represented that with the home education of the priests, their numbers would certainly increase; that the bishops, not content with Maynooth, were establishing seminaries for priests in almost every diocese; that in the government of Maynooth the Protestant element was little more than formal, and had no real power.1 A numerous priesthood, drawn chiefly from the peasant class; educated on a separate and monastic system; uncontrolled and unendowed by the State, and exercising an enormous influence over an ignorant and disaffected people, might hereafter play a formidable part in Irish politics. The attitude of the House of Lords in 1799 may have been largely influenced by such fears.
The other incident which must be noticed in this session, was of a very different kind. Colonel Cole, one of the members for Enniskillen, who was an opponent of the Union, had been ordered to join his regiment in Malta; he accordingly desired, in the usual way, to vacate his seat, and it was known that a prominent anti-Unionist would take his place. Seats in the Irish Parliament were vacated by the grant of a nominal office called the Escheatorship of Munster, which corresponded to the Chiltern Hundreds in England. In both countries the office was granted as a matter of course, though a single case was discovered in Ireland in which it had been refused. It was the main object, however, of the Government to pack the Parliament with supporters of the Union, and accordingly Cornwallis, who granted the Escheatorship invariably, and without question, in all cases in which an Unionist was likely to be returned, took the extraordinary course of refusing it to Colonel Cole, and to another member whose seat would be filled by an anti-Unionist. His act was defended on the ground that the bestowal of Crown offices was within the sole and unquestioned prerogative of the Crown; but an Opposition powerful in talent and character maintained, that such an exercise of the prerogative was a gross abuse, and a glaring violation of the spirit of the Constitution. The independent element in the House appears to have been strongly with them, and an address, requesting the Crown to grant a pension to Colonel Cole, which, by disqualifying him from sitting in the House, would vacate his seat, was moved by John Claudius Beresford. The Government succeeded in defeating it by a motion for adjournment, but their majority was only fifteen, and the Duke of Portland intimated that for the future it would be better to follow the rule adopted in England.1
The conduct of the Government in this matter clearly showed their determination at all hazards to persevere. In April an address in favour of the Union passed through both of the British Houses of Parliament almost without opposition, after debates which added little to the weight of argument, but much to the weight of authority in its favour. The remarkable concurrence of opinion among those who had been personally responsible for the administration of Ireland, that a speedy Union was essential to the security and continuance of the connection, is the strongest argument in favour of the Government. In the English debates in this and the succeeding year, Carlisle, Westmorland, Portland, Camden, and Buckingham, who had all been Lords Lieutenant, and Hobart, Auckland, and Douglass, who had all been Chief Secretaries, spoke strongly in favour of an Union. Lord Fitzwilliam, however, and General Fitzpatrick, who had been Chief Secretary in the Administration of Portland, took the other side, the first dwelling chiefly on the inopportuneness of the moment for introducing so extensive a change, and the second maintaining the acknowledged finality of the constitutional compact of 1782.
Very few of the seceding Whigs thought it necessary to be present during these debates, and only three somewhat obscure peers signed the protest against the address. Lord Moira in one House, and Sir Francis Burdett in the other, denounced the whole recent Irish policy of the Government with great violence, and the former declared that the Union in Ireland was viewed ‘by the nation at large, with an abhorrence amounting almost to a degree of frenzy.’ A more temperate, and therefore a more impressive speech, was made by Lord Darnley, who was a great Irish proprietor. He believed that a legislative Union between the two countries was in itself desirable; but he warned the Ministers that they most seriously underrated the opposition to it in Ireland. ‘Englishmen,’ he said, ‘are disposed to measure everything by the standard of their own country, than which nothing can be more fallacious when applied to Ireland. I really believe that, in many respects, the inhabitants of no two countries on the face of the globe are so essentially different.’ English Ministers, he continued, were entirely mistaken in supposing that the opposition to the Union in Ireland represented merely a faction or a cabal. ‘Unless I am very much deceived, it speaks almost the united sense of the whole Irish nation—not indeed of the whole nation taken numerically, for unfortunately the majority of the population of Ireland is incapable of forming any adequate judgment on this or any other subject; and if they were, their minds are so tainted with the poison of French principles … that their opinion would be of but little value as applied to the question. I speak not therefore of them, but of the middle ranks of every description throughout the country, the country gentlemen, the yeomen, the merchants and manufacturers, the learned bodies … the strength and sinew of the country, the zealous friends of British connection … these, I fear, are your opponents…. Nothing which I have seen or heard, induces me to believe that this most respectable and important part of the Irish nation is not decidedly hostile to every idea of Union.’ 1
Very little was said in reply to these representations, but one speaker dilated on the many signs of unpopularity that had attended and followed the Scotch Union, and had not prevented that act from being a signal blessing to both countries. The addresses, however, of the two English Houses of Parliament in favour of the Union had a considerable moral effect, and the speech of the Lord Lieutenant, in closing the session of the Irish Parliament on June 1, clearly evinced the determination of the Government to push on the measure. The fact that the Irish House of Commons had emphatically condemned it in its very first stage was not even referred to, but the Lord Lieutenant stated that he had received his Majesty's particular commands to acquaint them with the addresses and resolutions of the two Houses in England. He added, that the King would receive the greatest satisfaction in witnessing the accomplishment of the Union, and that for his own part, if he were able ‘to contribute in the smallest degree to the success of this great measure,’ he would consider the labours and anxieties of a life devoted to the public service, amply repaid.1
In addition to the Union, there were two other measures which the English Government was extremely anxious to carry. One of them was the imposition of an income tax on Ireland, like that of England. The other was a law similar to one which had just passed in England, enabling the King to take 10,000 men out of the Irish militia for the purpose of foreign service.2 Castlereagh and Cornwallis warned them that it would be most dangerous to connect these measures with the Union, and the latter measure appeared to the Lord Lieutenant in the existing condition of Ireland altogether unsafe. It was, at one time, in contemplation to summon Parliament for an October session, for the purpose of imposing an income tax prior to an Union,3 but this intention was ultimately abandoned. It was perceived that it would interrupt the measures which the Government were taking to create a parliamentary majority for the Union, and to this great end all their efforts and policies were now subordinated. Seven months and a half were accordingly allowed to pass before Parliament was again summoned, and in this interval the task of securing a majority was accomplished.
Petty's Political Anatomy of Ireland, ed. 1691, pp. 28–33, 124, 125.
Molyneux, Case of Ireland being bound by Acts of Parliament in England (1698), pp. 97, 98.
See vol. ii. pp. 50–65.
Ibid. pp. 416, 417; Ball's Irish Legislative Systems, pp. 84, 85.
See vol. ii. p. 416; vol. iv. p. 444.
Wealth of Nations, book v. ch. iii.
See vol. iv. p. 504.
See Franklin's Third Letter to Governor Shirley (written in 1754). Franklin at a later period recurred to this notion.
Tour in Ireland, i. 65; ii. 344–348.
Franklin's Works, viii. 84, 85.
Address to the People of Ireland on the projected Union, by Thomas Goold, pp 13, 14. Goold says ‘This anecdote I have from a gentleman of much worth and respectability, who for many years had the honour of representing in the Parliament of Ireland an independent county.’ Another writer said ‘This masterpiece of politics [the Union], which was the darling project of the illustrious Lord Chatham, will be carried into execution by his still greater son and successor.’ (Cooper's Letters on the Irish Nation, written in 1799, p. 352.)
Young's Tour, ii. 347. The Speaker Foster, in his speech against the Union, Feb. 17, 1800, said: ‘When I talk of England, I cannot avoid mentioning the effect this Union may have there. The late Lord Chatham is said always to have objected to an Union, lest the additional number of members from Ireland might alter the constitution of the House and make it too unwieldy, or give too much weight to the democratic balance.’ (P. 41.)
Dalrymple's Memoirs of Great Britain, ed. 1790, iii. Appendix, pp. 347, 348. See, too, the Cornrvallis Correspondence, iii. 129.
See Walpole's George III. iii. 397, 398.
Some considerable light has recently been thrown upon the opinions of Hillsborough and North on this subject in 1779, by the publication of the Diaries and Letters of Thomas Hutchinson (Governor of Massachusetts Bay), ii. 257, 295. See, too, Walpole's Memoirs of George III. iv. 200.
Vol. vi. pp. 307, 308.
Ibid. p. 321.
Vol. iv. pp. 550, 551; vol. vi. pp. 308, 309.
Vol. vi. p. 310.
Vol. vi. p. 404.
Ibid. p. 404.
Part. Hist. xxv. 848. Lord Camden's son (the Irish Lord Lieutenant), writes: ‘I inherit … my father's opinion that Ireland must be our province if she will not be persuaded to an Union.’ (Castlereagh Correspondence, i. 156.)
Parl. Hist. xxv. 633.
They were published by Dr. Clarke, in a tract called Union or Separation (1799).
Campbell's Chancellors, vii. 29.
Vol. ii. pp. 435, 436.
Tour in Ireland, i. 65.
Vol. iv. p. 504.
Vol. vi. p. 404.
Grattan's Speeches, i. 240–243.
Vol. vi. pp. 512, 513, 523, 524.
Vol. vii. pp. 72, 94, 95.
Answer to the Catholic Address, Feb. 27, 1795. (Grattan's Miscellaneous Works, p. 296.)
Wilberforce, in 1796, wrote the following memoranda, derived from conversations with Irishmen: ‘The Irish gentry (sensible cool men) entertain very serious apprehensions of the Roman Catholics—say they keep a register of the forfeited lands; that their priests have little influence over them; the menial servants commonly Roman Catholics; masters cannot depend on them; if the French were to land 10,000 men, they would infallibly rise. The hatred and bad opinion which the lower Roman Catholics entertain against the Protestants, and particularly the English, is very great. It seems impossible to end quietly unless an Union takes place. As wealth is diffused, the lower orders will learn the secret of their strength.’ (Life of Wilberforce, ii. 163.)
Gordon's History of the Rebellion, pp. 295, 296.
Pieces of Irith History, pp. 143, 144, 148.
Newenham's State of Ireland, p. 269; see, too, p. 270. The language of Miss Edgeworth shows strongly the feeling prevailing on this subject among the Protestants. ‘Government,’ she says, ‘having at this time the Union between Great Britain and Ireland in contemplation, were desirous that the Irish aristocracy and country gentlemen should be convinced of the kingdom's insufficiency to her own defence against invasion or internal insurrection. With this view, it was politic to let the different parties struggle with each other, till they completely felt their weakness and their danger…. It is certain that the combinations of the disaffected at home, and the advance of foreign invaders, were not checked till the peril became imminent, and till the purpose of creating universal alarm had been fully effected.’ (Life of R. L. Edgeworth, ii. 217, 218.)
Clare, in his speech on the Union, said: ‘I pressed it without effect, until British Ministers and the British nation were roused to a sense of their common danger by the late sanguinary and unprovoked rebellion.’
Auckland Correspondence, iv. 2, 8. The letter of Clare is undated, but it was written two or three days after the battle of New Ross.
Cornwallis Correspondence, ii. 439. Auckland Correspondence, iv. 29. See, however, the remarks of Sir C. Lewis, Administrations of Great Britain, pp. 183, 184.
Castlereagh Correspondence, i. 376. This letter is unfortunately undated.
W. Elliot to Pelham, July 28; S. Douglas to Pelham, Sept. 12, 1798. (Pelham MSS.) On Sept. 13 Pelham wrote to Castlereagh that he had been visiting Camden, who had just come from Pitt. ‘We discussed, as you may imagine, a subject which, I understand, you are more friendly to than I am. I confess that I have not considered it sufficiently to be satisfied of the advantages resulting from it, and must therefore be against it. for it is not a thing to attempt without the certainty of some great benefit arising from it. However, I have lately turned my thoughts more to the subject than I had ever done before, and think it more practicable in the detail than I at first imagined…. In times of speculation like the present, there is great danger in any change; and unless certain principles are laid down as landmarks to which we can always recur, I should much fear a complete wreck of both countries.’ (Castlereagh Correspondence, i. 345, 346.)
S. Douglas to Pelham, Sept. 12, 1798.
Castlereagh Correspondence, i. 337.
Conrwallis Correspondence, ii. 365.
Ibid. ii. 404, 405.
Cornwallis Correspondence, ii. 414, 415.
Auckland Correspondence, iv. 42, 51, 62, 61. (These letters were written in August and October.)
Cornwallis Correspondence, ii. 416.
Cornwallis Correspondence, ii. 418, 419.
Cornwallis to Pelham, Oct. 15, 1798. (Pelham MSS.)
Auckland Correspondence, iv 60, 61. Auckland writes to Cooke. ‘Mr. Pitt went on Friday to Lord Grenville's to meet Lord Clare, who was to proceed yesterday towards Holyhead. Mr. Pitt had prepared the sketdt of an outline for a plan of Union, subject, of course, to discussion and almost certain alteration, and he meant, after correcting and improving it at Holwood, to have a copy sent to the Lord Lieutenant, as a basis for communications with leading people. For fuller particulars I must refer you to Lord Clare, who is allowed by all here to be equally pleasant and efficient as a co-operator in difficult businesses, going through the whole in a cordial and manly way, without any of those reserves, suspicions, implied pretensions and coldnesses, which too much affect the very able mind of another very able man. We have tried to make use of your suggestion as to the lot and ballot, so as to avoid the very embarrassing affair of compensations. How might it be something to the following effect?—The Counties, 32; Dublin, 2; University, 1; Cork, Waterford, Drogheda, Wexford, Kilkenny, Limerick, Derry, Belfast, Newry, 9; each of the remaining 107 places to return 1 member each, and from the 107 so returned, 50 to be chosen by lot and 6 by ballot—altogether 100 M.P.’ s.’ (Auckland to Cooke, Nov. 8, 1798, I.S.P.O.)
Cornwallis Correspondence, ii. 433, 431. See, too, on the opinions of Dundas, Castlereagh Correspondence, i. 431.
Cornwallis Correspondence, ii. 427.
Cornwallis Correspondence, ii. 439-441. Wilberforce about this time noticed that he found Pitt ‘extremely favourable to the idea of an Union with Ireland.’ (Life of Wilber-force, ii. 318.)
He was made an English peer and a marquis when the Union was carried
Cornwallis Correspondence, ii. 441, 442, 448-451; Castlereagh to Wickham, Nov. 23, 1798. A part of this last letter (which is in the Record Office) is omitted in the printed Cornwallis Correspondence. Sir J. Blaquiere, Cornwallis says in another letter, will give great assistance to the Union. He wants a peerage for his help, which Cornwallis hopes will be given. (Cornwallis to Portland, Jan. 4, 1799.)
Sir G. Hill to Cooke, Nov. 12, 15, 1798. (I.S.P.O.)
Sir G. Shee to Pelham, Nov. 11, 1798. (Pelham MSS.)
Colonel R. Crawford to Wickham, Nov. 19, 1798. (R.O.)
Cooke to Pelham, Nov. 9, 1798. (Pelham MSS.)
Faulkner's Journal, Oct. 16, Nov. 17, 27, 1798.
Sir G. Shee to Pelham, Nov. 11, 1798. These are the arguments which Sir G Shee says he had been using in favour of the Union.
Cornwallis Correspondence, ii. 416.
No one has shown this more clearly than Duigenan, who was a warm advocate of the Union. ‘The rebellion,’ he says, broke out ‘on the 23rd of May, 1798. The whole regular army, the militia and the yeomanry then in the kingdom, were the proper forces of Ireland, and paid by Ireland. Moat of the regular troops had, at different periods before, been sent out of the kingdom on foreign service, and their places supplied by fencible regiments, many of them Scotch; but as these troops were paid by the Irish treasury, and were sent in lieu of the Irish trained troops employed on foreign expeditions, I do not account them. British troops sent to our assistance.’ He proceeds to enumerate the battles which had been fought before English troops arrived, and concludes, ‘The dates of each memorable action in this short but bloody and wasteful rebellion are noted, to prove that the suppression of it was effected solely by the troops, militia and yeomanry of Ireland, without any assistance whatever from England.’ (Duigenan's Present Political State of Ireland, pp. 85, 92.) See, too, in this volume, pp. 141, 142 A most powerful statement of the case, in one of the speeches of Bushe against the Union, will be found in Plunket's Life, ii. 357, 358.
Cornwallis Correspondence, ii. 434.
Ibid. pp. 443, 444.
Castlereagh Correspondence, i. 379, 380-393.
This belief (which had a great effect on Catholic opinion about the Union) was a very old one. In one of Langrishe's letters, written in 1768, Hely Hutchinson is accused of aiming at an Union. ‘By reducing us to become a province only of another kingdom, he hopes to recommend himself to a seat in that senate, where he vainly imagines that his parts, but not impossibly his arts, may soon render him considerable. And this would certainly much endear him to that city which he represents at present [Cork]. Should an Union between Barataria and La Mancha [Ireland and England] once prevail, that port would necessarily become soon the metropolis of this island, and reduce our present capital to a fishing village.’ (Baratariana, p. 34.)
Cornwallis Correspondence, ii. 444.
Ibid. iii. 27. A few days later Castlereagh acknowledged the reply. ‘The contents of the messenger's despatches are very interesting. Arrangements with a view to further communications of the same nature will be highly advantageous, and the Duke of Portland may depend on their being carefully applied.’ (Ibid. p. 34.)
Ibid. ii. 444.
Killen's Continuation of Reid's History of Presbyterianism in Ireland, iii. 509-522. See, too, Castlereagh Correspondence, ii. 384. A scheme for establishing a new university in Armagh, chiefly for the benefit of the Dissenters, was under consideration in 1799, but was ultimately abandoned. The grounds on which the Duke of Portland principally objected to it, are curious and significant. He thought that it was not desirable to stimulate Dublin University by the emulation of a second university, as the students in Trinity College were already too apt to injure their health by overwork; and he also thought it very desirable that, after the Union, the higher order of Irishmen should be educated as much as possible in England, or (if they were Presbyterians) in Scotland See Castlereagh Correspondence, ii. 364, 365, 382-384.
Cornwallis Correspondence, ii. 444.
E.g. The following passage occurs in An Address to the People of Ireland (1796), which was brought over by Hoche. ‘The alternative which is now submitted to your choice with regard to England is, in one word, Union or Separation. You must determine, and that instantly, between slavery and independence. There is no third way.’ (Tone's Memoirs, ii. 275.)
Rowan's Autobiography, p. 340. This was written in Jan. 1799, and Rowan says he had long held this opinion. Mrs. Rowan, who appears from her letters to have been a woman of very superior intellect and character, altogether differed from her husband's politics. She was completely opposed to his sedition, and she regarded the Union with extreme dislike. (Ibid. p. 338.) This is all the more remarkable, as Lord Clare appears to have had a great regard for her, and showed her much kindness.
See his letter to his wife, Madden's United Irishmen, iv. 105, 106. Dr. Madden, without, I think, any good reason, questions Neilson's sincerity.
Cornwallis Correspondence, ii. 444.
Lord Buckingham, in a letter to Cooke congratulating him on his pamphlet, suggests an argument from the American Constitution which is employed in it, and adds, ‘I wish you (though you keep the sentiment) to leave out the name of Dr. Troy, for he is most eagerly and violently with you on this question, and would probably not be much flattered by being thus held out to exhibition.’ Troy's name does not appear in the published pamphlet. (Buckingham to Cooke, Nov. 22, 1798.)
Arguments for and against an Union between Great Britain and Ireland.
See the powerful statement of Lord Castlereagh (Coote's History of the Union, pp. 339, 340).
In the Castlereagh Correspondence there is a curious memorandum of Cooke on the arguments for the Union. In it he ascribes the present dangerous state of the country to six causes. 1. The local independent acting of the Legislature. 2. The general prosperity of the country, which has produced great activity and energy. 3. The emancipation of the Catholics. 4. The encouragement given to the reform principles of the Presbyterians. 5. The want of number in the Protestants. 6. The uncertainty of counsels as to this great division of the country. (Castlereagh Correspondence, iii. 55.)
It was replied to this with much force, that the Irish Dissenter was already politically in a better position than the English Dissenter, as the Test Act had been repealed in Ireland, but not in England.
Faulkner's Journal, Dec. 27, 1798.
Castlereagh Correspondence, i. 424-444; Cornwallis Correspondence, ii. 439.
Auckland Correspondence, iv, 67, 70, 72, 74.
Castlereagh Correspondence, i. 448, 449.
Ibid. ii. 9.
Whitelaw, after a careful investigation, estimated the population of Dublin in 1798 at 172,091. See Warburton's Hist. of Dublin, Appendix No. 1.
Locke On Government, book ii. ch. xi., xix. Grattan, in one of his speeches on the Union, quoted passages to much the same effect from Puffendorf, Grotius, the managers of the Sacheverell prosecution, and Junius. (Grattan's Speeches, iii. 386-389.)
‘It is indeed difficult, perhaps impossible, to give limits to the mere abstract competence of the supreme power, such as was exercised by Parliament at that time [the Revolution], but the limits of a moral competence subjecting, even in powers more indisputably sovereign, occasional will to permanent reason and to the steady maxims of faith, justice, and fixed fundamental policy, are perfectly intelligible and perfectly binding upon those who exercise any authority, under any name or under any title, in the State. The House of Lords, for instance, is not morally competent to dissolve the House of Commons, no, nor even to dissolve itself, nor to abdicate, if it would, its portion in the Legislature of the kingdom. Though a king may abdicate for his own person, he cannot abdicate for the monarchy. By as strong or by a stronger reason, the House of Commons cannot renounce its share of authority The engagement and pact of society, which generally goes by the name of the Constitution, forbids such invasion and such surrender.’ (Burke's ‘Reflections on the French Revolution,’ Works, v. 57.)
I am aware that this doctrine is strongly and even contemptuously rejected, both by Hallam and Lord Stanhope, but the reader should compare with their remarks, those of Mr. Dicey, On the Constitution, pp. 37-44.
Defoe's History of the Union between England and Scotland, pp. 230, 231. This question was naturally much discussed in the Irish Debates A member named Crookshank put the point with much clearness. ‘I deny that the Parliament of an independent State, for which the members of that Parliament are trustees, has any right whatever, without the permission of its constituents expressly orimpliedly given for the purpose, to surrender to another country the whole, or any part, of its legislative authority…. This power can never, upon principle or precedent, be contended to belong to the representatives of the people, but by express or implied delegation. And so strongly were the British Ministers, in the reign of Anne, impressed with this great constitutional principle, that in preparing for the Union of England and Scotland, they felt it necessary to declare, in the proclamation for convening the Scotch Parliament, that they were called together for the purpose of arranging and settling the treaty of Union then in contemplation, reasonably concluding that the election of representatives, after such an avowal of the intended project, must be considered as permission to discuss and finally decide upon that question.’ (Report of the Debates on the Union, 1799, pp. 20, 21.) The rival doctrine was well stated by William Smith in the same debate. ‘Parliament is as competent to conclude an Union as it is to enact a turnpike Bill…. Public sentiment on a great and complicated measure is weighty evidence of the mischief or utility of that measure; as such it should be land before, and may, perhaps, conclusively sway the judgment of that body, which has the right of legislation. But public opinion is but evidence, not law. It is evidence which the people may lay before that Parliament,. whose right of finally and exclusively deciding the question, uncontrolled by popular whim, is a clear and undoubted principle of the Constitution.’ (P. 87.)
Jebb's Reply to a Pamphlet entitled, Arguments for and against an Union, pp. 19, 20. The author of this pamphlet was afterwards a judge. His arguments attracted much attention and some favour among the Ministers, See Ball's Irish Legislative Systems, pp. 245, 246.
Castlereagh Correspondence, ii. 47, 48, 51.
Ibid. i. 449. Lord Auckland appears to have formed much the same estimate as Foster of the opinion of the country. On Dec. 22, 1798, he wrote to Bereaford, ‘Your countrymen seem to be completely absurd on the subject of the Union. I shall not, however, be sorry that the rejection of it should be their own act and deed. A day may come when they will wish for it without being able to obtain it.’ (Beresford Correspondence, ii. 191.)
Castlereagh Correspondence, ii. 81. There are many other notices of the Dublin Opposition in the Castlereagh and Cornvallis Correspondence.
Cornvallis Correspondence, ii. 443; Castlereagh Correspondence, ii. 17.
See the resolution of the Grand Lodge, Jan. 5, 1799; Cupples’ Principles of the Orange Association Findicated (1799); also Castlereagh Correspondence, ii. 52, 53, 80.
See Cupples’ Principles of the Orange Association.
Castlereagh Correspondence, ii. 35, 80, 81; Cornvallis Correspondence, iii. 29. Dobbs, in his remarkable speech against the Union, in 1799, noticed the strong and notorious hostility of the loyal yeomanry of Ireland to the measure. (Debate, Jan. 22, 23, 1799, p. 38.)
Cornvallis Correspondence, ii. 444.
Castlereagh Correspondence, ii. 39, 40.
Ibid. ii. 78-80; Cornvallis Correspondence, iii. 18.
Castlereagh Correspondence, ii. 127.
Charlemont to Halliday, Feb. 2, 1799. (Charlemont MSS.)
Bishop Percy to his wife, Jan. 13, 21, 1799. (British Museum.)
See an earnest letter of Lord Castlereagh when there was some question of the English militia returning home ‘The Lord Lieutenant's opinion decidedly is, that without the force in question, it would expose the King's interest in this kingdom, to hazard a measure which, however valuable in its future effects, cannot fail in the discussion very seriously to agitate the public mind.’ (Castlereagh Correspondence, ii. 13.) Several letters from Cornwallis on the extreme danger of withdrawing the English militia, will be found in the second volume of the Cornwallis Correspondence. In one of them he says, ‘All thoughts of uniting the two kingdoms must be given up, if that force should now be withdrawn.’ (P. 454.)
Castlereagh Correspondence, ii. 81.
Ibid. i. 404. In the Pelham MSS. there is a curious, but unfortunately undated, ‘plan of an Union,’ which evidently was drawn up at an early stage of the consideration of the subject. It is divided into seven articles, and It is accompanied by a paper with comments on each article, endorsed ‘Notes by Mr. Pitt.’ The passage relating to the Catholics in the original plan is, ‘Catholics to be eligible to all offices, civil and military, taking the present oath. Such as shall take the oath of supremacy in the Bill of Rights, may sit in Parliament without subscribing the Abjuration. Corporation offices to be Protestant.’ Pitt's comment upon this is, ‘The first part seems unexceptionable, and is exactly what I wish (supposing the present oath, as settled by the Irish Act, 33 George III. c. 21, to be satisfactory to the better part of the Catholics, which should be ascertained), but if this oath is sufficient for office, why require a different one for Parliament? and why are Corporation offices to be exclusively Protestant, when those of the State may be Catholic?’
Castlereagh Correspondence, i. 412.
Buckingham's Courts and Cabinets, ii. 411.
Castlereagh Correspondence, i. 431.
Ibid. ii. 29, 30. This was written from England. The resignation was not accepted. Lord Minto, in his very elaborate speech in favour of the Union (which was published separately), strongly urged that Catholic emancipation should, if possible, be made an article in the Act.
Castlereagh Correspondence, ii. 35, 36.
Report of the Debate of the Irish Bar, Dec. 9, 1798, pp. 27, 28, 50, 51.
See Castlereagh Correspondence, ii. 17, 19, 26, 79, 84, 85; Cronwallis Correspondence, ii. 443; iii. 8.
Castlereagh Correspondence, ii. 84, 85.
Coote's History of the Union, p. 447; Cornwallis Correspondence, iii. 124, 125.
See Cottingham's Observations on the projected Union, pp. 31, 32; Barnes’ Rights of the Imperial Crown of Ireland, pp. 85, 86.
McKenna's Memoir on Questions respecting the projected Union, p. 23. McKenna said, ‘if the people of Scotland had been emancipated by abolishing the hereditable jurisdictions, the rebellions of 1715 and 1745 would, as to that country, have been most probably prevented.’ (P. 16.)
Cornwallis Correspondence, iii. 16.
Ibid. pp. 18, 19.
Castlereagh Correspondence, ii. 43, 46, 47; Auckland Correspondence, iv. 76, 77.
Archbishop Troy wrote to Castlereagh: ‘The general opinion of the meeting was, that the Catholics as such ought not to deliberate on the Union as a question of empire, but only as it might affect their own peculiar interests as a body; and on this it was judged inexpedient to publish any resolution or declaration at present.’ (Castlereagh Correspondence, ii. 61.)
Cornwallis Correspondence, iii. 22.
Cornwallis Correspondence, iii. 28, 29.
Ibid. p. 4
Castlereagh Correspondence, ii. 62.
Auckland Correspondence, iv. 77.
Cornwallis Correspondence, iii. 37.
Lord Sheffield to Judge Downes, Jan. 20, 1799. (Pelham MSS.)
J. W., Jan. 2, 1799. (L.S P.O.)
Sir G. Shee to Pelham, Jan 1, 1799. (Pelham MSS.)
Cornwallis Correspondence, iii. 22, 23, 36.
Auckland Correspondence, iV. 77.
Cornwallis Correspondence, iii. 20.
Cornwallis Correspondence, iii. 39, 40.
‘I have taken the necessary steps for encouraging declarations from the towns of Limerick, Waterford, Derry, and Newry, as far as they can be obtained without too strong an appearance of Government interference, and am employed in counteracting, as far as possible, the county meetings, which are extending themselves’ Castlereagh Correspondence, ii. 92 (Jan. 11, 1799).
The resolutions will be found in Butler's Memoirs of the English, Irish, and Scotch Catholics, ii. 150-152. A manuscript copy was transmitted by Bishop Moylan to Pelham, and is among his papers. Butler quotes (p. 149) the speech in which Lord Castlereagh in 1810 described this negotiation, and gives other valuable papers relating to it.
See Butler, ii. 182, 183.
See a letter of Dr. Moylan (Bishop of Cork) to Pelham, March 9, 1799. (Pelham MSS.)
Butler, ii. 161, 186, 187.
Ibid. ii. 156. See, too, the very warm letter of the Scotch bishops, expressing their thanks to their ‘generous benefactors, his Majesty's Ministers,’ and explaining the employment of the sum which had been allowed them. (Castlereagh Correspondence, ii. 332, 333.)
See some remarkable letters of Sir J. Hippisley, Castlereagh Correspondence, iii. 80, 81, 86, 87.
Butler, ii. 168-170. A great deal of information about the rules prevailing on these matters throughout Europe, will be found in Sir J. Hippisley's tracts, and in his letters in the third volume of the Castlereagh Correspondence.
Butler, ii. 168, 179.
Portland to Pelham, March 26, 1799. (Pelham MSS.)
Auckland Correspondence, iv 77, 78.
Wilberforce's Life, ii. 324, 325.
There is an interesting description of the effect of Plunket's speech, and of the debate in general, in a letter from R. Griffith to Pelham (Pelham MSS). Griffith says he never witnessed a debate in which so many votes were decided by the eloquence of the speakers.
Report of the Debate in the House of Commons of Ireland, Jan. 22, 23, 1799, pp. 16, 39, 48, 61, 89.
Compare the very graphic description in Barrington's Rise and Fall of the Irish Nation, ch. xxv., with the report of the speeches of Mr. Trench in the debate, pp. 79, 80. See, too, the extraordinary story about Luke Fox, in Barrington.
Debate, p. 82.
R. Griffith to Pelham, Jan. 24, 1799; Beresford Correspondence, ii. 194–196.
Lord Carleton to Pelham, Jan. 25; R. Griffith to Pelham, Jan. 24, 1799 (Pelham MSS.); see, too, Cornwallis Correspondence, iii. 40, 41.
Coote's History of the Union, pp. 47–63; Cornwallis Correspondence, iii. 47–50; compare, too, the description in Barrington. Miss Edgeworth says that her father was convinced that the Union was at this time decidedly against the wishes of the great majority of men of sense and property in the nation. (Life of R. L. Edgeworth, ii. 222.) Miss Edgeworth's Castle Rackrent—one of the best pictures ever drawn of one side of Irish life—was published in 1800, when the Union was pending. It concludes with the following curious passage: ‘It is a problem of difficult solution to determine, whether an Union will hasten or retard the melioration of this country. The few gentlemen of education who now reside in this country will resort to England. They are few, but they are in nothing inferior to men of the same rank in Great Britain. The best that can happen will be the introduction of British manufacturers in their places. Did the Warwickshire Militia, who were chiefly artisans, teach the Irish to drink beer? Or did they learn from the Irish to drink whisky?’
Auckland Correspondence, iv. 80.
Faulkner's Dublin Journal, Jan. 19, 22, 1799.
See many letters, written in a spirit of bitter hostility to Foster, in the Auckland and the Beresford Correspondence.
Cornwallis Correspondence, iii. 47–61; Beresford Correspondence, ii. 197–202; Barrington, Coote.
Auckland Correspondence, iv. 80–82; Beresford Correspondence, ii. 196.
Castlereagh Correspondence, ii. 143.
Ibid. p. 133.
Beresford Correspondence, ii. 210.
Auckland Correspondence, iv. 67, 70, 71, 80, 82–85; see, too, the Beresford Correspondence, ii. 208–211; and also, the furious language of Duigenan about the Lord Lieutenant in Cornwallis Correspondence, iii. 90.
Cornwallis Correspondence, iii. 52.
Castlereagh Correspondence, ii. 137.
Stanhope's Life of Pitt, iii. 172.
See his letter to Grattan, Feb. 4, 1799. He described it as ‘one of the most unequivocal attempts at establishing the principles, as well as the practice of despotism, that has been made in our times.’ ‘Even the French,’ he adds, ‘in their cursed fraternisations, pretend at least that they act in consequence of the desire of the people of the several countries…. The truth is, I never was a friend to the Union, as a speculative question, nor should like it even if it were the general wish of Ireland, much less at such a time and in such circumstances.’ (Grattan's Life, iv. 435, 436.)
Parl. Hist. xxxiv. 311. See, too, vol. vi. p. 512. Fox also, in a speech before the Whig Club, is said to have mentioned Burke's opinion of the impolicy of a legislative Union. See Coote's History of the Union, p. 292.
Parl. Hist. xxxiv. 316, 317. It was understood that Dr. Laurence was the special mouthpiece in the House of Commons of Lord Fitzwilliam. (Auckland Correspondence, iv. 89.)
Castlereagh Correspondence, iii. 119. Compare Parl. Hist. xxxiv. 228–230.
See Foster's speech (April 11, 1799).
Castlereagh Correspondence, ii. 143, 144, 149–153.
Cornwallis Correspondence, iii. 7; Castlereagh Correspondence, ii. 20.
Castlereagh Correspondence, ii. 149-153.
Cornwallis Correspondence, iii. 53-55.
Cornwallis Correspondence, iii. 59; Castlereagh Correspondence, ii. 154-159. ‘You will not omit to take the earliest opportunity and the most effectual means of convincing the Roman Catholics, that it is needless for them to entertain any expectation of further indulgences, as long as the Parliament of Ireland remains in its present state.’ (Portland to Cornwallis, Jan. 30, 1799, R.O)
Castlereagh to Wickham, Feb. 4, 1799.
I have already quoted a letter of McNally about this. For other evidence see Castlereagh Correspondence, ii 169; iii. 87; Cornwallis Correspondence, iii. 58. There is a curious letter among the papers of Pelham, signed W. H. and undated, but evidently of this time. The writer said that the main danger was now that the Protestants would unite with the Catholics, promising them emancipation. ‘Some of the most violent Orangists have opposed the measure [the Union], and now talk of combining with their most deadly enemies the Catholics, in order to lay the question asleep for ever.’ Such a junction, the writer says, would prevent an Union for years. The Government must do all in their power to win the Catholics, and they must appeal to individual interests much more freely than they had done. ‘When they next make the attempt, let them ballast the vessel steadily with gold, and hang abundance of coronets, ribbons, and mitres to the shrouds. If the virtuous pride of the minister will not suffer him to stoop to this, he will never carry an Union with Hibernia. He must not only flatter her vanity, but fill her purse, for if ever there was a spot on the globe where interest is everything, it is this very country.’ (Pelham MSS.)
Portland to Cornwallis (secret and confidential), Jan. 30, 1799.
Dr. Moylan to Pelham, March 9, 1799.
Castlereagh Correspondence, ii. 168.
Ibid. ii. 188; iii. 89, 90.
Castlereagh Correspondence, ii 172; iii. 84, 85.
Cornwallis Correspondence, iii. 63, 64.
Castlereagh Correspondence, ii. 171.
Castlereagh Correspondence, iii. 84.
Ibid. iii. 80.
Alexander to Pelham, Feb. 18, 1799.
Cornwallis Correspondence, iii. 87.
Cornwallis Correspondence, iii. 81.
See Grattan's Life, v. 31. It appears from an estimate presented by Lord Castlereagh to the House of Commons (Feb. 11), of the charge of the regiments serving in Ireland and belonging to the British establishment, that those troops amounted to 23,210 men.’ (Plowden, ii. 921.)
Cornwallis Correspondence, iii. 60, 66, 67. This was also the opinion of the Prime Sergeant and the Attorney-General.
This last fact is mentioned in a letter from St. George Daly (Galway) to Castlereagh, Feb. 9, 1799, (I.S.P.O.)
See the very interesting debate on Feb. 26 in Faulkner's Dublin Journal, Feb. 28, 1799.
Ibid. March 5, 1799.
Cornwallis Correspondence, iii. 60, 61, 76, 77.
Private information, Feb. 1799 (I.S.P.O.). See, too, Cornwallis Correspondence, iii. 67.
Wickham to Castlereagh, April 14; Castlereagh to Wickham, May 1, 6; Castlereagh to King, August 21, 1799. (R O.)
A later letter of Pollock throws a little light on this subject. He says, ‘With regard to the rebel leaders in Ulster, I delivered to Mr. Marsden after the rebellion, an alphabetical book which I made out, and which contains the names of every field officer of the rebels in that province Fifteen out of every twenty of them are and have been (by a mistaken and misplaced lenity, in my judgment) at large. If an incasion were even probable, every man of them ought to be taken up; and as to the Dublin leaders, Mr. Cooke has had from me, from time to time, the names of every man of them. Those that are the most dangerous, are, I think, the last Exeoutive Directory, who had arranged a new rebellion in the end of 1799 and 1800. (J. Pollock to the Right Hon. C. Abbot, Aug. 16, 1801, Costlereagh MSS.)
Castlereagh Correspondence, i. 446, 447.
39 Geo. III. c. 3.
39 Geo. III. c. 11. This Act is interesting in constitutional history for the emphasis with which it asserts ‘the undoubted prerogative of his Majesty, for the public safety, to resort to the exercise of martial law against open enemies or traitors.’ (See Stephen's History of Crimina Law, i. 211.)
Plowden, ii. 958, 959; Faulkner's Journal, Feb. 28, 1799. It was ultimately decided, that the Act should expire two months after the opening of the ensuing session of Parliament.
See, for the exact figures, p. 253. Cornwallis Correspondence, iii. 62, 63, 67, 69, 70, 90. In a private letter from England, Wickham said, ‘At present there is a general, I may say an universal persuasion, that lenient measures have been carried much too far; and your Lordship may rely upon what I say, when I assure you that that which was matter of doubt when your Lordship was in England, is now settled into a fixed opinion, accompanied by a disposition to attribute the calamities with which Ireland seems now threatened, to a departure from the system adopted by Lord Camden.’ (Wickham to Castlereagh (private), March 4, 1799. R.O.)
Castlereagh Correspondence, ii. 184, 197, 198; Cornwallis Correspondence, iii. 74 76.
Cornwallis Correspondence, iii. 79.
Faulkner's Journal, Feb. 28, March 12, 1799.
Cornwallis Correspondence, iii. 60.
Faulkner's Journal, March 7, 1799 The story is told a little differently in Grattan's Life, v. 25. The resolutions are, I think, not mentioned in the Government correspondence, and there are scarcely any reports of the debates of this time.
Cornwallis Correspondence, iii. 64-66; Coote's History of the Union, pp. 191-196; Grattan's Life, v. 26.
Howden, ii. 960-962, 967; Castlereagh Correspondence, ii. 180, 181, 269, 270; Cornwallis Correspondence, iii. 87, 88.
The two speeches of Lord Castlereagh on the Regency Bill have been published separately.
See vol. vi. pp. 405, 604.
Alexander, in writing about this speech, says that Foster adopted Curran's saying, that Government wished to transport the Parliament almost in the same ship as the convicts. (Alexander to Pelham, April 11, 1799.) This argument was put very graphically in one of the speeches of Parsons. ‘Suppose any man of plain understanding should meet your peers and your hundred members on the road to London, and ask them, “What are you going there for?“ and you should answer, “To preserve the peace of Ireland,’ ’ would he not say, “Good people, go back to your own country; it is there you can best preserve its peace; England wants you not, but Ireland does”?’ (Coote's History of the Union, p. 302.)
See vol. vi. p. 438.
In an Irish debate in 1803, Castlereagh said, ‘No Power in Europe had made more rapid strides in wealth and general happiness in the last fifteen years, than that part of the British Empire [Ireland] had done.’ (Parl. History, xxxvi. 1709.)
A remarkable paper on the effect of some of these embargoes on Irish prosperity, was drawn up by Foster's predecessor in the chair, Edmund Pery, and sent to England. See Grattan's Life, i. 334-338.
See Castlereagh Correspondence, ii. 280-282.
Cornwallis Correspondence, iii. 371, 372.
Ibid. iii. 91, 372.
Lord Castlereagh says, ‘When the grant to the Catholic College was made for the year 1799 in the Irish Parliament, it was much more intent on the question of the Union than on the internal economy of that seminary.’ (Cornwallis Correspondence, iii. 374.)
Compare the statements of Cornwallis, Clare, and Castlereagh in the Cornwallis Correspondence, iii. 90-92, 371-375; Castlereagh Correspondence, iii. 277-279.
Sir Robert Peel, many years later, wrote to Croker, ‘As to your second point, the rejection of the Bill in 1799, I believe at this moment no human being but myself knows the real truth on that point. It was an act of sheer mischief and mutiny of Lord Clare, who, perhaps, then had a foresight of diminished influence on the passing of the Act of Union. He rejected the Bill without communication with the Irish Government Lord Castlereagh gave an assurance in the Commons, as you will perceive, that no prejudice to the College should arise from the proceedings in the Lords’ (Croker Correspondence, 2nd ed. iii. 33.) In 1801, Clare, contrary to the wish of the other members of the Government, tried to procure the admission of lay students into Maynooth, and there was a somewhat angry dispute. Lord Hardwicke wrote: ‘Whether Lord Clare has taken the part he has from spleen or dislike to the Government, or from a conviction that it was right to do so, I cannot pretend to determine…. It would be very curious if, after all that has passed, Lord Clare should be attempting to acquire popularity with the Catholics at the expense of the Government. He seems to me. with a great share of cleverness and vivacity, to be very deficient in consistency and precision in his ideas.’ (Cornwallis Correspondence, iii. 367, 368.)
See on this subject the Substance of the Speech of Sir J. Hippisley, May 18, 1810, pp. 50-52.
See a very remarkable letter from the Bishop of Meath to Lord Castlereagh, Castlereagh Correspondence, ii. 282-291. The Bishop was strongly in favour of Maynooth, and does not appear to have approved of the act of the House of Lords in rejecting the vote.
Cornwallis Correspondence, iii. 97-100; Grattan's Life, v. 40-46.
Parl. Hist. xxxiv. 688-690.
Seward's Collectanea Politica, iii. 488-490.
Castlereagh Correspondence, ii. 250, 251; Cornwallis Correspondence, iii. 133.
Castlereagh Correspondence, ii. 271, 272.