Front Page Titles (by Subject) Legal Persecution was not restrained by the limits of Law. - Ireland: Social, Political, and Religious, vol. 1
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Legal Persecution was not restrained by the limits of Law. - Gustave de Beaumont, Ireland: Social, Political, and Religious, vol. 1 
Ireland: Social, Political, and Religious, ed. W.C. Taylor (London: Richard Bentley, 1839). Vol. 1.
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Legal Persecution was not restrained by the limits of Law.
It would be a great error to believe that the persecutions of which the Catholics were the objects, were limited to those prescribed or authorised by the law.
It might be supposed that the Catholic, in virtue of these laws, banished from political society, driven from the civil professions, deprived even of family rights, would have suffered enough from legal exclusion, without any idea being formed of searching beyond the law for means to aggravate his lot. It might naturally be supposed that, subject to so many interdictions, he should have full and free enjoyment of the small number of rights of which he was not deprived. These rights were to enjoy with security the little which belonged to him, to be protected in person and property, to have free access to courts of justice, whether as plaintiff or defendant, to find an equitable tribunal, an independent judge, and an impartial jury.
Still, a little reflection will show that the Irish Catholic was too severely crushed by persecuting laws, to breathe freely the small portion of air allowed him by law. Where tyrannical laws failed, public opinion carried on the oppression.
In 1771, the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland was on the point of pardoning a Catholic unjustly condemned; but seeing to what unpopularity this act of mercy, or rather justice, would lead, “I see,” said he, “that his death is resolved; let him die;” and the warrant for his execution was issued.*
How could the Protestants, daily executing iniquitous laws against Catholics, adhere strictly to legal injustice, and not pass the bounds against those whom they persecuted for conscience sake, and who were too enfeebled and troubled by legalised oppression to resist usurped tyranny?
It may be stated with certainty, that every political constitution which bestows extraordinary power on the governing body, does not give analogous means of resistance to the governed; it organises a tyranny which exceeds its legal bounds in a proportion that it is impossible to estimate.
The following example of the tyranny practised on the Irish peasantry by their superiors, is given by the author of “An Inquiry into the Causes of Popular Discontents in Ireland.” (London, 1804.)
“It has not been unusual in Ireland,” he says, “for great landed proprietors to have regular prisons in their houses for the summary punishment of the lower orders. Indictments preferred against gentlemen for similar exercise of power beyond law are always thrown out by the grand juries. To horsewhip or beat a servant or labourer is a frequent mode of correction.”
In 1718, a comedy, called the Non-juror, was represented at the Theatre Royal, Dublin, and the prologue contains the four following lines:—
No law forbade the pleasures of the theatre to an Irishman, but it was a right of which he could not take advantage, without seeing himself and his country held up to ridicule.
To leave some rights to those deprived of their essential rights is a worthless semblance of indulgence; the defect of the one renders the other void: power is too strong by what it has already taken, not to render illusory what it has left when it pleases.
All the relations of men with each other are not written in the law; those of sympathy are not susceptible of rule. Can we be surprised if the Protestant proprietor was a severe and merciless master to his Catholic tenants? When he maltreated them, who was to check his excesses? When he demanded more than was due, who was to restrain his exactions?
In order to form a correct estimate of the condition of the Irish Catholics, we must take into account not only the penalties inflicted by the judge, but all the injuries to which the feeble are subject, when brought into contact with the arbitrary power of the strong. Let those who doubt that such has been the state of affairs in Ireland, read what Arthur Young has said; he travelled through Ireland in 1778, and, though an Englishman and a Protestant, he judged the country with an impartiality far from common among his compatriots.
“The landlord of an Irish estate,” says he, “inhabitated by Roman Catholics, is a sort of despot who yields obedience, in whatever concerns the poor, to no law but that of his will . . . . .
“A landlord in Ireland can scarcely invent an order which a servant, labourer, or cottar, dares to refuse to execute. Nothing satisfies him but unlimited submission. Disrespect, or anything tending towards sauciness, he may punish with his cane or his horsewhip with the most perfect security. A poor man would have his bones broken, if he offered to lift his hand in his own defence. Knocking down is spoken of in the country in a manner that makes an Englishman stare. Landlords of consequence have assured me, that many of their cottars would think themselves honoured by having their wives and daughters sent for to the bed of their master—a mark of slavery which proves the oppression under which such people must live. Nay, I have heard of anecdotes of the lives of people being made free with, without any apprehension of the justice of a jury. But let it not be imagined that this is common; formerly it happened every day, but law gains ground. It must strike the most careless traveller to see whole strings of cars whipt into a ditch by a gentleman’s footman, to make way for his carriage; if they are overturned or broken in pieces, no matter—it is taken in patience; were they to complain, they would perhaps be horsewhipped. The execution of the laws lies very much in the hands of the justices of the peace, many of whom are drawn from the most illiberal class in the kingdom. If a poor man lodges his complaint against a gentleman, or any animal that chooses to call itself a gentleman, and the justice issues out a summons for his appearance, it is a fixed affront, and he will infallibly be called out. Where manners are in conspiracy against law, to whom are the oppressed people to have recourse? It is a fact, that a poor man, having a contest with a gentleman, must—but I am talking nonsense—they know their situation too well to think of it; they can have no defence but by means of protection from one gentleman against another, who probably protects his vassal as he would the sheep he intends to eat.”*
In all the actions of oppression recorded by Young, there was not one legal, and yet not one which was not a direct consequence of the laws.
[*]Plowden, vol. i. page 414.
[*]Miscellaneous Tracts, Irish Office, vol. xxix. This is by no means a solitary instance; even in plays which had no conceivable relation to politics or popery, songs were frequently introduced, ridiculing the religion of the Irish people.—Tr.
[*]A. Young’s Tour in Ireland, vol. ii. page 29.