Front Page Titles (by Subject) Sect. VIII.—: Is a servile Parliament of any use? - Ireland: Social, Political, and Religious, vol. 1
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Sect. VIII.—: Is a servile Parliament of any use? - 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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Is a servile Parliament of any use?
It is impossible to glance at the parliament of Ireland and its venality, without raising a doubt whether it would not have been better for Ireland to be without any parliamentary representation, than to possess one so corrupt. Of what advantage to a country are representatives setting themselves up for sale? Is it not merely an additional load upon the people that has to pay them? Is not the authority of these pretended representatives a mantle with which power may veil itself, and from which it may derive greater strength for evil, than if abandoned to its own forces?
There are, doubtless, immense perils in the corruption of parliament. Still the executive has not always the power of purchasing members, even when it has the will. It sometimes happens, that people are not in a humour to sell themselves; and there are some difficult steps to be taken in the bargain which greatly impede the progress of corruption; finally, so great is the love of liberty, that even apostates to it endeavour to keep something in their own power; they equivocate with the purchasers, and make strange conditions with their own consciences; they endeavour to retain some little honour in the depth of their degradation, and are tempted to display independence at the very moment they accept servitude. Placed between the trust reposed in them by their constituents, and the engagements they have made with the power to which they have yielded, they doubtless belong to those whose money they have received, but not without some tendency towards those whose esteem they wish to preserve. A power hostile to the people, acting independent of any assembly, would simply do as it pleased, without any regard to the interests of the country; the assembly sold to it will not contravene the course of power; but if there exist means of accomplishing what power requires without injuring the people, such means will be adopted even by a venal assembly. In the most venal and corrupt minds there is a kind of tacit compromise between honour and infamy, in consequence of which, the man who, in one way, most treacherously sacrifices the interests of his country, defends it most intrepidly in another.
It often happens, also, that the members of parliament who have sold themselves, compel the government to understand, that in order to be strong, they must not be too unpopular; and when a measure of tyranny is required, though they consent to it, yet, to escape execration, they demand that the oppressive act should be accompanied by some national measure.*
We must also remember, that corruption is vainly practised on a large scale: it does not taint everybody. There are always some souls elevated above the reach of corruption. We may instance Grattan, Curran, Ponsonby, Lucas.* The minority that remained pure, became powerful by its virtue alone, which brought out in high relief the vices of the majority: and eventually this minority became formidable when supported by the wants and sympathies of the nation.
The practice of corruption is beset by a multitude of obstacles and difficulties. If the man purchased be worth little, his defection makes little noise, but also the purchase is of little value. If he possesses importance, without doubt he is worth the money paid for him; but then the intrigue makes a noise. See what a clamour was excited by the defection of the patriot Flood,* when named to an employment revocable at the pleasure of the crown. One matter deserves to be specially remarked. It is not rare in the midst of corruption to find honest men, who resist temptation, treated as dupes or fools, blind to their own interest; and yet where can we find in history an independent character that is not remembered with honour, or a servile creature that is not branded with infamy?
The most venal parliament has sometimes another advantage. It is true that it generally aids power against the country; still, when a liberal administration comes, which may happen, it will be seen voting laws useful to the country with more ardour than it displayed in the support of antinational measures. A sudden revolution seizes all the members; what they are commanded to do accords with their desires; they have always been the friends of liberty; they display marvellous zeal in defending the principles which they have hitherto combated; they give more than is asked, so happy are they to have the power of being popular without ceasing to receive the wages of servility. Finally, however prevalent corruption may be, a time comes when it is impotent; those who have been regularly paid for a long time, end by believing that what they receive is their due, and some day or other, in spite of their engagement to servitude, they will be found speaking and acting as if they possessed their liberty.
Sometimes, also, public opinion manifests itself so imperiously, that whatever may be the desire which members of parliament feel to resist it, though additions may be made to their pensions, and a barrier raised by money between them and the patriotism outside, it is impossible for them to refuse what the country demands; and then this servile parliament becomes a precious instrument to proclaim the will of the people, which could only be manifested by irregular and violent acts, if it did not possess a constitutional organ for its expression.
When a government beholds the members of parliament it has purchased resume their liberty, it sometimes makes bitter complaints. It is wrong; for the consciences it bought had no right to sell themselves. More frequently it is silent; it fears lest one defection should bring several others: if it withdraws the pensions from those who acted independently, they are indignant at being deprived of a property which they regarded as sacred, and become from that moment adversaries of power, the more dangerous as they know all its secret turpitudes; and they become patriots the more zealous as they have the more need of proving the sincerity of their attachment to the popular cause.
When persons are alarmed at the cost of a venal parliament, they do not take into account all that would be spent and lavished without any limit or public advantage if there were not a parliament.
These considerations, which are in some sort a history of the Irish parliament, perhaps prove that for a nation there is something worse than a corrupt representation, namely, to have none.*
THE FRENCH REVOLUTION—ITS EFFECTS IN IRELAND.
[*]Thus, in 1769, a money bill planned by the British cabinet, certified in England by the Lord Lieutenant and Irish privy council, and returned under the king’s great seal, was rejected by the Commons after the first reading, because it had not originated in their house. On this occasion the patriots were aided by some pensioners and placemen, who had reserved to themselves a right of opposing the government in questions of importance . . . . On the motion of the prime-serjeant (Mr. Hussey Burgh) Oct. 12th, 1799, the House of Commons unanimously resolved that, in their address to the king, these words should be inserted: “We beg leave, however humbly, to represent to your Majesty, that it is not by temporary expedients, but by a free trade alone, that this nation is now to be saved from impending ruin.”—Tr.
[*]The name of Hussey Burgh should not be omitted from this list. The following fragment, almost the only specimen of his eloquence that remains, is said to have produced the most electrical effect ever witnessed in a deliberative assembly.
[*]The following character of Flood is contained in Grattan’s reply to Lord Clare’s pamphlet:—
[*]M. de Beaumont’s views in this section are so admirably illustrated in the account which Grattan gives of the occasional bursts of patriotism in the Irish parliament, that it is worth while to quote the passage. It is taken from his celebrated reply to Lord Clare’s Union Pamphlet:—