Front Page Titles (by Subject) Sect. VI.—: On the State of Parties in Ireland. - Ireland: Social, Political, and Religious, vol. 2
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Sect. VI.—: On the State of Parties in Ireland. - Gustave de Beaumont, Ireland: Social, Political, and Religious, vol. 2 
Ireland: Social, Political, and Religious, ed. W.C. Taylor (London: Richard Bentley, 1839). Vol. 2.
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On the State of Parties in Ireland.
If the true character of parties in England be investigated, it will be found that there does not exist, at least in the present day, a party that can properly be called democratic. Tories, Conservatives, Whigs, are only different shades of the aristocracy, and the same thing may almost be said of the radicals themselves. Not that there do not exist great and deep differences between the parties; they assuredly aim at very different ends, and the controversies that lead them into the lists are real and substantial. But if it be true, that some aim at maintaining aristocratic privileges, and others at modifying them; it may, perhaps, be added that no party wishes to destroy them altogether. There is in the habits, the laws, and the constitution of the English people, an old feudal basis, on which each wishes to erect a different edifice, but which none are anxious to destroy. I will elsewhere attempt to show by what devious paths these aristocratic tendencies may lead England herself to democracy; here I merely take for granted, a character common to all English parties, which is nowhere found in Ireland. In the latter country, quite a different spectacle is presented to our view; two parties alone present themselves, between which there is no intermediate. There are no moderate Conservatives, no Whigs; there are only Tories and Radicals, and here the radicals are not aristocratic, for in Ireland the issue is staked between the aristocracy and the people. This extreme character of Irish parties is a fact singularly favourable to democracy.
Such was not always the state of things in Ireland. When the Catholic population in that country counted for nothing, the Protestants, sole masters of society and the government, divided and formed almost as many parties as we now find in England. It is thus that, at the close of the last century, we find these shades of difference very strongly marked amongst the Protestants of Ireland; those, who servilely devoted to the English government, sacrificed to it completely their own independence and that of their country: they were the Tories of the time. Then came the Protestants, who, without taking any account of Catholic Ireland, were anxious to have liberties, rights, and guarantees, for themselves; they were the Whigs of the day: for instance, Lord Charlemont. Finally, there were Protestants who, adopting more elevated principles, and more generous theories, demanded that the benefits of reform should be extended to all without reserve, at the risk of the advantage shared by the Catholic population; these were the radicals of the epoch; and such were Grattan and Curran. Finally, for some time, at the epoch of the French revolution, there was a fourth party, composed of Protestants and Catholics, which would not be called either Tory, Whig, or Radical, but simply revolutionary, anxious to shake off the English yoke, and establish a republic in Ireland; it was the party which, amongst the Catholics of Dublin, had at its head Theobald Wolfe Tone, and amongst the Protestants of the north, Samuel Neilson of Belfast.
All these elements of party are overthrown in Ireland, and their condition changed. The nation which counted as nothing has now become almost everything; the divisions between the Protestants could not remain the same, and when they separated it was no longer to form a distinct Protestant party, but either to join the popular cause, or organise an opposition against it. From that moment it was no longer different systems and opinions that were opposed to each other, but two implacable enemies which had sown each other’s ruin, between which compromise was no longer possible, and which, even when they did not fight, retained their arms in their hands. Hence the necessity imposed upon every person in Ireland of ranging himself under one of the two banners that is presented to his view; hence the two parties which alone at the present day show themselves in the country.
The first is the old Anglican party, which takes for its motto the maintenance of the Protestant church, and for its rallying cry hatred of popery; its great principle is the intimate union of church and state, that is to say, of the Anglican worship and the English aristocracy. Whilst everything around this party advances, and changes, it remains motionless, and would maintain, amidst the ruins of the universe, that a political society could not exist unless it was exclusively Protestant.
This party cannot conceive a Protestant society unless with a Protestant government, a Protestant king, a Protestant parliament, Protestant judges and functionaries, Protestant citizens and soldiers.1 Whatever in the country is not Protestant is in its eyes as if it never existed, and had only a fictitious life. This party considers everything that has been done contrary to its exclusive principle an evil. It believes that the constitution was violated when any single one of the laws enacted against the Catholics was repealed. These laws, in the opinion of the party, did not oppress the Catholics; it only depended on themselves to become free under the protection of the laws; for this purpose, it was only necessary that they should turn Protestants; and of course it was necessary to demand this condition, since Protestantism was the law of the state, the law of the country, the law of the land. This party is still at 1688.
According to this party, the constitution was violated when Scotland was permitted to have a Presbyterian church; and a sort of sacrilege was committed when the English parliament voted funds for a seminary destined to educate Catholic priests; the constitution was also violated when the elective franchise was conceded to the Irish Catholics, and again when they were allowed to sit in parliament; in the eyes of the party these concessions are as if they never were granted; and he who believes that they cannot be resumed deplores them. Every time that similar concessions are made to the Catholics, the Tory party sees, or pretends to see, a rabid monster about to escape from the cage in which it is chained, to pounce upon the Protestants, and swallow them alive. This monster is popery.2
This party has a singular veneration for the name of William III., Prince of Orange, the conqueror at the Boyne, and the last founder of the Anglican church in Ireland; it displays his portraits and emblems, toasts at public meetings his “pious, glorious, and immortal memory,” and endeavours to maintain in all its vigour the religious passions on which the fortune of that prince was raised. It is hence called the Orange party.3
This party, which for more than a century trampled the Catholic people under foot, has still more contempt than hatred for this people; when it speaks of “good society,” it always means a society of Protestants; in its mouth everything that is Protestant is called respectable, in opposition to everything Catholic.
This party believes that all the evils of the country have arisen from the weakness of government, which did not, when it had the opportunity, sufficiently repress rebels.4 After having shown that on the suppression of the insurrection of 1798, sixty-six persons accused of rebellion were executed in Wexford alone, the historian, Sir Richard Musgrave, who deemed this too lenient, says, “Hence we may judge of the lenity of the government.”5 . . . . Here is the true orangeman. Under the ardent religious or political passions of the Orange or Tory party, some interested feelings may be found lurking,—amongst others a wish to preserve the enormous privileges of an aristocracy which performs no function of government, and the splendid revenues of a church that has nothing to do.
The Radical party is composed of all that do not belong to the Tory party; as it is supported on the foundation of the Catholic population entirely devoted to it, we find it sometimes called the Catholic or national party; it has for its root old Ireland, Celtic and free; and for its head, young Ireland enfranchised; for its soul, the Catholic religion; for its banner, liberty. Its grievances and its hatreds rest on six hundred years of oppression; its hopes on half a century of victories; the sanctity of its cause on a series of oppression surpassing all belief.
Although profoundly Catholic, many Protestants belong to this party, whilst there is not a single Catholic in the Protestant Tory party.6
Thus in Ireland the Catholic party is the liberal party; and the reason is plain: the Catholics, of whom it is in a great measure composed, having been long oppressed, have naturally demanded reforms, which the Tories, for whose profit the tyranny was instituted, resisted with all their might. Those who reject such reforms under the pretext that they are inconsistent with the constitution, take, in opposition to the liberal party, the name of the constitutional party.
It is the National, Catholic, Liberal or Radical party which, during fifty years in Ireland, was compelled to hide its head, but now raises it, supported by seven millions of men.7 It is this party, which is more than a party, for it is the nation itself, which in 1792, raising its first cry, shouted that in order to be powerful it was only necessary for it to come into existence, and then obtained the first political emancipation of the Catholics. It is this party which, after having received a happy impulse from the French revolution, was afterwards crushed by it; it was accused of sympathies for a republic, for the outrages as well as the principles of liberty: it was aided by ’89, and it was killed by ’93.
It is this party over whose dead body the union of 1800 passed, which, after being annihilated for twenty years, revived in the association formed by O’Connell, took, in 1825, Catholic emancipation for its rallying cry; in 1831, abolition of tithes; in 1833, repeal of the union; and in 1838, reform of the church and of the municipal corporations.
When I say that there are only two parties in Ireland, I am far from maintaining that all who serve under the same banner think alike. There are Protestants in the Tory party who are far from sharing all its passions and principles. Survey that entire portion of the Presbyterians, which I have called orthodox, and who are for the most part firm supporters of the Orange or Tory party; it is not sympathy which unites them to that party, for they detest from the bottom of their hearts the Anglican church, which serves it for a base. But to make war on the Catholics, whom they hate still more, they are obliged to unite with the main body of the army, which is composed of Anglican Tories. Other Protestants contend for radical reform; but yet they proceed on principles in politics and religion very different from those of the Catholics with whom they are allied; thus the Presbyterian dissidents, or Unitarians, on many points far removed from the Catholic party, are nevertheless its valuable auxiliaries.
Shades of difference are particularly found amongst those Protestants who, though belonging to the Anglican church, separate themselves from the Orange and Anglican party to support the Catholic or national party; some, in embracing the liberal cause, only obey a deep sense of conscience and equity; others do the same from calculation: when the Anglican party was strong they supported it; they abandon it when it is weak, and go over to the Catholic party to which the strength has passed; the former act from prudence, the latter from fear. When the popular cause is ready to triumph, and its success becomes every day more probable, many, who before condemned this cause as absurd and seditious, begin to suspect its good sense and equity; they see on the side of the people approaching triumphs in which it will be pleasant to take a share, and in the opposite camp defeats and dangers which it is wise to avoid.
But whatever may be the operating motive, and whatever the differences which separate the main armies from their auxiliaries,—whatever repugnance those may feel to an intimate union whom political motives draw together, whilst they are divided by moral and religious causes,—so long as they are enrolled under the same banner,—so long as the Presbyterian is united to the Anglican, or the Anglican to the Catholics,—there is a close union, and a necessity of fighting together; for only two armies exist in Ireland, and it is absolutely necessary to belong to one or the other. In short, we may say, that nowhere are parties more rigidly marked, and yet that in no country is there a greater variety of passions, sentiments, ideas, and interests.
It would likewise be an error to suppose, because there are only two parties, that whoever has joined one is necessarily chained to it: there exists certainly in each an immovable and unchangeable main body; in the Tory party, it is the Anglican church and aristocracy; in the Radical party, it is the whole Catholic population. The Protestant middle class and the Presbyterians form what may be called the variable and fluctuating population, which furnishes turnabout materials to the Radicals and to the Tories. A Protestant, who in 1825 ardently demanded the emancipation of the Catholics, now votes against them at the elections. Another, who joined them to abolish church-rates and tithes, becomes their adversary when, instead of attacking the abuses of the Protestant church, they assail the principle itself. Far from being eternal, these alliances in Ireland are singularly frail. In the first movement of enthusiasm, acting under a generous impulse, they join, make a treaty of perpetual amity, and believe sincerely in the strength of this friendly alliance. But the union is more at the surface than at the bottom. Protestants and Catholics embraced when they won the great victory in 1829, due to their common efforts; the effusion of feeling was real, the harmony touching; nevertheless, the germs of division existed in the bottom of their hearts. The Protestant said in his heart, “Here is what will content the Catholics;” the Catholic, on the other hand, whispered to himself, “Here is a great conquest, by the aid of which I will obtain others.” And on the following day the two friends were opposed as adversaries face to face. But the members who compose this variable element of Irish parties cannot quit one camp without passing immediately into the other; and often in the conflict of grave motives, which nearly balance each other, the slightest circumstance sends the Radical to-day over to the Tories, and will drive him back the next to restore him to the Radicals.
It would be difficult to tell how long this state of things will last. However, it appears to me, that if a third party should be formed in Ireland, it will not be amongst the Protestant aristocracy that it will have its birth, but rather amongst the Catholic population, which, confident in its strength, and prompt to forget, will be disposed to divide. But the course hitherto adopted by the leaders of the popular party has singularly tended to the maintenance of party union. The system of constitutional agitation nearly satisfies both those who, fond of peaceful discussion, reject the use of sanguinary violence as a means of success, and those who, believing the arms of logic insufficient, think that the aid of physical force should not be wholly neglected. Now this system, which very ingeniously combines the two powers of law and force, has hitherto succeeded in preventing amongst the people the formation either of a moderate Whig party or a revolutionary party.
Still it is probable that if, during a long course of years, England should refuse the reforms demanded by the Radical party existing in that country, there would be formed beneath that Radical party one still more radical, and which could not be so without becoming revolutionary; and, on the other hand, if great concessions were made to Ireland, her worst wounds would be healed, and a Whig party might be formed intermediate between the present Radicals and Tories.
Whatever may be the cause hereafter, the only party in which divisions could arise is now united and compact; and in Ireland a choice must necessarily be made between it and its antagonist.
Such are the principal features of the two parties, which in our day divide Ireland.
I do not know if these two parties were ever more opposed to each other than they are at present; but it would be difficult at any time to have exhibited greater hatred. Perhaps this may be a result of the greater liberty which they enjoy, and which permits them to express weaker enmity with greater energy; perhaps they are more vehement, without being more hostile. Within the last twenty years considerable changes have been wrought in the social and political condition of Ireland; the themes of triumph for one party, and of humiliation for the other: the recent recollection of these excites insolent joy with the former, and bitter regret with the latter. What cannot be denied is, that the spirit of party mingles with everything in Ireland. It poisons the social relations. The Irish Tories and Radicals not only form two parties, but two very distinct classes, which have no point of contact; far different from English parties, whose opposite leaders, after a violent struggle in parliament, may be met the same day in the same social circle, which they enter, after having laid aside every remembrance of quarrel and resentment. In Ireland, the separation of the two parties is, in some degree, physical; in every town there are the Protestant hotel, and the Catholic hotel: meetings, balls, dinners, are similarly distinguished; the same distinction extends even to roads and rivers: it is not very long since an Irish nobleman claimed the intervention of government to prevent the erection of a Popish bridge.8
But the spirit of party does not stop there in Ireland; and who would believe it? Party enters so deeply into the soul, that in a christian country it has corrupted charity at its very source. “What use is there,” exclaims a Protestant Tory, “in attending to the poor and their miseries? Are there not poor in all countries? Has not Ireland always overflowed with them?” . . . . “Accursed be the landlords of Ireland!” exclaims the Irish Radical; “they see without pity the misery that covers their estates.” The poor, whose charity is to love the rich, owe them nothing but hatred.
But it is particularly in the north of Ireland that these hateful passions show themselves, and rage in all their violence; there the parties are not different, but they are in a different position. In the south, where, taking the average, there are about twenty Catholics to one Protestant; the Tory party is numerically too weak to measure itself against its adversary; there a single combat would be fatal to it; and it never acts on the offensive; when attacked by open force, instead of defending itself with arms, it calls to its aid the government and the law, the police and the army.
In the north, on the contrary, as the two parties are nearly equal, each may hope for success in a violent contest; and hence the two parties seem always ready to enter the lists, and might be supposed constantly on the eve of a civil war. The outrages, so common in the south, the attempts of the Whiteboys, and their fearful confederations, belong far less to the spirit of party, than to the vices of social organisation. On the contrary, it is the spirit of party that predominates in the north.
Wolf Tone relates in his Memoirs, that, having visited the county of Derry in 1792, with one of his friends, on a political mission, the Protestant innkeepers at Rathfriland, knowing that they were Catholics, refused to supply them with breakfast for their money.
In the month of July, 1837, I traversed the province of Ulster; it is at this season that the Orange party is accustomed to celebrate the glorious memory of the Boyne and William III. My quality of stranger did not preserve me from the insults to which, at such a juncture, every Catholic is subject; and more than once I was assailed with the popular cry of No Popery. A sad event was then the topic of conversation. On the 28th of June, 1837, a holiday amongst the Catholics of Ireland, some Catholic women and children were assembled round a bonfire in the county of Monaghan, where a sportive gaiety was mingled with the sentiments of piety. Suddenly three musket shots were heard, and four children fell lifeless to the earth. The murderers remained unknown, but every one said that the hatred of the Orangemen for Papists had produced the crime, and nobody doubted it.
The Orange party, of which Ulster is the focus, manifests every day a greater desire to use violence than it displayed before. Formerly, the threats of physical force came rather from the Catholic and Radical party, from the popular masses, to which leaders and chiefs were alone wanting for an insurrection. For a long time the Irish nation believed that its deliverance and regeneration could only be obtained by a political revolution, which, bestowing on the government the disposal of rights and properties, would restore power and estates to the original possessors, or their heirs. These traditions, formerly familiar to the national party, were first weakened by long and useless efforts, and afterwards the success obtained by exertion and free institutions have completely dissipated the dreams of sudden and violent prosperity. But it seems that, at the moment the principle of force was abandoned by the Catholic party, it was adopted by the Orangemen. Nothing is more common than to hear members of that party express their ardent desire for actual civil war. “No union,” they say, “is possible between Papists and Protestants: it is a mere chimera to wish that they should dwell in the same land; one must absolutely expel the other, as truth drives away falsehood; it is a quarrel of life or death. Let a decisive engagement, let a war of extermination, settle the debate.” This language is not openly avowed by the Tory party, but many Tories use it. In fact, they think that, eventually, matters must come to this issue, and that it is better to have the fight at once; they feel power slipping from their hands every day, and they deem it wiser to commence the battle while they are still strong.
It would seem that there must naturally exist some mediator between the two parties, able, if not to bring them together, at least of calming their mutual animosity: this mediator is the government. In every country the government is the natural moderator of parties. To interpose between them, to hold the balance even, to temper one by the other, to force a concession from the one, an abandonment of a demand from the other, to protect all, to succumb to none such in Ireland is the path pointed out to the English government; an admirable task, but very difficult, not to say impossible, to be executed. There are in the two parties ancient spites, implacable passions, exclusive interests, which repulse every intervention of a mediator; and conciliation is impossible between parties so widely separated. In fact, there is no alternative for the English government but to side with one or the other; and such is the violence of those between whom it must choose, that the moment it chooses one party, it must abandon itself to the party altogether, follow instead of direct it; and thus the government is soon led by the passions which it ought to guide.
The English government in Ireland never takes the position it ought to take, until the two parties, arms in hand, are ready to cut each others throats, when it places between them its police and its soldiers. The government is allowed to suppose that without it the two parties would commence civil war; and this is sufficient to sweeten the task, otherwise so difficult, which it has to execute in this country; but with this exception, it exercises in truth no individual or spontaneous action over the parties, from which it receives impulse, instead of taking, as it ought, the initiative.
If it adopts the Tory party, it must necessarily take up all its religious prejudices, all its political resentments and hatreds; and acting thus, it must increase the national sentiment which rejects this detested party. Should it declare for the liberal or Catholic party, it does not less receive the yoke; and then, instead of restraining the popular torrent, it serves only to precipitate its course.
It is thus that the state of parties in Ireland is an additional and fruitful source of democracy.
THE THREE PRINCIPAL REMEDIES THAT HAVE BEEN PROPOSED FOR IRISH EVILS.
We have seen the evils that Ireland endures; we have seen that all these evils proceed from a primary and continued cause; finally, we have seen the kind of resistance that the excess of its miseries has produced amongst the people. The situation of Ireland may be thus summarily described—profound indigence amongst the people, permanent anarchy in the state.
Now that all the social and political sufferings are known, how are they to be cured? How are we to alleviate the cruel sufferings of a starving people? How came the formidable revolts of irritated anguish? How give sustenance to the people, and peace to the country?
When we see millions of paupers in a population, the first sentiment felt is that of deep pity; and before engaging in reforms, which belong to the political organisation of society, is not the mind at once disposed to inquire by what means it can alleviate the physical condition of so many necessitous persons? We ask of ourselves, if, independent of all forms of government, the poor people of Ireland may not at once be raised from its profound indigence by some procedure, sudden, extraordinary, extreme, like the misery it is designed to cure? The Irish people are dying of hunger. . . . They must be aided. Is it by laws or constitutional reforms? No; there is urgent need; bread, not theories, is wanted. Employment and means of working are wanted. Miserable Ireland is surcharged with population; it is necessary to lighten the load that crushes her; and such aid must be given to Ireland immediately. And this misery, which calls so loudly for immediate assistance, is it not increasing every day? Each day this population of paupers becomes more numerous, and in proportion as its increasing misery excites more pity, the menaces of its despair inspires more terror. It is, in fact, a phenomenon worthy of meditation, that the population of Ireland, although so miserable, multiplies more rapidly than that of England and Scotland, which are so prosperous; and what is more remarkable is, that in Ireland itself the population is multiplied in direct proportion to its misery. It is in Connaught that famine rages most severely, and it is there that the population multiplies most rapidly.1 Why, then, should we not attempt at once to arrest this frightful misery, the progress of which reveals so much of suffering, and so much of danger?
Three systems are offered which promise to lead to the end that we wish to attain. I. To procure employment for the unoccupied paupers. II. Diminishing the population by furnishing the indigent with the means of emigrating. III. Supporting at the public expense those who are neither employed in Ireland, nor removed to another country. In other words, three means are offered for the salvation of Ireland,—industrial employment, emigration, and poor laws. Let us examine these three systems separately. They have been, and are now, amongst the best statemen, objects of study and labour, which demand our serious attention.
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