When the Irish Parliament met for the last time, on the 15th of January, 1800, the position of the Union question stood thus: 27 new Peers had been added to the House of Lords, where the Castle might therefore reckon with safety on a majority of three to one. Of the Lords spiritual, only Dr. Marlay of Waterford, and Dr. Dixon of Down and Conor, had the courage to side with their country against their order. In the Commons there was an infusion of some 50 new borough members, many of them general officers, such as Needham, and Pakenham, all of them nominees of the Castle, except Mr. Saurin, returned for Blessington, and Mr. Grattan, at the last moment, for Wicklow. The great constitutional body of the bar had, at a general meeting, the previous December, declared against the measure by 162 to 33. Another powerful body, the bankers, had petitioned against it, in the interest of the public credit. The Catholic bishops, in their annual meeting, had taken up a position of neutrality as a body, but under the artful management of Lord Castlereagh, the Archbishops of Dublin and Tuam, with the Bishop of Cork, and some others, were actively employed in counteracting anti-Union movements among the people. Although the vast majority of that people had too much reason to be disgusted and discontented with the legislation of the previous three years, above 700,000 of them petitioned against the measure, while all the signatures which could be obtained in its favour, by the use of every means at the command of the Castle, did not much exceed 7,000.
The Houses were opened on the 15th of January. The Viceroy not going down, his message was read in the Lords, by the Chancellor, and in the Commons, by the Chief Secretary. It did not directly refer to the basis laid down in England, nor to the subject matter itself; but the leaders of the Castle party in both Houses, took care to supply the deficiency. In the Lords, proxies included, Lord Clare had 75 to 26 for his Union address: in the Commons, Lord Castlereagh congratulated the country on the improvement which had taken place in public opinion, since the former session. He briefly sketched his plan of Union, which, while embracing the main propositions of Mr. Pitt, secured the Church establishment, bid high for the commercial interests, hinted darkly of emancipation to the Catholics, and gave the proprietors of boroughs to understand that their interest in those convenient constituencies would be capitalized, and a good round sum given to buy out their perpetual patronage. In amendment to the address, Sir Lawrence Parsons moved, seconded by Mr. Savage of Down, that the House would maintain intact the Constitution of '82, and the debate proceeded on this motion. Ponsonby replied to Castlereagh; Plunkett and Bushe were answered by the future judges, St. George Daly and Luke Fox; Toler contributed his farce, and Dr. Duigenan his fanaticism. Through the long hours of the winter's night the eloquent war was vigorously maintained. One who was himself a distinguished actor in the struggle, (Sir Jonah Barrington,) has thus described it: "Every mind," he says, "was at its stretch, every talent was in its vigour: it was a momentous trial; and never was so general and so deep a sensation felt in any country. Numerous British noblemen and commoners were present at that and the succeeding debate, and they expressed opinions of Irish eloquence which they had never before conceived, nor ever after had an opportunity of appreciating. Every man on that night seemed to be inspired by the subject. Speeches more replete with talent and energy, on both sides, never were heard in the Irish Senate; it was a vital subject. The sublime, the eloquent, the figurative orator, the plain, the connected, the metaphysical reasoner, the classical, the learned, and the solemn declaimer, in a succession of speeches so full of energy and enthusiasm, so interesting in their nature, so important in their consequence, created a variety of sensations even in the bosom of a stranger, and could scarcely fail of exciting some sympathy with a nation which was doomed to close for ever that school of eloquence which had so long given character and celebrity to Irish talent."
At the early dawn, a special messenger from Wicklow, just arrived in town, roused Henry Grattan from his bed. He had been elected the previous night for the borough of Wicklow, (which cost him 2,400 pounds sterling), and this was the bearer of the returning officer's certificate. His friends, weak and feeble as he was, wished him to go down to the House, and his heroic wife seconded their appeals. It was seven o'clock in the morning of the 16th when he reached College Green, the scene of his first triumphs twenty years before. Mr. Egan, one of the staunchest anti-Unionists, was at the moment, on some rumour, probably, of his approach, apostrophising warmly the father of the Constitution of '82, when that striking apparition appeared at the bar. Worn and emaciated beyond description, he appeared leaning on two of his friends, Arthur Moore and W. B. Ponsonby. He wore his volunteer uniform, blue with red facings, and advanced to the table, where he removed his cocked hat, bowed to the Speaker, and took the oaths. After Mr. Egan had concluded, he begged permission from his seat beside Plunkett, to address the House sitting, which was granted, and then in a discourse of two hours' duration, full of his ancient fire and vigour, he asserted once again, by the divine right of intellect, his title to be considered the first Commoner of Ireland. Gifted men were not rare in that assembly; but the inspiration of the heart, the uncontrollable utterance of a supreme spirit, not less than the extraordinary faculty of condensation, in which, perhaps, he has never had a superior in our language, gave the Grattan of 1800 the same pre-eminence among his cotemporaries, that was conceded to the Grattan of 1782. After eighteen hours' discussion the division was taken, when the result of the long recess was clearly seen; for the amendment there appeared 96, for the address 138 members. The Union majority, therefore, was 42. It was apparent from that moment that the representation of the people in Parliament had been effectually corrupted; that that assembly was no longer the safeguard of the liberties of the people. Other ministerial majorities confirmed this impression. A measure to enable 10,000 of the Irish militia to enter the regular army, and to substitute English militia in their stead, followed; an inquiry into outrages committed by the sheriff and military in King's county, was voted down; a similar motion somewhat later, in relation to officials in Tipperary met the same fate. On the 5th of February, a formal message proposing a basis of Union was received from his Excellency, and debated for twenty consecutive hours--from 4 o'clock of one day, till 12 of the next. Grattan, Plunkett, Parnell, Ponsonby, Saurin, were, as always, eloquent and able, but again the division told for the minister, 160 to 117--majority 43. On the 17th of February, the House went into Committee on the proposed articles of Union, and the Speaker (John Foster) being now on the floor, addressed the House with great ability in review of Mr. Pitt's recent Union speech, which he designated "a paltry production." But again, a majority mustered, at the nod of the minister, 161 to 140--a few not fully committed showing some last faint spark of independence. It was on this occasion that Mr. Corry, Chancellor of the Exchequer, member for Newry, made for the third or fourth time that session, an attack on Grattan, which brought out, on the instant, that famous "philippic against Corry," unequalled in our language, for its well-suppressed passion, and finely condensed denunciation. A duel followed, as soon as there was sufficient light; the Chancellor was wounded, after which the Castlereagh tactics of "fighting down the opposition," received an immediate and lasting check.
Throughout the months of February and March, with an occasional adjournment, the Constitutional battle was fought on every point permitted by the forms of the House. On the 25th of March, the Committee, after another powerful speech from the Speaker, finally reported the resolutions which were passed by 154 to 107--a majority of 47. The Houses then adjourned for six weeks, to allow time for corresponding action to be taken in England. There was little difficulty in carrying the measure. In the Upper House, Lords Derby, Holland, and King only opposed it; in the Lower, Sheridan, Tierney, Grey, and Lawrence mustered on a division, 30 votes against Pitt's 206. On the 21st of May, in the Irish Commons, Lord Castlereagh obtained leave to bring in the Union Bill by 160 to 100; on the 7th of June the final passage of the measure was effected. That closing scene has been often described, but never so graphically, as by the diamond pen of Jonah Barrington.
"The galleries were full, but the change was lamentable. They were no longer crowded with those who had been accustomed to witness the eloquence and to animate the debates of that devoted assembly. A monotonous and melancholy murmur ran through the benches; scarcely a word was exchanged amongst the members; nobody seemed at ease; no cheerfulness was apparent; and the ordinary business, for a short time, proceeded in the usual manner.
"At length, the expected moment arrived: the order of the day for the third reading of the bill for a 'legislative union between Great Britain and Ireland' was moved by Lord Castlereagh. Unvaried, tame, cold-blooded, the words seemed frozen as they issued from his lips; and, as if a simple citizen of the world, he seemed to have no sensation on the subject.
"At that moment he had no country, no God, but his ambition. He made his motion, and resumed his seat, with the utmost composure and indifference.
"Confused murmurs again ran through the House. It was visibly affected. Every character, in a moment, seemed involuntarily rushing to its index--some pale, some flushed, some agitated--there were few countenances to which the heart did not despatch some messenger. Several members withdrew before the question could be repeated, and an awful, momentary silence succeeded their departure. The Speaker rose slowly from that chair which had been the proud source of his honours and of his high character. For a moment he resumed his seat, but the strength of his mind sustained him in his duty, though his struggle was apparent. With that dignity which never failed to signalize his official actions, he held up the bill for a moment in silence. He looked steadily around him on the last agony of the expiring Parliament. He at length repeated, in an emphatic tone, 'As many as are of opinion that THIS BILL do pass, say ay! The affirmative was languid, but indisputable. Another momentary pause ensued. Again his lips seemed to decline their office. At length, with an eye averted from the object he hated, he proclaimed, with a subdued voice, '_The, AYES have it_.' The fatal sentence was now pronounced. For an instant he stood statue-like; then indignantly, and with disgust, flung the bill upon the table, and sank into his chair with an exhausted spirit. An independent country was thus degraded into a province. Ireland, as a nation, was extinguished."
The final division in the Commons was 153 to 88, nearly 60 members absenting themselves, and in the Lords, 76 to
By the provisions of this statute, compact, or treaty, the Sovereignty of the United Kingdom was to follow the order of the Act of Succession; the Irish peerage was to be reduced by the filling of one vacancy for every three deaths, to the number of one hundred; from among these, twenty-eight representative Peers were to be elected for life, and four spiritual Lords to sit in succession. The number of Irish representatives in the Imperial Parliament was fixed at one hundred (increased to one hundred and five); the churches of England and Ireland were united like the kingdoms, and declared to be one in doctrine and discipline. The debt of Ireland, which was less than 4,000,000 pounds in 1797, increased to 14,000,000 pounds in '99, and had risen to nearly 17,000,000 pounds in 1801, was to be alone chargeable to Ireland, whose proportionate share of general taxation was then estimated at 2-17ths of that of the United Kingdom. The Courts of Law, the Privy Council, and the Viceroyalty, were to remain at Dublin, the cenotaph and the shadows of departed nationality.
On the 1st day of January, 1801, in accordance with this great Constitutional change, a new imperial standard was run up on London Tower, Edinburgh Castle, and Dublin Castle. It was formed of the three crosses of St. Patrick, Saint Andrew, and Saint George, and is that popularly known to us as "the Union Jack." The fleur de lis, and the word "France," were struck from the royal title, which was settled, by proclamation, to consist henceforth of the words Dei Gratia, Britanniarum Rex, Fidei Defensor.
The foul means by which this counter revolution was accomplished, have, perhaps, been already sufficiently indicated. It may be necessary, however, in order to account for the continued hostility of the Irish people to the measure, after more than sixty years' experience of its results, to recapitulate them very briefly. Of all who voted for the Union, in both Houses, it was said that only six or seven were known to have done so on conviction. Great borough proprietors, like Lord Ely and Lord Shannon, received as much as 45,000 pounds sterling in "compensation" for their loss of patronage; while proprietors of single seats received 15,000 pounds. That the majority was avowedly purchased, in both Houses, is no longer matter of inference, nay, that some of them were purchased twice over is now well known. Lord Carysfort, an active partisan of the measure, writing in February, 1800, to his friend the Marquis of Buckingham, frankly says: "The majority, which has been bought at an enormous price, must be bought over again, perhaps more than once, before all the details can be gone through." His lordship himself, and the order to which he belonged, and those who aspired to enter it, were, it must be added, among the most insatiable of these purchased supporters. The Dublin Gazette for July, 1800, announced not less than sixteen new peerages, and the same publication for the last week of the year, contained a fresh list of twenty-six others. Forty-two creations in six months was a stretch of prerogative far beyond the most arbitrary of the Stuarts or Tudors, and forms one, not of the least unanswerable evidences, of the utterly corrupt considerations which secured the support of the Irish majority in both Houses.
It was impossible that a people like the Irish, disinterested and unselfish to a fault, should ever come to respect a compact brought about by such means and influences as these. Had, however, the Union, vile as were the means by which it was accomplished, proved to the real benefit of the country--had equal civil and religious rights been freely and at once extended to the people of the lesser kingdom--there is no reason to doubt that the measure would have become popular in time, and the vices of the old system be better remembered than its benefits, real or imaginary. But the Union was never utilized for Ireland; it proved in reality what Samuel Johnson had predicted, when spoken of in his day: "Do not unite with us, sir," said the gruff old moralist to an Irish acquaintance; "it would be the union of the shark with his prey; we should unite with you only to destroy you."
In glancing backward over the long political connexion of Ireland and England, we mark four great epochs. The Anglo-Norman invasion in 1169; the statute of Kilkenny decreeing eternal separation between the races, "the English pale" and "the Irish enemy," 1367; the Union of the Crowns, in 1541, and the Legislative Union, in 1801. One more cardinal event remains to be recorded--the Emancipation of the Catholics, in 1829.