"Nothing strengthens a dynasty," said the first Napoleon, "more than an unsuccessful rebellion." The partial uprising; of the Irish people in 1798 was a rebellion of this class, and the use of such a failure to an able and unscrupulous administration, was illustrated in the extinction of the ancient legislature of the kingdom, before the recurrence of the third, anniversary of the insurrection.
This project, the favourite and long-cherished design of Mr. Pitt, was cordially approved by his principal colleagues, the Duke of Portland, Lord Grenville, and Mr. Dundas; indeed, it may be questioned whether it was not as much Lord Grenville's design as Pitt's, and as much George the Third's personal project as that of any of his ministers. The old King's Irish policy was always of the most narrow and illiberal description. In his memorandum on the recall of Lord Fitzwilliam, he explains his views with the business-like brevity which characterized all his communications with his ministers while he retained possession of his faculties; he was totally opposed to Lord Fitzwilliam's emancipation policy, which he thought adopted "in implicit obedience to the heated imagination of Mr. Burke." To Lord Camden his instructions were, "to support the old English interest as well as the Protestant religion," and to Lord Cornwallis, that no further "indulgence could be granted to Catholics," but that he should steadily pursue the object of effecting the union of Ireland and England.
The new Viceroy entered heartily into the views of his Sovereign. Though unwilling to exchange his English position as a Cabinet Minister and Master-General of Ordnance for the troubled life of a Lord-Lieutenant of Ireland, he at length allowed himself to be persuaded into the acceptance of that office, with a view mainly to carrying the Union. He was ambitious to connect his name with that great imperial measure, so often projected, but never formally proposed. If he could only succeed in incorporating the Irish with the British legislature, he declared he would feel satisfied to retire from all other public employments; that he would look on his day as finished, and his evening of ease and dignity fully earned. He was not wholly unacquainted with the kingdom against which he cherished these ulterior views; for he had been, nearly thirty years before, when he fell under the lash of Junius, one of the Vice-Treasurers of Ireland. For the rest he was a man of great information, tact, and firmness; indefatigable in business; tolerant by temperament and conviction; but both as a general and a politician it was his lot to be identified in India and in Ireland with successes which might better have been failures, and in America, with failures which were much more beneficial to mankind than his successes.
In his new sphere of action his two principal agents were Lord Clare and Lord Castlereagh, both Irishmen; the Chancellor, the son of what in that country is called a "spoiled priest," and the Secretary, the son of an ex-volunteer, and member of Flood's Reform Convention. It is not possible to regard the conduct of these high officials in undermining and destroying the ancient national legislature of their own country, in the same light as that of Lord Cornwallis, or Mr. Pitt, or Lord Grenville. It was but natural, that as Englishmen, these ministers should consider the empire in the first place; that they should desire to centralize all the resources and all the authority of both Islands in London; that to them the existence of an independent Parliament at Dublin, with its ample control over the courts, the revenues, the defences, and the trade of that kingdom, should appear an obstacle and a hindrance to the unity of the imperial system. From their point of view they were quite right, and had they pursued their end, complete centralization, by honourable means, no stigma could attach to them even in the eyes of Irishmen; but with Lords Clare and Castlereagh the case was wholly different. Born in the land, deriving income as well as existence from the soil, elected to its Parliament by the confidence of their countrymen, attaining to posts of honour in consequence of such election, that they should voluntarily offer their services to establish an alien and a hostile policy on the ruins of their own national constitution, which, with all its defects, was national, and was corrigible; this betrayal of their own, at the dictate of another State, will always place the names of Clare and Castlereagh on the detested list of public traitors. Yet though in such treason, united and identified, no two men could be more unlike in all other respects. Lord Clare was fiery, dogmatic, and uncompromising to the last degree; while Lord Castlereagh was stealthy, imperturbable, insidious, bland, and adroit. The Chancellor endeavoured to carry everything with a high hand, with a bold, defiant, confident swagger; the Secretary, on the contrary, trusted to management, expediency, and silent tenacity of purpose. The one had faith in violence, the other in corruption; they were no inapt personifications of the two chief agencies by which the union was effected--Force and Fraud.
The Irish Parliament, which had been of necessity adjourned during the greater part of the time the insurrection lasted, assembled within a week of Lord Cornwallis' arrival. Both Houses voted highly loyal addresses to the King and Lord-Lieutenant, the latter seconded in the Commons by Charles Kendal Bushe, the college companion of Wolfe Tone! A vote of 100,000 pounds to indemnify those who had suffered from the rebels--subsequently increased to above 1,000,000 pounds--was passed una voce; another, placing on the Irish establishment certain English militia regiments, passed with equal promptitude. In July, five consecutive acts--a complete code of penalties and proscription--were introduced, and, after various debates and delays, received the royal sanction on the 6th of October, the last day of the session of 1798. These acts were: 1. The Amnesty Act, the exceptions to which were so numerous "that few of those who took any active part in the rebellion," were, according to the Cornwallis' correspondence, "benefited by it." 2. An Act of Indemnity, by which all magistrates who had "exercised a vigour beyond the law" against the rebels, were protected from the legal consequences of such acts.
This legislation of the session of 1798, was fatal to the Irish Parliament. The partisans of the Union, who had used the rebellion to discredit the constitution, now used the Parliament to discredit itself. Under the influence of a fierce reactionary spirit, when all merciful and moderate councils were denounced as treasonable, it was not difficult to procure the passage of sweeping measures of proscription. But with their passage vanished the former popularity of the domestic legislature. And what followed? The constitution of '82 could only be upheld in the hearts of the people; and, with all its defects, it had been popular before the sudden spread of French revolutionary notions distracted and dissipated the public opinion which had grown up within the era of independence. To make the once cherished authority, which liberated trade in '79, and half emancipated the Catholics in '93, the last executioner of the vengeance of the Castle against the people, was to place a gulf between it and the affections of that people in the day of trial. To make the anti-unionists in Parliament, such as the Speaker, Sir Lawrence Parsons, Plunkett, Ponsonby and Bushe, personally responsible for this vindictive code, was to disarm them of the power, and almost of the right, to call on the people whom they turned over, bound hand and foot, to the mercy of the minister in '98, to aid them against the machinations of that same minister in '99. The last months of the year were marked besides by events already referred to, and by negotiations incessantly carried on, both in England and Ireland, in favour of the Union. Members of both Houses were personally courted and canvassed by the Prime Minister, the Secretaries of State, the Viceroy and the Irish Secretary. Titles, pensions and offices were freely promised. Vast sums of secret service money, afterwards added as a charge to the public debt of Ireland, were remitted from Whitehall. An army of pamphleteers, marshalled by Under-Secretary Cooke, and confidentially directed by the able but anti-national Bishop of Meath, (Dr. O'Beirne,) and by Lord Castlereagh personally, plied their pens in favour of "the consolidation of the empire." The Lord Chancellor, the Chief Secretary and Mr. Beresford, made journeys to England, to assist the Prime Minister with their local information, and to receive his imperial confidence in return. The Orangemen were neutralized by securing a majority of their leaders; the Catholics, by the establishment of familiar communication with the bishops. The Viceroy complimented Dr. Troy at Dublin; the Duke of Portland lavished personal attentions on Dr. Moylan, in England. The Protestant clergy were satisfied with the assurance that the maintenance of their establishment would be made a fundamental article of the Union, while the Catholic bishops were given to understand that complete Emancipation would be one of the first measures submitted to the Imperial Parliament. The oligarchy were to be indemnified for their boroughs, while the advocates of Reform were shown how hopeless it was to expect a House constituted of their nominees, ever to enlarge or amend its own exclusive constitution. Thus for every description of people a particular set of appeals and arguments was found, and for those who discarded the affectation of reasoning on the surrender of their national existence, there were the more convincing arguments of titles, employments, and direct pecuniary purchase. At the close of the year of the rebellion, Lord Cornwallis was able to report to Mr. Pitt that the prospects of carrying the measure were better than could have been expected, and on this report he was authorized to open the matter formally to Parliament in his speech at the opening of the following session.
On the 22nd of January, 1799, the Irish legislature met under circumstances of great interest and excitement. The city of Dublin, always keenly alive to its metropolitan interests, sent its eager thousands by every avenue towards College Green. The Viceroy went down to the Houses with a more than ordinary guard, and being seated on the throne in the House of Lords, the Commons were summoned to the bar. The House was considered a full one, 217 members being present. The viceregal speech congratulated both Houses on the suppression of the late rebellion, on the defeat of Bompart's squadron, and the recent French victories of Lord Nelson; then came, amid profound expectation, this concluding sentence:--"The unremitting industry," said the Viceroy, "with which our enemies persevere in their avowed design of endeavouring to effect a separation of this kingdom from Great Britain, must have engaged your attention, and his Majesty commands me to express his anxious hope that this consideration, joined to the sentiment of mutual affection and common interest, may dispose the Parliaments in both kingdoms to provide the most effectual means of maintaining and improving a connection essential to their common security, and of consolidating, as far as possible, into one firm and lasting fabric, the strength, the power, and the resources of the British empire." On the paragraph of the address, re-echoing this sentiment, which was carried by a large majority in the Lords, a debate ensued in the Commons, which lasted till one o'clock of the following day, above twenty consecutive hours. Against the suggestion of a Union spoke Ponsonby, Parsons, Fitzgerald, Barrington, Plunkett, Lee, O'Donnell and Bushe; in its favour, Lord Castlereagh, the Knight of Kerry, Corry, Fox, Osborne, Duigenan, and some other members little known. The galleries and lobbies were crowded all night by the first people of the city, of both sexes, and when the division was being taken, the most intense anxiety was manifested, within doors and without. At length the tellers made their report to the Speaker, himself an ardent anti-Unionist, and it was announced that the numbers were--"for the address 105, for the amendment 106," so the paragraph in favour of "consolidating the empire" was lost by one vote! The remainder of the address, tainted with the association of the expunged paragraph, was barely carried by 107 to 105. Mr. Ponsonby had attempted to follow his victory by a solemn pledge binding the majority never again to entertain the question, but to this several members objected, and the motion was withdrawn. The ministry found some consolation in this withdrawal, which they characterized as "a retreat after a victory," but to the public at large, unused to place much stress on the minor tactics of debate, nothing appeared but the broad, general fact, that the first overture for a Union had been rejected. It was a day of immense rejoicing in Dublin; the leading anti-Unionists were escorted in triumph to their homes, while the Unionists were protected by strong military escorts from the popular indignation. At night the city was illuminated, and the patrols were doubled as a protection to the obnoxious minority.
Mr. Ponsonby's amendment, affirmed by the House of Commons, was in these words:--"That the House would be ready to enter into any measure short of surrendering their free, resident and independent legislature as established in 1782." This was the ultimatum of the great party which rallied in January, 1799, to the defence of the established constitution of their country. The arguments with which they sustained their position were few, bold, and intelligible to every capacity. There was the argument from Ireland's geographical situation, and the policy incident to it; the historical argument; the argument for a resident gentry occupied and retained in the country by their public duties; the commercial argument; the revenue argument; but above all, the argument of the incompetency of Parliament to put an end to its own existence. "Yourselves," exclaimed the eloquent Plunkett, "you may extinguish, but Parliament you cannot extinguish. It is enthroned in the hearts of the people--it is enshrined in the sanctuary of the constitution--it is as immortal as the island that protects it. As well might the frantic suicide imagine that the act which destroys his miserable body should also extinguish his eternal soul. Again, therefore, I warn you. Do not dare to lay your hands on the Constitution--it is above your powers!"
These arguments were combated on the grounds that the islands were already united under one crown--that that species of union was uncertain and precarious--that the Irish Parliament was never in reality a national legislature; that it existed only as an instrument of class legislation; that the Union would benefit Ireland materially as it had benefited Scotland; that she would come in for a full share of imperial honours, expenditure and trade; that such a Union would discourage all future hostile attempts by France or any other foreign power against the connection, and other similar arguments. But the division which followed the first introduction of the subject showed clearly to the Unionists that they could not hope to succeed with the House of Commons as then constituted; that more time and more preparation were necessary. Accordingly, Lord Castlereagh was authorized in March, to state formally in his place, that it was not the intention of the government to bring up the question again during that session; an announcement which was hailed with a new outburst of rejoicing in the city.
But those who imagined the measure was abandoned were sadly deceived. Steps were immediately taken by the Castle to deplete the House of its majority, and to supply their places before another session with forty or fifty new members, who would be entirely at the beck of the Chief Secretary. With this view, thirty-two new county judgeships were created; a great number of additional inspectorships and commissioners were also placed at the Minister's disposal; thirteen members had peerages for themselves or for their wives, with remainder to their children, and nineteen others were presented to various lucrative offices. The "Escheatorship of Munster"--a sort of Chiltern Hundreds office--was accepted by those who agreed to withdraw from opposition, for such considerations, but who could not be got to reverse their votes. By these means, and a lavish expenditure of secret service money, it was hoped that Mr. Pitt's stipulated majority of "not less than fifty" could be secured during the year.
The other events of the session of '99, though interesting in themselves, are of little importance compared to the union debates. In the English Parliament, which met on the same day as the Irish, a paragraph identical with that employed by Lord Cornwallis in introducing the subject of the Union, was inserted in the King's speech. To this paragraph, repeated in the address, an amendment was moved by the celebrated Richard Brinsley Sheridan, and resisted with an eloquence scarcely inferior to his own, by his former protege and countryman, George Canning. Canning, like Sheridan, had sprung from a line of Irish literateurs and actors; he had much of the wit and genius of his illustrious friend, with more worldly wisdom, and a higher sentiment of personal pride. In very early life, distinguished by great oratorical talents, he had deliberately attached himself to Mr. Pitt, while Sheridan remained steadfast to the last, in the ranks of the Whig or liberal party. For the land of their ancestors both had, at bottom, very warm, good wishes; but Canning looked down upon her politics from the heights of empire, while Sheridan felt for her honour and her interests with
the affection of an expatriated son. We can well credit
his statement to Grattan, years afterwards, when referring
to his persistent opposition to the Union, he said, he
would "have waded in blood to his knees," to preserve the Constitution of Ireland. In taking this course he had with him a few eminent friends: General Fitzpatrick, the former Irish Secretary, Mr. Tierney, Mr. Hobhouse, Dr. Lawrence, the executor of Edmund Burke, and Mr., afterwards Earl Grey. Throughout the entire discussion these just minded Englishmen stood boldly forward for the rights of Ireland, and this highly honourable conduct was long remembered as one of Ireland's real obligations to the Whig party.
The resolutions intended to serve as "the basis of union," were introduced by Mr. Pitt, on the 21st of January, and after another powerful speech in opposition, from Mr. Grey, who was ably sustained by Mr. Sheridan, Dr. Lawrence, and some twenty others, were put and carried. The following are the resolutions:--
1st. "In order to promote and secure the essential interests of Great Britain and Ireland, and to consolidate the strength, power, and resources of the British empire, it will be advisable to concur in such measures as may tend to unite the two kingdoms of Great Britain and Ireland into one kingdom, in such manner, and in such terms and conditions as may be established by acts of the respective Parliaments of his Majesty's said kingdoms.
2nd. "It would be fit to propose as the first article, to serve as a basis of the said union, that the said kingdoms of Great Britain and Ireland shall, on a day to be agreed upon, be united into one kingdom, by the name of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland.
3rd. "For the same purpose it would be fit to propose, that the succession to the monarchy and the imperial crown of the said United Kingdom, shall continue limited and settled, in the same manner as the imperial crown of the said Great Britain and Ireland now stands limited and settled, according to the existing law, and to the terms of the union between England and Scotland.
4th. "For the same purpose it would be fit to propose that the said United Kingdom be represented in one and the same Parliament, to be styled the Parliament of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland; and that such a number of Lords, spiritual and temporal, and such a number of members of the House of Commons, as shall be hereafter agreed upon by the acts of the respective Parliaments as aforesaid, shall sit and vote in the said Parliament on the part of Ireland, and shall be summoned, chosen, and returned, in such manner as shall be fixed by an act of the Parliament of Ireland previous to the said union; and that every member hereafter to sit and vote in the said Parliament of the United Kingdom shall, until the said Parliament shall otherwise provide, take, and subscribe the said oaths, and make the same declarations as are required by law to be taken, subscribed, and made by the members of the Parliaments of Great Britain and Ireland.
5th. "For the same purpose it would be fit to propose, that the Churches of England and Ireland, and the doctrine, worship, discipline, and government thereof, shall be preserved as now by law established.
6th. "For the same purpose it would be fit to propose, that his Majesty's subjects in Ireland shall at all times be entitled to the same privileges, and be on the same footing in respect of trade and navigation in all ports and places belonging to Great Britain, and in all cases with respect to which treaties shall be made by his Majesty, his heirs, or successors, with any foreign power, as his Majesty's subjects in Great Britain; that no duty shall be imposed on the import or export between Great Britain and Ireland, of any articles now duty free, and that on other articles there shall be established, for a time to be limited, such a moderate rate of equal duties as shall, previous to the Union, be agreed upon and approved by the respective Parliaments, subject, after the expiration of such limited time, to be diminished equally with respect to both kingdoms, but in no case to be increased; that all articles which may at any time hereafter be imported into Great Britain from foreign parts shall be importable through either kingdom into the other, subject to the like duties and regulations, as if the same were imported directly from foreign parts: that where any articles, the growth, produce, or manufacture of either kingdom, are subject to an internal duty in one kingdom, such counter-vailing duties (over and above any duties on import to be fixed as aforesaid) shall be imposed as shall be necessary to prevent any inequality in that respect; and that all matters of trade and commerce, other than the foregoing, and than such others as may before the Union be specially agreed upon for the due encouragement of the agriculture and manufactures of the respective kingdoms, shall remain to be regulated from time to time by the United Parliament.
7th. "For the like purpose it would be fit to propose, that the charge arising from the payment of the interests or sinking fund for the reduction of the principal of the debt incurred in either kingdom before the Union, shall continue to be separately defrayed by Great Britain and Ireland respectively; that, for a number of years to be limited, the future ordinary expenses of the United Kingdom, in peace or war, shall be defrayed by Great Britain and Ireland jointly, according to such proportions as shall be established by the respective Parliaments previous to the Union; and that, after the expiration of the time to be so limited, the proportion shall not be liable to be varied, except according to such rates and principles, as shall be in like manner agreed upon previous to the Union.
8th. "For the like purpose, that all laws in force at the time of the Union, and all the courts of civil or ecclesiastical jurisdiction within the respective kingdoms, shall remain as now by law established within the same, subject only to such alterations or regulations as may from time to time as circumstances may appear to the Parliament of the United Kingdom to require."
Mr. Pitt, on the passage of these resolutions, proposed an address stating that the Commons had proceeded with the utmost attention to the consideration of the important objects recommended in the royal message, that they entertained a firm persuasion of the probable benefits of a complete and entire Union between Great Britain and Ireland, founded on equal and liberal principles; that they were therefore induced to lay before his Majesty such propositions as appeared to them to be best calculated to form the basis of such a settlement, leaving it to his wisdom in due time and in proper manner, to communicate them to the Lords and Commons of Ireland, with whom they would be at all times ready to concur in all such measures as might be found most conducive to the accomplishment of that great and salutary work.
On the 19th of March, Lord Grenville introduced the same resolutions in the Lords, where they were passed after a spirited opposition speech from Lord Holland, and the basis, so far as the King, Lords, and Commons of England were concerned, was laid. In proroguing the Irish Houses on the 1st of June, Lord Cornwallis alluded to these resolutions, and the anxiety of the King, as the common father of his people, to see both kingdoms united in the enjoyment of the blessings of a free constitution.
This prorogation was originally till August, but in August it was extended till January, 1800. In this long interval of eight months, the two great parties, the Unionists and the anti-Unionists were incessantly employed, through the press, in social intercourse, in the grand jury room, in county and city meetings, by correspondence, petitions, addresses, each pushing forward its own views with all the zeal and warmth of men who felt that on one side they were labouring for the country, on the other for the empire. Two incidents of this interval were deeply felt in the patriot ranks, the death at an advanced age of the venerable Charlemont, the best member of his order Ireland had ever known, and the return to the kingdom and to public life of Lord Charlemont's early friend and protege, Henry Grattan. He had spent above a year in England, chiefly in Wales and the Isle of Wight. His health all this time had been wretched; his spirits low and despondent, and serious fears were at some moments entertained for his life. He had been forbidden to read or write, or to hear the exciting news of the day. Soothed and cheered by that admirable woman, whom Providence had given him, he passed the crisis, but he returned to breathe his native air, greatly enfeebled in body, and sorely afflicted in mind. The charge of theatrical affectation of illness has been brought against Grattan by the Unionists,--against Grattan who, as to his personal habits, was simplicity itself! It is a charge undeserving of serious contradiction.