The Earl of Harrington, afterwards Duke of Devonshire, succeeded Lord Chesterfield in the government, in 1746. He was provided with a prime minister in the person of the new Archbishop of Armagh, Dr. George Stone, whose character, if he was not exceedingly calumniated by his cotemporaries, might be compared to that of the worst politicians of the worst ages of Europe. Originally, the son of the jailer of Winchester, he had risen by dint of talents, and audacity, to receive from the hands of his sovereign, the illustrious dignity of Primate of Ireland. But even in this exalted office, the abominable vices of his youth accompanied him. His house at Leixlip, was at once a tavern and a brothel, and crimes, which are nameless, were said to be habitual under his roof. "May the importation of Ganymedes into Ireland, be soon discontinued," was the public toast, which disguised under the transparent gauze of a mythological allusion, the infamies of which he was believed to be the patron. The prurient page of Churchill was not quite so scrupulous, and the readers of the satire entitled "The Times," will need no further key to the horrible charges commonly received on both sides of the channel, against Primate Stone.
The viceroyalty of Ireland, which had become an object of ambition to the first men in the empire, was warmly contested by the Earl of Harrington and the Duke of Dorset. The former, through his Stanhope influence and connections, prevailed over his rival, and arrived in Ireland, warmly recommended by the popular Chesterfield. During his administration, Primate Stone, proceeding from one extreme to another, first put forward the dangerous theory, that all surplus revenue belonged of right to the crown, and might be paid over by the Vice-Treasurers, to his majesty's order, without authority of Parliament. At this period, notwithstanding the vicious system of her land tenures, and her recent losses by emigration, Ireland found herself in possession of a considerable surplus revenue.
Like wounds and bruises in a healthy body, the sufferings and deprivations of the population rapidly disappeared under the appearance even of improvement in the government. The observant Chesterfield, who continued through life warmly attached to the country in which his name was remembered with so much affection, expresses to his friend, Chevenix, Bishop of Waterford, in 1751, his satisfaction at hearing "that Ireland improves daily, and that a spirit of industry spreads itself, to the great increase of trade and manufactures." This new-born prosperity the Primate and politicians of his school would have met by an annual depletion of the treasury, instead of assisting its march by the reduction of taxes, and the promotion of necessary public works. The surplus was naturally regarded, by the Patriot party, in the light of so much national capital; they looked upon it as an improvement fund, for the construction of canals, highways, and breakwaters, for the encouragement of the linen and other manufactures, and for the adornment of the capital with edifices worthy of the chief city of a flourishing kingdom.
The leader of the Patriot party, Anthony Malone, was compared at this period, by an excellent authority, to "a great sea in a calm." He was considered, even by the fastidious Lord Shelburne, the equal, in oratory, of Chatham and Mansfield. He seems to have at all times, however, sunk the mere orator in the statesman, and to have used his great powers of argument even more in Council than in the arena. His position at the bar, as Prime Sergeant, by which he took precedence even of the Attorney-General, gave great weight to his opinions on all questions of constitutional law. The roystering country gentlemen, who troubled their heads but little with anything besides dogs and horses, pistols and claret, felt secure in their new-fledged patriotism, under the broad aegis of the law extended over them by the most eminent lawyer of his age. The Speaker of the Commons, Henry Boyle, aided and assisted Malone, and when left free to combat on the floor, his high spirit and great fortune gave additional force to his example and confidence to his followers. Both were men too cautious to allow their adversaries any parliamentary advantage over them, but not so their intrepid coadjutor out of doors, Apothecary Lucas. He, like Swift, rising from local and municipal grievances to questions affecting the constitution of Parliament itself, was in 1749, against all the efforts of his friends in the House of Commons, declared by the majority of that House to be "an enemy to his country," and a reward was accordingly issued for his apprehension. For a time he was compelled to retire to England; but he returned, to celebrate in his Freeman's Journal the humiliation of the primate, and the defeat of the policy both of Lord Harrington, and his successor, the Duke of Dorset.
This nobleman, resolved to cast his predecessor into the shade by the brilliancy of his success, proceeded to take vigorous measures against the patriots. In his first speech to Parliament in 1751, he informed them his Majesty "consented" to the appropriation of the surplus revenue, by the House of Commons, and a clause was added to the annual supply bill in the English Council, containing the same obnoxious word, "consent." On this occasion, not feeling themselves strong enough to throw out the bill, and there being no alternative but rejection or acceptance, the Patriots permitted it to pass under protest. But the next session, when a similar addition was made, the Commons rejected the supply bill altogether, by a majority of 122 to 117. This was a measure of almost revolutionary consequence, since it left every branch of the public service unprovided for, for the ensuing twelve months.
Both the advisers of the King in England, and the Viceroy in Ireland, seemed by their insane conduct as if they desired to provoke such a collision. Malone's patent of precedence as Prime Sergeant was cancelled; the speaker was dismissed from the Privy Council, and the surplus revenue was withdrawn from the Vice-Treasurer, by a King's letter. The indignation of the Dubliners at these outrages rose to the utmost pitch. Stone, Healy, Hutchinson, and others of the Castle party, were waylaid and menaced in the streets, and the Viceroy himself hooted wherever he appeared. Had the popular leaders been men less cautious, or less influential, the year 1753 might have witnessed a violent revolutionary movement. But they planted themselves on the authority of the constitution, they united boldness with prudence, and they triumphed. The Primate and his creatures raised against them in vain the cuckoo cry of disloyalty, both in Dublin and London. The English Whigs, long engaged themselves in a similar struggle with the overgrown power of the crown, sympathized with the Irish opposition, and defended their motives both in society and in Parliament. The enemies of the Dorset family as naturally took their part, and the duke himself was obliged to go over to protect his interest at court, leaving the odious Primate as one of the Lords-Justices. At his departure his guards were hardly able to protect him from the fury of the populace, to that waterside to which Chesterfield had walked on foot, seven years before, amid the benedictions of the same people.
The Patriots had at this crisis a great addition to their strength, in the accession of James, the twentieth Earl of Kildare, successively Marquis and Duke of Leinster. This nobleman, in the prime of life, married to the beautiful Emily Lennox, daughter of the Duke of Richmond, followed Dorset to England, and presented to the King, with his own hand, one of the boldest memorials ever addressed to a sovereign by a subject. After reciting the past services of his family in maintaining the imperial connection, he declared himself the organ of several thousands of his Majesty's liege subjects, "as well the nobles as the clergy, the gentry, and the commonalty of the kingdom." He dwells on the peculation and extravagance of the administration, under "the Duumvirate" of the Viceroy and the Primate, which he compares with the league of Strafford and Laud. He denounces more especially Lord George Sackville, son to Dorset, for his intermeddling in every branch of administration. He speaks of Dr. Stone as "a greedy churchman, who affects to be a second Wolsey in the senate." This high-toned memorial struck with astonishment the English ministers, who did not hesitate to hint, that, in a reign less merciful, it would not have passed with impunity. In Ireland it raised the hardy earl to the pinnacle of popular favour. A medal was struck in his honour, representing him guarding a heap of treasure with a drawn sword, and the motto--"Touch not, says Kildare." At the opening of the next Parliament, he was a full hour making his way among the enthusiastic crowd, from his house in Kildare street to College Green. In little more than a year, the Duke of Dorset, whom English ministers had in vain endeavoured to sustain, was removed, and the Primate, by his Majesty's orders, was struck from the list of privy counsellors.
Lord Harrington, now Duke of Devonshire, replaced the disgraced and defeated Dorset, and at once surrounded himself with advisers from the ranks of the opposition. The Earl of Kildare was his personal and political friend, and his first visit, on arriving, was paid at Carton. The Speaker, Mr. Boyle, the Earl of Bessborough, head of the popular family of the Ponsonbys, and Mr. Malone, were called to the Privy Council. Lucas, exalted rather than injured by years of exile, was elected one of the members for the city of Dublin, and the whole face of affairs promised a complete and salutary change of administration.
After a year in office, Devonshire returned to England in ill-health, leaving Lord Kildare as one of the Justices, an office which he continued to fill, till the arrival in September, 1756, of John, fourth Duke of Bedford, as Lord-Lieutenant, with Mr. Rigby, "a good four bottle man," as chief secretary.
The instructions of the Duke of Bedford, dictated by the genius and wisdom of Chatham, were, to employ "all softening and healing arts of government." His own desire, as a Whig, at the head of the Whig families of England, was to unite and consolidate the same party in Ireland, so as to make them a powerful auxiliary force to the English Whigs. Consistently with this design, lie wished well to the country he was sent to rule, and was sincerely desirous of promoting measures of toleration. But he found the Patriots distracted by success, and disorganized by the possession of power. The Speaker, who had struggled so successfully against his predecessors, was in the Upper House as Earl of Shannon, and the chair of the Commons was filled by John Ponsonby, of the Bessborough family. The Ponsonby following, and the Earl of Kildare's friends were at this period almost as much divided from each other in their views of public policy, as either were from the party of the Primate. The Ponsonby party, still directed by Malone, wished to follow up the recent victory on the money bills, by a measure of Catholic relief, a tax upon absentees, and a reduction of the pension list, shamelessly burthened beyond all former proportion. Lord Kildare and his friends were not then prepared to go such lengths, though that high spirited nobleman afterwards came into most of these measures. After endeavouring in vain to unite, these two interests, the Duke of Bedford found, or fancied himself compelled, in order to secure a parliamentary majority, to listen to the overtures of the, obsequious Primate, to restore him to the Council, and to leave him, together with his old enemy, Lord Shannon, in the situation of joint administrators, during his journey to England, in 1758. The Earl of Kildare, it should be remarked, firmly refused to be associated with Stone, on any terms, or for any time, long or short.
The closing of this important reign is notable for the first Catholic meeting held since the reign of Queen Anne. In the spring of 1757, four hundred respectable gentlemen attended by mutual agreement, at Dublin, among whom were Lords Devlin, Taafe, and Fingal, the antiquary, Charles O'Conor, of Balanagar, the historian of the Civil Wars, Dr. Curry, and Mr. Wyse, a merchant of Waterford, the ancestor of a still better known labourer in the same cause. The then recent persecution of Mr. Saul, a Dublin merchant, of their faith, for having harboured a young lady whose friends wished to coerce her into a change of religion, gave particular significance to this assembly. It is true the proceedings were characterized by caution amounting almost to timidity, but the unanimous declaration of their loyal attachment to the throne, at a moment when French invasion was imminent, produced the best effect, and greatly strengthened the hands of the Clanbrassils, Ponsonbys, Malones, Dalys, and other advocates of an enlarged toleration in both Houses. It is true no immediate legislation followed, but the way was prepared for future ameliorations by the discretion and tact of the Catholic delegates of 1757. They were thenceforth allowed at least the right of meeting and petitioning, of which they had long been deprived, and the restoration of which marks the first step in their gradual recovery of their civil liberties.
In 1759 a rumour broke out in Dublin that a legislative union was in contemplation by the Primate and his faction. On the 3rd of December, the citizens rose en masse, and surrounded the Houses of Parliament. They stopped the carriages of members, and obliged them to swear opposition to such a measure. Some of the Protestant bishops, and the Lord Chancellor were roughly handled; a privy counsellor was thrown into the river; the Attorney General was wounded and obliged to take refuge in the college; Lord Inchiquin was abused till he said his name was O'Brien, when the rage of the people "was turned into acclamations." The Speaker, Mr. Ponsonby, and the Chief Secretary, Mr. Rigby, had to appear in the porch of the House of Commons, solemnly to assure the citizens that no union was dreamed of, and if it was proposed, that they would be the first to resist it. Public spirit had evidently grown bold and confident, and we can well believe Secretary Rigby when he writes to the elder Pitt, that "the mob" declared, "since they have no chance of numbers in the House, they must have recourse to numbers out of doors."