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ments, harboured a thought of destroying the connexion between the two kingdoms. “Ireland,” said they, “in its early infancy “received an incurable organic injury, which will always prevent “her rising to her natural strength and stature as a nation.— “But since it is incurable, it must be borne with resignation, “ and the best office that affection or science can perform, is to “relieve, by occasional palliatives, whatever symptoms may be** come urgent or dangerous. Let us endeavour to procure “some alleviation for our peasantry, by encouraging agriculture “by bettering their situation, and by mitigating their burthens “ —let us bargain, as prudently as we can, for the commercial “arrangements that remain unsettled—but, above all things, let t
us labour to give a national and patriotic spirit to our legisla“ture, by restraining the force of English influence, by check
ing the profligate extent of corruption, and by correcting the
“enormously unequal and inadequate state of the representation s
in partiament.” Such were the views and objects of even the most ardent irish patriots before the commencement of the French revolution, -
It must not be supposed that one or other of the very opposite opinions already stated, respecting the cause of Ireland’s calamities, and the system of policy she should pursue, was entertained, in its full extent, by every person in the country. On the contrary, each intermediate sentiment had its advocates; , and, contradictory as the extremes may appear, they were some: times blended, almost always diversified and modified, according to the different points of view, in which the British constitution and connexion were regarded, from interests or prejudices, from education or habits, from information of ignorance, from iconsiderateness or deep reflection. Perhaps a knowledge of those Points of view, may be best obtained, by examining into the state and opinions of the leading religious sects. - :
Religion may be, said to have separated Ireland into two D 2. People,
people, the Protestants and Catholics; the Protestants were divided into the members of the church of England and the Dissenters. Both of these had been in their origin foreign colonists, introduced and enriched in consequence of long continued massacres and warfare, of confiscations and new grants, of ousters under the popery laws, and acquisitions as protestant discoverers; by all of which the original Irish had been systematically dispossessed or extirpated, and the dependance of their country Or another state, permanently secured.
The members of the church of England, not exceeding on£ tenth of the people, possessed almost the whole government and five-sixths of the landed property of the nation, which they inherited by odious and polluted titles. For a century they had nearly engrossed the profits and patronage of the church, the law, the revenue, the army, the navy, the magistracy and the corporations of Ireland, deriving their superiority and consequence from the interweaving of the ecclesiastical establishment ■with the civil authority of the country. Independent of .religious animosity, their desire to retain what they possessed, made them regard with aversion and mistrust the catholics, whom they had oppressed, and from whom they dreaded a resumption of property, should any change render the measure practicable; and their eagerness to monopolize what they so largely enjoyed, excited the jealousy of the dissenters, who shared with them somewhat of the emoluments of power. Conscious also of their aatural weakness, they saw their only security in the superiority and assistance of England; to the aggrandizement of which they were therefore uniformly devoted, The protection of that country was indeed afforded to them; but in return they paid the surrender of the commerce and liberties of Ireland.^During the American revolution, concurrent circumstances had enabled and emboldened the other sects to hurry them into measures, by which that commerce and those liberties were partially resumed; but their dispositions remained unchanged, and
faithful to their interests, they still continued to defend the British connexion, as the bulwark of their importance and strength.
The Dissenters, who were originally settled for the most part in Ulster, regarded no doubt with filial affection the country from whence they came, and with contempt and dislike the people whom they displaced—rthey also detested catholics with the fanatic fervour that characterised the early disciples of Knox and Calvin. Their descendants,however,possessingfew overgrown 'landed properties, and being mostly engaged in manufacture! / and trade, did not feel a dependance on England as* essential to their existence or happiness; but they felt the commercial restrictions to which it gave rise as injurious to their prosperity and pursuits. They were twice as numerous as the Lutherans, and had not the same inducement of weakness and fears, for Seeking support and succour in the arms of a foreign power.— . The predilection for their native country being therefore checked by no extraneous causes, they gradually ceased to consider themselves in any other light than Irishmen—they became anxious for Ireland's welfare, and sensible to its wrongs. Lover3 of Liberty, and almost republicans from religion, from education and early habits, they sympathised with the Americans, when that kindred people was struggling to shake off the British yoke—they principally composed in their own island the neverto-be-forgotten volunteers, and most energetically raised their voices and their arms in favour of its commercial freedom and constitutional independence,. as far as those points were at that time understood. They were even suspected of aiming at separation from England. There was, however, no union of sentiment or sense of common interests among the different religious sects sufficiently strong to justify the hope that Ireland could; maintain itself as a distinct power; and many, in whom the efforts pf the transatlantic colonies had necessarily excited
congenial wishes, apprehended that it must be dependant on either England or Francer
In this alternative the dissenters saw no room to hesitate: for however great their admiration of America and its constitutions, they preferred England when contrasted with France, for the freedom of its government; and would not by a change of masters risk the horrors pf popery and slavery vfhich they had been taught to believe and boast, that thein forefathers had combated and repelled. They however continued to be distin* guished by their zeal in pursuit of parliamentary reform, and of every other measure founded on the principles of democracy and liberty.
The catholics were the descendents of the primitive Irish, or of those early settlers whom the reformation had identified with, the aboriginal inhabitants. While in the violence of contest, the adherents of the pope every where regarded with hatred and horror the sects that had separated from his church, unquestionably the Irish catholics strongly participated in the common feelings; but they were rapidly disappearing in Ireland as in the rest of Europe. Those men, however, still continued estranged from tlk-ir protectant countrymen by causes much more substantial than religious bigotry, They were nearly three-fourths of the popu. lation, and instead of enjoying the estates of their forefathersi they scarcely possessed one fifteenth of the landed property of the kingdom. To this state they had been reduced by various causes which might have been forgotten in the lapse of years, but that one still remained in the code caHed the Popery laws* which by its continued operation perpetuated the remembrance cf the past, excited resentment for the present, and apprehentions for the future. Nor was that the only injury they experienced from these laws, which undermined the affections, controlled the attachments, restrained the industry, closed the prospects, prohibited the education, and punished, the religion of
those. those against whom they were enacted. This code had indeed suffered some mitigation within the last twelve years; but enough still remained to injure and to degrade.*
The effect of such a complicated system of persecution and Oppression upon its victims may be easily conceived. The peasantry were reduced to a lamentable state of physical wretched* ness and moral degradation. Even the gentry were broken down; and, though individually brave, and characteristically national, they seemed devoid of collective courage and political Spirit. The catholics loved Ireland with enthusiasm, not only as their country, but as the partner of their calamities—to the actual interposition of England, or to its immediate influence, they ascribed their sufferings, civil and religious, with those of their forefathers. Hereditary hatred therefore, and sense of injury, had always conspired with national pride and patriotism, to make them adverse to that country, and enemies to British connexion; This they had often manifested, when there was a prospect of doing it with success. Now however they appeared only anxious to soften the rigours of their situation by an uniform support of government, which had carefully insinuated to them, that it was their protector against the other sects, but most especially against the dissenters, and that it alone prevented the severe execution of the popery laws. This obsequiousness on the part of the catholics, their former well known attachment to the French court, while they could hope for its assistance, and seme remaining prejudices against their religion itself, caused them to be regarded by the protestants as unfit for liberty and hostile to its establishment.
Much mutual distrust and alienation naturally flowed from this difference of interests, sentiments and opinions. Some progress towards conquering them, had, indeed, been made in the
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* See Appendix for a general view of the Popery Laws.