Page images

power, they employed the Reverend William Jackson, who had been for some years resident in France, to go to England and Ireland for the purpose, among other things, of getting accurate information of the state of each. In London, he contrived to obtain a paper descriptive of the state of England, which asserted, that all parties would unite to repel an invasion. He then determined to proceed to Dublin; but first made Mr. Cockayne (an attorney who had been his acquaintance for many years) privy to his mission. Mr. Cockayne directly communicated the intelligence to the English ministry, and was ordered to contrive that he might be Mr. Jackson's travelling companion, and a vigilant reporter of his proceedings. They accordirp;ly set out together, about April 1794, for Dublin, when they accidentally met a gentlemen, who had known Mr. Cockayne in London, and of course invited him and his fellow-traveller to dinner. The company consisted of men whose principles were democratic, and the conversation was consequently of that cast. By means of an acquaintance which Mr. Jackson there formed with Mr. Lewines, and by some intimation of his not being an unimportant character, he contrived to be introduced to Mr. Hamilton Rowan, then in Newgate, and by him to Mr. Tone and Dr. Reynolds. To them he communicated the motives of his journey, and shewed them the paper he had procured in England. This caused Mr. Tone to draw up, for the purpose also of being sent to France, a succinct and forcible statement of what he conceived to be the actual situation of Ireland. He divided its population into religious and political classes, of each of which he pointed out the strength, interests, dispositions and grievances, together with the effect that would be produced on each by an invasion. "In a word," concluded he, "from "reason, reflection, interest, prejudice, the spirit of change, the "misery of the great bulk of the nation, and above all, the "hatred of the English name, resulting from the tyranny of "near seven centuries, there seems to be little doubt but an in"vasion in sufficient force would be supported by the people.

There "There is scarcely any army in the country, and the militia, "the bulk of whom are catholics, would to a moral certainty "refuse to act, if they saw such a force as they could look "to, for support."

Mr. Jackson was so pleased with this paper and its author, that he pressed him very strongly to go to France, and enforce in person its contents; promising him the utmost success, both as a public and private man. At first Mr. Tone agreed to this proposal; but afterwards declined it, on account of his wife and children. Mr. Rowan then suggested, that Dr. Reynolds should go on the same mission, which he was not unwilling to do, but was discountenanced by Jackson, who wished it to be undertaken by no other person but Tone, of whose consent he had not entirely despaired. While this was going on, government was minutely informed of every particular by the interven. tion of Cockayne; and having intercepted some of Jackson's letters, enough to form a body of evidence against him, he was arrested the latter end of April. Dr. Reynolds shortly after got privately to America. Mr. Rowan escaped from Newgate on the night of the first of May, and was conveyed on board a small vessel in Dublin harbour, that had been secured for him by a friend. A proclamation was directly issued by government, offering £1000 reward for his apprehension, and another by the corporation of Dublin, from whose gaol he had escaped, offering £500 for the same purpose. The sailors of the ship in which he was concealed, knowing whom they had on board, shewed him the two proclamations, to which he answered, "lads my life is in your hands," and made them fully acquainted with the cause of his danger and flight. They instantly assured him they never would betray, but would protect him to the last extremity. Accordingly, on the first change of wind, they put to sea, and landed him safely in France. Tone, on the other hand, made no attempt at concealment or escape. He was not at first ascertained that Cockayne was an informer, and even

after after he had reason to be otherwise convinced, he persuaded himself that no more could be proved against him, than misprision of treason, in concealing a solicitation to go to France* which he had rejected. In this opinion he was probably mistaken, but the point was never tried, owing to the interposition of private friendship. Mr. Marcus Reresford and others, whose government connections were of the first importance, interested themselves zealously and successfully, to screen him from prosecution. Attempts however were made to induce him, by threats and offers, to appear against his associates; but tins he rejected with ir.dignation. He communicated unequivocally to the servants -of the crown, every thing he had done himself; but refused to disclose what might affect others; and added, that if he was left unmolested, it was his intention, as soon as he could settle his affairs, and receive payment of the £1500that had been voted him by the catholic committee, to quit Ireland; that if, however, government chose to prevent his doing so, it might arrest him, and if he was put upon his trial, he would justify his political conduct. The influence of his., friends, with perhaps his own firmness, prevailed, and he reniaiiied undisturbed.

The arrest of Jackson, and the publication of his designs, conveyed no UDwelcome information to the body of the Irish people. From thence they derived the first authentic intelligence, that their situation was an object of attention to France, and that they might perhaps, at some future period, receive assistance from that quarter. These expectations were cherished with the more ardour, on account of the surprising victories of the republican armies in the summer of 1794, and not a little sweetened by the fall of Robespiere, and the consequent hope, that the reign of terror and cruelty was about to cease.

In the sullen broodings also of secret discontent, republicanIsm, and the desire of separation from England, found powerful auxiliaries. Men, whose moderate principles and limited views had been bounded by reform, thought they read in the proscription of parliament, and the obstinacy of the borough proprietors, that reform was equally difficult of attainment as revolution; and that the connexion with England was the firmest bulwark of the abuses they sought to overthrow. From hence they inferred, that every thing must be hazarded before any thing could be gained. Some undoubtedly were driven by the force of this conclusion to rally round the ministerial standard; but the immense majority, even of simple reformers, were rather impelled by it to aim at more important objects. Nothing, not even a reform, they imagined could be accomplished without foreign succours; incompetent as they deemed themselves to cope with England and the aristocracy at home. No nation, however, could be expected to give effectual aid, unless the end proposed to it was, in point of interest, equivalent to the risk. A reform in the Irish parliament was not that equivalent to any' foreign state; but the weakening of England, by destroying its connexion with Ireland, was of supreme importance, as they thought, to every maritime power. This train of reasoning'was further strengthened in men of more democratic principles, by a conviction of the superior excellence of a republican government. Reform, and a republic, said they, are surrounded with equal difficulties, if only the internal strength of the Irish people be considered; but the most valuable of these objects is by much the most attainable, if reference be had to the chance of foreign assistance.

No steps, however, were at this time taking for action, or even for preparation; but all parties were speculating upon some change, in consequence of the French successes. There w£re persons indeed, who began to think, that after th* experience of failure from the abandonment by leaders in 1784, and after,

perhaps, perhaps, a subsequent experience in 179.3, the only sure plan would be, to make the mass of the people act: they never would betray themselves; nor be satisfied with any thing short of what their own wants required. Besides, as the remnants of religious animosity were still chiefly to be found in the lower orders, it was hoped that by bringing together those of that description, though of different sects; they might soon learn the identity of. their views and interests, and as ardently love, as for centuries past they and their ancestors had feared, each other.

These ideas seemed to influence one of the three societies of United Irishmen, that had been formed in Belfast; which having escaped from observation by the obscurity of its members, had never entirely discontinued its sittings; and also another club of men, principally in the same sphere of life, some of whom had indeed been United Irishmen; but others never were. As there was scarcely a possibility of assembling in public, or of openly expressing their political sentiments, they wished to devise other means, and determined, as far as in their power, to influence the friends of liberty to come together again, and institute a system of secret associations: this they soon in part accomplished. Instead of the United Irish test, an oath mostly copied from it, was adopted; but the substance was so altered as to correspond with the progress of opinions. It did not like the test simply bind, to the use of abilities and influence in the attainment of an impartial and adequate representation of the Irish nation in parliament; but every member was sworn to "persevere in his endeavours to obtain an equal, full and adequate representation of all the people of Ireland:" thus leaving ample room for the efforts of republicanism. Secrecy and mutual confidence were also necessary, and the laws, which stood in the way of the pursuits and objects of these societies, were to be disarmed of their terrors. For this purpose, it was made part of the admission oath, that neitheir hopes nor fears, rewards nor punishments, should ever induce the person taking it, dit rectly

« PreviousContinue »