Page images

rectly or indirectly, to inform or give evidence againat any member of those societies, for any act or expression pursuant to the spirit of the obligation; thus stamping as a perjurer the man who should become an informer; attaching an additional sense of moral guilt to a dereliction of their cause, and destroying all regard of those recently made laws, which they said were enacted by a government it was criminal to support.

This plan was adopted, and the new test was taken by the two Belfast clubs; several others were also organised in that town and its vicinity, during the autumn and winter of 1794. As the name of United Irishmen was dear to the people, from the obloquies which had been cast upon them by the friends of government; and as it so well expressed their own intentions, the title of that body was adopted for the new associations; and this identity of name has generally led into an erroneous belief, that the new system was only a direct continuation of the old one.


It has been already hinted, and cannot be too forcibly impressed on the reflecting reader, that this institution, which from its very outset, looked towards a republican government, founded-on the broadest principles of religious liberty and equal rights; that this institution, the consequences of which are yet to be read in the history of Ireland, was not the cabal of ambitious leaders, of artful intriguers, or speculative enthusiasts. Its first traces are to be found among mechanics, petty shop-keepers and farmers, who wanted a practical engine, by which the power and exertions of men like themselves, might be most effectually combined and employed: accordingly the scheme was calculated to embrace the lower orders, and in fact to make every man a politician. From the base of society, it gradually ascended first to the middling, and then to the more opulent ranks. Even in the very town where it had its origin, its existence was for a long time unknown to the generality ofthose who had previously

a bsen

been the most prominent democratic character's j nor did they enter into the organization, until they saw how extensively it included those below therru

While this system was making its advances, silently but rapidly in the North, a change took place in the lieutenancy of Ireland. When Mr. Pitt thought it advi'seable to dismember the English opposition, by detaching from it those whose opinions on the subject of the French war most nearly coincided with his own, the duke of Portland was prevailed upon to enter the cabinet, by such offers as can be best inferred from lord Fitzwilliam's letters to lo'rd Carlisle, which have been published by the authority of the writer. These offers are sufficiently expressed in the following passages :—" When the duke of "Portland and his friends were to be enticedwiO a coalition with "Mr. Pitt's administration, it was necessary to hold out such "lures, as would make the coalition palatable. If the general "management and superintendence of Ireland had not been of"fered to his grace, that coalition could never have taken place." The superinlendance of that country having been vested in the duke, he seems to have been seriously intent on remedying some of the vices in its government. The system of that go* vernment, he said, was execrable; so execrable as to threaten not only Ireland with the greatest misfortune, but ultimately the empire. So strong was this opinion on his mind, that he seemed determined on going himself to reform those manifold abuses; if he could not find some one in whom he might have the most unbounded confidence, to undertake the arduous task. Such a person he found in lord Fitzwilliam, his second self— his nearest and dearest friend. That nobleman was far from desirous of undertaking the herculean office; but he was urgently pressed and persuaded by the duke of Portland. They both had connexions and political friends in Ireland, members of the opposition, whom they wished to consult on tike future arrangements, and whose support lord Fitzwilliam conceived of indis

x pensibk pensible importance. Mr. Grattan, Mr. Wm. Ponsonby, Mr. Denis Bowes Daly, and other members of that party, were therefore, invited to London. They held frequent consultations with the duke of Portland and lord Fitzwilliam, at which Mr. Edmund Burjce also occasionally assisted, i

As they had, during the preceding session of parliament, even under the unpopular administration of lord Westmorland, expressed their approbation of the war, and assented to the strong measures of government, they were very ready to join with the duke of Portland in rallying under the standard of Mr. Pitt, provided certain domestic stipulations were acceded to, from which they hoped to eecure some share of public confidence.?-Among tnese were unqualified catholic emancipation, the dismissal of what was called the Beresford faction, with adequate regulations for preventing embezzlement, and for securing order and economy in the collection and administration of the treasury and revenue. Mr. Burke also suggested a further measure of liberality, flowing to the catholics from government itself.— They, he asserted, were far from being conciliated even by the partial repeal of the popery laivsin 1793; in as much as administration, while it acceded to the law, shewed dislike to its relief, by avoiding as much as possible to act under its provisions s —although it rendered them admissible to certain offices, no appointment had been made, which realized to any individual the benefits it promised. He therefore advised that those places' should, in some ascertained proportion, be conferred on catholics, so as to bind■ more closely the members of that communion to, the state.

These consultations lasted for some months; and when the, opposition leaders had determined upon their project, it was communicated to the British cabinet, as containing the terms ypon which they were willing to take a share, in the Irish government. Mr. Pitt wished and indeed tried to obtain, that scone of!

N 2 those those measures should be at least delayed in the execution for 3 season ; but Mr. Grattan and his friends insisted that they should be brought forward the very first session, in order to give eclat to the commencement of their administration. In the propriety of this demand the duke of Portland uniformly concurred, and even Mr. Pitt himself, who had previously kept in the back ground, and avoided personal communication with lord Fitzwilliam's friends, was present at some of the latter interviews, and certainly did not prevent its being believed, that he acquiesced in those demands, with which it was impossible to doubt his being acquainted. The members of opposition had no great experience of cabinets; they conceived, that they were entering into honourable engagements, in which every thing that was allowed to be understood, was equally binding with whatever was absolutely expressed, They rested satisfied that their stipulations were known and acceded to 5 they neglected to get them formally signed and ratified, or reduced to the shape of instructions from the British cabinet to the viceroy; they put them unsuspectingly in their pockets, and set off to become ministers in Ireland. Dr. Hussey too, an Irishman and a catholic ecclesiastic, who, it is said, had more than once been entrusted with important missions by English administrations, was sent over by the cabinet, to superintend and frame a plan for the education of the Irish clergy, in coincidence, it was supposed, with the other benefits intended for the members of that religion.

Mr. Grattan and his colleagues were scarcely arrived, when, finding that public expectation, particularly on the catholic question, had been awakened by the negociations in England, and by lord Fitzwilliam's appointment, they determined to begin without delay the system of conciliation, for which, as they conceived, they had received sufficient authority. It was therefore communicated so early as the 15th of December to some of the most active members of the late catholic committee, that lord Fitzwilliam had full powers to consent to the removal of

all all remaining disabilities; but that, as opposition to that measure was naturally to be expected from the protestant ascendency, it behoved the catholics to be active in their own cause, and to be prepared with petitions from all quarters. This intimation overcame a resolution formed by very many of that persuasion, that they would never again consent to meet as a distinct body. On the 23d, the former sub-committee, therefore, advised the catholics to petition in their different counties and districts, for the entire restoration of their rights,

[1795 ] Lord Fitzwilliam arrived and assumed his office on the 5th of January, 1795. As experience had shewn how much reputation might be hazarded by ministerial coalitions, the friends of his excellency deemed it adviseable to counteract the suspicions which his and their novel connexions might inspire; they therefore let it be known, that he came to reverse the system of internal misrule, under which Ireland had been previously oppressed. To this assertion instant belief was given, when it was understood whom he had called to his councils, and whom he was inclined to repel from his presence. Mr. G rattan, Mr. Curran and the Ponsonby family were, of late, pledged to the utmost extent of catholic emancipation, and, to a certain measure at least, of parliamentary reform. An expectation of something beneficial was, therefore, entertained from an administration, in which they were to be conspicuous; but as the instability of political characters had been too often proved, more sanguine confidence was excited by the rumoured intention to disgrace and dismiss such men as lord Clare, Mr. Beresford, Messrs. Wolfe and Toler. The complete repeal of all the remaining popery laws was considered as essentially connected with this change, and some even ventured to hope for more important public benefits.

The appointment, therefore, of his excellency excited a lively interest, and gave universal satisfaction to those catholics, dissenters,

« PreviousContinue »