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For, in proportion as the power of the Irish parliament increased, the value of suffrages increased, and the price of boroughs. Had the Volunteers adopted the plan of buying off the boroughs, as Pitt did afterwards, the reform might, perhaps, have been carried, as the extinction of parliament was, at the expence of the poor Irish nation.
Though the efforts of the Volunteer army proved abortive in that particular, they deserve a place in history, like other memorable enterprizes, that failed likewise; because history is the repository of human calamities, as well as success and prosperity. The Volunteer army of the north led the van in the public service. Without catholic emancipation, and parliamentary reform, all, that had been hitherto accomplished, rested on a tottering foundation, liable to be blown down by the first storm.
As Flood's arguments, on the question of retrenchment, in 1783, lay open some of the arts, by which the British ministry purloined away from the Irish, the benefit of late concessions, it may not prove unacceptable to the reader.
"Notwithstanding the late hour, and the suffocation with which we are at present threatened in this house, and which will, I trust, in future be prevented by some contrivance to admit the fresh air without danger of cold, I cannot avoid offering to your consideration, a plan which will introduce a system of (economy into the state, and thereby enable this country to avoid that abyss of poverty and wretchedness with which, through the mismanagement of the minister, and Vol. iv. 2 c
corruption of his satellites, we are now threatened. A military reduction I now consider as affording the only solid ground for oeconomy. To reduce the civil list, would be frivolous, pitiful, undeserving the name of oeconomy, and therefore ought to bring contempt on such as would venture to rest solely there—not that I think the civil list ought to escape the pruning hand of this house, for every little will help; but so materially do our present expenditures exceed our income, that the whole civil list being struck off, would by no means equal them: to begin with it therefore is ridiculous; that this is the proper time for entering on this discussion no man can deny; if we wait till the committee of supply sit, we shall be told it is too late; so rapid and constant too has our extravagance been, that no time should be lost in interposing on behalf of our country. In the year 1775 you were not in debt, in the beginning of the late war you were not in debt; at the conclusion of the war you owed but jf?500,000, yet in the time of peace you quadruple that debt, notwithstanding the people and manufactures were burdened with new and excessive taxation. Your revenue has encreased, and your debts have kept pace with it; since the augmentation was voted, this has been regularly the course of things; let the virtue then of 1783 correct the abuses of 1762, the causes of which originated in the breach of the minister of the day—a man as subtle as he was crafty—a man, who wanting natural, substituted pecuniary influence—who, unconnected in this I
country, had great connexions to oppose; thus situated, he at first carried his ideas so far, that he applied for an augmentation of 20,000 men, but this was so truly laughable, that it was scouted at; this unreasonable plan was reduced to 15,000 men; but, foreseeing that it would not be easy to carry even this point at one stroke, he artfully introduced a resolution, that 12,000 men were necessary for the defence of this country, knowing that we dare not meddle with the 3,500 which we had always paid for England; thus did we become dupes to his ambition, and were saddled with an army of officers, not privates—an army of expence, not of use—an army of the minister, not of the people.
"I know arguments will be found, to prove that all this was expedient; and, that the great number of officers and regiments are necessary; but I will only ask, would the King of Prussia (and though I highly honour and respect the Rt. Hon. Gentleman who commands our army, it is no disgrace to set him the example of the King of Prussia) act so? No—I say, the King of Prussia, who is on all hands allowed to understand military matters as well as any individual now alive, differs widely from us in the regulation of his army: in it, the proportion of privates to officers is not as ours is, nearly double to what it is in our army; no—we know, that he has not one-fourth our number of officers, in proportion to his troops. Some regulation to this effect might also afford ground for considerable retrenchment, and for one such regulation,
204; AN IMPARTIAL HISTORYit should meet my support, merely in compliment to the opinion of that great man; and his opinion we may easily collect from his practice. Now if the present distressed state of our finances be traced to this source; if a faulty military establishment, encreased by a more faulty augmentation, be the cause of our enormous debt, the time of peace is surely the proper time to apply a remedy; but that this business may not depend merely upon what I say, I have it in my power to apply to the records of the house for corroborating testimony. In the year 1768, there was a committee (of the greatest consequence, if we consider the men who composed it) to take this question into consideration; I shall call for their report, in which you will see the greatest abuses exposed; you will see that our expences outran our revenues £150,000 per annum before the augmentation, and that since that time we have increased in extravagance j£100,000 more per annum, making each session j£500,000 increase of our debt; as, therefore, it is in this department our great expence lies, it is by retrenching this we can hope effectually to serve the nation, to prevent her from bankruptcy, and save her from ruin; and is there any man who will say this ought not to be done, or that it is not a consummation devoutly to be wished f
"Jn the civil list we may indeed make some trifling retrenchments, but nothing that can essentially relieve the nation. Is there any man who will say, that 12,000 men may not be maintained as heretofore? No, nor will any man say that what we could save by economy and retrenchment, should be thrown away upon a military establishment, when it might be applied to other measures infinitely more beneficial to the nation." This attempt to retrench the ex peaces of government was rejected. Grattan spoke and voted with government on that occasion. A motion for protecting Irish manufacturers, by duties on goods imported into England, was in like manner lost; and the public again took up their cause, by entering into a non-importation agreement.
A second meeting was held at Dungannon, by 500 delegates from 248 corps of Volunteers, September 8, 1783, to consider the important question of parliamentary reform; rightly judging, that it would avail little, to have freed parliament from the legislative supremacy of Britain, unless they could deliver it from the dominion of corruption. Colonel James Stewart having taken the chair, the following resolutions were entered into.
1. That freedom is the indefeasible right of Irishmen and of Britons, derived from the Author of their being, and of which no power on earth, much less a delegated power, hath a right to deprive them.
2. That they only are free, who are governed by no laws but those to which they assent, either by themselves in person, or by their representatives freely chosen, subject to the controul, and frequently returning into the common mass of constituents.