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IRISH HISTORY. 27
* application (a petition to the king) will have great weight “ with our gracious sovereign and with parliament, if our friends “ are qualified to declare that it is the universal wish of every “Catholic in the nation.” The necessary unanimity was further promoted by a declaration from the leaders of the Sixty-Eight (repentant from the inadequacy of the relief granted to their good demeanour) that they would never again enter into any act to oppose the general committee, in its endeavours to obtain emancipation.
The plan itself proposed, that electors should be chosen by all the inhabitants of that religion in every parish, and that, these electors should, in each county, choose its delegates to the committee. This manner of conducting the election, was most satisfactory to the United Irishmen, who had now begun to maintain universal suffrage, as the only just mode of appointing representatives; and it removed from the dissenters all remaining
apprehensions that the catholics might be unfit for liberty.
This project for re-organizing the general committee was at first very strongly opposed by the catholic bishops, who probably foresaw from its accomplishment the annihilation of their own influence in that assembly, as well as the displeasure it would afford to government. They strenuously insisted to their flocks, that the measure was not only impolitic, but illegal, and imminently dangerous to those who might attempt to carry it into effect. This charge of illegality, which was also made from other quarters, determined the committee to submit the plan itself to the opinion of two eminent lawyers, whose professional characters might remove all apprehension or doubt, while the independence and the liberality of their principles would guard against the injurious operation of corrupt influence or religious prejudice. For this purpose they chose the Hon. Simon Butler, and Beresford Burston, whose answers being entirely favourable, were printed, and universally dispersed throughout the country. * From From thenceforth no farther mention was expressly made of ove. illegality of the measure, and catholic opposition to it gradually died away.
The proceedings of the committee were seconded in the strongest manner by Belfast and its neighbourhood, at their commemoration meeting on the 14th of July. As volunteer associations had never been totally discontinued in Ulster, that day’s immense assembly consisted not only of those, with the other inhabitants of the town and the vicinity, but also of a very considerable number of distant volunteer companies, together with a great concourse from a wide circuit of the north. The objects to be proposed to the meeting, having been the subject of a year's general and public discussion, were perfectly well understood by all before their assembling. These objects were to express a decided approbation of the French Revolution, with entire confidence in its success, and to adopt its principles as far as they were applicable to Ireland, through the means of catholic emancipation and parliamentary reform. A number of principal catholics and others from Dublin, attended this meeting by previous agreement, that they might themselves witness the spirit of the north. The resolutions and addresses were carried with acclamation, and the visitors returned satisfied as to the present and sanguine as to the future issue of the popular
But the agitation which the plan of the general committee produced throughout the kingdom, during the summer and autumn of 1792, was most extraordinary. Wherever their adversaries were sufficiently strong, corporate or county meetings were held to reprobate the plan, and to resist the exorbitant pretensions of the catholics; but if defeat, or even formidable resistance was dreaded, similar resolutions were entered into by the grand juries, where success could be easily secured from the
mode of their appointment.
These resolutions breathed no common opposition. . In general, they charged the committee with the intention of overawing the legislature; they drew a line of circumvallation round the protestant ascendancy, and pledged those who adopted them, as solemnly as could be done by words, to resist with their lives and fortunes every attempt to regain a right within its limits.The corporation of Dublin went still further; for, alluding to the possibility of government's finally acceding to the catholic claims, it expressly says, that “the protestants of Ireland “would not be compelled, by any authority whatever, to aban“don that political situation which their forefathers won with “ their swords, and which is therefore their birthright:” and to this threatened resistance against the constituted authorities, it solemnly pledged the lives and fortunes of its members. That no doubt might be entertained as to the extent of what it was
determined at all hazards to maintain, it gave a definition of pro
testant ascendency in these words: “A protestant king of Ire
“land, a protestant parliament, a protestant hierarchy, protestant
infinite weight, if it appeared to be the wish of every cathos in the nation,
The fiends of emancipation were not on their parts much less active. The United Irishmen of Dublin and several catholic bodies, treated with indignation, argument, contempt, severity and ridicule, the pledges and menaces of the opposite party. Those in the capital particularly directed their attention to the circular letters issued by the corporation of that city, and in a pointed declaration denied its assertions and replied to its reasonings. The meeting convened for this purpose was remarkable, among other things, for affording to the catholics the first public opportunity of exerting their unknown, and almost despised talents. All the speeches on that occasion, but particularly the able, artful and argumentative declamation of Mr. Keogh; the classic and cultivated eloquence of Dr. Ryan, filled their ascendency opponents with mortification and surprise.
In order further to do away the effects of the grand jury re
solutions, and to consider the situation of affairs, a great number
of meetings of different towns and districts were likewise held throughout the province of Ulster during the winter of 1792. At all of them it was declared, that a radical reform in the representation of the people was the only remedy for the many existing grievances. Some few, with Londonderry at their head, expressed themselves as favourable to the gradual admission of the catholics into this basis of reform; but the great majority fol. lowed the example of Belfast, and declared for the immediate and unqualified extension of the right of suffrage to the whole tatholic body.
These declarations, from different assemblies, having testified some slight disagreement on one of the great questions, it was proposed to call a convention of the province, as had twice before been done, and on one occasion with marked success— Dungannon;
IRISH HISTORY. - 31
Dungannon, the former place of meeting, and even the fif,
Their elections had been every where carried on, even during
the heat of the grand jury and county resolutions, with tran: quillity, and almost without observation. - But the threatened hostilities of the protestant ascendency roused a martial spirit in
its opponents, The ranks of the old volunteer corps were filling, and new ones springing up in every part of the NorthVague and obscure notions, that the resistance of those who benefitted by the existing exclusions, together with the tide of political opinions now strongly setting in from France, would
o cause Ireland to be the theatre of revolution and the seat of war, seemed already to have possessed the minds of many; and the military dispositions and habits of the Irish were not such as to make them shrink from the struggle. Ever since the defection of the Sixty-Eight, the catholics had been kept in constant
t heat and agitation by political disputes and discussions. They s first stepped forward to resist thataristocracy and support their committee : their attention was then more peculiarly turned inwards upon their disabilities, by those occurrences, and by the debates in parliament, while their affection was in no respect conciliated by the temper with which those debates were marked. The ensuing summer called forth all their reasoning faculties in their own defence, and excited all their animal feelings by insult, asperity, and menace. To them, therefore, the proceedings of the last year had been a continued study of the Rights of Man, and a gradual incitement to assert them. The dissenters, who never stood in need of much preliminary preparation, contemplated with enthusiasm the progress of the French revolution. and remembered their own same in 1782. They saw indeed, that their dearest objects, catholic emancipation and parliamen
G 3. tary