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WHILE things were in this deplorable situation, earl Nugent, in the year one thousand seven hundred and seventyeight, undertook the cause of the Irish, by moving in parliament, that their affairs should be taken into consideration by a committee of the whole house. This motion being agreed to almost unanimously, it was followed by several others, viz. That the Irish might be permitted to export directly to the British plantations, or to the settlements on the coast of Africa, all goods being the produce and manufacture of the kingdom, excepting only wool, or woollen manufactures, &c. That all goods, being the produce of any of the British plantations, or of the settlements on the coast of Africa, tobacco excepted, be allowed to be imported directly from Ireland to all places, except Britain. That glass manufactured in Ireland be permitted to be exported to all places, Britain excepted. With respect to the Irish sail cloth and cordage, it was moved, that they should have the same privilege as for the cotton yarn.
These motions having passed unanimously, bills for the relief of Ireland were framed upon them accordingly. The trading and manufacturing towns of England, however, took the alarm, and petitions against the Irish indulgence were brought forward from many different quarters, and members instructed to oppose it. In consequence of this, a warm contest took place on the second reading of the bills. Mr. Burke supported them With all the strength of his eloquence; and as the minister
seemed to favour them, they were committed; though the viðlent opposition to them still continued, which induced many of their friends at that time to desert their cause.
Though the efforts of those who favoured the cause of Ireland thus proved unsuccessful for the present, they renewed their endeavours before the Christmas vacation. They now urged, that independent of all claims from justice and humanity, the relief of Ireland was enforced by necessity. The trade with British America was now lost for ever; and it was indispensably requisite to unite the remaining parts of the empire in one common interest and affection. Ireland had hitherto been passive; but there was danger that, by driving her to extremities, she would cast off the yoke altogether; or even if this should not happen, the tyranny of Britain would be of little advantage; as on the event of a peace, the people would desert a country in which they had experienced such oppression, and emigrate to America, where they had a better prospect of liberty. On the other hand, they insisted, that very considerable advantages must ensue to Britain by the emancipation of Ireland ; and every benefit extended to that country would be returned with accumulated interest. The business was at last summed up in a motion made by lord New-' haven, that liberty should be granted to the people of Ireland to import sugars from the West-Indies.' This was carried; but the merchants of Glasgow and Manchester having petitioned against it, it was again lost through the interference of the minister, who now exerted his influence against the relief he had formerly declared in favour of. Various other efforts, however, were made to effect the intended purpose; but nothing more could be obtained than a kind of compromise, by which lord Gower pledged himself, as far as he could answer for the conduct of others, that during the recess, some plan should be fallen upon for accommodating the affairs of Ireland to the satisfaction of all parties.
In the mean time the affairs of this country hastened to a crisis which forced the British ministry to give that relief so long solicited, and which they so often promised without any intention of performing their promises. As long as the affairs of the country were under consideration of the British parliament,
the inhabitants preserved some degree of patience; but when they found themselves deserted by the minister, their discontent was inflamed beyond measure. The laws he had passed in their favour, viz. an allowance to plant tobacco, and a bill to encourage the growth of hemp, were considered as a mockery instead of relief; and it was now resolved to take such measures as should effectually convince the ministry that it was not their interest to tyrannize any longer. With this view, associations against the importation of British commodities, which had been entered into in some places before, now became universal throughout the kingdom ; and such as presumed to oppose the voice of the people in this respect, had the mortification to find themselves exposed to public obloquy and contempt on that account. Thus the Irish manufacturers began to revive ; and the people of Britain found themselves obliged seriously to take into consideration the relief of that country, and to look upon it as a matter very necessary to their interest.. To this also they were still more seriously disposed by the military associations, which had taken place some time before, and now assumed a most formidable appearance. At first, these were formed by accidental causes. The situation of Britain, for some time, had not admitted of any effectual method being taken for the defence of Ireland. Its coasts had been insulted, and the trading ships taken by the French and American privateers; nor was it at all improbable that an invasion might soon. follow. “ The minister (says Mr. Crawford) told us that the situation of Britain was such as to render her incapable of protecting us. The weakness of government, from the following circumstance, was strikingly obvious. The mayor of Belfast having transmitted a memorial to the lord lieutenant, setting forth the unprotected state of the coast, and requesting a body of the military for its defence, received for answer, that he could not afford him any other assistance than half a troop of dismounted horse and half a company of invalids.” In this dilemma, a number of the inhabitants of the town associated for the purpose of self-defence; and on the same principle, a few volunteer companies were formed in different parts of the kingdom. These chose their own officers, purchased their own arms and uniforms, and, with the assistance of persons properly
qualified, assembled regularly on the parade to acquire a knowledge in the military art. Their respectable appearance, and the zeal they showed in the service of their country, soon excited curiosity and attracted respect. Their number increased every day; and people of the first consequence became ambitious of being enrolled among them. As no foreign enemy ap. peared, against whom they might exercise their military prowess, these patriotic bands soon began to turn their thoughts towards a deliverance from domestic oppression. No sooner was this idea made known, than it gave new vigour to the spirit of volunteering; insomuch that, by the end of one thousand seven hundred and seventy-eight, the military associations were thought to amount at least to thirty thousand men. But while thus formidable from their numbers, and openly avowing their intention to demand a restitution of their rights from the British ministry, they professed the utmost loyalty and affection to the king; and with regard to sobriety and decent demeanour, they were not only unexceptionable, but exemplary. Instead of exciting disorder themselves, they restrained every kind of irregularity, and exerted themselves with unanimity and vigour for the execution of the laws.
That such a body of armed men, acting without any command or support from government, should be an object of apprehension to the ministry, is not to be wondered at. In the the infancy of their associations indeed, they might have been suppressed; but matters had been suffered to proceed too far; and, as they stood at present, all resistance was vain. As the volunteers could not be controled, some attempts were made to bring them under the influence of the crown ; but this being found impossible, ministry thought fit to treat them with an appearance of confidence; and accordingly, orders were issued for supplying them with sixteen thousand stand of arms.
The Irish parliament, thus encouraged by the spirit of the nation, and pressed by the difficulties arising from the diminished value of their estates, resolved to exert themselves in a becoming manner, in order to procure relief to their country. At their meeting in October, one thousand seven hundred and seventy-nine, an address to his majesty was drawn up; in which it was expressly declared, that it was not by temporary expedi
“ents, but by a free trade alone, that Ireland was now to be saved “ from impending ruin.” When this address was carried up 'to the lord lieutenant, the streets of Dublin were lined with volunteers, commanded by the duke of Leinster, in their arms and uniform. But, though a general expectation of relief was now diffused, an anxious fear of disappointment still continued. If the usual supply was granted for two years, there was danger of the distresses continuing for all that time; and after it was granted, the prorogation of parliament might put a stop to the expected relief altogether. The people, however, were not now to be trifled with, As the court-party showed an aversion to comply with the popular measures, a mob rose in Dublin, who, among other acts of violence, pulled down the house of the attorney-general, and did their utmost to compel the members to promise their countenance to the matter in hand. When the point therefore came to be debated, some espoused the popular side from principle, others from necessity ; so that on the whole a majority appeared in favour of it. A short money bill was passed and transmitted to England; where, though very mortifying to the minister, it passed also.
On the meeting of the British parliament in December, the Irish affairs were first taken into consideration in the house of peers. The necessity of granting relief to that kingdom was strongly set forth by the lord who introduced them. He said, the Irish, now conscious of possessing a force and consequence to which they had hitherto been strangers, had resolved to apply it to obtain the advantages of which the nation, by this spirited exertion, now shewed themselves worthy. Had they for some time before been gratified in lesser matters, they would now have received with gratitude, what they would, as affairs stood at present, consider only as a matter of right. He then moved for a vote of censure against his majesty's ministers for their neglect of Ireland. This motion was rejected; but earl Gower, who had now deserted the cause of ministry, declared, that there did not exist in his mind a single doubt that the vote of censure was not well founded. He added, in his own vindication, that early in the summer he had promised that relief should be granted to Ireland, and had done every thing in his power to keep his word; but that all his efforts had proved fruitless.