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Prom the formation of the Society of United Irishmen, in the
Year seventeen hundred and ninety, to the conclusion of the
CHAPTER I. WE come now to trace the devastating progress of the late rebellion ; and as its origin may not improperly be dated from the formation of the society of United Irishmen, we have commenced this part of our work with stating the rise of that celebrated body.
In the month of October, seventeen hundred and ninety, this famous association first appeared in Belfast, a town which, like Sheffield in England, and Boston in America, has been long justly famed for its enlightened and patriotic inhabitants. The first society, in which were inrolled some men who afterwards shone conspicuous as principals in the rebellion, had no sooner published their political principles and views, than three similar clubs were immediately organized in Belfast, from whence their sentiments were diffused, and their measures adopted, with great rapidity throughout the province of Ulster. In the following year the united societies appeared in Dublin, and were soon increased and promoted by some most respectable names and characters, and by men possessed of the most splendid talents.
The immediate view of this extraordinary combination, was to consolidate into one great political body the whole of their countrymen, without regarding any of those religious distinctions which had hitherto kept them from acting in concert; “ for the “ purpose of forwarding a brotherhood of affection, a commu“ nion of rights, ard a union of power, among Irishmen of every of religious persuasion, and thereby to obtain a complete reform s in the legislature, founded on the principles of civil, political, 6 and religious liberty.” The emancipation of the catholics, that is, the abolition of distinctions between the romanists and the protestants, and the attainment of a thoroughly democratic house of commons in parliament, were the avowed purposes for which they were associated. In the plan which they submitted to the public, they proposed that the parliament should be annual ; that the whole kingdom should be divided into three hundred electorates, all as equal in population as possible; that neither the elector nor the representative should be disqualified by want of property; but that every man, twenty-one years of age, and possessed of his reasoning faculties, should be entitled to vote, provided he had been resident in the place during the last six months previous to the election; and that to be qualified for a representative, it was only necessary to be resident within the kingdom, to hold no place nor pension under government; and to be of the full age of twenty-five years; and that each representative should be allowed a reasonable salary for his attendance in parliament.
In the year seventeen hundred and ninety-two, a subscription was set on foot to raise money for the purpose of arming and embodying a number of men in the metropolis, under the denomination of national guards. The uniform of these guards was green, the national colour of Ireland, with buttons on which was inscribed the harp, also the armorial ensign of that country; but, to denote their wished-for overthrow of monarchy, divested of the crown, with which it had been hitherto accompanied. A day of general muster (December 9.) was appointed for these guards, apparently with intention to make an ostentatious display of their strength, in hopes of inspiring their friends with still greater confidence and courage, and of striking terror and dismay into their enemies; or per
haps with a determination even then to raise the standard of open rebellion, to seize the capital, and to commence immediately all the active operations of an offensive civil warfare. Meantime government, wisely determining to crush every appearance of insurrection in its infancy, prepared to act with vigour in the impending struggle.
The cloud of disaffection which had gradually deepened its shade, and continued to spread its influence over the political state of both kingdoms, seemed now ready to explode with dreadful effects in Ireland. To prevent, if possible, the further extension of the evil, the lord-lieutenant, on the eighth of December, the day immediately preceding that of the intended muster, issued a proclamation peremptorily prohibiting all seditious assemblies; or armed associations not authorised by the supreme power of the state ; and commanding the magistrates, should admonition and gentle measures not be found sufficient to disperse all such, to employ the utmost efforts of military force without hesitation in order to effect their purpose. The national guards, alarmed by the determined and menacing language of this proclamation, and intimidated by the formidable appearance of the garrison of the city, who were drawn up in martial array, deferred their meeting, which they never afterwards had opportunity or inclination to attempt. The principals of the society, however, assembled on the fourteenth, and published a counter-manifesto or proclamation, in which they called upon the volunteers again to take arms, for the purpose of defending the country against all enemies, internal or foreign, and of preserving tranquility, and warmly advising protestants to choose deputies for provincial assemblies, previous to a general convention, which they declared was absolutely necessary to form a common cause with the Roman catholics. Archibald Hamilton Rowan, a gentleman of respectable fortune and family, illustrious for his philanthropy, and amiable for his private character and deportment, having acted as secretary at the above meeting, was, on account of this manifesto, arrested in the ensuing month, and being brought to trial in January seventeen hundred and ninety-four, and found guilty of the charges brought against him, was sentenced to pay a fine of five hundred pounds, to be imprisoned two years, and, before his liberation, to give a security of four thousand pounds for his good behaviour during seven years. On the political principles of this gentleman, we consider it unnecessary to animadvert. That he was a warm friend to humanity, a strenuous advocate for the liberty of mankind, is sufficient for us : let the feelings of his countrymen decide whether he espoused the right side of the question or the reverse. Doctor William Drennan, who had been chairman of the same assembly, being brought to trial in June, was acquitted ; and James Napper Tandy a citizen of Dublin, so celebrated for his activity in promoting the views of the political societies, having been arrested, gave bail for his appearance, and made his escape out of the kingdom. A clergyman named William Jackson was also arrested, charged with being engaged in a treasonable correspondence with France. And Mr. Rowan, as he was deeply implicated in this correspondence, afraid of being again brought to trial and capitally convicted, contrived to escape from prison, and precipitately fled the kingdom. Mr. Jackson was found guilty, but evaded the shame of a public execution by swallowing a dose of poison, in consequence of which he expired in the bar before sentence was passed upon him, in presence of a vast multitude of spectators. ' · Edward Byrne, merchant, with several others, members of a secret committee of Romanists, which for several years had subsisted in the metropolis, issued writs to the catholic parish priests throughout every county, and many towns and districts in the kingdom, desiring the holding of elections of deputies to compose an assembly representative of the whole body of Irish Romanists. The elections (according to the republican plan adopted in France) were to be held in the catholic chapels of each district. The writs were immediately obeyed; the elections were made with the utmost celerity, and the Catholic Convention assembled publicly on the third of December seventeen hundred and ninety-two, in the Tailors-Hall, Dublin. The chiefs of the Romanists, encouraged by the very favourable declarations of several protestant associations, by the conduct of the highly celebrated Edmund Burke and his associates in Britain, together with the oppositionists in parliament, and by the society of United Irishmen, formed this particular plan, to associate by