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gents at this time complained: the tythes exacted by the clergy were said.to be unreasonable, and the rent of land was more than they could bear. In 1763, therefore, being exasperated by a road proposed to be made through a part of the country of Armagh, the inhabitants most immediately affected by it, rose in a body, and declared that they would make no more highways of the kind. As a mark of distinction, they wore oak branches in their hats, from which circumstance they called themselves Oak Boys. The number of their partisans soon increased, and the insurrection became general through the counties of Armagh, Tyrone, Derry, and Fermanagh. In a few weeks, how. ever, they were dispersed by parties of the military; and the public tranquility was restored with the loss of only two or three lives. The road-act, which had been so justly found fault with, was repealed next session; and it was determined, that for the future the roads should be made and repaired by a tax to be equally assessed on the lands of the rich and the poor.
Besides these, another set of insurgents called Steel Boys, soon made their appearance, on the following account. The estate of an absentee nobleman happening to be out of lease, he proposed, instead of an additional rent, to take fines from his tenants. Many of those who at that time possessed his lands, were unable to comply with his terms; while others who could afford to do so, insisted upon a greater rent from their undertenants than they were able to pay. The usual consequences of this kind of oppression instantly took place. Numbers being dispossed and thrown destitute, were forced into acts of outrage similar to those already mentioned. A very respectable farmer, of the name of Douglas, having been charged with being a principal leader of the Steel Boys, was seized and confined in Belfast, in order to be committed to the county jail ; but his friends and associates, highly irritated at the treatment he had received, and smarting under their own grievances, determined to rescue him by force. The design was eagerly entered into by great numbers all over the country; and several hundreds, having provided themselves with offensive weapons, proceeded to Belfast in order to release the prisoner. To prevent this, he was removed to the barracks, and placed under the guard of a large party of Highland soldiers quartered there, The Steel Boys, however, with a determined and undaunted
courage, worthy of the best cause, and in excellent order, pressed forward to accomplish their purpose by force, and several shots were actually exchanged between them and the military. The consequences would undoubtedly have been fatal, had it not been for a physician of highly respectable character, who interposed at the risk of his life, and prevailed upon those concerned to set the prisoner at liberty. The tumult, however, was not thus quelled. The number of insurgents daily increased, and violences committed by them were much greater than. those of the other two parties. Some were taken and tried at Carrickfergus, but none condemned. It was supposed that the fear of popular resentment had influenced the judges ; for which reason an act was passed, enjoining the trial of such prisoners for the future to be held in counties different from those where the crimes were committed. This breach of a fundamental law of the constitution gave such offence, that though several of the Steel Boys were afterwards taken up and carried to the castle of Dublin, no jury would find them guilty. This obnoxious law was therefore repealed ; after which some of the insurgents, being tried in their respective counties, were condemned and executed. Thus the commotions were extinguished; but as no methods were taken to remove the cause, the continued distresses of the people drove many thousands of them to America in a few years.
In the mean time, a very material alteration had taken place in the constitution of the kingdom, with regard to the duration of parliaments. At an early period these had continued only for a year; but afterwards they were prolonged until the death of a sovereign, unless he chose to dissolve it sooner by an exertion of his prerogative. Thus, from the moment of their election, the commoners of Ireland were in a manner totally independent of the people, and under the influence of the crown; and government soon availed itself of this power to bribe a majority to serve its own purposes. Various methods were shought of to remedy this evil; but all proved ineffectual until the year 1768, when, during the administration of Lord Townshend, a bill was prepared and sent over to England, by which, it was enacted, that the Irish parliaments thenceforth should be held every seven years. It was returned with the addition of
one year; and from that period down to the union with Great Britain, the parliament of Ireland continued to be octennial. During this session, (1769) an attempt was made by the British ministry to infringe upon the rights of the house of commons in a very material point. A money-bill, which had not originated in Ireland, was sent over from Britain, but was rejected in a spirited manner. Its rejection gave great offence to the lord lieutenant, who repeatedly prorogued them till the year one thousand seven hundred and seventy-one. ..
The affairs of Ireland began now to draw towards that crisis which effected a remarkable revolution in favour of the liberties of the people. The passing of the octennial bill had diminished, but not taken away, the influence of the crown ; and the situation of affairs between great Britain and America had inclined the ministry to make the most of this influence possible. In one thousand seven hundred and seventy-three, Lord Harcourt, at that time governor of Ireland, exerted himself so powerfully in favour of administration, that the voice of opposition in parliament was almost entirely silenced. The difficulties, however, under which the whole nation laboured, began now to be so severely felt, that an address on the subject was presented by the commons to his excellency. In this they told him, that they hoped he would lay before his majesty the state of Ireland, restricted in its commerce from the short-sighted policy of former times, to the great injury of the kingdom, and the advantage of the ri- vals, if not of the enemies, of Great Britain. These hardships, they said, were not only impolitic, but unjust; and they told his excellency plainly, that they expected to be restored to some, if not to all their rights, which alone could justify them to their constituents for laying upon them so many burdens during the course of this session.
This representation to the lord lieutenant produced no effect; and Ireland for some years longer continued to groan under the burden of intolerable restrictions. These had principally taken place in the reign of Charles II. At this time it was enacted, that beef or live cattle should not be exported to En-: gland ; neither were the commodities of Ireland to be exported to the American colonies, nor American goods to be imported to any port in Ireland without first- unloading them in some
part of England or Wales. All trade with Asia was excluded by charters granted to particular companies; and restrictions were imposed upon almost every valuable article of commerce sent to the different ports of Europe. Towards the end of king William's reign, an absolute prohibition was laid on the exportation of Irish wool. This restriction proved disadvantageous not only to Ireland, but to Great Britain herself. By smuggling, the French were plentifully supplied with Irish wool; and not only enabled to furnish woollen stuffs sufficient for their own consumption, but even to vie with the British in the foreign markets. Other restrictions conspired to augment the National calamity ; but that which was most sensibly felt, took place in the year one thousand seven hundred and seventy-six. “There “ had hitherto (says Mr. Crawford) been exported annually to “ America large quantities of Irish linens : this very considera“ ble source of national advantage was now shut up, under prestence of rendering it more difficult for the enemy to be sup“plied with the means of subsistence ; but in reality, to enable "a few rapacious English contractors to fulfil their engage“ments, an embargo which continued, was laid upon the ex" portation of provisions from Ireland, by an unconstitutional “ stretch of prerogative. Remittances to England, on various " accounts, particularly for the payment of our forces abroad, “ were more than usually considerable. These immediate " causes being combined with those which were invariable and
permanent, produced in this country very calamitous effects. “ Black cattle fell very considerably in their value ; notwith"standing there were no buyers. The price of wool was re" duced in a still greater proportion. Rents fell every where; “nor in many places was it possible to collect them. An uni"versal stagnation of business ensued. Credit was very mate“ rially injured. Farmers were pressed by extreme necessity, “ and many of them became insolvent. Numbers of manufac“turers were reduced to beggary, and would have perished, " had they not been supported by public charity. Those of ós every rank and condition were deeply affected by the calami“ty of the times. Had the state of the exchequer permitted, grants "might have been made to promote industry, and to alleviate the "national distress; but it was exhausted to a very uncommon
« degree. Almost every branch of the revenue had failed. From “ want of money the militia law could not be carried into exe“cution. We could not pay our forces abroad ; and to enable “ us to pay those at home, there was a necessity of borrowing • fifty thousand pounds from England. The money which “ parliament was forced to raise, it was obliged to borrow at an “ exorbitant interest. England, in its present state, was affect" ed with the wretched condition to which our affairs were re“ duced. Individuals there, who had estates in Ireland, were « sharers of the common calamity; and the attention of indi66 viduals in the British parliament was turned to our situation, “ who had even no personal interest in this country.”