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tained the doctrines of the church of Rome ; that the creed of the former was the established religion of the state; that the catholics had long been subjected to a severe code of laws, which, however, had in the present reign been almost entirely repealed; that, not content with complete toleration, they demanded political equality with the protestants, and such an alteration in the constitution of parliament, as would give their numbers proportional sway; but that the chief possessors of the property of the country opposed these claims, apprehending the ruin of their power from the superior number of their religious adversaries, on the removal of all restrictions. For such apprehension, he said, they had reasonable grounds, as the effects of an acquiescence in the adduced claims would be a repeal of the parliamentary test, and of the act of supremacy and uniformity, an abandonment of the defence of the protestant church, a reform of the house of commons, and a revolution of power. If, amidst the assertion of the catholic claims, the separate constitution should continue, the kingdom would remain in a state of great irritation and of frequent alarm; but, by an incorporation with Britain, the catholics would lose the advantage of the argument of numbers, and Ireland would be in a natural situation, having a very great majority in favor of the establishment. It might be said, that they would strongly oppose such a change; but, he thought, it would not be unfavorable to them, though it would secure the interest of their protestant adversaries. It would perpetuate the toleration which they enjoyed and the powers which had been conceded to them, diminish local prejudices against them, render the partiality of the government toward their rivals less necessary, and improve their condition
by by a diffusion of agricultural and commercial benefits; and an opening might be left in any plan of union, for their admission to additional privileges, without which, however, they would retain “a much greater degree of toleration than protestants had ever enjoyed under a catholic state.” He added, that, as a modus for tithes would accompany an union, both the catholics and the protestant dissenters would be ‘essentially relieved and benefited.” Many of the peers, he allowed, would be exposed by the change to a diminution of parliamentary rights; but “all personal privileges and prerogatives would remain to them,” and permanent security would be given to their titles and their properties. Similar reasoning was applicable to the candidates for seats in the house of commons; and, though the professors of the law might not be pleased at being deprived of the parliamentary market for their abilities and ambition,” they would be at leisure to pursue a more direct road to professional eminence. The men of landed property would profit by the confirmed safety of the country; the merchants would be upon an equality with those of Britain; the chief manufacture of Ireland, that of linen, would be secured for ever; British capital would be transferred to that country; and the condition of the lower classes would be considerably improved. For the refutation of various objections which had been urged, he argued, that the competency of parliament might be inferred from the nature of an institution framed for the general good ; that the measure would not derogate from the real dignity, independence, or interest of Ireland, as she would become a part of
proper influence on the deliberations of the imperial parliament, as her liberties would be commensurate with those of Great-Britain, and her interests the same; that a separate parliament had been sufficiently tried, and found inadequate to the task of securing the happiness of the people; that the inconvenience of sending representatives to England would be over-balanced even by a small portion of the benefits derivable from legislative incorporation; that the arrangements of finance for Ireland would be equitably suited to her situation and powers; and, upon the whole, that an union was recommended by this advantage—it might be the salva- . tion, it could not be the ruin, of the country. Mr. Cooke's pamphlet, as might have been expected, produced many professed replies; and from this time to the decision of the question in parliament, a great number of publications appeared on both sides. Among the most plausible pamphlets against the measure we may reckon that which was written by Mr. Richard Jebb. This author contended, that a resident parliament was best calculated for the preservation of the rights and the maintenance of the interests of Ireland; that the superintending care and vigilance of such a legislature had been signally useful in detecting the late conspiracy, and baffling the schemes of the mal-contents; that, though the different conduct pursued in the case of the regency proved the possibility of an occasional disagreement between the parliaments of the two realms, the recurrence of such a dispute was very improbable, and might be obviated by an authoritative declaration of both legislatures, providing for the constant identity of the regents of the two countries; that it was absurd to annihilate a parliament from mere apprehensions of discord, when the motives and reasons for for a general union of sentiment were strong and commanding; that the small influence which Ireland would enjoy in an united parliament would expose her to the risque both of political and commercial oppression; and that a kingdom now independent would thus become a cipher in the government, a degraded appendage to the pride of a more flourishing state. Other points were discussed by the same writer; but his arguments were not so irrefragable as to produce full conviction in the minds of his readers. The gentlemen of the bar, who have great influence in Ireland, took an early opportunity of signifying their disapprobation of an union. On the 9th of December, 1798, they met at Dublin; and Mr. Saurin took the lead as a speaker. He maintained, that, from the particular state and circumstances of Ireland, no country ever had greater occasion for the indulgent care and watchful zeal of a resident parliament; that, in the event of an incorporation, whenever the interests of Great-Britain might happen to clash with those of Ireland, the inferior country would be injured; that her burthens would be enormously augmented; that the change threatened disadvantages that would overbalance the expected benefits; and that the time was very unfavorable for the calm discussion of such a proposal, when the effects of an alarming rebellion were recent, and martial law was still exercised in various parts of the agitated island. He then moved, that a legislative union with Britain should be declared to be • an innovation, which it would be highly dangerous and improper to propose at the present juncture.” Mr. Spencer, Mr. Burrowes, and other barristers, condemned the idea of an union, as tending to the oppression of
in its favor, the motion was adopted by a great majority. The attorneys afterwards met, and unanimously voted a similar resolution.
The magistrates and common-council of Dublin manifested an equal disinclination to the measure; and the most respectable bankers and merchants of that city declared their abhorrence of all attempts to deprive the Irish of their constitutional right and immediate power of legislating for themselves.” The fellows of Trinity-college, and such of the students as enjoyed scholarships, had also a meeting, the result of which was a request that the representatives of the university would oppose with firmness the ministerial project.
The gentry and freeholders of the county of Dublin met for the same purpose, at the beginning of the year 1799; and, having applauded the constitution of 1782, protested against an union as ‘hostile to the rights, liberties, and independence of Ireland.” The freeholders of the county of West-Meath likewise declared against it, as it appeared to them to be calculated to “exhaust Ireland, and debase her from her consequence and prosperity,” and to increase the influence of the court in a formidable degree.
The resolutions of a meeting at Galway were particularly strong; reprobating the attempts of the unionists as unconstitutional and arbitrary; denying the power of the representatives of the people to vote away the independence of the realm; condemning the transfer of the right of legislation to any foreign country, without the general consent of the people, as equivalent to a dissolution of the existing government, and as a procedure which, from its tendency to anarchy, ought to be resisted; and stigmatising, as enemies to their country, all the supporters of such a measure.