Billeder på siden
PDF
ePub

1784]

VOLUNTEERS AND PARLIAMENT

99

when, recalling the magnificent gains achieved, he asked the volunteers to rest on their arms and view the present great labours of their representatives. “They would see them," he said, "arranging supplies, so as to ensure annual meetings of your Parliament; framing a Mutiny Bill to assert your constitution and govern the army; forming an Irish post-office ; alike favourable to revenue and liberty; establishing an Irish admiralty court, with final appeal, the last pledge of external legislation; giving new authority to the laws, and new restrictions to prerogative, by an act of indemnity for a late embargo; deliberating on a wide system of commerce between this country and America, with the great conception of making, if possible, Ireland the mart of communication between the old world and the new; they would see them anxiously and honestly considering how best to relieve distress and promote the manufactures of this country." Yelverton, then attorneygeneral, carried the motion against the reception of the Bill by a majority of two-thirds, and immediately afterwards a resolution was passed declaring that “the House will maintain its just rights and privileges against all encroachments whatsoever." The convention, under Lord Charlemont's leadership, gave way to the susceptibilities of Parliament and separated. When the question of reform was again brought before the legislature, the measure submitted was fully debated (March 20, 1784); but on many points the weight of argument was against its advocates. The Bill, however, was rejected not so much because of its defects as on account of its merits. The former inight have been corrected in committee; the latter threatened too powerful interests. Lord Powerscourt, in the Lords, said that it was not unconstitutional to declare the Parliament corrupt: “No man can deny it; it is too well known that two-thirds receive the wages of corruption." And Lord Aldborough had moved to cut down the pension-list to one-fourth, with other suggestions as to retrenchment. The parasites of place and pension rallied round the ministry, and the Bill was rejected by 159 to 85. The people outside did not analyse all the causes of failure: they saw only corruption and resistance. The dissolution of the convention did not calm them. The season had been bad, but the condition of trade was worse. Whilst the new code was being fashioned and the duties revised, the English merchants were zealously endeavouring to destroy the nascent manufactures in Ireland by buying up the raw material, and pouring in manufactured goods at low prices to undersell the Irish in their own market. This was not in reality a special anti-Irish act, since it was the habit in England itself for established manufactures thus to crush out a rising rival if they could. But in this case there was a particular unfairness; the Irish ports had been by previous legislation laid open to British goods, whilst English harbours were practically closed against all Irish manufactured goods, except plain linens. The consequence was that there existed great distress and destitution amongst the artisans of Dublin, and from distress and destitution sprang violence, tumults, and outrages within the confines of the colony. Mr. Gardiner, calling attention to these facts, and to the report of a committee, pressed for a system, not of prohibitory, but of restrictive duties to protect the undefended manufacturers. On the other hand, Mr. Foster and the official party desired to delay the question of protective duties, until a final adjustment should be made with England by mutual conference and consent.

In the House of Peers Lord Mountgarret gave voice to the discontent. “Could Ireland,” he asked, “say at this moment she had a free trade ?

No. It was a name, a shadow. Could she protect her trade ? .. No. He supposed the inattention of the English minister to this country, and the prejudice of the English nation, prevented the measure." Others, however, took a less gloomy view, and there is no doubt that, though there was distress, it was localised; whilst the grievance of unequal duties, though it checked enterprise, did not arrest it, for the official records attest that there had been a remarkable annual increase of manufactured goods. When the first

IOI

1784)

WORK ACCOMPLISHED session of the free Parliament ended, in May 1784", fiftysix Acts had been passed (double the number passed in the previous session), of which forty-three were public Bills, all of them useful and some of great and permanent importance. On the whole, the legislature, if not performing all that was desired, had worked hard and accomplished, perhaps, as much as could reasonably be expected in the time. The enumeration of its Acts, given in the viceroy's speech, is very imperfect, but his testimony with respect to the work done is worth quoting. “The useful regulations proposed to be introduced into the collection and management of the revenue," he said ; "the security of private property and the extension of national credit; ... the plans for improving the metropolis, calculated not more for ornament and splendour than for health and convenience; your unanimous determination to defend the freedom of the constitution against the attacks of licentiousness; and your attention to the support of charitable institutions, are all unequivocal testimonies of your wisdom, humanity, and justice.” 2

1 The fourth session of the third Parliament of George III. began October 9, 1781, and ended July 27, 1782. The first session of the fourth Parliament began October 14, 1783, and ended May 14, 1784. It was, therefore, the first session of the free Irish legislature.

? “ Parliamentary Debates," vol. iii.

II

THE COMMERCIAL QUESTION-PROGRESS OF IRISH MANU

FACTURES—COMMERCIAL PROPOSALS ACCEPTED-
MINISTERIAL DISLOYALTY TO THE IRISH CONSTI-
TUTION

WHEN the king dismissed his ministers, in the last month of 1783, the news excited no discontent in Ireland. On the one hand, the coalition of Fox with North, an old enemy, and the intrigues of the viceroy had chilled public sentiment; on the other, Mr. Pitt, a young reformer, might be expected to amend the state of the representation. The convivial Duke of Rutland arrived as Lord-Lieutenant, with Mr. Orde as secretary. Carrying out a previous suggestion, “Single-speech Hamilton,” the absentee Lord Chancellor, was induced to resign on a copious pension, and Mr. Foster received the office. A clever financier and a resident, his appointment was welcomed, though his politics were anti-popular. Mr. Fitzgibbon, however, became attorney-general, and by his intolerant and domineering character soon aroused and embittered the slumbering forces of conflict.

The great question of this period was that of the commercial relations of Britain and Ireland. As they have been often misunderstood and sometimes misrepresented, it is necessary to go into some details. One writer has described Ireland as plunged into great distress, whereupon Mr. Pitt offered to share with her the abounding wealth of Britain an offer which, through some mysterious madness, she rejected. Facts, however, are in direct contradiction to this injurious fiction. The causes which led to a consideration of the commercial relations were chiefly two: the complaints of the Irish manufac1781)

THE COMMERCIAL QUESTION

103

turers and merchants, and the action of the non-importation leagues. The former, based on the great differences of import-duties in favour of England, induced the Irish Parliament to consider the question of their revision; the latter prevailed with the English, whose trade had greatly fallen away

during their existence. To these may be added a third-the prevalence of cross-channel smuggling, the I current of which, flowing in the direction of high profits,

carried Irish products into Britain in spite of Britain's prohibitory tariff. In salt, for instance, an essential element in fish-curing as well as in diet, there was a stirring trade all along the west coasts of Great Britain. Half a million persons in Scotland never used any other than smuggled salt from Ireland, and, as the duty was still heavier in England than in Scotland, the movement thither was brisk. Again, in the articles of soap and candles, none were exported into Ireland, and none were officially admitted into Britain from Ireland, “but great quantities are certainly smuggled into all the western counties of England and Wales, and from thence by mland navigation into other counties." Writers have referred to the non-importation agreements of Irish consumers as ruinous to themselves. As a general rule, however, people do not deliberately continue to injure themselves. The distress recorded amongst the artisans, indeed, is relied upon as proof; but it is overlooked that the leagues were formed because of that suffering, and to end it. English merchants, strong in capital and skill, and having their own ports guarded by high protective tariffs, were pouring their goods through the open ports of Ireland so as to overwhelm its infant industries and destroy its manufacturing projects. That it was which closed the factories and drove out the busy hands into wretched idleness. It was sought to redress the grievance in Parliament by levelling up the duties. When that effort failed, through a reluctance on the part

2 ܙܙ

1 "First Report on the State of the British Fisheries” (England), p. 14. 1785.

Report of Lords of Committee of Council on Trade, etc., Evidence (England), March 1785.

« ForrigeFortsæt »