Billeder på siden
PDF
ePub

1785]

COMMERCIAL PROPOSALS ACCEPTED

109

The Irish Parliament thus, contrary to some shameless statements, showed itself willing and anxious to come to a fair and final adjustment on the commercial, as it had done on the constitutional, question. Grattan helped; Flood criticised, but did not resist. All would have ended harmoniously had it not been for the battle of parties in the British Parliament. On February 22, Mr. Pitt introduced the proposals to the Commons in committee.

After a general review of the subject, he said there were but two systems possible for the two countries. One, to make the lesser subservient and a draw-farm to the greater, they had tried; the other, a system of equality and fairness, with participation of benefits, he proposed to try. The concessions might be reduced to two heads. First, the importation of colonial produce through Ireland into Britain. This seemed to infringe the venerated navigation laws, but really mattered nothing; Ireland could import such produce direct already, and Britain could more cheaply have it direct than through Ireland. The second was a mutual exchange of products and goods on equal terms. In return, Ireland paid over her surplus to the general expenses.

The Coalition party, now greatly beaten down, showed no large-minded desire to assist a settlement. Quickly perceiving that the sensitive jealousy of British trade might be roused against Pitt, Lord North, Mr. Fox, and others, spoke in prompt hostility. Fox intimated that, though he admired Ireland, he did not wish to see her made sole arbitress of the laws of navigation. Their speeches helped to inflame the country and stir up scores of petitions. Apparently, Mr. Pitt was in no hurry to press the matter forward; he give time for declamation. In Dublin Mr. Orde had refused a day's delay; in London weeks and months were allowed to pass. If the minister had designed to divide the Irish from the English Whigs, he would have acted thus, The report of the Lords of the Committee on trade and plantations, though presented, was discredited; fifty-four petitions supported the opposition. Pitt, on May 12, brought forward a revised series of propositions, almost double the number of the old. Three grave changes were made. It was stipulated that all trade or navigation laws which had been or should be made by the British Parliament, should also be enacted by the Irish Parliament; that nothing but colonial produce should be transhipped through Ireland into Great Britain; that, so long as the British Parliament wished to have commerce carried on beyond the Cape of Good Hope by an exclusive company, dealing through the port of London, so long should Ireland be debarred from dealing direct with any country whatever beyond the Cape and the Straits of Magellan. If Pitt had intended that the odium of enforcing alterations should attach to the opposition, they were resolved, on the other hand, he should not escape obloquy. Pointing out to the English that by altering his Bill he justified their action, they held up the manner of the modification to the reprobation of British Whigs, and to the alarm and hatred of the Irish nation. The new conditions, requiring the Irish Parliament to pass any trade or navigation Act the British legislature had made or might make, and to shut itself off from all direct trade beyond the southern Capes, as long as an alien Parliament pleased, were manifestly incompatible with Irish liberty. Fox denounced them. “I will not barter English commerce for Irish slavery !” he exclaimed. “This is not the price I would pay, nor is this the thing I would purchase.” Sheridan, following, compared Ireland to a high-mettled horse, recently escaped from harsh trammels, whom the secretary strove to catch, "with a sieve in one hand, but with a bridle in the other ready to slip over his head." “There was to be," he said, "an eternal boom placed against Ireland, from the Cape of Good Hope on the one hand to the Straits of Magellan.” The opposition declared that the ministry, justly censured for their violence, their attacks on the freedom of the press, and on the rights of public meeting and personal liberty in Ireland, had sought to compensate insult by imprudent concession. They now sought to retrieve their attack on English commerce by fettering the Irish Parliament. In the Lords something was said about a final settlement hindering a union,

[ocr errors]

1785]

WHIG OPPOSITION

III

which revealed that the ministry had ulterior objects. Lords Shelburne, Townsend, Derby, Fitzwilliam, Plymouth, Northington, Scarborough, and Keppel recorded their protest.

When the new proposals were brought before the Irish Legislature on August 12, the denunciations of the English opposition heralded them. Grattan summed up the case by stating that they involved "a surrender of trade in the east, and of freedom in the west.” AttorneyGeneral Fitzgibbon threw in a sectarian brand, warning Parliament of a Popish population and Popish neighbours; but the old spirit was aroused, and material interests were at stake. The popular minority swelled to double its usual number, one hundred and eight members voting against leave to introduce the Bill. There was a majority of nineteen; but at that stage it meant defeat, and Mr. Orde allowed the Bill to drop, for, on canvassing the House, he discovered he would be beaten.

Public illuminations attested the fidelity of the people to their independent constitution. Whatever divisions, fostered by official arts, had arisen amongst the volunteers on the question of toleration, and between them and Parliament in reference to reform, were closed by the flagrant attempt to profit by their dissensions. When Parliament rose, the manufacturing population renewed, enlarged, and enforced their non-importation league; several new counties supported the capital; the military were posted in the streets; and the viceroy became markedly unpopular.

Ireland fell under Mr. Pitt's displeasure. Until the French revolution shook the world, and war again threatened Britain, he left the Irish Government practically in the hands of a petty oligarchy, whose policy was to resist reforms, maintain abuses, and augment its own power and importance by every method. Everything was acceptable which might serve to strengthen the central executive, to extend its sphere of patronage, and to divide, depress, and disarm the popular power. The session of the Irish Parliament in 1786 opened without a promise of reform, but with a reference to a new police force and a vigorous execution of the laws. This was based upon allegations of outrages which members demonstrated to be exaggerated or untrue. Sir Edward Crofton, alarmed for his property in Roscommon, where the Catholic peasantry were said to be in rebellion, made inquiries, and found “that the peace of the county was not for a moment disturbed.”i Rumours of Popish plots, peasant insurrections, revivals of old Irish claims to estates of the later colonists, went forth from time to time; they served to frighten the timid, and make them gather into the Castle coverts.

Advocating economy, the patriots pointed to a swollen pension list of £94,000, greater than England's by £4000; to augmented taxes and an increasing debt. The expenses of a nation, they urged, should not exceed its income. The attorney-general scoffed at the notion; "No Government ought to be tied up." 2 “ Will the minister of Ireland,” Hardy asked, “the delegate of Mr. Pitt, give us Mr. Pitt's reform neither in representation nor in finance ?" In England, ministers disabled persons holding pensions “during pleasure" from sitting in Parliament; in Ireland, Government kept them there. It even gave similar pensions to their male and female relatives, so that an independent vote should make a whole family destitute. The British Cabinet had limited the English pension list; in Ireland a similar motion was denounced by the attorney-general as "going on the most dangerous principle ever introduced ”—"an attempt to rob the Crown of its responsibility.” The principles of the constitution, the laws of England, were held to savour of treason in the judgment of the Castle oligarchy.

By a new police Bill the power and patronage of the Executive were augmented. The patriots desired to amend

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

.

“It was also rumoured that the Roman Catholics were in open rebellion This was an insidious, in famous, and false report; . . . it was an illiberal and an infamous attack on a people distinguished for their peaceable demeanour” (“ Parliamentary Debates," vol. vi. pp. 338, 339).

2 "Parliamentary Debates," vol. vi. p. 124.

1787-8]

COERCION AND CORRUPTION

113

the tithe-system, which bore oppressively on the small tillage-farmers, and produced secret societies. Officials like Lord Luttrel denounced the exactions of the clergy, their tithes being sometimes 28s. per acre. Mr. Montgomery, of Donegal, declared their extortions had driven 100,000 people out of the kingdom. Denis Browne doubted if the Whiteboys had done more harm. The Castle officials rejected all reform, and carried instead a sanguinary law, with “blood” and “felony" in every sentence, as Grattan said.

When the Duke of Rutland died in October, the administration could boast of having rejected every reform; repudiated even the distant promise of redress ; passed two coercion Acts, extending their powers of corruption; and of having, in that one year, augmented the pension list by £8750.1

The Marquis of Buckingham, who succeeded, appeared in a double character. Because of his loyal attitude, as Lord Temple, on the renunciation and judicature questions, and because of his reported antagonism to abuses and pensions, he was at first favourably received. But it quickly became evident that the hostile policy of the previous administration would be continued. The subject of tithes was revived by an official motion to grant compensation to clergymen for tithes withheld; they were also granted a perpetual tithe of 5s. an acre on hemp. More pensions were given; existing pensions were jobbed, sold, transferred to other and younger persons; members of Parliament were again granted pensions “during pleasure." The pension list on January 1, 1788, had swollen to £96,289, exclusive of military pensions and additions to salaries. Gross scandals were exposed; but the Government refused to permit any redress. Mr. Connolly moved for a return as regards hearth-money, long abolished in England. The administration rejected even an inquiry. On April 14 Grattan submitted eight eminently

1 “ Parliamentary Debates," vol. viii. p. 8.

? Mr. Connolly said he understood their reluctance to investigate, because of the frauds arising from patronage which would be exposed. Was it not

н

« ForrigeFortsæt »