Billeder på siden
PDF
ePub

1789]

REGENCY BY ADDRESS

119

The subsequent action of Parliament has been strangely misread, as something peculiarly Irish and antagonistic to Britain. In simple truth, it was the British battle transferred to Dublin, with the Whigs made triumphant. The secretary, Mr. Fitzherbert (Lord St. Helens), officially proposed Pitt's mode of procedure—a Bill with restrictions. Grattan declared that the two Houses could always proceed by address, but a Bill, involving legislation, supposed a third estate, ready to act, and that estate was then incapable. By address the regent might be appointed, and by subsequent Act his power could be circumscribed; the office should last during the king's illness, but with plenary regal power. The attorney-general objected to this, on the plea that they should follow Great Britain implicitly in imperial matters, with a warning threat that difference might "drive them to a union," and that "sober men, who had estates to lose, would soon become sick of independence.Yet he declared he abominated the idea of restricting the prince regent in making peers and grants; such a difference he was ready to endorse, and to accord the plenitude of power, but “in God's name let it be done by Bill.” Stranger still, the secretary of state himself arose to declare that he dissented from his colleagues, and considered that the appointment should be made by address, and could not be done by Act of Parliament. Thus the action of the Irish Parliament was in complete conformity with the convictions of the English Whigs and had the sanction of the Tory secretary of state for Ireland.1 It was far more consonant with sound constitutional doctrine than the views either of Fox or of Pitt.

The viceroy, however, refused to act. In this crisis the Irish Parliament proceeded with a grave dignity worthy of the occasion; it adjourned, in order that nothing should be said hastily. The viceroy's conduct was subsequently censured, whilst a committee of Lords and Commons was appointed to present the address to the prince which Parlia

1 Ten years later, to ensure perfect harmony, the patriot party proposed a Bill enacting that the Regent of England should, ipso facto, be Regent of Ireland.

ment had prepared. There was some danger of the Parliament being prematurely prorogued. Hence Grattan proposed a short money Bill of two months. The attorneygeneral, fuming with rage, blurted out his recollection of a previous prorogation, and his remembrance that, when Parliament next met, it had voted the Lord-Lieutenant an address of thanks, which (as virtually admitted) had cost the nation half a million of money. With oblique innuendo, readily understood, he added that he would oppose measures which might lead to an address that would cost them half a million."

His conduct throughout the debates was characteristic of the administration which drove the country into revolt. Adverting to the round robin, by which members of both Houses strove to guard their Parliamentary independence from executive punishment and corruption, he outrageously denounced it as Whiteboyism, and insultingly declared that outsiders guilty of it would be flogged. Nor did he fail to fall back upon the insecurity of the Act of Settlement, in order to frighten the estated men of Ireland. His language was that of an incendiary. Affecting for the occasion a sentiment of historic justice, he declared that “the ancient nobility and gentry of this kingdom have been hardly treated. The Act by which most of us hold our estates was an Act of Violence, an Act subverting the first principles of the common law in England and Ireland. I speak,” he said, “of the Act of Settlement; that the gentlemen may know the extent to which that summary confiscation has gone, I will tell them that every acre of land that pays quit-rent to the Crown is held by title derived under the Act of Settlement." It is evident that one of the methods of misrule, then and long afterwards current, was the unscrupulous art of sowing fears and dissensions between different classes of the community.

The Speaker, on March 2, 1789, communicated the gracious reply of the prince to the delegates, which contained news of the king's recovery.

The administration regained its majority, bribed unblushingly, and carried out

1 Lord Townshend.

[ocr errors]

a

1789-90] MINISTERIAL CORRUPTION EXPOSED its scheme of coarse revenge against the independent members. Three earls were made marquises; four viscounts earls; two lords viscounts; seven commoners lords. Amongst these was Mr. Stewart, so prominent amongst the volunteers, now Lord Londonderry. Fitzgibbon, now baron, was appointed lord chancellor. Vengeance, on the other hand, struck from office the secretary, Fitzherbert; the Earl of Shannon, vice-treasurer; the Duke of Leinster, master of the rolls; the two Ponsonbys, and eleven other independent gentlemen. Their offices, worth £20,000, were taken from them and conferred on pliant creatures of the Castle. Furthermore, the pension list was burthened with £13,040 more. Nor was this all; by splitting up offices, creating or enriching sinecures, endowing nominal posts, an additional charge of £2800 a year was imposed. Then, in June, having accomplished his work of infamy, the king's viceroy left the country, like a conscious criminal, taking by-ways, and stealing off from a private gentleman's villa near the capital.

As a criminal he was denounced when Parliament met, in January 1790, with Lord Westmoreland as viceroy. Grattan, on February 20, took a bold step. Reciting the instances of corruption, he observed that these supplied grounds for dismissing the guilty ministers, not for personal punishment. But they had gone further. The sale of honours was one impeachable offence; the Duke of Buckingham, in the reign of Charles I., had been impeached for it in England. Worse still had been done in Ireland; money arising from the sale was applied to model the House of Commons—another impeachable offence. He therefore moved for a committee of investigation. “We pledge ourselves to convict them," he said; “we dare them to go into an inquiry. We do not affect to treat them as other than public malefactors; we speak to them in a style of the most mortifying and humiliating defiance; we pronounce them to be public criminals. Will they deny the charge ?” They could not, in truth, deny the charge; they tried to

Commons Journal, vol. xiii. Appendix, p. 271.

parry its effect by showing that Lord Northington had acted nearly as badly before them. They escaped its consequences by bringing up their corrupted phalanx of a hundred and forty-four to vote against the eighty-eight independent members who supported it. Grattan, in a previous debate, had lamented the absence of ministerial responsibility, and referred to the case of Strafford. “Sir," he had said, “you have in Ireland no axe, therefore no good minister."

With a responsible ministry, he would have been able to hold the majority gained on the regency question ; without it, the reactionists carried the day, and now, covered with corruption, as with a leprosy, they stood before the people as their rulers.

THE FRANCHISE ACT OF 1793

To poison the founts of honour and legislation, as the Government had notoriously done, necessarily entailed a paralysis of their influence. Many of the more ardent minds turned away in hopeless disgust, and began to look in other directions for redress of grievances and a purification of Parliament. The example of the American Republic seemed to realise an ideal of a clean Government, formed by the people, and now the great tidal wave of popular liberty had rolled back upon the old world and swept the Bastille and the system it typified from the soil of France. Through the conduct of their Governments, the inhabitants of Ireland have been rendered always keenly susceptible to foreign influences, and at this period the ideas and actions of the French excited the utmost interest and sympathy. This feeling prevailed not so much amongst the kindred Celts of the southern provinces as amongst the Protestant artisans of the capital and the Dissenters of the north, where the seed of republicanism germinated readily. The time was one of organisation; the people began to group together in association; clubs were formed and multiplied. The Parliamentary opposition, not yet despairing of their methods, supplemented their work within the chambers by that of the Whig Club without, founded in June 1789, and intended to be the rallying centre of Irish Liberals, whilst keeping in touch with the English Whigs. The list of members was representative of colonial Liberalism.1

1 The club included one archbishop (Tuam), two bishops, fourteen noble. men, Chief Baron Yelverton, and many commoners of position--all pledged to the cause of reform, and bound by the following declaration :-“And we

« ForrigeFortsæt »