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1793]

THE EMANCIPATION ACT OF 1793

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consider measures for the promotion of concord; and, as one, to give a serious consideration to the situation of his Catholic subjects. The order from London went like an electric shock through the whole Ascendency faction, from the viceroy, the lord chancellor, the secretary, and Mr. Speaker Foster, down to the no-surrendering corporators. It paralysed every objection, silenced every braggart, and all, with more or less grimacing, swallowed the proposals they had pledged life and fortune to resist. The secretary himself, who, a year ago, spurned the petition of the Catholics for the franchise, now, wheeling round like a puppet, made a speech, offering them-(1) the electoral franchise; (2) the right of voting for civic magistrates; (3) the privilege of becoming grand jurors; (4) that, sitting as petty jurors, they should be no longer challenged for faith, when a Protestant and Catholic were in litigation; (5) the power to endow a college and schools; (6) the right to carry arms, when possessed of certain property; (7) the right to sit as magistrates, and to hold civil and military offices and places of trust under certain qualifications. They were enabled to take degrees in the university, and to occupy chairs in colleges yet to be founded. Duigenan, a rancorous renegade Catholic, and Ogle, were the only members who opposed the introduction of the Bill.

By a consistent continuance in this new policy of reform, Pitt could have rendered Ireland the stronghold of the empire. The Irish Brigade had ceased to exist as a separate entity in 1791, when the National Assembly placed it on the same footing as the French regiments. Afterwards, some of the Irish officers placed their swords at the service of the Republic; but others, adhering to the fallen dynasty, emigrated, and were granted British commissions, and a new brigade of six regiments was formed. The clergy were alarmed at the excesses on the Continent, and displayed their abhorrence of “French principles.” For the Irish Catholic nation the attraction of France diminished, and might have died out had the Dublin Parliament been allowed or induced to reform itself. Prince Charles Edward had ceased to exist, and with him the Jacobite hopes, whilst a friendlier feeling grew up towards England and George III. The Dissenters and Protestant reformers desired to grant at once to the Catholics all they could wish. Thus to content and confirm the alliance of over nine-tenths of the inhabitants, nothing was required but perseverance in a wise and honourable policy. Such a policy, to be effective, should not have been obviously dependent on the caprice of ministers, but should have been allowed to operate as a principle through the organ of a purified Parliament.

As it was, the reformers gained some points. The Responsibility Bill was passed, bringing the signatories of money warrants under control of Parliament. The King could no longer dispose of the money alone, and the so-called hereditary revenue was voted annually. The Pension Bill was passed, excluding from Parliament all future pensioners at will or for years, and making the total amount reducible to £80,000, from the sum of £120,000, to which corruption had raised it. The Place Bill was passed, excluding revenue officers, and vacating the seats of members who should henceforth accept Government situations. These Acts had long been secured in England, and long demanded in vain in Ireland. In Ireland, improbable as it might seem, the purificatory Place Act was perverted to the promotion of corruption. With these was enacted Grattan's Bill to encourage the reclamation of waste lands by exemption from tithes for seven years.

But the old Ascendency junto, at the Castle, were not done with. They had tried their worst to mislead, prejudice, and alarm that Cabinet, and being defeated, they resented that defeat.

They immediately endeavoured to justify their position by methods now old, but not forgotten. They obtained, in 1793, from a secret committee of the Lords (duly packed), a report against armed volunteers, conventions, and Catholic committeemen, whom it sought to mix up with agrarian rioters. No project on the latter plea could be carried out, owing to the King's action.

But they opened their mines against the volunteers by a Gunpowder

1793-4]

A PROVOCATIVE POLICY

131

1

Bill, which not only forbade the importation of arms and ammunition (its ostensible object), but the removal or keeping of gunpowder, arms, and ammunition without a licence (its real object). The Convention Act was passed to stifle all organised expression of popular desires, and, by gagging grievances, it converted reformers into conspirators. This was ever a triumph of policy, for then the adversary could be meritoriously killed. A military display being required, the army had been raised to twenty thousand men, and a militia Bill passed to produce sixteen thousand. The corrupt and oppressive manner in which the latter Bill was carried into force caused widespread discontent and considerable rioting; and this was added to by sectarian disturbances in Armagh, fomented by partisans of the junto.2

1

33 Geo. III. 2 Plowden, vol. ii. p. 201; Madden, “ United Irishmen,” first series,

cap. iv.

V

THE OLIVE BRANCH-LORD FITZWILLIAM

THERE came a rumour of glad tidings to the troubled country. The Castle junto which had misruled the people and discredited the Government was to be displaced, the viceroy removed, and a representative ministry once more to occupy the Castle. Several causes contributed to the change. The statements of the junto had been so completely falsified that no weight could attach to their opinions, whilst their rule was not producing peace, but irritation. Penal laws had been repealed, but the victims were still made "to experience many of the evils of a proscription," through "the ill-disposition of the magistrate." 2 It was urgent that the fruits of the concession should not be so lost, for democratic ideas were spreading through the masses in the three kingdoms, and Jacobinical societies multiplying in England. Their text-book was Paine's “Rights of Man," and their intention to abolish monarchy, aristocracy, and other establishments.3

Their proposed convention was stopped by the arrest of its secretaries, against whom the Middlesex grand jury found a true bill; but the petty jury acquitted them, amid popular applause. The Habeas Corpus Act was thereupon suspended in May 1794. Then

Then the news from the Continent was growing more ominous. The transient triumphs of the previous spring had been replaced by disasters; and now came news from Tournay that on the 18th the allies had been

1 "The junto in Ireland entirely governs the Castle ; and the Castle, by its representations of the country, entirely governs the people here” (Letter of Edmund Burke to his son, November 2, 1792). 2 Burke to Grattan, September 3, 1794.

Report from the Committee of Secrecy, by Mr. Secretary Dundas, March 15, 1799.

1794] LORD FITZWILLIAM, VICEROY

133 routed, the Duke of York narrowly escaping. Next came the catastrophe of Fleurus, and the conquest of part of the Low Countries by the French. The effect of these events was to draw a number of the aristocratic Whigs into the ranks of the ministry, and in July Pitt disarmed them of future power of opposition and sealed their fate by investing them with office. Lord Fitzwilliam became president of the council; Lord Spencer, privy seal; the Duke of Portland, secretary of state, and Mr. Windham, secretary of war. The Ponsonbys were communicated with, and sent envoys to Tinnehinch in August, representing to Grattan that Pitt was favourable to reform and to the Catholics, and pressing their friend to co-operate and to accept the chancellorship of the exchequer. This position he declined, preferring to see Sir John Parnell continue in office, but he subsequently acted as leader. Lord Fitzwilliam, on August 23, wrote direct, intimating that he was to come as Lord-Lieutenant, with the intention of purifying the principles of government. This could not be done without the concurrence of the country's most eminent men, therefore he looked to him and his friends, the Ponsonbys, for aid; otherwise he should decline the hopeless task.1 Grattan thereupon went to London, and called upon the Duke of Portland, who declared he had taken office because, he said, “I know there is an entire change of system.” In October Pitt arranged a confidential conference with Grattan, but friends of both warned the latter not to trust Pitt; to set down everything in writing, "for if you have any dealings with Pitt he'll cheat you.”2 On the Catholic question Pitt's words were distinct: "Not to bring it forward as a Government question, but if Government were pressed, to yield it.” At the levee the king was most gracious to Grattan, and Lord Fitzwilliam, duly sworn, proceeded to Ireland, believing he had full powers as regards the Catholic and other questions. His immediate chief was

Grattan's “Memoir.” Lord Fitzwilliam to Mr. Grattan, August 23, vol. iv. p. 173.

2 “Memoir,” vol. iv. p. 177.

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