An Argument on Behalf of The Catholics of Ireland in which the Present Political State of that Country, and the Necessity of a Parliamentary Reform are Considered. Addressed to the People, and More Particularly to the Protestants of Ireland (Dublin: P. Byrne 1791).
What is our Government? It is a phenomenon in politics, contravening all received and established opinions: It is a Government derived from another country, whose interest, so far from being the same with that of the people, directly crosses it at right angles: Does any man think that our rulers here recommend themselves to their creators in England, by promoting the interests of Ireland, when it can in the most remote degree interfere with the commerce of Great Britain?  But how is this foreign Government maintained? Look to your court calendar, to your pension list, to your concordatum, and you will find the answer written in letters of gold: This unnatural influence must be supported by profligate means, and hence corruption is the only medium of Government in Ireland. The people is utterly disregarded and defied: Divided and distracted as they are, and distrustful of each other, they fall an easy prey to English rulers, or their Irish subalterns. The fear of danger is removed from Administration by our internal weakness, and the sense of shame speedily follows it: Hence it is, that we see Peculation protected, Venality avowed, the Peerage prostituted, the Commons corrupted. We see all this at the very hour, when every where but in Ireland reform is going forward, and levelling ancient abuses in the dust. Why are these things so? Because Ireland is struck with a political paralysis, that has withered her strength, and crushed her spirit: she is not half alive, one side is scarce animated, the other is dead; she has by her own law, as it were, amputated her right hand; she has outrun the Gospel precept, and cast her right eye into the fire, even before it has offended her: religious intolerance and political bigotry, like the tyrant Mezentius, bind the living Protestant to the dead and half corrupted Catholic, and beneath the putrid mass, even the embryo of effort is stifled: when the nation is thus circumstanced, it is not to be wondered at, if even an administration of boobies and blockheads presumed to insult, and pillage, and contemn, and defy her.
Under such an Administration, if God Almighty could in his wrath suffer such an one long to exist, the virtue and the talents of the land would be blasted in the bud. No Irishman of rank could become a member or supporter of Government, without at once renouncing all pretensions to common decency, honesty, or honour: All great endowments of the mind, all lofty sentiments of the soul would be necessarily and eternally excluded; and the Government, when once in such hands, must remain so; political vice, like the principle of fermentation, would propagate itself, and contaminate every succeeding particle, until the fury of an enraged people, or the just anger of offended Heaven should at length, by one blow, destroy or annihilate the whole polluted mass!
But to quit hypothetic speculation, and descend to facts: I have said, that we have no National Government. Before the year 1782, it was not pretended that we had, and it is at least a curious, if not an useful speculation, to examine how we stand in that regard now. And I have little dread of being confused, when I assert, that all we got by what we are pleased to dignify with the name of Revolution, was simply, the means of doing good according to law, without recurring to the great rule of nature, which is above all positive statutes: whether we have done good or not, and if not, why we have omitted to do good is a serious question. The pride of the nation, the vanity of individuals concerned, the moderation of some honest men, the corruption of knaves I know may be alarmed, when I assert, that the Revolution of 1782, was the most bungling, imperfect business, that ever threw ridicule on a lofty epithet, by assuming it unworthily: it is not pleasant to any Irishman to make such a confession, but it cannot be helped if truth will have it so: It is much better that we should know and feel our real state, than delude ourselves or be gulled by our enemies with praises, which we do not deserve, or imaginary blessings which we do not enjoy.
I leave to the admirers of that era to vent flowing declamations on its theoretical advantages, and its visionary glories; it is a fine subject, and peculiarly flattering to my countrymen; many of whom were actors, and almost all spectators of it. Be mine the unpleasing task to strip it of its plumage and its tinsel, and shew the naked figure: the operation will be severe, but if properly attended to, may give us a strong and striking lesson of caution and of wisdom.
The Revolution of 1782, was a Revolution which enabled Irishmen to sell at a much higher price their honour, their integrity, and the interests of their country; it was a Revolution, which, while at one stroke it doubled the value of every borough monger in the kingdom, left three-fourths of our countrymen slaves as it found them, and the Government of Ireland in the base and wicked, and contemptible hands, who had spent their lives in degrading and plundering her; nay, some of whom had given their last vote decidedly, though hopelessly, against this our famous Revolution: who of the veteran enemies of the country lost his place or his pension? who was called forth to station or office from the ranks of opposition? Not one! The power remained in the hands of our enemies, again to be exerted for our ruin, with this difference, that formerly we had our distresses, our injuries, and our insults gratis, at the hands of England; but now we pay very dearly to receive the same with aggravation, through the hands of Irishmen; yet this we boast of, and call a Revolution. See how much the strength of the people has been augmented by the arrangement of 1782! For two successive sessions, we have seen measures of the most undeniable benefit, and the most unqualified necessity to the country, enforced by all the efforts of the most consummate ability, and repelled without even the shadow of argument by Administration; an Administration, consisting numerically of the individuals who had opposed the extension of your commerce in 1779, and the amelioration of your constitution in 1782. You find, or you are utterly senseless, in the loss of the Place Bill, the Responsibility Bill, the Pension Bill; in a word, all the measures of last session, that you have no weight whatsoever, that Administration despise and laugh at you, and that while you remain in your present state of apathy and ignorance, they will continue to insult and to contemn you.
Why do I speak thus of your famous exertions in 1782? Not to depreciate them below their value, for I honour, and I love the spirit that then animated you. I am sure a great majority of those who then conducted you, were actuated by a sincere regard to your interest and your freedom; I am sure that some of your leaders were men of high integrity, and some of consummate wisdom; I do believe that as much, or very nearly as much as could then be done, was done; and though I regret, yet I do not accuse the caution that induced those who acted for you, to stop short in their honourable career: The minds of men were not at that time, perhaps, ripe for exertions, which a thousand circumstances that have since happened, cry aloud for: We are now, I hope, wiser, bolder, and more liberal, and we have the great mistress, dear-bought Experience, to warn us from past errors, and guide us on to future good.
I hope it appears from what I have said, that the Revolution of 1782, is such, as no Irishman of an independent spirit, and who feels for the honour and interest of his country, can acquiesce in as final. Much remains to be done, and it is fortunate that the end proposed is so moderate and just, the means so fair, simple, and constitutional, as to leave no ground for accusation with the most profligate of our enemies, or apprehension with the most timid of our friends.
My argument is simply this: That Ireland, as deriving her government from another country, requires a strength in the people which may enable them, if necessary, to counteract the influence of that government, should it ever be, as it indisputably has been, exerted, to thwart her prosperity: That this strength may be most constitutionally acquired, and safely and peaceably exerted through the medium of a Parliamentary Reform: and finally, that no reform is honourable, practicable, efficacious, or just, which does not include as a fundamental principle, the extension of elective franchise to the Roman Catholics, under modifications hereafter to be mentioned.
I Beg I may not be misunderstood or misrepresented in my first position. When I talk of English influence being predominant in this country, I do not mean to derogate from the due exertion of his Majestys prerogative: I owe him allegiance, and if occasion should require it, I would be ready cheerfully to spill my blood in his service; but the influence I mean, is not as between the King and his subjects, in matter of prerogative, but as between the government and people of England, and the government and people of Ireland, in matter of trade and commerce: I trust in God, we owe the English nation no allegiance; nor is it yet treason to assert, as I do, that she has acquired, and maintains an unjustifiable and dangerous weight and influence over the councils of Ireland, whose interest, wherever it clashes, or appears to clash with hers, must immediately give way: Surely this is no question of loyalty. The King of England is King also of Ireland; he is in theory, and I trust in practice, equally interested in the welfare of both countries; he cannot be offended that each of his kingdoms should by all honourable and just means increase their own ability, to render him the service due to him; he cannot rejoice, when he hears that his faithful Commons of Ireland by their own law exclude themselves from a commerce with half the known world, in complaisance to a monopolizing English company, though he may, as the common father of both his realms, rejoice, when they vote £200,000 to secure the very commerce in which they can never bear a part. It is therefore, I repeat it, no question of loyalty: If the King can be interested in the question, it must be on the side of justice, and of Ireland, because his happiness and his pride must be most gratified by the rising prosperity of his people, to which title we have as much claim as the people of England; we love him as well, we are as faithful subjects; and if we render him not as essential services, let our means be considered, and the blighting influence which perpetually visits the harvest of our hopes, and I believe it will be found, that our zeal in his service is only circumscribed by our inability.
It is, therefore, extremely possible for the most truly loyal subject in this kingdom deeply to regret, and conscientiously to oppose the domineering of English influence, without trenching in the smallest degree on the rational loyalty, so long and so justly the boast of Ireland: His loyalty is to the King of Ireland, not to the Honourable United Company of Merchants trading, where he must never trade, to the East Indies: Nor is it to the Clothiers in Yorkshire, nor the Weavers of Manchester, nor yet to the constitutional reforming Blacksmiths of Birmingham, that he owes allegiance: his first duty is to his country, his second to his King, and both are now, and by Gods blessing will, I hope, remain united and inseparable.
In England we find a reform in Parliament is always popular, though it is but as a barrier against possible, not actual grievance: the people suffer in theory by the unequal distribution of the elective franchise; but practically, it is perhaps visionary to expect a Government that shall more carefully or steadily follow their real interests. No man can there be a Minister on any other terms. But reform in Ireland is no speculative remedy for possible evils: The Minister and the Government here hold their offices by a tenure very different from that of pursuing the public good. The people here are despised or defied; their will does not weigh a feather in the balance, when English influence, or the interest of their rulers, is thrown into the opposite scale. We have all the reasons, all the justice that English reformists can advance, and we have a thousand others, that in England never could exist: We have in common with England the royal influence, and the ambition of Ministers to encounter; but we have also the jealous interference of that country to meet in every branch of trade, every department of commerce; and what barriers have we to oppose in our present state of representation? None: of four millions of people, three are actually and confessedly unrepresented; of the remaining fourth, the electors do not exceed 60,000, and the members whom they return, supposing them all, what I wish with truth we could, men of integrity, must remain for ever a minority, for their number amounts but to 82.