The Framework of Home Rule
by Erskine Childers
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It never occurred to responsible English statesmen that here was ground, firm as a rock in America, and firm enough in Ireland, on which, if only they obeyed the instincts and maxims upon which England herself had risen to greatness, they might build a mighty and durable Imperial structure. That loyalty, to be genuine and lasting, must spring from liberty was a truth they did not appreciate, and to this truth, strangely enough, in spite of the lessons of nearly a century and a half, a numerous school of English statesmen is still blind. It was no doubt a fatality that the smouldering discontent both of America and Ireland burst into flame in the reign of a monarch who endeavoured, even within the limits of Britain, to regain the arbitrary power which had cost their throne to the Stuarts; it was an additional fatality that the standard of public morals among the class through which he ruled during the period of crisis had fallen to lower depths than ever before or since. Even incorruptible men were either weak and selfish or subject to some cardinal defect of temper or intellect which, at times of crisis, neutralized their genius. Chatham and Burke were the noblest figures of the time, yet Chatham, in his highest mood a nobler and truer champion of American liberty than Burke, was Minister—nominally, at any rate—when the Revenue Duties imposed upon the American Colonies in 1867 destroyed in a moment the reconciliation brought about by the repeal of the Stamp Act. Burke was surely false to his political philosophy in founding his American argument on expedience rather than on principle. Chatham was a thorough democrat, trusting the people, poor or rich, rude or cultured, common or noble, American or British. Burke, at a time when the reflection of the genuine opinion of the nation in a pure and free Parliament might have saved us, as his splendid orations could not save us, from a disastrous war, scouted Parliamentary reform, and took his unconscious share in playing the game of the most narrow coercionist Tories like Charles Townshend and George III.

Of the interminable chain of fatalities which sicken the mind in following every phase of Ireland's history, Burke's rigid temperamental conservatism always seems to me the most fatal and the most melancholy. It is not that he, the greatest intellect Ireland has ever produced, made his career in England. By the time one reaches the period in which he lived one gets used to the expatriation of Irish brains and vigour, not only to England and America, but to Spain, France, Russia, and Germany. It is that his intellect was so constituted as in the long run to be useless, and on some occasions absolutely harmful, to Ireland, sincerely as he loved her, and often as he supported measures for her temporary benefit, and rejoiced in their temporary success. An incident occurred in 1773 which tested his worth to Ireland, and incidentally threw into strong light English views of Ireland and America at the period immediately preceding the revolutionary epoch. The Irish Government, not with any high social aim, but in desperation at the growing Treasury deficit, proposed a tax upon the rents of absentee landlords, and the fate of the measure, like all Irish measures, had to be decided in the first instance in England. North's Tory Ministry actually consented to it. Chatham, far from the active world, and too broken in health to influence policy either way, wrote a powerful plea for it; but a strong group of Whig magnates, themselves wealthy absentee proprietors of Irish land, signed a vehement remonstrance which carried the day against it, and the author of this remonstrance, of all men in the world, was the Irishman Burke, who, owning not an acre of Irish land himself, devoted all his transcendent talents, all the subtlety and variety of his reasoning, to clothing the selfish greed of others with the garb of an enlightened patriotism.

He was wrong fundamentally about Ireland, and only superficially right about America. In the terms of this celebrated remonstrance, as illuminated by his own private correspondence, his consistency is revealed. By the very nature of things, he maintained, the central Parliament of a great heterogeneous Empire must exercise a supreme superintending power and regulate the polity and economy of the several parts as they relate to one another, a principle which, of course, would have justified the taxation of America, and which, save on the ground of expediency alone, he would certainly have applied to America. The proximity of Ireland helped his logic, and surely logic was never distorted to stranger ends. The "ordinary residence" of the threatened Irish landowners was in England, "to which country they were attached, not only by the ties of birth and early habit, but also by those of indisputable public duties," as though these facts did not constitute in themselves a damning satire on the system of Irish Government. They were to be "fined" for living in England, as though that fine were not the most just and politic which could be conceived, if it went even an inch towards establishing the principle that Ireland's affairs were the business of responsible resident Irishmen, or towards the further principle, enshrined in Drummond's celebrated phrase of seventy years later in regard to the agrarian system which these Whig noblemen shared in founding, that "property has its duties as well as its rights." Finally, argued Burke, heaping irony upon irony, the tax would lead directly to the "separation" of the two Kingdoms both in interest and affection. The Colonies would follow the Irish example, and thus a principle of disunion and separation would pervade the whole Empire; the bonds of common interest, knowledge, and sympathy which now knit it together would everywhere be loosened, and a narrow, insulated, local feeling and policy would be proportionately increased.[12] Such was Burke's Imperialism, as evoked by an Irish measure which struck at the root of a frightful social evil and of a vicious political system. But the idea expressed by Burke—the spirit of his whole argument—went far beyond this particular absentee tax or any similar tax proposed, as happened in one instance, by a Colony. It was the superbly grandiose expression, and all the more insidiously seductive in that it was so grandiose, of a principle which all thinking men now know, or ought to know, is the negation of Empire, which lost us America, which came within an ace of losing us Canada, which might well have lost us South Africa, and which has in very fact lost us, though not yet irrevocably, the "affection," to use Burke's word, of Ireland. We may call local patriotism "narrow and insulated," if we please, but we recognize now, in every case save that of Ireland, that it is the only foundation for, and the only stimulant to, Imperial patriotism.

Chatham, an Englishman of the English, was nevertheless a better Irishman than Burke, and therefore a better Imperialist. "The tax," he wrote, "was founded on strong Irish policy. England, it is evident, profits by draining Ireland of the vast incomes spent here from that country. But I could not, as a Peer of England, advise the King, on principles of indirect, accidental English policy, to reject a tax on absentees sent over here as the genuine desire of the Commons of Ireland acting in their proper and peculiar sphere, and exercising their inherent exclusive right by raising supplies in the manner they judge best." Chatham, in short, applied precisely the same argument to Ireland as, in his memorable speeches of the next year (1774), he applied to America, and in both cases he was right. The only mistake he made was in his estimate of that travesty of a representative assembly, the Irish House of Commons, which, at the secret instigation of the Viceroy, though without actual coercion, eventually threw out a tax so distasteful to its English patrons. But the argument for financial independence remained unassailable, and eventually the Irish Parliament itself summoned up the courage to adopt and act upon it.

It may seem almost impossible that in a body so corrupt and exclusive a national sentiment should have arisen. But every elective assembly, however badly constituted, contains the seeds of its own regeneration, and, under even moderately favourable circumstances, moves irresistibly towards freedom. The pity was that circumstances, save for one brief and invigorating interlude, were persistently unfavourable to Ireland. The task was enormous, demanding infinitely more self-sacrifice than even the ablest and most prescient of her Parliamentarians realized. Until it was too late, in fact, they never awoke to the true nature of the task, dazzled by illusory victories. Rotten to the core as the Irish Parliament was, they sought, strengthened by popular influences, to make it the instrument for freeing Ireland from a paralyzing servitude; and up to a point they succeeded, but they did not see that the only security for real and permanent success was to reform the Parliament itself. There the inveterate spirit of creed and class ascendancy, resting in the last resort on English military power, survived long enough to nullify their efforts.

The American Revolution and the Irish revolutionary renaissance—the one achieved by a long and bitter war, the other without bloodshed—originated and culminated together, were derived from the same sources, and ran their course in close connection. In Ireland the movement was exclusively Protestant, in America unsectarian; but in both cases finance was the lever of emancipation. America, resenting the commercial restrictions imposed by the Mother Country, but not, until passion had obscured all landmarks, contesting their abstract justice, and suffering no great material harm from their incidence, fought for the principle of self-taxation—a principle which did, of course, logically include, as the Americans instinctively felt, that of commercial freedom. Ireland, harassed by commercial restrictions far more onerous, naturally regarded their abolition as vital, and the control of internal taxation as subsidiary. Apart from concrete grievances, both countries had to fear an unlimited extension of British claims founded on the all-embracing Declaratory Acts of 1719 and 1766.

Unfortunately for herself, Ireland for seventy years or more had been steadily supplying America with the human elements of resistance in their most energetic and independent form, and robbing herself proportionately Approximately, how many Protestants belonging mainly to Ulster, whether through eviction from the land, industrial unemployment, or disgust at social and political ostracism, left Ireland for America in the course of the eighteenth century, it is impossible to say; but the number, both relatively to population and relatively to the total emigration, Catholic and Protestant, to all parts of the world, was undoubtedly very large. Mr. Egerton, in his "Origin and Growth of the English Colonies," reckons that in 1775 a sixth part of the thirteen insurrectionary Colonies was composed of Scots-Irish exiles from Ulster, and that half the Protestant population of that Province emigrated to those Colonies between 1730 and 1770. As the crisis approached, emigration became an exodus. Thirty thousand of the farming class are said to have been driven west by the wholesale evictions of the early seventies, and ten thousand weavers followed them during the disastrous depression in the linen trade caused by interruption of commerce with America. The majority went to the northern Colonies, especially Pennsylvania, took from the first a vehement stand against the Royal claims, and supplied some of Washington's best soldiers. A minority went to the backwoods of Virginia, Maryland, and Carolina, and were little heard of until as late in the war as 1780, when Tarleton began his anti-guerilla campaign in the South. Then they woke up, and became, like their compatriots of the North, formidable and implacable foes.

Ireland and America, therefore, embarked on their struggle with the English Parliament in close sympathy. The treatise of Molyneux on Irish liberty was read with wide approval in America. Franklin visited and encouraged the Irish patriots, and the Americans in 1775 issued a special address to them, asserting an identity of interest. Chatham, on the eve of war, dwelt strongly in the House of Lords upon the same identity of interest, and in doing so expressly coupled together Irish Catholics and Protestants.

Although united by interest and sentiment, Ireland and America entered on the struggle under widely varying conditions. The American Colonies were thirteen separate units, with only a rude organization for common action, and in each of these units there existed a cleavage of opinion, based neither on class nor creed, between rebels and loyalists. In spite of this weakness, the revolt was thoroughly national in the sense that it was organized and maintained through the State Assemblies, resting on a broad popular franchise. In Ireland, unbought and unofficial opinion was united against England. On the other hand, there was no national Legislature; only an enslaved and unrepresentative Legislature, tempered by a band of exceptionally brilliant and upright men, and continually thrust forward in spite of itself into bold and independent action by unconstitutional pressure from the unrepresented elements outside. Success so won, as we shall see, was delusive.

We may note two important additional circumstances: first, the dense mist of ignorance in which, and largely in consequence of which, England began her quarrel both with America and Ireland. The average Englishman was probably even more ignorant of Ireland, which was sixty miles away, than of America, which was three thousand miles away. I am not at all sure that that fact is not true still. At any rate, it was true then. Yet knowledge of Ireland was more necessary, because her condition was bad in ways unknown in America. In all the essentials of material well-being, America was supremely fortunate, while Ireland was in the depths of misery. It is not that this misery went undescribed or unlamented, or that it was not realized by a small number of Englishmen. Some of the most famous writings of the time, from the mordant satire of Swift to the learned and elaborate diagnosis of Arthur Young, laid bare the hideous ravages wrought by misrule in Ireland; but they had little or no effect upon English statesmen, and were unread by the only classes from which, if they had had knowledge, proper practical sympathy might have come. Until Townshend's Viceroyalty (1767-1772) most of the Irish Viceroys were absentees for the greater part of their term of office, leaving the conduct of Irish affairs to English Bishops and Judges, the wisest and most humane of whom could make little or no impression on English official indifference. American Governors were at any rate resident, or mainly resident, and a few were good and popular administrators, though the information which most of them supplied to the Home Government showed a blindness to what was going on under their very eyes which would be incomprehensible if we did not know by experience that it is the invariable result of irresponsible rule over white men, whether at home or abroad. If, without the presence of race distinctions, it needed Parliamentary reform in England itself to force the ruling class to study with real sympathy the needs, character, and desires of their own people, naturally the same ruling class, sending out its own members or dependents to America, obtained the most grotesquely distorted notions of what Americans were and what they wanted or resented. "Their office," wrote Franklin of the Governors,[13] "makes them indolent, their indolence makes them odious, and, being conscious that they are hated, they become malicious. Their malice urges them to continual abuse of the inhabitants in their letters to Administration, representing them as disaffected and rebellious, and (to encourage the use of severity) as weak, divided, timid, and cowardly. Government believes all, thinks it necessary to support and countenance its officers," etc. The same spirit pervades the official correspondence of even the best Irish Viceroys of the eighteenth century, and ultimately had a far more disastrous effect in that there were at all times in Ireland ancient elements of social dissension which needed only skilful fomentation by her English rulers to ruin all hopes of reconciliation and unity. That phase was to come after the first Irish victories. For the present the system—for it can scarcely be called a policy—was to irritate all Irishmen and all Americans alike, irrespective of creed, class, or sentiment, and thus to create on each side of the Atlantic that dangerous phenomenon, an united people.

The other noticeable point, admirably described by Mr. Holland in his "Imperium et Libertas," is the confusion of political ideas in regard to the status of white dependencies—a confusion greatly augmented by loose and misleading analogies with India and the tropical Colonies. Even a genius like Burke, as I have already pointed out, was misled. Chatham came nearest to the truth, but, naturally, the actual outbreak of war with America checked his political thinking, and threw him back on the bare doctrine of supremacy, right or wrong. It was not fully understood that there must be a radical difference between the government of places settled and populated by white colonists and of places merely exploited by white traders. All the prerogatives of the Crown and Parliament were theoretically valid over both classes of dependency, and to abandon any of them seemed to most men of that day to be inconsistent with Imperial supremacy. Honest and fair-minded politicians and thinkers tried in vain to reconcile local freedom with Imperial unity. We have the key now, though we have made no use of it in Ireland; but most of our forefathers not only had no glimmering of the truth when the fratricidal war began, but learnt nothing from the war itself, and remained unenlightened for sixty years more. If the renunciation in 1778 of the right to tax the Colonies, and the negotiations founded thereon, had led to a peace, it is quite certain that friction would have subsequently arisen on other points. The idea of what we now know as "responsible government" was unknown. Short of coercive war, there seemed to be only two altogether logical alternatives—complete separation and legislative Union. America obtained the one, Ireland was eventually to undergo the other; but it is interesting to remember that suggestions, rejected by Franklin as useless, were made for the representation of the American Colonies in the English Parliament, just as suggestions for a legislative Union between Ireland and England appeared intermittently all through the eighteenth century, long before such a Union was a question of practical politics.

I need only briefly summarize the incidents which ended in the year 1782 with the final loss of the American Colonies, and the simultaneous achievement by Ireland of an apparent legislative independence. To take America first, the Stamp Act was passed in 1765, and, thanks to the tumult it created, repealed by the Whigs in 1766, though the Declaratory Act which accompanied the repeal neutralized its good results. The new Revenue Duties on glass, paper, painters' colours, and tea were imposed in 1767, reviving the old irritation, and all but that on tea were removed, after a period of growing friction, in 1770. Another comparative lull was succeeded by fresh disorder when in 1773 the East India Company was permitted to send tea direct to America, and Boston celebrated its historic "tea-party." The coercion of Massachusetts followed, with Gage as despotic Military Governor, and, as a result, all the Colonies were galvanized into unity. In September, 1774, the Continental Congress met, framed a Declaration of Rights, and obtained a general agreement to cease from all commerce with Britain until grievances were redressed. Fresh coercion having been applied, war broke out in 1775. The Declaration of Independence was signed on July 4, 1776, by John Hancock, President of Congress and the descendant of an Ulster exile, and was first read aloud in Philadelphia by Captain John Nixon, the son of an evicted Wexford farmer. Another Irishman, General Montgomery, led the invasion of Canada.[14] The war, with manifold vicissitudes, dragged on for eight years; but the surrender of Cornwallis at Yorktown on October 19, 1781, virtually ended the physical struggle, while the resolution of the House of Commons on February 27, 1782, against the further prosecution of hostilities, ended the contest of principle.

The turning-point had been the intervention of the French in 1778, and the same event was to turn the scale in Ireland. There, for many years past, the public finances had been sinking into a more and more scandalous condition. Taxation was by no means heavy, but pensions and sinecures multiplied, and the debt swelled. Inevitably there grew up within Parliament a small independent opposition which would not be bribed into conniving at the ruin of Ireland, while even bought placemen were stung into throwing their votes into the Irish rather than the English scale. Frequent efforts were made to use the insufficiency of the hereditary revenue as a lever for gaining control of finance and for obtaining domestic reform. An Octennial Act, passed in 1768, went a little way towards transforming Parliament from a permanent privileged Committee, under the control of the Executive, into the semblance at least of a free Assembly, and the first dissolution under this Act, in 1776, produced the famous Parliament which, though elected on the same narrow and corrupt basis as before, in the space of six years first admitted the principle of toleration for all creeds, and wrested from English hands commercial and legislative autonomy. It came too late to avert—if, indeed, it could ever have averted—the implication of Ireland in the American War, its predecessor of 1775 having, in defiance of Irish opinion, subscribed an Address to the Crown, expressing "abhorrence" of the American revolt and "inviolable attachment to the just rights" of the King's Government, and having obediently voted four thousand Irish troops for the war.

Nor, for all the impassioned eloquence of Grattan and Hussey Burgh, did the real driving-power of the new Parliament come from within its own ranks, but from the unrepresented multitude outside. A clause removing the test from Dissenters was struck out of the Catholic Relief Act of 1778, mainly owing to dictation from England, but partly from resentment against Presbyterian sympathy with the American cause. It was only in 1780, when the Presbyterians were enrolled in that formidable revolutionary organization known as the Volunteers, that a test which had excluded them from all share in the government of their adopted country for seventy-four years was repealed. As for the Catholics, the small measure of legal relief granted to them excited no opposition anywhere. Parts of the Penal Code, especially the laws against worship and the clergy, had become inoperative with time and the sheer impossibility of enforcement. The religion, naturally, had thriven under persecution, so that in spite of the Code's manifold temptations to recant, only four thousand converts had been registered in the last fifty years. The laws designed to safeguard the wholesale confiscations of the previous century had long ago achieved their purpose, and men were beginning to perceive the fatal economic effects of keeping the great mass of the people poor and ignorant. The real spirit of toleration shown in the enactments of 1778, the most important of which enabled Catholics to obtain land on a lease of 999 years, was small enough if we consider the quiescence of the Catholics for generations past, the absence of all tendency in them towards counter-persecution, or even towards intolerance of Protestantism in any of its forms, Quaker, Huguenot, Episcopalian, Presbyterian, or Methodist, in spite of their own overwhelming numbers and of the burning grievance of the tithes. Politically they were a source of great strength to the Government. When the Presbyterians condemned the American War, the Catholic leaders memorialized the Government in favour of it as warmly as the tame majority in Parliament.

Conservatives by religion, their devotion to authority annulled all instincts of revenge for the hideous wrongs of the past. The Government, now on the verge of a war with the two great Catholic Powers of Europe, began to realize this, and to feel the wisdom of some degree of conciliation. After all, only four years before they had not merely tolerated, but established, the Catholic Church in the conquered province of Quebec, with the result that the French Canadians remained loyal during the American War. But neither the Government nor the finest independent men in Parliament—not even Grattan—entertained the remotest idea of admitting Irish Catholics to any really effective share in the Government which their loyalty made stable. That noble but hopeless conception originated later, as the dynamic impulse for commercial freedom and legislative independence was originating now, outside the walls of Parliament.

The rupture with France in 1778 denuded Ireland of troops, and called into being the Protestant Volunteers; a disciplined, armed body, headed by leaders as weighty and respectable as Lord Charlemont. This body, formed originally for home defence, by a natural and legitimate transition assumed a political aspect, and demanded from a dismayed and terrorized Government commercial freedom for Ireland. For once in her life Ireland was too strong to be coerced. Punishment like that applied to Massachusetts was physically impossible. The bitter protests of English merchants passed unheeded, and the fiscal claims of the Volunteers, with their cannon labelled "Free Trade or this," were granted in full early in 1780. The moral was to persist. From 40,000 the numbers of the Volunteers rose in the two succeeding years to 80,000, and they stood firm for further concessions. The national movement grew like a river in spate; it swept forward the lethargic Catholics and engulfed Parliament. In a tempest of enthusiasm Grattan's Declaration of Independence was carried unanimously in the Irish House of Commons on April 16, 1782, and a month later received legal confirmation in England at the hands of the same Whig Government and Parliament which broke off hostilities with America, and in the same session.

America took her own road and worked out her own magnificent destiny. Most of us now honour Washington and the citizen troops he led. We say they fought, as Hampden and their English forefathers fought, for a sublime ideal, freedom, and that they were chips of the old block. But let not distance delude us into supposing that they were without the full measure of human weakness, or that they did not suffer considerable, perhaps permanent, harm from the ten years of smothered revolt and lawless agitation, followed by the seven years of open war which preceded their victory. Washington's genius carried them safely through the ordeal of the war, and the still more exacting ordeal of political reconstruction after the war, but it is well known how nearly he and his staunchest supporters failed. The Revolution, like all revolutions, brought out all the bad as well as all the good in human nature. Bad laws always deteriorate a people; they breed a contempt for law which coercion only aggravates, and which survives the establishment of good laws. As I have already indicated, the dislike and the systematic evasion by smuggling of the trade laws during the long period when the revolt was incubating harmed American character, and probably sowed the seed of future corruption and dissension. However true that may be, it is certainly true that the American rebels showed no more heroism or self-sacrifice than the average Englishman or Irishman in any other part of the world might have been expected to show under similar conditions. Historians and politicians, to whom legal authority always seems sacrosanct and agitation against it a popular vice, who mistake cause and effect so far as to derive freedom from character, instead of character from freedom, can make, and have made, the conventional case against Home Rule for the Americans as plausibly as the same case has, at various times, been made against Home Rule for Canada, South Africa, and Ireland. Since all white men are fundamentally alike in their faults as well as in their virtues, there is always abundant material for an indictment on the ground of bad character. The Americans of the revolutionary war, together with much fortitude, integrity, and public spirit, showed without doubt a good deal of levity, self-seeking, vindictiveness, and incompetence; and whoever chooses to amass, magnify, and isolate evidences of their guilt can demonstrate their unfitness for self-government just as well as he can demonstrate the same proposition in the case of Ireland. Mr. J.W. Fortescue, the learned and entertaining historian of the British Army, has done the former task as well as it can be done. He denounces the whole Colony of Massachusetts—men of his own national stock—as the pestilent offspring of an "irreconcilable faction," which had originally left England deeply imbued with the doctrines of Republicanism. Having gained, and by lying and subterfuge retained, some measure of independence, they sank from depth to depth of meanness and turpitude. They struggled for no high principle, and refused to be taxed from England, simply because they were too contemptibly stingy and unpatriotic to pay a shilling a head towards the maintenance of the Imperial Army. It is always the "mob," the "ruffians," the "rabble," of Boston who carry out the reprisals against the royal coercion, and, like the Irish peasants of the nineteenth century, they are always the half-blind, half-criminal tools of unscrupulous "agitators." It has been, and remains, an obsession with the partisans of law over liberty all the world over that the fettered community, wherever it may be and however composed, does not really want liberty, but that the majority of its sober citizens are dragged into an artificial agitation by mercenary scribes and sham patriots—a view which is always somewhat difficult to reconcile, as students of American and Irish history are aware, not only with the facts of prolonged and tenacious resistance, but with the other view, equally necessary to the argument for law, that the whole community is sinfully unfit for liberty; and Mr. Fortescue falls into the usual maze of self-contradiction and obscurity when he tries to give an intelligible account of a war which lasted seven long and weary years, and yet was "factitious," initiated by an hysterical rabble, stimulated and sustained by the basest and pettiest motives, and which, he contends, was "the work of a small but energetic and well-organized minority towards which the mass of the people, when not directly hostile, was mainly indifferent." Happily, Mr. Fortescue's candour as an historian of facts gives us the clue to this strange tangle. We find no evidence that the sober loyalist majority who sustain one side of his argument, and whom we should expect to find crushing the revolt with ease in co-operation with the British regular troops, were, in fact, a majority, nor that they were either better or worse men, or more or less ardent patriots, than the mutinous minority, or the British regular soldiers themselves. Their loyalty, like the disloyalty of the other side, is sometimes interested and evanescent, more often sincere and tenacious; they are given to desertion, like Washington's troops, like Lee's and Grant's troops nearly a century later, like the Boer troops and like all Volunteer levies, which have somehow to combine war with the duty of keeping their homes and business afloat. We find, too, that a counter-current of desertion flows from the British, and still more from the German, regulars, also a natural enough phenomenon in what was virtually a civil war for liberty; so that "General Greene was often heard to say that at the close of the war he fought the enemy with British soldiers, and that the British fought him with those of America." And then Mr. Fortescue, ignoring the British side of the case, exultingly quotes against the Americans "the cynical Benedict Arnold, who knew his countrymen," and who said: "Money will go farther than arms in America." Yet Arnold, whose opinion of his countrymen Mr. Fortescue accepts as correct and conclusive, was himself, not a plain deserter, but a perjured military traitor of the most despicable kind. We may conclude, perhaps, after taking a broad view of the whole Revolution, that Washington not only knew his countrymen, who were Mr. Fortescue's countrymen, better than Arnold, but was a better representative of their dominant characteristics.[15]

Mr. Fortescue is peculiar in the violence of his prepossession, and we know the source of that prepossession, a passionate love of the British Army, which does him great honour, while it distorts his political vision. I should not refer at such length to his view of the American War were it not that, whenever a concrete case of Home Rule comes up for discussion, his philosophy is apt to become the typical and predominant philosophy. Historical sense seems to vanish, and the same savage racial bias supervenes, whether the unruly people concerned are absolutely consanguineous, closely related, or of foreign nationality. Instead of a general acceptance of the ascertained truth that men thrive and coalesce under self-government and sink into deterioration and division under coercion, we get the same pharisaical assumption of superiority in the dominant people, the same attribution of sordid and ugly motives to the leaders of an unruly people, the same vague idealization of the loyalist minority, the same fixed hallucination that the majority does not want what by all the constitutional means in its power it says it wants, and the correspondingly fatal tendency to gauge the intensity of a conviction solely by the amount of physical violence it evokes, while making that very violence an argument for the depravity of those who use it, and a pretext for denying them self-government.

All this is terribly true in the case of Ireland, and when I next revert to the American continent, the reader will observe that the same ideas were entertained towards Canada, the only white Colony left to the British Empire after the loss of the thirteen States.


[8] The origin of North Carolina is, perhaps, debatable. Nearly all historians have represented it as settled by Dissenting refugees; but Mr. S.B. Weeks, a Carolina historian, has written an essay to prove that this was not the case ("Religious Development in the Province of North Carolina," Baltimore, 1892). The Charter contained a clause for liberty of conscience on the instructive ground that, "by reason of the remote distance of those places, toleration would be no breach of the unity and conformity established in this realm."

[9] "Church and State in Maryland," George Petrie. Lord Baltimore, the Catholic founder and Proprietary, enforced complete tolerance from the first (1634), and secured the passage of an Act in 1649 giving legal force to the policy, with heavy penalties against interference with any sect. In 1654 Puritans gained control of the Assembly, and passed an Act against Popery. A counter-revolution repealed this Act, but finally in 1689 the Church of England was established by law.

[10] Lecky, "History of Ireland in the Eighteenth Century," vol. i., pp. 408-410.

[11] Until 1692 Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Connecticut, elected their own Governors. Massachusetts continued to have Colonial Governors, and sometimes New Jersey and New Hampshire. Proprietary Governments were gradually abolished and converted into "Royal" Governments like the rest. At the period of the Declaration of Independence two only were left—Pennsylvania and Maryland (see "Origin and Growth of the English Colonies," H.E. Egerton).

[12] Lecky, "History of Ireland in the Eighteenth Century," vol. ii., pp. 124-126.

[13] Trevelyan, "The American Revolution," vol. i., p. 16.

[14] See "The Irish Race in America," by Captain Ed. O'Meagher Condore.

[15] "History of the British Army," vol. iii.



We left Ireland in 1782 apparently in possession of a triumph as great as that of America, though won without bloodshed and without the least tincture of sedition; for the Volunteers of 1782 were as loyal to the Crown as the most ardent American royalists. In the light of political ideas developed at a much later period, we know that the American Colonies might have remained within the Empire, even if their utmost claims had been granted. Had the idea of responsible government been understood, it would have been realized that their exclusive control of taxation and legislation was not inconsistent with Imperial Union, but essential to it. Grattan and his Irish friends, ignorant of the true solution, honestly thought, in the intoxication of the moment, that they had solved the problem so disastrously bungled for America. The facts of ethnology and geography seemed to have been recognized. Ireland and England, united by a Crown which both reverenced, stood together, like Britain and the Dominions of to-day, as sister nations, with the old irritating servitude swept away, and the bonds of natural affection and natural interest substituted. That the close proximity of the two nations, however marked the contrast between their natural characteristics, made these bonds far more necessary and valuable than in the case of America, stood to reason, and, again, the fact was recognized in Anglo-Irish relations. America had fought rather than submit to a forced contribution to Imperial funds. Nobody in Ireland, in or out of Parliament, had ever objected in principle to an indirect voluntary contribution in troops, and now that the American War was ended, non-Parliamentary objections to one particular application of the principle had no further substance. Nor, as was shortly to be shown in the reception given in Ireland to Pitt's abortive Commercial Propositions of 1785, was there any objection to a direct contribution in money on a fixed annual scale in return for a mutual free trade.[16] The sun had surely risen over a free yet loyal Ireland.

Never was there a more complete delusion. It would have been far better for Ireland if she had never had a Parliament at all, but had had to seek her own salvation in the healthy rough-and-tumble of domestic revolution. The mere name of "Parliament" seems perpetually to have hypnotized even its best members, and the illusion was at its highest now. Nothing essential had been changed. Commercial freedom was the most real gain, because it involved the definite repeal of certain trade-laws and the permission to Ireland to make what she liked and send it where she liked; but it was a small gain without some means of finding out what Ireland really liked, and translating that will, without external pressure, into law. The Parliament was neither an organ of public opinion nor a free agent. It was even more corrupt and less representative than before. It was as completely under the control of the English Government as before. The modern conception of a Colonial Ministry serving under a constitutional Governor selected by the Crown, but acting with the advice of his Ministry, was unknown. The English Government, through its Lord-Lieutenant, still appointed English Ministers in Ireland, and in the hands of these Ministers lay not only that large portion of the national income known as the hereditary revenue, but the whole machinery of patronage and corruption. Even the legislative independence was unreal; for majorities still had to be bought, Irish Bills had still to receive the Royal Assent, that is, English ministerial assent; so that powerful English pressure could be, and was, brought to bear upon their policy and construction. And the worst of it was that English pressure here and elsewhere meant then what it meant in the next century, and what it too often means now, English party pressure exercised spasmodically and ignorantly, in order to serve sectional English ends. In short, Ireland, so far from being a nation, was still virtually a Colony, subjected to the worst conceivable form of colonial Government, groaning under economic evils unknown in the least fortunate of the Colonies, and without the numerous mitigating circumstances and the hope of ultimate cure due to remoteness from the seat of Empire. On the contrary, nearness to England, and, above all, nearness to France, where the misrule and miseries of ages were about to culminate in a fearful upheaval of social order, complicated immensely the problem of regeneration in Ireland.

What was the remedy? Parliamentary reform. The Volunteers saw this instantly. Parliament itself scouted the idea of reform, because it threatened the Protestant ascendancy. Any weakening of the Protestant ascendancy was unthinkable to Irish statesmen, even to Grattan, who in 1778 had coined the grandiose phrase that "the Irish Protestant could never be free until the Irish Catholic had ceased to be a slave," and who afterwards explained what he meant by saying that the liberty of the Catholic was to be only such as was "entirely consistent with the Protestant ascendancy," and that "the Protestant interest was his first object." Ascendancy, then, in the mind of the ruling class in Ireland was fundamental. What was its corollary? Dependence on England. Ascendancies, whether based on creed or property, or, as in Ireland, on both, cannot last in any white community without external support, and the external support for ascendancy in Ireland was English force without and English bribes within. There was the chain of causation, the vicious circle rather; and yet Grattan, who never touched a bribe, thought he had freed his beloved Ireland from the English influences which were throttling her. He could not see that the more he wrestled for the independence of a sham Parliament, while resisting its transformation into a real Parliament, the more he strengthened those influences, because he inevitably widened the gulf between Parliament and the Irish people. The glamour his brilliant gifts had thrown over the Irish Parliament only served to divert his own mind and the minds of other talented and high-minded men from the seat of disease in Ireland. Time and talent were wasted from the first over points of pride, trivialities which seemed portentous to over-sensitive minds; metaphysical puzzles as to the exact nature of the relations now existing between Ireland and England; whether the repeal of the Poynings' Act and the Declaratory Act were sufficient guarantees of freedom; whether Ireland herself should nominate a Regent or accept the nomination from England. Meanwhile, the sands were running out, and Ireland was a slave to a minute but powerful minority of her sons and, only through them, to England.

Yet the heart of Ireland was sound. All the materials for regeneration were there. The Catholics, whom by an old inherited instinct Grattan professed to dread, were the most Conservative part of the population, so Conservative as to be unaware of the source of their miseries, without the smallest leaning towards a counter-ascendancy, and without a notion of sedition or rebellion. Paradox as it seems, if they leaned in any political direction, it was dimly towards the constituted authority of the day, the Irish Parliament. But the truth is that they were without political consciousness, behind the times, unappreciative of the new forces operating round them. In sore need of courageous and enlightened guidance from men of their own faith, they were almost leaderless. The leeway to be made up after the destructive action of the penal laws was so enormous that Catholic philanthropists had no time or will for high politics, and devoted their whole energy to the further relaxation of those laws, to the education of their backward co-religionists, and to the mitigation of poverty. For relief they instinctively looked towards the only legal source of relief, though the source of secular oppression, Parliament. But this was habit. The Catholics at this time were like clay in the hands of the potter, open to any curative and ennobling impulse. That impulse came, as was right and natural, from the Protestant side. The only healthy political organization in Ireland in 1782 was that of the Volunteers of the North, with their headquarters at Belfast. They represented all that was best in the Protestant population. They had won the practical victory, such as it was, Parliament, with all its flaming rhetoric, only the titular victory. They grasped the essential truth that Parliament was rotten, and that Ireland's future depended on its reform. Numbering some 80,000 or 100,000, they at once began to press for reform, and, since they had no constitutional resources, to overawe Parliament. Parliament at once stood on its dignity and on its civil rights against the "Pretorian bands." "And now," said Grattan in his magnificent way, "having given a Parliament to the people, the Volunteers will, I doubt not, leave the people to Parliament, and thus close specifically and majestically a great work."

But the work was not begun. Parliament was the enemy of the people, and the Volunteers knew it. Now, what was the "people" in the minds of the Volunteers? Undoubtedly they did not, after a century of racial ascendancy, perform the miracle of accepting at once in its entirety the principle of absolute political equality for all Irishmen, Catholic and Protestant alike. Such mental revulsions rarely occur among men, and when they do occur are apt to produce reactionary cataclysms. But they did from the first give a real meaning to Grattan's vague rhetoric about Catholic slaves; from the first they made overtures towards the Catholics, and ventilated proposals for the Catholic franchise as a part of their scheme of reform ten years before that enfranchisement, without Parliamentary reform and therefore valueless, became a practical issue. For the present these proposals were outvoted, and the effective demand of the Volunteers, as framed in the great Convention held at Dublin in November, 1783, was for a purification and reconstruction of Parliament on a democratic Protestant basis. The Catholic franchise had been strongly supported, but by the influence of Charlemont and Flood rejected. It is, of course, easy to maintain in theory that a democratic Protestant ascendancy so designed was as incompatible with Irish freedom as an aristocratic and corrupt ascendancy; but nobody with faith in human nature or any knowledge of history, will care to affirm that the process of reform would have ended with the enactment of the Volunteer Bill. No present-day Protestant Ulsterman should entertain such a dishonouring doubt. Mercifully, men are so made that, if left to themselves, they go forward, not backward. A pure Assembly, formed on the Volunteer plan, stimulated by the enlightened conscience which such an Assembly invariably develops, by the discovery of the fundamental identity of interests between the great bulk of Catholics and Protestants, and by the manly instinct of self-preservation against undue English encroachment, would have moved rapidly towards tolerance and equality.

But the Assembly which might have saved Ireland never came into being. The Volunteers were in weak and incompetent hands. The metamorphosis they had undergone from a body formed for home defence into a militant political organization found them at the critical moment unprovided with the right stamp of leader. Flood, who helped to draft their Bill, was a brilliant but unscrupulous and discredited Parliamentarian, and a fanatical advocate of an unimpaired Protestant ascendancy. Lord Charlemont, one of the most influential founders of the movement, and a man of the highest integrity, was lukewarm for reform, an aristocrat and an ascendancy man to the finger-tips, dreading the mysterious forces he had helped to call into being, and desirous to keep them, as he said, "respectable." Was it respectable for armed men to dictate to a Parliament, however just their cause? As often happens in the ferment of popular movements, the one leader who spoke undiluted truth and sense spoke it in florid and unmeasured language and was himself of a figure and behaviour little likely to inspire permanent confidence. This was the famous Bishop of Derry, called by Charlemont a blasphemous Deist, by Wesley an exemplary Divine, by Fox a dishonest madman, and by Jeremy Bentham "a most excellent companion, pleasant, intelligent, well-bred, and liberal-minded to the last degree." He was certainly vain and ostentatious, certainly a democratic free-thinker, but a full knowledge of his character is not of much concern to us. The point is that he was right about Ireland's needs, though the wrong man at the moment to drive home her claims. Many finer agitators than he have failed in causes just as good. Many without half his merits have succeeded. We shall find his Canadian counterparts later in the figures of Mackenzie and Papineau.

The crisis came on November 29, 1783, when the Reform Bill reached Parliament, and was introduced by Flood, wearing the Volunteer dress. It was rejected on the first vote. No doubt the circumstances were humiliating, and if there had been any serious inclination in Parliament towards self-reform and the relinquishment of an odious and mischievous monopoly, we should freely forgive rejection. But there was little or none, as after-events proved, and the real humiliation lay, not in the dictation of the Irish Volunteers, but in the fact that the Volunteers themselves were overawed by a strong body of British regular troops, mustered for the occasion under General Burgoyne. The vicious circle was complete. Forced to choose between reform and dependence on England, Parliament chose the latter. And only a year and a half before Grattan had dazzled his hears with the words: "Ireland is now a nation ... esto perpetua."

There are very few critical dates in Irish history, and of those few the night of November 29, 1783, was the most critical of all. It marked the climax of a brief and bright renaissance from the long stagnation of the eighteenth, and heralded a decline into the long agony of the nineteenth century, a decline concealed by the fictitious lustre which still hangs over the first decade of Grattan's unreformed Parliament, but none the less already present. The Volunteers, their grand opportunity lost, slowly broke up. Should they have used force, even under the threat of Burgoyne's guns? It would have been infinitely better both for England and Ireland if they had. Nothing but force could avail. Never would force have been better justified, for the very soul of a people "rang zwischen Tod und Leben."

It is hard, nevertheless, to blame the Volunteers for not appreciating the full magnitude of the crisis and acting accordingly. They were ahead of their time as it was in the political instinct which taught them the vital importance of a reformed Parliament. They were far ahead of England, where the younger Pitt had failed to carry Reform a few months before, and was to fail again two years later when he urged reform for Ireland. They were even ahead of their time in religious tolerance—witness the Gordon riots in London two years before. Their Parliament wore the crown and spoke the regal language of a patriot Assembly. For five years they themselves had glorified justifiably in the perfect discipline and sobriety with which they had used their irregular power. Their most trusted leaders suggested that they would yet achieve their ends without violence, while the large majority of the Volunteers themselves were still as loyal to the Crown as the Catholics, and were inclined, therefore, to shrink from action which, although in itself not in the remotest degree connected with dynastic questions, involved a theoretical conflict with the Crown, and perhaps an actual collision with Royal troops. One of the last acts of the Volunteer Convention, before its dissolution, was to pass an address to the King expressing fervent zeal for the Crown, reminding him of their quiet and dignified behaviour in the past, and praying that "their humble wish to have certain manifest perversions of the Parliamentary representation of this kingdom remedied by the Legislature in some reasonable degree, might not be imputed to any spirit of innovation in them, but to a sober and laudable desire to uphold the Constitution, to confirm the satisfaction of their fellow-subjects, and to perpetuate the cordial union of the two kingdoms." This document might have been copied mutatis mutandis from the American petitions prior to the war, and was to be reproduced almost word for word in Canadian petitions dealing with less serious grievances whose neglect at the hands of the Government did actually lead to armed rebellion. It must be taken, as Mr. Lecky truly says, as the "defence of the Convention before the bar of history." Drawn up by the most moderate and least prescient leaders, it was a vindication of the past, not a pledge for the future; for "from that time," as Mr. Lecky writes, "the conviction sank deep into the minds of many that reform in Ireland could only be effected by revolution, and the rebellion of 1798 might be already foreseen."

The story of that transition, with all its disastrous consequences in the denationalization of Ireland, in the arrest of healing forces, in the reawakening of slumbering bigotries and hatreds, in the artificial transformation of Catholics into anti-English rebels, and Protestants into anti-Irish Loyalists, in the long agony of the land war, the tithe war, the Church war, and the loathsome savageries of the rebellion itself, is one of the most repulsive in history. It is repulsive because you can watch, as it were, upon a dissecting-table the moral fibre of a people, from no inherent germ of decay, against reason, against nature, visibly wasting under a corrosive acid. Typical figures stand out: the strong figure of Fitzgibbon, voicing ascendancy in its crudest and ugliest form; at the other extreme the ardent but inadequate figure of Wolfe Tone, affirming in words which expressed the literal truth of the case that "to subvert the tyranny of our execrable Government, to break the connection with England, the never-failing source of all our political evils, and to assert the independence of my country—these were my objects." Midway stands Grattan, the defeated and disillusioned "Girondin," as Mr. Fisher aptly calls him,[17] blind until it was too late to the errors which plunged his country into anarchy, and retiring in despair when he saw that anarchy coming. And on the other side of the water, Pitt, dispassionately prescribing for Ireland in 1784, while there was yet time, the radical remedy, Reform, patiently turning, when that was refused, to palliatives like mutual free trade in 1785 and the Catholic franchise in 1793; and meanwhile, with an undercurrent of cool scepticism, preparing the ground for the only alternative to Reform, short of a revolutionary separation of the two countries, legislative Union, and remorselessly pushing that Union through by the only available means, bribery.

In this wretched story we seek in vain for individual scapegoats. Tracing events to their source, we strike against two obstructions, proximity and ignorance, and we may as well make them our scapegoats. If proximity had implied knowledge and forbearance, all would have been well, but it implied just the reverse, and prohibited the kind of solution which, after very much the same sort of crisis, and in the teeth of ignorance and error, was afterwards reached in the case of Canada and South Africa.

The immediate cause is clear. The failure of Reform is the key to the Rebellion and the Union. In a patriotic anxiety to idealize Grattan's Parliament, with a view to justifying later claims for autonomy, Irishmen have generally shut their eyes to this cardinal fact, and have preferred to dwell with exaggerated emphasis on the little good that Parliament did rather than on the enormous evils which it not only left untouched, but scarcely observed. We must remember that it was not only a Protestant body, but a close body of landlords, with an infusion of lawyers and others devoted to the interest of landlords. In that capacity it was incapable of diagnosing, much less of remedying, the gravest material ills of Ireland. In the very narrow domain where the landlord interest was not concerned, as in industrial and commercial matters, Parliament seems to have acted on the whole with wisdom. It endeavoured to encourage industries, while refusing to squander its newly won commercial powers in waging tariff wars with Great Britain, where prohibitive duties against Irish goods still continued to be imposed. But Ireland was no longer an industrial country. All the encouragement in the world could not replace lost aptitudes or bring back the exiled craftsmen who, during a century past, had left Ireland to enrich European countries with their skill. The favoured linen industry alone survived to reach its present flourishing condition. The revival in other manufactures, even in that of wool, which was remarkably rapid and strong, seems to have been artificial and transient. No wonder; for, while Ireland had been stagnant for a century, her great competitor, England, had been steadily building up that capacity for organized industry which, under the inventive genius of Arkwright, Hargreaves, and Watt, and the economic genius of Adam Smith, made the last twenty years of the eighteenth century such a marvellous period of industrial expansion, and eventually converted England from an agricultural into a manufacturing nation. Ireland was hopelessly late in the race. On the other hand, the fertile land of Ireland remained as the indestructible source of wealth and the prime means of subsistence for the great bulk of the four and a half million souls who inhabited the country. Parliament seems to have been almost indifferent to the miseries of the agricultural population, wholly indifferent, certainly, to their source, the vicious agrarian system which it was the interest of its own members to sustain. Foster's famous Corn Law without doubt increased tillage, and, in conjunction with the inflated prices for produce caused by the French War, gave a powerful though a somewhat unhealthy impulse to the trade in corn. But it enriched only the landlords, and left untouched the real abuses, absenteeism, middlemanism, insecurity of tenure, rack-rents, and tithes. The Whiteboy risings of the sixties and seventies recurred, and were met with Coercion Acts as stupid and cruel as those of the nineteenth century. The tithe grievance, which festered and grew into civil war in the nineteenth century, was never touched. While tenants in North-East Ulster were painfully and forcibly establishing their custom of tenant right in the teeth of the law, the inhuman system of cottier tenancy, which was to last until 1881, became more and more firmly rooted in other parts of Ireland.

None but a democratic Assembly could possibly have grappled with these evils; nor is there any reason to suppose that in the existing condition of Ireland a Protestant democratic Assembly, even if temporarily it retained its sectarian character, would have grappled with them less boldly and drastically than an Assembly composed of Catholics and Protestants. The material interests of nineteen-twentieths of the people were the same, while the education and intelligence belonged mainly to the Protestants. Ulster tenants had as much need of good land laws as other tenants. Tithes were as much disliked in the north as in the south. The Established Church was the Church of a very small minority, and its clergy, numbers of whom were absentees, were as unpopular as the absentee landlords and the absentee office-holders and pensioners.

But with no redress, and, what is more important, no prospect of redress for the primary ills of Ireland, the centrifugal forces of religion and race had full scope for their baneful influence. And it was at the very moment when tolerance was steadily gaining ground among all classes that these spectres of ancient wrong were summoned up to destroy the good work.

How did this come about? Let us remember once more that everything hinged on Reform. Reform gained a little, but suffered far more, by its association with the question of Catholic franchise, which was useless without Reform, while it was the corollary of Reform. Nothing is more remarkable than the growth of academic tolerance during this period, doubtful and suspect as the motives sometimes were. It is true that the great Relief Act of 1793, giving Catholics the vote and removing a quantity of other disqualifications, would scarcely have been sanctioned by the Parliamentary managers without the stern dictation of Pitt, whose mind was strongly influenced by the violent anti-Catholic turn just taken by the French Revolution; but, once sanctioned, it passed rapidly, and was received with universal satisfaction in the country at large. Without "Emancipation," that is, the permission to elect Catholics to sit in Parliament and hold office, the franchise was illusory and even harmful. In the counties the forty-shilling "freehold" vote ("freehold" was an ironical misnomer) encouraged Protestant landlords for another generation, before and after the Union, still further to subdivide already excessively small holdings, while the benefits to be derived from the admission to power of propertied Catholics, with all their intensely Conservative instincts, were thrown away. Emancipation apart, the franchise without Reform was a complete farce, for the boroughs, which controlled the Parliamentary balance, were the personal property of Protestant landlords, and the 110 Parliamentary placemen were indirectly their tools. As usual, the men of light and leading contributed unconsciously to the strength of a system which, in their hearts, as honest men, they condemned. Each of them had some fatal defect of understanding. Grattan became a strong Emancipator, but remained an academic and ineffectual reformer striving in vain to reconcile Reform with a passionate abhorrence of democracy and a determination to keep power in the hands of landed property. In England, which was Protestant in the Established sense, he would have done no more harm than Burke, who for the same reason fought Reform as strongly as Pitt and his father Chatham had advocated it. But in Ireland, which was Catholic and Nonconformist, landed property signified Episcopalian landed property, that is, the narrowest form of ascendancy. Charlemont was an even stranger paradox. He was an academic Reformer before Grattan, but not an Emancipator, arriving at the same sterility as Grattan through a religious bias which Grattan ceased to feel, a bias inspired, not by a fanatical fear of democracy in itself, but by a fear of Catholic revenge for past wrongs. These men and their like, admirable and lovable as in many respects they were, were useless to Ireland in those terrible times. Whether Emancipation, unaccompanied by Reform, had any real chance of passing Parliament in 1795, when the Whig Viceroy Fitzwilliam, the one Viceroy in the eighteenth century who ever conceived the idea of governing Ireland according to Irish ideas, came over from England with the avowed intention of proposing it, is a matter of conjecture. Fitzwilliam was snuffed out by Pitt, and recalled under circumstances which still remain a matter of controversy. All we can say with certainty is that the opinion of Ireland at large was absolutely ignored, and that English party intrigues and English claims on Irish patronage had much to do with the result. On the whole, however, I agree with Mr. Fisher that too much importance has been given to this episode, especially by Mr. Lecky, who devotes nearly a volume to it.

The anti-national Irish Parliament was past praying for. Long before 1795 the Irish aristocracy had lost whatever power for good it ever possessed, and most of the resolute reformers of Wolfe Tone's middle-class Protestant school had turned, under the enthralling fascination of the French Revolution, into revolutionaries. Reform had been refused in 1782; again, and without coercion from the Volunteers, in 1783. It was refused again in 1784, against the advice of Pitt and at the instigation of Pitt's own Viceroy, Rutland, whom Pitt had urged—what a grim irony it seems!—to give "unanswerable proofs that the cases of Ireland and England are different," and who answered with truth that the ascendancy of a minority could only be maintained "by force or corruption." Every succeeding year showed the same results. Wolfe Tone was more than justified, he was compelled, to convert his Society of United Irishmen, founded in 1791, into a revolutionary organization and to seek by forcible means to overthrow the Executive which controlled Parliament and, through it, Ireland. Since the symbol of the Irish Executive was the British Crown, he, of course, abjured the Crown, though he had no more quarrel with the Crown as such than had the American or Canadian patriots. He simply loved his country, and from the first saw with clear eyes the only way to save her. Tolerance to him was not an isolated virtue, but an integral part of democracy. He took little interest in the Parliamentary side of Catholic relief, realizing its hollow unreality, and, in the case of the Bill of 1793, actually ridiculing the absurd spectacle of the Catholic cottiers being herded to the poll by their Protestant landlords. Nor was he even an extreme Democrat, for he advocated a ten-pound, instead of a forty shilling franchise. His original pamphlet of 1791 contains nothing but the most sober political common sense.

His aim was to unite Irishmen of all creeds to overthrow a Government which did not emanate from or represent them, and which was ruinous to them. It is not surprising that he failed. Ireland was very near England. French intervention had been decisive in distant America, and the French Revolution in its turn had been hastened by the American example. But the intervention in Ireland of Republican France, for purely selfish and strategic reasons, without effective command of the sea, and with the stain of the Terror upon her, was of little material value and a grave moral handicap to the Irish Revolutionists. It is the manner of Tone's failure and the consequences of his failure that have such a tragic interest. A united Ireland could have dispensed with the aid of France. What prevented unity? Tone laboured to bring both creeds together, and to a certain degree was successful. Until the very last it was the Catholics, not the Protestants, who shrank most from revolution. Yet, in the Rebellion of 1798, the North never moved, while Catholic Wexford and Wicklow rose.

The root cause is to be found in those agrarian abuses whose long neglect by the Irish Parliament constituted the strongest justification for Reform. The Orange Society, founded under that name in 1795, originated in the "Peep o' Day Boys," a local association formed in Armagh in 1784 for the purpose of bullying Catholics. There is no doubt that the underlying incentive was economic. Even when the Penal Code had lost in efficacy, its results survived in the low standard of living of the persecuted Catholics. As I pointed out in a former chapter, the reckless cupidity of the landlords in terminating leases and fixing new rents by auction, with the alternative of eviction, threw those Protestant tenants who did not emigrate into direct competition with Catholic peasants of a lower economic stamp, who because they lived on little could afford to offer fancy rents. Hence much bitter friction, leading to sordid village rows and eventually to the organized ruffianism of the Peep o' Day Boys. The Catholic Franchise Act of 1793, unaccompanied by Emancipation, actually intensified the trouble by removing the landlord's motive to prefer a Protestant tenant on account of his vote. Under ill-treatment, the Catholics naturally retaliated with a society known as the "Defenders," and in some districts were themselves the aggressors. Defenderism, in its purely agrarian aspect, spread to other parts of Ireland, where Protestants were few, and became merged in Whiteboyism. This had always been an agrarian movement, directed against abuses which the law refused to touch, and without religious animus, although the overwhelming numbers of the Catholics in the regions where it flourished would have placed the Protestants at their mercy. In Ulster both the contending organizations necessarily acquired a religious form and necessarily retained it. But at bottom bad laws, not bigotry, were the cause. There was nothing incurable, or even unique, about the disorders. Analogous phenomena have appeared elsewhere, for example, in Australia, between the original squatters on large ranches and new and more energetic colonists in search of land for closer settlement. Under a rational system of tenure and distribution there was plenty of good land in Ireland for an even larger population. Tone, who was a middle-class lawyer, seems never to have appreciated what was going on. So far from healing the schism, he appears to have widened it by throwing the United Irish Committee of Ulster into the scale of the Catholics against the Orangemen. But, in truth, he was helpless. Good administration only could unite these distracted elements, and without the Reform for which he battled, good administration was impossible. The dissension, widening and acquiring an increasingly religious and racial character, paralyzed Ulster, which originally was the seat of the Revolution. The forces normally at work to favour law and order—loyalty to the Crown, dislike of the French Revolution, and resentment at Franco-Irish conspiracies—gathered proportionately greater strength.

The Southern Rebellion of 1798—a mad, pitiful thing at the best, the work of half-starved peasants into whose stunted minds the splendid ideal of Tone had scarcely begun to penetrate—was a totally different sort of rebellion from any he had contemplated. It was neither national nor Republican. The French invasions had met with little support; the first with positive reprobation. Nor was it in origin sectarian, although, once aflame, it inevitably took a sectarian turn. Several of the prominent leaders were Protestants. Priests naturally joined in it because they were the only friends the people had had in the dark ages of oppression. In so far as it can be regarded as spontaneous, it was of Whiteboy origin, anti-tithe and anti-rack-rent. But it was not even spontaneous; that is another dreadful and indisputable fact which emerges. The barbarous measures taken to repress and disarm, prior to the outbreak, together with the skilfully propagated reports of a coming massacre by Orangemen, would have goaded any peasantry in the world to revolt, and the only astonishing thing is that the revolt was so local and sporadic. General Sir Ralph Abercromby retired, sickened with the horrors he was forbidden to avert. "Within these twelve months," he wrote of the conduct of the soldiery at the time of his resignation, "every crime, every cruelty that could be committed by Cossacks or Calmucks has been transacted here.... The struggle has been, in the first place, whether I was to have the command of the Army really or nominally, and then whether the character and discipline of it were to be degraded and ruined in the mode of using it, either from the facility of one man or from the violence and oppression of a set of men who have for more than twelve months employed it in measures which they durst not avow or sanction."

Abercromby's resignation, in Mr. Lecky's opinion, "took away the last faint chance of averting a rebellion." Fitzgibbon, Lord Clare, was now supreme in the Government, and henceforth represents incarnate the forces which provoked the Rebellion and founded upon it the Union. He had bided his time for a decade, watching the trend of events, foreseeing their outcome, and smiling sardonically at the ineffectual writhings of the men of compromise. He stands out like a block of black granite over against the slender figure of Wolfe Tone, who was his anti-type in ideas and aims, his inferior in intellect, his superior in morals, but no more than his rival in sincerity, clarity, and consistency of ideas. Clare was a product of the Penal Code, the son of a Catholic Irishman who, to obtain a legal career, had become a Protestant. He himself was not a bigot, but a very able cynic, with a definite theory of government. Tolerance, Emancipation, Reform, were so much noxious, sentimental rubbish to him, and he had never scrupled to say so. Ireland was a Colony, English colonists were robbers in Ireland, and robbers must be tyrants, or the robbed will come by their own again; that was his whole philosophy,[18] his frigid and final estimate of the tendencies of human nature, and his considered cure for them. Racial fusion was a crazy conception not worth argument. Wrong on one side, revenge on the other; policy, coercion. As he put it in his famous speech on the Union, the settlers to the third and fourth generation "were at the mercy of the old inhabitants of the island." "Laws must be framed to meet the vicious propensities of human nature," and laws of this sort for the case of Ireland should, he held with unanswerable logic, properly be made in England, not by the travesty of a Parliament in Ireland, which, in so far as it was in any degree Irish, had shown faint but ominous tendencies towards tolerance and the reunion of Irishmen. He never took the trouble to demonstrate the truth of his theory of revenge by a reasoned analysis of Irish symptoms. He took it for granted as part of a universal axiomatic truth, and, like all philosophers of his school, pointed to the results of misgovernment and coercion as proofs of the innate depravity of the governed and of their need for more coercion. Anticipating a certain limited class of Irishmen of to-day, often brilliant lawyers like himself, he used to bewail English ignorance of Ireland, meaning ignorance of the incurable criminality of his own kith and kin. He was just as immovably cynical about the vast majority of his own co-religionists as about the conquered race. If, as was obvious, so far from fearing the revenge of the Catholics, their unimpeded instinct was to take sides with them to secure good government, they were not only traitors, but imbeciles who could not see the doom awaiting them. Yet Fitzgibbon's admirers must admit that his consistency was not complete. He was perfectly cognizant of the real causes of Irish discontent. He was aware of the grievances of Ulster, and his description of the conditions of the Munster peasantry in the Whiteboy debates of 1787 is classical. If pressed, he would have answered, we may suppose, that it was impolitic to cure evils which were at once the consequence of ascendancy and the condition of its maintenance. That other strange lapse in 1798, when he described the unparalleled prosperity of Ireland since 1782 under a Constitution which, in the Union debates of 1800, he afterwards covered with deserved ridicule as having led to anarchy, destitution, and bankruptcy, must be attributed to the exigencies of debate; for he was an advocate as well as a statesman, and occasionally gave way to the temptation of making showy but unsubstantial points.

These slips were rare, and do not detract from the massive coherence of his doctrine. He remains the frankest, the most vivid, and the most powerful exponent of a theory of government which has waged eternal conflict with its polar rival, the Liberal theory, in the evolution of the Empire. The theory, of course, extends much farther than the bi-racial Irish case, to which Fitzgibbon applied it. It was used, as we shall see, to meet the bi-racial circumstances of Canada and South Africa, and it was also used in a modified form to meet the uni-racial circumstances of Australia and of Great Britain itself. Anyone who reads the debates on the Reform Bill of 1831 will notice that the opposition rested at bottom on a profoundly pessimistic distrust of the people, and on the alleged necessity of an oligarchy vested with the power and duty of "framing laws to meet the vicious propensities of human nature." In a word, the theory is in essence not so much anti-racial as anti-democratic, while finding its easiest application where those distinctions of race and creed exist which it is its effect, though not its purpose, to intensify and envenom. Fitzgibbon is a repulsive figure. Yet it would be unjust to single him out for criticism. Like him, the philosophers Hume and Paley believed in oligarchy, and accepted force or corruption as its two alternative props. Burke thought the same, though the Pitts thought otherwise. Fitzgibbon's brutal pessimism was only the political philosophy of Paley, Hume, and Burke pushed relentlessly in an exceptional case to its extreme logical conclusion. But we can justly criticize statesmen of the present day who, after a century's experience of the refutation of the doctrine in every part of the world, still adhere to it.


[16] Pitt's original scheme was accepted in Ireland, but defeated in England, owing to the angry opposition of British commercial interests. The scheme, as amended to conciliate these interests, was deservedly rejected in Ireland.

[17] J. Fisher, "The End of the Irish Parliament." The author is much indebted to this brilliant study, which appeared only this year (1911).

[18] See Fitzgibbon's Speeches in the Irish House of Lords, on the Catholic Franchise Bill, March 13, 1793, and on the Union, February 10, 1800.



The worst feature of Fitzgibbonism is that it has the power artificially to produce in the human beings subject to it some of the very phenomena which originally existed only in the perverted imagination of its professors. Some only of the phenomena; not all; for human nature triumphs even over Fitzgibbonism. There has never been a moment since the Union when a representative Irish Parliament, if statesmen had been wise and generous enough, to set such a body up, would have acted on the principle of revenge or persecution. Nor, in spite of all evidences to the contrary, has there ever been a moment when Protestant Ulstermen, heirs of the noble Volunteer spirit, once represented in such a Parliament, would have acted on the assumption that they had to meet a policy of revenge. Nevertheless, Fitzgibbonism did succeed, as it was to succeed in Canada, in making pessimism at least plausible and in achieving an immense amount of direct ascertainable mischief.

The rift between the creeds and races, just beginning to heal three generations after the era of confiscation, but reopened under the operations of economic forces connected with race and religion, yet perfectly capable of adjustment by a wise and instructed Government, yawned wide from 1798 onwards, when Government had become a soulless policeman, and scenes of frenzy and slaughter had occurred which could not be forgotten. Swept asunder by a power outside their control, Protestants and Catholics stood henceforth in opposite political camps, and it became a fixed article of British policy to govern Ireland by playing upon this antagonism. The flame of the Volunteer spirit never perished, but it dwindled to a spark under the irresistible weight of a manufactured reaction. Dissenters and Anglicans united, not to lead the way in securing better conditions for their Catholic fellow-countrymen, not for the interests of Ireland as a whole, but under the ignoble colours of religious fanaticism. Hence that strangely artificial alliance between the landlords of the South and West and the democratic tenantry, artisans, and merchants of the North; an alliance formed to meet an imaginary danger, and kept in being with the most mischievous results to the social and economic development of Ireland. Since the Protestant minority had made up its mind to depend once more on the English power it had defied in 1782, the old machine of Ascendancy, which had showed certain manifest signs of decrepitude under Grattan's Parliament, was reconstructed on a firmer, less corrupt, and more lasting basis.

The Legislative Union is not a landmark or a turning-point in Irish history. It reproduced "under less assailable forms" the Government which existed prior to 1782. The real crisis, as I have said, came at the end of 1783, when the Volunteers tried, by reforming Parliament, to give Irish Government an Irish character. It is essential to remember—now as much as ever before—that Ireland has never had a national Parliament. She has never been given a chance of self-expression and self-development. It is useless, though Home Rulers frequently give way to the temptation, to advocate Home Rule by arguing from Grattan's Parliament. O'Connell, in the Repeal debate of 1834, devoted hours to praising that Parliament, and had his own argument turned against him with crushing force by the Secretary to the Treasury, who easily proved that it was the most corrupt and absurd body that ever existed. The same game of cross-purposes went on in the Home Rule debates of 1886 and 1893, and reappeared but this year in a debate of the House of Lords (July 4, 1911), when the Roman Catholic Home Ruler, Lord MacDonnell, eulogized Grattan's Parliament in answer to Lord Londonderry, the Protestant Unionist landlord, who painted it in its true colours. Yet Lord Londonderry springs from the class and school of Charlemont, who, by refusing to act as an Irishman, hastened the ruin of the Parliament which Lord Londonderry satirizes, and Lord MacDonnell from the race which was betrayed by that Parliament. The anomaly need not surprise us. It is not stranger than the fact that the Union would never have been carried without Catholic support in Ireland.

The point we have to grasp is that Ireland was a victim to the crudity and falsity of the political ideas current at the time of the Union, persistent all over the Empire for long afterwards, and not extinct yet. Between Separation, personified by Tone, and Union, personified by Fitzgibbon, and carried by those milder statesmen, Castlereagh and Pitt, there seemed to be no alternative. Actually there was and is an alternative: a responsible Irish Parliament and Government united to England by sympathy and interest.

The Parliamentary history of the Union does not much concern us. Bribery, whether by titles, offices, or cash, had always been the normal means of securing a Government majority in the Irish House of Commons. Corruption was the only means of carrying the vote for the Union, and the time and labour needed for securing that vote are a measure of the rewards gained by those who formed the majority. Disgusting business as it was, we have to admit that a Parliament which refused to reform itself at the bidding of all that was best and healthiest in Ireland did, on its own account, deserve extinction. The sad thing is that the true Ireland was sacrificed.

Pitt and Castlereagh, though they plunged their hands deep in the mire to obtain the Union, quite honestly believed in the policy of the Union. They were wrong. They merely reestablished the old ascendancy in a form, morally perhaps more defensible, but just as damaging to the interests of Ireland. In addition to absentee landlords, an alien and a largely absentee Church, there was now an absentee Parliament, remote from all possibility of pressure from Irish public opinion, utterly ignorant of Ireland, containing within it, for twenty-nine years, at any rate, representatives of only one creed, and that the creed of the small minority. Pitt had virtually pledged himself to make Catholic Emancipation an immediate consequence of the Union, and his Viceroy, Cornwallis, had thereby obtained the invaluable support of the Catholic hierarchy and of many of the Catholic gentry. The King, half mad at the time, refused to sanction the redemption of the pledge, and Pitt, to his deep dishonour, accepted the insult and dropped the scheme. Fitzgibbonism in its extreme form had triumphed. It was a repetition of the perfidy over the Treaty of Limerick a century before. Indeed, at every turn of Irish history, until quite recent times, there seems to have been perpetrated some superfluity of folly or turpitude which shut the last outlet for natural improvement. It cannot be held, however, that the refusal of Emancipation for another generation seriously damaged the prospects of the Union as a system of government. After it was granted, the system worked just as badly as before, and in all essentials continues to work just as badly now. Inequalities in the Irish franchise were only an aggravation. In order to cripple Catholic power, Emancipation itself was accompanied in 1829 by an Act which disfranchised at a stroke between seven and eight tenths of the Irish county electorate, nor was it until the latest extension of the United Kingdom franchise, that is, eighty-five years after the Union, that the Irish representation was a true numerical reflection of the Irish democracy. But these were not vital matters. In the Home Rule campaigns of 1886 and 1893, Irish opinion, constitutionally expressed, was impotent. The vital matter was that the Union killed all wholesome political life in Ireland, destroyed the last chance of promoting harmony among Irishmen, and transferred the settlement of Irish questions to an ignorant and prejudiced tribunal, incapable of comprehending these questions, much less of adjudicating upon them with any semblance of impartiality.

The Legislative Union was unnatural. The two islands, near as they were to each other, were on different planes of civilization, wealth, and economic development, without a common tradition, a common literature, or a common religion. Each had a temperament and genius of its own, and each needed a different channel of expression. Laws applicable to one island were meaningless or noxious in the other; taxation applicable to a rich industrial island was inappropriate and oppressive for a poor agricultural island. And upon a system comprising all these incompatibilities there was grafted the ruinous principle of ascendancy.

There is nothing inherently strange about the difference between England and Ireland. Artificial land-frontiers often denote much sharper cleavages of sentiment, character, physique, language, history. A sea-frontier sometimes makes a less, sometimes a more, effective line of delimitation. Denmark and Sweden, France and England, are examples. Nor, on the other hand, did the profound differences between Ireland and England preclude the possibility of their incorporation in a political system under one Crown. We know, by a mass of experience from Federal and other systems, that elements the most diverse in language, religion, wealth, and tradition may be welded together for common action, provided that the union be voluntary and the freedom of the separate parts be preserved. The first conditions of a true union were lacking in the case of Ireland. The arrangement was not voluntary. It was accompanied by gross breach of faith, and it signified enslavement, not liberty.

A true Union was not even attempted. The Government of Ireland, in effect, and for the most part in form, was still that of a conquered Colonial Dependency. It was no more representative in any practical sense after the Union than before the Union. The popular vote was submerged in a hostile assembly far away. The Irish peerage was regarded rightly by the Irish people as the very symbol of their own degradation, the Union having been purchased with titles, and titles having been for a century past the price paid for the servility of Anglo-Irish statesmen. But the peerage, in the persons of the twenty-eight representatives sent to Westminster, still remained a powerful nucleus of anti-Irish opinion, infecting the House of Lords with anti-Irish prejudice, and often opposing a last barrier to reform when the opposition of the British House of Commons had been painfully overcome. In truth the cardinal reforms of the nineteenth century were obtained, not by persuasion, but by unconstitutional violence in Ireland itself. There was still a separate Executive in Ireland, a separate system of local administration, and until 1817 a separate financial system, all of them wholly outside Irish control. The only change of constitutional importance was that the Viceroy gradually became a figure-head, and his autocratic powers, similar to those of the Governor of a Crown Colony, were transferred to the Chief Secretary, who was a member of the British Ministry. Gradually, as the activity of Government increased, there grew up that grotesque system of nominated and irresponsible Boards which at the present day is the laughing-stock of the civilized world. The whole patronage remained as before, either directly or indirectly, in English hands. If it was no longer manipulated in ways frankly corrupt, it was manipulated in a fashion just as deleterious to Ireland. Before, as after, the Union there was no public career in Ireland for an Irishman who was in sympathy with the great majority of his countrymen. To win the prizes of public life, judgeships, official posts, and the rest, it was not absolutely necessary to be a Protestant, though for a long time all important offices were held exclusively, and are still held mainly, by Protestants; but it was absolutely necessary to be a thoroughgoing supporter of the Ascendancy, and in thoroughgoing hostility to Irish public opinion as a whole. In other words, the unwritten Penal Code was preserved after the abolition of the written enactments, and was used for precisely the same pernicious purpose. It was a subtle and sustained attempt "to debauch the intellect of Ireland," as Mr. Locker-Lampson puts it, to denationalize her, and to make her own hands the instrument of her humiliation. The Bar was the principal sufferer, because now, as before, it was the principal road to humiliation. Fitzgibbons multiplied, so that for generations after the Union some of the ablest Irish lawyers were engaged in the hateful business of holding up their own people to execration in the eyes of the world, of combating legislation imperatively needed for Ireland, and of framing and carrying into execution laws which increased the maladies they were intended to allay.

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