The Act of Union, 1800

From The Historic Case for Irish Independence by Darrell Figgis

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31. Having crushed the rising, England next proceeded to annul the Parliament. Already plans had been in operation for this to be accomplished under the specious title of a Union of Legislatures. Three years before the ground had been prepared by the deliberate incitement, carefully yet licentiously directed, of religious rancour. In May, 1797, the Protestants of County Antrim met in assembly, and through their Sheriff complained: "Your ministers have laboured with the most remorseless persistence to revive those senseless and barbarous religious antipathies, so fatal to morals and to peace. They have abrogated the people's rights, filled the land with spies and informers, and let loose upon your subjects all the horrors of licentious power and military force." The Protestants of Co. Armagh complained in like sort; but the merry work had proceeded prosperously. Now the scene shifted to the House of Parliament itself. The rights of a resident ascendancy were to be cancelled almost as completely as the right of the nation it guarded; and the parliament in which those rights were expressed was to be blotted out of being. The constituency of that parliament was such that the Government could rely on its doing whatever it was bidden, even to the cancelling of its own existence. Yet to make assurance doubly sure, and to recompense members for any patronage they might otherwise secure, the Government was prepared to distribute largesse freely. Positions and offices, and doles of money, were given freely to members. The barter of honour had always with this parliament been a profitable trade, but it now became lucrative beyond all dreams. Those who had seats in their gift, however, were the most fortunate, receiving £15,000 for each borough in some cases. Peerages were to be won with moderate ease. Bloods were ennobled by no more than a vote.

Apart from titles and offices, up to a million and a half pounds sterling was expended, in moneys that were far more valuable than they now are. And thus the parliament cancelled itself, at the instruction of English ministers. Those who perpetrated this, however, were the descendants of Plantations and Confiscations. None of the Irish nation was committed in the deed. Grattan had retired from the Parliament when the nation arose with arms. He had found he could not support the Irish nation; but, on the other hand, he could not support the Government. Now he returned, and fought with noble eloquence in a foredoomed battle. He could but utter his protest against an utterly unscrupulous and nefarious transaction inevitable the moment he agreed to the disbandment of the Volunteers. In the words of a modern English Statesman, the Marquis of Salisbury, England was entitled to take back in her day of strength what she had, perforce, granted in her hour of weakness. And she did so.

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