"THE SIXTH OF GEORGE I." (1703-1727)

From A Concise History of Ireland by P. W. Joyce

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717. The proceedings of the Irish parliament and the political history of the country during the eighteenth century have reference solely to the Protestant colony. The struggles of the Irish legislature for independence, culminating in Grattan's parliament of 1782, were the struggles of the Protestants: the Catholics had no political existence, and had no part—could have no part—in any of these contests.

718. The Irish parliament, and the people of the colony in general, fearing further interference with their prosperity on account of the commercial jealousy of the English, and despairing of being able to maintain their rights through their own parliament, petitioned in 1703 for a parliamentary union with England. But the English government rejected the proposal.

719. The hostile attitude of the English government towards Ireland produced the same result as in times of old (257)—a feeling of distrust and aversion among the colonists, in which the Irish parliament shared.

720. These feelings were intensified by what was called the Annesley case, which brought the English and Irish houses of lords into collision, A dispute about property arose in 1719 between two Irish persons, Hester Sherlock and Maurice Annesley, which the court of exchequer decided in favour of Annesley; but the Irish house of lords, on being appealed to, reversed this and gave judgment in favour of Hester Sherlock, Annesley appealed to the English house of lords, who affirmed the exchequer decision, reversing that of the Irish lords; and they fined Burrowes the sheriff of Kildare for not putting Annesley in possession in obedience to their decree. But the Irish peers remitted the fine, and went farther by taking into custody the three barons of the court of exchequer.

721. The English parliament ended the dispute by passing, in 1719, a momentous act (known as "the Sixth of George I.") deciding that the English parliament had the right to make laws for Ireland; and depriving the Irish house of lords of the right to hear appeals.

722. Poynings' act did not give the English parliament the power of legislating for Ireland (308), which was now for the first time asserted. The Sixth of George I. quite took away the independence of the Irish parliament.

723. In 1719 the penal statutes against dissenters began to be relaxed. The penal laws had no effect whatever in suppressing the Catholic religion: we find the Irish parliament in 1723 complaining of the continued increase of Catholicity; and in this same year they proposed another bill of so extreme a character that it had to be suppressed on account of the indignation it caused in England.

724. The English parliament tried to keep down that of Ireland, chiefly by Poynings' act (which was an Irish act), and for a long time succeeded. The Irish parliament was in general very submissive; for all the great officials, from the lord lieutenant down, were Englishmen and in the English interest; and they generally had a majority in both houses.

725. Yet there was sometimes resistance; and we have seen (680) that in 1692 a money bill was rejected in Dublin because it had originated in England. Within the parliament there was always a small determined opposition against dictation, "Patriots" as they came to be called, who were seconded by some very brilliant and able men outside.

726. Long before—in 1698—William Molyneux, one of the members for the University of Dublin, a friend of Locke and a man of great scientific eminence, published his famous book, "The Case of Ireland's being bound by Acts of parliament in England stated," in which he denounced the commercial injustice done to Ireland, and maintained that the Irish parliament was independent of that of England, and had a right to make its own laws. This essay was received in England with great indignation; and the parliament there, pronouncing it dangerous, ordered it to be burned publicly by the common hangman.

727. The ablest of those outside parliament was Jonathan Swift, who was appointed dean of St. Patrick's, Dublin, in 1713, having previously been vicar of Laracor in Meath. Much inconvenience had for some time been felt in Ireland from the want of a small copper coinage; and at last in 1728, the English treasury, with the minister Walpole at their head, granted a patent to one William Wood, an Englishman, to coin £108,000 in debased halfpence and farthings, for circulation in Ireland. This would put £40,000 profit into the pockets of Wood and the king's favourite the duchess of Kendal. The Irish parliament was not consulted at all in the matter.

728. This gross job created intense alarm and indignation in Ireland; and the two Irish houses addressed the king, representing that this base coinage would diminish revenue and destroy commerce. But Wood had strong support in England: the expostulation of the Irish lords and commons had little effect; and he would have succeeded but for Swift.

729. Popular excitement increased: there were multitudes of pamphlets, songs and coarse caricatures on broadsheets circulating in Dublin; but it was Swift's "Drapier's Letters" that crushed the scheme. These were a series of five letters pretending to be written by a Dublin draper, with the signature "W. B. Drapier," attacking the scheme, and pointing out in simple, homely, vigorous language that the most ignorant could understand, the evils the dean asserted would result from the coinage.

730. He told his readers that twenty-four of these halfpence were worth no more than one good penny; that if a lady went shopping she should have to bring with her a cart loaded with the new coins; that a farmer would have to employ three horses to bring his rent to his landlord; that a poor man would have to give thirty-six of the halfpence for a quart of ale; and that it would ruin all classes, even the very beggars, for when a man gives a beggar one of these halfpence it "will do him no more service than if I should give him three pins out of my sleeve."

731. These letters increased the excitement tenfold, and the English government became alarmed. They circulated a certificate from Sir Isaac Newton, then master of the mint, that the coins were good; but to no purpose. The lord lieutenant (lord Carteret), who was of course on the side of the king, offered a reward of £300 for the discovery of the author: but though every one knew who the writer was, no attempt was made to inform on the dean or molest him. The printer Harding was arrested and put in prison; but two grand juries in succession refused to return him for trial, and he had to be let off.

732. Meantime Dr. Hugh Boulter an Englishman, the king's chaplain, was appointed archbishop of Armagh in 1724, and was intrusted with the chief management of the English interest in Ireland. He was bitterly hostile to the Roman Catholics; but otherwise he was a good man.

733. Soon after his arrival he wrote to the duke of Newcastle that things were in a very bad state in Ireland, and recommended that the halfpence scheme should be abandoned. At length, in 1725, the patent was withdrawn: but Wood received from government an indemnity of £3,000 a-year for twelve years. This victory over the government consolidated the ranks of the patriots and greatly strengthened their hands.

734. These transactions made the dean amazingly popular in Ireland with all classes, high and low, Protestant and Catholic.

735. He wrote also in favour of Irish industry, recommending the people to use none but Irish manufactures; and, like Molyneux, he maintained that it was only the king and parliament of Ireland that had the power to make laws for the country. His writings show some sympathy for the Irish Roman Catholics. He was bitterly opposed to lord Wharton (lord lieutenant in 1709), whose chief aim was to enrich himself.

George I. died in 1727, and was succeeded by his son George II.

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