Ireland's Demand for Independence, 1779-1783

28. Therefore the Ascendancy arose to demand the economic and legislative independence of Ireland.

At first their demand took the form of argument; and some of their arguments were actually drawn from the sovereign independence of the nation whom they held in submergence; but those arguments were either burnt by the public hangman by the order of England, or simply neglected. With Swift's withering satire and bitter invective, argument came as near to the force of blows as words may ever do; but it proved as unavailing as before. Then a new form of persuasion arrested attention. The English colonists in America rose and declared their Independence, and it appeared that what colonists in one part of the world could do was also possible for colonists in other parts of the world. Moreover, the English Government had withdrawn most of its troops from Ireland for the American wars, and in fear of a French invasion a large volunteer force had been enrolled. This force now held the attention. Its officers held meetings and conventions to demand Ireland's entire freedom of trade. They paraded their cannon outside the parliament house with menacing legends slung about them; though they were comprised almost wholly of Protestants of the Ascendancy, and were commanded by Lord Charlemont, a considerable landlord.

So menaced, the Government gave way, and freedom of trade was granted. Yet, though the economic bond was broken, the political bond remained. That is to say, the freedom that had been won could at any moment be annulled; and indeed within a few months the attempt was made to annul the meaning of the victory. Therefore the agitation was continued, and was continued by the same threat of violence. Within parliament Grattan led the demand with noble eloquence, and he was supported by Flood. They were both supported by Charlemont and the Volunteers. Grattan framed a resolution in which he declared: "that the kingdom of Ireland was a distinct kingdom, with a Parliament of her own, the sole legislature thereof. That there is no body of men competent to make laws to bind this nation except the King, Lords and Commons of Ireland, nor any other Parliament which hath any authority or power of any sort whatsoever in this country, save only the Parliament of Ireland." That resolution was carried; and the Viceroy wrote to London saying that if there were any delay in putting it into effect, "there would be an end of all government." England was weak, and could not resist, and so in 1783 the English Parliament passed an Act whereby it renounced all authority in Ireland "in matters of legislature and judicature." The victory was won. Hussey Burgh had declared in the Parliament in Dublin: "Talk not to me of peace; Ireland is not at peace. It is smothered war. England has sown her laws as dragon's teeth, and they have sprung up armed men." The result of those armed men was that those for whom he spoke were now politically and economically free.