Progress towards Parliamentary Independence (1762-1772)

Patrick Weston Joyce

765. In 1762 a bill was passed in the Irish parliament to enable Catholics to lend money on the security of land: but it was suppressed in England: and in the following year it was rejected in the Irish parliament on the ground that it would tend to throw land into the hands of the Catholics.

766. About this time the Patriots, under the powerful lead of Henry Flood, and aided by the growing eloquence of young Henry Grattan, attacked the pension list, which was a source of great corruption, and had grown to enormous proportions. Many thousands of pounds were given to persons who never had any connexion with Ireland. But these efforts were vain, for the pensions, so far from being abolished, grew year by year.

767. The question of most interest at this time was the duration of parliament. In England the utmost time was seven years: in Ireland parliament lasted as long as the king wished; and the preceding one had continued during the entire reign of George II.: thirty-three years.

This state of things led to great abuses; and in 1765 the Patriots introduced a Septennial bill, which was passed in Ireland but suppressed in England.

768. Lord Townsend became lord lieutenant in 1767, and was at first popular from his gay convivial manner and his lavish distribution of favours.

769. Charles Lucas had continued to issue books and pamphlets violently attacking the court party, denouncing Poynings' act, and maintaining the right of Ireland to self-government. The corporation disfranchised him; and as he heard the house of commons were about to prosecute him he retired for a time to England, where he practised with success as a physician. He returned in 1760, and was elected member for Dublin in 1761. He was the founder of the Freeman's Journal, which advocated the rights of the people and boldly upheld liberal principles.

770. Some years after his arrival Lucas and the Patriot party re-introduced the Septennial bill and had it carried (1767); but the term was changed in England to eight years. This "Octennial" bill was accepted by the Irish parliament, and caused great joy in Ireland.

771. As a consequence of the Octennial act it was necessary to elect a new parliament, and the viceroy (lord Townsend) used bribes and corruption everywhere in order to secure a majority for the government. He now became as odious as he was at first popular.

772. But with all his bribery he was not able to induce the individual members to relinquish the right to originate money bills in the commons. In October 1769, the privy council sent over a money bill, which was rejected by the Irish house of commons, as in 1692 (680), "because it had not its origin in that house"; for they maintained the just doctrine that the representatives of the people had alone the right to tax the people.

773. On this, lord Townsend had the commons summoned to the bar of the house of lords, where he lectured them sharply. He then ordered the clerk to enter his protest, which was done in the journal of the lords; but the commons were firm, and would not permit it to be entered in their journals. The excitement in Dublin on this occasion was almost as great as in the time of Wood's halfpence.

774. The viceroy prorogued the parliament now and several times subsequently so as to prevent a meeting till 1771. But he employed the interval in buying over several prominent members of the opposition by places and pensions, among others Sexton Pery, Hely Hutchinson, and lord Loftus. During all this time Dublin teemed with newspapers, letters, pamphlets, ballads, squibs, and satires against Townsend and the government, and the opposition gained in strength and determination.

775. When the house met in 1771, addresses to the viceroy were adopted in both houses. Sixteen of the lords protested, with the duke of Leinster (lately earl of Kildare) at their head. In the Commons it was carried by only a small majority: for the Patriots bitterly opposed it as degrading. Among the opponents were the speaker Ponsonby, Hely Hutchinson, Henry Flood, and Sexton Pery—even though he had got a pension: and the speaker Ponsonby resigned rather than present it. Pery was appointed in his place. But it ought to be said that though Pery accepted pension and place from the government, he always took the side of the Patriots.

776. All this time the Catholics were absolutely silent, taking no part in political questions: their only desire being to avoid the sharp fangs of the law. Yet there were signs of some faint desire to indulge them a little. In 1771 lord Townsend had an act passed—which had been previously often rejected—enabling a Catholic to take, on long lease, and reclaim 50 acres of bog; which, however, was guarded by the precaution that the bog should not be nearer than a mile to any town or city.

777. But to counterbalance this little favour, which caused great alarm to some, he increased the pension offered to priests who became Protestants (690) from £30 to £40. The witty Dublin people called the additional £10, "Townsend's Golden Drops."

778. The viceroy had one other trial of strength with the parliament. A money bill for supplies was brought forward in 1771, and passed in the Commons, then transmitted to England, in accordance with Poynings' act, and sent back with some alterations. But the Irish commons rejected it, and passed another of their own granting the supplies.

779. Townsend at last grew tired of the sleepless opposition of the Patriots and of the everlasting deluge of hostile literature; so that he resigned in 1772, and was succeeded by Simon earl of Harcourt.

780. Townsend had, during his administration, brought to great perfection the art of corrupting parliament by pensions, places, and titles, to secure a majority for the Court or English party. But this had, on the other hand, the effect of consolidating the patriotic party, and of strengthening their determination to break down the purely English interest, and to have Irish affairs managed solely for the benefit of Ireland.