State of Ireland during the Eighteenth Century

Taken from The British Empire in the Nineteenth Century (Chapter V.) by Edgar Sanderson (1898)

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The suppression of the rebellion of 1798 was followed by severities so brutal that the viceroy, Lord Cornwallis, wrote: "There is no law either in town or country but martial law. Numberless murders are committed by our people without any process or examination whatever"; and again, in April, 1799, when all danger of further outbreaks had long ceased, Cornwallis denounced the system of free quarters for the troops, "which comprehended universal rape and robbery throughout the whole country". Later still, he declared that the "violence of our loyal friends" (the Orangemen) was such as would, if not checked with the strictest hand, become "a more violent and intolerable tyranny than that of Robespierre".

In this terrible condition of affairs it appeared to Pitt that a legislative union of the two countries was the one policy which afforded a prospect of restored and lasting peace. This policy he adopted, with the full intention of granting therewith full political rights to the Catholics of both Ireland and Great Britain by admitting them to seats in the legislature, and removing all disabilities which now placed them in a position inferior to that of their Protestant fellow-subjects. His beneficent intentions in this respect were frustrated by the obstinate refusal of the king, and the measure was thus deprived of that quality which would have commended it with great force to the feelings of the Irish Catholics who formed the bulk of the nation. The immorality of the inevitable means employed in Ireland in order to effect the Union has been denounced by some of its strongest supporters as an existing fact, men who stoutly oppose its repeal. The Irish Orangeman and Unionist, Mr. Lecky, declares "the Union, as it was carried", to be "a crime of the deepest turpitude—a crime which, by imposing, with every circumstance of infamy, a new form of government on a reluctant and protesting nation, has vitiated the whole course of Irish opinion".

What is certain is, that Castlereagh, the Chief Secretary chosen by Pitt to carry out the work, spent over a million sterling in buying out the owners of "rotten" or "nominee" boroughs which were disfranchised under the Act. In spite of the destruction of a large part of the correspondence, the clearest evidence exists of military intimidation, of the bribery of the Irish press and the Irish bar, and of the forcible suppression of public meetings called to protest against the measure. The bill was at last carried through the Irish parliament, and on the first day of the nineteenth century the Act came into force. One hundred Irish members now sat in the House of Commons, and the Irish peerage was represented by four bishops, and by twenty-eight lay peers, chosen for life. Irish trade was admitted to a free career, with undoubted benefit to the country, and her share of contribution to the imperial revenue was placed at two-fifteenths, far below the proportion due to population, and reckoned in accordance with her degree of national resources. Thus came into political existence "The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland", and the addition of the diagonal cross of St. Patrick, red on a white ground, completed the union flag in its existing form.


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