Union through Bribery

Justin McCarthy
Chapter IX | Start of Chapter

The Government were determined to punish the whole country for the resistance offered to the policy of King George. The fate of Grattan's Parliament was decreed. Nothing less than its extinction could satisfy the rulers, who ascribed to its existence a great part of the blame for the action of the United Irishmen, the appeal for help to the French Directory, and the whole movement of '98. The action of the Irish Parliament and its leaders had been strictly constitutional, and it was in despite of them, and not under their inspiration, that the rebellion had broken out. The destruction of the Irish Parliament was not to be accomplished by fair and legitimate means. Whatever its defects and shortcomings, it would not have been possible to carry by a majority of its votes, if left to their free exercise, the destruction of the Parliament itself. It was necessary to obtain a majority to carry out the policy of the Government, and that majority was obtained at last by the most flagitious process of bribery and corruption. Peerages, offices, and pensions were lavishly given to gain the votes of members, and secret service money was privately employed in a system of wholesale bribery. These facts are now admitted by all historians, and, indeed, no other testimony is needed to their reality than the letters of Lord Cornwallis himself, which express his feelings of shame at the measures he found himself compelled by the orders of the Government to sanction and to carry out in order that Ireland might be deprived of her lately created independent Parliament. The determination of King George's Government was that Ireland must be united with England under one common Parliament, and for this purpose the Act of Union had to be carried, and the Irish Parliament compelled to register its own extinction. Grattan raised his voice to the last against this measure, but no eloquence could have prevailed against the arts which were employed to obtain a majority of votes. Irishmen may remember with pride that even in that Parliament, elected in its best days on a suffrage not representing the great majority of the Irish people, and with disqualifications which shut out every Roman Catholic, there were still at least a hundred members who could not be won over to the side of the Government.