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Impressed with a sincere conviction, that from many civil advantages the religious prejudices of the times had unjustly excluded them, the Irish Roman Catholics had established a committee in Dublin, to devise measures for obtaining such further concessions as should be thought desirable, but limiting the prayer of their petition to the repeal of restrictive laws.* With great moderation, they remonstrated against the perpetuation of idle and offensive disabilities, which, years before, should have been erased from the statute book. That appeal was unfortunately disregarded. To the more turbulent of the Catholic leaders, its rejection afforded an apology for loud and threatening declamation, at which the more moderate took alarm. The tide of popular approbation ran with the violent section of the committee-the nobility and gentry seceded—and wild or mercenary demagoguest took and kept their places.
Three months before, the mutual advantages which it was evident must arise from a union of political interests, had brought round a coalition between the northern republicans and the Catholic Committee. The declaration of their objects announced, that they had united “6 for the purpose of forwarding a brotherhood of affection, a communion of rights, and a union of power among Irishmen of every religious persuasion, and thereby obtain a complete reform in the legislature, founded on the principles of civil, political, and religious liberty. Catholic emancipation and parliamentary reform were the avowed objects of their pursuit. By the former was understood a total abolition of political distinctions between Romanists and Protestants ; by the latter they professed to mean a completely democratic House of Commons.” Such was the origin of the society of United Irishmen.
In the early session of 1792 a bill passed, by which many Roman Catholic disabilities were removed. The bar and general practice of the law were opened—the absurd enactments against mixed marriages between Protestant and Catholic abrogated-and educational restrictions, foreign and domestic, totally removed. These concessions appear, however, to have had little effect in conciliating the Catholics generally, and the noble lord, # through whose wisdom and influeuce they had been obtained, was held up as a man to be doubted by his co-religionists, and his successful mediation with the Government was returned with rancorous abuse.
A sweeping measure of reform was immediately devised-one so purely republican, as to prevent the objects of those who framed it from being mistaken for a moment.ş Its effect, when promulgated,
vigorous efforts were made, and various engines put in motion.". Gordon's History.
*“ It breathed that spirit of mildness and moderation which appeared in all their procedings, while they were regulated by the nobility and gentry of the Roman Catholic persuasion. It was signed by the Lords Fingal, Gormanstown, Kenmare, Doctor Troy, titular Archbishop of Dublin, and by most of the landholders and respectable gentlemen of their persuasion in the kingdom.”-Musgrave. of January, 1792.
# Lord Kenmare. $ “ They proposed that the Parliament should be annual ; that for the purpose of election, the whole kingdom should be divided into three hundred electorates,
had an opposite influence upon all parties. The lower orders of the Catholics, in parochial assemblies, adopted the resolutions of the delegates, and, expressing their adhesion to the Catholic Committee, declared a fixed determination to carry out the electoral reform they had recommended. The more enlightened of the Catholic body, how.. ever, rejected the scheme as destructive to the existing constitution, and, in communion with the great bulk of the Protestants, publicly thanked Parliament for rejecting a petition which had been presented the preceding session, to obtain elective franchise for members of the Church of Rome. Indeed the ulterior objects of the discontented Catholics were become perfectly apparent, and many of the warmest and most consistent of their advocates began to waver in opinion.* Acting, however, on the resolutions they had published, the committee determined to summon a convention. Circulars were issued by their leader, Edward Byrn-representatives elected in the counties-and on the 3rd of December, 1792, “ the Back-lane Parliament” commenced its first session in Tailors' Hall.
The daring measure of calling together an assembly, where the delegates debated with closed doors, was followed by a still bolder demonstration. The discontented Romanists resolved upon making a display of physical force—and declared their intention to arm, to “maintain their rights and effect their objects." For this purpose large sums of money were levied, and a body was enrolled in the metropolis, under the title of “ The National Guard.” They were arrayed in green uniforms, with a harp without the crown displayed upon the buttons and appointments. Orders were issued for a general muster on the 9th of December; but a proclamation, issued by the Lord Lieutenant, declared the body to be dangerous to the public peace, and directed the authorities to disperse the meeting should it be attempted, and employ force were it required. Many conjectures were hazarded at the time respecting the objects of the movement; some asserted that it was merely intended, by an exhibition of numerical strength, to confirm unsteady friends and intimidate those that were opposed to them-others, however, ascribed to the National Guards more serious and sanguinary designs" to seize even then upon the city, and commence at once a civil war.” Certain it is that the Government were led to apprehend that this muster would lead to a revolutionary movement, and accordingly, the most decisive measures were taken to render it abortive.
each formed by a combination of parishes, and all as nearly equal as possible in point of population; that no qualification with respect to property should be required in the elector nor in the representative; that every male of sound understanding of the full age of twenty-one, and resident in the electorate during the last six months preceding the election, should be capable of suffrage for a representative; that to be qualified for a seat in the House of Commons, a man should be twenty-five years old, resident within the kingdom, and holding neither place nor pension under Government, and that each representative should receive a reasonable stipend for his attendance in Parliament."
* Sir Hercules Langrish, in his place in the Commons, thus addressed the House" Notwithstanding my prepossessions in favour of the Roman Catholics, I was checked for some time in my ardour to serve them, by reading of late a multitude of publications and paragraphs in the newspapers, and other public prints, circulated gratis with the utmost industry, purporting to convey the sentiments of the Catholics.- What was their import ?-they were exhortations to the people never to be satisfied at any concession, till the state itself was conceded : they were precautions against public traquillity; they were invitations to disorder, and covenants of discontent; they were ostentations of strength, rather than soli. citations for favours ; rather appeals to the powers of the people, than applications to the authority of the state ; they involved the relief of the Catholic, with the revolution of the government; and were dissertations for democracy, rather than arguments for toleration."
To follow up the progress and proceedings of the United Irishmen throughout that unquiet period which intervened between the lieutenancies of Earls Westmoreland and Camden would be unnecessary. Their civil and military organization, however, shall hereafter be fully described
-and a brief analysis given of their general history from the epoch where we have broken off, when the seeds of disaffection had taken a firm root, and a conspiracy was hatched, which, a few years afterwards became fatally matured, and exploded in 1798 with portentous violence.
Under the colour of volunteering, the arming and drilling of the malcontents actively continued. A proclamation, issued the 11th of March, 1793, declared these proceedings illegal, and attached penal consequences to any who should continue them.* This and the Gunpowder Act struck heavily at the military organization of the revolutionists; while the Convention Act,+ subsequently passed, embarrassed the leaders of the movement so much, that an influential member of the union afterwards declared, “ That the bill was calculated to meet every part of the system, and the framer must have had their constitution in his hand when he was devising its provisions."
In 1794 and 95, outrages by the Defenders--a lawless confederacy, exclusively Catholic became general, and the Protestants associated for self-defence. A conflict between the rival religionists took place at a place called “the Diamond,” in the county of Armagh, in which the Defenders were signally defeated. In commemoration of this success, the first Orange lodge was formed on the 21st of September, 1795, § and the system, slowly but steadily, gained strength, until the
* The preamble runs thus :-"Whereas certain seditious and ill-affected persons, in several parts of the north, particularly in the town of Belfast, have endeavoured to foment and encourage discontent, and to defame the Government and the Parliament, by seditious publications, circulated among the people ; and that several bodies of men have been collected in armed associations, and have been levied and arrayed in the said town of Belfast ; and that arms and gunpowder to a very large amount have been sent thither; and that bodies of men have been drilled and exercised by day and night, under the pretext of obtaining a redress of grievances, though the obvious intention appears to be, to overawe the Parliament and the Government, and to dictate to both."
+ To prevent the election or other appointment, of conventions, or other unlawful assemblies, under pretence of preparing or presenting public petitions or other addresses to his Majesty, or the Parliament.
I Samuel Neilson. § “ It was not established in the metropolis, though many years threatened with open rebellion, till the month of January, 1798 ; and many gentlemen of high character and considerable talents placed themselves, at its head, to give the insti. tution a proper direction, and to silence the calumnious clamours of traitors against it.”-Musgrave's Memoirs,
body was considered in the north of Ireland so numerous and effective, that the general commanding at the outbreak in 1798* assured the Government, that to these ardent supporters of the constitution the safety of Ulster might be confidently entrusted.
At this period, several of the revolutionary leaders were subjected to state prosecutions for sedition. Hamilton Rowan was convicted, fined, imprisoned, but escaped in women's clothes from Newgate ; Napper Tandy placed under bail, but fled the kingdom to avoid a trial; Doctor Drennan was tried and acquitted ; Tone expatriated himself, and went with his family to America ; but Jackson, an English clergyman, and an envoy from the French Government to the Irish revolutionists, was on the 23rd of April, 1795, capitally convicted of high treason. The unhappy man committed suicide, and poisoned himself in the bar, immediately after the foreman had announced him guilty.
At this period the recal of Lord Westmorland, and the appointment of Lord Fitzwilliam, raised the sinking confidence of the Catholic party as much as it depressed the hopes of the Orangists. The well-known bias of the Earl's political opinions was warmly in favour of fresh and full concessions, and it was supposed that emancipation was at hand. While the Roman Catholics were buoyant with high expectation, arising from the noble lord's appointment to the Irish lieutenancy, a sudden recal crushed their hopes, and augmented their disaffection. From this period their hostility to any monarchical form of Government appears to have become inveterate and the first test required of a United Irishman, one in which a reformed Parliament was distinctly recognized, was instantly exchanged for another purely democratical. †
1796 was not fated to enjoy more tranquillity than the stormy era that preceded it. A compulsory increase of military power, under the provisions of the Militia Bill, increased the general discontent, and the public uneasiness was not abated by a discovery that the French Government had undertaken to land an invading army to assist the Irish revolutionists, who, on their part, undertook to pay these auxiliaries, and eventually defray the whole expenses of the expedition. Additional powers were now demanded by the Irish executive, and the Insurrection Act, which had passed in spring, was followed up by a suspension of habeas corpus in October.
* General Knox.
+ The initiatory oath taken henceforward by the United Irishmen, was thus worded :-". In the awful presence of God, I, * * do voluntarily declare that I will persevere in endeavouring to form a brotherhood of affection among Irishmen of every religious persuasion, and that I will also persevere in my endeavours to obtain an equal, full, and adequate representation of all the people of Ireland. I do further declare, that neither hopes, fears, rewards, or punishments, shall ever induce me, directly or indirectly, to inform or give evidence against any member or members of this or similar societies, for any act or expression of theirs, done or made collectively or individually in or out of this society, in pursuance of the spirit of this obligation.”
# This temporary act, which placed very arbitrary power in the hands of the executive, was levelled immediately against an irregular confederacy of men who; under the name of Defenders, infested the counties of Roscommon, Leitrim, LongThere is no doubt that these stringent powers were afterwards sadly and frequently abused. Arrests on secret information-districts unnecessarily proclaimed-suspected persons sent, without the shadow of a trial, on board the fleet---military licence-arbitrary impressment of beasts of burden for baggage transport-abuse in billeting--a general insolence in the soldiery-all these formed constant subject for complaint-and unfortunately, it was seldom made without ample provocation.
These severities were impolitic--they reacted against the Government-and the feelings of the lower orders became exasperated, but not subdued. The most deeply marked of innate feelings in the human breast is resistance to oppression, whether it be real or imaginary. The peasantry assembled by night to drill or deprive the loyalists of their arms, whilst, by day, they collected in enormous numbers to harvest the crops of persons imprisoned for political offences, or, under the pretext of attending a funeral or a hurling-match, they paraded, in military array, with banners and martial music.
If, during their confinement, the disaffected thus evinced a warm sympathy for their imprisoned friends, by reaping their corn and securing the potato crops,* they were equally assiduous in shielding them from the penal consequences of their crimes. Bribery and intimidation were the means commonly employed, and should these fail, assassination was not infrequent. This system of terror too frequently sheltered the guilty from the punishment they deserved; for, dreading
ford, Meath, and Kildare, despoiling in the night the peaceable inhabitants of their arms, and latterly also of their money and valuable effects. By this act the Lord Lieutenant in council was authorized to proclaim, on the requisition of seven of its magistrates assembled at a sessions of the peace, any county or district thereof, as in a state of disturbance, and thereby to invest the magistrates with an extraordinary power of seizing, imprisoning, and sending aboard his Majesty's fleet, such persons as should be found at unlawful assemblies, or otherwise acting so as to threaten the public tranquillity.
*“ We have hitherto abstained from mentioning the curious circumstance that has repeatedly happened of late, of multitudes of people assembling to cut down the harvest of different persons. As faithful historians of public proceedings, we give the following general view of these matters as far as we have received information of them :
“ Eldred Pottinger, Esq., of Mount Pottinger, had twelve acres of oats cut down in thirteen minutes and a half. A poor man in the same neighbourhood had two acres cut by the same reapers, during the time he was lighting his pipe. Mr. William Orr, near Antrim, at present in Carrickfergus gaol,
had his entire harvest cut down by near six hundred of his neighbours in a few hours. Mr. Rowley Osborne of this town, now in Newgate, had forty ricks of hay stacked in a short time by an immense number of his neighbours, without the formality of a horse or
Mr. William Weir, of Dunmurry, now in prison, had 2,360 stooks of grain and thirty-eight ricks of hay carried in and completely stacked and thatched in three hours. Mr. Fitzgerald, of Sandy-bay, at present in Carrickfergus gaol, had his crop cut down in a similar manner. Mrs. Clark, of Swatragh, whose son is in prison, had her harvest cut down in two hours : in the evening of the same day they returned and carried all the hay in the meadow to the stack-yard and stacked it.”Belfast Neu's Letter.
“ About 1,500 people assembled, and in seven minutes dug a field of potatoes belonging to Mr. Samuel Neilson of this town, now in Kilmainham gaol,”-North. ern Star.