« PreviousContinue »
session, and was introduced by a gentleman, who, at an early period of life is already so distinguished for his virtue and abilities, that he bids fair to be one of the most illustrious characters that country has ever produced, his father not excepted. But notwithstanding the powerful support it derived from such respectable authority, the measure was rejected by that wise and prudent nation, even in the paroxism of political reformation. They could not be insensible of the defects of their constitution, but they were sensible of the danger of tampering with it, and chose rather to suffer those detects to continue, than to hazard the consequence of breaking in upon a system sanctified by the wisdom of ages, and under which they had flourished for such a length of time.
Yet if the people of Great Britain, in the present deplorable situation of that country, fallen from the highest pinnacle of glory to a state of humiliating distress, deprived of half her empire, weighed down with a debt of 240 millions, and harassed with taxes so various and complicated, that they seem to have exhausted the invention of her ministers; if the people, I say, in this situation should begin to suspect that the numberless calamities they have lately suffered were owing to some inherent defect in their original constitution, and wish to amend it, it would not be surprising; but that the people of Ireland should quarrel with a constitution which has raised them to the utmost summit of their wishes, is the highest degree of folly and ingratitude ; a constitution under which they have so lately obtained a full restitution of their natural rights, an unlimited freedom of commerce extended to every part of the globe and the most perfect degree of judicial and legislative independence, that any nation upon earth has ever yet enjoyed; a constitution, in short, which has put them in possession of every blessing that can render a people flourishing and happy, except those which no constitution can bestow ; and which are only to be acquired by industry, sobriety, and obedience to the laws; these are the only blessings we want to make us the happiest nation upon earth; these are the virtues which every honest man, every true patriot, every man who has the real welfare of his country at heart should endeavour to inculcate on the minds of the people, instead of turning their brains with political jargon, which they do not understand, and visionary systems of government.... These are the virtues that will render us in a short time a nation of husbandmen and manufacturers, artificers and mer. chants ; but at the rate we go on we bid fair to be a nation of politicians only, and shall appear as ridiculous to all the rational part of mankind as the inhabitants of Swift's imaginary island, who wasted the whole of their time in watching, with the utmost anxiety and solicitude, every change and motion of the heavenly
bodies, whilst their wives and children were starving at home. The complaints of the people of Great Britain are extorted from them by the pressure of calamity; but, thank Heaven! the complaints of the people of Ireland are excited merely by wantonness of prosperity.
The wanton and innovating spirit of the times has given rise to another new doctrine in this country, which was diligently propagated at the last general election, and seems to have been intended to pave the way for this pretended reformation.... The doctrine I mean is this, that the representatives are bound to pay implicit obedience to the commands of their constituents. A doctrine repugnant to the first principle of the constitution, which is, that a member, when elected, becomes the representative of the nation at large, not merely of that particular place that returned him to parliament ; a doctrine which tends to destroy the unity of the state, and to degrade the dignity of this house ; for if this doctrine be established, you are no longer the free independent representative of a great and powerful king. dom, but the fettered deputies of a parcel of petty communities ; united indeed under one common sovereign, but as distinct from each other as the cantons of Switzerland, are from the provinces of America. If this doctrine is to prevail, if we are to be divided into these petty communities, it is just that each district should have its particular representatives ; but if we adhere to the liberal and truly constitutional principle, that each member is the representative of the nation at large, every part of the kingdom is equally represented ; and every county of the kingdom has not two only but three hundred representatives.
As an instance of the happy effects that would attend this new doctrine, let me recal the recollection of the house to the ridiculous scene that was exhibited on the floor in the beginning of last session; when an honourable member, by order of his constituents, moved, that the bill of supply should be granted for six months only. On the division he went into the lobby, and was followed by every county member in the house, a few only excepted, who walked across the floor, many of whom apo. logizing with their looks and gestures, for the absurd part they were acting, and deploring at once their own servile subjection, and the folly of their constituents.
Yet these, we are told, are the only independent members of the house ;....independent indeed they are ; independent of reason....independent of judgment....independent of choice....inde. pendent of every kind of public virtue ; which can have no existence without free agency.
This plan of reformation originated with the congress of Dungannon, who, after they had resolved to adopt it, directed their secretary to write circular letters to every meddling priest, every political mountebank, whose names they read of in the English newspaper, whom they rendered the arbiters of the Irish constitution. These letters have since been published by authority ; but why do we not find amongst them any letter to Mr. Pitt, the advocate for reform in the British parliament ? Because they well knew that the sentiments of Mr. Pitt were not congenial to their own; that he did not desire to go the lengths which they were determined to proceed ; his scheme of reform was confined to an addition of a certain number to the members for counties, and great communities. That the representatives of the people should presume to disfranchise their own constituents; that they should attempt to deprive, of their chartered rights, and most invaluable privileges, the persons to whose bounty they were indebted for their seats, and whose confidence had enabled them to strike that mortal blow, was a monstrous idea that never entered into the mind of that vir. tuous man, and was only reserved for that self-created monster, the congress of Dungannon.
I shall now beg leave to make a few observations on the motives and consequences of this pretended reform. The avowed motive is a desire to diminish the aristocratic power in this kingdom; but I am thoroughly convinced, that this plan would counteract their own intentions, and increase the very interest they wish to destroy. The natural consequence of this reform will be to throw the whole weight of power and influence in this country into the scale of property, and to bar for ever the doors of this house against rising genius and aspiring virtue.
I shall not hesitate to assert, that Great Britain owes the glory from which she has lately fallen, and Ireland the glory to which she has arisen, and which I hope she will ever maintain, to these very rotten boroughs that are now so reprobated.
You cannot but remember the wretched situation of Great Britain in 1757, when she had France alone to contend with ; so sunk were the power, the resources, and even the spirit of the nation, that instead of making any vigorous efforts against this single enemy, she thought it necessary to bring over twelve thousand German troops to save her from invasion. Such was the situation of Great Britain when Lord Chatham took the helm ; and such was the effect of the abilities and spirit of this one man, that in three years time the French were driven from the continent of America, and deprived of the finest of their West Indian islands. Yet who was Mr. Pitt? a younger brother with 2000l. fortune, and a cornetcy of horse, who had no more chance of representing any great community in England than I have at this instant. Had he not been returned for a rotten borough he might have lived in obscurity, and his vir.
tues had been lost to himself and to his country. What chance had Mr. Burke, who is an honour to this country; what chance had Mr. Fox, whose abilities are the objects of general admiration, of representing the cities of Bristol and Westminster, if they had not first displayed their abilities, by being returned for private boroughs ?
But to come nearer home, I will venture to assert, that you owe the emancipation of Ireland to those boroughs. I will venture to assert, that you are principally indebted for the restitution of your rights to the spirit, the abilities, the perseverance, and real integrity of the honourable gentleman near me, and I am supported, in this assertion, by the unanimous vote of this house, and the universal voice of the people at that time, though now I find he has lost some part of his popularity by the most virtuous action of his life : the preferring the real substantial interests of his country to an idle punctilio.... What chance had this gentleman, with all his abilities, of representing any but a private borough? Who were his principal assailants in this great revolution! members for rotton boroughs.... I know but of one county member who took a distinguishable part on that occasion; I mean the right honourable gentleman who represents the county of Wexford, and who is justly entitled to the second place in the gratitude of the public. Had this measure taken place but three years ago, which these people.con. tended for as necessary to their freedom, it is probable that Ireland would not now be free; and that instead of wasting your time in this idle speculation, you would now be deploring the shackles imposed upon your trade, or the power assumed by the British parliament to make laws to bind this country. I shall conclude, conjuring the gentlemen who hear me, that they will not be such dupes as to believe, that by passing this bill they will satisfy the people. He must be a young politician indeed, and but little acquainted with the history of mankind, or the human heart, who thinks that a people can be satisfied with concessions. If it was possible that concessions could satisfy a people, would there, at this day, be a murmur in Ireland? Besides, people have acted fairly, on this occasion, they have told
you that the passing of this bill will not satisfy them. This pretended reform is only the first of an alphabet of innovations, which the congress of Dungannon have voted, as necessary for the freedom of the people, and have determined to pursue ; that they have been advised in the first instance to lay their shoulders to this particular object. If you yield to them in this point, they will attack you on some other, and so proceed from innovation to innovation, till they have subverted your constitution
both in church and state ; this is therefore the time to resist their encroachments.
Sir Hercules Langrishe.....I am glad this great question, which has so much engaged the public mind, and been agitated with so much industry from one extremity of the kingdom to the other, has at length been brought before parliament; and it is now our duty to give it a full, a free, and patient discussion. If the evil that it supposes has existence, and the remedy it offers be adequate and safe, it will have many powerful advocates here. On the other hand, if it states defccts that do not exist, and offers remedies that are neither safe nor applicable, it is better the House of Commons should decide against it at once, that the people may no longer be disturbed or deceived by it. And now let me say, if I wanted any new proof of the superior excellence of our happy constitution, that alteration was unnecessary and amendment impracticable, the plan of reform now read at your table would furnish ample testimony: for when two gentlemen of such distinguished abilities, assisted by deli. berate assemblies in their own country, and enlightened by the oracles that have been consulted in another country; when gentlemen of such talents, so assisted, have at length produced such a plan of reform, I am justified in thinking that the task is beyond the strength of man. And convinced as I am, that our present constitution, in its present condition, is competent to every degree of civil liberty, I must also be convinced that amendment is a dream, and alteration would not be wisdom.
Consider now, Sir, the plan before you, consider it impartially, and tell me, is it founded in any one principle which it professes ? Does it tend to remove any one evil that it imagines ? Does it meet any one of the ideas that have amused the people ? No, not one! Is it a plan for an equal representation of the people? No; it leaves above three-fourths of the people as it found them, unrepresented. Is it a plan for a more equal representation of the people in parliament? No, it renders the representation much more unequal than it found it: for instance, a freeholder in one barony, by this bill, may vote for four, or six, or eight members of parliament; a freeholder in the next barony shall vote only for two members. Is this to render the representation of the people more equal ? Good God! how the people are deceived ! how they are abused!
Is it a plan for the more equal representation of property, the ancient and original title to representation ? No, Sir, the reverse! If this bill as you see it were a law, a worthy and respectable gentleman in the county to which I belong, who has 40001. per annum, landed estate in one barony, would thereby be entitled to vote for two members, and the servant who stands behind my chair, who is possessed of a 40s. freehold in a neigh