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DECLARATION AND RESOLUTIONS
OF THE SOCIETY OF UNITED IRISHMEN OF BELFAST.
IN the present great era of reform, when unjust Governments are falling in every quarter of Europe; when religious persecution is compelled to abjure her tyranny over conscience; when the rights of men are ascertained in theory, and that theory substantiated by practice; when antiquity can no longer defend absurd and oppressive forms, against the common sense and common interests of mankind; when all government is acknowledged to originate from the people, and to be so far only obligatory as it protects their rights and promotes their welfare: We think it our duty, as Irishmen, to come forward, and state what we feel to be our heavy grievance, and what we know to be its effectual remedy.
WE HAVE NO NATIONAL GOVERNMENT; we are ruled by Englishmen, and the servants of Englishmen, whose object is the interest of another country, whose instrument is corruption, and whose strength is the weakness of Ireland ; and these men have the whole of the power and patronage of the country, as means to seduce and to subdue the honesty and the spirit of her representatives in the legislature. Such an extrinsic power, acting with uniform force in a direction too frequently opposite to the true line of our obvious interests, can be resisted with effect solely by unanimity, decision, and spirit in the people; qualities which may be exerted most legally, constitutionally, and efficaciously, by that great measure essential to the prosperity and freedom of Ireland, AN EQUAL REPRESENTATION OF ALL THE PEOPLE IN PARLIAMENT.
We do not here mention as grievances, the rejection of a placebill, of a pension-bill, of a responsibility-bill, the sale of Peerages in one House, the corruption publicly avowed in the other, nor the notorious infamy of borough traffic between both; not
that we are insensible of their enorinity, but that we consider them as but symptoms of that mortal disease which corrodes the vitals of our Constitution, and leaves to the people, in their own Government, but the shadow of a name.
Impressed with these sentiments, we have agreed to form an association, to be called “THE SOCIETY OF UNITED IRISHMEN:" And we do pledge ourselves to our country, and mutually to each other, that we will steadily support, and endeavor, by all due means, to carry into effect, the following resolutions :
First, Resolved, That the weight of English influence in the Government of this country is so great, as to require a cordial union among ALL THE PEOPLE OF IRELAND, to maintain that balance which is essential to the preservation of our liberties, and the extension of our commerce.
Second, That the sole constitutional mode by which this influence can be opposed, is by a complete and radical reform of the representation of the people in Parliament.
Third, That no reform is practicable, efficacious, or just, which shall not include Irishmen of every religious persuasion.
Satisfied, as we are, that the intestine divisions among Irishmen have too often given encouragement and impunity to profligate, audacious, and corrupt Administrations, in measures which, but for these divisions, they durst not have attempted; we submit our resolutions to the nation, as the basis of otr political faith.
We have gone to what we conceive to be the root of the evil; we have stated what we conceive to be the remedy. With a Parliament thus reformed, every thing is easy ; without it, nothing can be done: and we do call on and most earnestly exhort our countrymen in general to follow our example, and to form similar societies in every quarter of the kingdom, for the promotion of constitutional knowledge, the abolition of bigotry in religion and politics, and the equal distribution of the rights of man through all sects and denominations of Irishmen. The people, when thus collected, will feel their own weight, and secure that power which theory has already admitted as their portion, and to which, if they be not aroused by their present provocations to vindicate it, they deserve to forfeit their pretensions FOR EVER Signed by order of the Society of United Irishmen of Belfast.
ROBERT SIMMS, Secretary. October, 1791.
To the Manufacturers of Dublin. DEAR COUNTRYMEN : I learn by the newspapers that we are going to war with France, and I see recruiting parties beating up for volunteers in all parts of the city, from which I conclude that the newspapers are right, and that we are to have a war in downright earnest. I suppose the King, God bless him, and the great people about him, have good reasons for what they are doing, which we know nothing about; but this I am sure of, that they ought to be very good reasons indeed that should make us go to war just now. Battles and victories are fine things to read and hear tell of, and, for my own part, I like stories of that kind as well as another, but I never could learn what good came to the poor people by a battle or a victory. What did we get by all our battles last war, except an addition to the weight of our taxes, that were heavy enough, God knows, before? So that our whiskey and our tobacco, and the tea and sugar for our wives, are twice as dear as they used to be, and if we are to have another war, the Lord knows when it will stop, or how a poor man, like one of us, will be able to keep his family at all.
I know very well that the Irish are a brave fighting people, and will not readily listen to any one that recommends peace to them, when our neighbors are at war; nay, I feel that I should myself be ready enough to leave my loom (for I am but a poor weaver in the Liberty) and take a firelock on my shoulder in any good cause for my king and country. But I remember too well the miseries which we all suffered in the American war, not to desire my countrymen to stop and think, and not to run into the battle, hand over head, as they are too apt to do on every occasion ; let them consider what a check it will give to all our manufactures, and what a brain blow it will be to our infant commerce; how many of our most industrious people it will drive to idleness and want and beggary; how much of our best blood it will spill; and how little of our little wealth it will leave with us; and then, perhaps, they will begin to ask what is all this for? and what are we the better of all these battles and victories?
We are now going to war with France; very well ; now the first question I would ask is, what quarrel have we with France? what did she ever do to us, or we to her ? “Why the French cut off the King's head?” That to be sure is very shocking and barbarous, and I for one am heartily sorry for it; but will our going to war put it on again? or what right have we to meddle in their disputes, while they let us alone? I remember to have read that the English cut off King Charles's head just as the French did with their King, but I do not find that any nation in Europe was so foolish as to go to war with them on that score. What was Ireland the better of the King of France when he was alive, or what is she the worse of him, now that he is dead? For my part I think it is quite enough if we continue, as we are, good and loyal subjects to his Majesty George the III. without running headlong into a war, to the utter ruin of manufactures and our commerce, for no better than that the French choose one form of Government, and we live under anotherand this brings me to a second reason that I have heard for our going to war, that the French are “republicans and levellers."
I am sure a great many of us make use of those words that do not know the meaning of them; but suppose that they are republicans and levellers, and suppose that these words mean every thing that is wicked and abominable, still, I say, what is that to us? If a Republic be a bad form of Government, in God's name let them have it, and punish themselves; if it be a good form, I do not know what right we have to hinder them of it.
I will now endeavor to show you what this war will do to every one of us. In the first place, the English, who have brought us into this scrape, will lose one of their best customers the French, and they will likewise lose the German and Dutch markets in a great degree, from the troubles in Holland, the danger of privateers, and the high rates of insurance; they will, therefore, throw all the goods they can manufacture into this country, as you know they always do, and from their great capitals they can afford to sell at very little profit, and to lie a great while out of their money, which we cannot do; so that they will beat you fairly out of your own market : for it cannot be expected that a shop-keeper in Francis-street, or the Quay, will come to deal with one of us, who can give him but six
months' credit, while he can get the same goods at a lower rate, and at twelve and eighteen months, or even two years' credit, which the Englishman will give him rather than lose his custom; and whenever this happens, as it certainly will happen if the war goes on, (and indeed the English riders are beginning already to swarm among us, looking for orders) God only knows to what misery we shall be reduced. I remember, in the American war, it was with great difficulty that I preserved myself and my family from utterly starving; and crowds of my brethren, still more poor and wretched than myself, were brought so low as to go in droves a begging about the streets, or were fed, like hounds, at public messes, which were got for them through charity. The great people who go to war never think of these things; but, for my part, when we are all turned out of work, and ragged and hungry, I do not see how we are to feed and clothe ourselves and our little families. I am sure it is not the “balance of power," and the “ glory of the British flag,” and a hundred other fine things that I see in speeches in the newspapers, that will put a single rag on our backs, or a halfpenny roll in our mouths; so that, after all, we may find out, by woful experience, and the loss of our trade, that it had been better to have let the French alone to settle their own disputes among themselves, and for us, in the mean time, to stick to our looms and our jennies, and go on quietly selling our cloths and our calicoes.
Besides, this war is worse for us poor manufacturers than any that ever we remember. Formerly, to be sure, when a war broke out, and trade was dead, we could take a turn aboard a privateer or man of war for a year or two, and then we had a chance of picking up a little prize money, as many among us have done ; but now there is no chance of that, for the French have no merchantmen at sea, and all the ships they have arc turned into privateers, and we all know well enough there is nothing to be got by them but hard knocks. If it was a Spanish war, indeed, a man would have some chance among the dollars and galloons, but here there is no such thing-all wooden legs and no gold chains.
And now my dear countrymen and fellow-sufferers, what are we all to do? By the middle of summer, trade will be stopped here, and, as to going to England, that will not answer, for she