Page images
PDF
EPUB

28

CHAPTER II.

Meeting of Parliament, January, 1791-Speeches of Mr. Ponsonby and

Mr. Graitan-Character and conduct of Lord Westmoreland-Public feeling in Ireland—Dinner by the Whigs of the capital-Resolutions of the Volunteers-Decree of Louis XVI. in favour of tolerationFrench revolution-French principles in Ireland-Question of Roman Catholic Emancipation-Effect of the penal laws—Edmund Burke's writings in favour of the Catholics-Ill treatment of the Catholics by the Government–Their communication with the Whig Club-Lord Kenmare's address to the Lord-lieutenant-Address of the “Sixty-eight”—People disapprove of both addresses—Conduct of the Opposition-Meeting of Parliament, January, 1792—Mr. Grattan's speech-Remarkable eulogy on Dean Kirwan-Account of his charity sermons.

PARLIAMENT met on the 20th January, 1791. The speech from the throne announced that the rupture between Spain and England had been amicably adjusted, but stated nothing further of importance. The Opposition renewed their enquiries respecting the corrupt proceedings of the late Government. Mr. Ponsonby moved, on the 3rd of February, to enquire into the pensions and additional salaries granted by Government. Mr. Grattan seconded the motion, which was rejected by 117 to 56.

Such a majority at the outset of a new Parliament, and one of its first votes, augured ill for the reformation of abuses and the improvement in the system of Government. Mr. Isaac Corry appeared on this occasion as a defender of the Marquess of Buckingham.

On the 8th of February, Mr. Grattan renewed his motion respecting the sale of peerages, and moved for a Committee to prove the fact. On that occasion, Mr. Ponsonby said

CHAP. II.] MOTION ON SALE OF PEERAGES. 29

“ If gentlemen are unwilling to risk their reputation by instituting an enquiry on the ground of common fame, I will state to them what they will consider sufficient ground for this enquiry—a member of this house standing up and asserting that he had good reason to believe that peerages have been sold. This, Mr. Speaker, the gentlemen opposite will acknowledge to be good ground for enquiry. Sir, I am that man. I say I have good reason to believe that peerages have been sold for money; nay, more, I have proof. Go into a Committee; and if I do not establish my charge, degrade me ; let me no longer enjoy the character of an honest man. I dare the administration to it. I risk my reputation on establishing the fact.

The motion was strongly opposed by the Government,* though the facts therein stated were confidently offered to be established in proof by the chief members of the Opposition; but it was defeated by a majority of 135 to 81.

The question respecting the East India trade was revived, and an effort to open that extensive commerce to Ireland was again made, but in vain. The motion to that effect, proposed by Mr. Ponsonby, was lost by 143 to 86. The Barren Land Bill, by Mr. Grattan, and the Pension and Responsibility Bills, by Mr. Forbes, were proposed, but without success. The object of the latter bill was to have some responsible men to disburse the public money, as in England, where no charges or drafts could be issued except by individuals whose signatures made them responsible to the public; whereas in Ireland the Lord-lieutenant could issue the money, signing the warrant at the top, and the Secretary at the bottom, neither of whom afforded sufficient responsibility. This debate lasted till near four o'clock on Sunday morning, and the second reading was rejected by 131 to 64. The following are

* Mr. Barrington, author of the “ History of the Union," appears to have made as strong a speech in favour of Government as he afterwards did at a subsequent period against them.

Mr. Grattan's remarks : — they apply to later times also, than those in which they were made.

“Sir, those gentlemen have most ignorantly foretold what would be the Government under this bill. I will tell these gentlemen most truly what is now the Irish Government without it. What is their situation ? A set of men excluded in their native land from power and control, privileged only to submit their objections, without any authority to stop the crime they complain of. This exclusion from all control in the disbursement of money, makes them a cypher. That control, exclusively placed in the Lord-lieutenant's secretary, his Excellency and certain English officers, makes them your masters, and the Secretary on that bench your idol. It is no longer control,-it is command : it is this command that makes him more formidable than the thunder of Demosthenes, and more persuasive than Tully; or, if the name of Solomon delight him more, Solomon in all his glory, sitting among his state concubines. See at the feet of a young lad the tributes of a degraded court. See prostrate at his feet the wisdom of age and the flame of youth,--the grey head of experience, the country gentleman's shattered mask, and the veteran Crown lawyers' prostituted conscience and howling re

Even the virtues which this man don't entirely destroy, he disgraces—he humbles the energies of your mind, and contracts the exertions of your

talents.

He not only humbles your virtues, he degrades your vices, and gives them a poorer cast; so that you lose the high mettle which sometimes mixes with human infirmity, dignifies the nature of vice, and makes ambition virtue. You do not make this man a Colossus; but he makes you pigmies, and both lose your natural proportion-he, his natural inferiority, and you, your natural superiority in your native land.

Thus you stand on your own hills blasted by a shrub which scalds your growth, and diminishes and dwarfs what else might become the tree of the forest, and make the realm illustrious.”

The session of 1791 concluded on the 5th of May, and Parliament was shortly after prorogued. The Opposition seemed disposed to give every fair opportunity to Government; they had made no violent motions, nor suggested any new or

morse.

CHAP. 11.] CHARACTER OF LD. WESTMORELAND.

31 extravagant questions; nor had they incited the Roman Catholics to urge on their claims. They did not seek to embarrass the Government; but having set forth their principles, they left to those in power the carrying into effect such measures as might appear to be of public utility. No friendly disposition was manifested, however, by the Ministry. They delayed all their concessions* till the time had passed in which they would have been received by the people with gratitude and satisfaction.

Lord Westmoreland, who should never have been sent to Ireland, was a person quite incompetent to hold the reins of power, and seemed more fitted to guide a chariot than to govern a country. His mind was of an inferior grade; it belonged not to the Court--not to the drawingroom—not even to the parlour. When he was clean, washed, dressed, and powdered, and put on his blue riband, he looked as if he had stolen it from some gentleman, and taken refuge in fright in the House of Lords. Certain it is, that he met there company much above him, and to which, as he shewed by his manners and principles, he did not belong. He seemed quite forgetful of his situation as representative of Royalty, and heedless of the approaching storm which was gathering around him, his object seemed to be to degrade the House of Commons, as his predecessor's (the Marquess of Buckingham) to corrupt it, and both to effect its destruction. He stooped to gratify the low passions of others; he possessed nothing that was noble of his own, and never would have been taken for the Lord-lieutenant, if it had not been for the star and riband that he wore. He insulted Lord Charlemont, and thereby offended the Protestants of the north and the Volunteers.

* These were very few-Place Bill and Pension Bill

He soon after proceeded to insult the Catholics of the south ; so that he lost all support among the people, and stripped the Royal station of everything that could command respect or love. In place of these, he set up a new party, and gave birth to an unconstitutional and illegitimate conception—monstrum horrendum, ingens, cui lumen ademptum—the high church party,—that origin of evil,--that assumed the name of “ Protestant ascendancy,” and sought to divide the people under the pretence of upholding the church and state; in other words, a civil and ecclesiastical tyranny.

Such a proceeding was mischievous in the extreme, and the more deserving of censure, because at this period a friendly and conciliatory disposition pervaded all classes throughout the country. There existed discontent but not disaffection, there was some disturbance but no treason; the only hostility that prevailed was against the corruption and abuses of the Government.

The sentiments of the Whig leaders were constitutional as well as patriotic,-safe for the Government and serviceable for the state, and almost universally approved of by the people. Their spirit and character may be judged of from the account of a public dinner given by a society called the Whigs of the Capital, composed of the public-spirited citizens of Dublin, which took place early in 1791 ; * and when at the close of the

year, an attempt was made to excite divisions * On Monday, the Whigs of the Capital dined at the Eagle in Eustacestreet, to which were invited the Lord Mayor, his Grace the Duke of Leinster, Lord Charlemont, Lord Henry Fitzgerald, Mr. Grattan, Mr. Curran, Mr. Ponsonby, and several other noble and eminently patriotic characters.

The following, among a variety of other toasts, were drunk :

The King.- Prince of Wales.- The House of Brunswick; may it ever regard Ireland, as the Parliament of Ireland regarded it, on the Regency question.-Rights of the people.- Friends of freedom.—Glori

« PreviousContinue »