« AnteriorContinuar »
however, is perfectly true and much to be regretted, is that Mr Pitt had underrated the strength of the opposition which he was to encounter from his sovereign upon the question of the Catholic claims. True to his favourite practice of blackening the character of the British statesmen who carried the Union, Mr Gladstone (p. 468) authoritatively declares that, whilst "the Roman Catholic bishops were encouraged to believe that they and their clergy would after a Union receive the countenance and support of the State," "Mr Pitt was perfectly aware of the King's objection to all such measures, not from policy alone, but as involving him in perjury." The "accurate and indefatigable" Mr Ross, on the contrary, tells us that "the question, most certainly, had never been laid before the King; and his insuperable objection was not made known to the Irish Government, nor probably were any of the English Ministers aware of his fixed determination." 1
It is not my purpose to discuss here the course taken by Mr Pitt, either in resigning because the King interposed to prevent his settlement of the Catholic claims, or in subsequently resuming office upon the understanding that he should not propose that settlement. I have only to point out that the resignation, whilst it proves the unwillingness of Mr Pitt and those colleagues who resigned with him to abandon the Catholics, in no way substantiates the assertion that he had given them "pledges" or assurances in connection with their support of the Union. His resumption of office indicates a personal loyalty towards the sovereign which may or may not have been overstrained,
but which must be considered with regard to the peculiar circumstances both of the King and the country at the moment, and which casts no discredit upon the honour of the Minister. It must, moreover, be borne in mind that, in his opposition to the Catholic claims, George III. was undoubtedly supported by a strong popular feeling in Great Britain. The prejudice and bitterness against the Catholics and their religion which existed during the earlier part of the present century is almost beyond belief, and the Catholic question had slowly to make its way through a storm of popular opposition which we can hardly estimate today. Mr Pitt may well have underestimated the extent and strength of this opposition; and the fact that he failed to encounter and overcome it, is no proof whatever that he had not acted with perfect consistency and honour from first to last in his dealings with the Irish Catholics during the contest for the Union. If further evidence be necessary as to the truth of this matter, it will be found in the confidential memorandum delivered by Lord Cornwallis to Lord Fingall and Dr Troy, to be by them circulated among the principal Catholics in different parts of Ireland. In this paper Lord Cornwallis explicitly declares that, whilst he and his colleagues were about to resign on account of "not being sanctioned in bringing forward" the concession of further privileges to his Majesty's Roman Catholic subjects," he had, during the passage of the Act of Union, tious in his language on the subject, and had studiously avoided any declaration to the Catholics on which they could raise an expecta
1 Cornwallis Correspondence, vol. iii. p. 325
tion that their wishes would be conceded. Through the whole measure of the Union, which was in discussion two years, and during which period every effort was made to procure a resistance to the measure on the part of the whole body of the Catholics, no favourable assurance or promise was made to them."1
With something which approaches very near to inconsistency, Mr Gladstone, at the same moment that he alleges that " impression had been made upon many of the higher Roman Catholic clergy and those who followed them," hastens to declare that very few petitions or addresses were presented in favour of the Union. He tells that "Dr Ingram lays claim in all to seventy-four addresses and petitions," and that "this number of addresses is altogether trivial." But Dr Ingram was only quoting from Lord Castlereagh's speech of March 4, 1800, more than three months before the Act of Union was passed; and there is nothing to show that a great number of petitions and addresses may not have been presented during those three months. It is quite true that Mr Grey mentioned in the House of Commons, on 21st April 1800, that petitions, signed by more than 700,000 persons, had been presented against the Union; but at the same time he stated that only 3000 persons had declared in its favour—a statement which Mr Gladstone himself, in this very review, shows to have been wholly incorrect. Mr Lecky, indeed, whom Mr Gladstone quotes as having cited the number of 700,000 "without any note of discredit," by no means endorses it, but merely remarks that "peti
tions against the Union are said to have been signed in this proportion." But the question is really immaterial as to whether half a million or seven hundred thousand signatures were obtained to petitions in a country in which Mr Gladstone himself tells us (p. 456) "the practice of petitioning was in extended use," and where, as is proved by superabundant evidence, influential persons were straining every nerve to obtain signatures to such petitions. Indeed matters were carried so far that Lord Devonshire transmitted the draft of a petition against the Union to his regiment of militia at Carlow; and complaints were made that "officers and privates, even those who were under age, were indiscriminately called upon to sign it."2
As to the manner in which petitions were got up on both sides, Plowden tells us that "if credit be allowed the reports of the antiUnionists, the meanest artifices were practised to obtain signatures to the several addresses, and the lowest of the rabble were invited to subscribe their names or affix their marks,”—____" on the other hand the Unionists accused their opponents of having had recourse to scandalous misrepresentations, and of having abused the credulity of the populace by shameless impositions. These mutual charges and recriminations were unfortunately but too well founded."
The truth of this matter is abundantly established in the Cornwallis Correspondence. The Union was at first unpopular, but it greatly increased in popularity during the two years' discussion which followed its introduction. There were good reasons for this, two of which I will give without
1 Cornwallis Correspondence, vol. iii. p. 343. 3 Plowden, vol. ii. part ii. p. 977.
2 Ibid., p. 179.
note or comment. Mr Ross, after giving us a letter of Lord Cornwallis (March 28, 1799), in which he says that "the opinion of the loyal part of the public is, from everything that I can learn, changing fast in favour of the Union," goes on to remark that this change was "caused principally by its having transpired that material alteration would be made in the details of the measure," in the direction of conciliating " the "various classes affected by the plan originally proposed "-i.e., by giving compensation to the owners of seats in the Irish Parliament. This gives a clue to the change of opinion which undoubtedly took place, and Plowden supplies another in the following words :
"When, therefore, the Catholics perceived that the greatest number and the most violent opponents of the legislative Union were the most virulent of the Orangemen, and the real malcontents and separatists, their feelings were not deeply excited to coalesce with the anti-Unionists. It may, indeed, be said that a very great preponderancy in favour of the Union existed in the Catholic body, particularly in their nobility, priests, and clergy." 2
Mr Gladstone vehemently assails Dr Ingram for the "most audacious assertion that no petition against the Union was presented by the Roman Catholics." I do not understand Dr Ingram to intend to convey the meaning that no Catholics signed petitions to this effect, which would, of course, be incorrect, but that no such petition was presented by Catholics as such; whilst it was as Catholics, antici
pating advantages to their Church from the greater liberality of a united Parliament, that numerous petitions were certainly presented. The statement of the younger Grattan that only 7000 signatures were attached to petitions in favour of the Union, cannot even by Mr Gladstone's ability be made otherwise than grossly and ludicrously incorrect. Plowden, as Mr Gladstone tells us, mentions two petitions with over 4886 signatures, and two more with 558, making a total of 5444. But Plowden avowedly only gives these as examples, and adds in a footnote that " many other such addresses were made by the different bodies of Roman Catholics;" and Dr Ingram gives references to many similar addresses (one of them from Roscommon with 1500 signatures), which abundantly prove that the assertion of the younger Grattan cannot for a moment be sustained.
But if Mr Gladstone conspicuously fails in his attempt to convict Dr Ingram of inaccuracy upon the points to which I have alluded, mit that he makes out a someI am constrained in fairness to adwhat better case with regard to his general charge of corruption against those who carried the Act of Union through the Irish Parliament. I have never ventured to allege with Dr Ingram that the Irish Union is "free from any taint of corruption," because I cannot but think that the bestowal of peerages and pensions, and the heavy compensation to the proprietors of boroughs, borders closely upon such corruption, even though much may be said to
1 See Lord Cornwallis to Mr Dundas, July 1, 1799. "There cannot be a stronger argument for the measure than the overgrown parliamentary power of five or six of our pampered boroughmongers, who are become most formidable to Government by their long possession of the entire patronage of the Crown in their respective districts."
2 Plowden, vol. ii. part ii. p. 979.
extenuate and excuse it under the extraordinary circumstances of the case; and the charge of direct money bribes is unsupported by any reliable evidence. But if I cannot join in Dr Ingram's description of these transactions, still less can I agree in the extravagant and reckless exaggeration of Mr Gladstone in the opposite direction. It is impossible to judge of the morals of 1800 by the standard of 1887, and it is unjust to condemn the statesmen of the earlier period without a full consideration of the circumstances in which they were placed. Mr Gladstone, indeed, tells us (p. 446) that he "shall not say a word upon the merits of the Union;' " but the merits of the Union have a great deal to do with this question. The British Ministry were profoundly convinced of the absolute necessity of this measure for the welfare of Ireland and the security of the empire. "This country could not be saved without the Union," writes Lord Cornwallis; and the same sentiment appears throughout his correspondence.2 But there were only two ways of accomplishing that Union, of which an essential feature was the amalgamation of the Legislatures of Great Britain and Ireland. Either the Irish Parliament must have been suppressed by the superior force of Great Britain, or it must have been brought to see the desirability of suppressing itself. In adopting the latter alternative, the British Government undoubtedly chose that course which was most in accordance with Irish feeling and opinion. But, having chosen it, there at once arose the necessity
of dealing with those vested interests which ruled the Irish Parliament, and of satisfying them against the pecuniary loss which they would otherwise have suffered. I cannot defend the transaction except on the score of necessity; but, at the same time, it is unfair to apply the term "bribery to a purchase in which the same value was given, totally irrespective of the political and parliamentary action of the vendor. Mr Gladstone, indeed, tells us (p. 458) that "the anti-Unionists, it is true, shared the compensation; and alleges as the reason that "in bribing the body it was necessary to pay an extra price, as the dissenting minority could not be excluded without destroying the only disguise which covered the hideous nakedness of the measure.” is an ingenious but ungenerous way of stating the fact that opponents and supporters alike received the apportioned sum upon losing that which had been valuable property, as soon as it had been determined, rightly or wrongly, that compensation should be given.
We must bear in mind, however (whilst finding fault with that which nowadays has become so distasteful to us, that even a "free lunch" given at Templecombe to Gladstonians - and therefore, of course, to purists of the first water cannot escape the charge of bribery), that the British Government of 1800 had to deal in Ireland with a state of things hopelessly corrupt. Lord Cornwallis appears to have been fully aware of this fact. "That every man in this most corrupt country," he writes, "should consider the
1 Cornwallis Correspondence, vol. iii. p. 249.
2 "Without the Union, Ireland is a country in which it will be impossible for any civilised being to live."-Ibid., p. 79.
important question before us in no other point of view than as it may be likely to promote his own private objects of ambition or avarice, will not surprise you."1 Again: "The leaders of the Opposition, who know and eagerly pursue their own little dirty interests," &c.; and, "There is no trick too impudent or too profligate for a thorough paced Irish politician." 3 There is little wonder, indeed, that Lord Castlereagh should speak of Lord Cornwallis as having been "the person to buy out and secure to the Crown for ever the fee-simple of Irish corruption, which has so long enfeebled the powers of Government and endangered the connection;" and it is surprising that, with the knowledge which even his imperfect study of Irish history must have given him, Mr Gladstone should have no word of condemnation or even disapproval for Irish profligacy, but only for the British statesmen who, fighting fire by fire, strove once for all to put an end to the corruption by which Irish administration and the Irish Parliament had so long been disgraced.4
Mr Gladstone triumphantly quotes a passage from Lord Castlereagh's letter to Mr Cooke of 1st June 1800, in which he speaks of "the profligacy of the means by which the measure has been accomplished." The context of this letter pretty plainly shows that it has mainly reference to the peerages which had been promised to persons "either actually members of, or connected with, the House of Commons," and is very possible
that Lord Castlereagh may not have deemed the term "profligate" inapplicable to the scheme of " compensation" to which I have alluded, and to which he had been driven by the difficulties of the position. But this letter affords no evidence of that direct money bribery which the writer had himself explicitly disavowed in his place in Parliament. It is certain that accusations of such bribery were made on both sides; and Lord Castlereagh writes to the Duke of Portland sundry particulars of alleged bribery by the Opposition, stating amongst other things that
we have undoubted proof, though not such as we can disclose, that they are enabled to offer as high as £5000 for an individual vote; and I lament to state that there are individuals remaining amongst us that are likely to yield to this temptation."
But in truth this question of corruption is one which is little likely to be further elucidated by controversial argument, and Mr Gladstone will hardly expect reasonable men to accept as a conclusive proof of the guilt of the British Government the fact that certain gentlemen have destroyed the letters of their fathers and grandfathers written at the period of the Union.
As to the statement that "it would not be difficult to show that the British Government took an active part in the work of suppression," it would be premature to reply until Mr Gladstone deems it desirable to afford some further proof than the anecdote which he relates as having been
1 Cornwallis Correspondence, vol. iii. p. S.
3 Ibid., p. 288.
4 Lord Cornwallis wrote, January 26, 1799: "The proposal of union provoked the enmity principally of the boroughmongers, lawyers, and persons who, from local circumstances, thought they should be losers."