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This petition was presented to the lord lieutenant by the “high sheriffs, with an address to his excellency requesting it
might be transmitted; to which they received the following answer :
“ AT the same time that I comply with your request, in transmitting 'to his majesty a paper signed
by you, entitled A Petition of the Freemen, Freeholders and “ Inhabitants of the City of Dublin, I shall not fail to convey
my entire disapprobation of it, as casting unjust reflections “ upon the laws and parliament of Ireland, and tending to weaken “ the authority of both."
These proceedings of the city of Dublin were seconded by other parts of the kingdom ; but the whole was frustrated by the interposition of government, and prosecutions by information, &c., were commenced against different persons, by whom such aggregate meetings had been assembled. The high sheriff of the county of Dublin (then Henry Stevens Reilly, Esq.) was sentenced to fine and imprisonment by the Court of King's Bench; however, after a few days' confinement, he was liberated, and the fine reduced on acknowledging his error, and making a public apology in that court.
It may be seen, that the repeated defeats of the advocates for reform in parliament had not abated their ardour in the pursuit of their favourite object. In despair of any deliberate co-operation from parliament, they had confidently turned their applications to the quarter, from whence experience had taught them to look for effectual redress. As government had not hitherto ventured to question the legality of the volunteer associations, the more thinking part of them were astonished and discontented at the strong disapprobation of their conduct conveyed in the lord lieutenant's answer. Although the resolutions and addresses of the aggregate meeting were strongly, and by some thought intemperately expressed, they were notwithstanding the result of much consideration and temperate deliberation.*
Such however was the credulous enthusiasm of the
• Whilst the business of equal representation was in agitation at a meeting of the convention in Dublin, a pretended letter was produced from Lord Kenmare, purporting to convey the general sentiments of the Roman Catholics of Ireland, in which they were made to express their perfect satisfaction with what had been already done for them, and that they desired no more than peaceably to enjoy the privileges they had obtained.' But though this letter were publicly disavowed, both by the respectable person, from whom it was said to have come, and by a general assembly of the committee of the Irish , Catholics, who acknowledged themselves to have too great a resemblance to the rest of their species to be desirous of opposing any thing that tended to
majority of them in the cause of reform, that even after the dispiriting and angry answer of the lord lieutenant, they could not be persuaded, that either his grace or his former zealous col. league, Mr. Pitt, had receded from, dropped or renounced the reforming principle they had lately avowed with so much ardour. Accordingly, on the 8th of July, a petition to the king was conveyed to Mr. Pitt, by the inhabitants of Belfast, nearly of the same ténor with that of the citizens of Dublin. In the month of September, Mr. Pitt informed them, in his answer, “ That “ he had undoubtedly been, and still continued, a zealous friend
to a reform in parliament, but that he must beg leave to say, “ that he had been so on grounds very different from those " adopted in their petition. That what was there proposed, “ he considered as tending to produce' still greater evils than
any of those, which the friends of reform were desirous to “ remedy."
The cause of reform received about this time a more fatal blow from the disunion, which broke out amongst the volunteers themselves, on the subject of admitting the Roman Catholics to the rights of election. In an address presented by the Ulster corps to their general, the Earl of Charlemont, after some strong expressions of their detestation of aristocratic tyranny, they hinted at the necessity of calling in the aid of the Catholics, as the most just as well as effectual means of opposing it with success.
In answer to this address, the Earl of Charlemont, lamented that, for the first time, he felt himself obliged to differ from them in sentiment. He was free from every illiberal prejudice against the Catholics, and full of goodwill towards that very respectable body, but he could not refrain from the most ardent entreaties, that they would desist from a pursuit, that would fatally clog and impede the prosecution of their favourite purpose.
As this nobleman was highly and deservedly respected, his opinion was eagerly embraced, both by the timid, whose apprehensions were alarmed at the bold extent of the project, and by a great number whose prejudices against the Catholics appear to have been suspended from conveniency or fashion though never conquered by principle. In the month of October, the thanks of the corporation of the city of Dublin were voted him for his conduct on that occasion.
The meeting of a national congress was a measure of too alarming a nature, not to attract the most serious attention of their relief, and that they should receive with gratitude any indulgence the legislature should be willing to grant them, yet, in the plan of reform digested at that meeting, they were left precisely in the same situation as before. VOL. III.
government; and it appears to have been their resolution to take the most vigorous steps for preventing it if possible. A few days previous to that which was fixed for the election of delegates for the city of Dublin, the attorney general addressed a letter to the sheriffs, expressing his very great surprise at have ing read a summons signed by them calling a meeting for the purpose in question. He observed, that by this proceeding, they had been guilty of a most outrageous breach of their duty; and that if they proceeded, they would be responsible to the laws of their country, and he should hold himself bounden to prosecute them in the Court of King's Bench, for a conduct, which he considered so highly criminal, that he could not overlook it. These threats succeeded so far as to intimidate the sheriffs from attending the meeting in their official capacity ; but the meeting was nevertheless holden, delegates were chosen ; and in revenge for the attorney's letter, several strong resolutions were agreed to, relative to the right of assembling themselves for the redress of grievances. Government having once set their faces against the election and assembling of delegates, from denouncing threats, they proceeded to punishments.
Mr. Riley, high sherið for the county of Dublin, in consequence of his having called together, and presided at an assembly of freeholders, who met on the 19th of August, 1784, for the purpose of choosing and instructing their delegates, was the firsť object of ministerial prosecution. The attorney general proceeded against him by attachment from the court of King's Bench. The assembly, and the resolutions they came to on that occasion, signed by Mr. Riley, in his character of sheriff for the county, were both declared to be illegal, and Mr. Riley was sentenced by the court to pay a fine of five marks, (31. 6s. 8d.) and to be imprisoned one week.
This mode of legal process, except for the purpose of bringing persons before the court, to receive the sentence of such court for contempt of, and disobedience to its orders and directions, has so seldom been resorted to, that even the legality of the process itself, on any other ground, had remained a matter of general doubt and uncertainty.
In the present case it met with much less opposition than might have been expected. Clamours without doors, and debates within, on the subject, there certainly were, but both too feeble and ill-concerted to promise any success.
The new division of the volunteers into parties, took off the general attention to this attack upon the use of juries, which, in any other moment, would not have been so tamely tolerated. Of such import is it, when overstrong measures are to be attempted, to prepare the public for the reception of them by internal disunion or alarm. Government did not confine their prosecutions to Mr. Riley. Having once adopted a mode of proceeding, which so effectually answered the end, for which they designed it, informations were moved for, and attachments granted against the different magistrates, who called the meetings, and signed the respective resolutions of the freeholders in the counties
of Roscommon and Leitrim. At the same time, the press too came under the lash of the attorney-general: and the printers and puta lishers of such newspapers, as had inserted the obnoxious resolutions, suffered with the magistrates, who had signed them.
Notwithstanding these violent measures which administration were pursuing, the national congress met, pursuant to its appointment, on the 25th day of October. But as it was far from being complete in point of number, and several of its most respectable members chose to absent themselves, they adjourned, after having passed a number of resolutions to the same purport with those, that had been agreed to at the previous meeting; and exhorted in the most earnest manner the communities, which had not sent representatives, if they respected their own consistency, if they wished for the success of a parliamentary reform, and as they tendered the perpetual liberty and prospe. rity of their country, not to let pass that opportunity of effect-' ing the great and necessary confirmation of the constitution.”
The link of unanimity having heen once severed, the fall of the armed associations into difference and contention was much more rapid, than had been their progress to union. The divisions of the volunteers were encouraged by government; and for that purpose discord and turbulence were rather countenanced than checked in many counties, particularly upon the delicate and important expedient of admitting the Catholics to the elective franchise, a question, which it was artfully attempted to connect with the now declining cause of parliamentary reform. Through a long series of years government had never wanted force to quell internal commotions; and it seemed to be now dreaded lest an union of Irishmen should extinguish the old means of creating dissension. The desire of disuniting the volunteers begat inattention to the grievances of the discontented and distressed peasantry of the south: that wretched and lawless rabble once more assumed the style of White Boys: and for some time committed their depredations with impunity, particularly against Kilkenny ; until a stop was put to them by the loyal and vigorous efforts of the Rev. Dr. Troy,* then the Roman
• His Pastoral letter, or Circular Exhortation, may be seen in the Appendix, No. LXXIV. on which occasion the following letter was written to him by command of his excellency.
Dublin Castle, 20th Nov. 1784. “ I read with pleasure your forcible and well-timed Exhortation to " the Roman Catholics of the diocese of Ossory, upon the re-appearance in
Catholic bishop of Ossory, and the clergy of his diocese ; for which successful exertions he received the most satisfactory acknowledgments from government.
As the unanimity of the volunteers diminished, their spirit and exertions abated : something, however, was to be attempt. ed before the meeting of the parliament. On the second of January, 1785, the second meeting of the delegates was had at Dublin, at which were present the representatives of twentyseven counties, and of most of the cities and considerable towns of the kingdom, amounting in the whole to more than 200 persons. Their proceedings appear to have been of the same nature as those before adopted, with this only difference, that in the proposed application to the House of Commons, it was agreed to confine themselves to the most general terms, and to leave the mode of redress as free and open as possible to the consideration of parliament.
The British Parliament sat to the 25th of August, 1784, and met again on the 25th of January, 1785: and from his majesty's speech it appears, that “their first concern was the settlement “of all differences with Ireland. Amongst the objects which “now require consideration, I must particularly recommend to
your earnest attention the adjustments of such points in the “ commercial intercourse between Great Britain and Ireland as “ are not yet finally arranged: the system which will unite both “kingdoms the most closely on principles of reciprocal advan"tage, will, I am persuaded, best ensure the general prosperity “ of my dominion."
The parliament of Ireland met on the 20th of January, 1735, when the lord lieutenant thus addressed them : MY LORDS AND GENTLEMEN,
"I HAVE his majesty's commands to meet u you in parliament, and to desire your advice and co-operation
upon those affairs of importance, which in the present cir“ cumstances of the kingdom require your most serious atten
w in the county of Kilkenny of those execrable rioters formerly called White “ Boys. I thought it a justice due to you to lay it before the loril lieutenant ; " and I have his commands to assure you of the great satisfaction he feels in “ the part you have taken for the preservation of peace, and preventing the
unhappy consequences, which must follow from those wicked and deluded “ people persisting in such outrageous violation of the law. I trust your eni
deavours will have that success which they merit, and which claim the ** esteem of all good men.
“ I have the honour to be, Sir,
" Thomas Orde."