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inferred by Leland, that the parliaments were called and held by the lords-deputy at will. The same is to be inferred from the statute 2 Elizabeth, in which is stated, that before the act of Poyninga, liberty was given to the governors to call parliaments at their pleasure. This right was exercised in every period, without being questioned by any' party, or controlled by any intervention of authority. It is quite evi-* dent, how completely it placed the parliament at the disposal of tho deputy; especially if it be considered, that from the great inconvenience of attending, it was in his power to select his members at will. Every class of the people were the sufferers: the parliament were used either to sanction extortions, to serve the purposes of faction, or to oppress individuals. The barons, whose attendance was more commonly forced to place them in the deputy's power than for any other end, were exposed to the dangers from leaving their homes unguarded. The meetings of parliament were, in fact, nothing very different from those well known courts and commissions by which the monarchs of England to so late a period exercised a power above the laws of England. Against this great source of abuse there was a long discontent which grew in extent and earnestness, with the intelligence and property of the people; redress was sought and granted, for it could not well be denied. But the corrupt influences to which the parliament was a main support, were not to be set aside by statutes; and there was a real necessity for some such instrument of rule, in a country not quite mature enough to be governed by the mere control of law. Thus, though at different times laws were made restricting the meetings and powers of parliament, these laws were uniformly dropped in oblivion. Other abuses grew up, which threw absurdity upon the very name of parliament, as applied to these irregular assemblies, which became altogether reduced to instruments of tyranny and faction. The laws of one meeting were repealed in the next, as opposite parties or rival families succeeded each other in a transient ascendancy. Nor in the long interval between the statute 34 Henry VI. and Poynings' law, can we see any principles but those of castle dictation represented in the Irish parliaments.
It was in vain that the wisest monarchs who sat upon the British throne, and the best intentioned statesmen who attempted to compose the troubled waters of Irish anarchy, for centuries endeavoured to arrest, neutralize, or convert to good this corrupt and disorderly engine of misrule, that some statutes limited the sessions, and others reduced the power of imposing subsidies upon the commons: the factious nobles, unchecked by any efficient control, were reckless of statutes, which could not be enforced without an army; and the idle restraint soon dropped into quiet oblivion. Lords-deputy could at best convert the abuse to the ends of government, and maintain their own authority by a compromise, in which the interests of the people were sacrificed to those of the turbulent, intriguing, and unruly lords of the pale. The parliament was but a post of vantage for the alternate missiles of opposite parties in the game of faction. At length the evil arose to its extreme height—the factions of York and Lancaster made this mockery of a parliament ridiculous—by multiplication every party had its parliament which made statutes and defied all law for itself. Such were the growing' disorders which long continued to gather power, until the English pale was nearly swallowed up in the surrounding sea of barbarism; while the Geraldines and Butlers, regardless of all other interests, contended for pre-eminence.
While the feebleness of the English monarchs, or the difficulties of their home affairs, left Ireland exposed to neglect, these evils arose to an alarming height; and it is quite apparent, that there was no saving strength in the government to ward off the extremity of a ruinous lapse into barbarism. The prosperous vigour of that alert and vigilant prince, Edward IV., gave the first decided check to this ruinous descent.
From this, a succession of prosperous reigns was destined to restore the prosperity of the pale j the interests of the country, and the main obstacles, which, till then, had retarded its advance, began to be in some degree understood on both sides of the Channel. And if abuse and disorder still, but too successfully, continued to maintain their station, yet many well-aimed and not wholly unsuccessful efforts were made to suppress and counteract them. The appointment of Sir Edward Poynings in 1494, was the result of an express and well understood design to bring down the crest of every faction, and reduoe the turbulent and refractory barons to the state of subjects; and as parliament had now for a long time been the arena of their contentions, it was there their power was to be checked. A general reform of abuses was to suppress the oppressions of ministerial agents, and to raise the condition of the people; but the crowning measure of this administration was the great and essential reform, which corrected the constitutional defects of the parliament. For this purpose, after a full and careful scrutiny into the state and history of the country, after hearing every representation, and thoroughly investigating every complaint, he summoned that celebrated parliament at Drogheda, which was the first step towards the erection of a legislative assembly in any way deserving of the name in Ireland, and which, by its wise enactments, left many permanent benefits to the country. Among these, one demands our especial notice—the law for the regulation of future parliaments. We insert the important limitations for the benefit of the reader:—" Item, At the request of the commons of the land of Ireland, be it ordained, enacted, and established, that at the next parliament that there shall be holden by the king's commandment and licence, wherein among other things the king's government intendeth to have a general resumption of his whole revenues, since the last day of the reign of king Edward II., no parliament be holden hereafter in the said land, but at such seasons as the king's lieutenant and council there first do certify the king under the great seal of that land, the causes and considerations, and all such acts as them seemeth should pass in the same parliament, and such causes, &c. &c., affirmed by the king and his council to be good and expedient for that land, and his licence thereupon, as well in affirmation of the said causes and acts, as to summon the said parliament under his great seal of England had and obtained: that done, a parliament to be had and holden after the form and effect afore rehearsed, And if any parliament be holden in that land hereafter contrary to the form and provision aforesaid, it be deemed void, and of none effect in law."
By these provisions it is evident, that two main evils were guarded against; the obtrusive influence of the barons, and the tyrannical usurpations of the local government. It was a matter of minor importance from what source, or in what spirit legislation might be conceived, so long'as it was to pass the scrutiny of a vigilant and disinterested council. There was not of course, and will never be, any infallible security in the best constituted legislature against unwise and unjust laws; but assuredly, by this enactment, the best safeguard which the age afforded, was brought to bear—an instrument, immature for good, was secured from evil—its infant steps were guided, and it learned its functions under the needful support of a fostering control.
The purpose for which we have noticed these facts of our parliamentary history, does not demand that we should pursue that history throughout the period in which we shall frequently have to meet these facts in detail as they occur. Our only present object having been to guard the understanding of our candid readers, against the fallacious estimate which recent historical writers seem to have entertained of the importance of our ancient parliaments; we may here generally observe on the history of Poynings' law, that the nobles of Ireland long continued to retain too much influence to be set aside by the clause of an enactment. It became a matter first of courtesy and then of right, to call in the advice and obtain the sanction of the nobles for the laws to be transmitted to England: the statute was but loosely worded, and one convenient evasion followed another, until abuses rose which it was the business of further enactments and declarations to correct. Sometimes the balance of encroachment preponderated for the lords, sometimes for the crown, and latterly for the commons, according to the varying vicissitudes of the successive reigns between Henry VII., and Charles II. The declaratory act, however, of Philip and Mary, is to be regarded as having fixed the law, and given to the Irish parliament the form which it preserved during this period.
As this subject approaches one of those numerous Irish questions on which much controversy has prevailed, we cannot, before proceeding further, too strongly recall to our reader that the reflections we have here offered, are in no way connected with the further question, once so violently agitated, as to the dependence of the Irish parliament upon that of England. On this question, now happily of no practical importance, we believe that there is no disagreement; and we shall notice it more directly hereafter among the literary memoirs of the following period. Our object in this introduction has been only to illustrate some principles, of which the application has been too little observed.
The parliaments of Ireland from the beginning and throughout, independent of the parliaments of England, were found by certain experience, to be unmeet instruments for legislation, without die intervention of far other more disinterested, wiser,and more effective powers: they could only be available for any good end, so far as they could be governed by a discretion more just, temperate, and beneficially directed, ucording to the then existing interests of the entire country. It was
necessary that the parliament which represented no constitutional interest of any kind should be reclaimed from its subordination to factious and private aims, and made available for the purposes of government; there was but one way; and to establish this was the real intent of the law we have so far noticed here.
Such was the legal constitution of the Irish parliament, when James's first parliament was convened, under circumstances which gave to the measure, in some degree, the character of a new and hazardous experiment. The constituency was altered—the dominant factions were remotely different—a new and vast power had been introduced—a popular spirit had also been called into life; the hands by which this vast change had been effected, were unconscious of the new and vast elements they had thrown into the caldron. The period was one of new and vast importance. Ireland had, for the first time, received the elements of constitutional formation. The first dim twilight of civil order and national equalization began to glimmer above the eastern steep. The laws and institutions of England were established as those of Ireland, to the full extent that was within the limits of possibility; nor was there thenceforward any drawback upon the advance of the country, but those which originated in its own inherent constitution. These were, however, large enough to be all but fatal, and are such as to suggest the suspicion that the policy of James was premature; and that a long period of legislative and administrative government, should have preceded the use, and prepared the way for this great national change. The parliament was convened, with all the evils, and without any of the merits of a representative body: its election and its meeting were the violent effort and disgraceful contention of two parties, neither of which entertained any sense of the higher importance of the occasion, or any consideration of the interests of the nation thus newly launched into a stormy existence. Whatever, indeed, may be contended in favour of the general policy of introducing the institutions of a free and civilized state, into a country absolutely constituted of contentious elements, and yet in the very infancy of political development; it can hardly be denied with any sincerity, that the juncture was adverse in the extreme to the convention of an assembly of parties which could only come together to clash. The government, however, only looked to the general allaying of discontents, both by the public exposure of unreasonable complaints, and the redress of just ones; and probably considered that a parliamentary sanction could alone justify, and give permanence to the dispositions they had made, and still contemplated. All parties looked forward with earnest hopes or fears to the event; since the last previous parliament, twenty-seven years before, circumstances had also occurred to increase the effective strength of such an assembly. The addition of seventeen counties, and of numerous boroughs, and the extension of the English jurisdiction to the whole of Ireland, had imparted the character which it had hitherto wanted, of a national representation. That such was the design of the government was publicly made known, and the country was invited to make known its complaints, and all persons were allowed to submit their views for the public good and the improvement of the country. No sect or party was excluded, or no grievance was suppressed by any injunction of authority. Bat it is hardly to be supposed that the real state of public feeling was known. Such, indeed, is ever the fatal obstacle to governments, surrounded as they are, and ever were, by the flatteries and misrepresentations of party. Of course, every faction had its own notions of the interest of the country, and was prepared to strive for the assertion of its own illusions and interests. The Roman Catholic party, by far the most considerable in the country, was, and not without ground, apprehensive of the designs of government. They inferred some intention of some new measures of a penal nature against themselves. Already subject to penalties which were gratuitously harsh, because, both in their conception and execution, they fell far short of any purpose, but to awaken resentment, it was but natural to expect stronger and more effective enactments. Their party was to some extent called into existence, by the measures which government had found reason to employ, but never had the severity or firmness to carry into effect. Under the alarming apprehensions thus excited, they had recourse to the most strenuous exertions to secure the balance of the elections in their favour. Six Roman Catholic peers, Gormanston, Slane, Killeen Trimleston, Dunsany, and Lowth, addressed a remonstrance to king James. They complained that the laws designed to be enacted, had not been previously communicated to the Irish peers; they expressed the general fear communicated by the creation of so many new boroughs, which seemed to indicate some meditated exertion of government influence, unlikely to be acceptable to the existing constituency; they represented the unfavourable impressions likely to be made at home and abroad, by such arbitrary courses; and prayed that the creation of new boroughs should be deferred till the course of extended wealth should serve to call for such privileges. This remonstrance, unfortunately, received no notice from the king. We are far from thinking that the desired concessions were expedient, for the preponderance of a popular party could not have been in any respect salutary; but a more conciliatory mode of proceeding would have had the most beneficial influence. But the remonstrance was little suited to the arbitrary spirit of the time, and it was considered in itself as an act of contumacious opposition. The government sent its agents into every province, and neglected no means, then in use, to obtain the desired majority. The clergy of the church of Rome were not absent from their post; they represented the sacredness of the cause, and denounced the censures of the church. The people were also persuaded that Tyrone was preparing his return with an efficient army, which must secure their triumph. These influences, supported by every other resource by which popular spirit is roused or coerced, secured the election of a considerable party, who were pledged to the single object of defeating the government, and entirely frustrating its measures.
The popular party made their entrance into Dublin, with a demonstration of wealth and strength that announced their triumph and awakened alarm. Their retinues were, in many instances, not less than two hundred followers, and the aggregate must have amounted to a large body. As, however, it was their purpose to raise difficulties of every kind, they affected the apprehension of danger from the