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cannot be a fact more illustrative of the state of the country, and of the consequences of these arrangements here briefly noticed, than the circumstance that the London adventurers offered to resign their large property, together with all their mesne profits, in consideration of being reimbursed in their principal, with interest at the rate of three per cent.
To these causes of discontent, others not less effective lent their impulses; great national distress was caused by a bill in the English parliament against the importation of Irish cattle, as yet the main article of Irish trade. For three years this unhappy measure continued to add to the accumulations of discontent by the aggravation of commercial embarrassment and the consequent diffusion of want and ruin. England itself soon felt the inconvenience and the insane enactment was repealed. In some respects the disposition which had produced this law may be said to have been beneficial. The prohibition against the exportation of Irish wool, though felt as a temporary grievance, under the sagacious care of Ormonde, gave rise to the manufacture of woollen cloths. That necessity, which, as Leland justly observes, "breaks through all laws and restraints," led the Irish to a clandestine trade with foreign ports, from which great benefits were derived.
But the interests of Ireland were at that moment, (1670,) light in the scale against the paltry ends of court intrigue, and the base parasites who surrounded that profligate and unprincipled monarch, Charles II. The duke of Ormonde, whose credit and influence were identified with the best interests of his country, was an object of hate and persecution to the duke of Buckingham, who laboured to displace him, and succeeded in the attempt. The disfavour (we may not say disgrace) of Ormonde, is not altogether to be attributed to the personal designs of this crafty and profligate individual: there was a strong underworking in England in favour of the Roman catholic party. Of the particulars of this the reader may expect a full account at a future stage of our task, we shall here only preserve the chain of this general statement.
The secret leaning of the king to the Roman church is now fully known. His brother, the duke of York, was a less disguised adherent, and the head of the Roman catholic party in England; the secret of his religion was but formal. The court party, for the most part indifferent to any form of religion, were favourable to a system which essentially seemed to involve the re-establishment of arbitrary power: the cause of Rome was the cause of prerogative. But there was in England a popular spirit, not to be braved by the most cautious manifestation of these dispositions, and Ireland was the appropriate stage for the first experiments of the court. With this view lord Berkley was sent over, with instructions to give every sanction and encouragement to a party which has seldom been slow to seize a fair occasion. The Roman catholic prelates at once flung aside caution and concealment; they silenced an effort made by the more moderate of the clergy to disclaim the doctrine of the pope's power over the civil government of nations: they celebrated their ordinances with ostentatious solemnity, and it is related that Talbot, the Roman catholic archbishop of Dublin, applied for and obtained a loan of the plate of Dublin castle for the celebration of the mass. Their request was granted with a courteous message from secretary Leighton, that he hoped the mass might ere long be celebrated in the Cathedral of Christ's Church. The doctrine of the absolute power of the pope divided the Roman catholics, among whom there was, as there has ever since been, a strong but silent party opposed to extreme views. But though this party now expressed its opinions, and though the protestants, whose fears were excited to the last degree, joined their voice in deprecating the dangerous policy which the government had manifestly adopted, Berkley turned a deaf ear to all remonstrance. In vain Primate Margetson endeavoured to open a way for the complaints of the protestants—in vain Ormonde remonstrated—the castle was only open to the party which favoured the designs of the court of Charles. Berkley went on resolutely, but insidiously, to pull down the outworks of the church of England, or to fill them with hostile arms. The magistracy was transferred—the corporations were attempted to be thrown open—a common council of the popular party at once placed the city at the mercy of its enemies. A last step remained; the silent and gradual change of the composition of the army would complete the triumph of the court over the country and the constitution. A commission of inquiry, of which the ostensible object was justice, but the real design to effect a similar change with respect to property, completed the plan of the court and the alarm of the protestant party both in England and Ireland.
The discontents in England assumed a formidable attitude—the parliament spoke out—the profligate court of Charles was intimidated and wavered in its course—a change of policy was partially adopted— lord Essex, a man of firmness and rigid justice, was sent over in place of Berkley, but with perplexing and contradictory instructions, which he had the resolution to disregard where they were irreconcilable with his sense of right. A favourable change for the protestant party took place, but it was neither so decided or satisfactory as the state of England now made desirable. The duke of Ormonde was once more taken into favour: it was felt that his popularity in Ireland was necessary to give weight to the government and confidence to England. In Ireland his presence everywhere collected the aristocracy of the country; and while the castle was neglected, all that was respectable for rank, property, or influence, surrounded his abode.
In this difficult position of affairs, the duke of Ormonde exerted his usual ability, and there is reason enough to think that his success would have answered the temperate, wise, and firm course he pursued. But, as usually happens after the excessive depression of a great and powerful party, the balance of the political scale is only regained with a violent and dangerous reaction. The protestant feelings of England, slow but sure in their concentration, assumed at length that aggregated character which makes a people formidable to their rulers. The thunder clouds of revolution stood upon the horizon, and the venal and licentious court trembled at their awful mutterings from afar. An incident called forth the first expressions of the popular feeling; this was the celebrated popish plot, the fabrication of a mean and infamous impostor, but suggested by the plain indications of a state of the national spirit, which rendered this imposture an echo to the fears and suspicions of the country. The allegation of a popish plot fell like a spark into gunpowder; and, for a season, the voice of common sense could not be heard in the uproar of accusation: the court itself was forced away in the torrent, and compelled to feign acquiescence in the fear and indignation of the people.
The effect was fatal to the policy of Ormonde. If the English were roused into a state of fear, for which there was comparatively little ground—in Ireland, where this fear, though unfounded in fact, was not incompatible with the state of things, the terror and exasperation was unavoidable. We shall not here pursue the course of incidents which tended to baffle the wisest resources of human policy, they belong to a further stage of this work. The duke of Ormonde adopted the course which deliberate reflection will approve—taking the necessary precautions of constraint, and avoiding extreme and rash applications of punishment. The protestant party, like every popular party, was discontented with an administration which fell short of their fears. The court party with dexterous readiness availed itself of complaints proceeding from their opponents, to throw discredit on an obnoxious lieutenant. The desire for an Irish insurrection, to promote the schemes of Shaftesbury, was disappointed by his prudence, and this was enough to awaken the clamour of court persecution.
The eventful era, which gave the next great impulse to the affairs of Ireland, is not to be immediately traced to any internal disposition of the people, or to any state of parties or combination of incidents in this country, but must mainly be referred to their origin in the events of English history. It was the direct cause of the revolution of 1688. The character of James II. was feeble and unadapted to the time; he was devoid of judgment and resolution, yet obstinate in his determinations, and bigoted in his opinions. He was one of those unhappy compounds of weakness and inflexibility, which is not very uncommonly met with in the ordinary crowd: obstinate to brave dangers and incur evils, while they are distant and might be averted by prudence, from an incapacity to apprehend those indications by which wiser minds are warned; and destitute of the moral firmness to face or the steadiness and prudence to resist them when their presence awakens the virtue and wisdom of other men. Wavering, and perverse, he committed every error to which the emergencies of his short and hapless reign exposed him—giving offence in succession to every party, and keeping alive the fears of all. It is not our object to trace the steps of his progress in this prefatory essay. The fears of the protestants excited a spirit of resistance in England, and every class appealed with an anxious eye to William, prince of Orange, who was married to the princess Mary, the heiress presumptive to the English throne. Matters might indeed have remained in this position until the ordinary course of succession might have called William to take the helm in a more dangerous and difficult crisis, when the growing discontents and fears of the country must have accumulated to a frightful amount, and led to some different result, not now to be precisely computed. But it was providentially ordered otherwise; the birth of a male heir to the British crown decided the conduct of William. Hitherto, though his sense of compassion for the people and duty to a great cause had strongly inclined him to step in to save a kingdom, over which he hoped to rule in the course of a few years; yet the same reason also had some influence in deterring him from any act which might be interpreted into a hostile movement, while such might be the means of impeding, or in some way embarrassing his pretensions: for these being merely in right of his princess, might easily become unpopular. The birth of a son to James decided his course; there was no longer any clinging of selfinterest to silence the appeal of the English people to the great leader of the protestant cause in Europe. He landed in England, and the feeble James was deserted at once by all; the army declared against him; his nearest friends in discharging the last offices of kindness seemed to consider him as deposed; the sense of the nation expressed itself unanimously. He abdicated his throne and fled.
This crisis demanded the entire strength of no feeble hand: the succession of an infant would have necessarily committed the state to the distraction, intrigue, and strife of parties: and both the aristocracy and commons, as well as the great leader who was now called deliverer by all England, saw that there was but one course to be adopted. William ascended the vacant throne at the call of the people: and thus a great revolution, which may be said to have commenced with the accession of the Stuarts, was completed with their deprivation.
In Ireland the numerical relation of parties was different. And the passions and prejudices of men were more alive; a long continuation of those causes of civil disunion, most likely to foster the worst passions, had operated to effect the complete separation of the two great parties which composed the people. The elements of contention were separately concentrated—a state inconsistent with national tranquillity. These hapless conditions we have already shown to have been in some measure the inevitable result of circumstances and political necessity, a principle hitherto insufficiently allowed for in Irish history; so that we cannot avoid preserving its application in every stage as we advance. Cordially concurring in the great principle of toleration, and in deprecating all political disability on the mere ground of religious opinion, we feel compelled to repeat, that the civil disabilities, at that period imposed upon the members of the church of Rome, were not without reasonable grottnds in political justice. We do not mean to affirm what course a more long-sighted view of expediency might have adopted; the events of human policy are far beyond human wisdom to calculate with any certainty; we only speak of justice, of which the first principle is the right of self-preservation, as essential to a state as to an individual. During the reigns of Elizabeth, James, Charles, or his successors, it was not any question as to the doctrinal views or the discipline of churches that excited the hostility of opposing sects; these questions, it is true, arose and were kept alive and imbittered by other considerations; but these were purely political. At that time the secular ascendancy of the court of Rome had not been reduced to a shadow in Europe—the nations of which were yet but recently and doubtfully struggling free from ecclesiastical despotism. In Ireland this power was at the time making its last stand; and maintained a preponderating influence, which was (apparently at least,) incompatible with the civil constitution then in its growth. The country was filled with ecclesiastical agents, who were either foreign or educated in Spain and Italy, and by no tacit or concealed influence endeavouring to establish the supremacy of a power, then understood to be formidable in its claims to political interference, and vested with powers to assert and maintain those claims. Such were the real grounds for the maintenance of that protestant ascendancy, of which we are not desirous to say more than our immediate purpose demands. We shall only here add, that these remarks are quite independent of the consideration of the manifold wrongs and prejudices with which all coercive policy is sure to be accompanied. The ascendancy of a party, however it may be required by just policy, must ever have an operation distinct from that policy. Irish parties were, at the period of which we speak, little to be commended tor the justice or wisdom of their views; and, looking to the crowd, were actuated by no high or disinterested love of their altars, principles, or civil rights: they were little better than the factions at an Irish fair. It is indeed to be regretted, that the liberalism of modern history too often suppresses the essential principles of political justice, for the satisfaction of a great popular party, which needs no such ridiculous flattery.
The grounds of apprehension here noticed, were nevertheless both distinctly intelligible to all the more informed and leading minds of the day, but they were also accompanied by circumstances adapted to give increased alarm. One class of indications had become familiar; they who had witnessed the incidents which had immediately prepared the way for the insurrection of 1641, had been taught to look with an apprehensive eye upon the movements of the popular party, and to understand the strenuous and simultaneous efforts which that party and its abettors in official station were making to obtain possession of all the posts of civil or military strength: when two distinct and powerful parties contend for power, the obvious preliminary to any effective demonstration of force, and therefore peculiarly to be sought in the history of Irish parties. The measures of James in Ireland for the depression of the protestant party, had been more decided than could have been ventured in England; Tyrconnel had changed the composition of the army, by gradually dismissing the protestant officers and soldiers, and replacing them from the adverse party; Clarendon attempted the same change in the bench and council; the university was roughly invaded; and the corporations were attempted to be thrown open. Such were, in brief, the grounds of alarm to the protestant party, of whom the crowd considered their rights invaded; while the better part, looking more justly on these proceedings, saw that their liberty and property were endangered. The act of settlement had received the confirmation of time, and a revolution of property was only to be effected by new injustice, and the repetition of atrocities hitherto secular in the periodical oscillations of Irish faction.
These causes of discontent and terror reached an alarming height; their effect was increased by vague rumours, as well as by insidious efforts to create alarm. The fearful report of a conspiracy to massacre the protestant* of Ireland was circulated, and was rendered terrific by