Page images
PDF
EPUB

same wants; but equally doubtless is it, that this system of secret combination and riot, was the greatest foe that O'Connell and his party ever encountered; that it required exertion of every description—threat, entreaty, persuasion—to moderate it; and that it was only when the virulence of the evil was modified and subdued, that he acquired his vast influence over associations of his countrymen, whose acts were open to the light of day, and done in presence of the world and of the law.

In these circumstances, on the 23rd June, Mr. (now Sir Robert) Peel then Secretary for Ireland, introduced a bill “ to provide for the better execution of the laws in Ireland, by appointing superintending magistrates and additional constables in counties, in certain cases.” This bill gave the Lord-Lieutenant a power, when disturbances existed in any county or part of a county, to proclaim that district to be in a disturbed state, and thereon to appoint a superintending magistrate, and special constable. It at once passed. Encouraged by the alacrity of the House, another bill of a more coercive tendency was immediately introduced by the same gentleman. This was, to a considerable extent, a renewal of the insurrection act of 1807. It enabled the Lord-Lieutenant, on the representation of seven magistrates, to issue a proclamation, commanding the inhabitants of the district to remain within their houses after sunset, empowering two magistrates to try those who should be found abroad without good cause, and to transport them for seven years. Trial by jury was to be dispensed with if necessary-in other words, if convenient. This bill was passed with very little opposition, and was, froin time to time renewed at convenience.

Thus was pursued a series of irregular measures, which, whatever pacifying effect they may have had at the time, have tended permanently to demoralize and disorganize the country, by teaching the people practical injustice, and urging them to make war against the laws. The people, for instance, were in the habit of looking on trial by jury as their right, and as much a constitutional right as the existence of Parliament

[ocr errors]

was; perhaps more so—for it came nearer to their own doors and was one of which, at that time especially, they saw more of the practical working. When the Parliament, therefore declared they should be deprived of the right of jury trial what would so readily appear, to them, as that the parliament was acting, not as a legislature, but simply as the enemy of Ireland? The Member of Parliament had his constitutional privileges; so had the Irish peasant; the former takes away those of the latter, and cannot, therefore, have his own much respected. When the law is weak, it puts itself in force by making war on the citizen, instead of punishing him. This is the case in all barbarous nations—it is their nature. Until civilization has reached a country, it canuot have a legislature making equal laws, and strictly enforcing them. In these nations then, the government fights against the citizen--the citizen frequently escapes punishment by his resistance; but, if he be overcome and caught in the toils of his enemy, then he will be punished as an enemy is, without any regard to justice. Such was the state in Scotland during the reigns of the Jameses. Offenders often defied the law; but, when they were overcome, the measure of punishment allotted to them was generally beyond all parallel with the crime.

The extension of such a system to Ireland, has, undoubtedly, tended to barbarize it, or rather to keep it in the state of barbarism in which the penal laws have left it. The government could not be at the trouble of giving every man who joined in a breach of the peace the proper punishment of his offence; therefore, it must, to save trouble and expense, punish every man who may be in the situation to commit a breach of the peace; and so a man might be transported for being out at night, no matter how innocent his occupation. Again, juries were found clumsy and inconvenient, and not expeditious enough; and so, instead of the jury system being reformed and carefully regulated, it was decided as Ireland was a country not worth taking much trouble with - that it should do for a time without juries. This species of rough legislation has often been made use of towards Ireland and, if we can judge from experience, each such enactment only leaves room for another.

During this period, and until the visit of George IV. to Ireland, little has to be recorded of the Catholics as a body. In 1819, some assistance was received from the liberal portion of the Irish Protestants. A meeting was held in the Rotunda, and it was determined that it should be ornamented by what Brougham calls the blossom of society, the peerage. The Duke of Leinster headed the aristocracy of rank, and the name of Grattan was among the aristocracy of intellect. The exhibition was more remarkable for the virulence of Orangeism which it called forth, than for any thing it positively accomplished. The mayor of Dublin took the chair. Immediately at the commencement of the meeting, an Orange alderman, heading a crowd of his faction-as large a one as could be procured, yet not enough to overwhelm, only capable of disturbing the meeting-called on the chairman to dissolve the meeting. This, of course, was resisted; but the secondary point, of raising almost inextricable confusion, was gained. It was in a great measure due to the firmness of Mr. Wallace, who charged those who moved for an adjournment with their proper term, of disturbers of a meeting with which they had nothing to do, that order was restored, and the intruders were compelled to retreat.

The visit of the king to Ireland in 1821, was viewed by the Irish Catholics as an event likely to be of paramount importance. It appeared to them as a forerunner of new hopes--as a visit of kindness and conciliation preparatory to some great act of justice worthy of a “royal” mind. We are accustomed to characterize the sanguine temper of the Irish by many superlative terms: but to those who witnessed the manifestations of the canny Scots,” in 1822, it cannot be said that any effect whatever, on the minds of a nation, could be too extravagant to be attributed to the benign influence of the countenance of George IV. The whole country—Dublin its centre, in particular – was filled with royal glee. The hot discords of Orangeman and Catholic were forgotten, and Mr. O'Connell

shook hands with the corporation. So firm was the trust in the countenance of his majesty, that not a word of grievance was uttered during the visit. Like the Arab hosts, the hospitable nation would not disturb the placidity of the guest, by a hint of the evils which were gnawing its vitals. Mr. O'Connell and Mr. O'Gorman, at the head of the Catholics, proffered a testimony of the loyal devotion of that body. At length, the pageant passed off, and the amount of the royal beneficence was condensed into a letter to the Lord Lieutenant, in which he expressed his entire approbation of the manner in which all persons acting in civil and military situations in the city of Dublin and its neighbourhood had performed their several duties, during the period of his majesty's residence in that part of the kingdom. He instructed the secretary to say that the testimonies of dutiful and affectionate attachment he had received from all classes of his Irish subjects had made the deepest impression on his mind, and very kindly advised that every cause of irritation should be avoided and discountenanced, and mutual forbearance and good-will observed and encouraged. A piece of moral advice, not unlike the remark of a little princess of the same august race, who, when she heard of the calamities of the poor in one of the bad seasons, is said to have suggested, that they might surely save themselves from starying by being content with spiced biscuits.

A bitter disappointment is proverbial, as rousing new energies; such a disappointment, the Catholics had received. They had trusted themselves unconditionally in the hands of a prince, and met the usual reward of those that do so. He might have been frowned on by the hostile multitude, or impeded on his way by addresses; he might have seen on all sides, evidences of discontent, but the miserable tried to forget their wretchedness for a time, or at least strove to hide it, and the justly discontented left their grievances untold. The Catholics had now at least had enough to teach them the value of concession and submission, and two years saw the establishment of a different order of measures, from any previously attempted.

Previously to the arrival of the king in Ireland, a mcat sin. zular scheme was concoted by a certain number of Catholics and Protestants, amongst the former of whom, was Mr. O'Connell, for the purpose of effecting what was called a conciliation of all parties, the foundation of which was to be laid at a public dinner to be given in honour of his majesty's coronation, and as he was then approaching the shores of Ireland, that on his arrival, he might behold his Irish subjects in a state of amity and peace with each other, For a considerable time, the Lord Mayor of Dublin, the staunchest of the Protestants, and Mr. O'Connell the staunchest of the Catholics, had been heaping upon each other the most virulent abuse, frequently departing from every courtesy which marks the conduct of the gentleman, and hesitating not at the adoption of any means by which the weakness of the opposite party could be exhibited. Now the storm was on a sudden to be allayed. The Lord Mayor was to keep the Protestants in order, and Mr. O'Connell, whose influence over the Catholics was paramount, specially undertook that no aggressive act should be committed by the Catholics. The union of all parties effected on the one side by a renunciation on the part of the corporation of degrading factious ceremonies, levelled chiefly at the Catholics was met, after considerable opposition from his own party, by Mr. O'Connell in the spirit of candour and peace on the part of the Catholics of Dublin, thereby consolidating the public feeling of the people of Ireland, and directing their combined energies to do homage to the king, in the hope of convincing his majesty of a political truth, uniformily disregarded by his then ministers, namely, that the confidence of a nation is easier acquired by reposing upon its affections, than by jealously watching and captiously controlling its spirit of action.

It having been resolved upon by a deputation of Catholics and Protestants that a conciliation dinner should be given, a meeting was accordingly held at the Royal Exchange, Dublin, for the purpose of choosing stewards, and making the other

« PreviousContinue »