« PreviousContinue »
of a universal and well-organized rebellion, the means proposed by the chiefs to overturn the conftitution.
Originating from Belfast, where principles of a republican tendency had long been cherished, was instituted in Dublin, in the month of November, 1791, the society of United Irishmen, with the immediate view of combining into one political phalanx as many as possible of their countrymen, without any distinction of fe&t, for the effectuating of a change in the government of Ireland; or, as themselves have declared, “ for the purpose of
forwarding a brotherhood of affection, a com* munion of rights, and a union of power among “ Irishmen of every religious persuafion, and there
by to obtain a complete reform in the legislature, “ founded on the principles of civil, political, and
religious liberty.” * Catholic emancipation, and parliamentary reform, were the avowed objects of their pursuit. By the former was understood a total abolition of political distinctions between Romanists and protestants : by the latter they professed to mean a completely democratic house of commons. In the plan which they offered to the confideration of the public, they proposed that the parliament should be annual ; that for the purpose of election, the whole kingdom Mould be divided into three hundred electorates, each formed by a combination of parishes, and all as nearly equal as
Appendix to the report of the secret committee of the house of commons, No. 2.
poflible in point of population; that no qualification with respect to property should be required in the elector nor in the representative; that every male of sound understanding of the full age of twenty-one, and resident in the electorate during the last fix months preceding the election, should be capable of suffrage for a representative; that to be qualified for a feat in the house of commons, a man should be twenty-five years old, resident within the kingdom, and holding neither place nor pension under government, and that each representative should receive a reasonable fipend for his attendance in parliament.
To attain their object by a military force was attempred so early as the year 1792, when money was raised by subscription to arm and embody a . number of men in the metropolis, under the title of national guards, wiih a uniform distinguished with green, which was adopted as the national colour, and buttons inscribed with a harp, the armorial ensign of Ireland, divested of the crowii, to denote, as was supposed, the intended abolition of monarchy. The ninth of December was appointed as a day of general mufter of thele guards, probably with the design to display their forcc, to inspire confidence into their friends, to difpirit their adversaries, or perhaps, as was feared by some, tho’ it appears not probable, to seize even then the city, and commence a civil war. Whatever was their immediate object, government wisely determined to suppress in their commencenient all armed affociations not authoriled by the supreme
power of the state. On the eighth of December, the day immediately preceding that of the intend. ed muster, a proclamation was issued by the lord lieutenant and council, peremptorily interdi&ting all feditious afsemblies, and commanding the magistrates to suppress them by military force, if ad. monition should be found not fufficiently efficaci
Intimidated by the menacing language of this proclamation, and the subsequent martial array of the garrison stationed in the capital, the national guards deferred their meeting, and the long proposed muster never took place. The heads of the society, however, met on the fourteenth following, and published a kind of manifefto or counter-proclamation, exhorting the volunteers to resa me their arms, for the maintenance, as before, of tranquillity throughout the kingdom, against foreign and internal enemies, and advising the protestants of Ireland to choose deputies for provincial assemblies, preparatively to a general convention, which they declared necessary to form a common cause with that of the Romanists. On account of this manifesto, Archibald Hamilton Rowan, who had acted the part of secretary at the above assembly, was arrested in the following month-a gentleman of a very respectable family and fortune, of a moft amiable character, and the warmest philanthropy. That a zealous philanthropy, without a clear judgment and steady refolution to direct it, is pernicious instead of useful to society, is a painful observation. Brought to trial in January, 1794, and found guilty by the jury,
this gentleman was sentenced to pay a fine of five hundred pounds, to be confined two years in the prison of newgate, and afterwards to give a security of four thousand pounds for his good behaviour during seven years. In June, the same year, Doctor William Drennan, a physician, who had been chairman in the same assembly, was on trial acquitted ; but James Napper Tandy, a citizen of Dublin, a most active member of political societies, who had, on arreft, given bail for his appearance, had made his escape out of the kingdom in the preceding year to avoid a trial. A like escape was effected by Mr. Rowan, who by stratagem found egrefs from the prison. His resolution to attempt this flight was prompted, at least preci, pitated, by the arrest of an English clergy man of the name of William Jackson, engaged in a treasonable correspondence with agents of the French government, in which correspondence Mr. Rowan was implicated, and might in consequence have been capitally convicted. Jackson being tried in Dublin, on the 23d of April 1795, and found guilty by the jury, evaded the ignominy of a public execution by suicide, swallowing a dose of poison, and expiring in the bar of the court amid a multitude of people.
To penetrate into the secret motives of the several protestants, who were the prime contrivers and promoters of this conspiracy, which in a short time spread its ramifications : hroughou! the whole island, and greatly endangered the established
government, I have not vanity to pretend. Most
probably private ambițion was the motive of fome, who aspired at an eminence of power and fame through the medium of a revolution, regardless of flaughters and devastations, its inevitable concomitants. A fpirit of patriotism feems to have incited a few, particularly Thomas Addis Emmett, a lawyer of uncommon talents and be. Devolence, who might vainly hope that, without much bloodshed, a new government might be established of fo liberal a nature as to leave no shackles on industry or merit, and render Ireland a flourishing and happy country. Both appear to have been egregiously mistaken in the nature of the instruments, on which they in great measure depended for the accomplishment of their scheme,
While the conductors of the general association were labouring to extinguish all religious antipathies, and to combine their countrymen of all sects indiscriminately into a political brotherhood, the chiefs of the sect, which predominates in zeal and numbers, planned a particular association, apparently co-operating with and constituting a part of the former, but accused by some of entertaining separate views. Encouraged by the previ. ous declarations of several protestant assemblies in their favour, by Edmund Burke and his disciples in Britain, by the oppofitionists in parliament, and by the association of United Irishmen, the leading men among the Romanists of Ireland, ever watchful of events for the advantage of their sect, formed, in 1792, what was called the catholic convention. Edward Byrne, a wealthy merchant, member of a secret committee of Romanists which