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All these good thoughts are in consonance with what our author wrote in his Historical Tract on the Causes why Ireland was not reduced to obedience till the present happy reign. In that admirable Essay, he ransacks the records of antiquityreveals the policy of ancient Rome—of Agricola in Britainof William the Norman—and insists, if the like wise and statesmanlike course had been originally pursued in Ireland ; i.e., if the laws of England had been freely and fully communicated to the whole Irish people, these laws would have been gladly embraced, and the two nations have been incorporated and united; by this noble method, Ireland would have been entirely conquered, planted, and civilized.
Another profound observation was made by this just man; namely, that the grant of lands made to the first great settlers created lords, was infinitely too large. “These men became petty kings, and could not endure that any kings should reign in Ireland but themselves; nay, they could hardly endure that the Crown of England itself should have any jurisdiction or power over them.” Davis is severe upon the pride, covet- ousness, and ill-council of the English planted in Ireland; then, as to the effect produced by Irish laws or customs, now to be extirpated, nothing can be more convincing than the argument by which the author traces the evil to its source.
Sir J. Davis quotes an extract from statute of the 18th of Henry VII. :—“The people of this land, both English and Irish, out of a natural pride, did ever love and desire to be governed by great persons.” And he adds—“Therefore I may here justly take occasion to note, that first the absence of the kings of England, and next, the absence of those great lords who were inheritors—of those mighty seigniories of Leinster, Ulster, Connaught, and Munster—have been main causes why this kingdom was not reduced in so many ages.”
The principle of the Act against Absentees was considered
wise by Sir John Davis; and he recounts with satisfaction all the seizures made of lands of great absentees under its enactments. And it was insisted by this eminent man, after a review of all which had been done before, that more was accomplished in nine years of the reign of King James I., than in four hundred years previously—more especially by the establishing of public justice in every part of the kingdom. Sir J. Davis and Sir Edward Pelham were the first Justices of Assize that ever sat in Tyrone and Tyrconnel, and the result of their circuit is thus related by the former :
6 If somewhat distasteful to the Irish lords, sweet and most welcome to the common people, who, albeit they were rude and barbarous, yet did they quickly apprehend the difference between the tyranny and oppression under which they lived before, and the just government and protection which we promised unto them for the time to come.” And he adds—" For the truth is, that in time of peace the Irish are more fearful to offend the law than the English, or any other nation whatsoever.” The same opinion of the Irish is expressed by Chancellor Allen to King Harry—“If well governed,” he said, “the Irish would be found as civil, politic, and active as any other nation.”
The policy observed in the plantation of Ulster is narrated by Sir J. Davis :
“ Again : his Majesty did not utterly exclude the natives out of this plantation, with a purpose to root them out, as the Irish were excluded out of the first English colonies, but made a mixed plantation of British and Irish, that they might grow up together in one nation. And when this plantation hath taken root, and been fixed and settled but a few years, with the favour and blessing of God, it will secure the peace of Ireland—assure it to the Crown of England for ever, and finally make it a civil, and a rich, a mighty, and a flourishing kingdom.”
Truly, the prophecy of the patriot has come to pass. Ulster is civil, rich, mighty, and flourishing, equal in itself to several continental kingdoms. It was in the reign of James the famous work was begun, which continued prosperously, and ended successfully. The towns enfranchised chiefly lay in Ulster; and the descendants of the brave and industrious men, who changed the wilderness into a garden, continue to hold, with a constancy never to be too highly praised, the opinions, and to practise the virtues of their forefathers. They are prosperous because they are industrious, and they are powerful because they are united and brave. Our duty, as Irishmen, is not merely to wish, but to labour, that an equal degree of prosperity may pervade every corner of the island, and that our countrymen of all classes, so highly gifted by nature, may equal their neighbours in wealth, in wisdom, in the manly virtues, and in the cultivation of the useful arts of peace. It is a fact worthy our notice, that in the time of Elizabeth and James, there were but few Protestants amongst the old English settlers in Ireland, and fewer still amongst the native Irish; so that a reformation was needed, no less in religion than in politics. There had been no Parliament held for twenty-seven years before the fifth year of the reign of James I., which year was the first in which James called a Parliament. I suspect the advisers of Elizabeth feared to call a Parliament, because the Protestant party was so weak. James added strength to that party by his colonization, and by his corporations, especially in Ulster.
On their assembling to choose a Speaker, it was found that the numbers of the Roman Catholic party were 101, and of those of the Protestant party, 125. There was an actual scuffle in the chairing of the Speaker. We may observe that about this time, the old distinction of native Irish, degenerate English, English of blood, and English of the Pale, were
merged and forgotten in the general denomination of Catholics; while they regarded the new-comers as aggressors, and did not like them better, because they feared their superior intelligence, capacity for business, spirit of enterprise, and courage. We may regret the fact, but it ought not to surprise us.
This Parliament, of which Sir John Davis was appointed Speaker, met the 18th May, 1613, and was continued to 11th October, 1614.
The laws actually passed by this Irish Parliament, and in practical operation, are few.
A strong interest; however, must always attach itself to the perusal of the first chapter of the Irish Statute Book of this reign, denominated, “A most joyful and just recognition of his Majesties' lawfull, undoubted, and absolute right and title to the crown of Ireland.” The language is unlike that of our modern statutes; the style is historical; and when read, it should be remembered, with solemn reflection that it was followed in a few years by the most dreadful rebellions or civil wars that ever desolated a kingdom.
Using the most fervid expressions of loyalty, the Lords Spiritual and Temporal, and the Commons, in the Parliament assembled, declare, “And thereunto we most humbly and faithfully doe submit and oblige us, our heyres, and posterities, for ever, untill the last drop of our blood be spent.”
That was succeeded by the Act for the attainder of the great Earl of Tyrone, Rory, late Earl of Tyrconnel, Sir Cahir O’Dogherty, knight, and others. Then a number of old statutes, offensive to the Irish, were repealed in the lump, upon the ground, as recited, “ That all the natives and inhabitants of this kingdom, without difference and distinction, were taken into his Majesty's gracious protection, and do now live under one law, as dutiful subjects of our sovereign lord and monarch; by means whereof, a perfect agreement is and ought to be settled between all his Maiesty's subjects in this realm.”
We have then an Act for the repeal of one statute made against bringing Scots—retaining of them—marrying with them. King James could do no less for his Scotch countrymen and countrywomen. I should state, the Act so obnoxious to the Scotch was passed in the reign of Philip and Mary. . We have then an Act for a general and free pardon, elaborately drawn, and comprehensive in spirit.
It is impossible for us to contemplate the reign and the policy, the civil labours and successes, of James I. in Ireland, without admiration and gratitude. His policy was wise, benevolent, far-seeing, and kingly. He was a very learned man, and shows the truth of Bacon's maxim—that learned princes rule wisely.
Before we quit the reign of James I., we must notice our old friend Poynings and his law. King James having settled the constitution of Parliament in Ireland, and wishing to conform to law, and at the same time to be advised as to the manner by which, under Poynings' law, Parliaments were to be holden and managed in Ireland, consulted his judges, and was advised by them, as reported by Lord Coke in the 12th part of his Reports, in a case entitled “Parliament of Ireland.” It was resolved, “That the causes and acts transmitted hither, under the great seal of Ireland, ought to be kept here in the chancery of England, and not be remanded. Second, If they be affirmed, they ought to be transcribed under the great seal, and returned into Ireland; and all that which passes the great seal ought to be enrolled here in Chancery. Third, If the Acts sent over be in any part altered or changed here, the Act so altered or changed ought forth with to be returned under the great seal of England ; but the transcript