Ireland and Her Story by Justin McCarthy - 1903

Table of Contents | Chapter I | Chapter II | Chapter III | Chapter IV | Chapter V | Chapter VI | Chapter VII | Chapter VIII | Chapter IX | Chapter X | Chapter XI | Chapter XII | Index

CHAPTER X

(146)

CATHOLIC EMANCIPATION AND O'CONNELL

AFTER the extinction of the Irish Parlia- ment and the catastrophe of Robert Emmet, Grattan was prevailed upon by Lord Fitzwilliam and Charles James Fox to accept a seat in the English House of Commons. Here he found a strong party growing up in support of Catholic Emancipation, and to that party he devoted his eloquence and influence. He was always consistent in his political creed. He stood up for the religious equality of all citizens and for a union of Great Britain and Ireland, with separate Parlia­ments under the one constitution. One of his dying utterances to the friends around him was a renewed appeal to them to main­tain those principles as their guide in seeking the prosperity and the true union of England

GRATTAN AND O'CONNELL 147

and Ireland, He died in London, whither he had come with the hope of being able once more to advocate in the House of Commons the cause of Catholic Emancipation. The long journey from Dublin and the fatigue of travel proved too much for Grattan's sinking health, and he was not able to make his ap­pearance in the House. He died on June 4, 1820, and was buried in Westminster Abbey. The close of Grattan's career was marked by an incident which denotes the opening of another career not less important in the modern history of Ireland. Shortly before leaving Ireland for the last time Grattan received a deputation in Dublin from the Catholic Association, headed by Daniel O'Connell, For some years after Grattan's death the political story of Ireland resolves itself mainly into a record of the final struggle for Catholic Emancipation. Many changes in the industrial and social condition of Ireland had taken place since the beginning of that agitation. The success of the United States in their struggle for independence had opened up to the Irish the prospect of a new haven of refuge from religious penalties and from the miseries caused by an intolerable system of land tenure. The flood of emigra­tion from Ireland to the United States had already begun, although it had not reached anything like the vast volume it attained in more recent days.

148 LANDLORD AND TENANT

The main cause of emigration was the system of land tenure existing in Ireland. The English conquest and settlement of Ireland had completely done away with the native systems of land occupancy, which were established on a principle something like communism. The chieftain of each region was the lord of his own domain, but the right of the humblest worker on the soil to enjoy the fruit of his labour was acknow­ledged. Under the newer systems the agri­cultural tenant was practically dependent on the favour of the landlord for the retention of his patch of ground, and could be turned out at the will of the landlord or his agent without appeal. The Irish farmers became, as time went on, more dependent on the will of the landlord, and as many of the landlords were absentees there was little opportunity for the formation of bonds of mutual regard and association. Even at the worst of times there were kindly and generous landlords who concerned themselves about the comfort and prosperity of deserving tenants, but as a general rule the tenant could not count on being allowed to retain his hold of the soil, which he had perhaps converted from a barren swamp into a thriving farm. Ireland was at this time for the most part a merely agricultural country, English Governments and Parliaments had done much to discourage the growth of manufactures in Ireland, and

LANDLORD AND TENANT 149

to give all the advantages to the manu­facturers of the ruling country. The natural result of such legislation was to make the land more of a necessity to the working population, and thus to increase the com­petition for every scrap of soil and make the landlord a more absolute ruler over his surrounding tenantry. The evils of this system were making themselves increasingly manifest, and the one great agitation pervad­ing Ireland was the struggle between the landlord and the tenant class. After the failure of the Irish rebellion and the extinc­tion of the Irish Parliament there was for a time little heard in Ireland of any great political agitation, any agitation for the redress of political grievances or even for the accom­plishment of Catholic Emancipation. The national energies seemed to have degenerated into a mere strife between landlord and tenant, and among the exasperated and desponding tenantry many crimes were com­mitted against unpopular landlords.

The renewal of the agitation for Catholic Emancipation came on in the due course of reaction. In the meanwhile the attention of leading Englishmen had been directed to the condition of Ireland and the causes of her disturbance, and many of these Englishmen were prepared to help with all their power any effort to redress the grievances under which the Irish were manifestly suffering.

150 DANIEL O'CONNELL

One of these was obviously the law which prevented a Catholic from being elected to the House of Commons. Men like Charles James Fox had always been advocates of Emancipation. Of the few speeches which Lord Byron made in the House of Lords, one was an appeal for justice to the Catholics. The hour had come for a definite movement, and with the hour came for Ireland the man. This man was Daniel O'Connell. He took up the work which Grattan had not been able to accomplish. O'Connell was born in Ire­land in 1775. His family were Catholics of the land-owning class, but had suffered from all the disqualifications imposed on Catholics of any order. He was sent when a child to a Catholic school, which happened to be the first seminary ever kept openly by a Catholic Priest in Ireland since the enactment of the penal laws. Then O'Connell was sent with his brother to a school in Belgium, and after­wards to one in France, where they remained until the outbreak of the French Revolution made it desirable for them to return to Ire­land. The impressions produced on the boy Daniel O'Connell by the revolutionary ex­cesses in France left their abiding mark on his political career, and made him an unalter­able enemy to every form of agitation which might lead to the spilling of blood. He studied for the Bar at Lincoln's Inn, and practised in Ireland, where he soon became

EMANCIPATION AND REPEAL 151

one of the most rising advocates of the day, although the laws still existing would not allow him, as a Catholic, to obtain the honour of a silk gown. In 1806 the Whigs came into power, and they were understood to be supporters of Catholic Emancipation. O'Con-nell was already a member of an organization formed to demand religious emancipation. He addressed meetings all over Ireland in advocacy of the cause, and in support of any English Ministry which might have the courage to adopt it. He also started a new agitation for the restoration of the Irish Parliament. " Repeal of the Union," the name he gave to this demand, has become historical. O'Connell was probably the greatest popular orator Ireland has ever brought forth, and one of the greatest popular orators known to the world. He had all the physical qualifications which help towards great ora­torical success. He was of commanding stature and proportions, and had a voice combining strength, sweetness, and melody, capable of commanding with ease the largest audiences, and rich in variety of intonation and expression. That voice was able to touch every chord of human emotion. Sir Edward Bulwer-Lytton paid a splendid tribute to the power of O'Connell's eloquence at an open-air meeting, which, he said, taught him-

152 ROMAN CATHOLIC EXCLUSION

" What spells of infinite choice To rouse or lull has the sweet human voice."

O'Connell declared that if he were driven to the alternative, he would rather have the repeal of the Union even than Catholic Emancipation, because every great measure of liberty would be won for Ireland by a Parliament of her own in a much shorter space of time than could possibly be accom­plished in the British Parliament. O'Connell's power grew greater every day, and he soon became the acknowledged leader of the Irish people. It seemed to all liberal-minded persons in Great Britain an obvious anomaly that such a man should not have an oppor­tunity of representing the claims of his country in the House of Commons, but as yet the laws remained on the statute-book which rendered it impossible for any pro­fessing Roman Catholic to obtain a seat there. Each newly - elected representative for a constituency was called upon before he could take his seat to swear an oath, pro­claiming not merely his allegiance to the reigning Sovereign, but also his disavowal and detestation of the tenets of the Roman Catholic Church. O'Connell resolved on taking a bold step. A vacancy occurred in the County of Clare in consequence of the representative having received a Ministerial office, and being compelled to resign his seat in the House of Commons and offer himself

O'CONNELL'S ELECTION 153

to his constituents for re-election. O'Connell announced himself as a candidate for the vacant seat, and the mere announcement created consternation throughout the king­dom. The existing Acts of Parliament did not prohibit a Roman Catholic from offering himself as a candidate for Parliament, nor was there any positive enactment which pre­vented him from being elected. But no candidate, even if elected, could have a seat in the House unless he took the oath which was framed for the purpose of excluding Catholics. The Clare election was a memor­able event in the history of Ireland. O'Con­nell was chosen by a great majority of the electors. He presented himself at the table of the House of Commons. The oath was tendered to him, which he positively refused to take. He was ordered to withdraw, the seat was declared vacant, and a new election had to follow. O'Connell was again elected by a large majority. Then the Government found that it had to deal with a crisis the like of which had never before troubled an English Administration.

These events had been making a deep impression on Sir Robert Peel, who was then Home Secretary, and on other eminent political leaders. The Government had to choose between Catholic Emancipation and another rebellion in Ireland. We can read in the letters of Peel how the conviction grew

154 CATHOLIC RELIEF

upon him that the claims for Catholic Emancipation were rightful, and how the Duke of Wellington, then at the head of the Administration, was brought to the same con­clusion. The Duke of Wellington declared at last that he had seen too much of war, and did not intend to add a civil war to his other records. The great difficulty was in pre­vailing on the King to accept this view, but at last George IV. was induced to put himself entirely into the hands of his Ministers and allow them to carry out their own policy.

The Government brought in the Catholic Relief Bill, the main purport of which was to construct a new form of oath which all Catholics, as well as others, might con­scientiously take. The measure not only admitted Catholics to sit in Parliament, but allowed them to be appointed to all political and civil offices excepting those of Regent, Lord Chancellor, and Lord Lieutenant of Ireland. The Bill was carried through both Houses of Parliament by large majorities, and became law. Some parts of the measure Peel would not willingly have introduced, but he accepted them in order to effect a com­promise with the more extreme opponents of Catholic emancipation, especially in the House of Lords. O'Connell was not allowed to take his seat in the House at once, but was put to the superfluous trouble of again offering him­self for election to his Clare constituents, who

AGITATION FOR REPEAL 155

returned him for the third time with a trium­phant majority. An Act of Parliament was also passed disfranchising a class of Irish voters who were known as the Forty Shilling Freeholders, a body of voters with a special suffrage who had made a great part of the majority by whom O'Connell was elected. It would have been better if Peel could have carried out his own policy without any of these grudging disqualifications. But he has the honour in history of being the first Minister of the Crown who fully recognised, and established by enactment, the right of the Roman Catholic to a general equality with his Protestant fellow subjects.

O'Connell took his seat in the House of Commons, and soon became one of the most prominent and commanding debaters there, at a time when Brougham, Lyndhurst, and Peel were Parliamentary debaters. Having done his work in carrying Catholic emancipa­tion, O'Connell started his agitation for Repeal of the Union. He formed a Repeal Association, in which the great majority of the Irish people took part, and which had its headquarters in the building then known as Conciliation Hall, in Dublin. He addressed out-of-door meetings in all parts of Ireland-- meetings so vast that no voice less powerful than his could have carried the words to the most distant among his audience. He always enforced a certain order and discipline in the

156 O'CONNELL'S POLICY

arrangement of these immense assemblages, and many of his political opponents main­tained that he was quietly drilling his forces for some future attempt at rebellion. But O'Connell always proclaimed that he was the advocate of constitutional reform alone, that he was opposed to the employment of force to obtain any legislative improvement, and that no political cause was worth the shedding of a single drop of blood. This doctrine he endeavoured at a later period of his career to establish as the ruling creed of his party. It is certain that he could at any moment have aroused the people of Ireland to another armed rebellion if he had thought fit to sound the trumpet-call. O'Connell was coming every day more nearly to the position of Irish Dictator. He was already beginning to be called Ireland's un­crowned king. Apart from purely Irish questions, his political views led him into close association with the leading. Liberals of England and Scotland, and on several occasions he addressed great public meetings in English and Scottish cities, winning enthu­siastic applause, which his magnificent eloquence could hardly have failed to call forth. He was a devoted advocate of the anti-slavery agitation then carried on by leading reformers in these countries as well as in the United States, and on one occasion he refused to receive on his platform in Con-

TEMPERANCE 157

ciliation Hall an American sympathizer with Repeal because he was known to be a slave owner and a supporter of slavery. O'Connell, although not himself a professed total ab­stainer, did all he could to promote the cause of temperance among his people, and lent every help in his power to the great move­ment led by its apostle, the noble-hearted Father Mathew. O'Connell was only at his zenith when the reign of William IV. came to an end, and the girl-queen Victoria was called to the throne.

Table of Contents | Chapter I | Chapter II | Chapter III | Chapter IV | Chapter V | Chapter VI | Chapter VII | Chapter VIII | Chapter IX | Chapter X | Chapter XI | Chapter XII | Index

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