We have seen how during the last half of the eighteenth century a sentiment of Irish nationality had gradually been awakened. This sentiment had shown itself in the struggle of the Irish Commons to assert their political independence and financial control. Very slowly a patriotic party had been growing up in the Irish Parliament, and from 1775 Henry Grattan took the leadership of this party and led the whole nation in its fight for a free trade and a free Parliament. The agitation for free trade began simultaneously with the outbreak of the American War. At first it was confined to the Irish
p.188Protestants, but the Catholics soon threw in their lot with their fellow-countrymen, and in 1779 England found herself confronted for the first time in her history by a united Ireland. The American War of Independence put the idea into the minds of Irishmen that the power of England might be successfully defied, and they determined to take advantage of the troubles in America to force England to remove those trade restrictions which had existed for over a century. The most enthusiastic of all classes in Ireland in the new national struggle were the Presbyterians from Ulster, the men who had always so bitterly resented English interference. The emigration from the north of Ireland to America which had been going on all through the century had formed many links between the American colonies and Ulster. Irish Protestants had often friends and relations fighting on the side of the colonists, and so it was but natural that a certain amount of sympathy should have been felt for the rebels. New feelings of liberty which had hitherto lain more or less dormant were aroused in Ireland as the war proceeded, and the germs were sown of those ideas which afterwards resulted in the independent Parliament of 1782.
But this agitation for free trade, intensified as it was by the actual effects of the American war on the commerce and finance of Ireland, rested on a solid practical basis. In 1778 and 1779 the distress in Ireland was so universal and the poverty of nearly all classes so appalling, that Great Britain was almost confronted with the alternative of removing the restrictions on Irish trade or herself supporting the Irish civil and military establishments. Many causes had been at work bringing about this state of things. From 1769 the poverty of Ireland had been increasing, the revenue had been declining, and the country had been getting into debt.445 The augmentation
p.189of the home military establishment was a cause of distress,446 and side by side with the decreasing revenue the pension list had been swelling. In 1770 there was so much commercial distress, due to an embargo imposed by the English Privy Council on the exportation of provisions from Ireland, that the Lord Lieutenant suggested that a certain amount of relief should be given to Irish trade to tide over the present difficulties. He proposed that Ireland might be allowed to export to Spain and Portugal a kind of coarse woollen cloth made frequently in Ireland, but never manufactured in Great Britain; that she might be allowed to export soap and candles to Great Britain on payment of duties equal to the excise which those articles paid in that country; that the very heavy duty imposed on checked linens sent from Ireland to Great Britain might be abolished, and that the same encouragement might be given to the manufacture of printed linens in Ireland as in Great Britain.447 But these suggestions proved futile and nothing further was attempted in this way until six years later, when the distress caused by the American war made some sort of relief imperative.
The American non-importation agreement of 1775, immediately followed by the war, closed the chief market for Irish linens, and in consequence the demand for that article fell so low that during the next year a number of bankruptcies took place.448 Just at this time the embargoes laid by England on Irish ports led to a stoppage of the provision trade. The linen trade and the provision trade were practically the only trades possessed by Ireland, and the simultaneous check given to both naturally produced universal distress among the agricultural, manufacturing, and trading classes. By the
p.190Order in Council of January 21st no provisions of any kind could be exported from any Irish port, except beef, pork, butter, and bacon to Great Britain, and from thence to any part of the British dominions with the exception of the revolted colonies, and also to any ships or vessels in the King's service, provided that the owners of the provisions gave securities as to the proper destination of their goods.449 In the following October this embargo was re-enacted, as there had been some evasion in the matter, and it was further ordered that the provision ships sailing to Great Britain should be under convoy.450 These embargoes of 1776 produced great misery in the country. Every class was affectedthe peasantry and farmers, the provision merchants and the landed gentry. Numbers of Limerick merchants were ruined, for as they had to send all their provisions in the first instance to the ports of Great Britain the markets there became overstocked. At first the provisions were sold at prices ruinous to the Irish merchants; later on they could not be sold at all in spite of the daily advertisement of public auctions. In November the inhabitants of Cork sent up a petition to the Lord Lieutenant representing that the existing embargo was particularly injurious to the southern parts of the kingdom, and praying that they might be allowed to export their provisions to neutral ports and also to send them to Great Britain without convoy.451 It was often very difficult to procure a convoy, and in consequence ships laden with provisions for Great Britain had sometimes to wait weeks or months before they could start. But the English Ministry replied that the exigencies of public affairs were too great to allow of the desired relief being given; and in order partly to compensate for this refusal to modify the embargoes a few small favours were conferred
p.191upon Ireland before the end of the year. Bounties were granted on Irish as well as British ships employed in the Newfoundland fisheries,452 Ireland was permitted to furnish clothing to her troops when stationed out of Ireland,453 the exportation of rape seed from Ireland to Great Britain was allowed under certain limitations,454 and a small bounty was granted by Great Britain on the importation of flax into Ireland.455 The permission to furnish her troops with clothing was something of a boon to Ireland, and she at once availed herself of it; but the distress of the time was too widespread for any small measure to be of much use, and from this moment the open agitation for a free trade began.
During the next year matters progressed from bad to worse, and fresh petitions for relief flowed up from southern Ireland. The merchants of Cork sent up two petitions, one to the Irish House of Commons, the other to the Lord Lieutenant, praying for a removal or suspension of the embargo. They stated that the extensive provision trade which they had carried on for years with Spain, Portugal, and Holland, had not only ceased for the time being, but was in danger of being lost permanently, for Russia, Sweden, and Denmark were now supplying those countries with provisions, and thus "new enemies to our commerce are raised and our own commodities are rendered useless and unprofitable." Quantities of small beef not suited for the use of Government or of the sugar colonies were produced in the country. Hitherto this beef had been sent to foreign countries, but now it could not be exported anywhere and remained on the merchants' hands. At the same time there were very much larger quantities of salted beef and pork in Cork and its neighbourhood than would possibly be demanded for the needs of the British fleet and armies during the remainder of the
p.192season.456 All over Ireland landlords were apprehensive lest they should not be able to get for their cattle the prices they had paid for them when laid in to fatten. Indeed at the great fairs, where large numbers of fat cattle used to be sold, the sales during the year had been so inconsiderable that the country gentlemen found great difficulty in obtaining their rents from the graziers who occupied their lands.457 The Lord Lieutenant proposed, in order to modify this existing distress, either that the embargo should be removed for a short time so as to allow the present large stock of provisions to be cleared off, or that it should be limited to provisions of a superior quality in order that the inferior kinds which were not taken by British contractors, but which the French were always willing to buy, might be exported. Buckingham thought that the adoption of either of these alternatives might tend to quiet the minds of the people, and would be a boon to the landed as well as to the commercial interests of the country.458 But Weymouth wrote back that Government could do nothing in the matter,459 and during the next year, 1778, the embargoes were more severely enforced and the distress among all classes increased.
By an Order in Council dated 29th May, 1778, it was commanded that no provisions should be exported from Ireland even when laden on British ships and going to Great Britain until further orders, and at the same time a general embargo was placed on all ships in Irish ports. The whole body of Irish graziers was now at the mercy of a few speculators at Cork, and for nearly a month there was a total stoppage in the provision trade. Fortunately, on the 20th of June, an Order in Council was transmitted to Buckingham allowing provisions to be exported in ships sailing under convoy to the British dominions and fleet,
p.193but not to Great Britain.460 The general embargo was also taken off all vessels coasting from port to port in Ireland and on those employed in the linen trade with Great Britain.461 In the following August ships laden with spun worsted or yarn were allowed to sail from Cork to Great Britain,462 and a little later butter was permitted to be exported from Ireland to Great Britain.463 It was not, however, until the end of the year that the general embargo on all ships in Irish ports was taken off, while the general exportation of provisions to foreign countries was still prohibited, and even to Great Britain with the exception of butter. The refusal to allow Irish merchants to export their provisions to England was, of course, done in the interests of British contractors and merchants, and was extremely arbitrary and unjust. It was fortunate for the Irish that they were, after a short time, allowed to export their butter to Great Britain, but there were quantities of coarse butter in Ireland unfit for the English markets and which had formerly been shipped to Germany, Holland, and Portugal. All this butter had now to remain on the farmers' hands.464 The financial consequences of this commercial distress were soon apparent. In 1778 the Irish Government was nearly bankrupt and new troops were being raised which had to be provided for in some way out of the Irish revenue. In April the Lord Lieutenant wrote to Weymouth that for some time no subscriptions had been received by Government on account of a loan which had been started with a view of providing funds for the payment of the troops, that only £90 could be got for each share of £100, and that the subscriptions to the new Tontine only amounted to £10,000. In order, therefore,
p.194to provide for the military services, Government had been forced not only to stop all payments from the Treasury that could possibly be postponed, but also to borrow £20,000 at interest from the principal Dublin bankers. But this sum, Buckingham wrote, had been exhausted almost directly, and as there was "a general distress for money throughout all ranks in the city, no balance in the Treasury and scarcely any in the hands of the several collectors, and the receipt of His Majesty's revenue having fallen lower than has been known for many years, there neither is nor can I expect there will be a fund arising or that can be created in this kingdom to answer these large demands which, if not discharged, will put a stop to our military operations."465 The financial situation of the Government was, in fact, hopeless, and Buckingham as a last resource asked the British Ministry for a loan of £50,000 on the credit of the Tontine.466 On May 16th, having received no answer to his solicitations for financial help, Buckingham sent over his Deputy Vice-Treasurer to England with a letter to Lord North asking him in what way and on what terms money could be borrowed in England for the use of the Irish Government.467 The Dublin bankers to whom he had made an application for a further loan of £20,000 had answered that the public distress put it out of their power to give any financial assistance to Government, and therefore, as the Treasury was absolutely empty, the movement of the troops had to be stopped for the time being.468 At last, at the beginning of June, the Bank of England agreed to advance 50,000 guineas for six months to the Irish Government on the security of debentures for the Government loan in Ireland,469 and at the same time the rate of
p.195interest on the Irish Tontine was raised from 63 per cent to 74 per cent in the hopes of inducing subscriptions.
It was little wonder that under such circumstances men's thoughts began to turn towards a practical remedy for the prevailing evilsa remedy which might check the source from which they sprang, and not merely tide them over for the time being by means of temporary assistance. As early as the February of 1778 Grattan made his first motion in the Irish Commons for an address to the King on the state of the nation. He stated at length the financial situation, and how during the last twenty years the whole charge of the civil list and also of the pension list had nearly doubled. He complained of the number of additional salaries in the nature of pensions annexed to lesser offices, mostly sinecures, or at any rate quite insignificant in their nature, and the growing practice of annexing large salaries to obsolete offices. This motion of Grattan produced a long debate, but it was finally lost by 143 to 66 votes, as the Commons thought that the matter ought to be proceeded with more gradually. But shortly after, on March 20th, the Lord Lieutenant wrote to Weymouth that in his opinion the present would be a proper time for relieving Irish trade, for an enlargement of commerce had now become an absolute necessity if the country were to support itself at all.470 The inhabitants of the King's County sent up a spirited address to the King, in which they lamented the restrictions laid on the commerce of the kingdom, and they expressed the hope that at the conclusion of the war some means might be found to settle trade and commerce on a plan of mutual advantage to Great Britain and Ireland.471 But already the matter was being taken up in the British Parliament by the Opposition. On April 2nd Lord Nugent moved in the Commons that the House should resolve itself into a committee to
p.196take into consideration the several Acts of Parliament relating to the trade and commerce of Ireland. The motion was supported by Burke, and was agreed to with little opposition.472 Accordingly on April 7th the House went into committee, and the next day the report was sent up. It was proposed that all goods might be exported from Ireland to the British plantations in British ships, with the exception of wool and woollen manufactures; that all goods of the growth and manufacture of the British settlements and plantations should be exported direct to Ireland, tobacco only excepted; that glass might be exported from Ireland to any place but Great Britain; that the prohibitory duty imposed in Great Britain on the importation of Irish cotton yarn should be repealed; and finally that Irish sail cloth and cordage might be admitted into Great Britain duty free.473 But no sooner had these proposals been read in the House than storms of indignation broke out all over the country, and petitions against the proposed Bill flowed in from all the large manufacturing towns in England and Scotland. There was great opposition to the admission of Irish sail cloth and cordage into Great Britain. The burgesses of Wigan, in the County Palatine of Lancaster, feared that they might not be able to obtain a sufficient supply of cheap Irish yarn; the inhabitants of Preston, Stockport, Manchester, and other places in Lancashire, as well as the people of many towns and villages in the counties of Dorset and Somerset, all represented the injury that would result to their linen trade if any new advantage were given to Ireland in the manufacture.474 The makers of glass in the neighbourhood of Stourbridge and Dudley, in Worcester and Stafford, set forth how their trade was charged with heavy duties laid on the raw material, the drawback given
p.197on goods exported not counterbalancing such charges, and gave as their opinion that if the Act forbidding the exportation of Irish glass were repealed, the Irish would be able to undersell them in foreign markets.475 Other towns, again, petitioned against the direct trade between Ireland and the plantations. The manufacturers of brass and iron in the borough of Walsall thought that if such a free trade were allowed, it would deprive "great numbers of manufacturers in this kingdom of the means of maintaining themselves and numerous families, or otherwise cause such emigrations of manufacturers from this country to Ireland [...] as will enable that kingdom in a few years to rival the manufacturers of England."476 The makers of gloves in Worcester also apprehended the ruin of their industry if the Irish were allowed to export gloves direct to the colonies.477 The tallow-chandlers and soap-boilers of Liverpool stated that their export trade to the West Indies would be ruined if the Irish were permitted to compete with them there.478 Many gentlemen and traders in the County Palatine of Lancaster petitioned against the resolutions as "detrimental to the revenue, commercial interests, and navigation of Great Britain." The Merchant Adventurers of Bristol petitioned against all the resolutions without exception, saying that "a torrent of mischiefs unthought of and unforeseen" would be poured in upon the kingdom if they were passed.479 In all these cases the old arguments about the cheapness of living and labour in Ireland and the lowness of the taxes were brought forward, and the old fears that had existed at the end of the previous century about successful Irish competition again came to the front. It was insisted over and over again that if the proposed relief were given to Irish trade, English workmen would be thrown out of employment, and the capital of English manufacturers would be
p.198rendered useless because English goods would certainly be undersold everywhere by Irish goods. The petition sent up from Glasgow against the resolutions was very representative of these beliefs and fears.480 The petitioners insisted that they wished well to their Irish fellow-subjects, but they could not go so far as to agree to be reduced from an affluent to an indigent state. If the proposed Bill were passed, the natural advantages of Ireland were such as to establish there many of those manufactures by means of which Great Britain had become rich. "By the loss of those manufactures, and the consequent decrease of our population, not only will the landed interest suffer exceedingly, but the national reputation must also sink from the inability of the remaining people to pay those taxes which are so essentially necessary for the support of Government." They further pointed out that the commercial privileges of Great Britain ought only to be extended to those parts of the Empire "where the people pay taxes in proportion to those levied upon the inhabitants of Great Britain." They therefore prayed not only that the present Bill should not become law, but that "no indulgences which may be detrimental to the commerce and manufacture of Great Britain may be allowed, until by bearing their proportionate share of the national expense, the people of Ireland shall become in justice and sound policy entitled to an unlimited freedom in commerce and manufactures."
It was thus seen that every town in England and Scotland was touched, or thought it was touched, by any alteration in the commercial relations between Great Britain and Ireland.481 The fears of the manufacturing and trading interests were too much for the British Parliament, and in consequence North reduced the proposed measures to an attenuated form. Vessels built in Ireland were henceforth to be regarded as British built,
p.199and to receive the bounties given in the Newfoundland and South Sea fisheries. Permission was given to Ireland to export several of the enumerated articles direct to the plantations, but woollens, cottons, glass, hops, hats, coal, and gunpowder were excepted absolutely, and also iron and iron wares, until the Irish Parliament should have imposed certain prescribed duties on their exportation. At the same time, Ireland was forbidden to import any goods direct from the plantations. Irish cotton spun yarn, however, was allowed to be imported into Great Britain duty free, and a small encouragement was given to the cultivation of tobacco and hemp in Ireland. But it was laid down in this Act that all manufactures allowed to be exported from Ireland should be liable to the same duties and drawbacks as those placed upon similar articles of British make on their exportation from Great Britain.482 But in Ireland expectations had risen too high for this Bill of 1778 to have a really salutary effect. Resentment was felt at the unreasoning prejudice shown by the British manufacturing interest, and from this time the agitation of the Irish people for a free trade began to assume a violent form. The Irish Protestants now realised that the matter lay with them; they determined to take advantage of the difficulties of Great Britain, and to press energetically for relief at a time when it would be almost dangerous for England to refuse it.
Increased commercial distress aggravated the situation. Nothing short of an absolute freedom of trade could have remedied this state of things, and even then the beneficial result would have been slow. But the relief measures of 1778 were absurdly insignificant under the circumstances, and although the Lord Lieutenant wrote that he was relieved from "the most alarming apprehensions of tumult" by the passing of the Bill, this effect was short-lived, and in a few months the Irish Government was to feel
p.200itself powerless in face of a growing popular organisation in favour of unrestricted trade. During the months of June and July in this year numerous petitions for relief were sent up from artisans and traders in different parts of the country to the Irish House of Commons. The distress was especially acute in Dublin. The woollen drapers and the master clothiers of the city pointed out the distressed state of their industry and the want of employment of many thousands of artisans, and they suggested that the people of Ireland should be encouraged to consume only their own manufactures.483 The petitions from the journeymen linen and cotton weavers show the decayed state of the most flourishing industry possessed by Ireland. There were 757 linen and cotton looms lying idle484, while as regards those workmen who were employed, many would soon be out of work, and were working now only at odd jobs; there were also quantities of goods on hand which could not be sold.485 Want of funds made it impossible for Parliament to grant any substantial relief, and indeed the British Government was soon forced to take upon itself the expense of supporting the Irish regiments then fighting in America.486 This gave relief to the Irish Government, but it could produce little effect upon the country. Matters proceeded from bad to worse, and in 1779 the crisis came.
As the American War had proceeded Ireland had gradually been denuded of troops. The country was left almost defenceless, and early in 1779 volunteer corps began to be formed all over Ireland for purposes of defence against possible invasion. In April, 1778, a Bill had been passed and sanctioned in Council for establishing an Irish militia, as the condition of the northern counties appeared dangerous to Government.487 But want of funds had prevented the provisions of the Bill from being carried into
p.201effect, and as Government could not defend the country the people had to do so themselves. In the May of 1779 news came that the French meditated an attack at some point on the northern coast. The inhabitants of Belfast and Carrickfergus applied for assistance to Government, but as only sixty troopers could be sent to them, they formed themselves into three armed companies.488 This volunteer movement spread rapidly over the whole of Ulster, and the example set by Ulster was quickly followed by the three other provinces. Government gave no encouragement to the movement, but it was not possible to offer any opposition in the existing state of public affairs, when at any moment the assistance of every individual towards the defence of the State might be of supreme importance.489 This was Buckingham's point of view, and he wrote to Weymouth, who seemed to dislike his attitude, that without the present volunteer force "the camp could not have been formed, or the interior country must have been abandoned to riots and confusion, and many parts of the coast left defenceless."490 In May the numbers of the volunteers were 8,000, but by the end of the year they actually numbered 40,000. At first all were not armed, as Buckingham refused to give up the militia arms; but as time went on and the numbers of the volunteers increased, the Lord Lieutenant found himself forced by circumstances to distribute arms to these corps. The volunteers were at this time all loyal in the extreme, and declared themselves willing to shed their last drop of blood in defence of their King and country. Their loyalty placed Buckingham in an awkward position. He could hardly refuse the offers of military service which flowed in from large bodies of gentry in all parts of the kingdom, and yet once the volunteer corps had been formed, Government, in spite of their loyalty, found itself
p.202in a dangerous situation. With 40,000 armed men in the country, all enthusiastically loyal, but all determined to obtain free trade, the position of Government was bound to become weaker and weaker.
But side by side with the formation of these volunteer corps another kind of volunteer association had been establishing itself all over Ireland. These were the famous non-importation leagues. They began early in 1779, and were the direct result of the failure of Lord North's proposals of the preceding year. Agreements not to import English goods were not without precedent. In the sessions of 1703, 1705, and 1707 the Irish Commons resolved that it would greatly benefit the kingdom if the people used none other but the manufactures of their country, and they had agreed to set an example themselves in this way.491 But these and other earlier agreements had been short-lived, and had been confined to certain parts of Ireland. It was only now that the Irish people showed themselves capable of concerted action in pursuit of a common object, notwithstanding the material injury involved. They particularly wished to shut out those British manufactures which had been the cause of the ruin of their own industries. They were successful in their aims because their agreements took place at a time when they could succeed, when the entire nation was stirred up by great ambitions and so was capable of a united self-sacrifice. The movement was materially assisted by the Irish press and by the leaders of the Opposition in Parliament. Everywhere resolutions sanctioning the principle of the non-importation leagues were drawn up by such men as Grattan, Flood, Charlemont, Farnham, and Newenham. Galway was the first town to actually adopt a non-importation agreement, but the first large meeting on the matter was held in Dublin on April 26th, when it was unanimously resolved that, owing
p.203to the present stagnation of trade and general emigration, and the total failure of all petitions to the Crown, "we will not, directly or indirectly, import or use any goods or wares, the product or manufacture of Great Britain, which can be produced or manufactured in this kingdom, until an enlightened policy [...] shall appear to actuate the inhabitants of certain manufacturing towns there, who have taken so active a part in opposing the regulations proposed in favour of the trade of Ireland, and that they shall appear to entertain sentiments of respect and affection for their fellow-subjects of this kingdom."492 Buckingham was much alarmed at these resolutions, for the whole body of citizens, both Protestants and Catholics, had been present at the meeting, and he immediately sent for the Mayor to question him on the subject. But all the Mayor would say was that original resolutions far more extreme in their nature had been drawn up by the Common Council of the city, but that they had been modified to their present form by himself and the Board of Aldermen. It thus appeared that the municipal authorities were in favour of the resolutions which had been passed, and the feeling of the whole city was so strong that the Lord Lieutenant's Council advised him to move no further in the matter, as this "would have no other effect than making the disagreeable disposition worse."493 And now the ladies of Dublin, fired by the example of the men, determined not to be left behind in patriotism. Twelve ladies began the movement by forming themselves into an association for the encouragement of the manufactures of Ireland. They resolved "that we will not wear any article that is not the product or manufacture of this country, and that we will not permit the addresses of any of the other sex who are not equally zealous in the cause of this country."494 This association was the
p.204beginning of a movement which quickly spread among all Irish women, and which was thought by contemporaries to be one most important reason of the extraordinary success of the non-importation agreements.
By the middle of the year non-importation leagues had been established in nearly every county in Ireland. The volunteers set the example of using Irish manufactures by clothing themselves in materials of home production, and they also passed resolutions at their meetings approving of the principle of the leagues and promising their support.495 The Grand Jury and many of the resident gentlemen in the counties of Cavan, Carlow, Kilkenny, Queen's, and Meath passed resolutions that in consequence of the oppressive commercial restrictions and the new injuries which had been inflicted on Ireland by the recent and present embargoes, they would not use or import any British goods, but would consume their own manufactures, and that this resolution should be in force as long as Ireland remained restricted in her commerce.496 Many really influential men placed their signatures to these documents, and numerous county meetings in other parts of Ireland adopted the non-importation agreements until they extended practically throughout the kingdom. But the agreements were not only adopted, they were also kept. The transactions of all traders were rigorously observed, and any merchant who happened to import British goods had his name printed in the Dublin newspapers and was held up to execration as a traitor to Ireland.497 The consequence was that the few merchants who at first had the temerity to continue their importation of British goods soon ceased to do so, as it was difficult to find anyone willing to purchase from them, more especially as concealment of such purchases was impossible. At first the English manufacturers tried to
p.205neutralise the non-importation agreements by attempting to flood the Irish country towns with woollen manufactures and other articles at cost price, for during the course of the war these goods had accumulated on their hands. But they soon gave up the attempt, finding that it only involved them in loss.
Buckingham seems to have had an idea of counteracting the non-importation associations by various means, but the general feeling against any interference ran so high that even its discussion was rejected by the Council. All the Lord Lieutenant could do was to try and reassure the British Ministry by writing to Weymouth that in his opinion the associations were only temporary, and would dwindle to nothing if only something in the way of substantial commercial indulgence were granted to the country.498 The Irish Government, indeed, was beginning to realise that there would be trouble in Ireland if Great Britain did not speedily grant some freedom of trade to the Irish. At the end of April Buckingham wrote to Weymouth that the discontent of the kingdom was increasing, and that altogether the general appearance of affairs was very serious.499 In the following June he expressed his opinion that nothing short of permission to export coarse woollen goods would give general satisfaction.500 It is possible that the Lord Lieutenant's opinion had some weight with the British Ministry. They do not seem to have been unwilling to give some small relief to Ireland, and after pressure from the Opposition would have done so in the preceding year had it not been for the commercial jealousy the matter had aroused in Great Britain. But now the existence of thousands of armed volunteers in Ireland made the Government nervous, while the non-importation agreements fell very heavily on British merchants, and made them less anxious to keep
p.206Ireland shut out from commercial privileges. From the beginning of the year new efforts were made in the British Parliament by individual members of the Opposition to take into consideration the trade of Ireland. On February 15th there was a debate in the House of Commons on the subject. Lord Newenham advocated the cause of Ireland, emphasised her distress, and asked leave to bring in a Bill granting her a free import trade from the West India Islands. But, meantime, he moved that the House should form itself into a committee to consider the matter.501 He was supported by Burke and Nugent, but the motion was opposed on the score that no complaints had come regularly from Ireland to the British Parliament. It was said that the present Irish distress was temporary, and merely proceeded from the war. On the other hand, it was pointed out that England was only injuring herself by persisting in her old policy, for Ireland was her best consumer and the British exportation to Ireland, which generally amounted in value to £2,100,000 a year, had declined in the preceding year to £595,000, and was probably continuing to decline in an even greater proportion. At the same time, the Irish revenue had naturally been falling, for there had been an extraordinary decrease in the receipts from Customs in the Port of Dublin.502 The result was that England had to support Irish troops serving abroad, while the Irish Government was continually applying to the British Ministry for financial aid. The danger which might arise to England from such a large number of armed men in Ireland was also insisted upon, and eventually it was resolved that the House should form itself into the committee proposed by Lord Newenham.503 But nothing came of this committee, and the next move was made on May 11th, by the Marquis of Rockingham, in the House of Lords. He proposed that
p.207the House should take into consideration the distressed state of Ireland, and should present an address to the King requesting that he would graciously consider the matter and would direct his Ministers to prepare and lay before Parliament such particulars relative to the trade and manufactures of Ireland as might enable Parliament to take measures to promote the common strength, wealth, and commerce of His Majesty's subjects. After some opposition the motion was carried.504 Next day the address was presented, and the King answered that he "would give directions accordingly."505 On June 2nd Lord Shelbourne took the matter up also in the Lords, and said that the resolutions which had been carried in the House were too vague and indefinite, and he proposed that the Lords should present a second address to the King requesting that His Majesty should order to be laid before the House an account of such measures as had been taken in consequence of the preceding address and the King's answer, and that the King would be pleased to summon the Parliament of Ireland in order that its complaints might be heard.506 Lord Shelbourne did not actually move this proposal, but merely left it on the table for the consideration of the Ministers. On the same day the Earl of Upper Ossory in the Commons moved a vote of censure on the Ministers for neglecting to relieve the kingdom of Ireland, but this motion was rejected. It is noticeable that not more than one-half of the Commons were present on this occasion, so little was the interest taken in Irish affairs even at this critical period. Shelbourne and Ossory were Irish landlords and naturally feared for the safety of their property if the agitation in Ireland should become more violent. They also belonged to the Opposition and acted to a great extent from party motives. It was the pressure of the Opposition combined with the alarming
p.208state of affairs in Ireland, which finally induced the British Ministry to adopt a conciliatory policy.
Rockingham's address to the King in May produced an interesting result. Weymouth wrote to Buckingham to prepare papers on the state of Ireland for the information of His Majesty's Ministers, and the Lord Lieutenant at once directed certain high officials and other influential and intelligent persons in Ireland to draw up reports on the condition of the country, the causes which had brought about the present poverty, and the means by which such poverty might be relieved. The result of these directions was a series of most interesting papers from Hussey Burgh (the Prime Serjeant), from Hely Hutchinson (the Provost), from the Commissioners of the Revenue, from the Lord Chancellor, from Chief Justice Annaly, from the Speaker Perry, from Foster, and from Sir Lucius O'Brien.507 All these men were practically agreed concerning the causes of Irish poverty and the necessity of repealing some of the restrictions on the trade of Ireland if she were not to become a permanent burden on the British taxpayers. They also emphasised the advantage such a policy would be to England, and ridiculed the idea of the possibility of Ireland ever rivalling England in any branch of trade whatsoever. The English must always have an advantage in commerce and industry through their large capital, extended credit, and established skill. It was because of these advantages that the Scotch woollen manufacture, in spite of the fact that it shared in all the privileges of the English, had hitherto been confined to the lower branches, while much of the trade of the American colonies was carried on with English capital. All the reports agreed that the commercial restrictions which had fettered the trade of Ireland since the Revolution were one of the great permanent causes of Irish poverty, or rather, why Ireland found herself unable to
p.209rally from the present temporary distress, and why she was so keenly affected by it. The second great cause, they thought, was the numerous financial abuses in the shape of pensions and sinecure salaries which had existed during the whole century. These were the permanent causes of Irish poverty, and no measure which did not strike at them could ever be really effectual in relieving Ireland. But the British Parliament had nothing directly to do with the financial abuses of Government; its work was to repeal the commercial restrictions. As to the lately increased distress in Ireland, that was due to circumstances connected with the present war, to the loss of the chief market for Irish linen, to the cessation of a clandestine trade in woollen goods to the American colonies, and above all to the embargoes which had checked the provision trade, on which so much of the prosperity of the kingdom unfortunately depended. Hely Hutchinson's report is especially interesting, giving us as it does a vivid picture of the condition of Ireland. He tells us of the low value of land, the fall in rents, the difficulty of collecting them, the fall in the price of wool of seven or eight shillings the stone, the fall in the price of all kinds of grain; he points out the scarcity of money, the ruined national credit, and the necessity of the Treasury stopping payments to a large amount and borrowing a considerable sum in England on a mortgage of debentures. In the year ending Lady Day, 1779, there had been a decrease of £337,416 in the sums received into the Treasury from the revenue collectors. Bankruptcies were occurring every day among all classes of the people; there were numbers of beggars to be seen everywhere, and thousands of persons were without employment. During the last two years a large debt had been contracted; there was no sinking fund; the loan duties were deficient to pay the interest and annuities; the hereditary revenue and additional duties were totally inadequate to support the establishments, and large arrears had consequently
p.210been incurred. From the beginning of 1778 until June, 1779, England had remitted £485,000 to Ireland for buying shares in the Irish Tontine, and in loans to the Treasury and to individuals in Ireland. But none of this financial aid could be productive of any permanent relief, for it did not strike at the root of the evils. Indeed, according to the opinion of Hely Hutchinson and of every other thoughtful man in Ireland, the repeal of the Acts restricting Irish trade had now become an absolute necessity. Hussey Burgh thought that the poverty of Ireland was so extreme that it was a matter of serious doubt whether she could any longer support her establishments, and whether she must not resort to England to defray the cost of her internal defence.
Events in Ireland soon forced the British Government to see the necessity of conceding the Irish demands. On October 12th, 1779, the Irish Parliament met. Henry Grattan was now foremost among the leaders of the patriotic party. During the four years in which he had sat in Parliament it had been his great aim to create an Irish nation, to unite Protestants and Catholics, to end the race and religious feud of centuries. It was he who had championed the cause of the Catholics in 1778, when the first step had been taken towards the repeal of the penal code. Now he was to be the champion of the entire nation in its demand for commercial freedom.
When Parliament met the address from the Throne proved vague and unsatisfactory. The usual indefinite promises were made, but nothing seemed settled, and the Commons were convinced of the vacillating policy of the Ministry. Grattan at once moved an amendment to the address to the King regarding the demand for free trade, stating in emphatic terms that the only way to relieve the kingdom, and render it capable of assisting England, was "to open its ports for the exportation of all its manufactures." Grattan's amendment produced a long debate, in which he was supported by Daly, Yelverton,
p.211Flood, Conally, Sir Robert Newenham, Sir Henry Cavendish, and other notable members. Some of these men went so far as to deny the right of England to fetter Irish trade by her own Acts of Parliament. But the Government had a large army of supporters, and it was determined to defeat Grattan's amendment if possible, as his great influence was particularly disliked. Government was assisted in its efforts by many members who thought that the wording of the amendment was too emphatic, and eventually another amendment, proposed by Flood and Hussey Burgh, was proposed and carried in its place, Declaring "that it is not by temporary expedients, but by a free trade alone, that this nation is now to be saved from impending ruin."508 The House then went in a body to present the address to the Lord Lieutenant. Crowds of people were collected in the streets, and the Dublin volunteers were drawn up under the command of the Duke of Leinster. The air resounded with cheers, and the Commons felt that it was indeed their privilege to represent the desires of the whole capital, if not of the entire nation.
But the King's answer was vague, and might have meant anything. The excitement, both in Parliament and all over the country, was intense. Everywhere violent speeches were made, and "a free trade" was now the watchword of the nation. On November 4th the Dublin volunteers assembled in College Green and paraded round the statue of William III., whom they regarded as the founder of constitutional freedom. The artillery, commanded by James Napper Tandy, hung labels on the necks of their cannon, with the inscription, "Free Trade, or a speedy Revolution!" On the sides of the pedestal of the statue were written the following inscriptions:"Relief to Ireland: A Short Money Bill"; "A Free Trade, or "The Volunteers: quinquaginta millia juncta, parati pro patria mori." Two cannons
p.212with the inscription "Free Trade or This" stood before the front of the statue. Similar placards appeared all over Dublin; the people assembled in thousands, and mixed freely with the volunteers; the expression of men's faces was one of enthusiasm, defiance, and determination. Government could be in no doubt as to the state of popular feeling.
On November 8th Buckingham wrote that unless the expectations of the kingdom were speedily answered, "almost every species of disorder may be apprehended."509 A week later he wrote an account to Weymouth of some further disturbances which had taken place in Dublin.510 Early in the morning of November 15th a mob had assembled before the Attorney-General's house in Harcourt Place, and, finding the Attorney-General gone to the Four Courts, some stopped to break all his windows and doors, while others went to the Courts and demanded that he should be given up to them. Fortunately the Attorney-General managed to escape, and the mob then collected before the Parliament House, and as each member arrived he was forced to get out of his chair or coach and take an oath "to vote for the good of Ireland, for a Free Trade and a Short Money Bill." In consequence of this, some troops were at once sent for, and arrived shortly after three o'clock. The Lord Mayor was in the House, and he was persuaded to go out and speak to the people. But when he appeared some of the mob drew their cutlasses and swore they would kill him if he dared to take the command of the military, and that they would never disperse until the troops were drawn off. Eventually the soldiers were ordered off to Kildare Street, on the pretext that some of the mob meditated an attack on the house of Sir Henry Cavendish. But no attempt of the kind was made, and the crowd peaceably dispersed at four o'clock, when the House adjourned. The violent feeling displayed against
p.213the Attorney-General was due to the opposition he had made in Parliament against the proposed associations not to re-elect such members as might vote for new taxes before an extension of trade was obtained. The mob on this occasion seems to have consisted only of the lowest section of the populace.
It was in the midst of all this excitement that Grattan moved in the Commons, on November 24th, "that at this time it would be inexpedient to grant new taxes." The resolution was carried against the Government by a majority of 123. The next day the House went into Committee of Supply, and the patriotic party moved that the appropriated duties should be granted for six months only. A memorable debate followed, of which Hussey Burgh was the hero. One of the Government supporters spoke of the necessity of preserving peace at any cost. Hussey Burgh sprang to his feet. "Peace!" he cried; "talk not to me of peace. Ireland is not in a state of peace; it is smothered war. England has sown her laws like dragons' teeth, and they have sprung up like armed men." The effect of this outburst was marvellous. The House resounded with cheers, in which the people crowding the galleries joined. There was a scene of the wildest enthusiasm, and when the resolution was put to the vote it was carried by a majority of 38.511
The battle was won. Buckingham represented to Lord Worth that substantial concessions were absolutely necessary in face of the feeling which prevailed all over the country. On December 6th the Opposition in the British House of Commons proposed a vote of censure on His Majesty's Ministers for suffering the discontents in Ireland "to rise to such a height as evidently to endanger a dissolution of the constitutional connection between the two kingdoms."512 A few days later North introduced into Parliament his resolutions for the relief of Ireland.
p.214There were three principal ones. The first allowed the free exportation of Irish wool and woollen manufactures; the second allowed the free exportation of Irish glass and glass manufactures; the third allowed freedom of trade with the British plantations under certain conditions, the basis of which was to be "an equality of taxes and customs upon an equal and unrestrained trade." North also proposed that the Irish should be permitted to become members of the Turkey Company, and to carry on a direct trade with the Levant Seas; that foreign hops might be imported into Ireland; and that the Act which prohibited the importation of gold and silver coin into Ireland should be repealed. The debates on the three principal resolutions took place on December 13th. The Bills allowing the free exportation of wool and woollen manufactures and glass passed at once almost unanimously and with scarcely any discussion, and received the royal assent as early as December 21st.513 On January 24th of the next year the Bill allowing a free trade between Ireland and the plantations was passed, and on March 21st the Bill allowing the importation of foreign hops into Ireland, for taking off the drawback on hops exported from Great Britain to Ireland, and for allowing a free trade between Ireland and the Levant Seas was also passed.514 And so, suddenly, with little debate and practically no opposition, the British Parliament relieved the trade of Ireland in all the most important points. Parliament yielded to force of circumstances, for Great Britain's hands were completely tied by the American war. There was little opposition in the country, although the measures went much further than those proposed the previous year, which had raised such a commotion. It seems probable that the Irish non-importation agreements had something to say to this change of front on the part of the British manufacturing interest, and perhaps also the common
p.215sense of the British people made them realise that their day of complete commercial monopoly had gone for ever.
The free trade Bills were received in Ireland with the greatest enthusiasm. The Irish Parliament showed its gratitude by promptly passing a Bill granting drawbacks on goods imported from foreign countries when re-exported to the British colonies in America or the West Indies, or to the British settlements on the coast of Africa, and also placing the Irish trade with America and the West Indies on the same footing as the British trade with those countries.515 New taxes were also granted, and for a short time harmony reigned between the Opposition and Government.
In the struggle for free trade Ireland treated Great Britain with as little consideration as Great Britain had treated her in the past. She took advantage of the difficulties which confronted England, for she knew well that nothing but sheer force and necessity would break through the jealousies and fears of the manufacturing and trading interests in England and Scotland. The Irish Parliament and the Irish volunteers played the chief parts in the drama, and indeed had it not been for the existence of a large body of armed men in Ireland, it is probable that Great Britain would still have vacillated and continued her doles to keep the Irish Government from bankruptcy instead of striking at the source of the evils. There was no real desire in Great Britain to substantially relieve Irish trade until 1779, when the volunteers were arming and the non-importation agreements were being formed, and when the Lord Lieutenant emphasised the danger of the situation unless something was done. Great Britain's need was Ireland's opportunity, and so she won her free trade.
But Ireland was not content, and could not be content,
p.216with free trade. She wanted a free Parliament in order to secure the permanence of that free trade. The struggle was not finished yet; perhaps the most notable part was still to be played. Of that part Grattan was the hero, and the volunteers supplied the needful coercion for obtaining all he claimed.