The idea of a legislative union between England and Ireland was by no means new, for it had been entertained by various men in both countries from very early times. Molyneux tells us that there are traces of barons, prelates, and citizens being summoned from Ireland to serve in the English Parliaments in the reigns of Edward I. and Edward III.,721 and during the Commonwealth, when the great scheme of parliamentary reform was carried out, Ireland and Scotland were incorporated with England, and sent thirty representatives each to the Protectorate Parliaments of 1654 and 1657. But Cromwell's grand
p.309scheme of a United Kingdom disappeared with him, and after the Restoration Ireland and Scotland resumed their own local legislatures.
But the idea of union between England and Ireland by no means died out. Petty advocated it continually.722 He thought that the union of the legislatures was the only means by which Ireland might be rid of those commercial restrictions which were beginning to hamper her material progress, and also that such a union might do much to weld the two countries more closely together. When Petty wrote, the restraints placed by England on Irish trade were comparatively slight, and in the reigns of William III. and Anne, when these restraints began to touch every branch of Irish trade and industry, there were in consequence far weightier reasons why Ireland should have thankfully received a policy of union. It seems to have been the restrictions placed on the Irish woollen trade that chiefly inspired Molyneux to write his famous treatise on the independence of the Irish Parliament. One passage of this treatise is particularly interesting, for it shows that Molyneux, like so many of his contemporaries, would have welcomed a union. He says that if it may be concluded from the fact of Irish members having been summoned to the Parliament of Edward III. "that the Parliament of England may bind Ireland, it must also be allowed that the people of Ireland ought to have their representatives in the Parliament of England; and this I believe we should be willing enough to embrace, but this is a happiness we can hardly hope for."723
Soon after Molyneux wrote there began those political and commercial disputes between England and Scotland which made the English Government determined to
p.310procure a union. The Scotch Union was carried mainly by corruption, but it is doubtful whether it could have been carried even by this means if solid commercial benefits had not been offered to Scotland in return for the surrender of her legislature. At this time Ireland was nothing loath to give up her separate Parliament on the same conditions. On October 20th, 1703, when the negotiations for the union with Scotland were proceeding, the Irish Commons sent up an address to the Queen petitioning for a legislative union,724 and a few days later the Lords assented to resolutions embodying the same request.725 Four years after, in 1707, the Irish House of Commons, in their address to the Queen congratulating her on the completion of the Union with Scotland, expressed a hope that God might put it into her heart to add still greater strength and lustre to her Crown by a yet more comprehensive union.726 Men like Archbishop King and Bishop Nicholson were not adverse to the measure, for the commercial benefits which Ireland would reap were considerable, and very probably, if England had wished, union with Ireland might have taken place without any difficulty. Ireland had even more to gain than Scotland from union with England, and the strong national feeling which prevailed in Scotland, and which later on was to prevail in Ireland, had not yet sprung into life. The Catholics were miserable and downtrodden, the Protestants looked to England as their natural protector, and there was no affection felt by the mass of the people, whether Catholic or Protestant, for the local legislature. But at that time England had no wish for union with Ireland; the spirit of commercial monopoly reigned supreme, and the advances of the Irish Parliament were coldly received.
During the next three-quarters of a century various
p.311writers still advocated the idea of a legislative union between the two countriesBishop Berkeley, Dobbs, and Madden in Ireland, and Sir Matthew Decker, Postlethwayt, Child, and Josiah Tucker in England. Then just before Ireland was granted free trade, Adam Smith, in his Wealth of Nations, announced as his opinion that "without an Union with Great Britain, the inhabitants of Ireland are not likely for many ages to consider themselves as one people."727 He wished Ireland to share the burden of the British National Debt, but he thought that any increase of taxation this might necessitate would be more than balanced by the commercial freedom which would be permanently secured to the Irish people.
But the American War, followed by the repeal of the commercial restrictions and the establishment of parliamentary independence, changed the whole current of feeling in Ireland with regard to the idea of union with England. Adam Smith's statement was for the time being falsified, and the Irish for the first time began "to consider themselves as one people." A national feeling sprang up among both Protestants and Catholics, and the national legislature at last became representative of the national feeling. The idea of Irish unity, and the sentiment of independence having once awakened, any scheme which would involve interference with their Parliament became most obnoxious to the Irish people. England had lost long ago the favourable moment for achieving a union. She had then much to give Ireland in exchange for her Parliament. Now she had comparatively little, for the principal restraints on Irish commercial development had been removed, while the Irish Parliament after 1782 was a very different affair from the Irish Parliament at the beginning of the century. Ireland had now before her a free field for commercial development, and the existence of an independent legislature naturally increased the sacrifice involved in union with England.
On the other hand, England was becoming increasingly anxious for the measure. The English Government had been practically forced into granting independence to the Irish Parliament, but from the day when this independence was granted English statesmen began to advocate union with Ireland. To the Englishmen of that day there seemed naturally enough something peculiarly dangerous to English interests in the existing political relations with Ireland. The tie of a common Executive appeared too slight, and no doubt it was possible for Ireland to have made herself troublesome had she wished. The failure of the Commercial Propositions of 1785 was unfortunate, for they would have placed the commercial intercourse between the two countries on a permanent basis, and settled Ireland's contribution towards the defence of the Empire, thus removing two causes which seemed to make a union imperative from an English point of view. There is no doubt that the failure of the Propositions, together with the independent attitude adopted by the Irish Parliament towards the Regency question, made the English Government more anxious to procure union with Ireland, and from this time we begin to hear much about the possibility of the measure. There were many men in England who now thought that the bond between the two countries was most precarious, and could not be permanent. The policy of the Irish Parliament in repealing so much of the penal code seemed to weaken this bond still more. The Irish Act of 1793, which extended the franchise to a large and impoverished Catholic democracy, tripled the electorate, changed the whole political aspect of things in Ireland, and made to English minds the existence of an independent Irish legislature much more dangerous. It seemed to be, so to speak, the thin edge of the wedge, and it was thought that if the Catholics were admitted to complete political power a Catholic policy must in the nature of things become in the ascendant. Then the Protestant establishment must fall, the landlords would be ruined, and a
p.313political and social revolution would take place, leading perhaps to the downfall of the Empire. The Catholics might then claim a Catholic king, and would probably become hostile to England and side with her enemies.728 The only way to avert all this, it was said, was to bring about a speedy union. Once the Union was completed, the immediate emancipation of the Catholics, if indeed such an emancipation must be granted, would not materially matter, for they would form a small minority in the Imperial Parliament. The possibility of Catholic emancipation in an independent Ireland was, in fact, the root of the problem. It was this that made England fear that Ireland might soon slip out of her grasp, and which made her determined to procure a legislative union, in order to do away once for all with the possibility of total separation.
But if we turn to Ireland we find a different feeling on the matter. "Talk to an Irishman of an union with England," it was said by an Englishman as early as 1775, "and he almost takes fire 'What! bereave us of our Parliament and then overrate us with taxes!'"729 "If a candidate for any county," says the same writer, "were supposed capable of favouring such a destructive scheme it would be sufficient to defeat his election."730 Such was the feeling at the commencement of the American War, and this sentiment of hatred to the idea of union became stronger and stronger as time went on.
Harcourt, when Lord Lieutenant, advised the British Ministry not to proceed in the matter of union until public opinion in Ireland had been prepared for the measure,731 and in 1780 Buckingham wrote to Hillsborough: "Let me earnestly recommend to you not to utter the word 'Union' in a whisper or to let it drop from your pen. The present temper will not bear it."732 Up to the time of the Rebellion all sections of Irishmen were agreed in wishing to preserve the constitutional arrangement of 1782. Grattan and other patriots who desired to gradually emancipate the Catholics altogether were perfectly loyal to the English connection, and they did not fear the possibility of separation between the two countries when this complete emancipation took place.
But the Rebellion did much to destroy this harmony of ideas among Irishmen. The Society of United Irishmen was the expression of the democratic and republican idea of the age. It was one of the results of that great wave of enthusiastic republicanism which sprang from the events of the French Revolution, and it was in consequence thoroughly repugnant to the feelings and sentiments of the majority of the Irish Protestant gentry. The disturbances in Ireland were, therefore, fatal to the recently awakened spirit of national unity, and as a result the idea of union came to be rather less obnoxious to some of the Irish Protestants. The inevitable result of the Rebellion was the division of classes and the dissensions of sects. The disturbances in the country made some of the country gentlemen ask themselves whether the Protestant establishment would not be safer under the closer protection of Great Britain, and thus England by means of much judicious persuasion was able to win over to her side some of those who dreaded a new insurrection of United Irishmen. There was certainly a feeling among some of the Irish Protestants that the patriotic party in
p.315Parliament had gone too far in their policy of emancipating the Catholics, and that the ascendancy of the Protestants in the country would soon be at an end without the powerful protection of England. But this feeling was by no means widespread, even when the horrors of the Rebellion were paralysing the country; and when the prospect of union was first definitely announced it was received with a storm of hostility by both Protestants and Catholics. It seems, however, true to say, that if the Rebellion had never taken place it is doubtful whether the Union could have been carried by any means whatsoever.
It was in the summer of 1798, when the Rebellion was being crushed out, that the Pitt-Portland Cabinet first made up its mind that an attempt might be made towards the abolition of the Irish legislature with some prospect of success. By September the leading points of the measure of Union were already under consideration,733 and a little later the Irish Lord Chancellor, Lord Clare, Beresford, and the Speaker Foster went over to England to assist in the deliberations. The two former were in favour of a union, but the latter was bitterly opposed to it, and for the third time in his extremely able career he represented the popular opinion. Soon the principal articles of the Union resolutions were transmitted from England to Lord Cornwallis, now Lord Lieutenant, and the latter was authorised to pledge England to the scheme.734 Cornwallis had been hopeful of success, but in December he was forced to admit that public hostility to the Union was increasing daily, and that he had been too sanguine about the Catholics. On the 12th of the month he wrote to Major-General Ross: "Their dispositions are so completely alienated from the British Government that I believe they would even be tempted to join with their
p.316bitterest enemies, the Protestants of Ireland,735 if they thought that the measure would lead to a total separation of the two countries."736 Just at this time a meeting of the Irish Bar was held, and it was nearly unanimously resolved that the proposals for a union were highly dangerous and improper and ought not to be pressed forward by the British Government when an army of 40,000 men was in the country.737 Indignation meetings were held in Dublin and in various towns and places in the Queen's and King's counties, in Westmeath, Meath, Carlow, Louth, and Clare, and there is no doubt that at this time opposition to the Union prevailed all over Ireland. Irish manufacturers had no wish for a free trade to be established with Great Britain, for they realised that while such a policy would not enable them to compete with British manufactures in British markets, their own markets would promptly be flooded with cheap British goods. The whole of Dublin was especially opposed to the Union, for it was feared that the removal of the Parliament would reduce the material prosperity and importance of the capital and would increase absenteeism. It was also felt by everyone that union with England would mean somehow or other heavier taxation for the Irish people. The Catholics were very hostile, for as yet they had not been bribed by hints of possible emancipation; the Orangemen were violent in their opposition; and the majority of the moderate Protestants were anxious to preserve their beloved Constitution of 1782.
On January 22nd, 1799, the Lord Lieutenant in his speech to the Irish House of Commons hinted for the first time at the possibility of a union. He said nothing definite, but the debates that followed in both Houses were all on the subject of the Union, as Lord Castlereagh,
p.317Chief Secretary to the Lord Lieutenant, announced that it was the intention of Government to bring forward the measure. In the Lords the voting was in favour of Government, but in the Commons matters were different and the debates were long and bitter. An address to the King was moved containing an approval of the idea of Union. It was vigorously opposed. Plunket, an Ulsterman, spoke with force and eloquence against the Government, and he totally denied the competence of Parliament to change the Constitution, much less to abolish it without a fresh election.738 Many other Members spoke against the address and eventually on a division being taken to expunge the Union paragraph from the address, it was found that the National party had 111 votes as against 106 for Government. The debates had been almost entirely concerned with the constitutional aspect of the question, and little was said on either commercial or financial points.
Meanwhile, the project of Union had been definitely announced in the British Parliament by Pitt in a message from the King.739 Pitt tried to show that the settlement of 1782 had not been final, and he emphasised the dangers which might befall the Empire if Ireland kept her independent Parliament. He denied that the object of the Union was to bring Ireland under the burden of the British national debt or that its result would be an increase in Irish taxation. The debts of the two countries were to be kept separate and the ordinary expenses of the United Kingdom in peace or war were to be defrayed by the two countries in fixed proportions. It was quite possible for Parliament, Pitt said, to fix for a certain number of years the proportion by which the contribution of Ireland to the expenses of the Empire should be regulated, in such a way as to secure that the
p.318contribution paid by Ireland would not be greater than "the necessary amount of its own present expenses as a separate kingdom." After the period fixed the proportion of the respective contributions from time to time might be made to depend on the comparative produce in each kingdom of such general taxes as might be thought to afford the best criterion of their respective wealth. Pitt hoped, however, that in time it might be practicable so to equalise and assimilate the system of internal taxation in each country "as to make all rules of specific proportion unnecessary, and to secure that Ireland shall never be taxed but in proportion as we tax ourselves." Accordingly he proposed in his financial resolution that the charge arising from the payment of the interest or sinking fund due on account of the pre-Union debt in either kingdom should be separately met by Great Britain and Ireland respectively; that for a number of years, to be afterwards fixed, the future ordinary expenses of the United Kingdom in peace or war should be defrayed by Great Britain and Ireland jointly according to such proportions as should be established by the respective Parliaments previous to the Union; and that after the expiration of the time so fixed, the proportion should not be liable to be changed except according to such rules and principles as should have been determined previous to the Union. Three weeks' discussion followed. There was a good deal of opposition to the whole scheme on constitutional and commercial grounds, but little was said as to the financial points. Eventually Pitt's several resolutions were carried, and an address in favour of a union was presented by Parliament to the King.
But the opposition displayed by the Irish Parliament made it necessary to move cautiously, and for the next year Government busied itself with gaining supporters. The subject of Union was, however, revived from time to time during the session, and the Speaker (Foster) delivered a speech during the Regency debate, in which he examined
p.319closely the probable effect of the Union on the material prosperity of Ireland.740 He believed that the Union would lead to a great increase of taxation, and would therefore be fatal to the growing wealth of the country; and he declared that it was useless to say that Parliament would depend on the articles of Union it framed to secure the purse and trade of Ireland, for the very doctrine of the omnipotence of Parliament, which would enable it to carry the Union against the evident wishes of the country, would of necessity reduce its articles to waste paper. The United Parliament would have power to alter or abrogate any article of the Union; to abolish bounties, to amalgamate debts, or to increase taxation, and the minority of a hundred Irish Members would be powerless to resist. Foster also dwelt on the great material progress which had been made by Ireland since the establishment of the free Parliament of 1782, and he showed that Ireland had every chance before her of commercial and industrial development, for the exclusion of Irish manufactures from the British markets did not really injure Irish trade. Ireland had, in fact, little now to fear from the commercial hostility of Great Britain, and, with an unrestricted foreign trade and a free Parliament, the country was bound to progress in the path of material prosperity. Foster's arguments produced some effect, but Parliament was now adjourned by the Viceroy, and when it met again, at the beginning of 1800, many new Members were present in place of those who had been bribed by Parliament to retire. The new Place Bill had come to the aid of Government by putting it in their power to vacate the seats of Members of Parliament, and to introduce new Members without a general appeal to the constituencies.
The Union resolutions had now arrived at a definite shape, and on February 5th Lord Castlereagh made a long speech, in which he explained the proposed articles, and
p.320particularly dwelt on the commercial and financial arrangements.741 He stated that the commercial article (article 6) placed the subjects and products of either country on an equal footing as to encouragements, bounties, and treaties. The whole idea of the arrangement was to open the commercial intercourse between Great Britain and Ireland as much as possible, and Castlereagh lamented that the two countries could not be completely made one on account of an inequality of burdens, which resulted in unequal excises, and which, therefore, necessitated separate treasuries. But Ireland would certainly gain greatly from the measure, even more than she would have gained, commercially speaking, from the Propositions of 1785. By those Propositions Great Britain retained a duty of 1s. 6d. per ton on coal exported to Ireland, but this was given up by the articles of Union. Again, by the Treaty of 1785, the export of British wool remained prohibited, but by the Union arrangements it was conceded. The Irish sailcloth manufacture would benefit from a free entry into England, and from a cessation of the bounties now given on British sailcloth exported to Ireland. As for the idea that Irish manufactures would suffer from the removal of the protective duties, Castlereagh thought that it was worth nothing; the only Irish manufacture which might suffer from a policy of free trade was the cotton manufacture, and this was to receive special protection, for the existing duties of 40 to 50 per cent on the importation of cotton goods were to be retained for a period of seven years, at the end of which time they were to be gradually reduced to the level of 10 per cent ad valorem within a period of twenty years. This concession had been granted by the British Government because the import duties on cotton goods were the solitary instance of a prohibitory duty in Ireland.742
p.321Lord Castlereagh then went on to speak of the financial arrangements which were embodied in article 7 of the Treaty. He said the principle of the arrangement was that neither country was to have anything to do with the past debt of the other, but, as to the future, the two countries were to unite in regard to their expenses according to their respective abilities. The inequality of the debts in Great Britain and Ireland necessitated the pre-Union debts being kept distinct, and rendered indiscriminate taxation impossible. Castlereagh then spoke of the criterion by means of which he had arrived at the respective resources of Great Britain and Ireland in order to fix the relative proportions of their contributions. The first standard he had taken as a basis for comparison was the average annual values of the total exports and imports in Great Britain and Ireland respectively for the years 1796, 1797, and 1798, and these values he had found to bear the proportion of nearly 7 to 1. He had then taken the values of the principal dutiable commoditiesmalt, beer, spirits, wine, tobacco, tea, and sugarconsumed in the two countries respectively during the same three years, and these he had found to bear the proportion of 7 7/8 to 1. The mean of these two proportions was 7 1/2 to 1, and Lord Castlereagh therefore proposed that Great Britain should contribute 15/17 and Ireland 2/17 of the whole general expenses of the Empirei.e., that the proportion of Ireland should be 2 to 15, or 12 per cent of the whole.
Lord Castlereagh then explained the financial provisions in more detail; and first he examined whether the ratio of 7 1/2 to 1, which he had deduced, would correspond with the ratio of past expenditure, exclusive of debt charge, of Great Britain and Ireland. He took a single year of peace (179192) and found that the proportion of expenditure for Great Britain and Ireland respectively was 5 3/4 to 1. He then took the average expenditures of the two countries for seven years from the commencement of the war, and
p.322found that the proportion of expenditure for Great Britain and Ireland respectively was annually 9 to 1. Castlereagh took these very arbitrary proportions of 5 3/4 to 1 in peace and 9 to 1 in war, and argued that "as, upon the experience of the past century, it is found that there are three years of peace to two of war, if we form our calculations upon this proportion, the past expenses of Great Britain and Ireland may be considered in the ratio of 7 3/4 to 1." In the year of peace taken by Castlereagh he put Great Britain's expenditure at seven and a half millions, and that of Ireland at one and a half, altogether nine millions for the United Kingdom.743 But if the Union had existed in that year, and the total charge had been borne by the two countries in the ratio of 2 to 15, Ireland's share, according to Castlereagh, would have been £441,000 less than her expenditure, as a separate kingdom, amounted to during that year.
Lord Castlereagh then emphasised the fact that Ireland would not be called upon to bear any part of the British National Debt, and said that the ninth section of the financial article gave Ireland a share in whatever sum might be produced from the territorial revenues in India. This would amount to about £58,000 a year out of the revenue paid by the East India Company, and was an exceptionally generous provision. He also pointed out that the proportion which had been established of two for Ireland and fifteen for Great Britain was only to last twenty years, and would then be revised by the Imperial Parliament, so that Ireland had the utmost possible security that she could never be taxed beyond the measure of her comparative ability. When, however, the separate debts of the two kingdoms should be either discharged or should be in proportion to their respective contributions, the taxation of Ireland might be assimilated with that of Great Britain, so that the whole expenses of the Empire should be defrayed by common taxes in the two
p.323countries. Lord Castlereagh tried to show that a system of common taxation under such conditions would not impose upon Ireland a heavier burden than she would otherwise be called upon to bear. The United Parliament would always be able to make abatements in Ireland, as the British Parliament had continually done in Scotland, if from local circumstances the high duty could not be levied without pressing unduly on the poorer classes or rendering the revenue unproductive.
Some of the rather hypothetical statements made by Lord Castlereagh evoked much hostile criticism; Government, however, proved too strong for the Opposition and the Union resolutions were accepted by a majority of forty-three. But on February 17th, 1800, the resolutions were considered in committee and now Lord Castlereagh's commercial and financial proposals were at last taken up and considered in detail by Foster.744 It was Foster's opinion that Ireland would gain little, commercially speaking, from the Union. It was impossible for Irish merchants to compete with British in the British markets, and it was probable that the reduction of the duties on manufactured goods imported into Ireland would cause a decay among those Irish manufactures which were but in their infancy. The reduction of these duties would also fall heavily upon the revenue; for besides taking away £32,000 a year of protective duties, the Union would do away with £44,000 a year paid on the exportation from Ireland of live cattle, hides, tallow, butter, beef, pork, and linen yarn. The removal of the export duty on hides would injure the tanning trade, and all Irish merchants were agreed that the duties on tallow, butter, meat, and linen yarn did not hamper their trade, while it was certainly true that there had been an enormous expansion in the exportation of all these goods in recent years. The removal of the duties would, of course, be
p.324advantageous to England, who would get the goods cheaper, but it would be unfavourable to Ireland, for fresh taxes would have to be raised in their place in order to fill the gap in the revenue. Foster also feared that the abolition of the tax on the exportation of live cattle, which in 1793 had so wisely been raised from 1s. 6d. to 6s. per head, would encourage this exportation and thus cause a decline in the provision trade and in agriculture.
But Foster's criticism of the financial articles was far more important and is full of interest. He insisted that the criterion which Lord Castlereagh had taken as his basis for comparing the respective resources of Great Britain and Ireland was really worthless and could establish nothing. For one thing, in comparing the imports and exports of the two countries, the Chief Secretary had omitted to calculate the tonnage of the shipping belonging to each kingdom; thus he paid no attention as to which country received the profits of the carriage, although this contributed a material part of the total value. Again, in comparing the consumption of dutiable commodities in Great Britain and Ireland, both salt and stamps had been excluded from the list of articles. Foster declared that in 1799 the gross duties on salt were in Great Britain £800,000 and in Ireland £90,000, or in the proportion of nine for Great Britain and one for Ireland. Similarly the gross amount of the stamp duties in the same year was £2,000,000 in Great Britain and in Ireland £137,000, or in the proportion of fifteen for Great Britain and one for Ireland, while the Post Office receipts in the two countries, which Lord Castlereagh had also omitted from his calculations, showed the proportion of ten for Great Britain and one for Ireland. A consideration of these points must inevitably alter the whole proportion in favour of Ireland. Under the proposed proportional contribution it was impossible to believe with Lord Castlereagh that the taxation of Ireland would not only be subject to no increase but would actually be diminished. The argument
p.325was, in fact, absurd. The aggregate expenses of the Empire could not decrease, for the war was still going on and no one knew exactly how long it would last. Therefore, if Ireland were to pay less, Great Britain must pay more; Great Britain would then go bankrupt and Ireland would fall with her. But no sane man could believe that England would voluntarily take upon herself the burden of extra taxation in order to bring about a measure of Union for which Ireland had not asked. The truth was that the idea that under the Union arrangements Ireland would save annually in time of peace had been arrived at in an extremely arbitrary manner. It had been arrived at by placing the peace establishment of Ireland at £1,500,000. This was much too high; for the last peace establishment, just before the war, when much was being spent in developing the resources of the country, had only been £1,012,000, and it had proved amply sufficient. But Lord Castlereagh was trying to prove that the revenue of Ireland was not equal to her expenditure, and that nothing but a legislative Union would save the country from bankruptcy, and he had therefore over-estimated the peace establishment. At the same time, he had under-estimated the Irish revenue. Foster estimated it for the year 179899 at £2,638,000; out of this sum debt charges would amount to £1,400,000, thus leaving £1,238,000 for the peace establishment, which would be amply sufficient. Of course, if the war continued, Ireland's expenses would increase, but they would increase, Foster insisted, at a far less rapid rate than under a Union. It was also probable that the Irish revenue would increase, as his estimate of the revenue was taken from a year of rebellion and invasion; this, however, had been left out of account by Lord Castlereagh. Irish finances were not at all so desperate as they were made out to be, and the Irish debt during the war had increased far less rapidly than the British debt, in spite of the fact that the whole cost of the Rebellion was falling on Ireland. In the six years ended January 5th, 1799, Great Britain
p.326had increased her debt by £186,000,000, while Ireland had only increased hers by £14,000,000. The liabilities of the two kingdoms had therefore been augmented by £200,000,000. But if the Union arrangements had been in force during these six years Ireland's share (i.e., 2/17 of these joint liabilities would have been £23,530,000 instead of only £14,000,000. Therefore, if the Union had taken place in 1793, Ireland's debt would have increased nine and a half millions more than it actually had done. Foster maintainedand subsequent events proved that his ideas were justthat the Union, instead of reducing the taxation of Ireland, would increase that taxation by about two and a half millions a year. Thus both the phantoms of increased taxation and bankruptcy without the Union vanished, while the probability was that with the Union both would take place. In another way the Chief Secretary's arguments were curious. Ireland was to get the supposed favourable proportion of 2/17 because of the comparative greatness of the British debt,745 but when Ireland, say, should have doubled her debt to £50,000,000 and Great Britain should have decreased hers to £340,000,000, this benefit was to be taken away, because the debts of the two countries would then be to each other in the proportion of their respective contributions to Imperial expenditure. Ireland could not bear equal taxation with Great Britain at present, but after she has doubled her debt and Great Britain has decreased hers, Ireland will be richer and able to bear heavier taxation. But the double debt must lead to double taxes to meet the debt charge, and at the same time Ireland must endure the full burden of indiscriminate taxation with Great Britain.
But Foster's speech produced no effect on the division list, and Government procured a majority of forty-three for the consideration of the Union proposals. From this time the success of the measure was practically certain.
On February 24th the resolution as to the relative contribution of the two countries was debated. Lord Castlereagh did his best to answer Foster's prophecies as to the probable financial effects of the Union, and he maintained that Ireland would in the next five years, taken in the proportion of two of war and three of peace, save under the Union arrangements nearly ten millions. Sir John Parnell supported Foster in stating that the proportion that Ireland was called upon to bear was too great for her capacities, and he, therefore, proposed as an amendment that the Irish contribution should be 2/20 instead of 2/17. But this amendment was negatived and Government again secured a majority.
In the following debates the Union resolutions were fought over one by one, but as usual the constitutional aspect of the question took up most attention, and little time was given to the important financial arrangements. On May 26th Grattan made his famous speech against the Committal of the Union Bill, and in particular he challenged Lord Castlereagh's statements in defence of the financial resolutions.746 He said that the idea of a Union rested on two false principlesfirst, that the revenue of the kingdom would not increase; and secondly, that its expenses were bound to grow. But if the Irish revenue did not increase, what was to become of the material prosperity promised to result from the Union? On the other hand, if the revenue did increase, what was to become of Lord Castlereagh's argument as to impending bankruptcy? Grattan then showed, as Foster had done, that the present revenue would leave a margin on normal peace expenditure after the debt charge had been met, but that this margin had disappeared in Lord Castlereagh's statement because he had arbitrarily estimated the peace establishment of Ireland at £1,500,000 instead of a little over £1,000,000. No
p.328reasons had been given for anticipating this increase in peace expenditure, but if it was to be the result of an enlargement of the military force in the kingdom, what then became of the tranquillising effects promised to result from the Union? Grattan declared that he considered that Lord Castlereagh's calculations as to the proper proportion Ireland should contribute were founded upon worthless data, and that it was probable that Ireland had been over-rated in contribution as she had been over-charged in establishments. As a result of this speech the Government majority fell from forty-five to thirty-seven on a second division on that night, but this was the last great effort made by the National party in the Commons to preserve the National legislature.
In the Irish House of Lords the Government met with less opposition. The most memorable speech in the debates was made on February 10th, by Lord Clare,747 who energetically advocated a Union as the only way to keep down rebellion, and therefore the only way to keep the country from becoming bankrupt through the expense of maintaining a large military force such as existed at present. On this occasion Government obtained a majority of forty-nine, and the various Union resolutions passed through their final stages with little difficulty. But at the last stage of all a protest by twenty dissentient Peers was entered upon the Journals of the House, directed chiefly against the financial arrangements. It declared that the contribution of 2/17 was more than Ireland was able to bear, and that the criterion adopted by Lord Castlereagh for ascertaining the resources of the two countries was quite insufficient. Other criteria should have been taken, such as the balance of trade in each country, which would show the proportion of 22 for Great Britain and 1 for Ireland, or the current cash in circulation in both
p.329kingdoms, which would show the proportion of 12 to 1. It should also be borne in mind that large sums of money were continually flowing into Great Britain, while Ireland received no money, and annually remitted about two millions to the British Government or to individuals in Britain. Also, money could be raised in Great Britain with great facility, while there was much difficulty in raising any in Ireland, and this fact clearly showed the wealth of one country and the poverty of the other. "Under these circumstances," the protest concluded, "it appears to us that if this kingdom should take upon herself irrevocably the payment of two-seventeenths of such expenses, she will not have means to perform her engagements unless by charging her landed property with 12s. or 13s. in the pound; it must end in the drawing from her her last guinea, in totally annihilating her trade for want of capital, in rendering the taxes unproductive, and consequently in finally putting her into a state of bankruptcy. We think ourselves called upon to protest against a measure so ruinous to the country, and to place the responsibility for its consequences upon such persons as have brought forward and supported it."748
On March 27th the Irish Houses agreed to an address to the King containing the terms proposed by them for a Union between the two kingdoms. This address was communicated by the King to the British Parliament on April 2nd, and three weeks later Pitt delivered a long speech, in which he spoke at length on the financial arrangements.749 He said that it was impossible at present to identify the financial systems of the two countries on account of the different proportions of debt, the different stages of civilisation and commerce, and the different wealth of the two kingdoms. It had therefore been determined to fix a just proportion to be paid by Ireland in order to do away with all suspicion of unduly burdening
p.330her. But he insisted that the object of the financial arrangements was "to effect the gradual abolition of all distinction in finance and revenue between the two countries, and to accelerate the time when both countries form but one fund and pay one uniform proportion of taxes throughout each." This assimilation of the financial systems might be brought about when the "real value" of the debts of Great Britain and Ireland were alike, and then "it will remain in the discretion of the United Parliament to abolish all distinctions of quotas and contributions, and to fix one rate of taxation throughout the United Kingdom subject merely to such local abatements as from circumstances may be necessary."
The Union arrangements were speedily accepted by the British Parliament and sent back to Ireland, where they were at once embodied in a Bill by the Irish Parliament. On May 21st the Bill was brought in, and it was read for the second time on the 26th. It was on this day that Grattan made his second speech against the financial measures, and this time he based his objections on the unintelligible and conflicting nature of the papers before the House on the basis of which the Irish contribution had been calculated.750 In the case of tea, tobacco, sugar, and other articles not produced in the country the value of the goods consumed was returned at one-third and sometimes one-half more than the value of the same kind of goods imported, and no explanation was given of this extraordinary difference. The value of British exports and imports was understated by about six millions, while that of Irish exports and imports was overstated by about two millions, and a proper correction of these mistakes would make the proportion between Great Britain and Ireland 79 to 8 respectively." Colour it as you will," Grattan concluded, "Ireland will pay more than she is able." On this same night of May 26th the Union Bill was
p.331committed by a majority of forty-five, and feeling that further resistance was useless the leaders of the Opposition in the Commons, wishing to inscribe their last protest on the Journals of their House, moved a lengthy address to the King on June 6th, which forcibly summarises all the arguments used by the National party against the financial resolutions.751
In this address the minority complained of the methods used by Government in calculating the proportion to be contributed by Ireland, that no satisfactory papers had been laid before them, and that no committees had been appointed to investigate the matter. They therefore protested against any arrangement of taxation concerning which they had been given no satisfactory documents, or been allowed to make any proper enquiries to guide their judgment, and in which no consideration had been paid to the different legal interest of money in the two kingdoms, to the relative quantity of shipping possessed and used by them, to their export trade in foreign articles or the extent of their manufacture for home consumption, to the relative balance of trade, or to the great influx of money into Great Britain, and the great efflux of money from Ireland. They considered that if a just enquiry had been made "it would have appeared that this proportion for Ireland is not only unjust, but far beyond what it will be in her power to discharge."
This address was thrown out by a majority of fifty-eight, and on June 7th the Union Bill was read for the third time in the Commons, and was then sent to the Lords, where it quickly passed through its three readings, though not without a further protest being entered on the Journals by the dissentient Peers. The Bill was then sent to Westminster, where it passed both Houses of Parliament, and received the Royal assent on August 1st, 1800.752
The commercial arrangements of the Union were
p.332embodied in article 6 of the Treaty. All prohibitions and bounties in both Great Britain and Ireland were to cease, and a perfectly free exportation from one country to the other was to be established, corn only excepted. The goods of each country were to be imported into the other free of duty, with the exception of eighteen articles on which certain duties were to be placed, generally 10 per cent ad valorem; these were apparel, wrought brass, wrought copper, cabinet ware, coaches, cotton, glass, haberdashery, hats, hardware, gold and silver lace, millinery, stained paper, pottery, saddlery, silk manufactures and stockings. A drawback was to be given in those cases where a countervailing duty was taken, and the articles to be charged with a countervailing duty were in Great Britainbeer, bricks and tiles, candles, soap, cordage, printed cottons, cider, glass, leather, stained paper, silk, spirits, starch, refined sugar, sweets and tobacco; and in Irelandbeer, glass, leather, stained paper, silk, spirits, refined sugar, sweets, and tobacco. Salt and hops on importation into Ireland were to be charged with the duties now payable, and the Irish import duty on coals was also to be retained. There was to be no duty on foreign or colonial goods passing through either country to the other. Goods of either country were to be exported from the other subject to the same charges as if exported directly. The foreign and colonial trade of the two countries was to remain as before. The financial arrangements were more complicated and were embodied in article 7 of the Treaty. The wording is not clear, but the principal points of the article are as follows:
p.333to the proportion of 15 to 2; that is, Great Britain was to defray 15/17 or 88.24 per cent, and Ireland 2/17, or 11.76 per cent of the whole expenditure. (2) At the end of twenty years, unless Parliament had determined that the joint expenditure of the United Kingdom was to be indiscriminately defrayed by equal taxes in both countries, the respective contributions of Great Britain and Ireland were to be fixed in such proportions as would seem just and suited to the respective resources of the two countries.
p.334United Kingdom should be defrayed indiscriminately by equal taxes imposed on the same articles in each country subject only to such exemptions and abatements in favour of Ireland as circumstances seemed to necessitate.
These financial provisions were not favourable to Ireland, but even commercially speaking, Ireland stood to gain little from the Union. Seventy different kinds of Irish manufactures were affected by the clause of the commercial article forbidding import duties higher than 10 per cent ad valorem. The duty on silk stockings, to take one instance, was reduced from 4s. 8d. per pair to 1s. or 1s. 6d., and this would naturally increase the disadvantage under which the Irish silk manufacture laboured. Another clause of the article ordered that hops, salt, and coal were for ever to continue subject to the present duties on importation into Ireland. So in the future if Great Britain abolished her excise duty on beer, Ireland would not be able to lower her import duty on hops, and thus British beer, which would come into Ireland duty free, would have a preference over Irish. The duty on salt imported into Ireland had been raised in the last two years from 1s. a ton on rock salt to £3, a duty between 400 and 500 per cent ad valorem; but it had been laid down that this duty was to continue only for two years, and so it was unjust to Ireland and was also injurious to her fisheries that it should be made permanent. Coals, again, had hitherto been exported from Great Britain at a duty of 9d. per ton; this duty was to cease, but the Irish import duty on coal was to be made perpetual, and that at a time when all coasting duties in England and Scotland had been abolished. Dublin, especially, would suffer from this arrangement for the duty there on coals imported was 1s. 8 4/5d. per ton, while that in the rest of Ireland was only 9d. This was because a local duty of 1s. per ton existed in Dublin for the internal improvement of the city; this local duty was blended by the Union arrangements with the general duty
p.335on the article, and its perpetual continuance was thus enforced. All this shows how little Irish affairs were understood in England. Injustice was probably not intended as regards the perpetual duties on hops, salt, and coal imported into Ireland, but their unjust effects are undoubted. The Union arrangements too, left the Irish breweries absolutely unprotected, allowing only a countervailing duty if the Irish excise on beer continued. None of the commercial terms of the Union gave any preference to Irish goods over foreign as the Commercial Propositions had done, and so even Irish linens were to have no security against the rivalry of foreign linens in the British markets. At the same time, the opening of the British markets to Irish manufactures could benefit Ireland little. Almost all the articles on the importation of which Great Britain had hitherto imposed very heavy duties could be worked up more cheaply by herself, and it was not possible for the Irish merchants to export these articles with any profit to England. It is true that the clause forbidding either country to lay prohibitions on the exportation of its goods to the other would enable Ireland to purchase British wool. But it would not benefit the Irish sailcloth manufacture to such an extent as Lord Castlereagh appeared to think, for Great Britain had discontinued her bounties on the exportation of sailcloth to Ireland in 1797, and for some time Irish sailcloth had been entering into Great Britain free of duty.754 But it was, of course, of advantage to Ireland that in future England should not be able to give bounties or to place prohibitions on the exportation of her goods to that country.
There were no regulations concerning the corn trade in the commercial article, and it was feared at the time that when the existing bounties on the exportation of corn to Great Britain were taken off and also the conditional prohibitions on importation, Irish agriculture would lose
p.336all that it had recently gained. But these fears proved groundless. England had ceased to be a corn-exporting country, and soon she was to cease to be even a large corn-growing country. Conditions in England, more especially during the war, were such as to give a perfectly sufficient premium on the importation of Irish corn, and the export trade in cereals to Great Britain was the one Irish trade which prospered greatly after the Union and which continued to prosper until the repeal of the corn laws.
But Great Britain and Ireland were too dissimilar in economic conditions to have the same commercial system, and this had been practically realised by Lord Castlereagh when he advocated the retention of the Irish protective duties on the importation of cotton goods. Irish manufacturers were bitterly opposed to the Union because they thought that under its arrangements of free trade between Great Britain and Ireland, Irish commerce would be ruined, and Irish industries would decline.755 And it is certainly true that Ireland, unlike England, was not in a position to profit through free trade, and therefore she was not in a position to profit, commercially speaking, from the Union. The commercial advantages conferred on Scotland by her Union with England were often cited at this time in order to prove that benefits would likewise be conferred on Ireland. But the cases were not analogous. For one thing, it was many years before Scotch trade and industry began to progress even in a slight degree, and Ireland's material progress during the eighteenth century seems to have been as great as that of Scotland. But what is far more important, for nearly a century after the Union with Scotland, Scotch trade and industry were fostered and encouraged by bounties and protective duties. Scotland had entered into a Union when the ideas of protection reigned supreme in England, and her infant industries received the policy of protection necessary to
p.337their firm establishment. But now, when Ireland was united to Great Britain, the new idea of free trade was coming to the front, and by surrendering her separate Parliament Ireland lost all chance of artificially fostering her native industries. Free trade under certain conditions cannot be an advantage. It could not be an advantage to a poor country like Ireland, in which industries were in their infancy, and which existed side by side in the closest commercial intercourse with a rich country where industries had long flourished.
The commercial arrangements of the Treaty of Union were, however, conceived in the main in a liberal spirit, for what Pitt wanted was to make intercourse as free as possible between the two countries. As regards the financial arrangements, there also seems no doubt that Pitt meant to do the fair thing by Ireland.756 But the whole Union scheme of finance was founded upon a fallacious basis; the arrangements were mistaken in themselves, and time was to prove that they were unjust in their effects.
The standards taken by Lord Castlereagh as the basis for his comparison of the respective resources of Great Britain and Ireland could have established nothing. It was unfair to take the three years preceding 1799 as a basis for comparison, for the presence of a large military force in Ireland naturally caused a great increase in the consumption of dutiable articles in that country. Moreover, in the comparison of the respective resources of the two countries certain sources of revenue were omitted, such as stamp duties, post-office receipts, and the salt tax, all of which would have shown a smaller proportion for Ireland. Again, Lord Castlereagh's actual estimate of
p.338Irish exports and imports was afterwards proved to be inaccurate. He computed their annual average value as nearly eleven millions, whereas the official statistics presented to Parliament in 1834 only made out the average in this period to be eight and a quarter millions.757 But, putting aside all inaccuracies and misstatements, it is impossible to believe that any approximate estimate of the comparative resources of the two countries could have been obtained by merely comparing their respective exports and imports or their consumption of dutiable commodities. This was especially true of two countries like Great Britain and Ireland, whose economic conditions were so dissimilar, and whose populations differed in habits and customs.
In estimating the proportion of Imperial expenditure which Ireland should bear, Lord Castlereagh had tested his conclusions by examining whether the ratio of 7 1/2 to 1 which he had established would correspond with the ratio of past expenditure, exclusive of debt charge, of Great Britain and Ireland. He excluded all debt charges because the pre-Union debts were to be kept distinct, but this exclusion had the effect of rendering his reasoning fallacious. In such a calculation as Lord Castlereagh was attempting debt charges should certainly have been included both in time of war and in time of peace, for war necessitates borrowing, while in years of peace the debt charge incurred in time of war must be redeemed. If the debt charges of the two countries had been included in the estimate of their expenditures, the average annual British expenditure during the seven years of war taken by Lord Castlereagh was £43,034,000, and that of Ireland £3,089,501, so that the expenditure of Great Britain was to that of Ireland during this period not 9 to 1, as was calculated, but 14 to 1. Again, including debt charges in the single year of peace immediately preceding the war,
p.339taken by Lord Castlereagh, the expenditure of Great Britain was £19,251,563, and that of Ireland £1,395,950, thus giving a proportion, not of 5 3/4 to 1, as was calculated, but of nearly 14 to 1 also.758 So by leaving out debt charges in an estimate of the peace and war expenditures of Great Britain and Ireland, the proportion of Irish to British expenditure was falsely raised. Lord Castlereagh did not compare the total expenditures of the two countries; he compared only selected parts of their expenditure. At the same time, a calculation of the peace expenditure of a country based on the figures of a single year was bound to be worthless, while it was unjust to Ireland to estimate her average annual war expenditure from the expenditure period which included not only a foreign war, but also an invasion of Ireland and an actual rebellion.
The clause in the financial article providing that indiscriminate taxation might be imposed when the British and Irish debts should become to one another in the ratio of their respective contributions to Imperial expenditure was, as Foster had pointed out, exceedingly curious. An increase in the indebtedness of Ireland must lead to increased taxes. How, then, would Ireland be better able to bear equal taxation with Great Britain than at the time of the Union? But the explanation is that neither Pitt nor Castlereagh thought for a moment that in the future the ratio existing between the British and Irish debts would be raised by an enormous increase in the Irish debt, while at the same time a small increase took place in the British debt. What they both expected was that the British debt would decrease by the system of liquidation, while the Irish debt would at least not increase; then that the scale of British taxes would rapidly descend to the level of Irish, and consequently that indiscriminate taxation might be adopted without fear of injuring
p.340Ireland.759 Neither Pitt nor Castlereagh looked forward to fifteen years of almost continuous war. But the long war with France vitiated all their calculations and estimates. The miscalculations made by the framers of the Act of Union were chiefly due to their failure to see the future increase in the expenditure of the United Kingdom, and for this failure they can, of course, hardly be blamed. But we have seen that the calculations themselves were inaccurate and founded upon fallacious reasonings, so that even if a long war had not followed, it is almost certain that Ireland would still have found herself overburdened. As it was, however, the huge expenses caused by the war exaggerated and intensified to a high degree the injustice to Ireland which would have in any case existed. But it must be remembered that the same facilities for applying statistical tests as to the respective resources of the two countries did not exist at the time of the Union as they do now, though even at the present day these statistical tests are insufficient. To our modern ideas the standards taken by Lord Castlereagh as the basis for his comparison seem, to say the least of them, inconclusive, and we are surprised that his methods should have been so inaccurate and his ideas so fallacious. But there is no reason to believe that he purposely misstated his facts, although it was a misfortune that he did not give more satisfactory papers concerning them to the Irish Parliament. The figures used by Lord Castlereagh were never submitted to examination, nor are they supported by any available documents. As for Pitt, his sincerity is undoubted, and it is probable that, had he lived to see the enormous increase in the Irish debt side by side with a considerable increase in the British debt, he would never have attempted to subject Ireland under such conditions to the burden of equal taxation with
p.341Great Britain, even though the debts of the two countries had become to one another in the ratio of their respective contributions. But he evinced short-sightedness in not fixing a maximum limit to the total taxation of Ireland in order to guard her from too great a pressure in the event of a large and prolonged increase of expenditure. The possibility of the continuance of the war should surely have been taken into account.