It is needless for us to track the parliament through the debates of the session, which lasted till the 20th July. The few acts (thirty-five), passed in two months, received full and earnest discussion; committees and counsel were heard on many of them (the Acts for repealing the Settlement in particular), and this parliament refused even to adjourn during any holiday.
We trust our readers will deal like searchers for truth, not like polemics, with these documents, and with the history of these times. But, above all, let them not approach the subject unless it be in a spirit enlightened by philosophy and warmed by charity. Thus studied, this time, which has been the armoury of faction, may become the temple of reconciliation. The descendant of the Williamite ought to sympathise with the urgent patriotism and loyalty of the parliament, rather than dwell on its errors, or on the sufferings which civil war inflicted on his forefathers. The heir of the Jacobite may well be proud of such countrymen as the Inniskilliners and the ‘Prentice Boys of Derry. Both must deplore that the falsehoods, corruption, and forgeries of English aristocrats, the imprudence of an English king, and the fickleness of the English people placed the noble cavalry which slew Schomberg, and all but beat William’s immense masses at the Boyne, in opposition to the stout men of Butler’s-bridge and Cavan. What had not the defenders of Derry and Limerick, the heroes of Athlone, Inniskillen, and Aughrim done, had they cordially joined against the alien? Let the Roman Catholics, crushed by the Penal Code, let the Protestants, impoverished and insulted by England, till, musket in hand and with banners displayed, they forced their rights from her in ’82—let both look narrowly at the causes of those intestine feuds, which have prostrated both in turn before the stranger, and see whether much may not be said for both sides, and whether half of what each calls crime in the other is not his own distrust or his neighbour’s ignorance. Knowledge, Charity, and Patriotism are the only powers which can loose this Prometheus-land. Let us seek them daily in our own hearts and conversation.
The Acts and other official documents of James’s Parliament were ordered by William’s Parliament to be burned, and became extremely scarce. In 1740 they were printed in Dublin by Ebenezer Rider, and from that collection we propose to reprint the most important of them, as the best and most solid answer to misrepresentation.
The Parliament which passed those Acts was the first and the last which ever sat in Ireland since the English invasion, possessed of national authority, and complete in all its parts. The king, by law and in fact—the king who, by his Scottish descent, his creed, and his misfortunes, was dear (mistakenly or not) to the majority of the then people of Ireland—presided in person over that Parliament. The peerage consisted of the best blood, Milesian and Norman, of great wealth and of various creeds. The Commons represented the Irish septs, the Danish towns, and the Anglo-Irish counties and boroughs. No Parliament of equal rank, from King to Commons, sat here since; none sat here before or since so national in composition and conduct.
Standing between two dynasties—endangering the one, and almost rescuing the other—acting for a nation entirely unchained then for the first time in 500 years—this Parliament and its Acts ought to possess the very greatest interest for the historian and the patriot.
This was the speech with which his Majesty opened the Session:—
My Lords and Gentlemen,
The Exemplary Loyalty which this Nation hath expressed to me, at a time when others of my Subjects undutifully misbehaved themselves to me, or so basely deserted me: And your seconding my Deputy, as you did, in His Firm and Resolute asserting my Right, in preserving this Kingdom for me, and putting it in a Posture of Defence; made me resolve to come to you, and to venture my life with you, in the defence of your Liberties and my Own Right. And to my great Satisfaction I have not only found you ready to serve me, but that your Courage has equalled your Zeal.
I have always been for Liberty of Conscience, and against invading any Man’s Property; having still in my Mind that Saying in Holy Writ, Do as you would be done to, for that is the Law and the Prophets.
It was this Liberty of Conscience I gave, which my Enemies both Abroad and at Home dreaded; especially when they saw that I was resolved to have it Established by Law in all my Dominions, and made them set themselves up against me, though for different Reasons. Seeing that if I had once settled it, My people (in the Opinion of the One) would have been too happy; and I (in the Opinion of the Other) too great.
This Argument was made use of, to persuade their own People to joyn with them, and to many of my Subjects to use me as they have done. But nothing shall ever persuade me to change my Mind as to that; and wheresoever I am the Master, I design (God willing) to Establish it by Law; and have no other Test or Distinction but that of Loyalty.
I expect your Concurrence in so Christian a Work, and in making Laws against Prophaneness and all Sorts of Debauchery.
I shall also most readily consent to the making such Good and Wholesome Laws as may be for the general Good of the Nation, the Improvement of Trade, and the relieving of such as have been injured by the late Acts of Settlement, as far forth as may be consistent with Reason, Justice, and the Publick Good of my People.
And as I shall do my Part to make you Happy and Rich, I make no Doubt of your Assistance; by enabling me to oppose the unjust Designs of my Enemies, and to make this Nation flourish.
And to encourage you the more to it, you know with what Ardour and Generosity and Kindness the Most Christian King gave a secure retreat to the Queen, my Son, and Myself, when we were forced out of England, and came to seek for Protection and Safety in his Dominions; how he embraced my Interest, and gave me such Supplies of all Sorts as enabled me to come to you; which, without his obliging Assistance, I could not have done: This he did at a Time when he had so many and so considerable Enemies to deal with: and you see still continues to do.
I shall conclude as I have begun, and assure you I am as sensible as you can desire of the signal Loyalty you have expressed to me; and shall make it my chief study (as it always has been) to make you and all my Subjects happy.
These were the Acts of that memorable parliament.