Let us now run our eyes ever the deeds of the Feis or parliament of 1689. It came into power at the end of a half century of which the beginning was a civil and religious, social and proprietal persecution, combining all the atrocities to which Ireland had been alternatively subject for four centuries and a half. Of this, the next stage was a partial insurrection, rendered universal by a bloody and rapacious government. The next stage was a war, in which civil and religious quarrels were so fiendishly combined that it could not end while there was any one to fight with; in which the royalist dignitaries were the cruelest foes of the royalist armies and people, and in which the services done by cool and patriot soldiers were rendered useless by factious theologians. The next stage was conquest, slaughter, exile, confiscation, and the repose of solitude or of slavery. The next was a Restoration which gave back its worst prerogatives to the crown, but gave the restorers and royalists only a skirt of their properties. Then came a struggle for proprietal justice and religious toleration, met by an infamous conspiracy of the deceptious aristocracy and the fanatic people of England, to blast the characters of the Irish, and decimate the men; and lastly, a king, who strained his prerogative to do them justice, is driven from England by a Dutchman, supported by blue guards, black guards, and flaming lies, and is forced to throw himself on the generosity and prudence of Ireland.
A faction existed who raised a civil war in every province; and in every province, save one, it was suppressed; but in that one it continued, and the sails of an invading fleet already flap in the Channel breeze when this parliament is summoned.
How difficult was their position! How could they act as freemen, without appearing ungenerous to a refugee and benefactor king? How guard their nationality, without quarrelling with him or alienating England from him? How could they do that proprietal justice and grant that religious liberty for which the country had been struggling? How check civil war—how sustain a war by the resources of a distracted country? Yet all this the Irish parliament did, and more too; for they established the principal parts of a code needful for the permanent liberty and prosperity of Ireland.
Take up the list of acts passed in their session of seventy-two days and run over them. They begin by recognising their lawful king who had thrown himself among them. They pledge themselves to him against his powerful foe. Knowing full well the struggle that was before them, and that lukewarm and malcontent agents might ruin them, they tossed aside those official claims, which in times of peace and safety should be sacred.
But their next act deserves more notice. It must not be forgotten that Molyneux’s “Case of Ireland,” which the parliaments of England and Ireland first burnt, and ended by declaring and enacting as sound law, was published in 1699, just ten years after this parliament of James’s. Doubtless the antique rights of the native Irish, the comparative independence of the Pale, the arguments of Darcy, the memory of the council of Kilkenny, might suggest to Molyneux those principles of independence, which one of his cast of mind would hardly reach by general reasoning. But why go so far back, and to so much less apt precedents? Here, in the parliament of 1689, was a law made declaring Ireland to be and to have always been a “distinct kingdom” from England; “always governed by his majesty and his predecessors according to the ancient customs, laws, and statutes thereof, and that the parliament of Ireland, and that alone, could make laws to bind this kingdom;” and expressly enacting and declaring that no law save such as the Irish parliament might make should bind Ireland. And this act prohibited all English jurisdiction in Ireland, and all appeals to the English peers or to any other court out of Ireland. Is not this the whole argument of Molyneux, the hope of Swift and Lucas, the attempt of Flood, the achievement of Grattan and the Volunteers? Is not this an epitome of the Protestant patriot attempts, from the Revolution to the Dungannon Convention? Is not this the soul of ’82? Surely, if it be, as it is, just to track the stream of liberation back to Molyneux, we should not stop there; but when we find that a parliament which sat only ten years before his book was published, which must have been a daily subject of conversation—as it certainly was of written polemics—during those ten years; when we find this upper fountain so obviously streaming into the thought of Molyneux, should we not associate the parliament of 1689 with that of 1782, and place Nagle and Rice and its other ruling spirits along with Flood and Grattan in our gratitude?
Moreover, the lords and commons expressly repealed Poyning’s law, and passed a bill creating Irish Inns of Court, and abolishing the rules for keeping terms in London. But the king rejected these. We are to this day without this benefit which the senate of ’89 tried to give us; and the future advocates and judges of Ireland are hauled off to a foreign and dissolute capital to go through an idle and expensive ceremony, term after term, as an essential to being allowed to practise in the courts of this their native kingdom.
The Act (c. 4.) for restoring the ancient gentry to their possessions, we have already canvassed. It were monstrous to suppose the parliament ought to have respected the thirty-eight years’ usurpation of savage invaders, and to have overlooked the rights of the national chieftains, the plundered proprietors who lived, and whose families lived, to claim their rights. The care with which purchasers and incumbrancers were to be reprized we have already noticed; yet we cannot but repeat our regret that the bill of the Lords (which left the adventurers of Cromwell a moiety of their usurpations) did not pass.
Naturally related to this are the Acts, c. 24, for vesting attainted absentees’ goods in the King, and c. 30, attainting a number of insurgents. We have already shown from King, that the Whigs had taken good care of the two things forfeited—their chattels, which they had sent to them, without opposition, during the month of March, and their persons, which they put under the guard of the gallant insurgents of Derry and Fermanagh, or in the keeping of William and the charity of England. How poorly they were treated then in England may be guessed at by the choice men of the impoverished defenders of Derry having been left without money, aye, or even clothing or food in the streets of London.
We heartily censure this Attainder Act. It was the mistake of the Irish Parliament. It bound up the hearts and interests of those who were named in it, and of their children, in William’s success. It could not be enforced: they were absent. It could not be terrible till victory sanctioned it, and then it would be needless and cruel to execute. Yet, let us judge the men rightly. James had been hunted out of England by lies, treachery, bigotry, cabal, and a Dutch invader, for having attempted to grant religious liberty, by his prerogative. Those attainted were, nine out of ten, in arms against him and their country. They had been repeatedly offered free pardon. Just before the Act was brought in, a free pardon, excepting only ten persons, was offered, yet few of the insurgents came in; and James, instead of forbidding quarter, or hanging his prisoners, or any other of the acts of rigour usual in hereditary governments down to our own time, consented to an Act requiring the chief persons of the insurrection to come, in periods specified, and amply long enough, to stand their trials. Certain it is, as we said before, that though many of these were or became prisoners, none were executed. The Act was a dead letter; and considering the principles of the time, surely the Act was not wonderful.
In order, then, to judge them better, let us see what the other side—the immaculate Whigs, who assailed the Irish—did when they were in power. Of anything previous to the Revolution—of the treachery and blood, by law and without law, under the Plantagenets, Tudors, Stuarts, and the Commonwealth—’tis needless to speak. But let us see what their neighbours, the Williamites, did.
The Irish Attainder Act was not brought in till the end of June. Now, this is of great value, for the dates of the last papers on Ireland, laid before the English Commons, having been 10th June, 1689, they, on the 20th June, “Resolved, that leave be given to bring in a Bill to attaint of high treason certain persons who are now in Ireland, or any other parts beyond the seas, adhearing to their Majesties’ enemies, and shall not return into England by a certain day.”
The very next entry is—”A Bill for the attainting certain persons of high treason, was read the first time.” “Resolved, that the Bill be read a second time.”
Here was a bill to attaint persons beyond seas in another kingdom where William had never been acknowledged—where James was welcomed by nine men out of ten—from whence, so far from being able to procure evidence or allow defence, they could but by accident get intelligence and reports once in some months. It is not here pretended that the attainted were habitual residents in England. The bill passed the second reading, and was committeed, June 22nd, with an instruction to the committee, “That they insert into the bill such other of the persons as were this day named in the house, as they shall find cause.”
Again, on the 24th—”Ordered, that it be an instruction to the committee, to whom the bill for attainting certain persons is referred, that they prepare and bring in a clause for the immediate seizing the estates of such persons who are or shall be proved to be in arms with the late King James in Ireland, or in his service in France.” On the 29th is another instruction to “prepare and bring in a clause that the estates of the persons who are now in rebellion (!) in Ireland be applied to the relief of the Irish Protestants fled into this realm; and also to declare all the proceedings of the pretended parliament and courts of justice, now held in Ireland, to be null and void;” the committee “to sit de die in diem, till the bill be finished.”
Up to this time they could not have known that any attainder act had been brought in in Ireland. On the 9th July, Sergeant Trenchard reported, “That the committee had proof” (we shall presently see of what kind) “of several other persons being in Ireland in arms with King James, and therefore had agreed their names should be inserted in the bill.” “Ordered, that the bill, so amended, be engrossed.” On the 11th July the bill passed, inserting August, 1689, instead of August next, and inserting some Christian names.
The bill reached the Lords.
Upon the 24th July a message was sent to the Lords urging the despatch of the bill. On the 2nd August, at a conference, the Lords required to know on what evidence the names were introduced as being in Ireland, “for, upon their best inquiry, they say they cannot learn some of them have been there—they instanced the Lord Hunsden.” On the 3rd of August, Mr. Sergeant Trenchard acquaints the house that the names of those who gave evidence at the bar of the house touching the persons who are named in the bill of attainder, being in Ireland, were Bazill Purefoy and William Dalton; and those at the committee, to whom the bill was referred, were William Watts and Math. Gun; four persons, two and two giving the whole evidence for the attainder of those who stood by King James in Ireland! This report was handed to the Lords on the 5th August.
On the 20th August the Lords returned the bill, with some amendments, leaving out Lord Hunsden and four or five more, and inserting a few others; and upon this day the parliament was prorogued.
Again, on the 30th October, a bill was ordered to attaint all such persons as were in rebellion against their Majesties. On the 26th November, certain members were ordered to prepare a bill attainting all who had been in arms against William and Mary, since 14th February, 1688-9, or any time since, and all who have been, or shall be, aiding, assisting, or abetting them. On the 10th December the bill was reported and read a first time, and the committee ordered to bring in a bill for sale of the estates forfeited thereby.
On the 4th April, 1690, another bill was ordered, and was read 22nd April.
Again, on 22nd October, another attainder and confiscation bill was brought and passed the Commons on the 23rd December.
Wearied at length by unsuccessful bills, which the better or more interested feeling of the Lords, or the policy of the King, perpetually defeated, they abandoned any further attainder bills, and merely advertized for money on the forfeited lands in Ireland.
The attainders in court might satisfy them. The commissioners of forfeitures, under 10 William III., c. 9, reported to the Commons on the 15th of December, 1699, that the persons outlawed for treason in Ireland since the 13th of February, 1688-9, on account of the late rebellion, were 3,921 in number. It was abominable for James’s parliament to attaint conditionally the rebels against the old king, but reasonable for the Whigs to attaint about double the number absolutely, for never having recognized the new king! These 3,921 had properties, says the report, to the amount of 1,060,792 plantation acres, worth £211,623 a year, and worth in money, £2,685,130, “besides the several denominations in the said several counties to which no number of acres can be added, by reason of the imperfection of the surveys not here valued.” Of these 3,921, there were 491 restored under the first commission on the articles of Galway and Limerick; and 792 under the second commission, having joint properties of 233,106 acres, worth £55,763 a year, or £724,923 purchase, leaving 2,638 persons having 827,686 acres, worth £155,859 a year, or £1,960,206. Yet the fees were monstrous, says the commissioners, in these Courts of Claims, £5 being the register’s fees for even entering a claim. William restored property to the amount of 74,733 acres, worth £20,066 per annum, or £260,863 in all, which would leave as absolutely forfeited property 752,953 acres, worth £135,793 a year, and £1,699,343 in all; and even were we to deduct in proportion, which we ought not, as those pardoned were chiefly the very wealthy few, there would remain over 2,400 persons attained by office, after deducting all who carved out their acquittal with shot and sword, and all whom the tenderness or wisdom of the king pardoned.
The commissioners state that £300,000 worth of chattels were seized, not included in the above estimate; nor were 297 houses in Dublin, 26 in Cork, 226 elsewhere, mills, chief rents, £60,000 worth of woods, etc., in it.
Most of these properties had been given away freely by William. Amongst his grants they specify all King James’s estates, over 95,000 acres, worth £25,995 a year, to Mrs. Elizabeth Villiers, Countess of Orkney. She was William’s favourite mistress. James, to his honour be it spoken, had thrown these estates into the general fund for reprisal of the injured Irish.
Here, then, is certainly not a justification of the Parliament of 1689, in passing the Attainder Act, but evidence from the journals of the English Parliament and the reports of their commissioners, that they tried to do worse than the Irish Parliament (under far greater excuses) are accused of having done, and that the actual amount of punishment inflicted by the Williamite courts in Ireland far exceeded what the Irish Parliament of 1689 had conditionally threatened.
The next Acts as a class are c. 9, repealing ministers’ money act; c. 12, granting perfect liberty of conscience to men of all creeds; c. 13, directing Roman Catholics to pay their tithes to their own priests; c. 14, on Ulster poundage; c. 15, appointing those tithes to the parish priests, and recognising as a Roman Catholic prelate no one but him whom the king under privy signet and sign manual should signify and recognize as such. All these acts went to create religious equality, certainly not the voluntary system; neither party approved of it then; but to make the Protestant support his own minister, and the Roman Catholic his own, without violation of conscience, or a shadow of supremacy. The low salaries (£100 to £200 a year) of the Roman Catholic prelates, and their exclusion from Parliament, were in the same moderate spirit.
Again, this Parliament introduced the Statute of Frauds (which, having been set aside, was not adopted until the 7th William III.); Acts for relief of poor debtors, for the speedy recovery of wages, and for ratifying wills and deeds by persons out of possession.
Chapter 21, forbidding the importation of foreign coals, was designed to render this country independent of English trade. At that time the bogs were larger and the people fewer. Their opinion that this importation which “hindered the industry of several poor people and labourers who might have employed themselves” in supplying the cities, etc., with turf, reminds us of Mr. Laing’s most able notice in his “Norway” of the immense employment to men, women, and children, by the cutting of firewood; and what a powerful means this is of doing that which is as important as the production of wealth, the diffusion of it without any great inequality through all classes. Part of c. 29, encouraging trade, laying heavy import duties on English goods, and giving privileges to Irish ships over foreign, especially over English, was the result of sound, practical patriotism. It was necessary to guard our trade, manufactures, and shipping against the rivalry of a near, rich, and aspiring neighbour, that would crush them in their cradles. It was wise to raise the energies of infant adventure by favour, and not trust it in a reckless competition. The example, too, of all countries which had reared up commerce by their own favour and their neighbours’ surrender of trade, would have justified them.
Besides the schools for the Navy under c. 29, c. 16 deals also with schools. We have not the latter Act; but, considering James’s known zeal for education, his foundation of the Kilkenny college, and the spirit of the provision in c. 29, we may guess the liberality of the other. One of the most distinguished of our living historians has told us that he remembered having seen evidence that this Act established a school for general (national) education in every parish in Ireland.
C. 10, the Act of Supply; c. 25, Martial Law, and this Act, c. 29, were a code of defence. The supply was proportioned to their abilities: every exertion was made, and all efforts were needed. Plowden puts the effect of this c. 29 not ill:—
“Although James were averse from passing the acts I have already mentioned, he probably encouraged another which passed for the advance and improvement of trade and for encouragement and increase of shipping and navigation, which purported to throw open to Ireland a free and immediate trade with all our plantations and colonies; to promote ship-building, by remitting to the owners of Irish-built vessels large proportions of the duties of custom and excise, encourage seamen by exempting them for ten years from taxes, and allowing them the freedom of any city or seaport they should chuse to reside in, and improve the Irish navy by establishing free schools for teaching and instructing in the mathematics and the art of navigation, in Dublin, Belfast, Waterford, Cork, Limerick, and Galway. If James looked up to any probability of maintaining his ground in Ireland he must have been sensible of the necessity of an Irish navy. No man was better qualified to judge of the utility of such institutions than this prince. He was an able seaman, fond of his profession; and to his industry and talent does the British navy owe many of its best signals and regulations. The firmness, resolution and enterprise which had distinguished him, whilst Duke of York, as a sea officer, abandoned him when king, both in the cabinet and the field.”
Thus, then, this Parliament exercised less severity than any of its time; it established liberty of conscience and equality of creeds; it proscribed no man for his religion—the word Protestant does not occur in any Act—(though, while it sat, the Westminster Convention was not only thundering out insults against “popery,” but exciting William to persecute it, and laying the foundation of the penal code); it introduced many laws of great practical value in the business of society; it removed the disabilities of the natives, the scars of old fetters; it was generous to the king, yet carried its own opinions out against his where they differed; it, finally—and what should win the remembrance and veneration of Irishmen through all time—it boldly announced our national independence, in words which Molyneux shouted on to Swift, and Swift to Lucas, and Lucas to Flood, and Flood and Grattan redoubling the cry; Dungannon church rang, and Ireland was again a nation. Yet something it said escaped the hearing or surpassed the vigour of the last century; it said, “Irish commerce fostered,” and it was faintly heard, but it said, “an Irish navy to shield our coasts,” and it said, “an Irish army to scathe the invaders,” and Grattan neglected both, and our coast had no guardian, and our desecrated fields knew no avenger.
We have printed the king’s speech at the opening of this eventful parliament, the titles of all its Acts, and all the statutes summarized in full detail which we could in any way procure—sufficient, we think, with the scattered notices of the chief members, to make the working of this Parliament plain. We are conscious of many defects in our information and way of treating the subject; but we commenced by avowing that we were not professors but students of Irish history; trying to come at some clear understanding on a most important part of it, communicating our difficulties and offering our solutions, as they occurred to us, in hopes that some of our countrymen would take up the same study, and do as much or more than we have done, and possibly that one of those accomplished historians, of which Ireland now has a few, would take the helm from us, and guide the ship himself.
We have no reason to suppose that we succeeded in either object; yet we cling to the belief that, owing to us, some few persons will for the future be found who will not allow the calumnies against our noble old Parliament of 1689 to pass uncontradicted. It might have been better, but this is well.