Essays of the Political Club formed in Dublin, 1790.
To every Landlord, Merchant and Manufacturer of Ireland:
I purpose to inquire into a question of the highest import to your honour and your interest. There is not a man of you but is concerned, and therefore, I demand your most serious attention, praying, only that what I shall lay before you be read with the same zeal and spirit with which it is written.
“Are we bound to support Great Britain in the impending war?”
I do expect that to some it may appear an extraordinary thing to doubt, on a proposition so long received as evident. Perhaps it at first appeared so to myself, but the more I have looked into the question, the more I am satisfied that neither by law, honour, nor interest, are we bound to engage in the present war.
The situation of England and Ireland, considered with regard to each other, has been, since the year 1782, a phenomenon defying all hypothesis and calculation: an empire, as it is called, of two parts, co-equal and co-ordinate, with such a confusion of attributes as nothing less than a revolution can separate and determine. Before I proceed to state my reasons for being so satisfied, it may be advisable to take a very short glance at the present state of this country, which appears to me such as in no age or history can be paralleled. A mighty kingdom, governed by two or three obscure individuals of another country on maxims, and with views totally foreign to her interest, and kept in this subjection by no other medium, that I can discover, than the mere force of opinion and acquiescence of custom. I confess I behold with amazement a phenomenon which mocks all calculation, to the extreme degree that nothing short of the evidence of my senses could convince me of its existence.
Antecedent to this date (1782) the power of Great Britain in Ireland was so well established by laws of her own enacting, fleets of her own building, armies of her own raising, that it was of very little moment what were the opinions of Irishmen on any public question. Our woollen manufacture was demolished by a single vote of the English Commons, the appellative jurisdiction torn from us by a resolution of the English Lords, and, in a word, insult was heaped on injury and wrong for so long a series of years, that we were sunk to the subordination of an English County, without the profits of English commerce, or the protection of English liberty. We had ceased to remember that we were a nation, or that we had a name, till the genius of American liberty burst asunder a sleep that seemed the slumber of death; the nation started forth and shivered the manacles which British ambition had hoped were forged with eternity. Our constitution, our commerce were enlarged from a dreary captivity, and the name of Ireland became once more respected, her independence was admitted when it could no longer be withheld, and her imperial crown restored from the felonious custody of arbitrary and jealous domination.
If Ireland, therefore, acquiesced, without a murmur, in all wars antecedent to this period, no argument can be drawn from her acquiescence which will not justify burning the almost inspired volume of Molyneux by the hands of an English hangman. She submitted, because she could not resist, not because she did not see that her interest was sacrificed, even by her own hand. Precedent cannot weigh in an inquiry like the present. The precedent of tyrant and slave will not bind free, equal and equal. We were, before 1782, bound to support the wars of Great Britain, and we were also bound to submit to her capricious and interested misrule; we were bound by a legion of laws, not enacted by our own legislature, or shadow of legislature; and what bound us? Hard necessity, the arrogance of saucy wealth, and the wantonness of intoxicated power, dealing out buffets and stripes, to abject submission and slavish fear. Be ye not then the dupes of precedent, nor think that long prescription can sanctify what the voice of God and nature cries aloud in your bosoms is unholy and unjust. If ye admit such an argument, then were the struggles of every man of you, guided as they were by the prime spirits of the land, rebellious innovations on justice and on law; the charter of your liberties is paper; and England, when she has crushed, with your aid, her present foes, is warranted, by your own admission, to turn her fleets and her armies loose against the nation, and reseize the rights which, in the moment of her temporary weakness, you take a base advantage to exert.
I trust you will not admit an argument for your interference, so obviously pregnant with consequences fatal to your freedom. The precedent of Ireland subjugated, with crippled force, and broken spirit, poor and divided, must not be held up as the rule of conduct to Ireland restored to her rights, glowing with the ardency of youth, and the vigour of renovated constitution, and of infinitely greater extent and internal resources than Denmark or Sweden, or Portugal or Sardinia, or Naples — all sovereign states.
You all remember the day of your slavery and oppression and insignificance. Have you considered what you are now? Does your present situation ever occur, even to your dreams? An existing miracle which gives the lie to all political experience.
A rising and powerful kingdom, rich in all the gifts of nature; a soil fertile, a sky temperate, intersected by many great rivers, pregnant with mines of every useful metal and mineral; indented by the noblest harbours; inhabited by four millions of an ingenious, a bold and gallant people, yet unheard of and unknown in Europe, and by no means of such consequence as the single county of York in England. Is this statement exaggerated? Is it equal to the truth? If these things be so, does it ever occur to you what it is that degrades you, that keeps you without a court, without ambassadors, without a navy, without an army? If it has not, I will tell you, and I will show you wherein you differ from England. There the Monarchy resides: there, whatever party prevail, the administration is English, and their sole, or, at least, their principal view is the good of the nation, so that the interest of the Minister and the country are forwarded by the same means. With us it is not so. Our Government is formed of some insignificant English nobleman, who presides; some obsequious tool of the British Minister who proposes, and a rabble of the most profligate of our countrymen, who execute his mandates. The interest of the Government and of the nation drag different ways, and with the purse of the nation, and the patronage of the Crown appended to one scale, it is easy to foresee which will preponderate. Hence flow the various grievances of Ireland; corruption in every form, wanton expense, unbounded peculation, sale of honours, judicial oppression, and last, though not least, the plunging of her into all the horrors of a war, in a quarrel where she is no more interested, in the eye of reason, than if the difference arose in the moon.
I believe in the history of man there is not to be found an instance, wherein of two nations, equal in all natural advantages, equal in intelligence, in spirit, in courage, one has yet been for centuries content to remain in a state of subordination, unknown and unregarded, drawing her Government, and the maxims of her Government from the other, though demonstratively injurious to her pride, her interest, her commerce, and her Constitution, and receiving no one advantage in return for such a complete surrender of her imperial and independent rights. When I consider the situation of Ireland at this day, I confess I am utterly at a loss to account for her submission to such degrading inferiority. Old prejudices will do much, but can they do all this? Or has the wisdom of the Almighty framed some kingdoms as He has some animals, only for the convenience and service of others?
I have been compelled, by the nature of this address, to touch on the present state of the connection between the countries. I have likewise examined the question of war on the ground of precedent, and I hope proved that, on that ground, we are under no tie. In my next, I shall try it by the touchstone of strict legal right, and I request my reader may keep this, and the few subsequent papers of which I intend to occupy a part, that they may have the whole of the evidence, and examine it together.