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Let corruption tremble; let the enemy, foreign and domestic, tremble; but let the friends of liberty rejoice at these means of safety, and this hour of redemption. Yes; there does exist an enlightened sense of rights, a young appetite for freedom, a solid strength, and a rapid fire, which not only put a declaration of right within your power, but put it out of your power to decline one. Eighteen counties are at your bar; they stand there with the compact of Henry, with the charter of John, and with all the passions of the people. ‘Our lives are at your service, but our liberties, we received them from God; we will not resign them to man.” Speaking to you thus, if you repulse these petitioners, you abdicate the privileges of Parliament, forfeit the rights of the kingdom, repudiate the instructions of your constituents, bilge the sense of your country, palsy the enthusiasm of the people, and reject that good, which—not a Lord North, not a Lord Buckinghamshire, not a Lord Hillsborough, but a certain providential conjuncture, or, rather, the hand of God seems to extend to you. Nor are we only prompted to this when we consider our strength; we are challenged to it when we look to Great Britain. The people of that country are now waiting to hear the Parliament of Ireland speak on the subject of their liberty. It begins to be made a question in England whether the principal persons wish to be free. It was the delicacy of former Parliaments to be silent on the subject of commercial restrictions, and to show a knowledge of the fact, and not a sense of the violation. You have spoken out; you have shown a knowledge of the fact, but not a sense of the violation. On the contrary, you have returned thanks for a partial repeal made on a principle of power: you have returned thanks as for a favour; and your exultation has brought your charters as well as your spirit into question, and tends to shake to her foundation your title to liberty. Thus you do not leave your rights even where you found them. You have done too much not to do more; you have gone too far not to go on; you have brought yourselves into that situation in which you must silently abdicate the rights of your country, or publicly restore them. It is very true, you may feed your manufacturers, and landlords may get their rents; or you may export woollens, and load a vessel with baize, serges, and kerseys; and you may bring back again, directly from the
plantations, sugar, indigo, speckle-wood, beetle-root, and panellas. But liberty, the foundation of trade, the charters of the land, the independency of parliament, the securing, crowning, consummation of everything, are yet to come. Without them, the work is imperfect, the foundation is wanting, the capital is wanting, trade is not free, Ireland is a colony without the benefit of a charter, and you are a synod without the privileges of a Parlia
“Sir, we may hope to dazzle with illuminations, and we may sicken with addresses; but the public imagination will never rest, nor will her heart be at ease—never ! so long as the Parliament of England exercises or claims a legislation over this country: so long as this shall be the case, that very free trade, otherwise a perpetual attachment, will be a cause of new discontent. It will create a pride to feel the indignity of bondage; it will furnish a strength to bite your chain; and the liberty withheld will poison the good communicated.
* The British minister mistakes the Irish character. Had he intended to make Ireland a slave, he should have kept her a beggar. There is no middle policy: win her heart by the restoration of her right, or cut off the nation's right hand; greatly emancipate, or fundamentally destroy. We may talk plausibly to England; but so long as she exercises a power to bind this country, so long are the nations in a state of war. The claims of the one is against the liberty of the other, and the sentiments of the latter go to oppose those claims to the last drop of her blood. The English opposition are therefore right; mere trade will not satisfy Ireland. They judge of us by other great nations, by the nation whose political life has been a struggle for liberty: they judge of us with a true knowledge and just defetence for our character—that a country, enlightened as Ireland, chartered as Ireland, armed as Ireland, and injured as Ireland, will be satisfied with nothing less than liberty.”
To proceed were easy and delightful—the oration is throughout magnificent in the highest degree; but more than is proportioned to these contracted limits has been introduced; and it must now be told that, notwithstanding all its excellencies, the proposition was rejected by a large majority. Still the spirit of the cause waxed nobly; the volunteers encreasing their numbers, rose in influence, and stood forth that body most formidable to an arbitrary minister—a band of determined patriots constitutionally organised. Grattan resumed the motion in February, 1782, with a speech less ornamental than the one just noticed, but more learned and equally forcible. He was again defeated; but, in the month of April following, the Irish Parliament re-assembled under a new administration, and it was at length amicably conceded that the King, Lords, and Commons of Ireland only, could make laws to bind Ireland in any case whatsoever. A repeal of the act of George the I. by which the obnoxious license was first established, took place as a matter of course, and several important measures followed.
The exultation of the Irish people over this political victory was boundless, and the adoration with which they looked up to Grattan supreme. He was reverenced like a man inspired; and in truth, such has been the degeneracy of our nature, that to see a private individual—unsupported by any power but that of genius, any force but that of right, and any influence but that of truth—uplift his country from impoverished thraldom to flourishing independence, does seem an achievement somewhat superior to the mere exercise of mortality. Such conduct was beyond example signal, and the generous feelings with which it was acknowledged were immeasurably great.
The parliament fully sympathised with the people, and it was proposed in the ardour of admiration and gratitude that a sum of 100,000l. should be voted to Mr. Grattan as a proof of the national approbation. His personal friends, however, thought a present to such an amount excessive; and the grant, after having been reduced in consequence of their suggestions to 50,000l. was unanimously confirmed, and very properly received. With this fortune he purchased an estate in the county of Wicklow, laid out a seat at Tynnahinch, and thenceforward possessed o ease and dignity as happily enjoyed as they were brightly earned.
But nothing is more problematical than the satisfaction of a whole population, conscious of strength, and elated by success. The Irish were soon dissatisfied with the measure of their acquisitions, and a party was formed to urge the independence of the legislature, to a still greater height. According to them, the simple repeal of the act which gave Great Britain the power to make laws for Ireland conveyed no renunciation of the right to do so, and might be resumed:—where then, it was asked, would their independence be? Thus it was proposed to demand of the British Parliament, a full and explicit renunciation of all claim in future to bind Ireland by laws unconfirmed by the Irish Parliament. Mr. Flood, an orator, who, notwithstanding some tergiversation, is admitted to have deserved well of his country, headed this party, and Mr. Grattan sagaciously opposed its views. The main points pressed by him were, that the repeal of a mere declaratory law must be interpreted as a renunciation of the right to have passed it; and even if it were not so, and Great Britain should become so unjust and impolitic as to attempt to resume it, a mere renunciation of the right would avail little to divert her from the purpose. The only security for the Irish people, as he contended, in such a predicament would be, not an act of Parliament, but that patriotic energy which had already obtained their emancipation. Several passionate altercations ensued between Flood and Grattan, in the course of which the latter pronounced that philippic which has been so often quoted as a finished specimen of oratorical irony and personal satire. The following passage will supply the reader with a good idea of Grattan's strength in such attacks:—
“Thus defective in every relationship, whether to constitution, commerce, and toleration, I will suppose this man to have added much private improbity to public crimes; that his probity was like his patriotism, and his honour on a level with his oath. He loves to deliver panegyrics on himself. I will interrupt him and say, ‘Sir, you are mistaken if you think that your talents are as great as your life has been reprehensible. You began your parliamentary career with an acrimony and personality which could have been justified only by a supposition of virtue. After a rank and clamorous opposition, you became on a sudden silent; you were silent for seven years; you were silent on the greatest ques* tions, and you were silent for money! In 1773, while a negociation was pending to sell your talents and your turbulence, you absconded from your duty in Parliament; you forsook your law of Poynings; you forsook the question of economy, and abandoned all the old themes of your former declamation. You were not at that period to be found in the House; you were seen like a guilty spirit haunting the lobby of the House of Commons, watching the moment in which the question should be put, that you might vanish ; you were descried, with a criminal anxiety, retiring from the scenes of your past glory; or you were perceived coasting the upper benches of this House, like a bird of prey, with an evil aspect and a sepulchral note, meditating to pounce upon its quarry. These ways—they were not the ways of homour—you practised pending a negociation which was to end either in your sale or your sedition; and the former taking place, you supported the rankest measures that ever came before Parliament—the embargo of 1776 for instance. “Oh fatal embargo that breach of law and ruin of commerces' You supported the unparalleled profusion and jobbing of Lord Harcourt's scandalous ministry; the address to support the American war; the other address to send 4000 men, which you had yourself declared to be necessary to the defence of Ireland, to fight against the liberties of America, to which you had declared yourself a friend. You, Sir, who delight to utter execrations against the American commissioners of 1778, on account of their hostility to America, —you, Sir, who manufacture stage-thunder against Mr. Eden for his anti-American principles, you, Sir, whom it pleases to chant a hymn to the immortal Hampden;–you, Sir, approved of the tyranny exercised against America,-and you, Sir, voted 4000 Irish troops to cut the throats of the Americans fighting for their freedom, fighting for your freedom, fighting for the great principle—liberty. But you found at last (and this should be an eternal lesson to men of your craft and cunning), that the Ring had only dishonoured you; the Court bought, but would not trust you; and, having voted for the worst measures, you remained for seven years the creature of salary, without the confidence of Government. Mortified by the discovery, and stung with disappointment, you betake yourself to the sad expedients of duplicity; you try the sorry game of a trimmer in your progress