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SPEECH OF MR. GRATTAN IN THE IRISH HOUSE OF COMMONS IN MOVING A DECLARATION OF IRISH
RIGHT, DELIVERED APRIL 19, 1780.
INTRODUCTION. Ireland had been treated by the English, for three centuries, like a conquered nation. A Parliament had indeed been granted her, but a well-known statute, called Poynings' Act, had so abridged the rights of that Parliament, as to render it almost entirely dependent on the English Crown. By the provisions of this act, which was passed in 1494, through the agency of Sir Edward Poynings, then Lord Deputy of Ireland, no session of the Irish Parliament could be held without a license previously obtained from the King of England in council, on the recommendation of the Deputy and his council in Ireland. Thus, the English government had power to prevent the Irish Parliament from ever assembling, except for purposes which the King saw reason to approve. At a later period, there was indeed a relaxation of the severity of this act, but the restraints still imposed were borne reluctantly by the Irish, and gave rise at times to violent struggles. Under such an administration, the commercial and manufacturing interests of Ireland were wholly sacrificed to those of the English; the exportation of woolen goods, and of most other articles of English manufacture, and also the direct import of foreign articles, being denied the Irish. These restrictions had been removed in part, as already stated, on the ground of “expediency," by an act of the British Parliament, passed December 13, 1779, under the terror of the Irish Volunteers ; and Mr. Grattan, with the same instrument of compulsion in his hands, now moved the Irish Parliament to a Declaration of Right, which should deny the authority of England to make laws for Ireland—an aq. thority asserted by an act of the British Parliament, passed in the sixth year of George I.
SPEECH, &c. I have entreated an attendance on this day, ' You can not dictate to those whose sense you that you might, in the most public manner, deny are instructed to represent. the claim of the British Parliament to make law Your ancestors, who sat within these walls, for Ireland, and with one voice lift up your hands lost to Ireland trade and liberty. You, by the against it.
assistance of the people, have recovered trade. If I had lived when the ninth of William took You owe the kingdom a consTITUTION; she calls Duty of resist. away the woolen manufacture, or upon you to restore it. ing at the earli when the sixth of George the First The ground of public discontent seems to be, possible. took away your Constitution, I should "We have gotten commerce, but not freedom." have made a covenant with my own conscience, The same power which took away the export to seize the first reasonable moment of rescuing of woolen and the export of glass, may take them my country from the ignominy of such acts of away again. The repeal is partial, and the power; or, if I had a son, I should have admin- ground of repeal is a principle of expediency. istered to him an oath that he would consider Sir, expedient is a word of appropriated and himself as a person separate and set apart for tyrannical import-expedient is a word Case or trethe discharge of so important a duty.
selected to express the reservation of land and of Upon the same principle am I now come to authority, while the exercise is mitigat- compared. move a Declaration of Right, the first moment ed-expedient is the ill-omened expression in occurring in my time, in which such a declara- the repeal of the American Stamp Act. Ention could be made with any chance of success, gland thought it "expedient" to repeal that law. and without an aggravation of oppression. Happy had it been for mankind if, when she
Sir, it must appear to every person that, not. withdrew the exercise, she had not reserved the The commer. withstanding the import of sugar, and right. To that reservation she owes the loss of sions not sat. export of woolens,' the people of this her American empire, at the expense of millions ; isfactory. country are not satisfied; something and America the seeking of liberty through a remains—the greater work is behind-the pub- scene of bloodshed. The repeal of the Woolen lic heart is not well at ease. To promulgate our Act, similarly circumstanced, pointed against the satisfaction, to stop the throats of millions with principle of our liberty, may be a subject for ilthe votes of Parliament, to preach homilies to the luminations to a populace, or a pretense for aposVolunteers, to utter invectives against the peo- tacy to a courtier, but can not be a subject of ple under the pretense of affectionate advice, is settled satisfaction to a free born, an intelligent an attempt, weak, suspicious and inflammatory. and an injured community.
It is, therefore, they (the people of Ireland] 1 These were a part of the concession made by consider the free trade as a trade de facto, not Lord North.
I de jure-a license to trade under the Parliament
land as a righe.
of England, not a free trade under the charter of Henry, with the charter of John, and with all
nos Ireland-a tribute to her strength, to the passions of the people! “Our lives are at Free trade not granted to Ire maintain which she must continue in your service; but our liberties--we received
* a state of armed preparation, dread them from God, we will not resign them to ing the approach of a general peace, and attrib- man !” Speaking to you thus, if you repulse uting all she holds dear to the calamitous condi- these petitioners, you abdicate the office of Par. tion of the British interest in every quarter of liament, you forfeit the rights of the kingdom, the globe. This dissatisfaction, founded upon a you repudiate the instructions of your constituconsideration of the liberty we have lost, is in- ent, you belie the sense of your country, you creased when they consider the opportunity they palsy the enthusiasm of the people, and you reare losing; for, if this nation, after the death- ject that good which not a minister-not a wound given to her freedom, had fallen on her Lord North—not a Lord Buckinghamshire-not knees in anguish, and besought the Almighty to a Lord Hillsborough, but a certain providential frame an occasion in which a weak and injured conjuncture, or, rather, the hand of God, seems people might recover their rights, prayer could to extend to you. not have asked, nor God have formed, a moment I read Lord North’s propositions, and I wish more opportune for the restoration of liberty, than to be satisfied, but I am controlled by a paper this in which I have the honor to address you. (for I will not call it a law); it is the sixth of
England now smarts under the lesson of the George First. (Here the clerk, at Mr. GratThe situation
on American war. The doctrine of im-tan's request, read from the Act of the sixth of of England en perial legislature she feels to be per- George I., " that the kingdom of Ireland hath ables the Irish lo demand*** nicious—the revenues and monopo been, is, and of right ought to be, subordinate their rights.
• lies annexed to it she found to be un- to and dependent upon the Imperial Crown of tenable. Her enemies are a host pouring upon Great Britain, as being inseparably united to and her from all quarters of the earth-her armies annexed thereunto; and that the King's Majes. are dispersed—the sea is not her's—she has noty, by and with the consent of the Lords spiritminister, no ally, no admiral, none in whom she ual and temporal, and the Commons of Great long confides, and no general whom she has not Britain in Parliament assembled, hath, and of disgraced. The balance of her fate is in the right ought to have, full power and authority to hands of Ireland. You are not only her last make laws and statutes of sufficient force and connection—you are the only nation in Europe validity to bind the kingdom and the people of that is not her enemy. Besides, there does, of Ireland.) late, a certain damp and supineness overcast her. I will ask the gentlemen of the long robe, is arms and councils, miraculous as that vigor which this the law ? I ask them whether it is This act is has lately inspirited yours. With you every thing not the practice? I appeal to the judges enforced. is the reverse. Never was there a Parliament of the land, whether they are not in a course of in Ireland so possessed of the confidence of the declaring that the Parliament of England nampeople. You are now the greatest political as- | ing Ireland, binds her ? I appeal to the magis. sembly in the world. You are at the head of traies of Ireland whether they do not, from time an immense army; nor do we only possess an to time, execute certain acts of the British Parunconquerable force, but a certain unquenchable liament? I appeal to the officers of the army, fire, which has touched all ranks of men like a whether they do not confine and execute their visitation. Turn to the growth and spring of fellow-subjects by virtue of the Mutiny Act of your country, and behold and admire it! England? And I appeal to this House whether
Where do you find a nation who, upon what. a country so circumstanced is free? Where is Spirit of the ever concerns the rights of mankind, the freedom of trade? Where is the security Irishi nation. expresses herself with more truth or of property? Where the liberty of the people ? force, perspicuity or justice -- not in the set I here, in this Declaratory Act, see my country phrases of the scholiast; not the tame unreality proclaimed a slave! I see every man in this of the courtier; not the vulgar raving of the rab- House enrolled a bondsman! I see the judges ble; but the genuine speech of liberty, and the of the realm, the oracles of the law, borne down unsophisticated oratory of a free nation. See by an unauthorized power! I see the magisher military ardor, expressed not in forty thou-trates prostrate; and I see Parliament witness sand men conducted by instinct, as they were to these infringements, and silent! I therefore raised by inspiration, but manifested in the zeal say, with the voice of three millions of people, and promptitude of every young member of the that, notwithstanding the import of sugar, and growing community. Let corruption tremble ! export of woolen and kerseys, beetle-wood and Let the enemy, foreign or domestic, tremble ! prunellas, nothing is safe, satisfactory, or honorbut let the friends of liberty rejoice at these able; nothing, except a Declaration of Right! means of safety and this hour of redemption-an What! Are you, with three millions enlightened sense of public right, a young ap- of men at your back, with charters in tion therefore petite for freedom, a solid strength, and a rapid one hand and arms in the other, afraid " fire, which not only put a Declaration of Right to say, We are a free people? Are you the within your power, but put it out of your power greatest House of Commons that ever sat in Ireto decline one! Eighteen counties are at your land, that want but this one act to equal that bar. There they stand, with the compact of | English House of Commons which passed the
No ground of
Petition of Right, or that other, which passed consternation at the Custom-house, and, despis. the Declaration-are you, are you afraid to telling the example which great men afforded, tenthe British Parliament that you are a free peo- dered for entry prohibited manufactures, and ple? Are the cities and the instructing coun- sought, at his private risk, the liberty of his ties, who have breathed a spirit that would have country. With him, I am convinced, it is necdone honor to old Rome, when Rome did honoressary to agitate the question of right. In vain to mankind-are they to be free by connivance ? will you endeavor to keep it back; the passion Are the military associations — those bodies is too natural, the sentiment too irresistible; the whose origin, progress, and deportment have question comes on of its own vitality. You transcended, equaled, at least, any thing in mod-must reinstate the laws. ern or ancient story, in the vast line of North- There is no objection to this resolution except ern array-are they to be free by connivance ? fears. I have examined your fears; What man will settle among you? Who will I pronounce them to be frivolous. If fear for conse leave a land of liberty and a settled government England is a tyrant, it is you have quences. for a kingdom controlled by the Parliament of made her so. It is the slave that makes the tyanother country; whose liberty is a thing by rant, and then murmurs at the master whom he stealth ; whose trade a thing by permission; himself has constituted. I do allow, on the subwhose judges deny her charters; whose Parlia- | ject of commerce, England was jealous in the ment leaves every thing at random; where the extreme; and I do say, it was commercial jeal. hope of freedom depends on the chance that the ousy; it was the spirit of monopoly. The wooljury shall despise the judge stating a British en trade and the Act of Navigation had made her act, or a rabble stop the magistrate in the exe tenacious of a comprehensive legislative authorcution of it, rescue your abdicated privileges by ity, and, having now ceded that monopoly, there anarchy and confusion, and save the Constitu- is nothing in the way of our liberty except our tion by trampling on the government ?
own corruption and pusillanimity. Nothing can But I shall be told that these are groundless prevent your being free, except yourselves; it is Nothing less Jealousies
be jealousies, and that the principal cities, not in the disposition of England, it is not in the can satisfy and more than one half the counties of interest of England, it is not in her force. What! the people.
the kingdom, are misguided men, rais- can eight millions of Englishmen, opposed to ing those groundless jealousies. Sir, they may twenty millions of French, seven millions of say so, and they may hope to dazzle with illu Spanish, to three millions of Americans, reject minations, and they may sicken with addresses, the alliance of three millions in Ireland? Can but the public imagination will never rest, nor eight millions of British men, thus outnumbered will her heart be well at ease; never, so long by foes, take upon their shoulders the expense as the Parliament of England claims or exer- of an expedition to enslave Ireland ? Will cises legislation over this country. So long as Great Britain, a wise and magnanimous country, this shall be the case that very free trade (oth- thus tutored by experience and wasted by war, erwise a perpetual attachment) will be the cause the French navy riding her channel, send an army of new discontent. It will create a pride and to Ireland to levy no tax, to enforce no law, to anwealth, to make you feel your indignities; it will swer no end whatever, except to spoliate the charfurnish you with strength to bite your chain; the ters of Ireland, and enforce a barren oppression ? liberty withheld poisons the good communicated. What! has England lost thirteen provinces ? The British minister mistakes the Irish charac- has she reconciled herself to this England offered ter. Had he intended to make Ireland a slave, loss, and will she not be reconciled substantially the
same thing to he should have kept her a beggar. There is no to the liberty of Ireland ? Take no- America. middle policy. Win her heart by a restoration tice, that the very Constitution which I move of her right, or cut off the nation's right hand; you to declare, Great Britain herself offered to greatly emancipate, or fundamentally destroy ! | America : it is a very instructive proceeding in We may talk plausibly to England; but so long the British history. In 1778 a commission went as she exercises a power to bind this country, out with powers to cede to the thirteen provso long are the nations in a state of war. The inces of America totally and radically the legisclaims of the one go against the liberty of the lative authority claimed over her by the British other, and the sentiments of the latter go to op- Parliament ;4 and the commissioners, pursuant pose those claims to the last drop of her blood. to their powers, did offer to all, or any of the
The English Opposition, therefore, are right; | American states, the total surrender of the leg. mere trade will not satisfy Ireland. They judge islative authority of the British Parliament. I of us by other great nations ; by the English will read you their letter to the Congress. nation, whose whole political life has been a [Here the letter was read, surrendering the struggle for liberty. They judge of us with a power, as aforesaid). What! has England oftrue knowledge and just deference for our char
the Irish Custom-house, which had been probibited acter, that a country enlightened as Ireland,
by an English act of Parliament, for the parpose of armed as Ireland, and injured as Ireland, will
trying the validity of the Act of the sixth of George be satisfied with nothing less than liberty. I ad
the First. mire that public-spirited merchants who spread This is the commission referred to in such se
vere terms by Mr. Burke in a speech delivered at 3 Alderman Horan, who offered goods for entry at | Bristol. See page 297.
fered this to the resistance of America, and will my country from being free; no gratitude which she refuse this to the loyalty of Ireland ? But, should oblige Ireland to be the slave of England. though you do not hazard disturbance by agree- In cases of robbery or usurpation, nothing is an ing to this resolution, you do most exceedingly object of gratitude, except the thing stolen, the hazard tranquillity by rejecting it. Do not im- charter spoliated. A nation's liberty can not, agine that the question will be over when this like her money, be rated and parceled out in motion shall be negatived. No! it will recur in gratitude. No man can be grateful or liberal a vast variety of shapes and diversity of places. of his conscience, nor woman of her honor, nor Your constituents have instructed you, in great nation of her liberty. There are certain inimnumbers, with a powerful uniformity of senti- partable, inherent, invaluable properties not to ment, and in a style not the less awful because be alienated from the person, whether body polfull of respect. They will find resources in their itic or body natural. With the same contempt own virtue, if they have found none in yours. do I treat that charge which says that Ireland Public pride and conscious liberty, wounded by is insatiable; seeing that Ireland asks nothing repulse, will find ways and means of vindication. but that which Great Britain has robbed her of You are in that situation in which every man, --her rights and privileges. To say that Ireevery hour of the day, may shake the pillars of land is not to be satisfied with liberty, because the state. Every court may swarm with ques- she is not satisfied with slavery, is folly. tions of right, every quay and wharf with pro- I laugh at that man who supposes that Ireland hibited goods. What shall the judges, what the will not be content with a free trade and a free commissioners, do upon such occasion ? Shall Constitution; and would any man advise her to they comply with the laws of Ireland against the be content with less ? claims of England, and stand firm where you have I shall be told that we hazard the modification trembled ? Shall they, on the other hand, not of the law of Poynings, and the Judges Bill, and comply; and shall they persist to act against the the Habeas Corpus Bill, and the Nullum Temlaw? Will you punish them, will you proceed pus Bill; but I ask, have you been for years begagainst them, for not showing a spirit superior ging for these little things, and have you not yet to your own ? On the other hand, will you not been able to obtain them? And have you been punish them? Will you leave your liberties to contending against a little body of eighty men, be trampled on by those men? Will you bring in Privy Council assembled, convocating themthem and yourselves, all constituted orders, ex-selves into the image of a Parliament, and minecutive power, judicial power, parliamentary au- istering your high office; and have you been thority, into a state of odium, impotence, and con- contending against one man, an humble individtempt; transferring the task of defending public ual, to you a leviathan-the English Attorney right into the hands of the populace, and leaving General, exercising Irish legislation in his own it to the judges to break the laws, and to the person, and making your parliamentary deliberpeople to assert them ? Such would be the conations a blank, by altering your bills or suppress. sequence of false moderation, of irritating timiding them ; have you not been able to quell this ity, of inflammatory palliations, of the weak and little monster? Do you wish to know the reacorrupt hope of compromising with the court be- son? I will tell you; because you have not fore you have emancipated the country.
been a Parliament, nor your country a people. I have answered the only semblance of a solid Do you wish to know the remedy? Be a Par
reason against the motion. I will now liament, become a nation, and those things will Leas import ant ouection try to remove some lesser pretenses, follow in the train of your consequence.
64 some minor impediments; for instance: I shall be told that tithes are shaken, being first, that we have a resolution of the same kind vested by force of English acts. But in answer already in our journals. But how often was the to that, I observe, time may be a title, but an Great Charter confirmed ? Not more frequently English Act of Parliament certainly can not. It than your rights have been violated. Is one sol. is an authority which, if a judge would charge, itary resolution, declaratory of your rights, suf- no jury would find, and which all the electors ficient for a country, whose history, from the be- of Ireland have already disclaimed-disclaimed ginning unto the end, has been a course of vio- unequivocally, cordially, and universally. lation ?
Sir, this is a good argument for an act of title, The fact is, every new breach is a reason for but no argument against a Declaration of Right. a new repair; every new infringement should | My friend, who sits above me, has a bill of conbe a new declaration, lest charters should be firmation. We do not come unprepared to Paroverwhelmed by precedents, and a nation's rights liament. I am not come to shake property, but lost in oblivion, and the people themselves lose to confirm property, and to restore freedom. The the memory of their own freedom.
nation begins to form—we are moldering into a I shall hear of ingratitude, and name the ar- people; freedom asserted, property secured, and gument to despise it. I know the men who use the army, a mercenary band, likely to be deit are not grateful. They are insatiate ; they pendent on your Parliament, restrained by law. are public extortioners, who would stop the tides A bill to be immediately introduced on passing of public prosperity, and turn it to the channel the Declaration, by which all laws of the English of their own wretched emolument. I know of Parliament affecting property were to be confirmed no species of gratitude which should prevent | by the Irish Parliament.
tion of 1688.
Never was such a revolution accomplished in so this land, wbich has no foundation in necessity, short a time, and with such public tranquillity. In or utility, or empire, or the laws of England, or what situation would those men, who call them- the laws of Ireland, or the laws of nature, or the selves friends of constitution and of government, laws of God. Do not suffer that power, which have left you? They would have left you with- banished your manufacturers, dishonored your out a title (as they stole it) to your estates, with- | peerage, and stopped the growth of your people. out an assertion of your Constitution, or a law Do not, I say, be bribed by an export of woolen, for your army; and this state of private and pub- or an import of sugar, and suffer that power, lic insecurity, this anarchy, raging in the king, which has thus withered the land, to have exist. dom for eighteen months, these mock-moderators ence in your pusillanimity. Do not send the would have had the presumption to call peace. I people to their own resolves for liberty, passing
The King has no other title to his Crown than by the tribunals of justice, and the high court of Appeal to the that which you have to your liberty. Parliament ; neither imagine that, by any formaciple of Both are founded, the throne and your tion of apology, you can palliate such a commis
freedom, upon the right vested in the sion to your hearts, still less to your children, subject to resist by arms, notwithstanding their who will sting you in your grave for interposing oaths of allegiance, any authority attempting to between them and their Maker, and robbing impose acts of power as laws; whether that au-them of an immense occasion, and losing an opthority be one man or a host, the second James portunity which you did not create and can nevor the British Parliament, every argument for er restore. the house of Hanover is equally an argument Hereafter, when these things shall be his. for the liberties of Ireland. The Act of Settle- tory, your age of thraldom, your sud
Peroration mente is an act of rebellion, or the sixth of George den resurrection, commercial redress,“the First an act of usurpation. I do not refer to and miraculous armament,' shall the historian doubtful history, but to living record, to common stop at liberty, and observe, that here the princharters, to the interpretation England has put cipal men among us were found wanting, were on those charters (an interpretation made, not awed by a weak ministry, bribed by an empty by words only, but crowned by arms), to the rev- treasury; and when liberty was within their olution she has formed upon them, to the King grasp, and her temple opened its folding doors, she has established, and, above all, to the oath fell down, and were prostituted at the threshold ? of allegiance solemnly plighted to the house of I might, as a constituent, come to your bar Stuart, and afterward set aside in the instance and demand my liberty. I do call upon you by of a grave and moral people, absolved by virtue the laws of the land, and their violation ; by the of those very charters; and as any thing less instructions of eighteen counties; by the arms, than liberty is inadequate to Ireland, so is it dan- inspiration, and providence of the present mogerous to Great Britain. We are too near the ment-tell us the rule by which we shall go: British nation ; we are too conversant with her assert the law of Ireland ; declare the liberty of history; we are too much fired by her example the land! I will not be answered by a public to be any thing less than equals; any thing less, lie, in the shape of an amendment; por, speakwe should be her bitterest enemies. An enemy ing for the subjects' freedom, am I to hear of to that power which smote us with her mace, faction. I wish for nothing but to breathe in and to that Constitution from whose blessings we this our island, in common with my fellow-subwere excluded, to be ground, as we have been,jects, the air of liberty. I have no ambition, un. by the British nation, bound by her Parliament, less it be to break your chain and contemplate plundered by her Crown, threatened by her ene- your glory. I never will be satisfied so long as mies, and insulted with her protection, while we the meanest cottager in Ireland has a link of the returned thanks for her condescension, is a sys- British chain clanking to his rags. He may be tem of meanness and misery which has expired naked, he shall not be in irons. And I do see in our determination and in her magnanimity. the time at hand; the spirit is gone forth; the That there are precedents against us, I allow; Declaration of Right is planted; and though
.. acts of power I would call them, not great men should fall off, yet the cause shall Precedents not of bind. precedents; and I answer the English live; and though he who utiers this should die,
e pleading such precedents, as they an- yet the immortal fire shall outlast the humble swered their Kings when they urged precedents organ who conveys it, and the breath of liberty, against the liberty of England. Such things are like the word of the holy man, will not die with the tyranny of one side, the weakness of the oth the prophet, but survive him. 8 er, and the law of neither. We will not be bound by them; or rather, in the words of the Decla- ! ? Referring to the rapid formation of the volun. ration of Right, no doing, judgment, or proceeding to the contrary shall be brought into prece
The reader will be interested to observe the dent or example. Do not, then, tolerate a pow
rhythmus of the last three paragraphs ; so slow and
dignified in its movement; so weigbty as it falls on er, the power of the British government, over
the ear; so perfectly adapted to the sentiments exThis was an act of the British Parliament set pressed in this magnificent passage. The etfect tling the line of succession to the British Crown on will be heightened by comparing it with the rapid the descendants of the Princess Sophia of Hanover, and iambic movement of the passage containing Mr. to the exclusion of the Stuarts.
| Erskine's description of the Indian chief, page 696.