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so remarkably proved by the fact of his never having read the work of Adam Smith on the subject-is, in some degree, accounted for by the scepticism of the following passage, which occurs in one of his animated speeches on this very question. Mr. Pitt having asserted, in answer to those who feared the competition of Ireland in the market from her low prices of labour, that "great capital would in all cases overbalance cheapness of labour," Mr. Fox questions the abstract truth of this position, and adds,-General positions of all kinds ought to be very cautiously admitted; indeed, on subjects so infinitely complex and mutable as politics and commerce, a wise man hesitates at giving too implicit a credit to any general maxim of any denomination."
If the surrender of any part of her legislative power could have been expected from Ireland in that proud moment, when her new-born Independence was but just beginning to smile in her lap, the acceptance of the terms then proffered by the Minister, might have averted much of the evils, of which she was afterwards the victim. The proposed plan being, in itself, (as Mr. Grattan called it,) "an incipient and creeping Union," would have prepared the way less violently for the completion of that fated measure, and spared at least the corruption and the blood which were the preliminaries of its perpetration at last. But the pride, so natural and honourable to the Irish-had fate but placed them in a situation to assert it with any permanent effect-repelled the idea of being bound even by the commercial regulations of England. The wonderful eloquence of Grattan, which, like an eagle guarding her young, rose grandly in defence of the freedom to which itself had given birth, would alone have been sufficient to determine a whole nation to his will. Accordingly such demonstrations of resistance were made both by people and parliament, that the Commercial Propositions were given up by the minister, and this apparition of a Union withdrawn from the eyes of Ireland for the presentmerely to come again, in another shape, with many a mortal murder on its crown, and push her from her stool."
As Mr. Sheridan took a strong interest in this question, and spoke at some length on every occasion when it was brought before the House, I will, in order to enable the reader to judge of his manner of treating it, give a few passages from his speech on the discussion of that Resolution,
which stipulated for England a control over the external legislation of Ireland:
Upon this view, it would be an imposition on common sense to pretend that Ireland could in future have the exercise of free will or discretion upon any of those subjects of legislation, on which she now stipulated to follow the edicts of Great Britain; and it was a miserable sophistry to contend, that her being permitted the ceremony of placing those laws upon her own Statute-Book, as a form of promulgating them, was an argument that it was not the British but the Irish statutes that bound the people of Ireland. For his part, if he were a member of the Irish Parliament, he should prefer the measure of enacting by one decisive vote, that all British laws to the purposes stipulated, should have immediate operation in Ireland as in Great Britain; choosing rather to avoid the mockery of enacting without deliberation, and deciding where they had no power to dissent. Where fetters were to be worn, it was a wretched ambition to contend for the distinction of fastening our own shackles."
"All had been delusion, trick, and fallacy: a new scheme of commercial arrangement is proposed to the Irish as a boon; and the surrender of their Constitution is tacked to it as a mercantile regulation. Ireland, newly escaped from harsh trammels and severe discipline, is treated like a high-mettled horse, hard to catch; and the Irish Secretary is to return to the field, soothing and coaxing him, with a sieve of provender in one hand, but with a bridle in the other, ready to slip over his head while he is snuffling at the food. But this political jockeyship, he was convinced, would not succeed."
In defending the policy, as well as generosity of the concessions made to Ireland by Mr. Fox in 1782, he says,
"Fortunately for the peace and future union of the two kingdoms, no such miserable and narrow policy entered into the mind of his Right Honourable friend; he disdained the injustice of bargaining with Ireland on such a subject; nor would Ireland have listened to him if he had attempted it. She had not applied to purchase a Constitution; and if a tribute or contribution had been demanded in return for what was then granted, those patriotic spirits who were at that time leading the oppressed people of that insulted country to the attainment of their just rights, would have pointed to other modes of acquiring them;-would have called to them in the words of Camillus, arma aptare atque ferro non auro patriam et libertatem recuperare."
The following passage is a curious proof of the shortsighted views which prevailed at that period, even among the shrewdest men, on the subject of trade :
"There was one point, however, in which he most completely agreed with the manufacturers of this country; namely, in their assertion, that if the Irish trader should be enabled to meet the British merchant and manufacturer in the British market, the gain of
Ireland must be the loss of England. This was a fact not to be controverted on any principle of common sense or reasonable argument. The pomp of general declamation and waste of fine words, which had on so many occasions been employed to disguise and perplex this plain simple truth, or, still more fallaciously to endeavour to prove, that Great Britain would find her balance in the Irish market, had only tended to show the weakness and inconsis tency of the doctrine they were meant to support. The truth of the argument was with the manufacturers; and this formed, in Mr. Sheridan's mind, a ground of one of the most vehement objections he had to the present plan."
It was upon the clamour, raised at this time by the English manufacturers, at the prospect of the privileges about to be granted to the trade of Ireland, that Tickell, whose wit was always on the watch for such opportunities, wrote the following fragment, found among the papers of Mr. Sheridan:
"After supping on a few Colchester oysters and a small Welsh rabbit, I went to bed last Tuesday night at a quarter before eleven o'clock. I slept quietly for near two hours, at the expiration of which period, my slumber was indeed greatly disturbed by the oddest train of images I ever experienced. I thought that every individual article of my usual dress and furniture was suddenly gifted with the powers of speech, and all at once united to assail me with clamorous reproaches, for my unpardonable neglect of their common interests, in the great question of surrendering our British commerce to Ireland. My hat, my coat, and every button on it, my Manchester waistcoat, my silk breeches, my Birmingham buckles, my shirt-buttons, my shoes, my stockings, my garters, and, what was more troublesome, my night-cap, all joined in a dissonant volley of petitions and remonstrances-which, as I found it impossible to wholly suppress, I thought it most prudent to moderate, by soliciting them to communicate their ideas individually. It was with some difficulty they consented to even this proposal, which they considered as a device to extinguish their general ardour, and to break the force of their united efforts; nor would they by any means accede to it, till I had repeatedly assured them, that, as soon as I heard them separately, I would appoint an early hour for receiving them in a joint body. Accordingly, having fixed these preliminaries, my Night-cap thought proper to slip up immediately over my ears, and, disengaging itself from my temples, called upon my Waistcoat, who was rather carelessly reclining on a chair, to attend him immediately at the foot of the bed. My Sheets and Pillow-cases, being all of Irish extraction, stuck close to me, however,—which was uncommonly fortunate, for, not only my Curtains had drawn off to the foot of the bed, but my Blankets also had the
* Mr. Fox also said, "Ireland cannot make a single acquisition but to the proportionate loss of England.”
audacity to associate themselves with others of the woolen fraternity, at the first outset of this household meeting. Both my Towels attended as evidences at the bar,-but my Pocket-handkerchief, notwithstanding his uncommon forwardness to hold forth the banner of sedition, was thought to be a character of so mixed a complexion, as rendered it more decent for him to reserve his interference till my Snuff-box could be heard-which was settled accordingly.
"At length, to my inconceivable astonishment, my Night-cap, attended as I have mentioned, addressed me in the following terms:-"
Early as was the age at which Sheridan had been transplanted from Ireland-never to set foot upon his native land again--the feeling of nationality remained with him. warmly through life, and he was, to the last, both fond and proud of his country. The zeal, with which he entered, at this period, into Irish politics, may be judged of from some letters, addressed to him in the year 1785, by Mr. Isaac Corry, who was at that time a member of the Irish Opposition, and combated the Commercial Propositions as vigorously as he afterwards, when Chancellor of the Exchequer, defended their "consummate flower," the Union. A few extracts from these letters will give some idea of the interest attached to this question by the popular party in both countries.
The following, dated August 5, 1785, was written during the adjournment of ten days, that preceded Mr. Orde's introduction of the Propositions:
"Your most welcome letter, after hunting me some days through the country, has at length reached me. wish you had sent some notes of your most excellent speech; but such as we have must be given to the public
-admirable commentary upon Mr. Pitt's Apology to the People of Ireland, which must also be published in the manner fitting it. The addresses were sent round to all the towns in the kingdom, in order to give currency to the humbug. Being upon the spot, I have my troops in perfect order, and am ready at a moment's warning, for any manoeuvre which may, when we meet in Dublin previous to the next sitting, be thought necessary to follow the petitions for postponing.
"We hear astonishing accounts of your greatness in par
ticular. Paddy will, I suppose, some beau jour be voting you another 50,000,* if you go on as you have done.
"I send to-day down to my friend, O'Neil, who waits for a signal only, and we shall go up together. Brownlow is just beside me, and I shall ride over this morning to get him up to consultation in town.. we must get our Whig friends in England to engraft a few slips of Whiggism here-till that is done, there will be neither Constitution for the people nor stability for the Government.
"Charlemont and I were of opinion that we should not make the volunteers speak upon the present business; so I left it out in the resolutions at our late review. They are as tractable as we could desire, and we can manage them completely. We inculcate all moderation—were we to slacken in that, they would instantly step forward.".
The date of the following letter is August 10th-two days before Mr. Orde brought forward the Propositions.
"We have got the bill entire, sent about by Orde. The more it is read, the less it is liked. I made notable use of the clause you sent me before the whole arrived. We had a select meeting to-day of the D. of Leinster, Charlemont, Conolly, Grattan, Forbes, and myself. We think of moving an address to postpone to-morrow till the 15th of January, and have also some resolutions ready pro re, natá, as we don't yet know what shape they will put the business into;-Conolly to move. To-morrow morning we settle the Address and Resolutions, and after that, to-morrow, meet more at large at Leinster House. All our troops muster pretty well. Mountmorris is here, and to be with us to-morrow morning. We reckon on something like a hundred, and some are sanguine enough to add near a score above it-that is too much, The report of to-night is that Orde is not yet ready for us, and will beg a respite of a few days-Beresford is not yet arrived, and that is said to be the cause. Mornington and Poole are come-their muster is as strict as ours. If we divide any thing like a hundred, they will not dare to take a victory over us. "I. C."
Adieu, yours most truly,
The motion for bringing in the Bill was carried only by a majority of nineteen, which is thus announced to Mr. Sheridan by his correspondent:
* Alluding to the recent vote of that sum to Mr. Grattan.