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HENRY GRATTAN (1750-1820)


RELAND is eminent among nations for the number of famous I orators who have been born upon her soil. We may name men of such celebrity as Burke, Sheridan, Sheil, Emmet, Curran, Grattan, and O'Connell. Among these Grattan stands high. Of his eminence in oratory it is difficult to say too much. Lecky says of him : “No British orator except Chatham had an equal power of firing an educated audience with an intense enthusiasm, or of animating and inspiring a nation,” and Mackintosh asserts that, “The purity of his life was the brightness of his glory. Among all the men of genius I have known, I have never found such native grandeur of soul accompanying all the wisdom of age and all the simplicity of genius.”


[Of Grattan's speech in 1780, on “Liberty as an Inalienable Right,” it has been said: “Nothing equal to it had ever been heard in Ireland, nor probably was its superior ever delivered in the British House of Commons. Other speeches may have matched it in argument and information, but in startling energy and splendor of style it surpassed them all.” His eloquence on this subject is vividly displayed in the following extract.]

England now smarts under the lesson of the American War; the doctrine of imperial legislation she feels to be pernicious; the revenues and monopolies annexed to it she has found to be untenable; she has lost the power to enforce it; her enemies are a host, pouring upon her from all quarters of the earth; her armies are dispersed; the sea is not hers; she has no minister, no ally, no admiral, none in whom she long confides, and no general whom she has not disgraced ; the balance of her fate is in the hands of Ireland; you are not only her last connection, you are the only nation in Europe that is not her enemy. Besides, there does, of late,


a certain damp and spurious supineness overcast her arms and councils, miraculous as that vigor which has lately inspirited yours. For with you everything is the reverse; never was there a Parliament in Ireland so possessed of the confidence of the people; you are the greatest political assembly now sitting in the world ; you are at the head of an immense army— nor do we only possess an unconquerable force, but a certain unquenchable public fire, which has touched all ranks of men like a visitation. Turn to the growth and spring of your country, and behold and admire it. Where do you find a nation which, upon whatever concerns the rights of mankind, expresses herself with more truth or force, perspicuity or justice—not the set phrase of scholastic men, not the tame unreality of court addresses, not the vulgar raving of a rabble, but the genuine speech of liberty, and the unsophisticated oratory of a free nation ? See her military ardor, not only in forty thousand men, conducted by instinct as they were raised by inspiration, but manifested in the zeal and promptitude of every young member of the growing community. Let corruption tremble; let the enemy, foreign or 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 character 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.” I read from Lord North's proposition ; I wish to be satisfied, but I am controlled by a paper—I will not call it a law—it is the 6th of George I. [The paper was read..] I will ask the gentlemen of the long robe: Is this the law P I ask them whether it is not practice. I appeal to the judges of the land whether they are not in a course of declaring that the Parliament of Great Britain, naming Ireland, binds her. I appeal to the magistrates of justice whether they do not, from time to time, execute certain acts of the British Parliament. I appeal to the officers of the army whether they do not fine, confine, and execute their fellow subjects by virtue of the Mutiny Act, an Act of the British Parliament; and I appeal to this House whether a country so circumstanced is free. Where is the freedom of trade 2 Where is the security of property 2 Where is the liberty of the people? I here, in this Declaratory Act, see my country proclaimed a slave? I see every man in this House enrolled a slave. I see the judges of the realm, the oracles of the law, borne down by an unauthorized foreign power, by the authority of the British Parliament


against the law I see the magistrates prostrate, and I see Parliament witness of these infringements, and silent—silent or employed to preach moderation to the people, whose liberties it will not restore | I therefore say, with the voice of three million people, that, notwithstanding the import of sugar, beetle-wood, and panellas, and the export of woolens and kerseys, nothing is safe, satisfactory, or honorable, nothing except a declaration of right. What are you, with three million men at your back, with charters in one hand and arms in the other, afraid to say you are a free people? Are you, the greatest House of Commons that eversat in Ireland, that want but this one act to equal that English House of Commons that passed the Petition of Right, or that other that passed the Declaration of Right, are you afraid to tell the British Parliament you are a free people? Are the cities and the instructing counties, which have breathed a spirit that would have done honor to old Rome when Rome did honor to mankind— are they to be free by connivance 2 Are the military associations, those bodies whose origin, progress, and deportment have transcended, or equaled at least, anything in modern or ancient story—is the vast line of the northern army, are they to be free by connivance 2 What man will settle among you? Where is the use of the Naturalization Bill 2 What man will settle among you? Who will leave a land of liberty and a settled government for a kingdom controlled by the Parliament of another country, whose liberty is a thing by stealth, whose trade a thing by permission, whose judges deny her charters, whose Parliament leaves everything at random; where the chance of freedom depends upon the hope that the jury shall despise the judge stating a British Act, or a rabble stop the magistrate executing it, rescue your abdicated privileges, and save the Constitution by trampling on the Government, by anarchy and confusion . I might, as a constituent, come to your bar, and demand my liberty. I do call upon you, by the laws of the land and their violation, by the instruction of eighteen counties, by the arms, inspiration, and providence of the present moment, to tell us the rule by which we shall go, assert the law of Ireland—declare the liberty of the land. I will not be answered by a public lie, in the shape of an amendment; neither, speaking for the subject's freedom, am I to hear of faction. I wish for nothing but to breathe, in this our island, in common with my fellow-subjects, the air of liberty. I have no ambition, unless it be the ambition to break your chain and contemplate your glory. I never will be satisfied so long as the meanest cottager in Ireland has a link of the British chain clanking to his rags ; he may be naked, he shall not be in


iron; and I do see the time is at hand, the spirit is gone forth, the declaration is planted ; and though great men shall apostatize, yet the cause will live; and though the public speaker should die, yet the immortal fire shall outlast the organ which conveyed it; and the breath of liberty, like the word of the holy man, will not die with the prophet, but survive him.


[From Grattan's speeches in the British House of Commons, we offer the following brief but telling example of fervent eloquence.]

The Kingdom of Ireland, with her imperial crown, stands at your Bar. She applies for the civil liberty of three-fourths of her children. Will you dismiss her without a hearing 2 You cannot do it ! I say you cannot finally do it ! The interest of your country would not support you ; the feelings of your country would not support you : it is a proceeding that cannot long be persisted in. No courtier so devoted, no politician so hardened, no conscience so capacious ! I am not afraid of occasional majorities. A majority cannot overlay a great principle. God will guard His own cause against rank majorities. In vain shall men appeal to a church-cry, or to a mock thunder ; the proprietor of the bolt is on the side of the people.

It was the expectation of the repeal of Catholic disability which carried the Union. Should you wish to support the minister of the crown against the people of Ireland, retain the Union, and perpetuate the disqualification, the consequence must be something more than alienation. When you finally decide against the Catholic question, you abandon the idea of governing Ireland by affection, and you adopt the idea of coercion in its place. You are pronouncing the doom of England. If you ask how the people of Ireland feel towards you, ask yourselves how you would feel towards us if we disqualified three-fourths of the people of England forever. The day you finally ascertain the disqualification of the Catholic, you pronounce the doom of Great Britain. It is just it should be so. The king who takes away the liberty of his subjects loses his crown; the people who take away the liberty of their fellow-subjects lose their empire. The scales of your own destinies are in your own hands; and if you throw out the civil liberty of the Irish Catholic, depend on it, old England will be weighed in the balance, and found wanting : you will then have dug your own grave, and you may write your own epitaph thus:– “England died because she taxed America, and disqualified Ireland.”

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