Edmund Burke.

Correspondence of the Right Honourable Edmund Burke; between the year 1744 and the period of his decease, in 1797 (Volume 4) online

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Westmoreland's failure in this measure. Now,
as to the measure itself; it by no means follows
that it cannot be carried, and carried safely, be-
cause Lord Westmoreland and Mr. Hobart cannot
carry it at all, or not without ruin. But it is
necessary to advert to the difficulties, and also to
the dangers, that the first may be overcome, and
the latter averted.

These are in part touched upon (but no more)
in what precedes. I do not scruple to aver, that,
rebus sic stantibus, an embargo upon corn and salt
provisions cannot be effected without a very mani-
fest probability of a total and immediate subver-
sion of the whole kingdom of Ireland, and, there-
fore, rebus sic stantibus, it cannot be attempted
without the greatest possible danger.

The reason is this : All vigorous measures of
government, in their nature, excite discontents ;
because they necessarily imply the sacrifice and
destruction of some individual interest or other ;


like the demolition of private houses for the de-
fence of a town, or the forage and trampling of
green corn by an army in the field.

The corn-trade and the provision-trade are two
of the three staple trades of Ireland.

Wherefore, every individual embarked in the
various branches of these two national trades, (in
the latter of which are comprehended the first
landed proprietors and greatest parliamentary
interests,) will more or less be affected, and there-
fore discontented, by the operation of an embargo.
Now, it is possible that a government, deeply and
universally rooted in the affections of the people,
and strong in its own conscious power and wisdom,
may be warranted in trusting to the predominance
of public spirit over the discontent arising from
particular losses ; as we have often seen, and as in
the like case we should see, the people of Great
Britain (but as, rebus sic stantibus, we should not
see those of Ireland) cheerfully submit to the
ravage of half the land to oppose the progress of
a foreign enemy. In such measure, however, a
government must have a sure broad foundation to
stand upon. But when three-fourths of the people,
at least, are in a state of high, irritated, and in-
sulted dissatisfaction, it is morally impossible that
a government should stand the additional ill-will
of two great mercantile interests out of three ; to
say nothing of the revulsion, through the whole

E 2


circulation of such a delicate system (involving so
many collateral considerations) as that of the food
of man ; to say nothing also of the probable bank-
ruptcy of many of the landed gentlemen, the
sudden fall of rents, and the general shock which
agriculture itself may consequently receive.

As I said, the Irish ministers have sacrificed
every thing to the landed or Protestant interest (as
they pretend) ; but in reality they have involved
that interest in the corrupt schemes which they
themselves have undertaken, in violation of their
trust to the crown, and to the English govern-
ment. (This proposition I have pledged myself
publicly to prove.) So that now to irritate this
interest, and to shake it to the very foundation by
the embargo, when all the rest of the nation is
dissatisfied, not only as far as the Catholics are
concerned, but from the long accumulation of
various abuses and vices in the government ; this,
I say, would be only a dreadful aggravation of the
distemper, by the infusion of a discontented landed,
and a discontented mercantile interest, into that
congregated mass of discontents and confusions,
polemic and civil, popular and ministerial, theore-
tical and practical, which are so furiously ferment-
ing in the whole of that kingdom, and in every
part of it.

It must, therefore, be laid down as .a first and
indispensable principle, that the government (like


all entities, physical and moral,) must have a power
to act with ; and that, before it proceeds to any act
of government, great or small, it must secure to
itself a substratum of popular opinion ; and that it
must get (at whatever price) the body of the
people to be ready to stand by them ; or it is less
than no government at all.

In the present circumstances, because the Catho-
lics are the body of the people, and for that reason
alone, their reconciliation is necessary for the exist-
ence, or rather for the resurrection, of his Majesty's
government of Ireland at any price.

What that price is, (which is a price, not of
money, not of one or two specific measures, but
of a judicious and systematic expenditure of wise
councils,) and how that price is to be laid out, so
as to ensure the purchase, and not to cause the
ruin of the purchaser, these things depend on a
detailed knowledge of the moral circumstances of
Ireland, the temper of its people, and of the poli-
tical actors on that stage. These are points which,
undoubtedly, other men possess more than the
writer of this memorial. He, however, may have
ideas on the subject which other men have not,
and those ideas may be the right ones. Such as
they are, he will produce them when, and when
only, he is called upon to do so, and when he sees
a probability of their having an authoritative


As to the present Lord-Lieutenant and secretary,
it is somewhat singular that, in the total failure of
all their measures, and disappointment of all their
expectations, in the overwhelming embarrasments
which thicken and grow upon them every hour,
their minds should never misgive them, that they
should never begin to doubt their own wisdom
and ability, to demand a successor, or in their
necessity, to call in the councils and authority of
a British government. Instead of this, as far as I
can learn, they yet labour, by every art and con-
trivance, to keep the whole deliberation on the
affairs of Ireland within their own narrow circle ;
and, obstinate in their presumption, they stagger
on, precipitate and blind, entangled in their own
frauds, stunned with their own plunges, disgracing
themselves, and destroying his Majesty's govern-

I am unwilling to assert that the situation of
affairs in Ireland is yet quite desperate ; at least it
was not so when I left Ireland ; but the complica-
tion of its disorders must be infinitely aggravated
by the two plunges which the government has
made since my departure.

The one is the proclamation against armed
associations : the other, the scheme of a militia.

I do not mean at present to discuss these mea-
sures at large ; they seem to have been adopted
in imitation of what has been done here. But as


the circumstances of the two countries are in every
point dissimilar, so the same measures have, and
will have, directly contrary effects.

I will only say concerning the latter, that a
similar project had like to have overturned the
Duke of Portland's administration; although it
was attempted in the full tide of popularity, and
immediately after the important concessions of

With regard to the former, I shall only observe,
that, in common with every other measure of the
present Irish government, it is bottomed in ill
faith. Every one of their measures involves some
sinister design different from that which is osten-
sible; and mostly, one aimed against the British
government ; viz. that of thrusting it out of all
effective interference in the internal concerns of

The first effect of the proclamation has been,
that the armed association against which the pro-
clamation is fulminated, marches in full triumph
through the streets ; and the Castle entertains the
public with the exhibition (as I am credibly in-
formed) of thirteen cannon drawn up, with horses
to the carriages, in the castle-yard. This osten-
tation of panic terror, so exceedingly ridiculous,
was also in some degree artificial, and assumed in
order to deter the British government (by the
impression that there is a rebellion in Ireland)


from listening to the Catholic deputies now about
to arrive.

The real essence of the measure is this: Several
armed associations, under the name of volunteers,
had long existed ; others were already begun in
many parts of the kingdom ; some by the permis-
sion and some by the instigation of the govern-
ment itself. One of these armed associations,
being, in substance, no other than it was before,
chooses to change its name, and to call itself " the
National Corps of Volunteers ;" upon which
government instantly issues a proclamation pro-
hibiting armed associations. Now I would ask,
if any man in Ireland, when he sees government
attacking the name, when it had itself favoured
the thing, can avoid drawing the conclusion

No man is ignorant that the Catholic question
is the great and cardinal point of Irish affairs on
which all the rest turn. It is, therefore, inevitable
that every man will connect this armament of the
people, and subsequent prohibition of armament,
with that cause. It, therefore, must be concluded,
that government endeavoured to arm the people
for the suppression of the Catholics, and only
endeavoured to disarm them, when it found the
people more likely to arm for them than against
them. The Catholics, therefore, and their sup-
porters must see, by the counter illustration of
these two contradictory measures (to say nothing


of other corroborating circumstances), a full de-
monstration of an immediate intention in the
government to suppress them by the military
arm. The consequence is, that the Catholics and
their supporters, both in Dublin and in the north,
take the alarm ; they see themselves driven to
extremities, and they both fly out into extremes,
and mutually goad each other to desperation. His
excellency's proclamation against armed associa-
tions is instantly followed by a reduplication of
armed associations, upon every possible principle,
in every part of the kingdom.

I do not risk much in prognosticating that the
subsequent measure of that government will have
the same fate, until such time as his Majesty shall
please to appoint a government in Ireland whom
some one will trust and some one will obey ; and
till he shall withdraw his confidence from a set of
men, who, for twelve long months, have put the
existence of this empire to a daily hazard, in order
to establish their system of ministerial indepen-



Ampthill Park, December 19, 1792.


I take the liberty of enclosing to you a letter I
received yesterday from a gentleman of some con-
sideration in Ireland, Sir Robert Staples. I send
it to you, because it is sensibly written, and I
believe gives a true account of the state of that
country. I suppose, and I am sure I hope, that
government communicates with you upon the
subject ; and if you think it worth while, I do not
see any objection to their being acquainted with
my friend's letter and opinion. I most sincerely
hope they mean to give way, as both policy and
justice seem to require. I should be much obliged
to you to set my mind at ease, if you can, upon
this subject, and also upon another, which, from
to-day's accounts, I cannot help having some
hopes of; I mean, of the life of Lewis being
saved from the cannibals.

I am, my dear sir, with the greatest truth and
regard, most sincerely yours,


Lady Ossory and my daughters desire their
compliments to you.




December 12, 1792.


I believe you lordship will be a good deal sur-
prised at my addressing you upon a political
subject ; but as your lordship has a considerable
property in this country, and as I feel myself
under obligation to, and a personal regard for,
your lordship, I hope you will consider in its true
sense, a wish of being of some service to your
lordship, so far as giving you a fair statement of
the present situation of this country. Your lord-
ship must have heard, that the Roman Catholics
through all Ireland have appointed delegates to
meet in Dublin, in order to obtain redress of
grievances. They have met, and as far as we can
find, for great secresy was observed, have con-
ducted themselves coolly and moderately. Govern-
ment have endeavoured to cause a division of
opinion amongst them, but without effect. This
body have sent deputies to England with a petition
to the throne, stating their endeavours. They say
they have no confidence in government, and would
not trust them with it. In Ireland, as well as


England and Scotland, we have a party of a level-
ling disposition. I do not think the Roman
Catholic of that disposition; quite the reverse.
The Catholic complains of grievances ; the other
make no complaints, but wish to throw every
thing into confusion. The latter, I think, are
most to be dreaded. If the Roman Catholic can
be settled with, the other we can easily manage.
But in case reasonable concessions are not made,
I think an union would certainly take place;
though, now, they are perfectly separate, for they
naturally hate one another; and if that should
happen, I can foresee nothing less than a general
rebellion ; and I should be glad to know how we
could protect ourselves, or make head, against
them united. I don't know what their petition
may contain, as I have not seen it, but suppose
your lordship will have an opportunity of looking
it over. The levellers, who style themselves the
" United Irishmen," wished to have an interview
with the Catholic committee; this was refused.
Your lordship has much to lose; I have but a
small matter in comparison ; but when I consider
our different situations, mine is as much to me as
yours is to your lordship. When I left the coun-
try, I thought differently from what I do now;
and it is from necessity, not inclination, that I
have changed my sentiments, and I find many in
the same situation. I have now told you as well


as I could, in the compass of a letter, the present
state of this country. I think I have as little to
fear as any man; but though I have thrown out
some hints in favour of the Roman Catholic, I
would be happy if wiser heads would form some
plan to settle matters in this country. I am sure
I shall be satisfied ; but I think it impossible. I
should think your lordship, and many others who
have property in this country, would do well to
meet and talk the matter over. I shall now con-
clude, assuring you that I am not a papist, but
your lordship's most obedient and humble servant,


If your lordship should think it necessary to
answer this, direct at Lord Pery's, Dublin.


Date, end of 1792 7 .

I have the honour to transmit you the enclosed
extract from a letter I have just received from

7 The draft of this letter is not dated; it was probably
written in November, 1792. The extract from Mr. Keogh's
letter, mentioned as enclosed, has not been found amongst the


Ireland. It is written by one of his Majesty's
most able and most deserving subjects in that
kingdom, Mr. Keogh ; the gentleman who had
the honour of conversing with you last year on
the affairs of the Catholics.

However disagreeable the information contained
in this letter must be to his Majesty, who takes
so tender a concern in the tranquillity of his peo-
ple, I should think myself as deeply responsible,
if I withheld it for a single moment. The par-
ticulars of the letter will show you the nature of
that spirit which now prevails, I am sorry to say,
under more than the tacit sanction of authority
in that country. It is the very same spirit which
so much disgraced the popular party in England
towards the end of the reign of Charles the Second,
but which, in Ireland, was at that time moderated
in its fury by the prudence and temper of the
Duke of Ormond. The Irish administration have,
unfortunately, thought it their duty to revive that
spirit; and, as they always perform their duty
with zeal, they have left nothing undone to
animate and strengthen it. In the north, it does
not appear that they are yet disposed to alter
their opinions, which makes it doubly necessary
for the Catholics again to renew their supplica-
tions for his Majesty's interposition in their

I am perfectly satisfied in my own mind, that


the extraordinary proceedings mentioned in the
enclosed letter cannot have his Majesty's approba-
tion or yours, either in the means or in the end ;
but I am not equally sure that it is so thought in
Ireland. The assertion made last winter by Mr.
Hobart, that his Majesty was disposed to use his
British troops against his Catholic subjects, has,
without doubt, not a little contributed to inspire
the interested fanaticism of the sectaries in Ireland
with additional insolence and ferocity. It is also
probable, from the circumstance mentioned in
this letter, viz. " that Mr. Hobart is returned
to Ireland with flying colours," that the sanction
of the British government has again been held
out to influence the minds of men, and to cor-
roborate his former assertion. The calumny said
to be circulated in the north of Ireland, under
the authority of government, relative to the supply
of arms from France, is exactly similar to the
assertion made use of by the chancellor of Ireland
(as I am informed from good authority) at the
meeting of members of parliament at the Castle,
at the opening of the session.

I have not yet received authentic information
concerning the affair alluded to in the enclosed
letter, in which the speaker of the Irish House of
Commons was concerned. The account which I
saw, represents him as having been present as
a justice of peace, when a body of troops were


made to fire upon and kill several of his Majesty's
subjects, who were assembled in a very peaceable
manner, and not at all contrary to law.

How far this conduct becomes the situation
of Speaker, or will be justified hereafter, is not at
present material ; I mention it only inasmuch as
it implicates government in these transactions, by
his being a privy-counsellor, and, as it is supposed,
much consulted.

From all these circumstances, I trust you will
agree with me in opinion, that it is absolutely
necessary something should be done to counter-
act the impressions which are produced, either by
the direct use of his Majesty's name, or that arise
from presumptions in the conduct of his Irish
servants, and which tend so directly to the destruc-
tion of his Catholic subjects.

Permit me again to renew my importunity to
be favoured with an answer to my former letter,
that I may be able to gratify the solicitude of the
Catholics to be informed of his Majesty's pleasure,
with regard to their present and future destiny.
I have the honour to be, sir,

Your most obedient and very humble servant,




If Mr. H. 5 is not somewhat mistaken in his
account of the disposition of the council, of the
lords, and of the commons of Ireland, it is not
much to their advantage. Rather than admit of
the least participation in their privileges, they are
ready to abandon them altogether : to shut up
their parliament-house, and to become a province
of England. That is to say, in order to evade a
business attended with some difficulty and hazard,
and in which some interests must be opposed or
sacrificed, they would embark in one that is next
to impossible, and to which neither nation, nor
any sect or party in either, has shown the least
inclination. As for a union with England, it is
a measure on which I do not believe you have yet
made up your minds, or that Mr. Pitt is desirous
of seeing fifty or a hundred Irish gentlemen arrive
from the other side of the water, and take their
seats in the House of Commons. The resentment
of our friends in Ireland puts me in mind of a
circumstance told me by Mr. W. Burke, when he
was under-secretary in your office 6 . A man came

3 Mr. Hobart, who, at the time this paper was written
(1792), was Secretary for Ireland ; Lord Westmoreland being

6 This expression seems to prove that this paper was ad-
dressed to Mr. Dundas, then Secretary of State for the depart-


to him with grievous complaints of the hardships
he had sustained ; and, said he, rather than submit
to such usage, I would consent, as long as I live,
to feed upon the beasts of the field, the birds of
the air, and the fishes of the sea. In the same
manner, the Irish gentlemen are willing, out of
mere resentment, to come over here and submit
to be English peers and English members of par-
liament. But as that act of vengeance is not in
their power, I do not think they will carry their
indignation so far as to shut up shop in Ireland.
If you had a mind to answer their peevishness in
kind, you would tell them that the sooner they
execute their resolution the better; that they
have been long enough the curse, scourge, and
bane of the Irish nation ; and that, never having
performed one act of real legislation, when they
are called upon to adopt a measure of justice,
dictated by the circumstances of the times, they
resent as an outrage an attempt to render them
at least of some use to their unhappy country;
they threaten, if you do not behave better, to
quarrel with places and pensions, to surrender
with disdain their charter of monopoly, and to
break up the great staple trade, never carried to its
full perfection but in Ireland, the whole art and
mystery of jobbing.

ment held in 1765 by General Conway, to whom Mr. W.
Burke was under-secretary.


But to consider the matter seriously, it is to be
observed, that the Roman Catholics ask a share in
the privilege of election ; not as a matter of
speculative right, not upon general principles of
liberty, or as a conclusion from any given pre-
mises, either of natural or even of constitutional
right. They ask it as a protection, and a requisite
security which they now have not, for the exer-
cise of legal right. They ask it from a practical
sense of the evils they feel by being excluded
from it. It is necessary for the free enjoyment of
their industry and property, to secure a fair dis-
pensation of justice, both criminal and civil ; and
to secure them that just estimation and import-
ance, without which, in human tribunals, they
cannot obtain it.

It is a known fact, (and on reflection we find it
must be so,) that the Roman Catholics have been,
and are every day, turned out of very beneficial
farms, deprived of the maintenance of themselves
and their families, lost their honest occupations,
and the exercise (the most beneficial to the state)
of their industry and capitals, because they could
not vote at an election, and to make room for
those that could. A fortiori, they have, in mul-
titudes of instances, failed to obtain leases, nor
can they ever obtain them on equal terms. This
is a severe oppression of the Roman Catholic
tenantry, from one end of the kingdom to the

F 2


other. They do not ask to share with Protestants
the privilege of voting at elections, but for the
privilege of being tenants to Protestant landlords ;
and not to Protestant landlords only, but even to
landed proprietors of their own persuasion.

The exclusion from that franchise will tell
against them, whenever there is room for com-
petition, or room for favour ; and where is there
not room for one or the other ? Where the elec-
tion spirit runs high, (and it does run high in
Ireland,) it operates more or less in every trans-
action of life. It is well known how many con-
tentions arise out of it, and with what bitterness
many civil and even criminal litigations are more
or less, directly or remotely, connected with it.
A Protestant plaintiff or defendant can serve an
election interest. A man will more desire to
oblige, and more fear to offend him who can oblige
again ; and this power of reciprocal obligation is,
in all things, a motive to partiality. It will
operate most where it ought not to operate at all.
For the administration of justice is by our con-
stitution united with the right of election. The

Online LibraryEdmund BurkeCorrespondence of the Right Honourable Edmund Burke; between the year 1744 and the period of his decease, in 1797 (Volume 4) → online text (page 4 of 31)