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liberty and his country. But as the luminary of truth and freedom in France advanced rapidly to its meridian splendour, the public mind in Ireland was proportionably illuminated. And to the honour of the Dissenters of Belfast be it said, that they were the first to reduce to practice the newly-received principles, and to shew, by being just, that they were deserving to be free. The dominion of England in Ireland had been begun and continued in the disunion of the great sects which divided the latter country. In effectuating this disunion, the Protestant party were the willing instruments, as they saw clearly that if ever the Dissenters and Catholics were to discover their true interests, and, forgetting their former dissensions, were to unite cordially and make common cause, the downfall of English supremacy, and, of course, of their own unjust monopoly, would be the necessary and immediate consequence. They, therefore, laboured continually, and for a long time successfully, to keep the other two sects asunder; and the English government had even the address to persuade the Catholics that the non-execution of the penal laws, which, in fact, were too atrocious to be enforced in their full vigour, was owing to their clemency; that the Protestants and Dissenters, but especially the latter, were the enemies, and themselves in effect the protectors of the Catholic people. Under this arrangement the machine of government moved forward on carpet-ground; but the time was at length come when the system of iniquity was to tumble in the dust, and the day of truth and reason to commence. So far back as the year 1783 the volunteers of Belfast had instructed their deputies to the Convention, held in Dublin for the purpose of framing a parliamentary reform, to support the equal admission of the Catholics to the rights of freemen. In this instance of liberality they were then almost alone, for it is their fate, in political wisdom, ever to be in advance of their countrymen. It was sufficient, however, to alarm the Government, who immediately procured from Lord Kenmare, at that time esteemed the leader of the Catholics, a solemn disavowal, in the name of the body, of any wish to be restored to their long-lost rights. Prostrate as the Catholics were at that period, this last insult was too much. They instantly assembled their general committee, and disavowed Lord Kenmare and his disavowal, observing at the same time that they were not framed so differently from all other men as to be in love with their own degradation. The majority of the Volunteer Convention, however, resolved to consider the infamous declaration of Lord Kenmare as the voice of the Catholics of Ireland; and in consequence the emancipation of that body no longer made a part of their plan of reform. The consequence natural to such folly and injustice immediately ensued. The Government seeing the Convention by their own act separate themselves from the great mass of the people, who could alone give them effective force, held them at defiance; and that formidable assembly, which under better principles might have held the fate of Ireland in their hands, was broken up with disgrace and ignominya memorable warning, that those who know not how to render their just rights to others, will be found incapable of firmly adhering to their own. The general Committee of the Catholics, of which I have spoken above, and which, since the year 1792, has made a distinguished feature in the politics of Ireland, was a body composed of their bishops, their country gentlemen, and of a certain number of merchants and, traders, all resident in Dublin, but named by the Catholics in the different towns corporate to represent them. The original object of this institution was to obtain the repeal of a partial and oppressive tax, called Quarterage, which was levied on the Catholics only; and the Government which found the Committee at first a convenient instrument on some occasions connived at their existence. So degraded was the Catholic mind at the period of the formation of their Committee (about 1770), and long after, that they were happy to be allowed to go up to the Castle with an abominable slavish address to each successive Viceroy; of which, moreover, until the accession of the Duke of Portland in 1782, so little notice was taken, that his Grace was the first who con
descended to give them an answer. And indeed for above twenty years the sole business of the General Committee was to prepare and deliver in these records of their depression. The effort, which an honest indignation_had called forth at the time of the Volunteer Convention in 1783, seemed to have exhausted their strength, and they sunk back into their primitive nullity. Under the appearance of apathy, however, a new spirit was gradually arising in the body, owing principally to the exertions and example of one man, John Keogh; to whose services his country, and more especially the Catholics, are singularly indebted. In fact, the downfall of feudal tyranny was acted in little on the theatre of the General Committee. The influence of their clergy and their barons was gradually undermined, and the third estate, the commercial interest, rising in wealth and power, was preparing by degrees to throw off the yoke, in the imposing, or at least the continuing of which the leaders of the body, I mean the prelates and aristocracy, to their disgrace be it spoken, were ready to concur. Already had these leaders, acting in obedience to the Government which held them in fetters, suffered one or two signal defeats in the Committee, owing principally to the talents and address of John Keogh. The parties began to be defined, and a sturdy democracy of new men, with bolder views and stronger talents, soon superseded the timid counsels and slavish measures of the ancient aristocracy. Every thing seemed tending to a better order of things among the Catholics, and an occasion soon offered to call the energy of their new leaders into action.
The Dissenters of the North, and more especially of the town of Belfast, are, from the genius of their religion, and from the superior diffusion of political information among them, sincere and enlightened republicans. They had ever been foremost in the pursuit of parliamentary reform; and I have already mentioned the early wisdom and virtue of the men of Belfast in proposing the emancipation of the Catholics so far back as the year 1783. The French Revolution had awakened all parties in the nation from the stupor in which they lay plunged from the time of the dispersion of the ever-memorable Volunteer Convention, and the citizens of Belfast were the first to raise their heads from the abyss, and to look the situation of their country steadily in the face. They saw at a glance the true object, and the only means to obtain it. Conscious that the force of the existing government was such as to require the united efforts of the whole Irish people to subvert it, and long convinced in their own ininds that to be free, it was necessary to be just, they cast their eyes once more on the long-neglected Catholics, and profiting of past errors, of which, however, they had not to accuse themselves, they determined to begin on a new system, and to raise the structure of the liberty and independence of their country on the broad basis of equal rights to the whole people. The Catholics on their part were rapidly rising in political spirit and information. Every month, every day, as the Revolution in France went prosperously forward, added to their courage and their force; and the hour seemed at last arrived, when, after a dreary oppression of one hundred years, they were once more to appear upon the political theatre of their country. They saw the brilliant prospect of success, which events in France had opened to their view; and they determined to avail themselves with promptitude of that opportunity which never returns to those who omit it. For this the active members of the Committee resolved to set ou foot an immediate application to Parliament, praying for a repeal of the Penal Laws. The first difficulty they had to surmount arose in their own body. Their peers, their gentry (as they affected to call themselves), and their prelates, either seduced or intimidated by Government, gave the measure all possible opposition; and at length, after a long contest, in which both parties strained every nerve, and produced the whole of their strength, the question was decided, on a division in the Committee, by a majority of at least six to one in favour of the intended application. The triumph of the young democracy was complete; but though the aristocracy was defeated, they were not yet entirely broken down. By the instigation of the Government, they had the meanness to
secede from the General Committee, to disavow their acts, and even to publish in the papers that they did not wish to embarrass the Government by advancing their claim of emancipation. It is difficult to conceive such a degree of political degradation; but what will not the tyranny of an execrable system produce in time? Sixty-eight gentlemen, individually of high spirit, were found, who publicly and in a body deserted their party and their own just claims, and even sanctioned this pitiful desertion by the authority of their signatures. Such an effect had the operation of the penal laws upon the Catholics of Ireland as proud a race as any in all Europe!
"The first attempts of the Catholic Committee failed totally. Endeavouring to accommodate all parties, they framed a petition so humble that it venLured to ask for nothing; and even this petition they could not find a single member of the legislature to present. Of so little consequence in 1790 were the great mass of the Irish people! Not disheartened, however, by the defeat, they went on, and in the interval between that and the approaching session, they were preparing measures for a second application. In order to add greater weight and consequence to their intended petition, they brought over to Ireland Richard Burke, only son to the celebrated Edmund, and appointed him their agent to conduct their application to Parliament. This young man came over with considerable advantage, and especially with the éclat of his father's name, who the Catholics concluded, and very reasonably, would for his own sake, if not for theirs, assist his son with his advice and direction. But their expectations in the event proved abortive. Richard Burke, with a considerable portion of talent from nature, and cultivated, as may be well supposed, with the utmost care by his father, who idolized him, was utterly deficient in judgment, in temper, and especially in the art of managing parties. In three or four months' time, during which he remained in Ireland, he contrived to embroil himself, and to a certain extent the Committee, with all parties in parliament, the Opposition as well as the Government, and finally desiring to drive his employers into measures of which they disapproved, and thinking himself strong enough to go on without the assistance of the men who introduced him, and, as long as their duty would permit, supported him, in which he miserably deceived himself, he ended his short and turbulent career by breaking with the General Committee. That body, however, treated him respectfully to the last; and on his departure they sent a deputation to thank him for his exertions, and presented him with the sum of two thousand guineas.
"It was much about this time that my connexion with the Catholic body commenced in the manner which I am about to relate. I cannot pretend to strict accuracy as to dates, for I write entirely from memory, all my papers being in America.
"Russell, on his arrival to join his regiment at Belfast, found the people so much to his taste, and in return had rendered himself so agreeable to them, that he was speedily admitted into their confidence, and became a member of several of their clubs. This was an unusual circumstance, as British officers, it may well be supposed, were no great favourites with the Republicans of Belfast. The Catholic question was at this period beginning to attract the public notice, and the Belfast Volunteers, on some public occasion (I know not precisely what) wished to come forward with a declaration in its favour. For this purpose, Russell, who was by this time in their confidence, wrote to me to draw up and transmit to him such a declaration as I thought proper, which I accordingly did. A meeting of the corps was held in consequence, but an opposition unexpectedly arising to that part of the declaration which alluded directly to the Catholic claims, that passage was, for the sake of unanimity, withdrawn for the present, and the declaration then passed unanimously. Russell wrote ine an account of all this, and it immediately set me on thinking more seriously than I had yet done on the state of Ireland. I soon formed my theory, and on that theory I have uniformly acted ever since. To subvert the tyranny of our execrable government-to break the
connexion with England, the never-failing source of all our political evils, and to assist the independence of my country-these were my objects. To unite the whole people of Ireland, to abolish the memory of all past dissensions, and to substitute the common name of Irishmen in place of the denominations of Protestants, Dissenters, and Catholics-these were my means. To effectuate these great objects, I reviewed the three great sects. The Protestants I despaired of from the outset, for obvious reasons. Already in possession, by an unjust monopoly, of the whole power and patronage of the country, it was not to be supposed they would ever concur in measures, the certain tendency of which must be to lessen their influence as a party, how much soever the nation might gain. To the Catholics I thought it unnecessary to address myself, because that as no change could make their political situation worse, I reckoned upon their support as a certainty. Besides, they had already begun to manifest a strong sense of their wrongs and oppressions; and finally I well knew, that however it might be disguised or suppressed, there existed in the breast of every Irish Catholic an inextirpable abhorrence of the English name and power. There remained only the Dissenters, whom I knew to be patriotic and enlightened. However, the events at Belfast had shewn me that all prejudice was not entirely removed from their minds. I sat down accordingly, and wrote a pamphlet addressed to the Dissenters, and which I entitled "An Argument on behalf of the Catholics of Ireland;" the object of which was to convince them that they and the Catholics had but one common interest and one common enemy; that the slavery and depression of Ireland was produced and perpetuated by the divisions existing between them; and that consequently to assert the independence of their country, and their own individual liberties, it was necessary to forget all former feuds, to consolidate the entire strength of the whole nation, and to form for the future but one people. These principles I supported by the best arguments which suggested themselves to me, and particularly by demonstrating that the cause of the failure of all former efforts, and more especially of the Volunteer Convention in 1783, was the unjust neglect of the claims of their Catholic brethren. This pamphlet, which appeared in September 1791, under the signature of "A Northern Whig," had a considerable degree of success. The Catholics (with not one of whom I was at that time acquainted) were pleased with the efforts of a volunteer in their cause, and distributed it in all quarters. The people of Belfast, of whom I had spoken with the respect and admiration I sincerely felt for them, and to whom I was also perfectly unknown, printed a very large edition, which they dispersed through the whole north of Ireland; and I have the great satisfaction to believe that many of the Dissenters were converted by my arguments. It is like vanity to speak of my own performance so much, and the fact is, I believe I am somewhat vain on that topic; but as it was the immediate cause of my being made known to the Catholic body, I may perhaps be excused for dwelling on a circumstance, which I must ever look on for that reason as one of the most fortunate of my life. As my pamphlet spread more and more, my acquaintance among the Catholics extended accordingly. My first friend in the body was John Keogh, and through him I became acquainted with all the leaders, as Richard M'Cormick, John Sweetman, Edward Byrne, &c. in short, the whole Sub-Committee, and most of the active members of the General Committee. It was a kind of fashion that winter (1791) among the Catholics to give splendid dinners to their political friends in and out of parliament, and I was always a guest of course. I was invited to a grand dinner given to Richard Burke on his leaving Dublin, together with William Todd Jones, who had distinguished himself by a most excellent pamphlet in favour of the Catholic cause, as well as to several entertainments given by clubs and associations. In short, I began to grow into something like reputation; and my company was in a manner a requisite at all the entertainments of that winter. But this was not all. The Volunteers of Belfast of the First, or Green Company, were pleased, in consequence of my
pamphlet, to elect me an honorary member of their corps, a favour which they were very delicate in bestowing, as I believe I was the only person, except the great Henry Flood, who was ever honoured by that mark of their approbation. I was also invited to spend a few days at Belfast in order to assist in framing the first club of United Irishmen, and to cultivate a personal acquaintance with the men, whom, though I highly esteemed them, I knew as yet but by reputation. In consequence, about the beginning of October, I went down with my friend Russell, who had by this time quitted the army and was in Dublin on his private affairs. The incidents of that journey, which was by far the most agreeable and interesting one I had ever made, 1 recorded in a kind of diary, a practice which I then commenced and have ever since from time to time continued, as circumstances of sufficient importance occurred. To that diary I refer. It is sufficient here to say that my reception was of the most flattering kind, and that I found the men of the most distinguished public virtue in the nation, the most estimable in all the domestic relations of life. I had the good fortune to render myself agreeable to them, and a friendship was then formed between us, which I think it will not be easy to shake.
"We formed our club, of which I wrote the declaration; and certainly the formation of that club commenced a new epoch in the politics of Ireland. At length, after a stay of about three weeks, which I look back upon as perhaps the pleasantest of my life, Russell and I returned to Dublin with instructions to cultivate the leaders in the popular interest, being Protestants, and if possible to form in the capital a club of United Irishmen. Neither Russell nor myself were known to one of those leaders. However we soon contrived to get acquainted with James Napper Tandy, who was the principal of them, and through him with several others. So that in a little time we succeeded, and a club was accordingly formed, of which the Hon. Simon Butler was the first chairman and Tandy the first secretary."
Here our limits oblige us to break off for the present, and to reserve for a future number the concluding portion of these memoirs.
'Tis a time of pride, when the bark is prancing,
And sweep with the winds o'er the weltering deep!
With my bark through her own blue path careering,